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5E Why not write spellbooks in Common?

Ed Laprade

First Post
I very rarely play Wizards, but decided to play my first in 5E recently. So I got to thinking, why is it that all Wizard's write their spellbooks in a code that only they can read? How does that square with having a Wizard mentor (being an apprentice)? Wouldn't it make more sense for the Master to teach his apprentice his own code? How would he correct any mistakes the apprentice might make while writing what the Master has taught him? And there is the question regarding those who have any Traits, etc. that cause the character to spread knowledge around.

Oh, and it eliminates two well worn tropes. The kindly Master Wizard who gifts his prize pupil with a spellbook before sending him out into the world to make his mark. And the impatient apprentice who steals his Master's spellbook and runs off to make his mark on the world.

Comments?
 

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I very rarely play Wizards, but decided to play my first in 5E recently. So I got to thinking, why is it that all Wizard's write their spellbooks in a code that only they can read? How does that square with having a Wizard mentor (being an apprentice)? Wouldn't it make more sense for the Master to teach his apprentice his own code? How would he correct any mistakes the apprentice might make while writing what the Master has taught him? And there is the question regarding those who have any Traits, etc. that cause the character to spread knowledge around.

Oh, and it eliminates two well worn tropes. The kindly Master Wizard who gifts his prize pupil with a spellbook before sending him out into the world to make his mark. And the impatient apprentice who steals his Master's spellbook and runs off to make his mark on the world.

Comments?
It's because of Mazirian the Magician and Jack Vance. Think of the "code that only they can read" as being something akin to C++ or LISP. It's not encoded to keep it secret--it's encoded because that's the only way to express concepts in (magical) engineering which can't be expressed properly in English (Common).

JackVance said:
Mazirian stroked his chin. Apparently he must capture the girl himself. Later, when black night lay across the forest, he would seek through his books for spells to guard him through the unpredictable glades. They would be poignant corrosive spells, of such a nature that one would daunt the brain of an ordinary man and two render him mad. Mazirian, by dint of stringent exercise, could encompass four of the most formidable, or six of the lesser spells.

...The Magician climbed the stairs. Midnight found him in his study, poring through leather-bound tomes and untidy portfolios ... At one time a thousand or more runes, spells, incantations, curses and sorceries had been known. The reach of Grand Motholam—Ascolais, the Ide of Kauchique, Almery to the South, the Land of the Falling Wall to the East—swarmed with sorcerers of every description, of whom the chief was the Arch-Necromancer Phandaal. A hundred spells Phandaal personally had formulated—though rumor said that demons whispered at his ear when he wrought magic. Pontecilla the Pious, then ruler of Grand Motholam, put Phandaal to torment, and after a terrible night, he killed Phandaal and outlawed sorcery throughout the land. The wizards of Grand Motholam fled like beetles under a strong light; the lore was dispersed and forgotten, until now, at this dim time, with the sun dark, wilderness obscuring Ascolais, and the white city Kaiin half in ruins, only a few more than a hundred spells remained to the knowledge of man. Of these, Mazirian had access to seventy-three, and gradually, by stratagem and negotiation, was securing the others.

Mazirian made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal's Gyrator, Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere. This accomplished, Mazirian drank wine and retired to his couch.
Edit: I just noticed something. It looks like you think that wizards can't read each other's spellbooks, but in 5E that isn't true. You can copy spells out of another wizard's spellbook at some expense in time and money. Think of that as the equivalent of learning someone else's painting technique, or reading through source code on github. It takes some time to digest it and make it your own, but not because you can't read the language it's written in.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Edit: I just noticed something. It looks like you think that wizards can't read each other's spellbooks, but in 5E that isn't true. You can copy spells out of another wizard's spellbook at some expense in time and money. Think of that as the equivalent of learning someone else's painting technique, or reading through source code on github. It takes some time to digest it and make it your own, but not because you can't read the language it's written in.
Then again, "Read Magic" and-or "Comprehend Language" have always been there to mitigate this in older editions...assuming you knew them.

A question, then: if all wizards can read each other's spells in 5e, what can a 5e wizard do if she explicitly does not want anyone else (e.g. other nosy wizards in the party) to be able to read her spellbook without difficulty and without resorting to Exploding Rune or similar? The answer used to be "write them in the most unusual language you know"...but that defense is gone now.

Lanefan
 

Then again, "Read Magic" and-or "Comprehend Language" have always been there to mitigate this in older editions...assuming you knew them.

