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I would like to use a wizard as the enemy. I've done that before but this time is different: his class level will be above the group's level. As with any other wizard in the world he has to use a spellbook.

This spellbook is my problem because in this specific case I don't want it to be part of the reward. This wizard's spells list will be significantly different from the party's wizard. I usually let him learn some spells this way but in this case it would be too much.

This wizard knows the party and seeks revenge on them so it makes perfect sense that he has prepared things to avoid his spellbook falling into their hands if his plan fails.

How can my NPC wizard ensure that his spellbook is destroyed when he dies?

Note:
I plan to use a 10th level wizard with access to 5th level spells but he is part of an organization that can have access to almost any resource.

As for my game sources I use the 3 core rulebooks, Volo's Guide, Xanathar's Guide and Mordenkainen's Tome.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What level are the PCs in this case? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ A good point is made by @Rubiksmoose in one of the answers; what if the party capture rather than kill the wizard? Do you just want this on a kill? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 7, 2018 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I went with "yes" as an assumption due to the title asking "when the wizard dies" but that's a good point to get clarified. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 15:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri due to the previous encounters they had with this wizard I'll expect a kill, but I'll think also about that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zucch
    Jul 7, 2018 at 16:00

9 Answers 9

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Thanks to the resources of his organization, this wizard has a contingent fireball cast upon the spellbook. (This makes use of the 6th level contingency spell). The contingency spell is keyed to go off upon his untimely death. (The fireball can be cast at 3rd, 4th, or 5th level and still be used with the contingency spell).

The fire ... ignites flammable objects in the area that aren't being worn or carried.

The result utterly destroys the tome and provides a 'last laugh' from the fallen mage.

Spell references:
Fireball (PHB p. 241-242)
Contingency (PHB p. 227)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a very good answer. Note that this could have the unintended side effect of also killing the party if they happen to be within range of the blast and unfortunate in saving/having low HP. Also note that this particular wording would require them to kill the wizard which the party (depending) might not do. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to be particularly nasty, he could set it to go off when the book is first opened after his death. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 19:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Did explosive runes make it into fifth edition? In earlier editions, it didn't have any caveat protecting the page it was cast on from the damage dealt by the spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jul 7, 2018 at 23:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Glyph of Warding is the new explosive runes, with an option literally called "explosive runes" \$\endgroup\$ Jul 8, 2018 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Contingency only targets the wizard that cast it, so if he's not actually carrying the spellbook, it won't work. It seems rather fatalistic for a wizard to use contingency to get revenge on whoever kills him rather than to prevent his death, but that's his business... \$\endgroup\$ Jul 8, 2018 at 21:26
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Glyph of warding

A glyph of warding placed on an object can hold a spell. A fireball will burn up a flammable object, such as a spellbook, in its area of effect. The PCs could theoretically defeat the glyph by dispelling it, and they might be able to detect it with an Investigation check, as described in the glyph of warding spell description. Compared to contingency, this has the advantage of not taking up the wizard's single contingency option. It has the disadvantage of requiring the warded object to remain in one location, but that might not be a problem for this wizard.

Leomund's secret chest

A wizard doesn't need his spellbook to cast spells, only to change the ones he has prepared (or cast rituals). A wizard can safely store his spellbook, or a variety of other valuable items, on the Ethereal Plane using Leomund's secret chest. Only the wizard who owns the chest can find it, so this is reasonably secure. If he dies, the chest and its contents aren't technically destroyed, but they're going to be awfully hard to track down.

Drawmij's instant summons

A similar effect can be achieved with Drawmij's instant summons, which allows for faster recall, but with a higher cost and less overall convenience. Since only the wizard who cast the spell can use the key, if the wizard dies, the protected item remains hidden (say, buried under a few hundred tons of granite).

A semi-mundane device

Some wizards might find it amusing to protect their spellbook with some sort of mechanical trap in their lair. Suppose a clockwork mechanism triggers a mechanical shredder that will destroy the spellbook if it's not wound every day - and the entire apparatus is thoroughly hidden (possibly accessible only via magical means of some sort). The wizard who inhabits the lair can easily wind the clockwork, but by the time any invader figures out what they need to do, it would be too late.

