Is it possible for cantrips to be written in a spellbook? Their description suggests not, as well as the fact that the Wizard's cantrips are 'known' rather than being in their spellbook.

For example, if a Wizard found a scroll with a cantrip on it (can cantrips even be on scrolls?), could they copy it into their spellbook and 'know' it henceforth?

The reason for the question isn't that I'm hoping to know more cantrips than the rules allow, it's for a character's backstory I'm working on. The character will only know the allowed number of cantrips, but it doesn't make any sense for the character to know any cantrips unless they were in a spellbook. (The character is a Rogue who stole a spellbook and started learning magic from it.)

(It's fine if this can't be answered now, I'm happy to wait for the DMG release if there's no answer beyond 'who cares, just make it up'.)


7 Answers 7



Cantrips are never prepared, they are only learned, and from then on they are known and available to cast. They explicitly cannot be copied into a spell book because cantrips do not fill nor expend a spell slot. From the spellbook inset on PHB p. 114 :

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

So no, you can't add a cantrip to your spellbook. As far as learning more cantrips than you are allowed in some way, I don't think it's viable to learn more than your class level allows without a multiclass or a feat.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I find this slightly weird. In the Sword Coast Adventurers guide on page 77, it has a small paragraph about spellbooks in Candlekeep and the cost for simple spells or cantrip being about 25 gp or so, to more complex spells being 150 gold. \$\endgroup\$
    – user25829
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 5:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kinoto is that to purchase? Or to have cast? \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 11:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Candlekeep's a famed library/scriptorium kinda place, so that'll almost certainly be the purchase/loan price of the spellbook. (Note that not being able to add cantrips to your spellbook doesn't necessarily preclude cantrips from being written down; The intention might be that they can be written down for apprentices, but not learned by qualified level one wizards. Or something.) \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 23:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or it could simply be poor editing, since previous versions had cantrips treated like other spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 19:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is also a cantrip in the alchemist's spellbook in Ghosts of Saltmarsh (p48). The spells are different from the original, so they were specifically chosen for 5e. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 1:28

Not a spellbook, but...

The Pact of the Tome for the Warlock gives you access to a Book of Shadows (PHB p 108). Now, a Book of Shadows is a grimoire, a.k.a. "textbook of magic", a.k.a. the Half-Blood Prince's annotated copy of Advanced Potion Making. And it contains any three cantrips you care to name.

Given that this is your character's background story, you can probably play this a lot of ways. The easiest story I can think of would be that your character stole a spellbook and Book of Shadows belonging to a Warlock masquerading as a Wizard (or multi-classing if they don't mind MAD). There would need to be a reason they couldn't perform the ceremony for the replacement book during the time it took your character to memorize the cantrips. Perhaps the burglary put the 'lock under increased scrutiny, denying them the opportunity to perform the ceremony for some time.

Even better, this story ends with your character losing possession of the written cantrips. If the Warlock gets executed, the book turns to ash. If the Warlock goes free, your book is destroyed when the replacement is made. Either way, you don't have the issue of a low-level character walking around with a magical How-To manual that no one else is allowed to use.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This requires the presumption that the rogue can read and comprehend the writings in the tomb, with particular concern for the Great Old One Patron given the Pact Boon insert (PHB 108). Further might the patron express some disfavor. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DrunkCynic Yup... disfavor at the warlock for being dumb and losing the book in the first place. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is worth noting that nothing in Book of Shadows actually says the cantrips are written in the book. You simply have to have to Book on your person in order to cast those cantrips. I know this may be needlessly RAW, but it is what it is. The only things that get explicitly written into the Book are the Rituals you put there. \$\endgroup\$
    – lithas
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 4:33


The answer to this, RAW, has changed.

Tasha's Guide to Everything contains an optional rule, as a 3rd-level wizard feature, "Cantrip Formulas".

