How Spellcasting Works in D&D 5e, Photo Sketch of a Woman Casting a Spell

How D&D Spellcasting Works

Magic is a staple in almost any fantasy tabletop roleplaying game. That remains true for spellcasters in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

But, spellcasting in D&D can seem like an overly complex system to new players and Game Masters.

How do you cast a spell? What are Spell Slots? How do you determine your Spellcasting Ability? What are components? How does Concentration work?

This beginner’s guide to spellcasting in D&D 5e helps clear up any questions you may have so you can start slinging spells around with the best of them.

Table of Contents

Let’s start things off with what spellcasting even is and how to cast a spell in D&D 5e.

Spellcasting in D&D 5e

5e Spellcasting, Photo Sketch of an Open Spellbook
Spellcasting in 5e is the act of using magic allowed by certain monsters & playable classes

Spellcasting in D&D is the act of producing magical effects. This often takes the form of spells meant to cause harm to a creature. But, it also includes magic that heals, hinders, or improves the abilities of a target, among many other things.

That’s the simplest answer.

Now, there’s a lot that goes into casting a spell in 5e. This article gets into each aspect of spellcasting to make things a bit easier for you. But, the basics of how to cast a spell are pretty easy.

How to Cast a Spell in D&D 5e

  1. Decide which spell you want to cast
  2. Check if the spell is an Action, Bonus Action, or Reaction
  3. Make sure you have the right Components
  4. See if you have an available Spell Slot
  5. Roll any dice required (you roll for a Spell Attack or force the target creature to roll a Saving Throw)
  6. Resolve the effects of the spell

There’s plenty that goes on before, during, and after casting a spell. But, that’s the basics of it.

Can You Cast Multiple Spells?

Usually, you can not cast more than one spell on your turn. This rule applies even if the two spells you wish to cast use an Action for one and a Bonus Action for the other. The most common exception is you may cast a spell and a Cantrip if one is an Action and the other a Bonus Action.

To put it bluntly; casting more than one spell on your turn would be very strong. So, to keep things balanced, you typically can’t cast more than one spell on your turn.

Now, as an exception of sorts, you can cast a Cantrip and a spell on the same turn as long as one of them uses an Action and the other uses a Bonus Action. So, you can’t cast these if they both use an Action or both use a Bonus Action.

For example, a Cleric with the Light Domain could cast healing word, a 1st-level bonus action spell, and sacred flame, an action Cantrip, on the same turn.

The more edge-case exception is multiclassing and taking two levels in Fighter to get the Action Surge feature. This feature lets you take a second Action on your turn which means you can cast two spells (or two Cantrips) that use an Action.

Types of D&D Spells

Photo Sketch of Tarot Cards Layed Out on a Table
D&D 5e has spells that require Spell Slots, sometimes called "Leveled Spells", & Cantrips, magical effects that don’t require a Spell Slot to use

Spells in D&D 5e fall into one of two categories; Cantrips or Leveled Spells.

This distinction is very important for spellcasters to manage what they can do on any given turn. Leveled Spells require the use of Spell Slots which means you have a limited number of uses of them for any given day. On the other hand, Cantrips don’t use Spell Slots so you can cast as many as you want between rests.

Cantrips in D&D 5e are spells that don’t require a Spell Slot. Basically, a spellcaster knows these minor spells to such a degree that they don’t need to expend a Spell Slot to cast them. The drawback is they are often much weaker in their effects when compared to Leveled Spells.
Leveled Spells
Leveled Spells require the expenditure of a Spell Slot. These are more powerful spells that drain a caster’s available resources.

Now, usually you wouldn’t refer to Cantrips as "spells" since they don’t use a Spell Slot. You’d simply call them "Cantrips", but for this distinction, it might be a bit easier to think of them as 0-level spells.

Now, D&D 5e has its own classification for spells called Schools. These Schools help in grouping spells with similar effects so you can build out characters that specialize in a type of magic. Each school has its exceptions, but they generally group like spells together.

