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I'm running a campaign in Faerun, with Red Wizards as one of the main antagonists. My party includes a wizard. Every time the party kills one of said Red Wizards, they expect to find a spellbook, and rightly so. This will lead to my Wizard having a lot of spells to choose from.

So,

  • Is this a balance issue in the first place? Why or why not? Have you experienced this in your games?
  • If it is / can be a problem, how should I mitigate it?

Mitigation options I've considered include

  • "The spellbook got destroyed". No fun, and gets unrealistic quickly.
  • All Red Wizards know the same spells. Also unrealistic, each has their own speciality.
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15 Answers 15

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I find this a really interesting question, but not an easy one to answer.

My best educated guess is that the value of additional spells depends on how your wizard player picks their existing spells, and what they consider the 'job' of their wizard.

If you have a wizard who concentrates on damage (or if I was being honest who I would say "wastes their potential"), then in all honesty you can probably give them as many spells as you want. They have already decided to skip the best spells, and likely already have the strongest damage spells, so you won't be making much difference in their power.

If you have a wizard who chooses their spells carefully and has something for every situation then you are giving them a significant buff, because now there will be no situations where they can't do something.

There is also a considering in terms of downtime, if the party get into situations where they have a day to prep then knowing a lot of spells is a big advantage when you can change them on a long rest, but if they don't always have a day to swap spells then knowing all the spells in the world won't help if they don't have the right ones prepared.

Only you will be able to tell how much this will buff your specific wizard.

As an example in one campaign I play with a wizard who could have every spell in the game, they would still spend 10 minutes wondering what spell to cast before deciding to cast fire bolt or magic missile. Then there is my wizard who has a list of about 20 spells that I want other than what I am already going to take, and anything not on that list would pretty much make no difference to me, but giving me any of those spells would give me a considerable boost in power and I actively advise my DM not to give me everything they know I want.

But how do you make it fair once you know how many spells to give?

A few things to consider

  1. If the red wizard has a base nearby, they might not have bothered taking their spellbook with them, it may be kept safe in their HQ which they return to every night. Only adventurers are tied to their spellbooks, because they tend not to have such a safe space.
  2. If the red wizard isn't a 'boss' then maybe they all use the same spells. I know you ruled this out, but I would consider at least a base knowledge, then just a few unique spells based on their speciality (IE: they all went to the same school for their base understanding)
  3. It doesn't matter how many spellbooks a wizard has if they can't afford the time or materials to scribe all the spells
  4. Certain spells are likely more rare than others, your red wizards are most likely to have certain types of spell than others, likely tailored to whatever goal they are aiming to achieve.
  5. The spellbook is in a language the wizard can't understand (with comprehend languages this probably isn't much of a real problem)
  6. Powerful wizards protect their spellbooks. My wizard has their spellbook in a lead box with immovable object (from EGtW) cast on the book, plus the box, plus the lid. It also has explosive runes. So if it is found after a fight and the wizard doesn't have dispel magic and spell slots left they won't be able to take it with them, or even browse it.
  7. Honesty. "Hey players I know you might expect each red wizard to have a spellbook but while that might feel realistic it will unbalance the game, so only certain wizards will be caught with their spellbooks to be found. Please trust me that I am doing this for the benefit of the game"

How I approach this in my campaigns

I consider a spellbook as treasure, and I use Sane Magic Item Prices to calculate what treasure I am going to give the group (though I do run a pretty high magic campaign, because loot is fun to me). I decide what spells are going to be in a spellbook, calculate the value, and then work out which mages are going to have spellbooks, and which are not.

Often my group will find a spellbook that simply contains no new spells, this lets them feel good that at least they found something, but means I can give it away from essentially free (they can still sell it, but for a significantly lesser value).

If they are going to find a spellbook with useful spells I work out the value of those spells and give them as the wizards share of whatever loot I was already planning to hand out.

This means the wizard gets plenty of spells, but it is balanced by what the other characters receive.

