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In my first ever game of D&D (this was many years ago), I joined an existing game, and at the table, I was sitting beside a player playing a wizard (or "Magic User" to use the parlance of the time). The player had a little notebook to represent her spell-book, so at one point out of idle curiosity, I picked it up and flicked through it.

Another player at the table jumped up and pointed, shouting out with glee (we were kids) that I had read the wizard's spell-book, as it turns out that if anyone other than the wizard herself looks at it, all the spells would vanish from the book.

So the GM declared that this indeed is what happened, she would have to start a new spellbook, collecting her spells all over again and the wizard player spent the rest of the session understandably unhappy, glaring & cursing at me and so on.

Has this ever been a rule in D&D?

In all my years of playing (OD&D - which I believe this was, AD&D 2nd Ed, 3, 3.5, etc.) I have never come across a rule like this. I suppose it's possible she had a curse or something but in the ensuing argument this was never mentioned - they seemed to be making out that it was just a rule about spellbooks, and that I should have just somehow known not to do this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even if there was such a rule, it would still not apply to the situation, right? You took a look at the player's notes in real life and did not have your character flip through the spellbook in game, did you? \$\endgroup\$ – fabian Aug 23 at 9:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fabian - You're probably right, at the time it was my first ever role-playing game so the distinction didn't really occur to me in order to make the argument, besides I believe at the time the note-book was being treated as if it represented the actual spell-book. The GM was a real "no-backsies" kind of guy (e.g. if you said it, you did it, etc.) \$\endgroup\$ – colmde Aug 23 at 9:22
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The short answer is No, this was not a rule in any edition from 2E on. I've been playing since AD&D2e and could find no reference in the manuals or online.

A wizards spellbook is a very personal thing. So much so that it's written in a unique code. Even for another wizard to learn a spell from it would take considerable doing. See: Can the wizard in our group prepare a spell from the spellbook of an NPC wizard?

As a non-Wizard, it's extremely unlikely you could have understood any of it. Again as a Wizard there is still considerable difficulty in learning spells from another's book. According to the PHB p. 114:

Copying a Spell into the Book. When you find a wizard spell of 1st level or higher, you can add it to your spellbook if it is of a level for which you have spell slots and if you can spare the time to decipher and copy it.

Copying a spell into your spellbook involves reproducing the basic form of the spell, then deciphering the unique system of notation used by the wizard who wrote it. You must practice the spell until you understand the sounds or gestures required, then transcribe it into your spellbook using your own notation.

For each level of the spell, the process takes 2 hours and costs 50 gp. 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. Once you have spent this time and money, you can prepare the spell just like your other spells.

See Dale M.'s Answer in the above mentioned thread for a look at just how complex this ends up being.

The likelihood of the book being destroyed from attempting to read it would be dependent on the wizard whose book it is. For instance, if they put a spell on it to do exactly that.

For another player to suggest outright that this would be the case is just bad form. That's a player placing their will on another. Personally, as a DM I would not have outright allowed it. I'd have asked the Wizard who owned the book if such protections were on their book. If not, then this would have been an opportunity for some roleplay or simply an OOC teaching experience.

I can see this being used by the DM as a consequence of the wizard doing something foolish with the book itself but I personally would never destroy their spellbook like that. I would equate it to destroying someone's diary in real life.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It wasn't a rule in OD&D either. (I refer to the 3 books issued in 1974). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 23 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ "See Dave M.'s Answer in..." by an amazing coincidence, the GM in question was named Dave M! (not the same guy as the Dave M with the answer in your link is actually called Dale M) \$\endgroup\$ – colmde Aug 24 at 23:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'm pretty confident this rule didn't exist in AD&D either -- it's silly, because it would preclude one of the canonical ways to learn new spells: by copying them from a captured spell book of a vanquished enemy wizard. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Aug 26 at 13:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon My review of AD&D 1e does not find that as a rule; indeed, the book of spells that one can steal from a magic user is considered a very valuable treasure. (But as with my answer below, check for explosive runes first!) :-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 26 at 13:30
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It happened to me once via the spell explosive runes

It wasn't the act of reading the book, per se, that destroyed the spell book of the magic user we had just defeated. It was the act of reading the book that had been enchanted with explosive runes. My elf, Burnitrol, ended up with 1 HP when the smoke had cleared and the DM ruled that the explosion had destroyed the book. (Which I thought was a fair ruling). (Early 1980's, OD&D campaign).

Explosive Runes:
These runes when placed upon a parchment (book, scroll, map, etc.) safeguard it from unauthorized reading. If the reader is not the person who placed the runes upon the parchment they explode, destroying the parchment, and deal 4-24 points of damage to the reader (no savings thrown). The runes may be removed by the magic-user whenever he desires, and a magic-user of two or more levels above the one who placed the runes may attempt to remove them (50% chance of detecting them, 75% chance of successfully removing them). (Greyhawk, p. 22-23 (Supplement I to OD&D; TSR, 1975)

Lesson learned, I suppose. Ever since then, a bit more care is taken when messing with another caster's spell book, even in later editions. Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean that they are not out to get you. :)

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