The Schools of magic in D&D 5e include:

  • Abjuration: Defensive spells
  • Conjuration: Summoning and teleportation spells
  • Divination: Foresight and scrying spells
  • Enchantment: Mind-altering spells
  • Evocation: Damaging and healing spells
  • Illusion: Magical illusion spells
  • Necromancy: Spells that raise the dead and manipulate life force
  • Transmutation: Spells that alter a creature’s or object’s form

Like I said, these are general rules. But, each school of magic has its exceptions…and some contradictions. So, don’t be surprised that hex is an Enchantment spell but hunter’s mark is divination.

Understanding the difference in spell types helps you know better what your character is capable of in any given scenario. So, having a general idea of Cantrips, Leveled Spells, and the Schools of magic makes you a better spellcaster.

Types of Spellcasters in 5e

Photo Sketch of a Cloaked Woman In a Forest Casting a Spell
Not every playable class is capable of spellcasting, there are specific classes that wield magic as part of their abilities

Outside how the playable classes differ from each other, D&D spellcasters consist of different types of casters. Each type has a

D&D 5e’s spellcasters fall into essentially one of three types:

  • Full Casters
  • Half Casters
  • 1/3 Casters

Now, the Warlock has it’s own type of magic called Pact Magic. This limits the number of total spell slots a Warlock gets which makes the class a bit different from other spellcasters. But, I’ll get to that a bit later.

That said, the three types of spellcasters in 5e differ from each other in the number of spells and Spell Slots they have (we’ll get to Spell Slots in a bit).

Full Caster
Full Casters in D&D 5e have the full amount of Spell Slots available to them. These classes include the Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, and Wizard.
Half Caster
Half Casters get roughly half the number of Spell Slots at Full Casters. These classes include the Paladin and Ranger.
1/3 Caster
1/3 Casters, also known as Partial Casters, get roughly one-third of the Spell Slots as Full Casters. The only base class of this type is the Artificer, but the Eldritch Knight Fighter and Arcane Trickster Rogue subclasses were the first instances of this type of spellcaster.

It’s honestly as simple as that. The type of caster you play is determined by the number total Spell Slots they get.

Does this have a huge impact on play?

Honestly, not really. It’s more beneficial as a measurement to figure out what kind of character you want to play. If you want to play the classic spellcaster, throwing spells around with reckless abandon, you probably shouldn’t play a 1/3 or Half Caster.

As you’ve probably noticed, determining your caster type depends on which class you play. So, let’s go over the spellcasting classes in D&D 5e.

How Spell Slots Work in 5e

Photo Sketch of an Open Book Spilling Magical Energy Atop a Pedestal
Spell Slots are the resource required to cast spells in D&D 5e

Spell Slots dictate how many spells a spellcaster can use at any given time. They have levels that correlate with the strength of a spell. So, a spellcaster has a certain number of leveled Spell Slots and gain more as they level up.

So, how do Spell Slots work in D&D 5e?

Well, Spell Slots are basically a spellcasters resource for their magic. A creature has a certain number of Spell Slots of a specific level which means they can only cast that many spells of that level at any given time.

Spell Slots range in level from 1-9. 1st-level spells are stronger than Cantrips but are much weaker than 9th-level spells. Spellcasters also get considerably fewer, high-level spell slots because of the increase in power.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, it means spellcasters can only cast a limited number of leveled spells every day. Luckily, Cantrips have no limit on daily usage, so you won’t feel completely useless once you’ve used up all your Spell Slots.

Let’s go over an example.

A 3rd-level Wizard has four 1st-level and two 2nd-level Spell Slots. So, they can only cast four 1st-level and two 2nd-level spells before needing a rest. But, they can keep casting Cantrips.

If you play fantasy video games, think of Spell Slots like mana or whatever other magic-using resource. You need it to cast spells and when you run out, you can’t cast anymore.

Casting Spells at Higher Levels

Spellcasters in D&D 5e may cast lower-level spells using higher-level Spell Slots. This often confers a boost in power for those spells. You may not cast higher-level spells using lower-level Spell Slots, though.

One thing to remember is that spellcasters can elect to use a higher-level Spell Slot for lower-level spells. This is sometimes called "up-casting".

Many spells get a power boost when cast with a higher-level Spell Slot; dealing more damage, extending the spell’s range, or bestowing additional hit points.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Healing word is a 1st-level spell. So, it requires at least one 1st-level Spell Slot to cast. But, you can cast it using a 2nd, 3rd, all the way up to 9th-level Spell Slot instead. For each level above 1st, healing word heals an additional 1d4 damage. So, by using a 2nd-level Spell Slot, healing word heals 2d4 + your Spellcasting Ability Modifier, 3d4 for a 3rd-level Spell Slot, and so on.

