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I understand that a wizard gains 2 free spells to add into their Spellbook when they gain a level (pg. 178). What isn't clear is if they have to pay to inscribe the spell or take the time to put the spell into the book when they do so.

Do these spells just appear automatically in their Spellbook the moment they level up?

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Yes, as soon as the wizard levels up, those two spells are found in one of his spellbooks and he can prepare them the next time he prepares his spells. They do not require time or money to scribe, though they do fill up the appropriate number of pages in his spellbook.

This is one of those things that’s supposedly been going on in the background the entire time since the last level—the fighter’s been practicing new moves, the cleric’s been praying, the monk’s been meditating, and the wizard’s been studying. We have a lot of questions about these kinds of things, and they all have the same answer: while mechanically we just have the entire class level just pop into existence at some point, narratively this is more of a “eureka!” moment when it all comes together.

So the wizard’s two spells do “just appear” in a mechanical sense, in that this is one of their class levels, but behind the scenes/off screen the wizard has been working on getting them right the whole time, and it was only suddenly—perhaps inspired by something they’ve experienced recently—that they figured them out and got them working. Before the level, they weren’t ready, so they couldn’t be used. Now, they are.

The game doesn’t provide rules for these kinds of things because it’s difficult to create anything one-size-fits-all; campaigns are too different. And really, the expectation is that these kinds of things aren’t meant to actually take up game time really. Still, the books could do a better job of explaining it narratively—the most we get is the Dungeon Master’s Guide saying that you could make leveling up a process, that requires some downtime once you have enough XP, which could be when a wizard works on these two spells. It’s only a suggestion and it won’t work for every campaign, and how to narrate things without doing that isn’t described, even though it’s not too bad, really.

But even so, it does require a bit of “looking the other way”—a wizard doesn’t use up any resources tinkering with these spells, not even pages in the spellbook, nor do they lose XP if they lose their notes or whatever, and the correlation between “figuring out these new spells” and “killed these monsters” may not be as strong as these things are for a fighter or cleric—but at some point, we do have to accept that levels are, from the very beginning, an abstraction to make the game simpler to run.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the part about losing your notes etc. that part you indeed have to look the other way, otherwise it's too much of a pain to manage. \$\endgroup\$ – Maxime Cuillerier Jan 14 at 7:13
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Yes, it could be ruled that way, as @KRyan states.

However, there are other ways within the rules, and I have a few suggestions if you don't use those rules in particular:

  • If you use the optional rules on training in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, you can make your character train to gain their levels (I like this rule because it makes the age of your character much more important; especially if you start at a venerable age as a 1st-level Human Wizard, you'll find it much more difficult to learn every spell in the game if you're not immortal or something) and even one level in advance if you wish to do so (so you'll gain all your benefits directly when you level up). So in this particular case, the Wizard would have researched those spells during this time (Class Benefits in this case: see this answer from the question How long is the initial “training time” to get the first level of a class? for more details).

    I believe the Wizard writes parts of the spell in his spellbook while researching the spell. (I go into more detail on this in the conclusion of my answer.)

  • Player's Handbook p. 178-179 states that they are free and take no extra time, under "Adding Spells to a Wizard’s Spellbook":

    Spells Gained at a New Level: Wizards perform a certain amount of spell research between adventures. Each time a character attains a new wizard level, she gains two spells of her choice to add to her spellbook. These spells represent the results of her research. The two free spells must be of spell levels she can cast. (...)

    Further down, under "Writing a New Spell into a Spellbook":

    Once a wizard understands a new spell, she can record it into her spellbook.

    Time: The process takes 24 hours, regardless of the spell’s level.

    Space in the Spellbook: A spell takes up one page of the spellbook per spell level, so a 2nd-level spell takes two pages, a 5th-level spell takes five pages, and so forth. Even a 0-level spell (cantrip) takes one page. A spellbook has one hundred pages.

    Materials and Costs: Materials for writing the spell (special quills, inks, and other supplies) cost 100 gp per page. Note that a wizard does not have to pay these costs in time or gold for the spells she gains for free at each new level. She simply adds these to her spellbook as part of her ongoing research.

  • DMG p. 198 states, at the bottom of the "Learning Skills and Feats" subsection (under the "How PCs Improve" heading):

    If you allow it, at the expense of a certain degree of realism, a character can obtain training ahead of time. A player whose character is at 2nd level, knowing that the character will get a new feat at 3rd level, might choose to have his character train for the feat now either because the opportunity is available or to just get it out of the way.

    We could argue that this is mainly about feats and skills - but the Extra Spell feat, with this rule, strengthens the idea that you can simply study and inscribe your free spells in advance in your spellbook, and they become available right away when you level up. This is also justified in RP so your spells do not appear magically in reality with this rule; you were simply not ready yet, but now you are. You might have had a revelation (as @KRyan states, it's a "Eureka" moment, but I wanted to show you that it's even mentioned in the rules).

In Conclusion

  • The time and cost are simply included in the "Class Benefits" training part. If you do not play with this rule, it is indeed in fact harder to justify it in RP. The time can easily be "whenever the party has time between adventures". For the cost, you could justify it by saying it was simply paid before the character's creation during his training. Other than that, you can just ignore it like in video games and enjoy!

  • If you ever lose your ''research notes/spellbook'' between adventures it sure becomes hard to determine what to do about these free spells ''appearing'' in your spellbook when you level up (let's say you have an extra spellbook) so you might as well ignore the RP in this case or it will slow the game too much.

  • In my opinion: Two RP solutions to justify how your spell "appeared" in your spellbook could be used if you don't play with these optional rules:

    1. The free spells are either already written in the spellbook at the end of the character's research time (which can be whenever you had time before you leveled up), so when you level up, you have them right away.
    2. 99% of the spells are written in your spellbook before you level up, so you just have to add a few parts of the spells from your "revelation" due to leveling up, after which you now have completely learned them.
  • To prevent any problems, either way your DM rules it, always be sure to have enough empty pages in your spellbook (or an extra one) for when you level up! Because in this case you won't gain your spells right away!

One exception: The Chameleon prestige class has a class feature that grants you the ability to have one ''floating feat'' that you can change each day, so Extra spell with this is kind of instantaneous for the learning part, I would rule that the ''research time'' was during sleeping/meditation time (instead of the 2 weeks training time for a feat), but to avoid abuse I would still charge the PC with the ink cost of 100gp per page and the 24 hours to write it as well (you basically have it for free (50gpXspell level usually)and if there's no one willing to share their spell it's a good way to have some).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Added a bit about the chameleon floating feat \$\endgroup\$ – Maxime Cuillerier Jan 22 at 11:40

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