Rerun: Guide to Scrolls

It has been a busy week again, so instead of writing some sub-par article that I'm not happy with, I have decided to dip into the archives. I hope that you enjoy it! Hopefully I'll be able to sit down and write some new content soon. - RIP

We’ve talked about potions, and now it is time for what most probably is the DM’s least favorite treasure to dish out. No, I’m not talking about flaming swords or Rings of Spell-Turning, no, I’m talking about the dreaded Scrolls! These things are a huge pain in the bottom. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I roll these things up then I pray and plead, and probably whine to the gods of the dice to just let it be a protection scroll, but it never fails. POOF! It comes up a wizard spell or some crap.

There is no easy way to do this. Scrolls are, by their own nature, an evil necessity. It is also kept brief to allow us better control over what spells that our wizards have access too.

Today we’ll be doing a whole bio of these time consuming things, both random and character created, so lets have some fun shall we!


According to the Player’s Handbook:

Scrolls: Scrolls are a convenience and luxury for spellcasters. By reading the incantation written on the pages, the priest or wizard can instantly cast that spell. He does not need to memorize it, have the material components handy, or do any of the things normal spellcasting requires. Experienced and powerful wizards normally spend their evenings preparing such scrolls for their own adventuring use.
Some scrolls are usable by all characters, granting special but temporary protections from various dangers—evil creatures, werewolves, powerful beings from other planes, etc. Other scrolls bear hideous or humorous curses, brought into effect at the mere reading of their titles. Unfortunately, the only way to know what a scroll contains is to silently scan its contents. For scrolls containing wizard spells, this requires the use of a read magic spell. Other scrolls can be read by all. This scan does not cast the spell written on the scroll, but it tells the character what is written there (and exposes him to the effects of curses). Once the scroll is read, it can be used at any time in the future by that character.

Again, nice and straight forward.


Scroll research is one of the most important benefits of the spell casters class. It is probably through scrolls found during an adventure which allows the wizard to find a new spell to add to his spell book, and it is also how the DM can introduce brand new priest spells into the campaign world.

Of course I am assuming that you know how magic works, but for a brief and sloppy rehash, Priests can pray for ANY spell within their spheres of influence, and Wizards can only memorize spells that they have written into their spell books.

With that said, once a Priest is aware of a spells existence, then he can pray to his god to grant it to him, requiring that he has access to that sphere, of course. This is more important to a wizard, however, because if he finds a new spell written on a scroll, he must make a decision: Should he cast the spell, or add it to his spell book?

The wizard must still research the spell, but it is at half the cost and takes half the time as normal, and he still has to roll to see if he can learn the spell. If he succeeds in learning it, then he can add it to his spell book, but either way the spell disappears from the scroll, its magic was spent because the mage had to analyze the effect. Unfortunately, this kind of research can not be completed just anywhere, and never during adventures. You have to have carefully controlled environments to master the effects and record your success and failures accurately.


Scrolls can be no longer then 25 pages long, of course this is a misleading sentence, by pages I mean an equivalent because the scroll is just one piece of paper that is rolled up. Each spell requires an amount of space equal to the spells level, plus an additional 1d6-1 pages.

A scroll may not be completely filled, as it is sometimes preferred by some wizards to hide protective devices and traps which will trigger against those who may steal the scroll from them . . . now who would go and do a nasty thing like that?


Experienced players know what a time saver that this is, and any wizard of 9th level, or priest of 7th level can create them. A character cannot create a scroll to a spell that he doesn’t know, it must be in his spellbook, or previously granted to him by his god in the case of a cleric. Protection scrolls are a bit different then spell scrolls; in order to properly do it, the protective spell has to fall within the purview of the characters art, or current spell list. As long as the wizard knows the spell, he can start fabricating it, all he needs is a few tools of the trade, and you guessed it! They are expensive little buggers.

The Quill: A normal, run of the mill common pen will not do! We are talking about serious magical forces here, and manipulating them demands only the best. Quills can sometimes come from an animal that can cast the spell, such as the tail feathers of a cockatrice is used for transcribing the flesh to stone spell, tips of bone, wisps of hair, the nature of magic is mystery, and the more mysterious one makes it the better. A wizard who hand picks his own quill improves his chances of success by 5%.

The Paper: Again, the scroll must be capable of excepting the magic. Paper is a commodity in most D&D settings, it is worth more then gold! True paper works the best (+5%), hand woven parchment is also preferred, especially among adventuring mages (0% but it holds up a bit better under stress then paper). In a pinch, one can use Papyrus, however the papyrus plant itself tends to taint wizard spells (-5%) OPTIONAL RULE: Spells that effect plants or are earth based gain a 5% bonus when scribed on papyrus

The Ink:The last, and most important ingredient to writing scrolls is the Ink itself! This is where the DM can get creative, as things can be brewed into the ink. Few wizards trust store bought inks, unless the ink is from a reputable source and specifically designed for magical inscriptions. Many wizards demand to have specially made ink for each scroll, and the inks must compliment the spell, for it is in the ink itself that is hidden the components needed to charge the words once they are spoken.

