4e spells as treasure

In old D&D, spells were like Pokémon; if you encountered one you’d never seen, you could put it into your collection. This is a time-tested, addictive form of gameplay that I miss in 4e. Luckily, it’s easy to add back in.

4e wizards still have a spellbook, in which they can transcribe more daily, utility and encounter spells than they can cast. If there’s a spellbook, we can re-introduce spell scrolls.

spell scrolls for arcane classes

To return wizards to their place as library-ransacking completists, just add a few scrolls containing daily spells into the next treasure haul. As in earlier editions, these scrolls can be used to cast a spell a single time, or be transcribed into a wizard’s spellbook, permanently expanding the wizard’s reportoire.

I’d allow other arcane classes to transcribe scrolls into spellbooks too: they’d gain the wizards’ ability to swap daily powers, but only with spells they found as treasure.

Rare spells

Since 4e wizards already choose their two favorite spells for every spell slot, it’s hard to get excited about expending your spell repertoire: at best, you’re getting your third-favorite spell. Let’s say that some spell scrolls (20%?) might contain improved versions of spells. For instance, a wizard might find a scroll called “Flame Jester’s Improved Fireball”, which teaches a version of the Fireball spell that does +1 damage per tier. The benefit of such an improved spell is limited to that spell, and might be equivalent in power to that of a feat. Possibilities include:

  • +1 to hit or damage

  • adds a new damage type
  • conditionally adds a condition (for instance, dazes targets if you have combat advantage)

There’s a lot of daily spells, so this opens up a lot of design space for treasure. It also allows DMs to boost iconic but mechanically weak spells like Fireball without having to resort to house rules. I’d even think that a character could find an improved version of an at-will power. Gaining +1 damage to an often-used at-will power would be almost as good as finding a new magic weapon.


With improved spells, we can bring back another staple of early D&D: spell research. If a PC can’t find a specific spell, they can research it. DMs and players can go crazy with rules for spending money on research, libraries, and labs.

To keep non-arcane classes from egtting jealous, they might need ways to upgrade their powers too. I’ll have to think about that.


8 Responses to “4e spells as treasure”

  1. katre says:

    Cool idea. It’d work pretty well for martial classes, too. My Fighter might find a pamphlet with an illustrated series of exercises that, when practiced diligently (and with spending some GP on equipment) teaches a new version of Shield Bash that pushes enemies further than ever before.

  2. LS says:

    In reading through a number of 1st edition modules I picked up (The Endless Stair comes to mind) I had noticed that anytime a spellcaster is present, they go to great lengths to hide their spellbook. Even if they don’t, the game still treats spellbooks as though they are a great treasure.

    Now that I think about it, I wonder if Wizards in Pathfinder / 3.5 should be granted new spells by level at all. It’s pretty well agreed that they’re the most overpowered class due to their sheer versatility. This problem is somewhat reduced in Pathfinder, but perhaps it could be more tightly controlled if every spell had to be gained through research or treasure hunting.

    I may end up house ruling that. >.>

  3. paul says:

    Katre – or an old fencing master who can teach you the move – if you can sober him up long enough. And he’s certainly not going to sober up until you find the six-fingered man who killed his father.

    LS – Yes, in old editions, the presence of an enemy wizard (and thus the existence of a spellbook) was one of those things that made dollar signs appear in PCs’ eyes, which is generally a good thing.

  4. LS says:

    @Paul – And what would be the name of this master swordsman who seeks a six fingered man?

  5. paul says:

    Buzz Flanagan. “My name is Buzz Flanagan! Prepare to die!”

  6. […] about it for a few weeks. That’s when I read a post by Paul over at Blog of Holding called 4e Spells as Treasure. I find it amusing that many of my best ideas come after reading Blog of Holding, since it most […]

  7. […] a way to make players greedy for ancient spells and secrets. For now, I plan to use my ideas for spells as treasure, and the research rules in Zak's Vornheim are also intriguing. […]

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