One of the many distinctive elements in DnD that may be somewhat perplexing for novice players is spellcasting. Although it’s true that spells are fun to use once you understand how they function, it’s fair that players could have concerns at first.
So let’s get down to business. How do spells in 5e Dungeons and Dragons actually function?
- How do spells work in dnd 5e?
- Spell components and why should you pay attention
- What are 9 schools of magic in 5e?
- Types of spells in 5e
- Different types of Spellcasters in D&D 5e?
- Different Spellcasting classes in D&D
- Can you learn new spells in D&D 5e?
- How do spell slots work in D&D 5e?
- Can you cast multiple spells?
Magical effects that characters and monsters can create are called spells. Spells have various effects depending on what they are, and these effects can take many different shapes. Today we will specifically focus on spells, not magic overall. It is important because many magical effects in D&D are not considered spells.
Here’s everything that you need to know about spellcasting in D&D 5e.
How do spells work in dnd 5e?
It’s important to realize that spells have levels ranging from 0 to 9. In contrast to a level 9 spell that are almost world shaping powers, a level 0 spell is relatively weak but can be cast at whim. Each spellcaster gains access to spell levels at a different rate, but generally around 5th class level, spellcasting becomes really powerful (e.g. classic Fireball).
It is worth mentioning that level 0 spells (also called cantrips) are bread and butter of every spellcaster and thanks to their scaling are mostly reliable for the whole character progression.
Higher-level spells typically don’t become available to characters until much later in the game, however it is worth the wait (or grind, depending on your DM).
There is a limit to the number of spells you know and can use.
To cast a spell you need a Spell slots. The spell slots figure isn’t constant, as it differs depending on the class. For instance, Bards and Wizards are “complete casters” and have a large number of spell slots, whereas other classes have fewer. We will go into details about the spell slots later in this article.
Spell components and why should you pay attention
Components are also needed to cast spells. These elements can be divided into three groups: verbal (V), somatic (S), and material (M). By reading its description, you can see what kind of component you need to cast a spell.
Spells verbal components
Verbal component means you have to say a word or a whole incantation out loud. A matter of volume often comes up, especially when you want to cast your spells without everyone else knowing about it. As a DM I tend to be rather forgiving when it comes to this, but even whispers are audible in total silence so keep that in mind.
A verbal component to the spell can be a quick command (like in Harry Potter) or a long litany of words or a song, that allow you to keep the spell alive (similar to Saruman in Lord of the Rings)
Spells somatic components
Somatic component indicates a specific gesture or movement that has to be performed in order to cast a spell. In a way, that is the most obscure component on the list because the game itself doesn’t specify the gesture nor it hints on what it should be. This allows for a total creative freedom. It can vary from simple pointing a finger to a complicated body movement.
Spells material components
Material components are physical objects required to cast the spell. Some of them, especially on higher levels, are labeled with the cost per material. This builds an interesting dynamic between spellcaster choices and preparation. The most iconic example is a 300 worth of gold diamond for Revivify spell. Depending on the type of setting and adventure, finding components for a spell can be a part of the quest itself.
A spellcaster can also substitute a none-cost material component with a magic focus – an item such as staff, wand or rod, that is designed to be the physical aspect of spellcasting.
For a lot of players components may seem to be a hindrance at first, but in fact they can provide a great source of inspiration for flavouring the casting and turning each spell on their list into something unique.
What are 9 schools of magic in 5e?
Canonically the spells are separated into schools – Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Evocation, Necromancy, Illusion, Transmutation and Enchantment. In general these categories give a glimpse into what you can expect from the spells belonging to the particular school but it is hardly a clear division.
Abjuration spells are protective in nature, though some of them have aggressive uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm trespassers, or banish creatures to other planes of existence.
Conjuration spells involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some conjurations create objects or effects out of nothing.
Divination spells reveal information, whether in the form of secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden things, the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places.
Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a friend, force creatures to take a course of action, or even control another creature like a puppet.
Evocation spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds.
Illusion spells deceive the senses or minds of others. They cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that are there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened. Some illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature.
Necromancy spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life.
Transmutation spells change the properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy into a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move at the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to rapidly recover from injury.
Types of spells in 5e
Otherwise we could divide the spells into more functional roles such as Debuff spells, buff spells, destructive spells, healing spells, and utility spells. Here are some of their broad traits.
- Damage-dealing spells – These offensive spells are frequently simple in their purpose: to harm foes. Spells that are meant to deal damage e.g. Call Lightning, Eldritch Blast
- Healing spells: Characters can use healing spells to replenish lost hit points. A broad category of regeneration, wound healing, status recovery or bringing from the brink of death – e.g. Cure Wounds, Lesser Restoration
- Debuff Spells – Spells that “debuff” an enemy does not always do harm to them, but they do place them in unfavorable conditions. Debuff spells, for instance, can make them blind, tired, or cursed e.g. Bane, Slow
- Buff Spells: Spells with a boost effect are the reverse of spells with a negative impact in that they are intended to benefit both the caster and their allies. These buffs might result in stat boosts and other benefits – e.g. Heroism, Bless.
