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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.) If the spellbook is cursed, or uncursed and too difficult, you will not learn the spell, but suffer harmful effects instead. A blessed spellbook will always be read successfully. A pair of lenses increases the chance of successfully reading an uncursed spellbook by 10 percentage points, and reduces the amount of time needed to read the book by about one third.

In general, you should never read a cursed spellbook since it will never teach you a spell and always causes a harmful effect. Uncurse the spellbook before reading it. There is an exception to every rule, however: one negative effect is teleportation, which is occasionally useful – although that is accompanied by helplessness, which is not.

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) will blank it. Spellbooks made blank this way will retain their BUC status.

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 and are more than 1,000 turns from forgetting it,[3] has no effect beyond exercising wisdom.

If there are any spellbooks in your initial inventory, you start the game knowing the pertinent spell, as if you had read the book successfully one time. The book is nonetheless brand-new, that is, it is counted as never having been read.[4]

If you polymorph a spellbook, it will count as read one more time. Perhaps a bug, a polymorphed spellbook will not fade if the spell was not already in your spellcasting menu Z; useful in desperate 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.

As of Nethack 3.6.0, dull spellbooks are special. Attempting to read one may cause you to fall asleep for a number of turns, based on your wisdom and the spellbook level. "This book is so dull that you can't keep your (eyes) open."


Do not attempt to read a spellbook unless you know it isn't cursed (easily determined with a pet or at an altar). 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.

Occasionally, if you have teleport control, don't need the book, and power is at a premium, you might want to (write and) read cursed spellbooks of detect monsters, light, sleep, knock for their teleport effect since these books will paralyze you only for one turn and are cheap to write.

When studying a forgotten spell, read the book again immediately afterwards to make sure it won't turn blank (and fail to refresh the spell) the next time you need to read it - as noted above, if the spellbook is still viable, nothing bad will happen to 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.

Directional spells behave just like zapping a wand, with the same range.

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.)

The "Actions to read" column tells you how many player actions are needed to read the spellbook. This is equal to the number of game turns for a hero whose speed is 12; a faster hero will take fewer turns to read the book. Lenses reduce this number of actions by approximately one third.

The "Skill changes" column tells you if the spell behaves differently if trained to a higher skill level. "B" indicates that the spell changes between unskilled and basic, "S" indicates that the spell changes between skilled and basic, and "E" indicates that the spell changes between expert and skilled. Note that ray and beam spells have a higher hit chance when cast at a higher level.


Spellbook Spell level Direction Relative probability Probability conditional on price Actions to read Skill changes
Spellbook of force bolt 1 beam 3.56% 12.2% 4
Spellbook of drain life 2 beam 1.01% 4.3% 4
Spellbook of magic missile 2 ray 4.58% 19.1% 4
Spellbook of cone of cold 4 ray (distant if skilled) 1.01% 8.3% 23 S
Spellbook of fireball 4 ray (distant if skilled) 2.03% 16.7% 14 S
Spellbook of finger of death 7 ray 0.5% 25.0% 82


Spellbook Spell level Direction Relative probability Probability conditional on price Actions to read Skill changes
Spellbook of protection 1 non-directional 1.83% 6.3% 5 E
Spellbook of create monster 2 non-directional 3.56% 14.9% 5
Spellbook of remove curse 3 non-directional 2.54% 10.8% 12 S
Spellbook of create familiar 6 non-directional 1.01% 19.6% 44
Spellbook of turn undead 6 beam 1.62% 31.4% 50


Spellbook Spell level Direction Relative probability Probability conditional on price Actions to read Skill changes
Spellbook of detect monsters 1 non-directional 4.37% 15.0% 3 S
Spellbook of light 1 non-directional 4.58% 15.7% 3
Spellbook of detect food 2 non-directional 3.05% 12.8% 5 S
Spellbook of clairvoyance 3 non-directional 1.52% 16.5% 8
Spellbook of detect unseen 3 non-directional 2.03% 8.6% 10
Spellbook of identify 3 non-directional 2.03% 8.6% 14
Spellbook of detect treasure 4 non-directional 2.03% 16.7% 17 S
Spellbook of magic mapping 5 non-directional 1.83% 47.4% 37


Spellbook Spell level Direction Relative probability Probability conditional on price Actions to read Skill changes
Spellbook of sleep 1 ray 5.09% 17.5% 3
Spellbook of confuse monster 2 non-directional 3.05% 12.8% 4 S
Spellbook of slow monster 2 beam 3.05% 12.8% 4
Spellbook of cause fear 3 non-directional 2.54% 10.8% 8
Spellbook of charm monster 3 non-directional 2.03% 8.6% 8


