5th Edition D&D Spellcasting

The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons remains my favorite iteration of the rules but the choice to crib from the best parts of four previous editions to craft a whole is not without consequences. Mainly, I find myself using rules from previous editions all the time and forgetting the subtle changes that have been added for this edition.  This is mainly a problem I’ve experienced as a DM as it is far easier to remember all of the new rules specific to a player character than it is to try and recall something specific for one of your players off the cuff.

One place I’ve run into this problem a lot is the realm of Spellcasting.  Playing a spellcaster is a role I’ve long enjoyed and thus I’ve played a lot of them across many versions of D&D. In 5th edition there are many instances where the differences between the modern version of a spellcaster and its older iteration are somewhat minute. So today I thought I would do a deeper delve into all of the magic slinging classes and suss out how exactly they function differently from one another. I figure I’ll take you all on the ride with me. It may help someone else and it will certainly help me ingrain it better.  That way the next time I roll up a random encounter with a spellcaster I’ll know just how they work!


Cantrips – A set of basic spells for nearly all the spellcasting classes, excluding only the Paladin and the Ranger.

Spells Known – Used to describe a situation where the spells are either memorized or just naturally known by the spellcaster. Individuals who use Spells known do not need to prepare a list of spells to pull from.

Prepared List – Some spellcasters need to prepare a list of spells to use after a long rest those spells will be chosen from either the full list of spells available at the highest level available to your character or from a spellbook.  The number of spells that can be prepared is derived from the Spellcaster’s chosen Spellcasting Ability’s modifier + the level of the Character.

Spellbook – Only necessary for a Wizard, it contains the list of spells available to prepare after a long rest.

Spell Slots – The number of spells that can be cast per day at varying spell levels.

Ritual Casting – Certain spells can be cast in a manner that takes 10 mins but when they are cast in this style it doesn’t use a Spell Slot.


There are a whopping eight classes, & two subclasses, that use some form of magic

Main Classes:

  • Bard – Relies on Cantrips Known, Spells Known, Rituals and Spell Slots
  • Cleric – Relies on Cantrips Known, A Prepared List, Rituals, Channel Divinity, and Spell Slots
  • Druid – Relies on Cantrips Known, A Prepared List, Druid Circles, Rituals, and Spell Slots
  • Paladin – Relies on A Prepared List, and Spell Slots
  • Ranger – Relies on Spells Known, and Spell Slots
  • Sorcerer – Relies on Cantrips Known, Spells Known, and Spell Slots
  • Warlock – Relies on Cantrips Known, Spells Known, Spell slots, and Invocations
  • Wizard – Relies on Cantrips Known, A Spellbook, A Prepared List, Rituals, Chosen School of Magic, and Spell Slots

Sub Classes:

  • Eldritch Knight (Fighter Martial Archetype) Relies on Cantrips Known, Spells Known, Spell Slots, and chooses spells from the Abjuration and Evocation spells available on the Wizard spell list.
  • Arcane Trickster (Roguish Archetype) Relies on Cantrips Known, Spells Known, Spell Slots, and chooses spells from the Enchantment and Illusion Spells avaliable on the Wizard spell list.

For the most part we see that spellcasters can be broken down into two varieties.  They either know their spell lists and can pull from them at will or they must prepare a group of spells to pull from after every long rest.  Within these two groups you have a few standout additional features. I stuck mostly to the ones that really added extra spellcasting.

  • The Cleric – Channel Divinity will mostly depend on what Divine Domain you choose but it will add more spells to the list a Cleric can choose from and will also allow for magic-like abilities that either have their own effects or pump up other spells.
  • The Druid – Once a Druid Circle is chosen it will add extra Spells to the list where spells are chosen and prepped from and will also grant some special abilities as well.
  • The Warlock –  Switches things up a bit for the Known Spells crowd by adding in its Invocations.  These are supremely handy spells that all have their own rules attributed to each one but many can be cast over like an additional cantrip.
  • The Wizard – Has the largest pool of spells to pick from for the Prepared Spells crowd, but is limited by its Spellbook.  While Clerics, Druids, and Paladins can pull from any spell on their spell lists (level appropriate) the Wizard has to choose what spells go into their Spellbook to be further chosen for a prepared list. That spellbook helps with Rituals though as the Wizard can choose any spell from their Spellbook to cast as a ritual (provided it can be cast in that way). Finally, the Wizard can also perform any number of interesting extra magical feats based on their chosen school of magic, there are a lot of interesting choices there.

Obviously every spellcasting class has some of its own variations that makes it unique, but these are the mainstays for how they work.  5th Edition is fantastic for making classes feel unique while utilizing a slimmed down structure of how they function at the core.  Like I said above, at its simplest a Spellcasting class is either a “Preparer” or a “Knower” and that is the main thing you should try to get to know about them before going into using a class.

I hope the small list above can help someone keep them straight or even be used as a quick reference tool without having to flip through pages to recall whether your Bard Goblin gets to use Cantrips or not.  I know it has helped me to put this all down.  I imagine we will see at least one new style of casting in the future, Psionics, so I’ll hopefully add that here when it makes an appearance. Let me know in the comments if you feel I could add more detail to a certain portion, or if I forgot anything crucial.  To access the comments you have to click the word bubble on the top right of this page.

Goodbye and great gaming folks!


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