"A wizard did it"

Since the wizard in question has unusual spells, he could presumably have a spell designed just for this purpose. Your creativity is the limit, but what comes to mind is hiding the master copy of the spellbook in a place where only the owner knows where it is, and then having a spell to summon an illusory copy on demand.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Drawmij's Instant Summons allows you, the caster to retrieve the item; others can't. So it's an even more secure option than you imply (if rather costly for the wizard). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 9, 2018 at 8:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Glyph of Warding breaks if moved more than 10ft. from where it was cast so if the wizard wants to carry his spellbook with him Glyph of Warding will not work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Q Paul
    Jul 19, 2019 at 14:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Having the wizard create a spell that self destructs the spellbook if anyone else touches it sounds like a perfect evil wizard thing to do. It might even be fun to let the party wizard recover that spell and no other. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Jul 20, 2019 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: "Semi-mundane device." Go look up how Yagami Light protected the Death Note early on in the anime by the same name...he had a very specific way he had to retrieve it, and it would be obliterated if he didn't retrieve it in that way. Admittedly, there's the chance the party will notice the trap and dismantle it... \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2019 at 19:20
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The NPC Wizard need not have a spell book; use a Volo's Guide NPC

Using either the Conjurer (p. 212), the Enchanter (p. 213), or the Transmuter (p. 218) spell casting NPC, each of whom can cast 5th level spells you have a ready made wizard-like opponent already built.

If you look at the NPC description, these NPCs are not equipped with a spell book. They have spellcasting as an NPC/Monster feature, have spells known/prepared (MM, p. 10), and behave much as a PC wizard does but are not in fact wizard PCs and could be treated some ways (mechanically) as Sorcerers. They have a default set of spells prepared (like a Sorcerer does) but you can adjust them to get the caster to be set up just the way you need them to be (MM, p. 10). This also allows you to tailor their spells to contrast to what your party's wizard has available.

For another example, albeit at higher level, see the Archmage NPC in the MM.

It's not the only way to solve this problem, but they are premade for the kind of challenge you are preparing. Since you have Volo's Guide, I figured I'd point you to a resource that you use at your table, and that you have already bought and paid for. 8^)

Notes:

  1. Tweaking the Challenge Rating. If you feel that those aren't hard enough NPC opponents, you could raise the CR a bit and have them deal with an Evoker, who can cast up to 6th level spells. (p. 214) To keep it "5th level spells" as a limit you can have the Evoker upcast lower level spells with a 6th level slot ... but that's perhaps more fiddly than you want to get for this challenge / encounter.

  2. Players can surprise you. A second advantage of this approach is that if your party chooses to capture, rather than kill, this wizard there still isn't a spell book for them to loot (if that remains a key element of your intention for this encounter).

  3. Treasure Tweaking. You can still leave a scroll or two as loot for the party's wizard to benefit from without there being an entire spellbook to copy spells from as a reward from this encounter.
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Don't worry, use your imagination. A wizard doesn't need his spellbook to use spells, just to preparate them daily, if you wanted you could actually tell the party he hasn't the spellbook with himself. Maybe he has it in a secret place, maybe it is guarded in another plane only accessible by the enemy wizard. It's up to your imagination. Also, you can put a false spell in a false spellbook, something like "Anyone who reads this suffers a Disintegrate", maybe written upside down, it's a funny way to troll players (maybe while they hear a last laugh of the dead wizard pre-recorded and activated with the disintegrate).

If you don't want to hide the spellbook, you always make it to be in a sort of code only known by the wizard.

Note: As said before, the "Anyone who reads this suffers a Disintegrate" was just an example, you can use the spell you like the most.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How is it a player's avarice to want to recover spells from a fallen enemy wizard's spell book? That's part of how the wizards gain new spells in this edition. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a way of speaking. It can result in a funny moment for the table, imagine it, the wizard takes the spellbook and tries to read some kind of strange language, the DM makes him throw an investigation check, in a failed throw, the wizard takes disintegrate, if he succeeds, he obtains a one-use disintegrate, which can be used to troll a powerful enemy. Also the words "any one who reads this" give a quite funny situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zorsal
    Jul 7, 2018 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, that's a way to have fun; fair point. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Guess what spell I prepared today. <Explosive Runes>" \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 17:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Draco18s Link provided in pursuit of humor ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2018 at 17:43
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Write the spellbook in code

The wizard uses a personal cipher when recording spells in his spellbook, and the players have no way of translating it. Comprehend languages doesn't translate codes, and the wizard didn't teach his cipher to anyone.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While this may work to keep the players from getting the spells, telling them they have no way of deciphering the book they are holding can be off putting. \$\endgroup\$
    – FenrirG
    Jul 9, 2018 at 10:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this because this can easily be tuned - for example, the cipher might be tedious to use so the Wizard only bothered to write his most potent spells down in that fashion, so there might still be a couple of lower level spells the PC spellcasters can learn from it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Jul 9, 2018 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FenrirG Use it as a quest hook, then! They find the spellbook in an unreadable code (or at least the good parts are, per @Cubic). They're bummed. Later, they intercept a letter in the same code! Instantly you've tied this wizard in with whatever other plot thread, and given them a lead on finding a way to read the spellbook. That's player catnip. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jul 9, 2018 at 14:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Of course. That would work great I was simply following the "book must be destroyed "(or at least rendered useless?) assumption as per the original question. \$\endgroup\$
    – FenrirG
    Jul 9, 2018 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ All wizards write their spellbooks in a personal code - that is part of the rules of 5e. The difference here is that the party would have no way of translating it, since the rules assume that these codes are translatable without comprehend languages but with time, effort, expense, experimentation, and familiarity with magic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 11 at 0:55
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Taking the lead from a Phoenix Sorcerer UA