If I didn't give the other characters something, then they would feel left out, which would be even worse than balance issues.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like #6, but with a twist: it's an acid flask in the box, and if you don't know that you need to cast the right spell to make something inside turn to prevent it, then opening the box will destroy the book. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 6 at 17:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trish Interesting! I might just do something like that if I ever get enough time to make a copy \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted because I find the comparison between your wizard and the wizard you play with expecially interesting. Even thought I agree with Dale's answer that the Gm doesn't really need to balance out the spells they find, your answer points out the psychological aspect for the player. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Feb 6 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Number 5 doesn't make sense, spellbooks are already written in personal cyphers and require research and translation covered in the PHB section on getting spells from another spellbook. Number 2 is the biggest limiting factor imho... there are a lot of staple spells that wizards take so most would have things like Magic Missile, Detect Magic, Fireball etc... obviously if specialties vary there would be flavoring differences but there would be LOTs of duplicates in the long run. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Feb 6 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ More on #2: NPC's follow different rules and "Red Wizards" sound more like mass-produced mooks than named enemies. They could very well use communal spell books, or cheap ones with only the spells they knew in the encounter. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7 at 5:13
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There is no need to balance, but you may want to control it anyways

The wizard class description is designed for wizards to be balanced, even if they eventually have access to their entire spell list. Quoth the PHB:

On your Adventures, you might find other Spells that you can add to your Spellbook.

The reason for it is that one of the major limitations as a wizard is how many different spells you can prepare in a day. After you prepare all the generally useful spells like those listed below under "bread and butter", you typically have preciously few "free" preparation slots left. It does not matter if you have a spellbook of dozens other spells then. I speak from practical experience: I have copied several spells to my book that in the course of seven levels worth of play that I have never even once used; and that even though I make it a point to prepare such subpar spells on purpose, to see if I can find some fun, creative application.

Copying Spells is costly

In addition, I agree with @Jack that often it may be difficult to transcribe all the spells you find for time and cash reasons. I know that I have struggled with that for many levels in a relatively fast paced campaign, where the other players' characters have no reason to hang back at home for days on end. The money is also always too short and I am in debt. I think it is a valid reason why handing out spells liberally at some point yields diminishing returns to the player character wizard. But Jack made this point much more eloquently already.

Even if the time constraint is absent and your campaign has liberal downtime days, the cost constraint remains. (Note that having no urgency would be a balance issue: 5e is balanced for 5 encounters a day. If nothing is pushing the group to press on, they can long rest after each encounter, breaking game balance).

Quantitatively: to learn all the spells from the core rules up to 3rd level (after your picks at caster level 6) would cost you nearly 8,000 gp. Your expected wealth by then is about 4,500 gp. You'll not be able to afford it. (As gold grows quicker than spells, you will catch up around level 8, but this does not even factor in costly components you need, like a crytal ball for 1,000 gp, or a Leo's chest Replica for 5,050 gp).

For both these reasons, I personally think there is no balance issue.

Limit it anyways

However, I still would be somewhat stingy in handing out good additional spells: the longing for that which they do not yet have is a great driver for engagement by the players, and finally finding a long-sought spell is a great reward. So don't go monty haul. Make it meaningful for the wizard to find the great spells. The following methods can help you do so:

Wizards hide their spell books

Wizards are really scared to lose their spell books. That is why it is common that, once they have learned the selection of spells they like, they hide their books in a safe place. In this case, the wizard will not have the book on his person, and finding it becomes a challenge in itself. Spellbooks are not magical items either, so they are not easy to detect through floor tiles and such. Clever wizards may even use decoy books to foil things like Locate Object. There are many published adventures where the spellbooks are cleverly hidden somewhere. Have your wizards do so, too.

Limit the amount of novel spells

Granted, not all wizards should have the exact same spell list. But many spells are bread and butter for a wizard and will likely be shared, think Detect Magic, Armor, Shield, Magic Missile, Invisibility, Misty Step, Counterspell, Dispel Magic, Haste, Fly, Fireball and/or Lightning Bolt, Sending, Polymorph. If your red wizards share a core of common spells, the number of extra, novel spells that reflect each wizard's specialty can be kept small, maybe one or two spells per book. This will make players happy (and can be reflected by accounting for it in the overall treasure calculation), upholds believability, and limits what you effectively hand out.