Now, not all spells benefit from up-casting. Meaning they don’t receive extra power. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a higher-level Spell Slot if you’re out of the minimum level for that spell.

This all said, you can’t cast a higher-level spell using a lower-level Spell Slot. For example, you can’t cast fireball, a 3rd-level spell, with a 2nd-level Spell Slot.

D&D 5e Spellcasting Ability

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Each magic-using class uses a specific Ability Score as its Spellcasting Ability to determine how capable they are at casting spells

Every spellcaster in D&D 5e uses a specific Spellcasting Ability to determine their Spell Attack Bonus and Spell Saving Throw Difficulty Class (DC). The Spellcasting Ability is one of three from the Ability Scores found in 5e; Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.

Spellcasting in 5e requires the use of one of D&D’s Ability Scores as a Spellcasting Ability. This number dictates how effective at casting you are, the number of spells you can prepare, and how hard your spells are to avoid.

Each spellcasting class uses one of three Ability Scores as their Spellcasting Ability; Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.

  • Intelligence: Artificer, Fighter (Eldritch Knight), Rogue (Arcane Trickster), Wizard
  • Wisdom: Cleric, Druid, Ranger
  • Charisma: Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer, Warlock

Now, you’ll use your corresponding Spellcasting Ability to determine three things: your Spell Attack Bonus, Spell Saving Throw DC, and number of Prepared Spells.

D&D Spellcasting Attack Bonus

Your Spell Attack Bonus comes from calculating your class’ Spellcasting Ability modifier and your Proficiency Bonus.

Like regular attack bonuses, you determine your Spell Attack Bonus by adding your Spellcasting Ability modifier with your Proficiency Bonus. Your modifier comes from your corresponding Ability Score and your Proficiency Bonus comes from your character’s total level.

For example, a 3rd-level Wizard with a 16 in Intelligence has a +3 for the Spellcasting Ability modifier and +2 as their Proficiency Bonus. So, their Spell Attack Bonus is +5.

Spell Saving Throw Difficulty Class

Spellcasters in D&D 5e have a Spell Saving Throw Difficulty Class (DC) that determines how hard it is to resist a given spell’s effect.

To determine your Spell Saving Throw Difficulty Class, shortened to Spell Save DC, you use the following formula:

Spell Save DC = 8 + Spellcasting Ability + Proficiency Bonus

Whenever you cast a spell that forces any kind of saving throw, the target affected by the spell needs to match or exceed your Spell Save DC to succeed. This is one reason why knowing your Spellcasting Ability and Proficiency is important if you’re playing a spellcaster.

For example, if a 1st-level Wizard with a 16 in Intelligence casts the friends Cantrip, the target of the Cantrip makes a DC 13 (8 + 3 from Intelligence + 2 Proficiency Bonus) Wisdom saving throw. The target rolls a total of 13. Since this meets the Spell Save DC, the target succeeds and doesn’t suffer the effects of the friends Cantrip.

Known vs Prepared Spells

Photo Sketch of a Spellcaster's Study
A spellcaster has a list of either Known or Prepared spells available to them each day

An important distinction in 5e’s spellcasting system is the difference between Known and Prepared spells. In essence, Known and Prepared spells achieve the same thing; they make up the spells a creature has readied on any given day.

Honestly, the distinction isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s mostly semantic with only the slightest mechanical differences. And, it might just be a bit confusing when you’re starting out playing D&D 5e.

Known Spells

Some spellcasting classes in 5e have Known spells. These classes inherently understand what spells they have available to them at any given time and can sometimes switch out spells at specific times.

Usually, spellcasters that have Known spells draw their magic from natural or divine means. This basically means they just know what spells they can cast for the day.

Also, casting classes that use Known spells typically have a limited number set by their class’ unique Spellcasting feature.

Classes that use Known spells include:

  • Bard
  • Fighter (Eldritch Knight)
  • Ranger
  • Rogue (Arcane Trickster)
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock

You can sometimes change your Known spells depending on which class you play. For example, the Sorcerer can switch out one Known spell when they level up for another. Many of the other classes use a similar mechanic for changing their Known spells.

