Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

p.178 of the Player's Handbook 3.5:

Arcane Magical Writings

To record an arcane spell in written form, a character uses a complex notation that describes the magical forces involved in the spell. The notation constitutes a universal arcane language that wizards have discovered, not invented.

Well. Who invented this universal arcane language?

Official answers, please. :)

share|improve this question
Is this maybe setting-specific? I don't know much about post-2e, but in different settings it might change, (e.g. the Dark Sun setting has different magic) –  Dakeyras Jan 28 '13 at 22:22
Is there even a creator? Maybe magic in D&D is like Maxwell's equations in real life: discovered, universal, sans creator. –  okeefe Jan 28 '13 at 22:28
@Dakeyras It's not really setting-specific: it's a quote from the core D&D3.5 PHB that presents, afaik, a generic D&D setting that is based on, but is not exactly matching Greyhawk(?). –  OpaCitiZen Jan 28 '13 at 22:29
@OpaCitiZen Even if it's core, alternative settings might have alternative magic systems without the Universal Arcane Language –  Dakeyras Jan 28 '13 at 22:33
@Dakeyras: True. What I'm interested in here is the answer from and for this core setting, though. :) –  OpaCitiZen Jan 28 '13 at 22:57

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

"Discovered, not invented" is the 3e designers' way of saying "please don't think too hard about this: we're not going to explain it any more, and we really hope the debates that plagued AD&D will go away and not bother 3e."

Lots of design details in 3.x like this, that might not make sense at first, are simply attempts to handwave having to explain how something that has to work a certain way mechanically actually works fictionally. AD&D was full of such details, and players and DMs debated minute details of how spell components and wishes actually worked to the point where there were thousands of column-inches devoted to "solving" these holes, never to be successful. 3e attempted to break with that tradition by removing such lacunæ from the rules-fiction interface, by using fiat declarations like this. They are, in essence, signs that read "Nothing to see here, please move along."

Given that text like this is deliberately intended to avoid giving an official answer, you will have to be satisfied with ignoring it, or making up your own answers for your own group.

share|improve this answer

Well. Who invented this universal arcane language?

No one did.

By "discovered, not invented", it means that this is a language built into reality itself. This is backed up by the idea that the language is described as "universal."

This isn't such a crazy idea -- in our world we express the laws of physics with mathematics, which can also be described as discovered. Consider this passage about Erdos:

Hunagarian mathematician Paul Erdős, although an atheist, spoke of an imaginary book, in which God has written down all the most beautiful mathematical proofs. When Erdős wanted to express particular appreciation of a proof, he would exclaim "This one's from the Book!". This viewpoint expresses the idea that mathematics, as the intrinsically true foundation on which the laws of our universe are built, is a natural candidate for what has been personified as God by different religious mystics.

Now, I imagine that the reason that is described this way is to ensure that all arcane casters can learn from each others books and scrolls. But it's a pretty common trope in fantasy literature -- the Earthsea novels have a similar concept.

share|improve this answer
Well said and a beautiful point. I would point out that while mathematical concepts are discovered, our notation is invented. Though we do have ways of expressing at least some things in ways that should be close to univeral, look at the examples of Proofs Without Words. –  TimothyAWiseman Jan 28 '13 at 23:56
@TimothyAWiseman I use the "concepts discovered, notation invented" distinction to explain why wizards have to make spellcraft checks to understand each others' spellbooks. –  GMJoe Jan 29 '13 at 5:55
Nice answer indeed, thanks. I've thought of this too, in fact (well, not exactly this, with Erdős and so on, but the "no one" bit.) However, I'm looking for an official answer, or a reliable confirmation of the lack of official answer ("I've read all the 3.5 books and there's no answer to that.) :) –  OpaCitiZen Jan 29 '13 at 20:43
@OpaCitizen I'm saying that this is the official answer; I consider it to be answered in the exact text you quoted, even if you find it ambiguous. It specifically says the language was not invented -- you took it to mean someone had invented it earlier, but that's a misreading of the passage. –  starwed Jan 30 '13 at 14:35
@starwed No, the quotation does not say specifically that it was not invented. It says that 1) the wizards discovered this language, 2) that it weren't the wizards who invented it. Whether it was invented (if at all) by someone else or some other group is left open. –  OpaCitiZen Jan 30 '13 at 16:41

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.