You have scribed a set of arcane formulas in your spellbook that you can use to formulate a cantrip in your mind. Whenever you finish a long rest and consult those formulas in your spellbook, you can replace one wizard cantrip you know with another cantrip from the wizard spell list.


Rules as Written/Interpreted? No:

The WoTC errata 1.22 list makes this very clear:

Spellbook (p. 114). A spellbook doesn’t contain cantrips.

(original, pre-errata answer):

From a storytelling/flavor perspective, yes, absolutely.

(Scroll to the bottom for a tl;dr)

I completely disagree with the accepted answer. To start with, let's look at what the 5th edition Player's Handbook says about cantrips (page 201):

A cantrip is a spell that can be cast at will, without using a spell slot and without being prepared in advanced. Repeated practice has fixed the spell in the caster's mind and infused the caster with the magic needed to produce the effect over and over. A cantrip's spell level is 0.

(Emphasis mine) Here we see a cantrip is a type of spell. Earlier on the same page, where the PHB covers "What Is A Spell?", it says the following:

Some [spells] might yet lie recorded in crumbling spellbooks hidden in ancient ruins [...]

which establishes that there are spellbooks and also that they contain spells. In the Equipment section on page 150, the PHB describes a spellbook as costing 50gp, which, according to the Magic Items section on page 144, isn't very much:

[...] The value of magic is far beyond simple gold and should always be treated as such.

Later, on page 153, the PHB describes spellbooks thus:

Essential for wizards, a spellbook is a leather-bound tome with 100 blank vellum pages suitable for recording spells.

And that's about all the PHB has to say on spellbooks. We've got no indication of a Spellbook having any restrictions on the level of spell that it can contain.

Now let's look at the logic of the question's scenario.

A cantrip, according to the PHB, is a spell that casters know incredibly well due to repeated practice. Cantrips are not something a caster is born knowing; they have to learn it somehow. How a spellcaster came to be a spellcaster is completely glossed over by the PHB; it's more fun and interesting to leave that to a player's personal backstory for their character.

So, with the very sensible assumption that any cantrip known by a spellcaster had to be learned at one point or another, you've got to ask how it was learned? Was it taught by an instructor? Or did the spellcaster copy it from a spellbook in an arcane library somewhere, practicing it for years before mastery finally came? The answer is... it doesn't matter; the caster still had to learn it.

If a caster can learn a cantrip, ostensibly as the first bit of magic they ever learn, then so can a rogue or other mundane person. And if a cantrip is a spell, and spellbooks contain spells, then a spellbook can surely contain a cantrip.

It might not make much sense for an adventuring wizard, out saving the world, to waste space in his precious spellbook for cantrips, but it would certainly make sense to say they might have had a beginner's spellbook from their past, while still learning, or to say that the spellbook was stolen from a magical school somewhere.

Considering a blank spellbook is 50gp, and cantrips are incredibly low-level spells that require a ton of time to practice and learn, it's not outside the realm of possibility that a rogue could have stolen one and gotten away with it. A magic user or school would not expend much effort in stopping or tracking down someone who stole a spellbook with a cantrip or two in it.


In other words, I would say the backstory in the question is exactly how a spellcaster class like a Wizard would start learning and practicing magic... minus the stealing bit, perhaps.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Fundamentally I think this is a good answer. Can a spellbook contain cantrips? Absolutely. Can a Wizard put them there? Absolutely not. But, someone else might be able to. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 6:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gszavae Well, the issue for me here is this: what does it effectively mean for a cantrip to be in a wizard's spell book. Can he learn it from there? No (also irrelevant). Can anyone else learn it from there? Nope. Can anyone copy it somewhere in any valuable way? Also nope. — So you have some scribbles in your book and you say that that is the cantrip, but it might as well be your doodles... \$\endgroup\$
    – J.E
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 8:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.E I agree, and I actually address that in my own answer. I don't think there is any need to discuss spellbook at all. The rogue stole a book and used it to learn cantrips, there's no such mechanic in the game, so the book can be anything. It's just a roleplaying prop, that's all. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 9:06