A question, then: if all wizards can read each other's spells in 5e, what can a 5e wizard do if she explicitly does not want anyone else (e.g. other nosy wizards in the party) to be able to read her spellbook without difficulty and without resorting to Exploding Rune or similar? The answer used to be "write them in the most unusual language you know"...but that defense is gone now.
How about a nice illusion?

http://5esrd.com/spellcasting/all-spells/i/illusory-script/ said:
1st-level illusion (ritual)

Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: Touch
Components: S, M (a lead-based ink worth at least 10 gp, which the spell consumes)
Duration: 10 days

You write on parchment, paper, or some other suitable writing material and imbue it with a potent illusion that lasts for the duration.

To you and any creatures you designate when you cast the spell, the writing appears normal, written in your hand, and conveys whatever meaning you intended when you wrote the text. To all others, the writing appears as if it were written in an unknown or magical script that is unintelligible. Alternatively, you can cause the writing to appear to be an entirely different message, written in a different hand and language, though the language must be one you know.

Should the spell be dispelled, the original script and the illusion both disappear.

A creature with truesight can read the hidden message.
 

MarkB

Legend
How about a nice illusion?
That could get expensive - you'd have to replace your spellbook every 10 days, at a cost of 1 hour and 10gp per spell level, plus the 10gp for the illusory script (assuming that one casting covers the whole book). And if the book ever got hit with a dispel magic you'd lose the whole thing.
 

That could get expensive - you'd have to replace your spellbook every 10 days, at a cost of 1 hour and 10gp per spell level, plus the 10gp for the illusory script (assuming that one casting covers the whole book). And if the book ever got hit with a dispel magic you'd lose the whole thing.
I don't follow your math. Why do you have to replace the whole spellbook?

1 gp per day doesn't seem like an excessive price for secrecy--at least not for the type of paranoid wizard who likes to hide his spells from his fellow PCs.

Edit: oh, I see. You're reading "you write on parchment" as part of the spell, as if the spell cannot be cast on existing writing. Under that interpretation (which might be correct--I'd have to think about it) you'd probably want a different spell, maybe a custom-researched one.
 
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MostlyDm

Explorer
That could get expensive - you'd have to replace your spellbook every 10 days, at a cost of 1 hour and 10gp per spell level, plus the 10gp for the illusory script (assuming that one casting covers the whole book). And if the book ever got hit with a dispel magic you'd lose the whole thing.
I get how you're interpreting the spell, but personally I'd rule that you can cast this over text already written. I don't see the need to use a restrictive interpretation of what is already a bit of a niche spell.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
Because Wizards are powerful, and therefore paranoid that people will steal their stuff and kill them? I mean really the lifestyle of a Wizard can't be far off from a Sith. You're constantly searching for new and more powerful magic (for whatever reason) and constantly fearing that someone *coughWOTCcough* is going to steal and bur...I mean copy, copy your books. :p


Hmmm...now I really want to make an obsessive organization of Wizards who live by the Coast who do nothing more than attack other magic-users to steal their secrets and destroy their work.
 

Gardens & Goblins

First Post
Dear diary,

Today I learnt how to fold reality itself. I can wish, warp and bend the universe to my will. Should I choose, I could kill every other child within our fair city, and possibly the realm.

As I write down the secrets to such power in my well worn tome, I can't help wonder, what would happen if this knowledge was to fall into the wrong hands?

..

Ah well. Perhaps I am being paranoid. Perhaps I should focus on believing in the best in people, especially power-hungry, highly intelligent scholars of the arcane arts.

To this end, I have written all my world-breaking secrets in the common tongue and have endeavored to produce an audio record so as to increase their accessibility.

What's the worst that can happen?

- Sigmung Sagely, the Enabler.
 
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MarkB

Legend
I get how you're interpreting the spell, but personally I'd rule that you can cast this over text already written. I don't see the need to use a restrictive interpretation of what is already a bit of a niche spell.
I don't see how it can be interpreted any other way. The material component is ink that is consumed in the spell's casting, therefore writing the text happens as part of the spell.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
Supply and Demand. If every dirt farmer could read spellbooks (assuming they are literate, which might be a big assumption), then they would all be wizards. Then the value of being a wizard goes down, at least for common spells. How many gp's can the drow wizard charge for casting darkness in a drow city? Not much I imagine. Look at Eberron--half the wizards are in sweat shops making cheap magic trinkets.....oh, I am sorry, they are craftsmen working in a communal environment, or something like that--I am pretty sure I heard Nike say that about the places where kids make their shoes.

The wizards union takes a dim view of this prospect and ruthlessly enforces it.....at least until they figure out how to break the Weave, then they will make sure everyone learns how to be a wizard, so that "real wizards" can charge a lot more for fixing places where magic has broken down then they ever could for casting spells. Two words: subscription service.
 

