Item Classes
" Amulets [ Armor
% Comestibles $ Coins
* Gems ! Potions
= Rings ? Scrolls
+ Spellbooks ` Statues and Boulders
( Tools / Wands
) Weapons

A spellbook + is a book containing runes describing some spell. To attempt to memorise the spell, you must read the spellbook. (This obviously breaks the illiterate conduct.) A pair of lenses is great for reading spellbooks. If the spellbook is too difficult, you will not learn the spell, and instead harmful effects will happen: you might become blind, or you might lose all of your gold.

A cursed spellbook can also cause these harmful effects. Thus in general, never read a cursed spellbook. You can use holy water or a blessed scroll of remove curse to uncurse the spellbook. You could also wield it and read an uncursed scroll of remove curse or cast remove curse.

If you have a blank spellbook and a magic marker, then you can try to write the spellbook of any spell that you know. Dipping a spellbook into water (or a fountain sometimes) will blank it. Spellbooks made blank this way will retain their BUC status.

Note that you will forget spells 20,000 turns after you read the respective spellbook the last time. A spellbook will fade[1] after refreshing the spell from it if it has been read four[2] times, making spellbook-management quite important. Re-reading a spellbook "early", that is you still know the spell, has no effect beyond exercising wisdom. If you polymorph a spellbook, it will count as read one more time. Perhaps a bug, a polymorphed spellbook will not fade if spell was not already in your spellcasting menu Z; useful in desparate situations, a scroll of amnesia can also extract an extra reading.

Reading a spellbook in a shop and in the presence of a shopkeeper before you pay for it incurs a usage fee ("This is no free library, cad!")

Spellbooks have a weight of 50.

In tty mode, both brown books and closed doors share the + symbol. E. g. in bones files, the [;] far look command can identify the '+' on doorways.


Do not attempt to read a spellbook unless you know it isn't cursed; this is easily determined with a pet or at an altar (see Curse-testing). Unless you are a wizard, do not attempt to read a non-blessed spellbook unless you know which level it is (easily determined at the appropriate shop).

Blessed spellbooks can always be read successfully, regardless of the spell's level, your level, or your intelligence score.

Whenever you successfully read a spellbook:

  • Type-name it with the current turn number, so that you will know when you need to rememorize it. You can review the type-names of identified items with the '\' key.
  • Individual-name it '1', or increment the existing number, so you know how many times you have read it.

List of spellbooks[]

The following is a list of all spellbooks, listed alphabetically by the school of magic they represent and by difficulty inside the schools.

The "Probability Conditional on Price" column is for use with price identification. If you know the price of the book, this column tells you how likely it is to be a given spell. (For instance, a spellbook with a base price of 700 zm is 75% likely to be cancellation, and 25% likely to be finger of death.)


Spellbook Spell Level Relative Probability Turns to Read Probability Conditional on Price
Spellbook of force bolt 1 3.56% 2 12.2%
Spellbook of drain life 2 1.01% 2 4.3%
Spellbook of magic missile 2 4.58% 2 19.1%
Spellbook of cone of cold 4 1.01% 7 8.3%
Spellbook of fireball 4 2.03% 4 16.7%
Spellbook of finger of death 7 0.5% 10 25.0%


Spellbook Spell Level Relative Probability Turns to Read Probability Conditional on Price
Spellbook of protection 1 1.83% 3 6.3%
Spellbook of create monster 2 3.56% 3 14.9%
Spellbook of remove curse 3 2.54% 5 10.8%
Spellbook of create familiar 6 1.01% 7 19.6%
Spellbook of turn undead 6 1.62% 8 31.4%


Spellbook Spell Level Relative Probability Turns to Read Probability Conditional on Price
Spellbook of detect monsters 1 4.37% 1 15.0%
Spellbook of light 1 4.58% 1 15.7%
Spellbook of detect food 2 3.05% 3 12.8%
Spellbook of clairvoyance 3 1.52% 3 16.5%
Spellbook of detect unseen 3 2.03% 4 8.6%
Spellbook of identify 3 2.03% 6 8.6%
Spellbook of detect treasure 4 2.03% 5 16.7%
Spellbook of magic mapping 5 1.83% 7 47.4%


Spellbook Spell Level Relative Probability Turns to Read Probability Conditional on Price
Spellbook of sleep 1 5.09% 1 17.5%
Spellbook of confuse monster 2 3.05% 2 12.8%
Spellbook of slow monster 2 3.05% 2 12.8%
Spellbook of cause fear 3 2.54% 3 10.8%
Spellbook of charm monster 3 2.03% 3 8.6%


Spellbook Spell Level Relative Probability Turns to Read Probability Conditional on Price
Spellbook of jumping 1 2.03% 3 7.0%
Spellbook of haste self 3 3.36% 4 14.2%
Spellbook of invisibility 4 2.54% 5 20.8%
Spellbook of levitation 4 2.03% 4 16.7%
Spellbook of teleport away 6 1.52% 6 29.4%


Spellbook Spell Level Relative Probability Turns to Read Probability Conditional on Price
Spellbook of healing 1 4.07% 2 14.0%
Spellbook of cure blindness 2 2.54% 2 10.6%
Spellbook of cure sickness 3 3.25% 3 13.8%
Spellbook of extra healing 3 2.74% 5 11.6%
Spellbook of stone to flesh 3 1.52% 1 6.5%
Spellbook of restore ability 4 2.54% 5 20.8%


Spellbook Spell Level Relative Probability Turns to Read Probability Conditional on Price
Spellbook of knock 1 3.56% 1 12.2%
Spellbook of wizard lock 2 3.05% 3 12.8%
Spellbook of dig 5 2.03% 6 52.6%
Spellbook of polymorph 6 1.01% 8 19.6%
Spellbook of cancellation 7 1.52% 8 75.0%



The base price of a spellbook is 100 per level.


