Some Wizard spells are named after the particular famous wizard who created them, like Mordekainen or Bigby. I find it hard to understand how a convention like this could come about, considering how stingy Wizards are about sharing spells.

The game has strong assumptions about how difficult it is for wizards to gain access to spells. Wizard player characters in the game are expected to slog through tombs and ruins to learn new spells, or otherwise independently discover spells on their own as they level up. If, hypothetically, a player could join a wizard organization which shares access to spells, and uses a standardized spell notation, it would break the game and make the character overpowered. They would have far greater access to the wizard spell list, and in some editions, have the ability to copy spells from other wizards in their organization at significantly reduced cost due to the standard notation.

Obviously from this we can conclude that the game intends for wizards to be unwilling to share their magic with other wizards in most circumstances.

But if Wizards are so stingy about sharing their spells, how could any spell become popular enough to be named after its author? Did the authors of these spells intentionally distribute them or something?


5 Answers 5


Tributes and Legacies for Characters in Olde Greyhawk

I find it hard to understand how a convention like this could come about,

Background on Named Spells

Named spells were first published in books in 1e AD&D.

The original spell list published in Men and Magic (1974, OD&D, TSR, p. 21) had no named spells. All spells titles were descriptive: Sleep, Water Breathing, Pass-Wall, Contact Higher Plane, etc. Greyhawk added 7th through 9th level spells, but named spells were absent even though other spells were being developed / researched / play tested or otherwise tried out. It is worth noting that in the game's formative years, classes, spells, and items were in a state of continual development.

The rules for Magical Spell research were included in page 34 of Men and Magic. Anyone could create a new spell via this means if the time, gold, and effort were put into it. (Balancing new spells was left to a given DM ...)

How did these names spells get into the book? The simple answer is that Gary Gygax played or played with the characters in question before AD&D 1e was published.

The history of Bigby and Mordenkainen or Drawmij you can read on Wikipedia, in interviews with Gary Gygax, or in back issues of Dragon magazine. You will note that not all of the spells attributed to these characters made it into published material.

Why did they choose to name the spells after themselves?

  1. In game, those wizards were on the Council of Eight, the most famous wizards in the Greyhawk campaign setting. In character, it makes role-playing sense that fame and ego could combine to induce those wizards to name spells that they developed after themselves.

  2. OOC, it makes sense that Gary Gygax assigned those names as a tribute to the characters. It is far more likely that the OOC justification is what led to the names.

  3. Example #1: (From the Greyhawk tribute link).

    Nystul's Magic Aura. Per Gary Gygax on Dragonsfoot: "Nystul is the surname of a stage magician, Brad Nystul, who suggested the magical aura spell to me. The brothers Mike and ? Nystul played in Len Lakofka's Lendore Island campaign"

  4. Example #2:

    How Drawmij's Instant Summons got named and developed. Less rigor than the magical research rules would require was behind it.

    By Ward's own account, the spell originated during a session in Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign during which the players were stranded in a dungeon; Ward's character owned a magical item which would have rescued the party, but had left it in an inn before setting out. Ward remarked to Gygax that wizards should have access to a spell which allowed them to recall any item in their possession to their hand; Gygax promptly devised instant summons, which did exactly that.

  5. Example #3: Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer

    Rary was a low-level wizard created by Brian Blume and played only until he reached 3rd-level, at which point Blume retired him, having reached his objective, which was to be able to introduce his character as "Medium Rary". Gygax borrowed the name for the spells Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer and Rary's Telepathic Bond. Ironically, the original Rary was never powerful enough to cast either of "his" spells.

Since you ask "what is the in game justification" the answer is either:

  • There isn't one (most likely)


  • The most famous magicians in the World of Greyhawk had big enough egos to want their uniquely researched and developed spells to carry their name forward, as a legacy, long after they were dead. (plausible)

But no wizard would share magical secrets!

I find it hard to understand how a convention like this could come about, considering how stingy Wizards are about sharing spells.

That assumption is not universally applied by all players, and apparently wasn't applied in the Circle of Eight.

it would break the game and make the character overpowered

You might want to show your work in supporting that statement. The wizard is still limited by how many spells he can carry with him, and the chance that his books could be stolen or destroyed.

