In a recent D&D 5e Adventurers League adventure, two of our characters attempted to copy spells from each-other's spellbooks. The DM told us that each character would need to roll an Arcana check to determine success or failure in the copying of the spell.

Rules on copying spells can be found in the Player's Handbook on page 114 as well as in the most recent Adventurer's League Player's Guide (Version 6.0, effective March 24, 2017) on page 5. Here is the link.

In the AL Guide, it stipulates (emphasis mine):

Downtime: Copying Spells

If you wish to copy spells into your spellbook, you must do so using this downtime activity—even if it occurs during an adventure.

For each downtime day spent copying spells, a character may spend eight hours copying spells into their spellbook. Two or more characters participating in the same adventure together at the same table that choose to perform this downtime activity may allow one another access to their spellbook; effectively “trading” spells between everyone involved to copy as normal. Both parties to the trade must perform this downtime activity to trade spells.

As there may sometimes be a chance of failure when copying spells, you must perform this downtime activity in the presence of the table’s DM.

Here are my questions:

  1. As the text says there "may sometimes be" a chance of failure, can the DM ultimately decide if a roll is required or not, or is there a written rule somewhere that requires it?

  2. Are there any written rules on how this chance of failure is to be calculated?


1 Answer 1


You always succeed if your source is a spellbook. None of the rules about that contain anything about an ability check or a chance to fail. Failure matters only when you use a scroll, as it will be lost regardless of the success of your attempt.

A wizard spell on a spell scroll can be copied just as spells in spellbooks can be copied. When a spell is copied from a spell scroll, the copier must succeed on an Intelligence (Arcana) check with a DC equal to 10 + the spell's level. [...] Whether the check succeeds or fails, the spell scroll is destroyed. (DMG 200)

  • \$\begingroup\$ @ Szega: the rules from the AL Guide (linked in the original post) specifically refer to two players trading spells from their spellbooks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maadiah
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 13:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Maadiah No, those are two separate paragraphs. They only bring up two casters sharing to explicitly say that it is allowed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 13:22
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I would add that simply because the third paragraph states that there is a chance of failure when copying spells that should not be construed as to add that chance when none existed before. I have noticed a lot of people that like to simply layer rules when they should be decided between. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 18:25

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