Add subpar spells

This is of course subjective and likely worth a discussion for each case, but there are a lot of spells that are not that desirable, because they are rarely applicable, or they have effects that are in many regards inferior to a similar spell.

By providing such spells as the extra spells, you can keep the spellbooks varied while at the same time not granting much power to the wizard. Some spells I can suggest (although other's opinion may differ, and they surely have some value in special circumstances): Illusory Script, Jump, Ray of Sickness, Witch Bolt, Darkness, Darkvision, Nystul's Magic Aura, Bestow Curse, Feign Death, Vampiric Touch, Elemental Bane, Blight, Phantasmal Killer, Seeming, Move Earth, Symbol, Control Weather

Add redundant spells

There also are spells that have largely similar effects. While they may add slightly to the versatility of the PC wizard, the benefit will be mild. For example, instead of Fireball they could learn Lightning Bolt or Vitriolic Sphere, and while that may be of use in an adventure against fire-resistant enemies, in many cases they substitute for each other as mid-level area damage spells.

Spellbooks may be hard to sell

Even if they are not magic items, spellbooks are only useful to wizards. There may not be a market to sell spellbooks easily, especially when in contrast to scrolls, it also costs a lot of money to copy them into a form you can use (50 gp in inks per spell level plus an empty spellbook on top). You as the GM can rule that it is as difficult to offload a spellbook as it is with a magic item, so their monetary value is questionable. Furthermore, merchants may not want to buy a spellbook that is clearly one of the red wizards', for fear of being targeted for retribution from that group.

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Being a wizard is hard work

Just because a wizard finds a spell, that doesn't mean the wizard can use a spell. Time, money, and a the need for a safe place can slow down your wizard's ability to make use of the spells they find.

At lower levels it takes hours to copy a few spells, at higher levels it takes days. I have found in my own games that wizards have to carefully choose what spells they have time to transcribe into their own books. This seriously slows down their acquisition of spells.

The PHB says:

Wizards live and die by their spells. Everything else is secondary. They learn new spells as they experiment and grow in experience. They can also learn them from other wizards, from ancient tomes or inscriptions, and from ancient creatures (such as the fey) that are steeped in magic.

Furthermore, this takes "countless hours of study". This is a good thing! Being a wizard takes time, at least if you're going to be a very good wizard.

Spells have to be copied into YOUR book

The PHB says:

choose a number of wizard spells from your spellbook

and

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

So your PC wizard must copy spells into their own book to use them. RAW they can't just pick up someone else's book and cast from it, they have to transcribe the spells into their own book.

Time and money

This takes time and money . . . 2 hours and 50 gp per spell level.

In order to copy 3 3rd level spells, that's 3 * 3 * 2 = 18 hours, and 3 * 3 * 50 = 450 gold.

How many hours can they copy spells in a day? That's maybe a reasonable whole separate question, but a reasonable answer is somewhere between 8 to 16 hours a day, so those 3 3rd level spells will easily take more than a day, maybe more than 2. That's just 3 spells.

Some wizards are faster on the scribe than others

Some wizards can copy spells in their own school faster than other spells, and Order of the Scribe wizards are faster still. These are important subclass features and should be given a chance to play out.

It's about time

Something should be happening while the wizard is doing this copying. The bad guys shouldn't just say, "we'll check back with you next Tuesday", they should be advancing their own plots. That time pressure makes the wizard have to pick and choose which spells to copy.

...And place

And the wizard needs a safe place. You just sit down in the middle of the wilderness and start copying spells and something or other might come along and want to eat your quill.

And copying spells takes "material components you expend as you experiment with the spell to master it, as well as the fine inks you need to record it". It is reasonable at a minimum that the wizard must buy inks ahead of time, and for some spells, if you want to play hardball, maybe the wizard needs access to a town or city or some other place to get fancy components.

How to make a wizard cry

Take away their spellbook, or even just suggest it. Let your wizard know about "some other wizard" who lost their spellbook, and let them think about the implications of that. The PHB specifically talks about keeping a spare spellbook in "a safe place". If you even give a hint that such a thing might happen, then your wizard is also going to want to spend time making a backup, and that takes even more time.

