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I am playing a wizard. I was reading the PHB and saw that you could copy spells into your spellbook for a cost (50 gp + 2 hours of work, per spell level).

My question regards when copying the spell from a scroll. There is a spellcasting ability check required when copying it; the scroll is then destroyed, whether the check is successful or not.

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. If the check succeeds, the spell is successfully copied. Whether the check succeeds or fails, the spell scroll is destroyed.

If I fail the check to copy the spell from the scroll, is the 50 gp (per spell level) needed to copy the spell lost?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How familiar are D&D players with the following old adage: "Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances." \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 20 at 0:31
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Yes, the gold is spent whether or not the Arcana check succeeds

Per the "Your Spellbook" sidebar in the PHB (p. 114):

The cost 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.

You have already spent the gold before the Arcana check. Whether you succeed or fail, it's spent.

Per "Ability Checks" in the DMG (p. 237):

An ability check is a test to see whether a character succeeds at a task that he or she has decided to attempt.

Note that the phrasing is past tense; an ability check comes after the attempt is made. If the player was allowed to make the check prior then there would be no risk.

So first the character buys the supplies, then they experiment, then they roll an Arcana check to see if their practice paid off.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're gathering a bunch of items you need to carry out this magical process. You need to buy all of this stuff, without knowing whether or not you'll be successful or not. You spend the money to get the stuff, and THEN you try to use the stuff to transcribe the scroll. It's only after you get the materials that you're able to try to use them. You can't try to use them before you bought them. Hence, you have to spend the gold to try this process, regardless of whether or not you're going to be successful doing it. \$\endgroup\$ – Besty Apr 19 at 3:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not that real world applies to RPG, but the ingredients being consumed makes sense to me. So.... Explaniation by way of a family story - My Uncle bragged all the time about this great dump cake recipe his mother made. My Aunt, a new bride, really wanted to impress him, so she got the recipe from her Mother in Law. She followed all the instructions. The resulting cake was a horrible inedible grainy disaster. This is why in my family the recipe now always reads 2 cups of brewed coffee. And there was no way to recover the material components. \$\endgroup\$ – Drux Apr 20 at 14:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ In addition to the real world equivalent, you may also wish to add that not consuming the materials means that a player can just try again and again, until he succeeds during down time with the only lost resource being time. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Apr 21 at 19:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.A.Streich, that is what I mean by the phrase, "there would be no risk". \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Apr 24 at 16:14
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The expended materials are used up in the attempt in the case of success or failure.

tl;dr The check for success is not made before the attempt. The check is done after the materials and time are expended in making the attempt.

Time and material are used up when copying a spell.

The spellbook feature of the wizard class describes the cost of the process in both time and gold:

For each level of the spell, the process takes 2 hours and costs 50 gp. The cost represents material components you expend...

"Expend" means to use up. Materials expended are gone because they're used up. Similarly the time spent is unrecoverable.

Ability checks determine an outcome after the cost of the attempt is paid.

Ability checks are made when attempting an action. The action attempted here is copying a spell into the spellbook. The action attempted has a cost in time and material to perform. The ability check determines the success of the characters performance of that action.

In this case, the wording of the copy from spell scroll indicates the copying has been attempted: "When a spell is copied from a spell scroll..."

Other examples of expenditure in the attempt

  • Gold expenditure during research is gone regardless of the success of any required checks.
  • Spell slots are expended regardless of success of spell.
  • Xanathar's Guide to Everything (XGtE) p. 86 regarding expending spell slots even in the event the casting was unsuccessful due to an invalid target.
  • Similar wording for downtime activities in XGtE p. 123 where resources are expended regardless of outcome.
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As per the PHB:

The cost represents the material components you expend as you experiment with the spell to master it, as well as the fine inks needed to record it.

However later it states that:

You can copy a spell from your own spellbook into another book ... You need spend only 1 hour and 10 gp for each level of the copied spell.

If you follow this reasoning, 40 of the 50 gp per level (of materials) would be consumed, however the 10 gp (constituting the fine inks) would not need to be paid again.

The 40 gp would have to be paid before making the check, as it states in the PHB that you have to use the material components to reproduce the basic form of the spell. If you don't understand the basic form of the spell, then it would be impossible to copy and recreate the spell for your own spellbook, especially if you only have 1 chance to do so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This makes a very good basis for a reasonable argument to make to GM, that not all the gold might be lost on failure. \$\endgroup\$ – WakiNadiVellir Apr 19 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a GM I would rule that, given you wouldn't know how successful your attempt is until after it's finished, that would include copying your unsuccessful spell into your book. Drux's dump cake story is a great example of that principle. Just because you failed your check doesn't mean you realize before writing it into your book that the spell is an uncastable mess. \$\endgroup\$ – InternetHobo Jun 16 at 18:23

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