In honor of both the new Elemental Evil Player’s Companion book releasing in a free PDF (which is full of new spells), and rolling up my first character for a 5e campaign (a Warlock), here are some of the big things you need to know about playing a spellcaster in 5e if you’re familiar with previous editions.
Almost Everybody Has the Option to Cast Spells Now
Not just the classics like Clerics and Wizards, even Fighters and Rogues can get a spell list if they pick the option to do so at the appropriate levels. There are even feats to pick up cantrips and rituals if you want just a touch of spellcasting to your character.
Likewise, even if you don’t go down a path with a spell list, other character options get abilities that work like spells. That may be a part of your racial abilities (like the Forest Gnome) or part of the character class (the Way of the Four Elements Monk.)
The Major Spellcasting Classes All Work A Bit Differently, But Similarly Enough to Trip You Up
Preparing and casting spells has been streamlined overall, but the complexity has been pushed to the individual classes and how they cast. The feel of each class has been preserved, and sleeping is still how classes tend to get spells back. The way key spellcasting numbers are calculated is similar. From there, the classes begin to diverge.
- Wizards have a limited number of spells in their spellbook, from which they prepare which spells they have access to for the day, and they have a certain number of slots per level to cast them.
- Clerics have all the cleric spells to choose from to decide what to prepare, plus their domain spells they always have prepared, with a limited number of spell slots per level to cast them.
- Druids operate similarly to Clerics, but use their circles instead of domains.
- Sorcerers have a limited number of spells, which are all always prepared, and they have a certain number of slots per level to cast them. They also have spell points to regain spells or use other abilities, and they can burn spell slots to gain more spell points.
- Warlocks have an extremely limited number of spells, which are all always prepared, and a very limited number of slots (all used at their highest level) to cast them. However, they regain their spell slots during either a short or long rest. They also are likely to get a number of other spells from their pacts, invocations, and so on.
- Paladins cast spells like a Cleric.
- Rangers cast spells like Druids.
- Bards, Rogue Arcane Tricksters, and Fighter Eldritch Knights work like Sorcerers, without the spell points.
- Barbarians don’t cast spells. You’ll just have to settle for raging.
It’s Not Quite Vancian as We Remember It, And That’s a Good Thing
Between the preparation system and rituals, the days of needing to determine just how many utility spells were needed for a day is largely over. A wizard can have feather fall prepared, and never cast it, but not have it feel like a waste if it doesn’t come up, since that spell slot can just be used for something else. Likewise niche utility spells like Comprehend Languages can come out to play more often, without being too overpowering. I’m glad I no longer have to decide exactly how many Magic Missiles I’ll need for a day: I know I’ll have it as a backup, and it still presents me with hard choices about what to cast and when.
Concentration is Important
It’s important to note in the spell descriptions if a spell requires concentration. You can only be concentrating on one spell at a time (which prevents some of the worst multiple buff spell abuses of previous editions), and so it’s important to note when in that critical fight if you have to give something up in order to put up a new spell. You also have to roll to maintain concentration when taking damage.
Spell Attack vs. Spell Saving Throw
Spell attack rolls are rolled by you, the caster, using your spell attack bonus, against the target’s AC. Like other attacks, that means you can benefit from things like Advantage to get double the rolls.
Saving throws are rolled by the target, trying to beat your saving throw difficulty class number. It’s not a roll by you, so you can’t benefit from advantage on it (unless the GM allows it). However, a lot of saving throw damage spells have an effect even if the target saves.
Some Abilities Are Now Spells
Especially if you’re used to 4e D&D, you’ll find that some of the class abilities there have been folded into spells, and they’re not automatic for the class. For example, Ranger’s Hunters Quarry is now a spell called Hunter’s Mark, and the Warlock’s Curse power is now a spell called Hex.
Any other tips you have for 5e spellcasters?