Being a wizard is hard work!

Good luck!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I am confused as to how this answers the question \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6 at 12:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Tried to make that clearer. Added: "Just because a wizard finds a spell, that doesn't mean the wizard can use a spell. Time, money, and a place can slow down your wizard's ability to make use of the spells they find." \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 6 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that edit helps with your point, but not sure it addresses the balance concerns. I think the OP would be looking for advice on how much time they need to give a wizard to let them scribe a balanced amount of spells for example. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6 at 12:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, Order of Scribes. Gotta say, that's what the subclass DOES. OoS wiz is gonna copy spells like a machine. Might be that's the real question, how to balance for OoS. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 6 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given OoS is pretty weak (for a wizard, in my opinion) maybe the way they learn spells is a deliberate balancing feature. More choice because they need it! \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6 at 20:25
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It is balanced

The limiting factor for a wizard, like it is for a cleric, is the number of spell slots available and the number of spells that can be prepared, not the number of spells available.

The wizard class can have access to most, if not all, of the wizard spell list - this is how they are designed.

On your adventures, you might find other spells that you can add to your spellbook (see the “Your Spellbook” sidebar).

You might. Or you might not. It doesn’t matter either way because any found spells are low priority spells. If they are spells the wizard’s player considers important then they will have already been chosen or they would have been in the future meaning that when that choice comes, the wizard’s player will choose a lower priority spell.

Let me explain. Let’s say that at 5th level the wizard chose or intends to choose Counterspell and Fireballto add to their spellbook - their high priority spells (you might have others but it doesn’t matter). If the wizard finds these spells after the choice they are of no value to her. If before then they are of some value because they can choose other, less valuable spells when they reach 5th level. They are less valuable to the wizard because if they were more valuable then they would be the spells they chose to get.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Any references to back up your statement about intent? I have seen the exact opposite suggested on various answers around this site (not just about the wizard, but items in general). \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6 at 20:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not just the number of slots available but what the caster has prepared for that day. Which is why wizards research where they are going and what they are facing to prepare "correctly". Or the smart players do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Feb 6 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are largely right, yet there are more spells that you would like to have access to than your picks each spell level can cover - especially at 3rd spell level: Fireball, Counterspell, Haste, Fly, Tiny Hut, and Dispel Magic & Remove Curse and Sending (if you have no other caster that has them) are really painful to miss too. You'll not prep Remove Curse daily, but if someone has been cursed, you'll be glad to have it. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin isn't this the same for a cleric/druid? Lvl3 and Lvl4 spells are a big improvement no matter the class. This answer says "give as many as you feel like giving, it's not the bottleneck", your comment goes in the same direction : "there's a lot of spells, the spells known is not the bottleneck" \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Feb 8 at 1:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273, yes, I agree that it is not causing a balance issue to give additional spells beyond the picks (and think that is how the game is intentded to play out, so even eventually having all of them is not unbalanced). And I agree that you'll still be playable with just your picks - just lacking flexibility which is one of the advantages over the sorcerer. In contrast "If they are spells the wizard’s player considers important then they will have already been chosen" is overstating it - there are plenty of spells the player may consider important that he has no picks for. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8 at 7:25
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Don't leave home home without it...?

I'm going to argue with the idea that NPC wizards carry spellbooks with them at all times. Yes, that's normally how PCs work, but PCs are weirdos. They wander the world looking for trouble instead of living in a home (or at least some sort of semi-long-term quarters). If I were a wizard and I had an apartment that I expected to go back to every night, my extremely valuable spellbooks would be well-secured and hidden there, not stuffed in my robe where I could lose them or be robbed. Anyway, if they're close to home, are they even going to have a place to put a big spellbook? Most people don't just walk around with a backpack all the time unless they're in school.

Prep once, cast forever.

Even if these guys are out on some kind of expedition, you only need your books if you want to change your spells or cast a ritual. The rule says you can change your prepared spells after a long rest, not that you are obligated to do so. I think it's entirely likely that your average Red Wizard heading into a dangerous expedition is going to decide on a spell list, memorize them, and then leave the books safely at home, depending on that memorized list to see them through.

The short list.

