# How would it make sense that spellbooks or grimoires teach only one wizard?

When I saw this other question about one somewhat illogical aspect of spellbooks in JRPG games I remembered another somewhat illogical aspect about JRPG spellbooks: How would it make sense that spellbooks or grimoires teach only one spell?

How can it be made logical that each spellbook only teaches to one person? Like, in many JRPG games (eg. the original Final Fantasy) there's a spell shop and you buy spells for individual wizards just like weapons for individual warriors.

I mean, if the spellbook is simply conveying the knowledge of how to cast the spell then multiple people should be able to learn from one book. Thus the magic system would need something like a concept of "magical energy" that is actually stored in the book and used up by the wizard.

Incidentally, I'm interested both in answers that are about how existing games explain this, but also how this could be explained in new works. I'm starting to develop a JRPG so these ideas will help.

For example, maybe at the spell shop you aren't buying a book at all, but rather some other sort of magical artifact. Maybe something like you're buying new "ammunition" for your wand...

• Are these single-use books (Wizard reads the book, thereafter knows the spell, but the book is no longer useful to others) or more of an equippable thing (Wizard currently has "fireball" book equipped; later he unequips it and equips "thunderbolt")? – Tin Man Sep 12 '17 at 20:38
• I was thinking more like single-use. Equippable makes the entire question rather easy to answer (each wizard needs a book to equip) but then that could be a valid answer unto itself: change the magic system to be based on equippable spellbooks. – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 20:41
• What about magical copyright system magical DRM? 1 spellbook - 1 magic user. Otherwise it would be copyright violation, book won't open and you will be declared criminal if you try to hack it open. – user28434 Sep 13 '17 at 8:52
• What about magic by runes? In order to use a magic you have to move the rune from the book to your body (making it become a tattoo), which gets activated by the sorcerer to unleash its power. The magic resides inside the rune; once created, someone can copy it, but it becomes a useless tattoo unles the required amount of power (and knowledge) is inserted into it at its creation. This will make them like weapons (you can move them, not clone), and make some of them easy to replicate (so low level shops can produce low level - well known - magic easily) while the most powerful can be rare – frarugi87 Sep 13 '17 at 11:44
• To bring it back to the JRPG side, have you looked at the Espers system in FF6? Each character equips an esper that can teach a certain set of spells (at a certain rate). As they earn exp with the esper equipped, they learn the spells. The equipped espers can be switched around at any time. – JamesCW Sep 13 '17 at 15:40

Both of these questions (OP's and the one OP is referring to) approach the subject from a game standpoint, and as such, narrative is often sacrificed to make sure the game doesn't become a really slow paced grind, and items or objects are sometimes presented in a really abstract way. Perhaps when you go to the "magic shop", you're not buying a tome at all, or at least, not by itself. Perhaps you're actually buying a spot in a class?

Magic is a pretty complex subject in almost all universes that it appears in, ranging from needing entire multi-year schools to teach the ins and outs, to at the very least, needing to find an old master, who is passing down an art to a gifted and worthy young apprentice. To imagine that a young, adventuring age wizard could learn to deftly control a spell that has been the death of some sages (for instance, Meteor in Final Fantasy 4) just by reading a book of around 300 pages once is a little foolish, at least in my opinion.

Instead, it seems as if it would make sense that the magic store isn't a magic store at all, and instead is a list of local teachers looking to pass on an art and make some coin. For simplicity's sake, and to avoid cutscenes (or worse, minigames) that the player has to endure just for their wizards to learn the tier two ice magic, the game just boils it down to "pay an exorbitant fee for this spell".

This doesn't even really go against the idea that there is indeed a tome or a book that might be carried around - sure, Black Mage #50982 has this tome on him, but it's as worthless to Red Mage #23443 as an advanced Physics textbook is to a beginner in the field. No matter how much great knowledge is in there, the beginner isn't going to start accelerating particles.

