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In 5e D&D, can a wizard discern and copy a wizard spell into their spellbook that they aren't high enough level to cast? If they found a dead archmage's book, or stole their own master's, prior to fleeing into the night, could a 5th-level wizard copy the 9th-level spells into their own? He doesn't have the spell slots to cast it, obviously, but it beats having to hold onto the book for years; a whole career, waiting to get those vaunted spell slots.

All I find is a money requirement, and a time requirement; it doesn't even seem like each spellbook has limited space. I'd like to think no, as these more advanced spells are beyond his ken, at present, but I don't know if there is officially an answer. Would he be able to figure out what those higher spells even are? Could he copy them into his book, with the money, and the time?

It seems like in the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure, you COULD find a certain archmage's tome, steal it, copy it, and eventually still trade it, unharmed, for profit to an interested party; basically getting twice the value out if an already valuable thing. Thanks much!

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No, a wizard can only copy spells of levels they can actually prepare.

Unfortunately, as the rules describing the wizard's spellcasting and spellbook state:

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 spell level you can prepare and if you can spare the time to decipher and copy it.

You can only copy a spell if you're already of a sufficiently high level to be able to prepare spells of that level in the first place. A junior wizard who finds a master's spellbook will need to hold onto it until they are high enough level to understand all its contents if they want to learn all the spells within.

Be aware that this is a particularly important caveat for a multiclass wizard. A wizard multiclassed into other spellcasting classes might have spell slots of sufficiently high level for a found spell, but lack the ability to prepare wizard spells of the required level (as explored in this question).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Too lazy to edit it in myself, but copying a spell into a spell book as per rules involves reproducing it, ie it must be cast as part of the copying. \$\endgroup\$ – zpletan Nov 16 at 8:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zpletan are you sure? I'm not aware of that, and it would have consequences for copying spells with costly material components. Can you point out where it says that? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Nov 16 at 9:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @erik it’s in the link OP provided, under Your Spellbook -> Copying a Spell into the Book. \$\endgroup\$ – zpletan Nov 16 at 9:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zpletan specifically, it states the process involves "reproducing the basic form of the spell", and then "practice the spell until you understand the sounds or gestures required". I think "reproducing the basic form of the spell" is not meant to be read to mean "actually cast the spell", and then practising the spell is likewise a dry run, not a full casting. (But nonetheless, one needs sufficient magical ability as represented by wizard class levels in order to understand the spell well enough to transcribe it in your own notation.) \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Nov 16 at 9:16

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