The Pathfinder game has a series of Tomes and Manuals that, when read, permanently boost a specific ability score. Examples include the Tome of Understanding (Wis) or the Manual of Gainful Exercise (Str).

Looking at the construction requirements, making a +5 book requires the following:

  • Caster Level 17
  • Access to the Wish / Miracle spell
  • 5 flawless 25k diamonds (+6125 in gp for construction)
  • 138 days of construction time (4 months)

The core of my question is this: what could possibly drive someone to create such a book and then leave it sitting around for someone else to find?

The premise is that such a book would exist in a library somewhere and that PCs would somehow be the first to discover and use it (it's single-use). From a game balance perspective, the PCs need access to such books to start keeping up with the crazy monsters they face. So I understand the basic role they fill.

But from a game world perspective I simply can't imagine any rational motivation for a high-level caster to spend years creating a handful of these books just to leave them sitting around unused.

Ideas? Thoughts?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does anything in the D&D magic item economy make sense? \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe May 2 '12 at 2:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're going fishing for high level adventurers, these books make pretty good bait. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig May 2 '12 at 2:16

13 Answers 13


There's a number of possible explanations for magic tomes-that-haven't-yet-been-read, including:

  • They make great gifts for prophesied-to-be-born-after-the-author's-death grandchildren.
  • They're terrific incentives for people learning to read, or for learning the language they're written in.
  • They can be made as a test of temptation that no-one prior to the adventurer has yet failed.
  • The things take a week to read. The adventurers just happened to grab the book before the seven days were up.
  • The book's author figured that the money they'd make by selling the book would pay for enough magical healing to make up for the two points of constitution they'd have gotten by reading it.
  • Perhaps the author of the tome has already used a tome of this type, and, since inherent bonuses don't stack, is now looking to sell the book for profit once they can find a buyer who can afford the absurdly high price.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I enjoyed the last option a lot. "Ups... I already did this once. Damn. Now I have two of them... Well, someone ought to be rich enough to pay me..." \$\endgroup\$ – Julix Mar 8 '15 at 21:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ The book was actually cursed but due to the effort in making it the creator just couldn't bring themselves to get rid of it \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Jun 2 '15 at 16:53

High level adventurers, villains, kings, and wall street bankers will pay handsomely for the ability to boost raw stats. The easiest explanation is that they do it for profit.

Another possibility is that they were forced to by various villains, or did it for love of king and country. It does seem less likely to me that they would be created by human wizards, but four months seems less severe when looking at an Elf's or outsiders lifetime.

Alternatively you could have these, or equivalent items, created by deities or other greater powers as gifts to men.

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    \$\begingroup\$ OK, so a king pays you for a "Book of Wisdom", why is he buying the book and wasting a week? Just get five diamonds and have the Cleric cast Miracle 5 times. This takes less time and costs less money. \$\endgroup\$ – Gates VP May 2 '12 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GatesVP: in my experience, "takes less time and costs less money" has never really been the primary motivator for villains, kings, and wall street bankers..! \$\endgroup\$ – ladenedge May 2 '12 at 19:24

They say that if you make paper out of dried habaneros, bind together one hundred and eleven such pages, find an imp with nine ex-wives and have him fill the book with infernal obscenities and then eat the book. And survive. That survivor might indeed be granted +5 to constitution.

A +5 wis book may typically come into being when an old, wise monk or priest is Magic Jar-ed into a book. The host body is then slain and pickled in holy water. Later, the remains must be freeze-dried and mixed with ink. The ink must then be used to artistically decorate the cover of the book with quirky poetry.

