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When you plant bookcases near an enchanting table, it increases its power because of magics. What does this actually mean when I go to enchant items? If I have more bookcases will my enchantments, other things equal, be better, or does it just raise the limit on possible enchantments?

And more nitpicky, what about the "between" cases: There are overlapping ranges where you can get (for example) Sharpness II and III (lets pretend 15-18). If the presented enchantments were between 15 and 18 levels, would it be impossible to get III without X bookcases?

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Bookshelves increase the level of enchantments you can put on your items. For instance, without any bookshelves, you can only use enchantments from around levels 1-5. However, if you add more bookcases, you can use higher level enchantments. A table with 6 bookshelves will allow level 14 recipes. A table with 30 shelves will let you use level 50 recipes.

Enchantments have levels, and these levels are drawn from your current XP level. For instance, purchasing a level 5 enchantment will bring you down 5 levels. However if you do not have five levels, then you cannot buy the enchantment.

Link to table of enchantments and their levels

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You didn't really answer question as to if there is a different cutoff between enchantment level and levels spent on an enchantment –  Nick T Nov 26 '11 at 17:36
    
@NiQAlas Bookshelves only change the level of enchantments available. So no, there's no extra minimum bookshelves required to get a Sharpness III, beyond the simple need to access a high enough level of enchantment. The roman numerals are also not called enchantment levels, which might be the confusion. Enchantment levels and "levels spent" are the same thing. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 15 '12 at 4:46
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