• Perhaps you're actually buying a spot in a class wow what a great outside-the-box approach to this problem, I like it – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 20:31
• While this answer isn't as mind-bendingly cool as stuff like observer-effect magic writing, I'm gonna "accept" this one as it's the cleanest (ie. doesn't require any changes to the magic system) answer. – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 20:43

Magical writings are subject to something like the Observer Effect: reading the text actually changes what's written down. The changes to a grimoire after it's read are not necessarily very large, and well within the ability of the person who read it last time to compensate for ("hold on, that's not the way it was last time"). But they're enough to render the book unusable by anyone else: it just doesn't have the proper information to teach the spell anymore. In a world with magic like this, wizards would value having very good memory for text.

This also introduces a somewhat unusual reason for rival wizards to want to gain access to each other's books, and for wizards to guard their books closely. You might have nothing to gain by stealing another wizard's book, but you could spoil it by just by reading it a few times. The owner might still be able to re-figure the book after one or two readings by somebody else (though it would get harder each time), and then be able to use it normally again. But after too many "strange readings" it would simply drift too far, and then no one could use it at all.

• whoah what a weird concept. And magic should be weird, so nice – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 18:59

Because the book actually is a contract to a specific demon!

Each demon has a specific (set of) ability that is available to use upon forming the contract. Because there is only one unique demon ever and the contract , you can't learn the same spell. This is actually was written for the previous question, but seemed more appropriate here

A minor twist would be changing the demon to a spirit.

Wind spirit Sylph may enable you to cast "Healing Wind", but forming a contract with Zephyr allows you to cast the offensive "Hurricane" spell.

Incorporating this into a game will be both an interesting task and a challenge.

Challenge: You will need to provide more names for spirits/demons. These should be easily associated with already popular names, like Salamander and Ifrit for fire. If you have a lot of spells, making a spirit provide a set of spells will reduce the burden.

Interesting: You could make the grimoire hunting a side quest! Maybe you want to complete your wind grimoire and become the archmage of the Wind?

However, if you also want to incorporate learning a skill book (martial art technique), this wouldn't help much.

• It's a neat idea but thematically it doesn't really make sense. I mean, why would you buy a contract? – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 19:30
• I guess "would" was the wrong word on my part. I'm not so much wondering your motivation, as mechanically why do you need to? Is it because you and the demon can't communicate directly and you need a third-party broker to facilitate the contract for you? That's interesting (spell stores as recruitment agencies) but seems very complicated. – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 19:47
• Earlier I'm almost posting this as a seal, but a contract seems more appropriate. The demon is sealed in the book, and by chanting the inscriptions, you simultaneously release it and give it the right to possess you (sealed in you). However, in exchange of becoming the vessel of the demon, you receive part of the power. After all, it is more interesting to be sealed in a human rather than in a book. – Vylix Sep 12 '17 at 19:54
• @jhocking it's essentially a lawyer agency. Sure you could write a contract down yourself, but you'll end up with plenty of loopholes. "Sure, fireball. Wait, you didn't want to burn yourself with each cast? Version 2 done. Wait, you wanted the firewall to do something, just not to you? Negotiating version 3: What do you mean collateral damage? Wait, you want the fireball to affect the wearer and his armor, but not the armor in his knapsack? I'm gonna need a good definition.". Demons are powerful, but they want to screw you over. Having someone to negotiate the contract shields you from that. – John Dvorak Sep 12 '17 at 22:28
• @JohnDvorak: Also explains why the contract is a whole book, it is very, very, thorough. – Matthieu M. Sep 13 '17 at 6:28

There are two possibilities I can see.

1. In the example you gave where spellbooks are equipped as weapons to a character you do not actually learn the spell. You can only cast it when holding or reading from the spellbook. So if two wizards want to cast the same spell they each need their own spellbook.
2. The spellbooks are consumable. The paper and ink they are created from are magical and as you read them they disappear so there is nothing left for anyone else to learn from.

Both methods also handily explain why a spell is learnt instantaneously upon purchasing a spellbook; there is no actual learning going on, the spell is either read from the book or absorbed magically.