I very rarely play Wizards, but decided to play my first in 5E recently. So I got to thinking, why is it that all Wizard's write their spellbooks in a code that only they can read? How does that square with having a Wizard mentor (being an apprentice)? Wouldn't it make more sense for the Master to teach his apprentice his own code? How would he correct any mistakes the apprentice might make while writing what the Master has taught him? And there is the question regarding those who have any Traits, etc. that cause the character to spread knowledge around.
The problem is you've added a modern mentality (open information) to an archaic world. Wizards (like alchemists of history) are paranoid that someone will steal their formulas and usurp their power... especially if they charge for their services! Think of wizards as being like corporate programmers; they want everyone to see the results, but not the source code. Even if they learn the fundamentals from someone else (a mentor), they still put their own twist on everything to personalize it.
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
Dear diary,

Today I learnt how to fold reality itself. I can wish, warp and bend the universe to my will. Should I choose, I could kill every other child within our fair city, and possibly the realm. . . .
What's the worst that can happen?

- Sigmung Sagely, the Enabler.
Once upon a time, D&D had an intelligence requirement for casting spells. Sooo...you can write off 75% of the population there.

Even being able to read the common tongue doesn't mean you can -cast- a spell. How many people do you know who can read poetry? And of those, how many can actually appreciate poetry? Casting spells is like appreciating poetry on steroids.
 


GX.Sigma

Adventurer
IMC:

A spell can be written in any language. It could be Common, it could be Elvish, it could be Morse Code. It could be a song, a painting, or even a subtle pattern in the stitching of a robe.

Any layman who understands that language may attempt to cast the spell (or, just by examining it too closely, accidentally release the spell). This will usually end in disaster.

A wizard, on the other hand, will immediately recognize the immense Truth within the words/notes/brush strokes. No matter the language, a dedicated wizard can decipher the universal language of magic, and use the spell safely (with a successful INT check, of course).
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
"Common" has- over the years- been described as a kind of trade language, a pidgin tongue, a fantasy version of Esperanto. Certain concepts may not be easily expressed in it because of this. That would make Common a poor choice for recording arcane mysteries.

It could also be seen as the current "lingua Franca" (dominant language) of the current day dominant cultures of the fantasy setting. In such a case, "Common" could be completely different over time...and on different continents, if there is sufficient geological isolation. In the RW, languages such as Egyptian, Greek, Latin, France, German, and- further east- Arabic, Chinese, and others. That would mean that a tome could be in "Common", and yet not the same language of the casters of today.

The nature of magic might also be such that- over time- it would corrupt and twist written mundane characters into illegibility.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I think an important concept to read up about is hermeticism.

No, I don't mean "sealing something hermetically" - although ironically, that's the root of the word. Hermetic knowledge was *closed knowledge*.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism

This school of thought was attributed to Hermes Tri-Magister. One of the aspect about this is that many of the writings were in code. For example, when an alchemical text talks about "mercury" - it might mean quicksilver, or it could be code for something entirely different - it could be a mythical metaphor.

This was done for three reasons - one was to protect the general public from knowledge not "safe" for them - only the initiate could understand. The second was a test for students - are they smart enough to figure it out? The third was to protect the writing from the authorities who may have considered it blasphemous.

The discoveries of alchemists were important in helping start modern chemistry. However, this "style" of knowledge did much to inhibit progress.
 


Gardens & Goblins

First Post
Once upon a time, D&D had an intelligence requirement for casting spells. Sooo...you can write off 75% of the population there.

Even being able to read the common tongue doesn't mean you can -cast- a spell. How many people do you know who can read poetry? And of those, how many can actually appreciate poetry? Casting spells is like appreciating poetry on steroids.
o-O Far too many for me to sleep soundly. And only one needs to get their hands on a Wish spell, or a Fireball, or heck, even Sleep. Unlike world-changing weapons and technology of today, once learnt, most spells are readily available, with the majority recharging daily. And all we need is some folks with a specialist skillset? Terrifying!


..hmm. I think the take away from this is: We must kill the poets. Before it is too late!
 

A spell written down in a spellbook is not simply a recipe for how to cast the spell, but a representation of the spell itself. That's why you can't just use any random piece of parchment and ink to write a spell down, but need a proper spellbook and special exotic inks.

Every wizard wields magic in a slightly different way, so their spells are not exactly the same. Because of that a wizard can't prepare spells from another wizard's spellbook, but by studying it he can gain sufficient understanding of the spell to write it down in his own spellbook.
 

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