An NPC wizard might keep a second, smaller spellbook with copies of a few important rituals and maybe one or two spells they might want on hand if things go badly and they have to get back to civilization without assistance, but don't want to memorize unless it's really necessary. The PCs could easily keep finding slim volumes that contain detect magic, identify, comprehend language, Leomund's tiny hut, and disguise self.

Copying isn't free.

Just in case your party wizard is conveniently forgetting, copying spells takes significant time and money, two hours and 50 gp in materials per spell level -- and you'd be entirely justified in ruling that the gp cost requires the wizard to be in a city or other location where they can actually acquire the inks necessary to write the spell. Finding a spellbook is only step one.

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Nothing implies that any Red Wizard has a spellbook

This piece of advice might be a little late, since expectations were already established:

Every time the party kills one of said Red Wizards, they expect to find a spellbook, and rightly so.

However, the very premise "every time you meet a Red Wizard, (s)he carries a spellbook" is not true.

Yes, the PHB describes the "Wizard" class with its distinctive features, including the spellbook. However, in-game characters didn't read the PHB. Some people can use magic, others call them "wizards", or "mages", or "sorcerers", or "magic users", or "warlocks", or maybe "shamans".

It was the 3.x thing that game classes actually exist in-game. It's no longer the case in 5e.

Some of these magic users have spellbooks and others don't. Every prominent spellcaster is unique in a fantasy world. A particular PC carries his book everywhere, but this doesn't mean all spellcasters do.

So let's say we encountered Tom, the Red Wizard. Even if he wrote a personal spellbook, there are no guarantees he has it in his pockets right now. Quite the opposite, the book is valuable and must remain secured. That's why spellbooks are usually treasure, not loot.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The setting lore for red wizards is pretty consistent about them all being members of the wizard class. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Feb 7 at 21:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe, could you back this up with any citation of game text? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Feb 8 at 7:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're asking for Hempel's Raven; it's impossible to provide a citation that proves that all books consistently treat red wizards as wizards, because such a citation would have to include the full text of all those books to prove the lack of inconsistency. All I can say is, in my many years of reading setting lore, I have never encountered any passage that suggested a Red Wizard of Thay was anything but a wizard. If you could find a single mention of a red wizard who was not a member of the wizard class, that would disprove my claim. I don't believe you will, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Feb 8 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Page 50 of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting says: "While it is possible for a sorcerer or bard to become a Red Wizard, such misfits are ridiculed in their homeland and are incredibly rare." \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9 at 7:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe indeed, 3.x edition assumed that classes is a part of the game world, but in 5e it's no longer the case \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Feb 9 at 8:54
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Deciphering spells has a cost

In addition to what's in the rules, there's nothing that says a wizard can easily tell what each spell in a rival wizard's spell book is BEFORE they decipher it. There are two ways this could make the wizards life more difficult, first if they decipher a spell they already know, they've wasted time (and possibly money) for no benefit and if the spell is higher level then they can cast, that might not be immediately obvious (though I'd certainly have them discover this after spending an amount of time appropriate for learning their highest castable spell).

So yeah, maybe each Red Wizard knows 15 spells, 10 taught by the cult, and 5 they chose themselves. Figuring out which is which is going to be an expensive endeavor.

All of that said I would suggest only applying the time cost for redundant spells, and possibly a small gold cost since it's mostly a matter of figuring out "oh yes, that's another way to cast firebolt."

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All Red Wizards know the same spells. Also unrealistic, each has their own speciality.

Why? They are one clan/sect so it's valid to assume they study and train together or have a similar curriculum for apprentices.

Then give every Red Wizard one or maybe two spells of their own, their specialty spells that they refused to share with the group. This makes far more sense than giving each their own full spellbook. Learning/inventing spells is hard, but your "friends" (depending on the nature of that group) can teach you very easily, why not? They should all have almost the exact spellbook (except maybe for members that traveled far far away or something like that).

