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So I have this character idea: a rogue who wanted to be a wizard, but didn't have enough money to go to a wizard school. And I was thinking, if he stole a wizard's spellbook, what could he do with it? Could he practice the first-level wizard spells during downtime until he memorized them? Or pay someone to copy the spells into scrolls or wands? Or could a wizard teach me a cantrip?

In other words: Do you have to be a wizard to learn spells from a spellbook?


Part of what I was asking was in cases such as when the DM says our characters have some down time in a city; could I use the rules for gaining new proficiencies, languages etc. during downtime to learn a spell from the book? There are phases in the PHB that indicate that spellcasters can make new spells during down time, so it makes sense that a noncaster could learn a spell during down time as well.

(P.S.: This is purely for roleplay, not for any mechanical advantage.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also curious, since you mention Downtime, are you talking about Adventurer's League D&D or some other kind of organized-play RPG? Because that has more rules than, say, a friend's campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Sep 22 '18 at 21:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I ment in-game down time. \$\endgroup\$ – Josiah Riggan Sep 24 '18 at 0:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, is this entirely a matter of backstory? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 24 '18 at 22:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Question title says "... could I do anything with [a wizard spellbook]?", bolded in-line text says "Do you have to be a wizard to use a wizard spellbook?". A yes/no answer to one question is the opposite to the other question. Please reword so they match - otherwise answers can be confusing. \$\endgroup\$ – starchild Sep 24 '18 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've gone ahead and edited the title to match the question from the body. Feel free to edit if you think I'm mistaken! \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Sep 26 '18 at 16:05
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Short answer: no; by the rules, you need to be a wizard to use a wizard’s spellbook.

There are two ways to build a character such as you describe.

The first is to have your character multi-class with wizard levels. To do this, you’ll need your DM’s buy-in to run a little adventure where you steal the spell book. Then you may have to work with your DM about what spells are in the book.

Backgrounds

Since you say “didn’t have enough money” and “stole a wizard’s spellbook” — in the past tense — I’m assuming none of this needs to happen during game play, but could be part of character creation.

In that case, consider simply choosing the Urchin or Criminal backgrounds, which will give you enough “rogue-like” abilities for your character concept to come alive.

Then, just start at wizard from level 1, with a good Dexterity stat, probably.

Backgrounds are really the system D&D 5e uses to enable character concepts like this.

Add a Bond or a Flaw

Put the story about the stolen spell book into the character background - it could be a bond (“I must redeem myself for stealing”), a flaw (“I know I don’t deserve to wear my wizard robes”) or both.

Starting Feat

If you can play a variant human, you can also pick a feat that jibes with your character concept.

The Urchin Wizard at my Table

In my first 5e campaign, I DM'ed for a player with a similar idea, who wanted to play a lost child who taught herself magic. The character took the Urchin background and the Wizard class.

It worked well evoking the feel you are going for: for the first couple levels, the stealth skills from the background were a significant fraction of the character’s abilities and “feel.” Eventually the wizard powers became “the main thing” but there were still those moments when another player would ask, “Wait, the wizard can pick locks?”

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RAW, you can't learn spells from the spellbook

unless you willing to take a wizard level to have your own spellbook.

A wizard spellbook is unique to each wizard. That's why you can't use spell directly from other wizard's spellbook. You must copy it to your spellbook, which can be in any form, including pieces of papers, if your rogue is poor.

Additionally, a cantrip is not available in a spellbook. It is a simple spell that you have practiced again and again and already fixed in your mind.

For roleplay, you can try to learn the spells inside, but you can't cast spell consistently and effectively. Actually, it can interesting: you might be able to cast some magic trick (aka Predigistation) to impress people, but sometimes you fail, sometimes you able to do so.

Magic Initiate

Alternatively, this feat allows you to learn two cantrips and one spell, as if you are a wizard.

Arcane Trickster

At level 3, your Rogue can become an Arcane Trickster, that allows you to learn Mage Hand and two other cantrips and two 1st level spells from wizard spell list. They don't need a spellbook to prepare their spells, so less hassle for you, but that also means your spell known cannot expand like wizard's.


Storywise, the reason why your rogue can now cast a spell like a wizard can be anything! After all classes, feats, and levels are all just how the game mechanic should work for your character, you can make up your own explanation:

  • Starts as rogue, then after learning from the spellbook you gain understanding of arcane spell, so you gain a wizard level.

  • Starts as human variant rogue, the Magic Initiate feat is the accumulation of your tinkering with the spellbook.

  • Starts as rogue, you only study the spellbook and experiment with it occasionally, so you only gains the basic understanding and able to use magic effectively after you reaches level 3 as Arcane Trickster

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth noting that Arcane Trickster rogues (and Eldritch Knight fighters) don't use spellbooks, even though they learn spells from the wizard spell list. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 24 '18 at 7:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Good point! I've added it into the answer. If you have better wording, please do edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Sep 24 '18 at 8:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, you can always try to sell it. Or burn it for heat, use the pages as toilet paper, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – starchild Sep 24 '18 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer but I kinda wanted to use this to do something more unique. I made an edit explaining more about what I'm trying to do. \$\endgroup\$ – Josiah Riggan Sep 26 '18 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JosiahRiggan no, if you want it RAW, no spellcaster other than Wizard can expand their spells known by studying. You must become a wizard to do so. Sure, you can take wizard, but as suggested by Tim, take a roguish background or feat to keep the flavor! \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Sep 26 '18 at 16:02
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Not Magic, but mundane

Do something with it? Yes, because it still is a book made from paper or parchment.

But not magic until you pick a level of wizard (or a feat that gives access to wizard spells) as the rules do not allow non-wizards to use a wizard spellbook to cast spells. Without such, it is just another book written in a language you can't read or even comprehend: Spells are written not like everyday text: depending on the world chosen they something between complex notationsForgotten Realms to a secret language of magicDragonlance, making their entries unuseable for anyone that lacks the key secrets - which is usually tied to being a wizard. It is like math: if I'd give anyone a page from a math paper that hasn't studied it, it would be near impossible to him to discern what half the words in the text even mean. But a mathematician reads it like a novel.

So, unless you are a wizard or otherwise cast magic the wizard way, your spellbook is just a mundane book with a text that can't be comprehended by you.

Mundane Uses of a book

It's made of paper!

And the paper is very handy. You might use the free pages as notepad. Paper burns and so it can be used for kindling. It can be used to wipe yourself after excrementing (and honestly: the most valuable item in crisis zones at times is toilet paper)

It's worth money!

But why spoil and destroy it? You are a rogue. You can use it to earn money! Pose as a mage and use your slight of hand to make people believe you are a wizard to rob them of money. Go to wizards and let them borrow it to copy a spell in exchange for money. Maybe, in a pitch, sell it!

It contains spells!

Of course, it contains spells. It's why we can rent it to wizards to earn a quick buck. But if it contains a spell, we can find a wizard with the ability to scribe scrolls and then they could study the spell and make scrolls from it! And that way we get more useful items from it.

A way to the future

Should the thief ever go and take a dip into wizard (or otherwise acquire the knowledge/feats needed to make it a magically useful item), he already has a spellbook prepared for his higher learning! To get there he might actually seek out a wizard with the book in hand and try to sell him his labor as payment for getting taught the basics of wizardry to become a wizard (or alternate). Already having the most quintessential book surely might be a boon in the eyes of the teacher, even if he doesn't have the vast library wizards usually study magic from as they learn it.

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