The latest known +5 strength book, history tells us, was in fact an ordinary yellow-pages book. Sir Margareth the Bold used it as her last weapon of defense when her family castle was overrun by centaurs. Having been disarmed of her trusty longsword, she picked up the book and beat to death no less than fifteen centaurs before they managed to flee from the crazed knight gripping the blood-dripping volume. A servant, cleaning up the mess later on, picked up the book, flipped through it and suddenly qualified as squire!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this a lot actually - the rules are only for crafting a stat book on purpose, but stat books can be randomly created whenever anything particularly epic happens. Sure, if you set out to you can craft a book that'll grant +5 int by blowing five wishes and four months on it, but Mordenkainen's Doctoral Thesis does that just because of the eldritch energies put in to it (mostly coffee). \$\endgroup\$ – Tacroy May 9 '12 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Coffee was invented by a gnomish innovator, who went on to create six new inventions within an hour of consuming the first batch. Given the probabilities of gnomish inventors, four of them blew up, scattering him across three workrooms. The secret of coffee was lost forever, but the half a pot that had been brewing was splashed all over his notes, sinking into the paper. As you open the pages, you smell the grains, and the chemicals used in its creation forever alter your body chemistry. Take a +5 to dexterity. \$\endgroup\$ – IgneusJotunn Jul 6 '12 at 19:39

I can think of a couple of options, some of which had already been stated.

It could, of course, be for the money and the prestige. Sure, you could get someone to cast Miracle or Wish five times for the same effect and less cost, but that requires you to have the relevant spellcaster right there, with you. And it's not like it would be a private matter. I can easily see certain kinds of people wanting to pay the extra cost for the increased convenience and privacy, especially people who might not get on with clerics. There's also the prestige involved in not only being able to make these, but being able to afford one. Some people will pay truly ridiculous amounts of money for certain brands or designers. I see no reason magical goods would be different. And unlike the 'Miracle 5 Times' thing, you could actually point at a book and say 'See? That's a insert name original~" So it's not like a competent mage would have a problem finding a market for these things, it would just be a very select market. And if they're in that strata of society, they could have a backer paying for the material costs.

Similar to the above motive, it's possible that someone has enslaved a bunch of casters and is forcing them to create these and other artifacts for their use and profit. In that case, the creators of the items are unable to enjoy the fruits of their labors. In that case, the creation time and all non-material expenses become irrelevant, because what does the taskmaster care? Material costs, such as diamonds, are almost certainly provided through other slaves or agents.

It could be that these books are meant for someone yet to come, from the before-mentioned prophesied grandchildren, to heirs of a dying mage, to The Chosen One(s), because there is always a Chosen One. Whether or not the Chosen One gets his hands on the book first is another matter entirely.

It could be that they're divine boons... of one sort or another. Maybe some god laced the world with these to help his followers. Maybe some evil entity created them to sow havoc, not unlike the Golden Apple of Discord. These things are rare, they're valuable, and they only work once. Blood will be shed over them, either now or in the past. If you go with this option, then I would say that mortal casters can't or won't create them, and just ignore the crafting rules for them.

It could be that they're bait to lure adventurers into some trap. Maybe they're just located in a trapped library or with some terrible guardian. Maybe the trap is in the book itself: they get their stat bonus, but become the target of some spell or curse. Maybe they're a way to mark people of interest (because anyone who could get to it is bound to be of interest), for later use. Some sort of identifier in the magic, or a geas spell that hasn't gone off yet but will trigger when the time is right... could be anything. No one would create these things without some material benefit, and since they're not using the bonuses themselves, they've got to be getting something else of equal or greater value. Like, say, a healthy and lucky adventurer.

This could be slightly off the rails, and I don't know if it violates the rules laid out in the item description, but it's possible that the tomes could be read by multiple people in a short span. (Case in point, there are some books in World of Warcraft that give you an achievement if you read. Once the first person reads them, a timer starts. Anyone else can read the book in that time span, but the book vanishes when time is up.) If that's not actually against the rules and you choose to use it, then these tomes are likely to be commissioned by guilds or academies for some of their most promising members, and access will be strictly regulated. They'd probably only get one once or twice a year at most, and there's probably going to be some big to-do coinciding with it. Graduation, a tournament, a festival, what have you, where they publicly announce who gets to read the book. In addition to a time limit, it's also possible there is a beneficiary limit. Like, the book lasts six days once someone starts it, and only six people can read it. Whatever works.

