Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pages from Spellbooks (part I)

Magic is a significant – if not essential – element of fantasy role-playing game settings.  Spellbooks are the primary means by which wizards are associated with magic.  Therefore, spellbooks, and the pages they contain, ought to enhance the color and flavor of a campaign.  In this post, we see what spellbook pages might look like in a fantasy campaign.  These examples are compiled from 'real world' materials, although some of the materials are not associated with magic in the real world.  Thoul's Paradise disclaims any responsibility for the injudicious use of magic by its readers.

Spellbook pages need not contain words exclusively.  A picture is worth a thousand words and, as such, symbols, diagrams, and images may be a more efficient means of conveying information for wizards.

Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides Véritable Science des Talismans (collage)

Seals from The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

Galdrabók (and other manuscripts) (collage)

The Dragon-Book of Essex (collage)

Ars Notoria

A spellbook would be reflective the spellcaster's school or type of magic, the spellcaster's culture, and the spellcaster's individual personality.  Below we see a page appropriate for a court magician.

The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan
Contrast the above with the page below, which is more like a page from a murderhobo's grimoire with its gruesome imagery and jagged script.

Ardā Wīrāz-nāmag
Somewhere in between:

Codex Argenteus

Page 40 of the (1st edition) Dungeon Masters Guide states:
All magic and cleric spells are similar in that the word sounds, when combined into whatever patterns are applicable, are charged with energy from the Positive or Negative Material Plane. When uttered, these sounds cause the release of this energy, which in turn triggers a set reaction. The release of the energy contained in these words is what causes the spell to be forgotten or the writing disappear from the surface upon which it is written.
Spells are “forgotten” as a check against the power of spellcasters; spellbooks are necessary so that magic-users can memorize “forgotten” spells. In the 5th edition rules de-emphasize the memory aspect of spellcasting; instead the rules focus on “energy.” According to page 78 of the (5th edition) Player's Basic Rules :
...a caster...can cast only a limited number of spells before resting. Manipulating the fabric of magic and channeling its energy into even a simple spell is physically and mentally taxing...
Instead of using spellbooks to memorize forgotten spells, 5th edition wizards use spellbooks to recoup energy. Regarding wizards, page 31 of the PBR states: “You have learned to regain some of your magical energy by studying your spellbook.”

The Earthdawn role-playing game adopts the notion of a “spell matrix.” Per page 153:
A spell matrix is an astral construct linked to the intelligence of the magician, energized by the magical energies of the astral plane. Magicians in Earthdawn use spell matrices as a conduit through which they can transfer the energy of a spell from astral space into the physical world. (Emphasis in original.)
To me, the matrix paradigm makes more sense than forgetting spells or gaining energy through study.  Let's assume that each spell requires a psychic construct that becomes spent when the spell is cast.  The construct must be reconstituted through visualization and concentration before it can be used again.  With this paradigm, a wizard must study his (or her) spellbook as part of the necessary mental effort to (re-)formulate the construct or matrix (as opposed to memorizing a spell or recovering energy).  Such a spellbook might easily contain 'perception exercises', like those below, which would allow the spellcaster to access the cognitive state needed to manipulate magic.