Spellbooks comprise 4% of all randomly-generated items in the main dungeon and 12% in containers.

Randomly generated statues have a chance of containing a spellbook (More info). On a humorous note, perhaps monsters reading too difficult spellbooks were so stupid they got turned to stone, not just paralyzed like us players.

Success rate for Spellbook reading[]

Your rate of successfully reading an uncursed book is:

(Intelligence + 4 + (XPLevel)/2 - 2*(BookLevel)) * 5% [3]

Lenses add 10% to the success rate.

Only wizards will be warned if this chance is below 100%.

Failure effects of spellbook reading[]

Failing when reading a spellbook paralyses the player for a number of turns. The length of the paralysis effect grows exponentially with the level of the spellbook, with high level spellbooks paralysing a player for up to 80 turns. A ring of free action will not help protect the player from this effect. In addition to the paralysis, a random bad effect is chosen, with the nastiest effects reserved for the higher level spellbooks. The bad effect will be chosen randomly from the first N items in the following list, where N is the level of the spellbook:[4][5]

  1. You are teleported to somewhere else on the level: "You feel a wrenching sensation."
  2. All monsters on the level are woken up and unparalysed: "You feel threatened."
  3. You are blinded for 250–349 turns.
  4. All gold in your inventory vanishes (same effect as when sitting on a throne): "You notice you have no gold!"
  5. You are confused for 16–22 turns: "These runes were just too much to comprehend."
  6. You lose 1–10 HP and 3–6 strength (1-6 HP and 1–2 strength if poison resistant): "The book was coated with contact poison!" Gloves protect you from this effect, though gauntlets of power will corrode in the process.
  7. The book explodes, dealing 7–25 points of damage unless you have magic resistance. The book will always be destroyed by the explosion.
    • "As you read the book, it radiates explosive energy in your <face>!"
    • "The book radiates explosive energy, but you are unharmed!" (if magic resistant)

There is a 1 in 3 (1 in 1 if the book was cursed) chance of the spellbook being destroyed after failure to read it, producing the message spellbook crumbles to dust!. You will then be prompted to name the spellbook if it was not identified or already type named.

Also, failing to read a spellbook of level higher than 7 would have a chance of cursing random items in your inventory — but no such books currently exist in the game. In any case, the book has a one chance in three of being destroyed (unless it exploded, in which case the probability is 100%).

The teleportation effect means players should be especially careful when reading spellbooks in shops. Being teleported out of a shop while carrying unpaid goods counts as stealing, which will anger the shopkeeper and cause the Keystone Kops to be called, which is bad considering that you're also paralyzed for a number of turns.

Having teleport control allows you to choose where you will teleport, rendering this effect mostly harmless. A unicorn horn will cure blindness, confusion and strength loss; wearing gloves will prevent strength loss and damage from poison in the first place, while blindness and confusion will wear off eventually. Not having any gold in your inventory when reading spellbooks will prevent it from being lost. Magic resistance will protect you from explosions (but the book will still be destroyed). And of course, reading blessed spellbooks will always succeed.

Thus, in practice, the biggest danger when reading non-blessed spellbooks (other than losing the book) is getting teleported to a random location on the level while paralysed. If you have a ring of teleport control (or intrinsic teleport control), you can read spellbooks of up to level 5 in relative safety by locking yourself in a closet with Elbereth engraved on the floor and dropping your gold. To safely read level 6 spellbooks, you also need gloves and/or a unicorn horn, and for level 7 books magic resistance or at least 26 HP. If you don't have teleport control, you can instead read your spellbooks on a non-teleport level; the closets on the top level of Sokoban seem almost as if made for this purpose.

Encyclopedia entry[]

The Book of Three lay closed on the table. Taran had never
been allowed to read the volume for himself; now he was sure
it held more than Dallben chose to tell him. In the sun-
filled room, with Dallben still meditating and showing no
sign of stopping, Taran rose and moved through the shimmering
beams. From the forest came the monotonous tick of a beetle.
His hands reached for the cover. Taran gasped in pain and
snatched them away. They smarted as if each of his fingers
had been stung by hornets. He jumped back, stumbled against
the bench, and dropped to the floor, where he put his fingers
woefully into his mouth.
Dallben's eyes blinked open. He peered at Taran and yawned
slowly. "You had better see Coll about a lotion for those
hands," he advised. "Otherwise, I shouldn't be surprised if
they blistered."

[ The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander ]