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I'm now wondering after googling for a while, what are the different sources a Wizard can learn his spells from? Is it only limited to scrolls and tomes, or can a Wizard learn spells from other magic items?

The following quotes are from the PHB, page 114 Your spellbook

You might find other spells during your adventures. You could discover a spell recorded on a scroll in an evil wizard's chest, for example, or in a dusty tome in an ancient library.

Copying a Spell into the Book When you find a wizard spell of 1st level or higher, you can add it to your spellbook if it is of a level for which you have spell slots and if you can spare the time to decipher and copy it.

For each level of the spell, the process takes 2 hours and costs 50gp. The costs represents material components you expend as you experiment with the spell to master it, as well as the fine inks you need to record it. Once you have spent this time and money, you can prepare the spell just like your other spells.

The way this is worded and considering the few examples we're given, shouldn't it be possible to learn a spell from more than just written sources?

An example would be Wand of Magic Missile: would it be possible for a Wizard to learn the spell Magic Missile by studying the spell when used by the item and write down his research and thus learning how to use the spell on his own and eventually master it?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; earlier comments trying to get the question in Stack shape have been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 11 '17 at 23:17
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Sources must be written in some form

First, you glossed over this phrase:

decipher and copy it.

Copying something into a book, per standard English, typically means the source was written.

I also believe you stopped one sentence short of another clue:

Copying a spell into your spellbook involves reproducing the basic form of the spell, then deciphering the unique system of notation used by the wizard who wrote it.

Emphasis mine.

Between these and the examples given, it's pretty clear the intent is written spells only.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 12 '17 at 11:45
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A wizard can "learn" spells from almost anything.

Immediately before your quote, the PHB states:

The spells that you add to your spellbook as you gain levels reflect the arcane research you conduct on your own, as well as intellectual breakthroughs you have had about the nature of the multiverse.

While the specific rules given in the PHB are specific to copying a spell from another spellbook, and the text refers to leveling up, the mention of research and breakthroughs shows that there is room within the setting for the wizard to do his/her own research in order to develop spells.

Thus, it seems plausible that a wizard could spend time studying the wand and eventually figure out how to cast the spell. However, there are no rules for how this study would work, so it would be up to the DM to determine how that kind of research would work and what it would cost.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Key phrase, "as you gain levels". IE, the spells you learn "automatically" on level-up. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Jul 11 '17 at 0:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @adeptus true but it clearly implies that spells can be researched rather than simply copied from an existing source. While the fastest way is to copy another's work, it's clearly by no means the only way. \$\endgroup\$ – Jim B Jul 11 '17 at 3:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus this was what i was thinking, the spell should be researchable and u copy the spell, not the words written. \$\endgroup\$ – Illbean Jul 11 '17 at 9:00
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Spells can only be learned from written sources

Copying a Spell into the Book. When you find a wizard spell of 1st level or higher, you can add it to your spellbook if it is of a spell level you can prepare and if you can spare the time to decipher and copy it.

Copying that spell into your spellbook involves reproducing the basic form of the spell, then deciphering the unique system of notation used by the wizard who wrote it. You must practice the spell until you understand the sounds or gestures required, then transcribe it into your spellbook using your own notation. (source)

Scrolls and spellbooks are the usual places to find spells, but they could be engraved on metal plates, carved into stone, tattooed on a caster's arm, etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 12 '17 at 11:45
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Probably Not.

In the Dungeon Master's Guide under the Spell Scroll magic item it says:

A wizard spell on a spell scroll can be copied just as spells in spell books can be copied.

The fact that it specifically states that you can copy it indicates that you can't unless stated in the items description.

However, the true answer is always ask your DM. They may see things differently.

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The Complete Wizard's Handbook1 accessory listed "Five Unusual Sources For Spells" (in a section of the same title), which are:

  • Dragons. Most dragons are masters of magic. A friendly dragon might teach a wizard a new spell as a reward for helping him or as a bribe to leave him alone.

  • Monuments. Ancient obelisks, monoliths, and other structures are occasionally inscribed with the formulas of spells. Locating such a monument can be an adventure in itself.

  • Other Planes. The alternate planes of existence are filled with an unending variety of weird phenomena, strange landmarks, and bizarre entities. A wizard might find a magic formula spelled out in giant runes stretched across an entire plane of the Abyss. Or he might stumble across a horde of ape-like creatures in the plane of Elysium chanting the formula of a spell. The inhabitants of the elemental plane of Fire might know the secrets of a variety of fire-related spells, while the occupants of the elemental plane of Earth might be willing to share the formulas for earth-related spells in exchange for a favor.

  • Summoned Creatures. A creature summoned as a result of invisible stalker, monster summoning, or a similar spell might negotiate for his freedom by offering to teach the caster a spell or show him where to find a spell formula.

  • Gems, Crystals, and Mirrors. Magic-using creatures from other planes of existence sometimes use gems, crystals, or mirrors as substitutes for spell books to record the formulas of their spells.

Personally, I found the sections of this accessory of varying quality and interest, but I acknowledge that these ideas spark my imagination with the possibilities for adventures.

These "unusual sources" can basically be reduced to the spell being taught by someone (instead of a wizard of a player character race, a more unusual one, like a dragon, extraplanar creatures [summoned or in their native plane] or the like) or the device from where the spell is being copied from being more unusual than a scroll or book (monuments, alternate version of spell books, etc.).

Nevertheless (and to answer your question with an idea of my own) if I wanted a wizard to learn a new spell from a device but in a non-written form I would make the device dictate or sing the spell (under the appropriate conditions, which may take an adventure of its own to research). This device could be for example:

  • The talking bust of an old wizard or sage, that might respond questions once a week with some of the lore the sage new. Same for other "talking objects" like magic mirrors, intelligent weapons, etc.

  • A music box, which after being opened plays a tune that is a "codified" version of a spell (this could be ideal for bards or other categories which base their magic in songs). It is up to the players to decipher this tune into something they can write on a spell book.

  • The parrot of a wizard might have learned a couple of interesting key-words for a spell (parrots are an unusual familiar for a wizard, but that could change depending on your campaign or setting, like a tropical forest-based adventure). Maybe several of these birds overheard the wizard chanting a spell and a wizard could "reverse engineer" the spell if they were able to catch all relevant birds and put their gibberish in the right order?


1. I'm painfully aware that your question carries the dnd-5e tag, but I think this piece of AD&D / and-2e lore is relevant.

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