Prepared Spells

Some spellcasting classes prepare a list of spells each day, giving them better day-to-day versatility. These classes have Prepared spells.

These casters often have the ability to ready more spells per day than the other classes. But, this comes at the cost of having to do math.

To prepare a list of spells, you use the following formula:

Number of Prepared Spells = Your Class’ Level + Spellcasting Ability Modifier

For example, a 3rd-level Cleric with a 16 in Wisdom (+3 modifier) prepares six spells after finishing a long rest.

Also, unlike classes that have Known spells, spellcasters that use a Prepared spell list can change their list of Prepared spells after completing a long rest. Even better, they can change out their entire list of spells as opposed to only one per level up. The trade off is these spellcasters need to spend one minute per every spell’s level to change them out.

Classes that use Prepared spells include:

  • Artificer
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Paladin
  • Wizard

Now, of course, each class has it’s differences. For example, the Wizard follows the normal rules for Preparing spells but have a limited number of available spells in their Spellbook. But, the Cleric has the full extent of their spell list available to prepare each day.

5e Spellcasting Components

Photo Sketch of Various Spellcasting Components
Spellcasting in D&D 5e uses a combination of Material, Somatic, & Verbal components to use magic

Every spell and Cantrip in D&D 5e uses a combination of components required for casting. These components include Material, Somatic, and Verbal.

Not every spell uses all three components. Rather, each one uses a combination of one, two, or all three components.

If a spellcaster is unable to perform a required spell component, they can not cast spells using that given component. So, for example, a spellcaster within the area of effect of the silence spell can’t cast spells that require Verbal components.

Material (M)

Material components in D&D 5e are the physical supplies needed for casting a spell or Cantrip. Most of these components can be replaced if a spellcaster is able to use a Spellcasting Focus unless the material has a monetary value stated in the spell.

Some spells require specific Material components to cast. There supplies vary from relatively mundane like two lodestones for the mending Cantrip to exotic like bat guano and sulfur for the fireball spell.

The real kicker is the spells that require components with specific monetary value. Spells like revivify and heroes’ feast list Material components with a gold value. These supplies are special in how they interact with a Spellcasting Focus which we’ll get into a bit later.

Somatic (S)

Somatic components in D&D 5e are the motions required to cast a spell. These include hand motions, drawing arcane sigils, and other movements unique to each spell.

Spells that require a Somatic component involve performing specific movements as part of their casting. This often means a spellcaster needs at least one hand free to cast these spells.

If a spellcaster becomes unable to perform these movements, like through binding their hands and fingers, they can’t cast spells that require Somatic components.

Verbal (V)

Verbal components in D&D 5e include the spoken words, commands, and incantations required to cast a given spell.

Many spells require some sort of incantation as part of their casting. The language rarely matters. What matters is the ability to clearly speak aloud the commands or phrases.

This means that if a spellcaster becomes incapable of speech with clear diction, like standing in an area affected by the silence spell or gagged by cloth, they can’t cast spells that require a Verbal component.

How a Spellcasting Focus Works in 5e

Photo Sketch of a Crowned Spellcasting Woman Wielding a Wand
Some classes may use a Spellcasting Focus to remove common Material Spellcasting Components

A Spellcasting or Arcane Focus in D&D 5e is a tool used by spellcasters to forego most Material component requirements.

That’s pretty much all a Spellcasting Focus does.

Certain spells call for Material components as mentioned above. A spellcaster can either have a Component Pouch that contains the supplies they need for their various spells or they may elect to use a Spellcasting Focus to ignore most of the Material components needed.

For example, the friends Cantrip has the Material component "a small amount of makeup applied to the face as this spell is cast". Now, you can either follow this with by using a Component Pouch that includes the makeup, or you ignore this by using a Spellcasting Focus.

Now, there is an exception to using a Spellcasting Focus in lieu of actual Material components. If a spell lists a Material component with a monetary value (usually in Gold Pieces or GP), you must have that component to cast the spell regardless if you’re using a Spellcasting Focus.

So, as an example, the revivify spell requires "diamonds worth 300 gp, which the spell consumes". A spellcaster who wishes to cast revivify can’t forego the Material components with a Spellcasting Focus because the spell lists an explicit monetary value of 300 gp. So, the caster must have 300 gold worth of diamonds on hand to cast it. No exceptions.

