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As a DM I would like to put spell scrolls (magical or otherwise) on exotic surfaces &/or locations. Are there any hard / R.A.W. limits on this? Both scribing & enchantment are expensive in cost and time - obviously complex - yet with minimal description of how this all looks in the end.

Somewhere in the rules (cannot find it now) it was suggested that non-magical / written spells could in or on many places - is this also the case with magical spell scrolls?

Notes: Brief research on paper suggests pressed-wood, skin-leather, cloth-cottons, hemp-grasses &/or papyrus-reeds and more - even inside glass. One assumes fairies or giants write stuff as well. Possibilities abound and seem endless.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “it was suggested that non-magical / written spells could in or on many places” — I think you missed some words in between "could ... in" here \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe the place in the rules you are looking for is XGtE page 58 that discusses alternate spellbooks such as “long straps of leather” or “small stones inscribed with spells”. Is this what you were referring to? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 0:11

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A spell scroll can be just about anything you like.

Other answers have taken appropriate care to hedge their analyses by referencing the DM's prerogative to build the world however they want, as NautArch put it:

It is entirely within your purview as DM to make them look however you'd like - as long they still follow the same rules regarding use and longevity.

This is the direction I intend to take, not by framing the DM's purview as allowing rulings contrary to the written limitations in the Dungeon Master's Guide (this is how I read Groody's and Jack's answers), but rather by showing the canonical state of affairs in the Forgotten Realms assumes no such limitations on the material composition of a spell scroll.

Paper, parchment, vellum.

The Dungeon Master's Guide provides a starting point for the composition of a spell scroll:

a scroll is a roll of paper

One might be tempted to understand this as a rigid rule, but the rules themselves don't even take that approach! Xanathar's Guide to Everything provides (optional) rules for crafting spell scrolls, and includes a Scribing a Scroll Complications table. In this table, we see a description of a character using parchment, instead of paper, as a medium for the spell:

The rare parchment you bought for your scroll has a barely visible map on it.

Now, this optional rule is not just hypothetical, we have an example of a parchment spell scroll existing in the world found in the Tales from the Yawning Portal adventure "The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan":

Within the case is a piece of faded parchment—a spell scroll of stone shape, written in astrological symbols of the Olman.

Further, we see vellum described as a suitable medium for spell scrolls in the adventure Storm King's Thunder; in a list of treasure found in a certain location, we have:

  • Five spell scrolls (animate objects, chain lightning, dominate monster, legend lore, and phantasmal killer). Each scroll is written on a 12-foot-long, 5-foot-wide rolled sheet of vellum. Normal-sized characters can use the scrolls despite their size.

So the canonical state of affairs in the Forgotten Realms is that spell scrolls can at least be scribed upon media other than paper, with parchment and vellum given as suitable alternatives. However, the breadth of spell scroll media is broader still...

Spell scrolls don't even have to be...scrolls.

Surely a scroll must be a scroll, right? Sure, to be a scroll, it must be a scroll. However, we have another example from a published adventure demonstrating that being written upon a scroll is not a necessary component of having all the function of a spell scroll. In Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, we find among a pile of loot in the hold of a ship:

a scrimshaw figurine of an archer etched with magical script. This figurine functions like a spell scroll of remove curse, then turns to dust after its magic is spent.

Here we see what is likely whale bone (whaling is common in the frigid waters of the north) etched with magical writing that has all of the properties of a spell scroll - fine craftsmanship, fine materials, magical words - it's just not written on a roll of paper.

All of this tells us that the Dungeon Master's Guide is providing the typical composition of a spell scroll, not the unique composition of a spell scroll, and that as long as the general rules for scroll crafting (time, money) are followed, you can create "spell scrolls" out of anything you like.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, parchment and vellum could mean also "paper", as one can check here and here, even if in a medieval-like settings could be not so likely. Anyway, you write "the canonical state of affairs in the Forgotten Realms assumes no such limitations on the material composition of a spell scroll": your reasoning seems to apply only to FR campaign settings, so it looks like pretty specific to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Do we have reason to believe that the magical weave that does not care on Toril is actually quite particular on Eberron or Krynn? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I do not see what your question has to do with my observation. Anyway, for what I remember, on Krynn there was no Weave, but magic was ruled by 3 gods (Solinari, Lunitari and Nuitari): this was before the events of the Dragon of Summer Flame novel, and after those magic was completely different (due to the 4th ed, I think). I truly do not know how magic "officially works" under the 5th ed. For Eberron I do not know anything, never played there. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 17:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage The point of my reference to published adventures was to support the claim of my last sentence: "All of this tells us that the Dungeon Master's Guide is providing the typical composition of a spell scroll, not the unique composition of a spell scroll". The point of my last comment was just to observe that we don't have any reason to believe that spell scroll composition is different across settings. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree, but I see your point. To be honest, I was expecting an answer more in a ThomasMarkov's way ("the rules says this, but as a DM you can do anything and here there are some examples..."). \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 18:27
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The DMG description doesn't match other published sources

The mechanics of spell scrolls are very much separate from how they must 'look'. It is entirely within your purview as DM to make them look however you'd like - as long they still follow the same rules regarding use and longevity. From the DMG (page 200) on spell scrolls:

A spell scroll bears the words of a single spell, written in a mystical cipher. If the spell is on your class’s spell list, you can read the scroll and cast its spell without providing any material components. Otherwise, the scroll is unintelligible. Casting the spell by reading the scroll requires the spell’s normal casting time. Once the spell is cast, the words on the scroll fade, and it crumbles to dust. If the casting is interrupted, the scroll is not lost.

