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I'm running an AD&D 2e campaign, and one of my players is a wizard. The party is currently first-level (ranger/wizard/cleric/rogue) and has recently arrived in a fairly major city. I don't want to just let them buy spells, because it simply doesn't feel right thematically.

However, at the same time, I can't seem to come up with a good way of distributing scrolls without pitting the party against NPC wizards. While this is certainly an option, I'm nervous about such a proposition-- a wizard capable of casting even a measly Magic Missile, for instance, would be able to cause serious trouble for a first-level party. (1d4+1 damage is rather significant when you have 4- and 6-HP PCs!) If I were with a group of experienced players, this likely wouldn't be an issue, but at least two of my players are first-timers, and I'm worried about scaring them off with an "unreasonably" powerful enemy. (One of them hasn't player anything closer to D&D than Skyrim, for context, and the party decided to walk away from three plot hooks because they seemed dangerous.)

So, with this in mind, what is a reasonable and appropriate way to ensure that wizard PCs can gain spells without placing the party in a level of danger that would be deemed "unreasonable" by novice players?

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NPC wizards don't have to be foes

One way spells are distributed in such a game-world is by "horse trading" -- friendly wizards would swap spells in the same way you'd swap recipes with your friends IRL. Have them do some favors for a NPC wizard, or just hang out around one for a while.

Abandoned spellbooks can be a thing

Another possibility is that the party finds a spellbook, but no wizard -- perhaps the wizard is away and left a spellbook behind, was dragged off to some dungeon, or was taken by Death's clutches.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose that the friendly wizard method is what I'll be most likely to go with. The wizard's mother is a wizard herself (her teacher until level 1, actually), so I may be able to work something with that... though I may have to retcon in more spells for her. \$\endgroup\$ – Passage Jan 31 '16 at 2:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget that finding orphaned spellbooks is the less common source of new spells; far more common is scrolls. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 31 '16 at 8:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie had a different 2E experience than I. Friendly wizards were almost alarmingly generous in horse-trading for spells from spellbooks, but scrolls were rare because of the difficulty of 2E magic item creation. Hence scrolls tended to contain the obscure spells because the former owners died or lost the scrolls before they could transcribe such spells into their spellbooks! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jan 31 '16 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Oh, I meant no comment about friendly wizards. Only that as unattended treasure, scrolls are more common than whole spellbooks. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 31 '16 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Groups of bandits could plausibly have spells they've looted from wizards they waylaid - in fact, nearly any foe could have killed a wizard in the past, and kept the spellbook, either as a trophy, to sell, or because they couldn't be bothered taking out the garbage yet. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jan 31 '16 at 23:48
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Certain worlds might have organizations for just this type of thing. In Forgotten Realms, for example, the Red Wizards of Thay sell Scrolls, just like they do other minor consumable magic items. I would say up to level 3. Of course, in that world the Red Wizards are morally questionable. Most adventurous will not ask questions however because the discounts are good.

Another option is the mage guild. They might have a library of low-level spells. I suggest the bottom half or third. They might provide a discount on dues for a month or two if you help them advance their agenda. If your players are being squeamish about plot hooks that seem dangerous this can be a good way of advancing or introducing a social or political intrigue plot line.

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You might give out the spells as a reward for some deed, or they could be found forgotten into a dusty tome in an unrelated location.

Rummaging through the belongings of a mage while he's away from the dungeon he's working in might also provide plot hooks later.

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Place scrolls as treasure but not carried by a wizard

Scrolls are a standard type of treasure. Scrolls are a standard type of treasure even if there isn't a single wizard in the adventure.

There's no need to make scrolls held by a wizard — a scroll case can be mixed into a pile of coins in a chest, tucked into an abandoned satchel, hidden inside a desk, sitting at the bottom of an underground stream (if well-sealed), etc. There are a million different locations that we DMs come up with for placing treasure, where scrolls could be.

So just… put them in the adventure, and don't put wizards into the adventure.


For guidance on how frequently and where to place scrolls as treasure, you can study, or directly use, the treasure generation tables and placement advice in “Chapter 10: Treasure and Magical Items” of the DMG (any printing, exact pages vary).

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Another answer, along the 'adventure hook' line might be a demon/devil. There are numerous examples of Wizards summoning demons in order to learn more powerful magics. Say, for example, a more powerful wizard did just that, trapping a demon inside an amulet and forcing it to teach him/her spells. But the demon was smarter and eventually tricked that wizard, getting him killed. Unfortunately, that did not free the demon. It has been waiting for another wizard to pick it up so it could mentally communicate with him/her.

So when the player picks up the amulet (or maybe just gets close enough), it introduces itself as a teaching amulet. Straight away, it teaches the wizard a new spell. Later, it starts insisting that the wizard prove herself worthy by performing certain deeds or obtaining certain items. What's really happening is the demon is tricking the wizard into performing a ritual to set it free.

This gives you a way to easily give the wizard spells. You can dole them out slowly (as opposed to having the player find an abandoned spellbook). You don't even have to pick them all right away. Tailor them to what the party needs (or will need) as your campaign progresses. Plus, if it begins to cause balance issues you just have the next 'task' be the last one required to free the demon. Amulet is gone and party has to fight a demon :P

It could also be interesting if a paladin or something informs them that the amulet is evil. Or maybe even initially mistakes the wizard as being evil. Give them some moral dilemmas.

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