It’s important to mention that not every class can use a Spellcasting Focus, they need a specific item or items as their focus, or use a Holy Symbol instead. These classes include:

  • Artificer: use Thieves’ Tools or one of the Artisan’s Tools
  • Bard: use a musical instrument
  • Cleric: use a Holy Symbol
  • Druid: use a Druidic Focus
  • Fighter (Eldritch Knight): may not use a Focus
  • Paladin: use a Holy Symbol
  • Ranger: may not use a Focus
  • Rogue (Arcane Trickster): may not use a Focus

So really, only Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards may use the traditional Arcane Foci. Just keep this in mind when picking your character’s equipment.

How Concentration Works for D&D Spells

Photo Sketch of a Young Wizard Concentrating on a Spell
Some spells require the caster to maintain Concentration on them for their duration

Certain spells in D&D 5e require the caster to maintain focus on them. This is referred to as Concentration. Spellcasters may only maintain Concentration on one spell that requires it at a time. Taking damage forces a caster to roll a Concentration saving throw.

Concentrating on a spell that requires Concentration is something I see new players get confused about.

Basically, some spells require a caster to maintain Concentration, as it’s called. Here are some things to remember about Concentration.

  • You can only maintain Concentration on one spell that requires it at a time
  • Casting another spell that requires Concentration immediately ends the effect(s) of any previous spell that requires it
  • You can cast other spells that don’t require Concentration while maintaining it for a different spell
  • You can only maintain Concentration on a spell for as long as its Duration dictates
  • Taking damage or suffering extraordinary effects aside from normal movement and attacking forces you to make a Concentration saving throw
  • You may end Concentration on a spell at any time
  • Falling unconscious or dying ends your Concentration on a spell

Now, how does rolling a Concentration saving throw work?

Well, it gets a little confusing and involved a bit of math.

Rolling a Concentration saving throw works in much the same way as a normal Constitution save. You’ll roll a 20-sided die add your Constitution Saving Throw modifier to get your total.

The tricky part is the Difficulty Class (DC) for Concentration saves varies. The DC for a Concentration save equals 10 or half the total damage taken whichever is higher. So, you may need to figure out how much damage you take for a given attack to determine how hard your Concentration save it.

So, for example, say a Wizard wants to maintain Concentration on their Tasha’s hideous laughter spell. They take 30 points of damage from an attack (and don’t somehow die because they’re a Wizard). To maintain their Concentration, they must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw because half of 30 equals 15 which is greater than the base 10 for Concentration saves.

This all leads to the fact that failing your Concentration save means dropping Concentration on any given spell that requires it.

The Durations of Spells in D&D

Photo Sketch of a Spirit Board Featuring a Pentagram with Spirit, Water, Fire, Fire, Earth, and Air at its Points
Every spell in D&D 5e has a Duration; some happen & stop immediately while others may last for days at a time

Every spell in D&D 5e has a Duration. This tells you how long a spell lasts once cast. Spells range from immediate effects with no lasting effects to lasting for years at a time or even becoming permanent.

You can find the Duration of any given spell by referencing its listing in the sourcebook it comes from. Each spell explicitly lists its Duration for easy reference.

Now, spells that list "instantaneous" for their Duration mean their effects happen immediately and don’t have any lasting, magical effects. That doesn’t mean they don’t have after effects. For example, the fireball spell ignites flammable objects that aren’t worn or carried. But, they don’t have magical lasting effects.

Spells that have a Duration for longer than instantaneous list how long they last in their spell description. Usually, it tells you how long the spell lasts at its maximum with wording like "up to 1 minute". For example, the friends Cantrip has a Duration of up to 1 minute and not a second longer.

Normally, spells with Durations longer than instantaneous requires Concentration. But, this isn’t always the case like with the spiritual weapon and geas spells among others. So, you should always check to see if a long-lasting spell requires a character to maintain Concentration or not.