Also, having not read the actual item description... is it single use per character or single use ever? If it's the former, then there's no problem at all.

Edit: I suppose it could also be some philanthropist with ENTIRELY too much spare time, but really, where's the fun in that?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I love this one: ... it's possible that someone has enslaved a bunch of casters and is forcing them to create these.... I really don't want to meet the thing enslaving 17th-level casters. "Look at me, I have an army of 17th-level casters, they can all cast Wish, but can't find a way to break my spell, they're my second favorite toy, right behind my collection of Orbs of annihilation" :) \$\endgroup\$ – Gates VP May 2 '12 at 23:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GatesVP Note that in Pathfinder, you don't actually have to be level 17 to make one of these (though it helps). This could also be another reason to make them in the first place, though it doesn't explain why they weren't immediately used upon completion: they may be more expensive than just casting Wish or Miracle 3 times, but can be made by characters incapable of casting those spells. It's just a 5-point skill check penalty per missing prerequisite, and with the Master Craftsman feat, could be made by someone not even a caster. DC 27 is not that hard to make, well before level 17. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Najmon Feb 21 '14 at 5:27

One of the other reasons that no one has mentioned yet is for the sheer craftsmanship of it. It's very possible that a powerful mage-especially one that focuses on crafting-would spend most of their time crafting powerful magic items for their own sake. In the same way that an extremely talented artist might spend months on a painting, maybe these powerful crafters are making these tomes as a display of their talent, and not as a thing to be used. This kind of artistry would naturally be terribly expensive, but if a crafter spent 8 months of the year crafting for profit, and 4 making something wonderful for fun, he'd still be incredibly rich. This goes double if he's from a long-lived or art-focused race.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So the tomes would be the to a wizard what a Nodachi was to a Japanese blacksmith. \$\endgroup\$ – Yandros May 3 '12 at 3:58

I think part of the problem is reducing the elements of these tomes - indeed, the entire setting - into the world of rational economics, like other answers have hinted at. You make a magic item not because its value justifies the cost, but because you NEED to. Because there's a child of prophecy who needs it, or because that's your role in life.

You don't have the Court Cleric cast 5 Miracles at it because a Miracle isn't a button that a high-enough level can press, it's a direct request to a higher power to perform a miracle. Anything that requires performing 5 identical miracles in a row is seriously screwed-up - what god treats his miracles like collectibles?

Likewise Wishes. Wishes are perhaps that epitome of arcane magic. But with these rules, they are reduced to a particularly high-powered set of screwdrivers.

In short, the problem here is one of clashing paradigms. If you try to apply the principles of rational economy to these truly legendary items, you'll never get an answer that will make sense. They're from a different story.

(In an aside, I'd like to say that this is a part of why I don't like D&D4e in general and Eberron in particular - I don't like the reduction of magic to just another form of technology)

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    \$\begingroup\$ "They're from a different story." Now that is an evocative turn of phrase. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 20 '12 at 4:11

The creators need not be mere high-level human spellcasters at all.

Extraplanar beings, like efreet and demons, often possess spellcasting power and much material wealth. Being immortal, the creation time is negligible. The finished book might serve as a gift to tempt mortals, or as a portable form of currency. Likewise, deities might create powerful items.

Liches may craft the tomes out of boredom and a surplus of wealth. Since the items retain their value, they're a good investment of time and money. A lich might craft high-level tomes as a hobby in the same way that a peasant weaves baskets.

Alternatively, it's quite possible that tomes are generally not crafted, but tend to exist from a time long ago when such powerful items were more commonplace. The creation guidelines tell us what it would take for a modern mage to craft such an item, even though would be prohibititively expensive.