Additionally: for a wizard, it is quite cheap to transcribe their spells to a second spellbook. This would lead any reasonable wizard in a clan to have a small, reduced everyday spellbook and one very very well hidden expansive spellbook with the weird, niche-use spells in them. If you kill/capture one of them in combat it only makes sense to find a bare-bones book on them, especially for lower members of the group who know they might be outclassed and defeated. This would also allow you as a DM to have them cast spells in combat that do not show up in the book found

However, I generally agree with the point in other answers that even a wizard with the entire spell list in their book is balanced, give your wizard their spells. It costs them quite a bit of gold that they can't spend on cool gimmicks anyway

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Then give every Red Wizard one or maybe two spells of their own, their specialty spells that they refused to share with the group." => Or it may be that the others are not too interested in that spell, when they need to save up for another one they are more interested in. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7 at 14:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. "Oh my goood, heres that Dave again, if he doesn't shut up about his oh-so-cool cone of cold being better than fireball this banquet i will roast him first figuratively and then literally". I like this alternative explanation/reason :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Feb 8 at 12:08
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5e is resilient here

It is true that more flexibility is useful. But wizards already have the ability to pick significantly more spells than they can prepare in a day; almost twice as many.

A skilled player can get a great baseline set of "everyday" spells and have plenty of room for situational spells in that selection.

Adding more spell scrolls or spell books will boost the less skilled at picking spells player's PC, while helping the more skilled at picking spells PC less.

It is sort of like picking players for a sports team. The wizard starts out with being able to pick twice as many players as they can field at once. Adding more players at random from a pool could help, but it would take a lot to matter significantly.

Being able to pick from the entire pool to field players is not that much of an advantage over being able to first pick the best 20 players, then pick your team from that list. Sure, it means you'll have a few fewer specialist players.

Don't sweat it

Add in some wizard spell books when it makes sense. Having too many or too few won't matter that much balance wise; picking 1 spell out of a list of 2 or 1 out of a list of 5 is a minor difference.

The biggest additional thing the wizard gets from more spellbooks, honestly, ritual spells. Those don't require a long rest to prepare.

Building a spellbook is a Player/PC motivation tool

As noted, the power gain from more random spells is not that huge. But "I am collecting more spells!" is a fun PC goal that can help motivate a player.

Especially if the PC has no clear motivation hooks, dangling "there is an interesting spell" can help pull someone along a quest. Heck, "lost spells" that are not much more than variations of existing ones could make some PCs/Players go gaga, so long as you don't make them more powerful than existing ones.

Standard Set of Spells

Now, the biggest concern I'd have is having to curate all of those spell books. That would get annoying.

What I'd do is say that the Red Wizard will have a standard set of common spells they all share. Have a handful of other spells -- it doesn't have to be many -- that each Red Wizard has on top of the standard set. (Higher level wizards will have more spells from that standard set, up to a cap of some kind)

So I can curate one list of standard spells (for a rank X red wizard), then add on 3ish ones that fit this specific Red Wizard's skills.

Wizards don't need spellbooks

A Wizard only needs their spellbook when they want to change spells. A smart wizard might only bring a small book, with 4 spells in it to swap around, when away from home. The Red Wizards might even make this a requirement, with the wizards 'main' spellbook acting as a hostage against their defecting (wrapped up in "keeping it safe" wording).

(Answer based off of my own answer here to a question about spell scrolls).

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This is not a problem.

It's far more likely to cause problems in your game if you jump through some weird hoops to try to stop the wizard from having spells and it rings false, arbitrary, or controlling to your players.

Wizards are designed around having a spellbook full of spells. This is not an issue at all, because they can't cast 'any of them they like' on command, they must prepare them. Further, most spells are bad. If a wizard prepares some niche spell instead of Fireball, Fly, or Haste, for that day he is a capital-L Loser. Even if he has the niche spell when it would be useful, is he really going to spend a slot on it? Instead of Fireball, Fly, or Haste? Like, really?

He might. But optimizationally speaking, he probably shouldn't.

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Make a list of random spells you allow in loot spellbooks. That way you can keep some spells as special rewards but also give chance for wizard to get some random new spell. After all whole point of playing a wizard is eventually getting nearly all possible standard spells.

And as extra special reward you probably might want to consider some custom spells. Coz as dm you can do whatever you want.