You could homebrew a PhoenixBorn Wizard. When he dies his body erupts in flames rendering everything to ash. This has the added benefit of being able to resurrect this wizard if you want to later.

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Low tech: keep the spellbook with the organization

As Zorsai said, a wizard has the spells that they use prepared. Unless he wants to cast rituals or change his prepared spells, he needs no access to that book, and does not need to schlep it around. He also could use a traveling spellbook that contains a much smaller selection of spells and rituals.

It the party kills him, and he does not have his main book on his person or in his hideout, they will have a much harder time gettig hold of it.

An organization that "can have access to almost any resource" also sounds a lot more powerful than a mere 10th level wizard. He can leave it back savely with this organization, and visit them from time to time when he needs access. For a 10th level wizard, Teleportation Circle would provide a non-tracable way to do so at moderate expense. He also could give them instructions that the book be destroyed when they learn about his unfortunate demise. For example, he can have Sending prepared, and if he doesn't call in for the day, they know he is done for.

If I were the wizard and my organization was able to provide access to "almost any resource", I might prefer to receive a Clone instead, and pick up where I dropped for real revenge.

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You cannot do this

If the Wizard has a spellbook, there is no sequence of protections you can place upon that spellbook that will definitely render it unavailable to the party wizard without it also being unavailable to the NPC wizard pre-death.

You cannot with 100% certainty, barring outright cheating, prevent the party from just tailing the wizard to the spellbook beforehand, or using social skills and disguises to gain access, or any number of other ways of bypassing whatever protections you give the book. There is no protection that doesn't have a way around it, and so it is always possible, however unlikely, that the PC wizard ends up with the book intact or you reveal the railroading as obviously unavoidable. If you can't deal with the PCs somehow gaining access to something, you need to not put it in your game or be willing to own up to the fact that the reason they can't have the thing is GM fiat.

That's not to say you can't have an NPC spellcaster casting 5th level spells without including a spellbook, of course. But if you put a spellbook into the game you either have to accept the PCs may find a way to keep it or else just tell them "You can't have the spellbook because that would be too good so we have to come up with some excuse as to why that doesn't work".

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The spell book could fail a saving throw versus a spell from the party (https://adnd2e.fandom.com/wiki/DMG_Ch_6_Damaging_Equipment). The spell book could be linked to the life force of the wizard (think horcrux from Harry Potter, just not as extreme). If the wizard is "at home" or "out for a short stroll" the spell book may not be close or obvious (the book is not typically needed to cast the spell, only to prepare it). The spell book could be locked, trapped, or warded. You could specify the spell ingredients for the spell that you do not want the party to have even if that spell is already in the books. Wizards are able to research their own spells. Failing to find the standard fireball spell, the wizard researched a spell of the same name that used "fresh heart of tribble" as a component. The tribble hearts on the wizard decayed before the party realized what they were good for. Without knowing what a tribble is or where to find one, it may be a while before they can find more tribble hearts. Things break. Maybe talk to your players and come to an understanding that you will give them a list of the treasure that did not break. Also consider what happens to player equipment if the player fails a saving throw or dies. Does the group want more realism or faster game play? Yes, it appears that "breaking" is not part of 5e rules, but is that part of your rules? Another option: the wizard dies, a demon/angel opens a portal and picks up the body. Any player not surprised can get one attack before the demon/angel goes back through the portal.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
    – Community Bot
    Jun 11 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG Stack Exchange! Take the tour if you haven't already, and feel free to check out the help center for additional help. Please note that the question has been tagged for 5th Edition D&D, so answers citing 2nd Edition resources may require special explanation as to why they would apply. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a question about 5e, so I don't see how a link to adnd 2e is relevant. \$\endgroup\$
    – Laurel
    Jun 12 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Answers like glyph of warding or Leomund's secret chest have their roots long before 5e. I see that my answer is terrible if the restriction is that the solution must come as a quote from a 5e book. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14 at 16:20

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