Spellbook Spell level Direction Relative probability Probability conditional on price Actions to read Skill changes
Spellbook of jumping 1 non-directional 2.03% 7.0% 5 BSE
Spellbook of haste self 3 non-directional 3.36% 14.2% 10 S
Spellbook of invisibility 4 non-directional 2.54% 20.8% 17
Spellbook of levitation 4 non-directional 2.03% 16.7% 14 S
Spellbook of teleport away 6 beam 1.52% 29.4% 38


Spellbook Spell level Direction Relative probability Probability conditional on price Actions to read Skill changes
Spellbook of healing 1 beam 4.07% 14.0% 4
Spellbook of cure blindness 2 non-directional 2.54% 10.6% 4
Spellbook of cure sickness 3 non-directional 3.25% 13.8% 8
Spellbook of extra healing 3 beam 2.74% 11.6% 12
Spellbook of stone to flesh 3 beam 1.52% 6.5% 4
Spellbook of restore ability 4 non-directional 2.54% 20.8% 17 S


Spellbook Spell level Direction Relative probability Probability conditional on price Actions to read Skill changes
Spellbook of knock 1 beam 3.56% 12.2% 3
Spellbook of wizard lock 2 beam 3.05% 12.8% 5
Spellbook of dig 5 ray 2.03% 52.6% 32
Spellbook of polymorph 6 beam 1.01% 19.6% 50
Spellbook of cancellation 7 beam 1.52% 75.0% 66



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.

All spellbook types have randomized appearance except the spellbook of blank paper and the Book of the Dead.

Randomly generated statues on dungeon level 4 or deeper (such as on the Oracle's level) have a chance of containing a spellbook.

Success rate for spellbook reading

Your rate of successfully reading an uncursed book is:

Intelligence + 4 + (XPLevel)/2 - 2*(BookLevel)

(XPLevel)/2 is your experience level divided by two, rounded down. Lenses add 10 percentage points to the success rate.

In other words; a hypothetical level 0 character needs 16 IN to read a hypothetical level 0 spellbook safely. For every spell level, increase the required IN by two. For every two experience levels (odd ones count as the level below), decrease it by one. If wearing lenses, decrease it by two.

Wizards alone will be warned if this chance is below 100%: "This spellbook is difficult to comprehend. Continue?". This is changed to "very difficult" if the chance is below 60%.

The numbers are tabled in the NetHack Spellbook Reading Spoiler.

Failure effects of spellbook reading

Failing to read a spellbook (or reading a cursed spellbook) paralyses the player for a number of turns equal to the number of player actions needed to read the book, minus two. Thus, the minimum duration of the paralysis is one turn (detect monsters, light, sleep, knock) and the maximum duration is 80 turns (finger of death). A ring of free action will not protect the player from this effect.

A random bad effect is chosen in addition to the paralysis. The list below is numbered to match the minimum spellbook level needed to reach that effect:[6][7]

  1. You are teleported to somewhere else on the level: "You feel a wrenching sensation." This takes effect immediately, i.e. you are paralyzed somewhere else.
  2. All monsters on the level are woken up and unparalysed: "You feel threatened."
  3. You are blinded for 250–349 turns.
  4. All your (visible) gold vanishes: "You notice you have no gold!" ("money" in 3. 6. 0) (or "You feel a strange sensation.", if you had 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)

You have a 1/3 chance of destroying the spellbook every time you fail to read it (in addition to the chance of explosion, which always destroys it). This produces the message spellbook crumbles to dust!. You will then be prompted to name the spellbook if it was not identified or already type named.

In practice, the biggest dangers when reading non-blessed spellbooks are losing the book and getting teleported to a random location on the level while paralysed. 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. Bagging your gold 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.

Reading spellbooks in shops is something players should be careful about. Teleporting out of a shop while carrying unpaid goods counts as stealing, which will anger the shopkeeper and call the Keystone Kops while you are also paralyzed.

The guaranteed teleport effect of cursed level 1 spellbooks may be useful as an escape item to teleport if other resources are scarce but books plentiful. A speed runner might even write cursed books to conserve power and scrolls of charging.

You can read spellbooks of up to level 5 in relative safety if you have a teleport control 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.


Spellbooks have charges now. When reading a non-cursed charged spellbook, one charge is consumed, and "The words on the page seem to glow faintly." This allows you to read the spelbook normally should you fail the reading roll, and triples the reading speed otherwise.

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 ]

See also


  1. spell.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 350
  2. spell.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 15
  3. spell.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 351
  4. initialspell in spell.c
  5. spell.c in NetHack 3.4.3, line 440
  6. cursed_book in spell.c
  7. Spells (learning, practising, and casting) in NetHack 3.4 by Kevin Hugo and Dylan O'Donnell

This page may need to be updated for NetHack 3.6.0.

It may contain text specific to NetHack 3.4.3. Information on this page may be out of date.

Editors: After reviewing this page and making necessary edits, please change the {{nethack-343}} tag to {{nethack-360}}.