Spell Books as Treasure

I’ve never understood why spell books aren’t part of the regular treasure tables. I mean, you can find a Manual of Puissant Skill at Arms, but the spell book of a 4th level illusionist is a non-starter? Pfft. Here’s a sneak preview from the next update of the Adventures Dark and Deep Game Masters Toolkit…

Spell Book

As game master, you may wish to keep the discovery of long-forgotten spell books to intentional placement. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that such valuable works would be discovered in the treasure hordes of certain creatures. First, the type of book should be determined, and then the size.


Die roll (d%) Book type
01-20 Illusionist
21-79 Mage
80-98 Savant
99 Mixed (roll twice again, re-rolling duplicates and 99-00)
00 Fake


Die roll (d12) Book size Base X.P. Value
1-3 Traveling 500
4-11 Standard 1,000
12 Reference 1,500

Each spell book will contain 3d6+1 spells, up to the maximum capacity of its type (see the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Guide for details on how many spells a spell book can contain). Once the number of spells has been determined, roll for each spell level. Then roll randomly to determine which spell for that level is contained in the book. Keep rolling until the book is filled. For mixed books, roll 1d3 to determine which type of spell happens to be next in the book.


Spell Level Illusionist Mage Savant X.P. Value
1 01-24 01-29 01-33 100
2 25-45 30-53 34-56 200
3 46-63 54-70 57-72 300
4 64-78 71-81 73-82 400
5 79-90 82-88 83-89 500
6 91-98 89-94 90-95 600
7 99-00 95-98 96-98 700
8 99 99 800
9 00 00 900

Finally, roll to see what sort of protection or trap, if any, the spell book has. Note that fake spell books always have at least one sort of protection, as they are designed to entice would-be thieves into opening them and thus bringing about their own doom; re-roll any roll under 61.


Die roll (d%) Protection/trap
01-50 None.
51-60 Lock (no key available).
61-70 Lock w/poison needle trap.
71-73 Explosive runes on first page.
74-78 Permanent blank book cantrip has been cast on the book.
79-81 2d4 bookworms hidden in binding.
82-84 Book is itself intelligent (treat as intelligent weapon in all respects).
85-88 Anyone other than the author who opens the book is cursed.
89-92 Pages are treated with contact poison. For every page flipped through, there is a 1% cumulative chance that enough poison will be absorbed through the fingertips to kill, unless precautions are taken (gloves, stylus used to flip pages, etc.).
93-94 When opened when the temperature is above 80° F, glue used in the binding gives off an invisible hallucinogenic gas; all within 10’ must make a saving throw vs. poison or each believes himself to be a 20th level Archmage and will become violent if anyone either contradicts him or attempts to take the book from him. The effect will last 2d12 hours, but could occur again the next time the book is opened in the proper temperature.
95-96 Blades spring out of the cover when the book is opened. Make a dexterity check or take 1d6 h.p. of damage. If the first check fails, make a second; if that fails, a finger has been sliced off.
97 Book is possessed by a demon. Prolonged contact with it will result in the owner of the book himself becoming possessed.
98-00 The first time the book is opened, a blinding flash of light will blind anyone looking at it within 10’ unless they make a successful saving throw vs. paralyzation.

Full experience points for spell books should only be awarded to members of that class who can use the spells within. Others should only receive 10% of the full X.P. value.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “Spell Books as Treasure

  1. Back in my AD&D days, spell books from enemy spellcasters were THE coveted treasure PCs could find. Although they aren't in the standard treasure tables, I took my cue from adventure modules I1 and I2, both of which feature prominent NPC antagonists with fabulous spell books.

    PC magic-users LOVED this kind of trove.
    : )

  2. This is a great idea. I'm 100% in agreement that spellbooks should be the prized (and sought-after) treasure of any spellcaster.

    Incidently, ditto JB… though my cue was from U1 with the illusionist's spellbook in the sea cavern.

    After that discovery, every spellcaster's player would have their character spend hours delving through old libraries and the rooms of enemy magic-users just for the possibility they could convince me a spellbook or two should be present.

  3. I've always had the possibility of spell books being treasure, but this is a neat and tidy method that makes me glad to have switched my game to ADD already. 🙂

  4. I've been wanting to do something like this for a while now.

    I'd probably make them more dangerous, though, rolling once on the trap table for every level of the owner.

  5. I think there were a couple of reasons why spell books weren't more common as treasure in 1eAD&D. Firstly, there is the whole idea of a M-U or Illusionist needing to find each spell in order to build up his own magical arsenal. Finding a scroll of 2 or 3 spells for a 1st level M-U is indeed a valuable find! Finding a spell book of even a mid-level M-U means gaining easily a dozen or more spells at once. Even with a few duplicates, spells already known by the PC, that's quite a haul.

    Secondly, there is the aspect of experience points. With the publication of UA, spell books experience point value was truly amazing. 500 points per spell level contained therein. A previous poster brought up I1 (which actualy conatains TWO spell books). The spell book of the main caster in that module has an experience point value of 52,500. For a M-U of levels 4 to 7, which is the indicated levels for I1, that's a pretty good experience point award for one item.

    Whether either of these can be considered "good" reasons will depend on the campaign and the DM, of course. I know that as a player I'd lve to find a spell book like the one in I1 🙂

  6. 'I took my cue from adventure modules I1 and I2'

    Circa 1982, my cohorts and I were similarly looting spellbooks, mostly due to module I1. We had serious game balance problems, though – but that's a story for another time.

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