What comes to realism you really need to also consider that there's maybe a limit what you should expect in a game. What I like in crpgs is that what you get is what you get.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack Jari, take the tour when you have a moment. This is an interesting idea, can you give some more details about how you have used something like this at the table of play? We like solutions that have been tested in game, so any details you can add about implementation would be great. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 18 at 19:57
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Occupational equipment damage hazard

Spellbooks are still books, right? Not particularly durable unless you've made them to be durable. Who is to say a stray lick of flame won't make one of the papers catch fire, or the rain or a sudden dunk won't make what's written useless as the ink smudges and smears everywhere? It could even be stabbed or shot, possibly saving the wizard's life but at the cost of damaged pages.

Make it so that each time an enemy wizard(or even the party wizard, mwuahaha!) gets hit there's a (probably rolled for)chance for a spell in the book to be lost, or even the entire book if they get hit directly with a fireball or something. Communicate this fact beforehand in some manner just so no confusion and conflicts arise unless you want them to organically discover this rule by putting together that maybe they shouldn't go all out on the enemy wizards if they want to have any spells to loot afterwards.

Players may be rewarded with a non-destroyed spellbook by casting protecting magics on it beforehand or by making it out of tougher materials(Dragonhide parchment perhaps?).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi @Lemming, whoever downvoted you did not leave a comment as to why. I suspect it is because by rules as written, there is nothing that indicates the equipment of a defeated enemy would be destroyed or unusable. But you certainly have historical precedent for backing up your idea: this approach was what Gary Gygax did for example when enemies were killed with Fireball: most of their magic items and treasure might burn to ashes. This even let to the invention of Cone of Cold, to help avoid that effect. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ This edition does not have carried items get damaged/burned/destroyed (by default) while the creature lives, so your second suggestion (on it happening to characters on a hit) doesn't quite fit. (Your old school suggestion is one way for a DM to run their world - yes, the DM ought to ensure that the players are aware of this). 5e handwaves away some of the realism/verisimilitude of the earlier editions. This - It could even be stabbed or shot, possibly saving the wizard's life but at the cost of damaged pages - is a narrative way for a DM to deflect/soften a killer crit at level 1. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6 at 15:23
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Not that this is a great solution, but I've used the Red Wizards of Thay as a villain many times in the past, as they generally make a good bad guy group. Something I always did, though, to minimize the amount of cheese the party would get into is to have some of the spells in the spellbook were written in a language only known to those wizards. It can be learned but took training and specific effort to do. This meant that only a select few spells were actually legible to the players. Depending on the encounter, that could be 1d6 to 3d6+3 spell levels worth of spells. This helped a little on my end.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I do cover this in my answer so understand the reasons, did comprehend languages not just make this irrelevant? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 7 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ This would absolutely work, yes, but no one does it. I've even hinted at it. \$\endgroup\$
    – meatlifter
    Feb 7 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you have a wizard who doesn't approach every situation with 'how can I use a ritual spell here' then ban them from being a wizard :p \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 7 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Make it a cant instead of a language, full of TLAs and FLEAs or rhyming slang, or a downright cipher. Comprehend languages only lets you comprehend the language, not what is actually said. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8 at 9:44
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I always like the idea of unique spellbooks. As an alternative to destroying books, why not use tattoos as spellbooks? Killing the guys destroys part of the cipher/spells and makes them harder to copy. You can choose how much of the "spellbook" is damage based on how much damage was done to the poor guy when he went down. Fireball spell? That "book" was scorched. A few stab wounds? Some of the cipher is broken, but enough is left to get a new spell or two. Drowned in a watery sphere? Good news, the whole book is intact! Kinda macabre, but makes for an interesting alternative to standard spellbooks.

Definitely depends on your group's play style though.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Red Wizards use tattoos for specific cultural and arcane purposes. Previous editions required Red Wizards to have the Tattoo Focus feat and tattoos indicating and enhancing their specialized school. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9 at 8:02
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Well, you can have the book enchanted with the Illusory Script spell, it might render the book unreadable for up to 10 days because the writing either appears to be unreadable or has an entirely different script unrelated to spells. If the illusion were to get dispelled however, it would erase the original script too, rendering the spellbook useless.

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