What is paper?

Chapter 7 of the DMG gives a seemingly direct answer here under the general descriptions of magic items:

...a scroll is a roll of paper, sometimes attached to wooden rods...

That sure seems to settle the equation until we get to specific published adventures like Storm King's Thunder the specifically uses vellum rather than paper. Or the optional rules around crafting found in Tasha's that state parchment. Neither of the above are technically paper.

The use of non-standard substrates is specifically offered by the publishers - go and use what you'd like!

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth adding a reference to Scribing a Spell Scroll in Xanathar's Guide. It also doesn't add any restrictions on the material the scroll is made from but since it focuses on the creation of them is a more specific source. \$\endgroup\$
    – Quentin
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ To add to this, having found scrolls be on novel items could be very interesting. Maybe a scroll made by an ancient forgotten dwarven empire is inscribed on a metal hammer that rusts away when cast. An ancient elven scroll written on the leaves of a small plant that needs neither water or light to stay green, but withers away when cast. Maybe a turkey leg that has to be eaten as part of the spell. Or a Magic Missile that's a dart you throw as the somatic component. There are no limitations aside from your imagination. \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Quentin The Scribing rules are optional and also don't really have any specific interaction that's different than the general spellcasting rules in the DMG. I don't think it'd really do anything to improve the answer, but thank you! \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seems like you could use "it crumbles to dust" to destroy things. Make a spell scroll on a door, cast the spell, the door crumbles to dust. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov, I could see someone chiseling a 1st level spell on to the wall of a castle and then say the castle needs to crumble to dust when cast \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 17:46
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A spell scroll looks like a scroll

The DMG explicitly describes scrolls on page 139, in the section on magic item categories:

SCROLLS The most prevalent type of scroll is the spell scroll, a spell stored in written form, but some scrolls, like the scroll of protection, bear an incantation that isn't a spell. Whatever its contents, a scroll is a roll of paper, sometimes attached to wooden rods, and typically kept safe in a tube of ivory, jade, leather, metal, or wood.

All scrolls (that are magic items) are rolls of paper. A spell scroll (the magic item) is a type of scroll. Therefore, a spell scroll is a roll of paper.

In addition to that, from the spell scroll description on page 200 of the DMG, we also know that:

A spell scroll bears the words of a single spell, written in a mystical cipher.

The more specific rules text of spell scroll does not make other statements about the look of the scroll. There is nothing specific in the core rules to override the general description of scrolls for spell scrolls.

Materials

By the strictest interpretation of the definition in the DMG, a spell scroll cannot even be written on papyrus, parchment, or vellum, it must be paper. Even though the name paper etymologically comes from papyrus and both are plant based, papyrus is not the same as paper. Parchment or vellum, both used historically for writing on, are made from animal skin and would only count as paper in the sense of a thin material used for writing on.

In the optional rules for scribing a spell scroll from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, one of the complications is: "The rare parchment you bought for your scroll has a barely visible map on it.", which indicates even the publishers assume parchment as a typcial material to scribe scrolls on. Therefore, it could be reasonable to consider a wider definition of paper. Your DM, if they prefer to allow these or even more exotic materials, may interpret or overrule the written rules text accordingly, see page 4 of the DMG. I certainly would do so in my home game.

illustro futher has pointed out that in Storm King's Thunder, spell scrolls can be found written on vellum. In this case specific beats general, and those specific spell scrolls override the strict reading of the ones prescribed by the rules.

The creation of magic items by the PCs, including the scribing of scrolls, is in the purview of the DM. If a DM allows the players to scribe scrolls, he might also allow them to use other materials; at least for common materials like papyrus or parchment this is highly unlikely to have any negative effect on the game.

Other scrolls with spells

The reference you recall about spells being possibly written in many places might be the one from the decription of the spellbook, on page 114 of the PHB:

The Book’s Appearance. Your spellbook is a unique compilation of spells, with its own decorative flourishes and margin notes. It might be a plain, functional leather volume that you received as a gift from your master, a finely bound gilt-edged tome you found in an ancient library, or even a loose collection of notes.

Thus it is possible to write spells on any kind of substrate. You could have non-magical scrolls with spells written on them, (see the "loose collection of notes" above), and then would have a nonmagical scroll with a spell on it, in the same way a spellbook is not magical, but these scrolls would not be spell scrolls.

Contrast to other answers

Several of the other answers make well researched cases for ignoring the rules as written, which I sympathize with. It seems inane to not be able to write a scroll on parchment or vellum, and even the publishers themselves do not care about their own rule in the adventures they publish.

Neither is it harmful to allow more exotic expressions of the concept of a one-time consumable spell that traditionally is rendered as a spell scroll, to the contrary, it can be full of flavour. Spell fetishes, spell figurines, spell prayer beads, spell feathers, spell tattoos... the possibilities are endless and fun.

I never the less cannot in good faith answer that a spell scroll, as described by the rules, is anything other than a scroll made of paper. That is what the rules say, and it does not matter if I like it or not, or if they ignore it themselves. It will remain so, until WotC issues errata on the text.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:22

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