Once all of the ingredients have been acquired, finally the spell caster can begin scribing the spell. The wizard must have their spell books at hand to guide their work, while priests must work on a specially constructed alter, the actual process takes 1 full day per spell level, this includes short naps and bites of food. If at anytime the spell caster gets interrupted while transcribing the scroll, it was all for naught, the entire project is ruined.

After the work has all been completed, the DM secretly checks for success. The base chance is 80%. This number is either increased or decreased by the numbers above for the materials used. The level of the spell is also taken into account, -1% per level is subtracted from the base, however the spell caster gains a +1% per his level. This number is checked with a percentile dice.

Example: Memnock, the 12th level mage(+12%) is making a scroll of 5th level (-5%). He’s using parchment (+0%) and the feather of a griffon which he plucked from the beast himself(+5%)! Giving Memnock a 92% chance of success.

Failure indicates that the spell will fail once it is cast, but the player won’t be aware of this. The scroll will also be cursed in some way, if remove curse is cast on it, the entire scroll will turn to dust. A single scroll can contain 1 to 6 spells, the number determined randomly by the DM. The player can never be certain of the amount of space required, even for the same spell on two different scrolls.

A failed attempt takes up all of the scroll, now naturally a scroll could have spells that worked correctly before the failed attempt, in cases like this, they are normal and only the failed spell will curse the user once it is read.

If you’re reading a scroll that you yourself have prepared then you don’t need to cast read magic to cast it.


To figure out the XP value of the scroll, add up all of the spell levels and multiply them by 100. Easy as pie! Of course the hard part is picking out which ones to give to the players.

The scroll itself is usually found in a cylinder or tube of some kind, made of anything that your devious mind can conceive: from Ivory to leather. To make them more of a mystery you can have magic runes or some other kind of writing that the wizard must cast a read magic or comprehend language to open it. If we are feeling particularly mean we can also trap the scroll with symbols, explosive runes, and curses.

Each scroll is written differently, so a wizard can find a hundred scrolls with the same spell and still not be able to identify it without first using read magic each and every time. Once that particular scroll has been deciphered, the mage or cleric can cast the spell at any time that he or she wishes.

It is worth noting that even a scroll map will appear to be unreadable until a the proper spell is used to decipher it (usually comprehend languages). Also, a cursed scroll doesn’t radiate any evil or betray its existence until the spell is read.

The only scroll which can be read by any character without the use of a read magic spell are protection spells, these are immediately apparent and should be identified immediately. Wizards can only use wizards spells, Priests can only use Cleric spells, Thieves, can of course, use both.


One of those bizarre things that many folks don’t know is that the level of the wizard who wrote the scroll is used to determine what level the spell is cast at, NOT the character casting the spell. Actually, if you think about it, this makes perfect sense! A mage created the scroll for himself, and he can set the casting level as he wishes, this changes the spells characteristics (range, duration, area of effect, etc.), typically, the casting level is set at least 1 level higher then that required to cast the spell, but never below 6th level of experience.

In other words, a 6th level wizard spell is written at 13th level of ability, and a 7th level spell is set to 15th level. This will allow DM’s to make scrolls more powerful by increasing the level at which they are written, but of course this will also effect the chances of the spell failing. Hee hee hee


A spell which is inscribed at a higher level then the caster has a chance of just fizzling out. There is a 5% chance of this happening per level difference. Thus, a 1st level character attempting to cast a wish inscribed at an 18th level of experience (18-1 = 17; 17 x 5% = 85%) has an 85% chance of failing.

Once a failure has been indicated, we roll again, just to see what happens. There is always a chance that the spell may not just fizzle out, but actually screw up! reversing the spell, or in some other way becoming harmful for the person casting it. Table 112 in the DMG dictates the results.

Caster Level Difference: Reverse or Harmful Effect indicated
1-3: 5%
4-6: 15%
7-9: 25%
10-12: 35%
13-15: 50%
16+: 70%


When a scroll is copied into a spellbook, or read to release its magic, the writing completely and permanently disappears from the scroll, the paper itself wilts and/or is destroyed, a scroll of 4 spells becomes a scroll of 3 spells. No matter what a player tries, a spell on a scroll is only usable once. Of course, there are rumors out there that very powerful mages from ancient times have been able to create scrolls that can be read once per week, now THAT is some powerful magic there, and this could just be a rumor.


Reading a scroll effects your initiative, thus, one must state that they are going to read a scroll prior to his initiative. Protection scrolls always have the reading times listed in their explanation, thus if you come up with new protective scrolls, don’t forget this in your own descriptions.