• well, technically in the example I gave the spells aren't equipped like weapons, they are purchased like weapons. In FF1 once a character buys a spell then they know it and can cast it repeatedly, it's just that the spell needs to be purchased separately for each character. – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 18:15
• @jhocking the analogy still works, even if the spellbooks don't take up an equipment slot or similar, each one is kept on the wizard at all times so multiples are needed for multiple wizards. – adaliabooks Sep 12 '17 at 18:16
• Their being consumable is what first came to mind for me. They generally seem to be in most games--otherwise the spell would be something you could then give to someone else. In Mario RPGs, they even feel like power-ups. – trlkly Sep 12 '17 at 21:35

Having just done time with the GNU build tools... :)

Each spellbook is printed, just-in-time, after being generated from a script (or by a meta-spell), that takes many bits of personally specific data as input.

This is a similar answer to the ones given for: Handling magical rune script copyright

### Each book teaches you a certain lifestyle - and in the process you bond with the magical energy of the book

The process of creating a book involves the wizard/sorcerer/... to use magical energy surrounding him to inscribe the runes. The rituals that are necessary to write a book involve imbuing the magical tome with a certain energy signature.

The wizard reading the book needs to bond with this energy. This requires extensive reading and understanding of the rituals inscribed in the book and the energy generally is only enough so that one wizard can bond to the book.

Depending on your story you may want to state that the Wizard reading the book incorporates the magic, taking it up into his own pool of energy from where he can use the energy. This would lead to books becoming worthless once a Wizard has used the energy. Or you may want to make the book retain the magic, but only being able to bond to one Wizard at a time. This way your Wizards could "forget" how to use a spell and the book could be used again by someone else. Maybe especially large books for especially complicated magic could have a magical signature that allows being tuned to two users at the same time. Again, depending on what you want to do this could lead to interesting scenarios of why certain Wizards can use certain books and other can't.

• oo the concept of bonding with a spellbook is pretty cool. And it's pretty similar to how DnD makes you "attune" to magic items. – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 16:59

Many RPG and games have a dual approach; you can use scrolls, which are consumed by use, or you can memorize spells from your spellbook. You can copy a scroll into your spellbook, but this consumes the scroll. While I suspect this is largely driven by game-balance, maybe we can play with it...

Let's imagine that scrolls are written on special paper, which is infused with power. This power provides most of the mana (or elemental power or whatever) needed to fuel the spell. The release of this power destroys the scroll. So casting from a scroll is not exhausting to the magician, as the mojo comes from the scroll. You can happily cast spells from scrolls all day long. Note we could use this same mechanic to explain several-shot items like wands.

Spellbooks are a little different. There is no inherent power in the spellbook; it is a reminder of the ritual used to evoke the magic from one's own spiritual resources. The strain of doing so ... fuzzes the memory a bit, so it is unsafe to try to cast the spell twice without going back to the book for study. It's also taxing on many levels, which is why a magician can only memorize so many rituals for one day.

As the spell is a little different between scroll and 'book -- different power source, hein? -- copying from scroll to book requires tremendous concentration, which just incidentally uses up the scroll, too. Note carefully that using this approach you could copy spells from someone else's book without their knowledge...

So there you have it. Hope this helps!

• Note carefully that using this approach you could copy spells from someone else's book without their knowledge What about knowingly? Are you saying that such copying would destroy the spellbook? – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 19:40
• While this a great explanation on how the scroll and spellbook differ from each other, this does not actually answer the question: Why it can only teach one wizard? – Vylix Sep 12 '17 at 19:40
• @Vylix I'm saying that a scroll can teach only one wizard because copying it to spellbook uses it up, but a spellbook could in fact teach several wizards. I'm assuming that (a) wizards guard their books carefully, and that (b) the price of a spellbook would be astronomical on the open market, for just this reason. Plus, you'd have to pry it out of some wizard's cold, dead fingers... – akaioi Sep 12 '17 at 19:58
• @jhocking I may have been unclear. I'm suggesting that you could copy from someone's spellbook, study it, whatever you want and it'll be unharmed, but that copying someone's scrolls would deplete them and cause a spot of annoyance. – akaioi Sep 12 '17 at 19:59
• Not unclear, that's what I thought you meant. I asked for clarifications because this still doesn't work. I mean, if you have a party with 2 or more wizards, why don't they share all their spells? – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 20:08

There are two ways to look at this. Either the spellbook is usable by one person because it is specific to that person, or it is usable only by one person because it can only be used one time.

