Alternatives to Spell Books

I’m trying to think of some more ‘primitive’ alternatives to spell books for a character in a game I may be joining. Most of those that I can imagine have certain disadvantages, though one can imagine that dragging your spellbook through the dungeon can’t be very convenient either.

I figure that either you’re dealing with a massive arcane tome like from Holmes or you’ve got what is basically a moleskine with your spells scribbled down in it. Because of how AD&D treats spell scrolls (which in Basic are the bread and butter of mages, since they can be used for memorizing), your spellbook is your ONLY means of refreshing your daily spells with. You can’t always just go home every time you run out of spells, especially at lower levels. I’m not really sure, but there may be some indication that the amount of script and therefore physical space which a spell requires may be significantly less than in Basic, which offers a bit more lee-way.

So, here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

Ivory Spell Fetish – Worn around the neck, each tooth of a beast which the spell caster has slain is carved with the symbols of magic. More complex and powerful spells would, naturally, need to be carved on larger teeth of more more dangerous beasts to accommodate the additional characters. Big-cats, especially saber-toothed varieties, are a popular choice. A powerful wizard with countless teeth worn about his neck would be a frightening sight, indeed!

Spell Staff – Combining spell book and weapon, and possibly continuing with the bone theme, depending on your tastes, the mage carries a staff with each of his spells meticulously carved in the wood or bone spiraling downward. On the plus side, you have convenience of portability. On the down side, your ‘spellbook’ is somewhat fragile (though how much more fragile it is than a book is debatable, especially given the hell that most PCs go through). More worrying is what sort of powers all of that magic might imbue whatever was etched onto it.

Tattoo – This is kind of a favorite idea of mine, having the various spells tattooed with special ink over the mage’s body. This would certainly be one of the most painful and time consuming methods of entering new spells in one’s spell book, but just imagine the frightful sight of a half naked wild mage covered head to toe in runes. I wonder what sort of effects it would have on the body? Maybe certain ‘buff’ spells would have a degree of permanency, like Mage Armor. Another idea I had, which would be more in line with Basic, is that in a pinch, the mage could use any tattoos that were currently visible as scrolls, though the ink would fade and the tattoos would need to be reapplied (yeowch!)

Given that I’m wanting to play a Rakasta, I’m thinking that the tattoo thing wouldn’t be an option, but as for the other two, I’ll see what the DM says.

5 responses to “Alternatives to Spell Books

  1. Huh.

    It’d be fun to play an actual-Vancian-like campaign with a GM who cared about the contents of my Wizard’s spellbook, and who expected me to quest for spells and arcane lore.

    I ran a solo campaign over half a year, wherein a rogue discovered some spell components and decided to multiclass Wizard — we played through his gradual accumulation of spells.

    That was a cool game.


    • Yeah, I was going for that a little bit in my setting, but we lost the arcane caster in our group so it hasn’t come up much. The main deal for Alfheim was that the only way to get spells was to find the scrolls and spellbooks of ancient elven wizards or their arcane worshipers. Anyway, the DM for this group I’m joining likes the spell-teeth idea. Also, yeah, that sounds awesome. Rogue/Wizards are a very vancian concept from what I understand.

  2. The tattoo idea also makes having your spell book stolen pretty painful. Wanna buy a spell? Go to the tribe that flays their enemies and buy the skin of a mage.

    I know I have seen some lists of alternate spellbooks on some other blogs, but can’t recall exactly where. You might add crystals/specially carved prisms and gems (memorization by staring through them), strings of beads (studied/meditated upon to memorize spells in them), and other fetishes like that.

    • Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll have to keep that in mind if I ever run something like “Extreme Isle of Dread: Directors Cut” or something.

      Prisms and crystals would have another added benefit of perhaps requiring specific combinations, preventing other mages from deciphering them; instead of being in a single crystal or prism, the glyphs would be contained in multiple, and only when placed in the correct pattern with direct light shown through them would the proper symbols for the spell become apparent.

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