As to why Gygax chose name spells for his own characters, it appears to be a tribute to a major influence on OD&D wizard magic system: Jack Vance. See a spell called Phandal’s Mantle of Stealth in his story -Turjan of Miir


Just because wizards don't share their spells with every Tom, Dick, and Harry to come along doesn't mean that they never do. A long-lived archmage has a variety of ways that their spells can become commonly known.

As an illustration, it is instructive to follow along the Canonfire! entry for the probably best known mage that has spells named after himself, Mordenkainen.

In it, it describes six spells of his creation that have come into common use - and also an additional 17 that have not! So he's clearly not a chatty Cathy when it comes to his spells, but also not psychotically insular.

Other important notes about how spells "leak" to the outside world:

  1. He has had a variety of apprentices over time, including Bigby and Rautheene, who would reasonably learn some of his magic.
  2. He swaps magic with other powerful mages - the Council of Eight, and also:

Mordenkainen is an associate of Elminster of the Forgotten Realms setting and Dalamar of the Dragonlance setting, occasionally meeting with them on the world of Earth to swap news and magic.

  1. He has written a number of works containing his spells for various reasons. including The Codex of Mordenkainen and others. (See the articles for a list, some are co-written with other wizards).

  2. Sometimes, wizards get their stuff stolen. Or get killed and their bodies looted; they have contingencies and clone spells and whatnot (as Tenser did) but one lost traveling spellbook opens up their magic to others.

Here's a representative anecdote:

Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium (2011) is presented in-character as a catalog of magical items written by Mordenkainen's apprentices, their notes magically appearing in Mordenkainen's "master copy." The excerpts from Mordenkainen's copy of the Magnificent Emporium that appear throughout the text were gleaned by his apprentice Qort (originally mentioned in the parody module Castle Greyhawk) before Mordenkainen burnt the pages of his original and disintegrated the ash.

So in other words, even in the life of an archmage, "stuff happens" and sometimes you share a secret, sometimes it gets ripped off - just because you're wary and don't mass-print your spells for the hoi polloi doesn't mean you NEVER SHARE THEM EVER.


The wizards that have a lot of spells named after them, had apprentices. Some of those apprentices became big names in their own right. Also, those wizards were actually player characters of the founders of original D&D. Sitting around the table, it was very likely for them to teach each other's spells to each other.

Apprentices learn from their masters. What are they going to learn from their masters? Spells, of course. Many of those wizards also taught at arcane academies. If no wizards were willing to share their spell research, how many other great wizards would there be?

Now, you are right about stinginess to a degree. Obviously, a master at anything will not share everything - they have to keep their ace in the hole, or a card up their sleeve. They have to keep some sort of edge, otherwise they wouldn't be the master anymore.


I would disagree with your assumption that wizards are stingy with sharing spells. There are many campaign settings where there are wizard organizations or guilds. In such settings, sharing of knowledge freely (or discounted) would frequently take place.

The dungeon slogs are entirely about gaining the "experience" necessary to learn how to control higher level spells, not necessarily to obtain new spells. Sure, they'll pick new spells or books along the way, but that's often a secondary consideration.

There is no limit to the number of spells a wizard may "know". But in order to cast them he must prepare them each day, and that requires his books. An adventuring wizard does not carry with them their entire library of spell knowledge. They are (in most rulesets for D&D/Pathfinder, though it varies across editions) limited to those spells that will fit within their traveling spellbooks. Each book has a limited number of pages and each spell requires a certain number of pages in that book (or books). This requires them to be selective in what they choose to take with them adventuring.

Most groups I've gamed with haven't been too strict on tracking the spellbook pages, but sometimes a DM would make you cut back on the number of spells in your list if it gets out of hand.


This naming convention is found in Jack Vance's Dying Earth novels (the term "Vancian magic" comes from here).

The reason a wizard allows "their" spell to be learnt by others? Because they are enormous attention-seekers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you like to include an example from here such as Phandal's Mantle of Stealth? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 26, 2015 at 22:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Nice site, Korvin, I hadn't found that in my searching. I plan to add some examples once I got home and got the books out of my bookshelf. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 27, 2015 at 1:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Old school, right there \$\endgroup\$ Aug 27, 2015 at 2:34

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