In the first case, spells aren't just a string of simple words that can be written down on a page. They are gestures, material components, sounds, and exercises of will. But even those aspects of the spell are really just one person's interpretation of the spell... they might vary a bit from person to person.

For example, if a spell involves launching fire at a target, one caster might trace a symbol meaning "fire" in the air while they murmur the name of the target, another might speak the word for "fire" in an ancient tongue while pointing at the target, etc. Each casting expresses the caster's perception of the underlying platonic ideal of that spell, which can never truly be represented.

Correspondingly, the casters clearly record that spell very differently. Not only are they recording different things based on their perception of the spell, but they also each have their own notation to describe complex gestures that must be precisely reproduced in both space and time, sounds, the invocations of their will, even details like when and how long to hold their breath.

To read a wizard's spellbook, you must have the whole life experience of that wizard. You must be able to stand in their shoes and see the view of the spell they are trying to cast from their unique perspective. Without that, it's just gibberish on a page.

Personally, I like the above approach because it's rich and deep. It makes for both good stories and good role playing in tabletop games.

If, on the other hand, the spellbook can only be used by one person because it can only be used once, that's substantially simpler. In that case the text is, itself, magical. It's less of a traditional book and more like an iPad that plays a Youtube tutorial video that teaches you how to perform the spell. And once you've finished learning the spell, the magical batteries are dead so no one else can use it. (Fun fact: You can tell when someone learned a spell from this type of item because they always finish the casting by saying, "Don't forget to like and subscribe!")

The tome is an enchanted device that burns the energy channels through the reader's brain and body as it is read the first time. Once that is done, the magic in the book is used up and, depending on the worlds laws, it either remains as a non-magical readable book or it disintegrates.

In the case of a book that does not disintegrate, it is possible that reading it will allow the reader to gain insights that will allow them to, with diligent practice, burn the energy channels without the magic. However, it would be almost as hard as researching a new spell.

• hm this is a very interesting concept, I may adopt this. It's actually quite similar to my ritual idea (basically, reading the book is the ritual) so I may combine the two. – jhocking Sep 14 '17 at 3:30

In my own system, Tomes are bound at the time of purchase.

The pages within, are chosen by the wizard or school selling it. These are chosen from sets of pages based on the mages abilities, schooling, craft and style of spell, once the aspects are chosen, the tome is bound, and the cover fused into place, causing a 'bleed' between those pages, so the book becomes a single stand alone spell. It also becomes mildly sapient.

So a Mage of Necromancy, schooled in Earth magic and plant magic, who has studied battle magic level 1 can buy and learn 'fireball' level 1, 2 & 3, the Tome is set for those styles of thought. Anyone else attempting to learn fireball from this tome, without the same understandings, will find the book incomprehensible. Yet someone who has all but plant magic, might be able to learn the spell at half speed, and will have a 20% chance of failure.

This was originally a comment, but they asked me to put it into an answer, so... Here it is

The first thing that came to my mind is runes. Magic is a mixture of a drawing (rune) together with the energy stored inside it. When someone wants to create a spell, it has to draw the rune, then imbue it with the right amount and type of energy in order to make it magic. Then this can be activated easily by anyone/by the ones who know how to activate it (this way you can make magic available to everyone or only by sorcerers - open for narrative needings).

When you buy a rune (or a book of runes) you will have to transfer it to your body (making it a sort of tattoo), then you will be able to use it.

If someone sees the rune/tattoo, he can of course copy it, but without the required knowledge and power to imbue it with the right energy it becomes only a normal drawing. Consequently you can move the runes, but not clone them.

Since some spells (e.g. the minor fireball) are well known, even low level magic artisans know the process of creating the associated rune, so they are very cheap. The rise of the dead rune, on the other hand, is known by only Malagar the Great, so every rune is worth a lot...

Spellbooks are very, very hard to write, they take incredible skill and time, why? Because spellbooks can only be used once by one person, who they are written for, a spellbook is tuned to a particular user when it's written so that it is aligned with them to make learning process possible. Thus most wizards will only ever use spellbooks written by their master who know's them well. A generic spellbook that could teach anyway would be worth far more than the writers weight in any material he cared to name.

