Here are a few alternatives to spellbooks. Mechanically, each of these ideas allows a wizard to record the spells they’ve learned in a physical object (or creature) and then study that object later to recall the spell. In the world, however, they offer some significant differences in behavior. Any wizard who stores their spells in eggs had better keep feather fall memorized at all times, but is in a much better position than an ink-and-paper wizard during a downpour.
I think I first started writing these ideas down after reading Goblin Punch articles about Catbooks and Alternative Spellbooks, but I have seen variant spell containers in a number of places. Unfortunately, I did not note many of these as I ran across them. I believe the ideas below are all my own, but if I’ve repeated something already posted elsewhere on the web, let me know and I’ll add the link.
In general, I tried to include a method of storing the spell (analogous to scribing the spell in a book), a portable object for the wizard to keep on their person (the book), and a means of using that object to prepare the spell (studying the spellbook). Wizards who use these alternatives in my campaigns will still need to spend the same money and time for each of these actions that they would to maintain and use a spellbook, but will likely visit different merchants or resources for their specific needs.
They all work as scroll replacements, too.
Spiderwebs and Looms
Ettercap shroudwinders are known to mimic the weave of magic in the physical workings of their webs. The famous witch Arachne claimed to have studied their works. This has been impossible to verify, however. While many of the weavings and scraps of cloth she left behind continue to puzzle, and injure, the sages who study them; ettercap creations have been much more ephemeral. Whatever the truth of the webs, those who follow Arachne’s teachings weave a new fabric for every spell they learn and, when they wish to recall the magic later, find all that they need in the warp and the weft.
The Ovaturgists of distant Khartolla seek the unfinished spirit developing in an egg and bind it with runes and sigils of fine lacquer. They steep these eggs in mystic oils and incubate them in holy smokes to twist the nascent being within. The newborn spell is then released through a tiny hole in the egg shell, to live amongst the weave of magic itself. Those who study the shells left behind can learn how to call upon the spell and compel it to their own purpose.
(This is one of the ideas I think I might have seen in variation somewhere else; I’m happy to remove it or add links if someone can help me figure out WHERE I saw it)
On the eve of his death, Yid of the Three Whispers went to his fields to stand amongst the flowers of his garden. He spoke his first whisper and the bees flew from their hives and began to circle his head. One by one, they lit upon his outstretched finger, stilled, and then dispersed. He spoke his second whisper and the butterflies rose from the petals to gather in his clothes, his hair, and his hat. He stood completely still as one by one they flexed their wings and fluttered away. He spoke his third whisper and what happened then no one can say. When the soldiers of the Goldat Imperium arrived at his hut the next morning, they found the cold, stiff body of an old man, the two splintered sections of a long oaken staff, and none of the spellbooks for which they had been sent.
The true skill of the Tegluri scrimshaw artists is not in the image, it is in the layers. Each piece of art is also a secret, a message meant only for those with eyes to see it. Now that the Baergen empire is diminished, its holds no longer filled with Tegluri slaves, the need for espionage and subterfuge has faded as well. But the art remains.
The cliffwitches of Kernow hang strings of shell and bone, sea glass and stone from the eaves of their huts. They sing their spells into the sweeping storms that pound the coast. Then, when they need them, the wind will bring their secrets back, tangled in the clacking of the chimes.
Life is to life, to grow to harmony. If you would live with the world, if you would shape it, you must let it shape you. Merge your mind with the soil and the wind and the water and you will understand the secret shape of the world.
From the teachings of Tol Som the Enlightened
Every garden is a miracle, but the gardens of wizards are libraries of miracles. The leaves and the seeds will share their wisdom with those who know how to seek it. This may explain why the High Wizard of Windholme is never seen with a spellbook, but nor is he seen without his long-stemmed pipe. Or perhaps why, when the Inquisitors offered the Grand Dame of the Silver College a last meal before her execution, she asked only for her tea. That is, of course, only rumor at best, there being so few survivors to question.
Wizards are like cooks. They work for hours to achieve moments, they constantly try new and weird things to improve their art, and they get really mad at you if you touch their stuff. Also, if either one screws up badly enough, someone could die. But the best ones can do some amazing things.
Mostly, though, I like the theory for the sour looks I get when I explain it to a new spellworm. But it’s true, too. And the best caster I ever served with was both. She’d make this jerky, smoked and spiced with the strangest stuff. She’d share some of the regular kind with the rest of us but every evening she’d pull out her own special pouch and just… chew. Knew another who would bake bread and listen hard to the birds that came to eat it. But the jerky wizard was the best. I asked her once about the special kind and she just grinned and let me try a taste. Never trust a grinning wizard. Damn. I came out of it an hour later but I still smell apples whenever someone slams a door.