Copying Books Magically

A piece about copying books via magic in Ars Magica (Fifth Edition):

Books are surprisingly difficult to copy by magic. A magus has to cast several spells, replicating the work of several craftsmen.

Assuming an ample supply of ink, parchment, and wooden bindings are available the magus would proceed first to replicate the main work, scribing the book. This requires affecting a stack of parchment sheets (Rego Animal), with an Aquam requisite to affect the inks. Following the guidelines laid down in Covenants (p. 49) and Societas (p. 60), this requires the spell

The Prolific Scribe, R: Voice, D: Mom, T: Group; Rego Animal (Requisite: Aquam) 10
This spell instantly scribes a copy of a book the caster is holding. Materials (parchment and ink) must be in voice range. The caster must succeed at an Intelligence + Finesse roll of 15 to successfully copy the book; otherwise, the piece is in gibberish. A roll of 21+ will allow a +1 to craftsmanship due to superior scribing.
For purposes of copying, the spell is the equivalent of a semi-professional scribe - copying up to 8 levels of summa (or one tractatus) per casting.
(Base 1 [Covenants p. 50], +2 Voice, +2 Group, +1 requisite; Base ease factor is 9 [“daily work of semi-skilled artists”, Societas p. 61] to 15 (Hard), +6 for a season’s work.)

An identical but separate spell (The Prolific Illuminator) must then be cast to reproduce the work of an illuminator. A single spell might suffice for both scribing and illumination, the RAW is a little unclear.

Once written, the book needs to be bound (Binding the Mundane Codex, ReAn 5, Covenants p. 97 – probably using an Herbam casting requisite), requiring an Intelligence + Finesse roll of 12+. The use of resonant materials (relatively common for Hermetic books) is far more difficult (ReAn 20, see Covenants p. 97), requiring yet another Intelligence + Finesse roll of 15+ (or higher).

Lack of processed raw materials can be overcome by magic too. Hide to Parchment (ReAn 10, Covenants p. 96) can prepare parchment from animal hides, with a successful Perception + Finesse roll. Inks are typically made from Herbam, although Animal components are common and some (especially the high-quality) inks contain Terram components as well. It is usually fairly easy and fast to prepare such inks from local materials, or purchase them on the market, so magic isn’t used. If the magus is in a hurry, however, he may desire to avail himself of the following spell:

The Illuminator’s Bread, R: Touch, D: Mom, T: Group; ReTe 15
This spell brews ink from raw materials. Usually metal and glass tools are used in conjunction with this spell, allowing the magus to brew any type of ink he is familiar with. If these aren’t available, casting requisites (He and/or An) are likely necessary. To succeed in brewing the ink, the caster needs to make an Intelligence + Finesse roll of 9+.
(Base 4, +1 Touch, +2 Group. Ease factor 9 [semi-skilled artisans].)

Preparing binding is even more difficult.
A Spell for Binding Boards, ReHe 10
The caster touches a piece of wood (unprepared timber), which is magically processed and transformed into proper binding boards for a book. This requires an Intelligence + Finesse roll of 9+.
(Base 5, +1 Touch)

If the caster lacks any raw materials, raw vis might serve as a substitute for the truly desperate. The Apple That Etches (CrHe 20 Ritual, Covenants p. 96) can provide raw materials for black ink, for example; similar spells can create ink of other colors, or raw materials for other needs. It is generally better to create natural raw materials and then process them through magical or mundane means rather than to create the desired inks, parchment, or bindings directly. For the truly desperate, here are a few relevant spells.
Uterine Vellum, CrAn 20
This spell creates a large stack of parchment, enough for several books [technically, up to the mass of en elephant…]. The quality of the parchment is determined by an Intelligence + Finesse roll (9+, 12+ required for high-quality).
(Base 5, +1 Touch, +2 Group)

The Hunt’s Rewards, CrAn 20 Ritual
This spell creates a large stack of hide, enough for several books [technically, up the mass of an elephant…]. The hide is usually of calves, providing excellent source material for vellum (the finest quality parchment).
(Base 5, +1 Touch, +2 Group)

Conjured Binding Boards, CrHe 20 Ritual
This spell creates two matching boards to be used to bind a book. [It can be used to create many more boards, in principle. Craft/Finesse checks not required by fiat.]
(Base 2, +1 Touch, +2 Group, +1 treated)

Timber Without Forest, CrHe 20 Ritual
This spell creates a large amount of timber. The caster may choose to create planks of wood or logs. The pile creates is about 20 paces in each dimension.
(Base 2, +1 Touch, +2 Group, +3 size. Finesse assumed to not be required.)