There is no reason for you to worry about spellbooks at all

The D&D universe contains normal books. There may well be a normal book that instructs wizard adepts on how to cast firebolt, or any other cantrip. Rather than stealing a spellbook, your character most likely stole one of these books. Like a spellbook, it may be encoded with special wizardly notation, but after careful study and long hours training, the rogue could have learnt to cast the cantrips.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of a magic "primer" rather than a proper spellbook, wherein spells can be practiced and learned without consuming the page/primer or requiring constant copying, but it can only contain cantrips due to its inherently "less magical" or "non magical" nature. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 20:26

According to more recent printings, No

The PHB 1.22 errata contains "Spellbook (p. 114). A spellbook doesn’t contain cantrips."

In the 2016 printing of Curse of Strahd, for example, there were two spellbooks listed with three cantrips between them (for example p.110). In accordance with this errata, however, in the 6th Printing of CoS (June 2020), these three cantrips were removed.


To add to the other answers, the DMG has cantrip-level spell scrolls. Page 144, in Magic Item Table A. So if a cantrip can be inscribed on a scroll, why could it not be scribed into a spellbook?

As DM, I force a much more difficult process to scribe scrolls (30+2x[spell level] for the DC), and the player rolls his d20+int+(number of previous attempts to scribe that spell). Each try has a 75% chance to burn up the scroll. This means it takes several attempts to get the spell right, forces the player to choose between using that advanced scroll or trying to start learning it, and more mimics my idea of a wizard trying to learn new spells. The RAW simply makes it too easy for a scroll to be turned into a permanent spell.

Also, I allow cantrip scrolls to be scribed in this manner, but they become a level 1 spell - mirroring the idea that your cantrips are easy to cast, innately known, and perfected; whereas a scribed cantrip is just like other spells you've picked up.

Finally, side note but I found another poster who had this idea and I really like it - Wizards can cast unprepared spells straight out of their spellbook in an emergency, but it burns that page of the book as if it was a scroll.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, for a level 1 scroll (DC 32), if your players have a 20 Int (+5) wizard who rolls nothing but nat 20s for every attempt, it still requires (at least) seven attempts to copy a scroll? (If my interpretation of your misuse of the term 'scribe' here is accurate.) It sounds like that's less of a hard 'choice' and more of a refusal to admit you're just nerfing wizards. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even with a 20 int, why should it take the wizard almost zero work to copy most spells? At level 1, he's likely a +7 arcana. It takes an EIGHTH level spell to only have a 50% chance of success on ONE try. Every scroll found is gonna be better than even odds of turning into a permanent addition. PERMANENTLY gaining a new spell should take more than just some time and gold (that adventurers always have too much of). It should require trial and error. It may be a bit more difficult than I intend at lower spell levels, but I don't DM enough or have enough wizards to playtest a better formula. \$\endgroup\$
    – Richard
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ In your stated example Arcana proficiency wasn't included in the player's roll to copy scrolls into a spellbook. From your example it's impossible for a wizard to copy the even simplest scroll without over half a dozen attempts, that take time, money (in the form of inks and components) and (likely) valuable scrolls. Trial and error is expressed abstractly through the use of expended materials and extra time and a chance of failure and wasting the valuable scroll in the default system. Just as a reminder, the other prepared casters get all of their spells available for free, instantly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 9:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suspect you don't have enough wizards to playtest this because it's not fun to play a character when you're being massively nerfed. And I'm generally all for spellcasters getting nerfed a bit to balance things up, but this kind of class targeting grind for basic features isn't a good way to go about it. As an aside, I don't allow wizards to copy cantrips into their books, but if they somehow have a way to prepare spells from a book that somehow does contain cantrips I'd let them cast them the same as any other prepared spell, by using a spellslot of the spell's level or higher. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 9:31

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