A scroll requires only sufficient light to read by, and that the caster can speak normally and freely. Infravision may or may not be powerful enough to read a scroll by, I know in my games standard Infravision of 60’ isn’t capable of reading a scroll in the dark, but 120’ Infravision is.

If the caster is hit by an attack or stops reading for any reason, the spell will fizzle and be ruined, however no adverse effects will ever happen if these events.


Protection scrolls can be used together, their effects are cumulative, however the duration will always stay the same. It is also worth saying that these things can never be used as an offensive weapon, if the scroll is intended to ward a specific creature away, and the warded character corners the specific creature, giving him no where safe to flee, then the protective ward is considered to be broken and disappears. I think that every body tries that trick at least once, and it should always fail.


A DM should always set the spell levels himself, however this isn’t always practical. Thankfully Table 90 in the DMG makes things pretty easy to determine randomly, but you’ll still need to pick and choose the appropriate spells by hand picking them from the PHB.

They say that you can randomly chose spells too, however, regardless of how much of a pain in the butt it is to hand pick them, we can better control our games if we insist upon it. Remember, a wizard can always chose to add this into his spellbook, even if he has to save it for months to do it, and if our wizard becomes to strong for our games, well, it is our fault for giving him the ammo to do it.


We should be as mean as possible when constructing our curses. Naturally, a 1st level mage can really be destroyed by too mean of a spell, as he probably doesn’t have the funds required to have the curse removed, so these should be as annoying to the victim as possible without actually making it dangerous. Curses shouldn’t ever be pretty, maybe for low level wizards their eyes always glow, reducing their CHARISMA score until they can afford to have it fixed. Maybe natural rain water starts to burn them, or anytime they touch gold it turns it into wood? For high level play, where a fellow character has access to remove curse, these can be dangerous as you can make them.

Of course, devising curses is an art. We have to be careful that we don’t accidentally give them another attack, or a special power such as making metal items that they touch instantly rust, or something along those lines. Players are crafty little buggers, they don’t need help in the gaining new powers department.


Unknown said...

The 'a single scroll can hold 1d6 worth of spells' has been throwing me for a loop. Say for a scroll of Magic Missile. The mage writes for 1 day...and there could be up to 6 castings of magic missile on there? He doesn't know? Or does he have to write for 6 days and then the DM rolls? Thoughts?

RipperX said...

A mage who makes a scroll knows exactly what is on it. I'd say that intends to take this traveling would also know how many spells that he can put on the scroll.

I do like where you are going with this, though. A multi-use single spell scroll. A found one, the user would have no idea, and be surprised when the scroll doesn't fade away, but he'd have no idea how many charges are on it.

A wizard who accomplished this, I'd think, would have a better idea about it. He'd have to know how many spells that he thinks that this scroll could hold "The DM or the player rolls to see" and then he can put what he wants to on there.

The 1d6 thing is confusing. The DMG has scrolls in the Treasure table, you can roll up a scroll that contains seven 9th level spells, what this would look like is beyond me. If the 9th level spell was the same spell, it would make it easier, but I've always put 7 different 9th level spells on them. I was probably doing it wrong. The one spell 7 times thing makes more sense, doesn't it.

Brooser Bear said...

I have several kinds of scrolls in the game. Fragments of magical writing are not scrolls, wizards must decipher them and if lucky, gleam a new spell into their spell-book. Different schools of magic are tied to different ethnic groups in Midlands, and my Magic Users must hustle burn non-weapon proficiency slots to learn specific ancient languages to access specific schools in hopes of locating spells that they desire.

A traditional D&D scroll that must be read to cast a spell, is a specific magical item, where the somatic and material components of the spell have been bound to a piece of writing, that must be read out loud. There is a procedure, that wizards might acquire and attempt to make these kinds of scroll from their spell-books for emergency use, bit there is always a chance of failure and miscasting by an inexperienced wizard. I let wizards of levels less than 9th attempt making their own scrolls. A first level wizard could also theoretically learn the Fireball spells, spell and character levels being artificial.

Finally, wizards can make scrolls of spells from their spell books, that act as field spell-books to be used during the adventures.

Also, it is conceivable, that wizards may make use of their robes, hats, wants, staves to carry memory aides to help them in casting their favorite spells, by drawing, embroidering or etching reminders to themselves on these items or tattooing them on their bodies. A non-traditional spellbook !!! Some tattoos just let you memorize spells in the absence of the spellbook, but other, more useful glyphs, improve your odds of casting your spell successfully. Midlands Wizards cast their spells as if each spell is its own skill with its own chance of success, which can be cast repeatedly, until the wizard fails, and must rememorize the spell again. When casting during adventure, wizard is on a deterioration stress curve, and it become harder to cast the same space with each subsequent attempt.

RipperX said...

I like some of your ideas, the tattoo and robe spell book in particular, which I find to be true genius! I think that everybody has tinkered with the magic system, I know I had for years, and now I am playing it to core rules and simply pleased how it functions. It is weird how things turn out like that.

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