The Book of Vile Darkness rules, if we're willing to extend those rules to Pathfinder, allow items to be created using human souls in place of gold pieces. A demon or other evil creature can use this to craft the item at reduced cost. Rules from the Epic Level Handbook also include the feat Efficient Item Creation which speeds up crafting 10 times, and at high epic level the spell slots and material cost of Wish or Miracle are negligible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, this introduces a fair point. Sure, the only rules for making stat tome in the core rules involve spending vast quantities of money, but there's nothing that says there aren't other ways those books might be crafted. In fact, maybe the vast-quantity-of-money way is the way mortals use to produce poor imitations of the original masterpieces? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 8 '12 at 5:54

Honestly I can see Kingdoms, as a tradition having their young nobles children read a +5 book for each stat as part of their training. After all these young people will soon be commanding great forces.

The problem lies in the rarity of people who can craft such a book. So when you do come across one it may be wise to stock up. As price of casting is not really an issue among such powerful casters, favors might become what is exchanged for the books (which can become quests for the PCs!). So from this train of logic you have kingdoms stockpiling these books.

But Kingdoms fall, valuable treasures gets stolen and of course in times of crisis they get traded or sold. One thing leads to another, and more and more of those books get spread through out the world. In fact each book could have a custom backstory, e.g.:

"Aye, this was one of the set meant for Prince Winfreys son, before the droughts caused them to be traded for food. It was later stolen and sold on the black market to be bought by a lich. After a paladin slayed the lich the book was donated to the holy church who is now rewarding it to you for your great duty in the crusade!"


The background

The real explanation for these is that AD&D had them, so D&D 3e had to have them, so Pathfinder has them. There's not really any more mystery behind their presence in PFRPG than that. Nobody asked that question during design, so their potential use by PCs got baked into the challenge design.

Originally, they really weren't meant to be "baked in" to D&D's level math. In AD&D you can't make them – they're like minor artifacts. They are exceedingly rare, not needed for "normal" advancement, and their (exceedingly rare) origin is left to the DM to make up or leave a mystery. Even the "single-use" nature of them is a mere game convenience, and the reason for it is left as an exercise for the DM – do they become unreadable, crumble into dust, or is the enlightenment something more than the mere words and dissipates? Who knows! AD&D didn't bother with such details because it was either a mere game convenience for dungeon-bashing parties, or it was expected that DMs would be more creative than anything written down anyway, if they wanted it to be more than a "hey, you found a +1 Dexterity in the treasure, woo!"

Collide an item like that with the 3e-style "players can make anything" mentality of design, and you get this fine mess. Any explanation after the fact is just going to be a convenient rationalisation.

However, we can use that knowledge of the item's real-world publishing history to make a plausible explanation for the fictional publishing history.

Who made these?

  • Nobody – they are the writings of gods (dead, forgotten, or still living), left in the world for unfathomable purposes or accidents.
  • Ancient writers – rather than making them according to a formula, ancient scribes created them by recording the wisdom and learnings of a Golden Age. So profound are the knowledge and insights of that lost age, and so great was the skill of the writer, that they have become magic over the eons they've lain hidden.

    (Think of it like taking knowledge and self-basting it for millennia until it becomes un-mundane.)

  • Early experimenters – wizards (at least the ones I've played with) are well-known for trying to game the systems of magic. Some of these books were an attempt by someone – a lich perhaps? – to work around some constraint of some other piece of complicated magic or enchantment they were dealing with. Turns out it didn't work (or not well enough), but they didn't learn that until after they tried. The books were stuffed into vaults and dungeons, never meant to be found or used by anyone else.

  • Powerful wizards – as gifts meant for their loves, lieges, or loyal followers, but tragically misplaced in an accident of history.

These all share a common fundamental idea: nobody makes these just to leave them around. Every single one of these magic books that exists today is the product of, firstly, a very rare process that isn't embarked upon lightly, and secondly, a twist of fate which brought this particular book, never meant to be lost and go unused, down the ages into the hands of these particular adventurers. Truly, it is a treasure of incalculable value (now, now, please ignore that value formula), one of the very few surviving examples of an item that was ultra-rare even when it was new.

