The Parchment Forge
Note: I was concerned that this was Too Dumb to Post on the Internet, so I checked with Zoe. She liked it, so now I’m inflicting it on y’all.
By way of introduction and apology, I am going to go ahead and address the primary question I expect the reader to have at the end of this post:
Q: Hey, Mac? Why would you write this thing?
A: Yesterday morning, Zoe and I were messaging about our plans for a new feature we’re planning to introduce this year, which still needed a name. After exchanging some ideas, I made a half-joking suggestion that we combine two of the ideas we liked best and call it “The Parchment Forge”. Zoe (correctly) noted that (a) that name was in whatever the opposite of a sweet spot is, weirdness-wise: too weird to take seriously but not weird enough to be whimsical, and (b) to quote her message directly, “that’s not how parchment is made.” We had the following brief exchange…
…and we moved on from the matter shortly afterward. This would have never seen the light of day, except immediately after that conversation I erred and forgot to set an audiobook or podcast playing in the background while I went about and got ready for the day. That oversight meant I was left alone with my own thoughts for nearly half an hour, and historically such a scenario results in very stupid ideas having the opportunity to grow. Thus, I present to you:
The Parchment Forge
This magic item takes the form of a semi-portable forge. Semi-portable in that you can technically fit all the parts on a wagon and travel from town to town with it (and in fact kind of have to), but it’s also, by necessity, bulky enough that you have to take it off the wagon and assemble it to make it functional. When assembled, this item resembles a traditional charcoal-powered forge, but large enough that you could use it to heat a small cow.
The parchmentsmith must first use the forge to heat the animal for several hours. The magical effect of the forge means that, rather than burning (or, like, cooking), the animal instead gradually takes on the consistency of a somewhat soft metal. From here, the user can use mundane smithing tools and begin hammering the cow into sheets of quasi-homogenous material. The output of the Parchment Forge may not legally be referred to as “parchment” under threat of action from the Royal Parchmenters’ Guild, and instead is generally called “wrought parchment”, “parchment product”, or a combination of both.
Wrought parchment appears and functions broadly like actual parchment, and is sold by the parchmentsmith as a cheap substitute for such, but it is easily distinguishable from proper parchment. There are few repeat customers, and the product has been described using such terms as:
“hard on quills”
“prone to losing its shape”
“easily affected by humidity”
“ill-conceived in concept and execution”
“an affront to the gods”
“ineffective at holding the ink”
“full of ‘bits’”
“inconsistent in texture”
“listen did you kill the cow first because I swear this stuff keeps moving on its own”
“generally difficult to write on”
The parchmentsmith, in fact, is generally obliged to pack up his forge and wagon after only a short time in town, as he will get few repeat customers. Making the Parchment Forge profitable means always being ready to move to somewhere that hasn’t already heard of it. (Pressure to leave the town will mount as the livestock in the area seem to become agitated by the Parchment Forge’s presence. Cows in particular have been observed to exhibit mourning behavior whenever it is nearby.)
There’s some flexibility in the input and output of the Parchment Forge. The process works best with bovine material — which technically produces “wrought vellum”, but it’s really not a material that could even briefly pass as high quality, so there’s no sense trying to pitch it as “vellum” — but also with sheep or goats. Technically, any animal that physically fits in the necessary space could probably be used, but that would be adulterating an already questionable product. The smith likewise doesn’t necessarily have to make "parchment"; it’s just what this setup does best. Trying to use the process to produce leather goods outputs products that are even more unsuitable than the wrought parchment, any food item made this way is objectively inedible, and branching out into products that aren’t usually bovine-based results in items that could most charitably be described as “nonfunctional”.
It should be noted that wrought parchment is not recommended for use by spellcasters: any spell scrolls scribed (scriven?) on wrought parchment have an extremely high chance of resulting in magical mishaps when cast (use whatever table for this you like; I think I have a d100 table of those I made a few years ago around somewhere if you want it), even if the person casting from the scroll is high enough level that this should not normally be a concern. Moreover, using wrought parchment in a spellbook also creates a small chance of producing magical mishaps when said spellbook is used to learn or memorize spells, even though that’s not usually applicable to spellbooks.
Official opinions on the Parchment Forge:
The Royal Parchmenters’ Guild derides the output of the Parchment Forge as an inferior and useless product, but wishes to take no action so long as the parchmentsmith does not officially call their product “parchment”. Master Rollon has made the statement: “The use of this unpleasant device will fizzle out naturally as citizens gain an appreciation for the value and work put into the creation of proper parchment.”
The Mages’ Council is currently debating whether to officially recommend against using wrought parchment for magical purposes. Ephrasie the Blue argues, “Such a statement is needed due to the danger to the incautious.” Mathurin the Red wishes the Council to remain silent on the matter “because it’s funny and they deserve it for using that crap”.
No members of the aristocracy have spoken on the matter, but it is known that discussions continue behind closed doors as to whether use of the Parchment Forge should be outright banned.
Mayor Laurie of Bells-by-Sea, who recently condoned her constituents’ actions in forming an angry mob to drive the parchmentsmith and his Forge out of town, has made the following statement: “Cows watch the sunset. Cows can recognize each other. Cows have best friends. This is not an appropriate use of cows.”