- Utility Spells: Spells that serve as useful tools but do not fit into the other categories are known as utility spells. Since they may offer shortcuts, positional advantages over foes, and more, these spells are often quite beneficial to have e.g. Water walk, Fly
Additionally, several spells straddle the categories. Perhaps they provide advantages in more than one category e.g. Hunger of Hadar, Psychic Scream.
Different types of Spellcasters in D&D 5e?
D&D spellcasters vary in skills, sources of magic and how they utilize spells. In many builds, tutorial or otherwise helping materials you can find a non-canonical, but functional typology of spellcasters.
The spellcasters in D&D 5e generally fall into one of three categories:
- Full Caster
- a half cast
- 1/3 Casters
In D&D 5e, Full Casters can use their allotted Spell Slots. The Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, and Wizard are some of these classes. For those, spells are the main axis upon which they interact with the game world.
Half Casters receive around half as many spell slots as Full Casters do. The Paladin and Ranger are two of these classes. They can use magic in proficient and useful way, but without spending a single spell slot you can still keep the hero impactful and strong.
Partial Casters, commonly referred to as 1/3 Casters, receive around one-third as many spell slots as Full Casters. Although the Artificer is the sole base class of this sort, the Arcane Trickster Rogue and Eldritch Knight Fighter subclasses were the first to use this kind of spellcaster. Although the magic in such classes might look underwhelming at the first glance, a clever use of spell slots here and there can be a game changer.
Different Spellcasting classes in D&D
The D&D 5e spellcasting classes are as follows:
- Fighter (Eldritch Knight Archetype)
- Rogue (Arcane Trickster Archetype)
Here is a brief explanation of each spellcasting class in D&D 5e, along with their focus and specialization.
- Artificer: Although this class is not a full caster, its power lies in creating magic objects. The Alchemist, Armorer, Artillerist, and Battle Smith are some of its Specialist subclasses. This class’s spellcasting ability is Intelligence.
- Bard: The bard influences the world with its preferable artform such as a song, diction, and storytelling or dancing. Creation, Eloquence, Glamour, Lore, Swords, Valor, and Whispers are some of Bards Colleges (subclasses). Charisma is the spellcasting ability used by this class.
- Cleric: Clerics perform divine spells using the strength of gods or their faith. Forge, Grave, Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Order, Peace, Tempest, Trickery, Twilight, and War are some of their domains. This class’s spellcasting ability is wisdom.
- Druid: Druid Magic is derived by druids from the natural world. The Dreams, Land, Moon, Shepherd, Spores, Stars, and Wildfire subclasses of their Circles. This class’s spellcasting ability is wisdom.
- Fighter (Eldritch Knight): Eldritch Knight, a 1/3 Caster, is the Fighter Archetype, giving the class some magic to support their skill in combat. This subclass utilizes Intelligence as its spellcasting ability and draws from the Wizard spellbook.
- Paladin: Half-Casters who channel strength from the divine or from their own steadfast faith in their pledge are known as paladins. Ancients, Conquest, Devotion, Glory, Redemption, Vengeance, and Watchers are some of their Sacred Oaths subclasses. Charisma is the spellcasting ability used by this class.
- Ranger: Half Casters, known as Ranger Rangers, use the natural energy of the environment to cast their magic. Beast Master, Fey Wanderer, Gloom Stalker, Horizon Walker, Hunter, Monster Slayer, and Swarmkeeper are some of their subclasses or Archetypes. This class’s spellcasting ability is wisdom.
- Rogue: The 1/3 Caster Arcane Trickster lends the character considerable magical usefulness. This subclass utilizes Intelligence as its spellcasting ability and draws from the Wizard spellbook.
- Sorcerer: Sorcerers have the innate ability to use magic because of their ancestry or because of a supernatural blessing or curse put upon them or their kin. Aberrant Mind, Clockwork Soul, Divine Soul, Draconic Bloodline, Shadow Magic, Storm Sorcery, and Wild Magic are some of its subclasses, which are referred to as Origins. This class casts spells using Charisma.
- Warlock: A supernatural being known as a patron provides magic to warlocks. The Archfey, Celestial, Fathomless, Fiend, Genie, Great Old One, and Hexblade are some examples of their subclasses, collectively known as Otherworldly Patrons. Charisma is the spellcasting ability used by this class.
- Wizard: Wizards are knowledgeable students of the arcane arts who practice magic as a hobby and learn spells through study. Abjuration, Bladesinging, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Order of Scribe, Transmutation, and War Magic are some of their Arcane Traditions subclasses. This class’s spellcasting ability is Intelligence.