The Colored Ink, CrAq 20 Ritual
The caster touches a container, which is filled with ink of the caster’s choosing. The spell can produce up to 20 paces across and 12 paces deep (approximately 5000 cubic meters, 135000 cubic feet).
(Base 2, +1 touch, +1 slightly unnatural, +4 size. Finesse roll skipped as it’s very easy, ands inks are nearly natural.)

Creation of the Alexandria’s Golden Treasures, CrAn(Im) 20 Ritual
This spell simply duplicates the book the caster is touching. Ink isn’t copied directly – instead, color is infused into the parchment, mimicking the effects of iron-gall and similar inks. The produced colors are rather dull, however they provide an excellent template for a skilled illuminator to improve on. A faithful reconstruction requires a Perception + Finesse roll of 15+ (a roll of 21+ is required to replicate the fine details of superior scribing or illumination); a roll of 14 or less results in gibberish.
If the book is has wooden bindings or incorporates other materials, casting requisites might be necessary.
A version with Target: Group (level 30) is also available, allowing the duplication of multiple books at once (up to about 40 or so – but they need to be arranged in a single pile).
(Base 5, +1 Touch, +1 treated, +1 requisite)

As can be seen, the magical copying of books is hardly efficient. Even under the best conditions, the magus needs to cast two spells (ReAn(Aq) 10), making two EF 15 Finesse checks. (Binding can be accomplished later, through mundane means.) The high Finesse requirements alone can deter most magi. More and more magic can be used in less optimal conditions or to accelerate the process, culminating in casting a Ritual spell to duplicate the book – at great costs. Instead of wasting effort and raw materials on magically copying books, magi are far more likely to copy works themselves or through mundane scribes.

Wow. Great work, and impressive, by the way.

Not to be a nitpicking, but should these not be Animal spells rather than Herbam?
But very interesting.


Yes, I'll amend the text.

And thanks :slight_smile:

Intelligent work :smiley:

I completly agree on your conclusion: "Instead of wasting effort and raw materials on magically copying books, magi are far more likely to copy works themselves or through mundane scribes."

I prefer to see things that way, so to preserve the balance of the in-game world of knowledge and book exchange.

Indeed. The excercise was to see what the rules say on the matter, to see whether they support this position. I think they do so admirably - discouraging magical copying without artificially making it impossible.

Plot seed: A magus with an exceptional Intelligence+Finesse has disrupted the economy of books. Although he hasn't technically violated the cow-and-calf oath, Redcaps are annoyed. On the other hand, Bonisagus who care about the matter are pleased, because he's aiding dissemination of magical knowledge. The question is up for debate at the next Tribunal, and player-character magi need to pick sides. Choosing one faction will please it and annoy the other; standing clear will offend both, but to a lesser degree.

It occurs to me that with the craft magic rules this would be considerably easier than when this was first posted, aside from possibly the finesse totals required. Assuming Vellum (and ink) are the same difficulty as tanned leather that gives a base effect of 1, plus voice range and target group (3 levels total) makes this ReAn(Aq):4 for scribing, the same for illuminating, and the same again (with He requisite for wood backed) for bookbinding. The Finesse roll needs to be higher- a season for a scribe ability of 5 equivalent (and illuminator, and bookbinder) would be 14 with Int+finesse+die...

enchanting items to do this could really revolutionize the order (early magical version of the printing press)

As in the meantime treated in exhaustive detail in TME p.98ff The Copying of Books, especially p.101ff Example Device: The Superb Scrinium.


Tough elegant, I don't think an adequate application of the spell needs to complete the work of an artisan in a season. At ease factor 9, it completes a day's work of copying. A magus would only have to successfully cast it each day to complete a couple of pages, and by the end of a season, the deed would be done. I think this approach, magical copying of books is efficient.

Of course if you have paper (of whatever type) and ink on your person it could be reduced to touch range...

Magical scribing will only happen when time is at a premium. The Finesse rolls are high, the cost of scribes is low. Screwing up only a few copies wastes as much money as feeding and paying for a scribe for a year. A basic empty book is ballparked by Covenants at 1/4 lb silver, while the wages for a scribe for a year is 2/3 lb (approx), and provision/building/etc adds another few pounds. If it costs 3 lbs/year to support a scribe (or 10 lbs/year to support a scribe, bookbinder and illuminator), you don't have to screw up many elaborate, expensive books to justify having actual craftsmen.

It might simply be easier to use ReTe to chisel your book onto the stone walls of your covenant. :slight_smile: Now you have a reason for your library to be a labyrinth.

Ok, :slight_smile:/24234

But if you're a magus, cuneiform tablets ftw.

1 Like