I really like Secespitus' bonding with spellbooks concept, but another idea that occurs to me is modifying the magic system in this world so that, rather than the rituals around magic being part of casting a spell, the rituals are to imbue someone with the ability to cast a spell. The ability itself would basically be innate; once you have the ability to cast a spell you can cast it at will, with no further ritual.

Thus the cost to learn a spell is actually the cost of performing the ritual (eg. to gain the ability to cast X, you need to crush up a rare animal's skeleton).

• fyi after reading all the answers I'm leaning towards both a different answer and this idea for the two kinds of magic in my game: one idea for more external offensive magic, and my rituals idea for more innate healing magic. – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 20:45

This is all because the commercial act of Corporation of Magic.

The principles of magic are very difficult, but learning to use magic is an easy thing, or rather say learning to cast spells with spell book is easy. The production of spell book is done by the very few ones who have learnt the principles of magic. They have decided they should earn many as they have spent so much effort, and they cannot endure the situation that people learn from their spell books and then resell their spell books to the others (as some authors do not like the idea of libraries buying their books, lending the books to the public and not paying fees to them every time the books are borrowed).

So they decided to form a Corporation, and they have designed a special spell, in which after the spell book has been used once, the words on the spell book will all change to unreadable words (encryption). But as to save cost, they will recover all the unreadable spell books and then use the reverse spell of the special spell to turn spell book to be readable again (decryption) and so they can sell the spell book again.

In order to prevent two persons to learn from the spell book instantaneously, They also develop a lock-on spell, in which only one person can see the content of the spell book, while the others will just see a blank spell book.

Because the spell book is so complex, there's no way you can remember it all, so a wizard must refer to it at all times.

Perhaps it contains a long, complex sequence of incantations, such that getting one syllable wrong will set your hair on fire, or turn your staff into a toaster. You don't want to risk that in the heat of battle! Instead, you'd whip out the tome every time, and read it verbatim.

Or perhaps the spell contains so many minutiae that your wizard must constantly refer to it. Kind of like a cheat sheet or reference book. Who has time to remember all those things anyway? Certainly not your wizard; she's too busy inventing the next doomsday spell.

So that leaves the question of transferability. Surely the wizard, on retirement, can bequeath that dusty old magic arrow spellbook to one of her bumbling apprentices, now that she's just bought a thousand-arrows spell? Well her apprentice can try, but upon opening the book he finds it full of markings, glued-on scraps, bits blacked out, pages rearranged, margins filled with notes - this book is useless! The apprentice needs a new book, one that he can fill with his notes, and scribblings, and his personal shorthands and notations.

That is, spellbooks are so inscrutable, wizards must personally annotate them, making them useless for other wizards. So why doesn't anyone write an easily-understood version, so everyone can learn from it? Oh, but why should they? Learning magic should be hard! We should force bumbling apprentices to toil, polishing golems day-in, day-out, just for the privilege!

Besides, why would any self-respecting wizard let go of their spellbooks? They should be hoarded, into the most impressive, envy-inducing library in the world.

I think there is a simpler answer that has shown up in my various roleplaying games. It's not that the scroll or spellbook is specific to a person, it is almost always specific to a discipline. I.E. a healer could get a necromancers scroll and not be able to do anything with it. However any other necro could use it.

An admittedly bad analogy may be with guns. Someone could pick up a skill to use a small revolver. However, that doesn't mean that the same person could pick up a complex sniper rifle with a built in weather station. Just simply something you aren't capable of using.

Or perhaps another one might be in college text books. A med student is very smart and able to use all associated texts, but if you give that same student a graduate level CS text book and told them to design a program, without any other training, would be unable to do anything with it.

Add to that, with scrolls, often the scroll itself is destroyed when the caster reads it and learns the spell. The magic imbued in the scroll transfers to the user. This is shown in many games by the fact that scrolls (and possibly spellbooks) must be created by a caster him/her self, rather than an ordinary scribe. The scroll must be imbued with some energy from the mage to make it useful.