In that context, the formula in the book for creating one of these is how one could theoretically create a book that functions the same way as one of these ancient, rare tomes – but really, every wizard who could make one knows that the theory is mostly useless, because in practice it's a ridiculous waste of time and resources for something that could be so easily misplaced or stolen. Theory's fun and all, but practical wizards know the difference between useful knowledge and "huh, isn't that interesting" knowledge.


I have done this as a PC in game.

I played a Lawful Neutral tending toward LG Charisma Cleric Diplomancer in 3.5 and I wrote a Treatise on the Nature and Art of Language from a prescriptivist point of view. I built it as a +5 Tome of Leadership and Influence and spent most of the campaign writing it as a productive method of passing time since crafting magic items for more than 8 hours a day is not possible. The GM was limiting us to 'realistic' (i.e. 3-4 months on average) travel times so I actually finished one pretty quick once I got my first Wish, and immediately started writing another. (I think the second one was 'On the Inefficacy of Engineering with Regards to Travel and was a Wis tome.)

We were later forced to abandon the castle I had taken over as a result of the GM becoming fed up with us and I left the recently-completed original manuscript on a bookshelf when I free action greater-glyph-of-warding-plane-shift-greater-teleported away from the extremely localized meteor strike that the GM decided was going to hit me. Being basically Lawful Good adventurers, one of my party members tripped the emergency evacuation system and the populace of our kingdom was removed as well. I don't remember exactly what spells the evac system used, it was messy and had lots of redundancy in case of GM fiat, and we had one independant network per player in case stuff went wrong.

We never returned to the kingdom after that, and I was always too busy talking off the endless waves of implausible attackers that besieged our hidden astral fortress to really commit to another book (and besides, the sorcerer had talked the GM into allowing him to take Epic Spellcasting at lv 21, so then we all took it, so then the book was moot), so, as far as I know, the book sat there abandoned in the ruins of a once-great nation whose population suddenly disappeared in a bookcase at the top of a tower of equal parts magically treated adamantine and permanent walls of force rendered impregnable by a web of traps and magical defenses still lying in wait of would-be intruders but with a single point of entry from that fateful and impossible meteor tempting any would-be-adventurers passing by to try their luck and defy the arrogant ghosts of the past.

So, you know, it happens.


This seems likely to be something that started out firmly rooted in fantasy literature (ie the book of wisdom that has a permanent effect on the reader) but has since been altered by the needs of game balance. The single-use stricture makes it very hard to understand why anyone would be bothered to create this extremely potent and expensive item, and then NOT bother to use it.

If I were to try to put this into some sort of fantasy "reality", I might say that the books were created but some cataclysm prevented the wizard from reading it (it does take six days, after all). Alternately, people do all sorts of things for their students, children and underlings. The mighty wizard created these books as a reward for his successor... alas, no one proved themselves worthy. Or for his or her child, who ran off on some damn fool idealistic crusade with the local cleric, instead of staying home and studying.

That sort of thing. If you stop thinking about it like a player (ie why would I bother to spend this amount of time and treasure if it won't increase my killing power?!) and start thinking of it like a magical person, it can make a little bit more sense. It would help if they were rare, or the product of the same person, or a gift from the gods to mortals, etc.

But I agree with your point which is: these things should never on a rack under "Stat Boost" at the local magic shop. They're virtually priceless.


My idea would be creating these as more of a family heirloom, although having more than one of them in a library seems a bit overpowering to me. Future generations of the creator may discover the book(s) and either attempt to use them for the personal ability gain or sell them.


The main reason that comes to my mind, is for an ace-in-the-hand for negotiation for political and/or safety purposes. A wizard might make and keep such a book (and probably keep it someplace safe/hidden/magically protected) because they have lived long enough to realize that rainy days come along when one might avoid very undesirable events by being able to say, "Wait. I realize you can do X, but if you do Y instead, I could give you a very rare intact Tome of Understanding. Sadly, if you do X, you'll never find it, or my apprentice might have to give it to your rival, Viscount Drax." Or some such. This can be a lifesaver and/or result in advantages that would be worth that much investment and patience.


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