DM Inspiration: The Encyclopedia of Occultism

I am constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ideas for my game. History, current events and my own twisted imagination provide fodder for my campaigns and modules. Last year, I came across a book of such immense value to any role-playing gamer that it now has pride of place on my bookshelf.

I speak of the “Encyclopedia of Occultism ” by Lewis Spence published in 1920.

It is literally an encyclopedia, complete with a small collection of occult related graphics at the beginning and thousands of entries within. Some are only a few sentences long, others go for several pages. The entire tome is 440 pages long.

Spence covers anything remotely related to the occult, including some esoteric parts of more “mainstream” religions. Due to its age, the descriptions of many myths are not tainted by Hollywood or other sources from the modern age. It felt more authentic than some modern works on the occult.

Spence invested considerable time and research into this book. Spence was a widely published academic and his research skill really shows in this volume.  Many entries contain references to the original source material, something lacking in many “pop culture” books on legends and magic.

For gamers, this is a priceless resource. Here are a couple of examples from the book that can add some real zest to your game.

Use of human sacrifice by the villian is a cliche. Making the villian an anthropomancer is much more fun. Anthropomancy is the art of fortune-telling using human entrials. Knowing the future is power and the sacrifice of the innocent in the quest for that power is an amazing plot hook. Even the “good” magicians might consider it if the stakes were high enough. Never even occurred to me until I read the entry on anthropomancy.

Necromancy also gets special attentions. The entry is several pages long and describes in great detail the rituals and uses of the necromancer in history . Modern “gaming” necromancy involves creating undead and other foul things. In true history, it was used as a form of divination. Much less exciting than raising zombies, but still useful.

This is just a tiny sample. The encyclopedia covers everything from the ancient world to modern cults (circa 1920) and famous people, both ancient and modern. It is a lifetime of gaming ideas in one book.

Gaming books tend to be the most pale shadow of the material that inspired them. Go back to the source material, the raw legends and inject them into your game. Amaze your players with your historical insight and perhaps elevate the storytelling in your game.

The Encyclopedia of Occultism on

Trask, the Last Tyromancer

Tyromancy: The art of telling the future from curdled milk.



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.