Many tabletop RPGs have a spellbook as a necessary in-game item for wizards and spellcasters. The spellbook is generally used as a mechanical means to both limit and explain the spells the character has access to.
However, some GMs might allow characters to use an item that has the same mechanical effect while giving off a very different vibe or theme. A wizard who carries around an enchanted skull which can whisper so many spells every day to her is a very different wizard to one whom draws on the secrets encoded into the royal emblem.
Here are a few more ideas;
- Tattoos – this is a popular option among players as a wizard who is her own spellbook does not have to worry about paper pages getting left behind, stolen or washed away when she needs to jump in the river. GMs may want to counter balance this by building in some cost for having the magic words written on the skin, perhaps a terrible charisma score or the possibility of damage which each spell cast.
- Tattoo’d minion – for a very different style of game what about an evil wizard who has a lacky as a walking spellbook with their body covered in tattoos. Could this be the familiars of the setting?
- A deck of cards – Tarot cards, playing cards or just cards. Rather than having a clunky book with the pages in the same order, could your wizard write her spells down on cards instead, able to quickly get to the magic she needs in a flash and then pop the deck away in a pocket once done?
- Knotted rope or cord – knots have been used as a secret language in human history so why not as a spellbook too? Imagine knotted leather tassels hanging from a staff or another weapon? Knots dangling from a belt or modelled on Quipu.
- Beads – beads either woven into strips of cloth to form patterns or bunched together in colour combinations from leather straps. In real life the Oneida Indian Nation uses Wampum to give words importance.
- Embroidered into robes or the rims of hats – rather than written on fragile paper and used in plain sight, perhaps wizards have taken to stitching their spells into the clothes. This could explain why spellcasters are so prone to large hats and fancy robes.
- Braille markings on a staff – the cuts and markings on a wizard’s staff are actually the secret code by which spells are read and understood. The wizard has to find the right part of the staff, turning it as required, to access the spell she wants.
- A whispering skull or shrunken head – another one of the more sinister ideas but perhaps the magic words comes from the mutterings of this ancient skull the barely sane wizard carries around with her.
- A royal crest – the Queen of the land gives out her royal crest on shields or tunics to those she trusts. Hidden in the complex pattern are the secrets to magic. Should the wizard-warriors and diplomats defeat or befriend other noble houses then they’ll take or be given other crets with their own magical secrets.
- Wands – Unless wands already have a clearly defined role in the game perhaps every spell could be assigned their own wand. If you have access to the wand and the right spell slots/magic points then you can cast the spell.
- Ancient crystals – Magic in this world comes from the strange and ancient crystals sometimes dug up, found in deep caverns or the rare mountain top. To cast the spell you first need to have attuned to the crystal and have it with you.
- A giant scroll – in the style of some anime or martial art films; the wizard carries an over-sized scroll on their back which is the absolute record of their magical discoveries. It is their spellbook.
- A dragon’s eye – for an added gory touch have wizards who have gorged out one of their own eyes to replace it with a dragon’s eye. A hi-tech alternative is a bionic eye that helps them visualize the hidden patterns in their own brain waves.
- A mirror compact – a mini version of a magic mirror. This little compact helps the wizard see the truth of the world in its reflections and with each truth comes access to a new spell.
- An iPad – a hi-tech alternative; if the setting allows then why not keep the concept of a ‘book’ but simply do away with the paper.
- Runes – a dark cloth bag holding little stones or runic inscribed cubes. Something like Dropa stones might also work.
- Marbles – a variant of the crystal idea but perhaps each marble contains a little trace of the wizard’s soul, a little battery of magic, or a trace amount of some god’s will and to create a spell the right combination of marbles must be held in the fist while the magic words are spoken.
- Rings – inspired by the One Ring why not have all magic in the world accessed by powerful magic bound into metal. Wizards need to decorate their fingers with the right combination of rings in order to access the magic they need.
- Symbiotic creatures – another disturbing option is to have biological entities living inside the wizard that might whisper to him or simply change the flow of magic around his body. A spirit possession might work as an alternative.
- A puzzle box – something with a Hellraiser vibe; as the wizard masters more and more of the puzzle box they’re able to access stronger and more dangerous magic.
- Standing stones and tablets – this might only suit an enemy or NPC but why not have the stone circle itself or the towering stone tablets in a tomb be where the spells are written? Druids could have their entire grove as a record of magic.
- Dolls and statues – magic can only come to rest in the body and so wizards make little dolls in order to keep spells trapped away until they’re ready for release.
Can you think of any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.
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How do spellbooks work in D&D?
Just as this post was being written up the animator Zee Bashew published this introduction to spellbooks on his YouTube channel.
Art by Doc Wendigo, Creative Commons.