[RPG] the history behind the “single-use spell scroll”


The concept of a spell being stored on a scroll, which can be used once and then vanishes, shows up in numerous tabletop and video game RPGs. From a game design perspective, the idea of a one-use spell is sensible. But considering that the whole idea of writing is to record information permanently, the idea that a single-use spell should take the form of a scroll of all things is kind of unintuitive. What's the history behind this idea? Is it based off of some old mythology or folklore, or was it a later invention?

Best Answer

As per this SF&F SE question, an earlier example might be The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924), by Lord Dunsany.

Moreover, over the course of the novel, the King of Elfland uses all three master-runes to effect magical changes that encompass both Elfland and Erl. And once each rune is used, it is gone, not to be used again. After initially holding back, the King finally starts using the master-runes to try to prevent his daughter's departure from Elfland:

They rushed forward, he taking her hand; the Elf King lifted his beard, and just as he began to intone a rune that only once may be uttered, against which nothing from our fields can avail, they were through the frontier of twilight, and the rune shook and troubled those lands in which Lirazel walked no longer.

Dunsany was listed in Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading, from the first edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide as one of the sources that contributed to Gygax's development of the game, so he was almost certainly familiar with The King of Elfland's Daughter.