Here’s Your Spellbook, Apprentice

The way we always played D&D M-Us was something like this:

The M-U has “a spellbook” or at high level “some spellbooks”. He carries them around all the time. He starts with a couple spells and if he finds more he can write them into his books. There’s no reason why you can’t have all the spells (we ignored chance to learn spells).

In Game XYZ I wrote rules that were effectively the above, except you could fit any ten spells in a spellbook and that spellbook had a weight. Suddenly you couldn’t just carry all your spells with you, or else you kept a couple “traveling spell books” which had your most commonly used spells in them, but that’s all up to the individual caster. If you had some magically compact spellbook or a Bag of Holding you could just carry all your spells, no problem. Finding spells was still like finding treasure. No chance to learn spell.

What if there were a basic set of spells that every M-U has access to? They’re so commonly passed around that everyone who reaches the right level can get ahold of a copy. Then finding new spells that aren’t on the common list is really hard. This way, you can have a chance to learn spells for the non-common ones and they can be pretty rare, and the M-U who gains the next spell level isn’t stuck with nothing since he has the common ones.

In this scheme, you might have a guaranteed spell list that looks like this:

L1: Read Magic, Detect Magic, Light, Armor, Shield, Magic Missile
L2: Knock, Levitate, Invisibility, Pyrotechnics, Stinking Cloud, Wizard Lock

Your other spells from the standard list are now rare, plus anything the DM makes up or finds in other supplements.

Because they’re so rare, the M-Us who have them enjoy special powers and prestige that others don’t. If you see someone throw Web you know he’s got something special, which you might never find except through him.

It requires that M-Us are jealous and guarded about their spells, and finally the description in the DMG 1E of buying spells from an NPC makes sense. If the NPC is neutral to you, he requires two of your spells and some minor magic item of yours just to trade for one of his spells. If he likes you, he will still require some favorable trade, perhaps just one of your spells and a minor magic item like a potion. If he doesn’t like you, he just refuses or demands a huge payment including a great magic item or several regular ones.

So how to discourage PCs from trading spells? The players trust each other so they’re willing to just say “yeah here make a copy of my spellbook, I’ll be back tomorrow” which is just crazy if you think about it. He’d never do that for an NPC. Which is why I’m comfortable making the double standard above with NPCs charging a lot for spells. But unless there’s some extreme cost involved in giving up a spell from your spellbook, there’s no reason why PCs wouldn’t all trade spells freely. Maybe if a PC is known to be the kind of M-U who trades spells onward, nobody will ever sell spells to him again.

For example, if Nutbag the Hizzlemancer trades the Simulacrum spell to Zippy the PC M-U, Nutbag expects that Zippy will keep it to himself. If Nutbag wanted every M-U on the block to have Simulacrum he would sell it to them himself! So when Sacre Bleu the Merdemancer starts showing off his new Simulacrums at the Tri-County Wizard Faire, and Sacre Bleu is a known associate of Zippy, Nutbag will become suspicious. When Zippy and Sacre Bleu inevitably sell Simulacrum to several of Nutbag’s rivals who have been pestering him for Simulacrum for years, Nutbag will be furious. Zippy and Sacre Bleu immediately gain a reputation as gadflies who have no Wizardly decorum, bereft of confidentiality, and no M-U will trust them. Enjoy that Simulacrum, chums, because you just shot yourself in the foot.

Anyway, that’s just what I see as necessary to create a specific spellbook ideal: finding a spell is a rare treasure and M-Us are unique. You could just as easily say it costs 1,000 XP x Spell Level Squared to copy a spell, and using someone else’s spellbook is too disruptive to the magical energies mya mya mya. Or toss out the idea and say M-Us can share spells and they aren’t particularly rare.

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