Hope it helps:)

• Well, then the scroll can be used to teach multiple med students about healing magic then! So this does not actually solve the problem... – Vylix Sep 13 '17 at 17:28

MRM - Magical Rights Management.

Obviously, Mages want to earn money, so they add enchantments to the books so that they can only be used once.

There is magic required to transcribe a spell onto a scroll or spell book. This energy is used in either casting the spell, or transcribing it into a spell book - the book would remain, printed pages and all, but as there is no magic left in it, it would be useless for someone else to use.

Wizards have to spend a full rest period learning their spells, as just casting them from the spell book would use the stored energy. Creating a scroll or book to give to someone else required rare materials/unobtainium and years of training, so your adventurer wizard cannot simply buy a scroll, and start xeroxing it to give copies to the party. There's a reason the vendors are all high level mages of very advanced age. This also means that they are not going to fall for tricks the players may want to do to trick the vendor out of his wares.

This also makes other wizards spell books very valuable items, and all wizards will have protection/warding/notification magic to keep their book safe, as well as a number of trained/bound creatures.

Going off in a different direction:

The grimoire you learn from is not like a school textbook. It is more like an intelligent single-use exercise book (also called a workbook), where as you learn each chapter you do the exercises and the magic grades and corrects you.

There is DRM in modern workbooks that keeps cost-conscious teachers from simply photocopying them so that a whole classroom of students can use a single purchased copy; magic is much more valuable of an intellectual property and the DRM would be much more advanced.

As a more useful generalisation, think of scrolls, spell books, etc, like this:

Magic is fundamentally a process of using words to achieve a particular "shape" in your mind that then takes form as a spell effect. The words themselves are more about association than having the power themselves, which is why random people can't just repeat the words without knowing how to work the spell and still get the result.

If you have a particularly helpful form of magical science you can teach another wizard the spell by creating the spell form in your mind and "telepathically" transferring it to the other wizard's mind rather than casting it... They associate the words of the spell with the form in their mind and thus can recreate it by reciting the words. It's a learn by observing kind of deal.

Since having to find someone to learn from isn't efficient or economically helpful, an extremely helpful form of magical science will let you take the spell form and "freeze" or "seal" the spell instead of casting it, so that later you can trigger it to either cast or transfer the knowledge of it. The frozen version would take a physical form, though the exact details could vary according to the creators wishes. Triggering it could be by code phrase or by action.

And now you have a system where spell scrolls, magic books, wands, cursed objects, etc can all exist and have limited uses (corresponding to the number of frozen spells associated with it). As a bonus, disarming or studying an object with a frozen spell on it would logically give a chance of learning that spell if done successfully, variant spell phrases are consistent with the rules, and prepared spells make sense.

Have fun ;)

Magic extends beyond the physical dimensions of our reality. From our limited perspective it's a dynamic thing, ever-changing, always shifting beyond understanding in ways we can't begin to predict. But if you can grab onto it briefly, and know just a fraction of it even for a moment, you establish a permanent bond. Through that bond you can commune with the unfathomable force that wills magic to be, and draw on its power at will. This affords the ability to "learn" how to use a spell repeatedly, even though knowledge of magic becomes obsolete faster than it can be communicated through the production and distribution of written word.

So how do you distribute written knowledge that becomes useless before you can even finish printing one copy? Have the book write itself in the moment it's being read. The book is more than a collection of pages stamped with ink, it's a focus designed to channel the presently visible state of a particular portion of magic into a representation we can comprehend in our small dimension. As a reader's eyes scan the pages, initially blank, the book fills them with the arcane symbology designed to express magical knowledge. The reader must be skilled in interpreting and memorizing this information at the speed it appears, because it's only viable for a few seconds - there's not enough time to re-read more than a symbol or two.

As for why the book doesn't just re-write itself each time it's read: enchantments require energy just like anything else does. A spell book, intended to be portable, can only carry with it enough magical energy to write itself about one time. This also explains why such a book would need multiple pages - it's more energy efficient to print on a blank page than to have to erase or modify a page already containing information first, not to mention it's a lot easier to follow the changes as they appear on a blank page.

## protected by James♦Sep 13 '17 at 19:36

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