Can you learn new spells in D&D 5e?
Yes, classes can pick up new spells when you play with them. The class determines exactly how a character learns new spells. For instance, although clerics can learn spells by praying to their god, wizards can acquire spells by reading from books and transcribing spell scrolls.
Characters typically acquire spells as they advance in level. You may also find your class’s spell development in the Player’s Handbook.
Note that in different books like Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, the rules of learning or preparing spells can differ from those in the PHB. For instance, traditionally Warlocks can change their spells only once they level up and not more than one per level. Tasha’s however introduced the possibility to change one spell each time a Warlock takes a long rest. It is entirely up to you and the DM on how you want to approach the spell learning process.
Apart from the mechanical aspect of learning a new spell, implementing a new spell as a goal of a quest can be very rewarding. It can work especially well with Wizards due to their nature of learning, however I can see each and every spellcaster going through their own personal quest in order to acquire the new magical powers.
How do spell slots work in D&D 5e?
How many spells a spellcaster may cast at once depends on their available spell slots. They have levels that correspond to a spell’s power. A spellcaster has a certain number of leveled spell slots and increases that number as they level.
In general, spell slots serve as a spellcaster’s magic resource. A creature can only cast that many spells of that level at once because they have a limited amount of Spell Slots at each level.
Levels for spell slots range from 1 to 9. Due to the increase in spell complexity, spellcasters also receive much fewer high-level spell slots.
It implies that spellcasters can only use a certain amount of leveled spells daily. Fortunately, Cantrips have no daily usage cap, so you won’t feel utterly powerless even after using up all of your Spell Slots.
Let's go through an example. A third-level wizard has two 2nd-level spell slots and four 1st-level spell slots. They can only cast two 2nd-level spells and four 1st-level spells at a time before needing to rest. But they are still able to cast cantrips.
If you enjoy playing fantasy video games, consider mana or any other magic-using resource while thinking of Spell Slots. When you run out, you cannot continue casting spells since you require it. But have no fear, there is a solution to that as well. Spell Scrolls can be a great addition to the game, because they allow spellcasters to use spells without expanding any spell slots.
Apart from finding Spell Scrolls in a treasure vault or in the magic store, you might wanna invest in creating spell scrolls yourself.
In some situations it is possible to upcast the spell which means you cast a weaker spell but by expanding a higher level spell slot. In many cases, when upcasting a spell, it gains some kind of buff – whether it is an increase in damage or possibility to pick an additional target of the spell.
Here is an example.
A cleric might cast a Bless spell (1st level spell) on 3rd level, by expanding the 3rd level spell slot. In doing so, the cleric can choose instead of 3 creatures to put the Bless effect on, up to 5 creatures.
Upcasting can be a strategic decision or necessity when lower spell slots have been expanded.
Can you cast multiple spells?
Normally, you are only allowed to cast one Spell per turn. Even if the two spells you plan to cast utilize an Action for one and a Bonus Action for the other, this rule still holds true. The most typical exception is that if one is an Action and the other a Bonus Action, you may cast a spell and a cantrip.
The action economy cost is not a very straightforward element of spell design, but in general it serves to balance some smaller spells like Healing Word that might not be very powerful healing spells but can be a game changer in the battle nonetheless. To put it straight, it would be quite strong if you cast multiple spells throughout your turn. To maintain balance, you usually aren’t allowed to perform more than one Spell during a round.
Now, as a sort of exemption, you are permitted to cast a Cantrip and a spell simultaneously, provided that one of them uses an Action and the other a Bonus. For instance, a Light Domain Cleric might cast both sacred flame (1 action – Cantrip) and healing word (1 bonus action – 1st level spell) on the same turn.
Multiclassing while taking two Fighter levels to unlock the Action Surge function is the most extreme case exception. With this feature, you can perform a second Action during your turn, allowing you to cast two spells (or two Cantrips) that require an Action.
Spellcasting is essentially the process of employing magic. It is important to know your spellcasting ability and how it impacts your spell attack modifier and spell save DC. You should also be familiar with the different spellcasting classes to create your chosen character. Sometimes a magician doesn’t necessarily have to be a wizard, and a shaman in the village doesn’t have to be a warlock. Playing around with themes, mechanics and spell choices can create a fairly unique hero.
Now, if you’re completely new to D&D, I suggest against creating a character that solely relies on spells. Perhaps an introduction to spells with half caster or ⅓ caster can be a good choice. That being said, if you are totally in love with the fantasy of being a wizard, go for it. It is fun as hell and despite the often hard first few levels, spellcasters absolutely dominate the battlefield later on in the game.
Oh, and by the way. Obviously Warlock is the best spellcaster out there. Just saying.