Casting Ritual Spells in 5e

Photo Sketch of a Witch Woman Casting a Ritual Out of a Cauldron
You may cast certain spells marked with the (ritual) tag without expending a Spell Slot at the cost of taking longer to cast

Some spells in D&D 5e may get cast as a ritual. A spell must have the ritual tag in its description. And, a creature must have the Ritual Casting feature or Ritual Caster feat to cast a spell as a ritual. Casting a spell as a ritual doesn’t expend a Spell Slot but requires an extra 10 minutes to cast.

Ritual casting a spell is a great way to conserve Spell Slots while out of combat. You can gain the benefit of a spell to help overcome an obstacle without using a Spell Slot.

The main drawback is that you need an additional 10 minutes to cast that spell.

Now, not all spellcasters can cast a spell as a ritual. They need to have Ritual Casting as part of their overall Spellcasting feature. That, or they need to pick up the Ritual Caster feat at some point.

We’ll get into the different spellcasting classes later, but here are the classes that automatically have Ritual Casting:

  • Artificer
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Wizard

So, most of the Full Casters have the ability to ritually cast certain spells. But, it’s important to know whether your character or an NPC has this ability or not for optimizing your Spell Slot spending.

The next thing to remember is that not every spell can get ritually cast.

To cast a spell using a ritual, that spell must have the (ritual) tag in its description. Otherwise, you can’t cast it ritually and must use a Spell Slot.

As an example, the detect magic spell has the (ritual) tag. So, you can take an extra 10 minutes to cast it without using a Spell Slot. On the contrary, the charm person spell lacks the (ritual) tag and can’t get cast ritually.

Spellcasting Classes in D&D

Photo Sketch of a Woman Casting a Space-like Spell
Only certain classes in D&D 5e have the ability to cast spells

D&D 5e has a number of spellcasting classes. These include the Artificer, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. The Fighter and Rogue subclasses also have spellcasting subclasses in the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster, respectively.

If you want to play a spellcaster or magic user in D&D 5e, you usually need to play a cast that comes with the Spellcasting feature.

Luckily, you’re not stuck with one or only a couple options for spellcasting classes in D&D. You can play the nature-based Druid, the studied Wizard, or the divine-casting Cleric among others. Each class comes with its own specialty and variety so you can play a magic user the way you want to.

The spellcasting classes in D&D 5e include:

  • Artificer*
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Fighter (Eldritch Knight Archetype)
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rogue (Arcane Trickster Archetype)
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

*Artificer available from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Now, as I said, each of the spellcasting classes specialize in their own type of magic. And, they also each use one of the different Spellcasting Abilities.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the spellcasting classes in D&D 5e, their specialty, and their ability.

Artificers specialize in the creation magic items. Their subclasses, called a Specialist, include the Alchemist, Armorer, Artillerist, and Battle Smith. This class uses Intelligence as its Spellcasting Ability.
Bards wield the power of song, diction, and stories to draw magic from the world. Their subclasses, called Colleges, include Creation*, Eloquence*, Glamour*, Lore, Swords*, Valor, and Whispers*. This class uses Charisma as its Spellcasting Ability.
Clerics use the power of deities or their own faith to cast divine spells. Their subclasses, called Domains, include Forge*, Grave*, Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Order*, Peace*, Tempest, Trickery, Twilight*, and War. This class uses Wisdom as its Spellcasting Ability.
Druids draw their magic from the natural world. Their subclasses, called Circles, include Dreams*, Land, Moon, Shepherd*, Spores*, Stars*, and Wildfire*. This class uses Wisdom as its Spellcasting Ability.
Fighter (Eldritch Knight)
The Fighter Archetype, Eldritch Knight, is a 1/3 Caster and gives the class a bit of magic to back up their martial prowess. This subclass uses the Wizard spell list and uses Intelligence as its Spellcasting Ability.
Paladins are Half Casters that channel power through the divine or their own unwavering faith in their oath. Their subclasses, called Sacred Oaths, include Ancients, Conquest*, Devotion, Glory*, Redemption*, Vengeance, and Watchers*. This class uses Charisma as its Spellcasting Ability.
Rangers are Half Casters that utilize the natural energies of the world to wield their magic. Their subclasses, called Archetypes, include Beast Master, Fey Wanderer*, Gloom Stalker*, Horizon Walker*, Hunter, Monster Slayer*, and Swarmkeeper*. This class uses Wisdom as its Spellcasting Ability.
Rogue (Arcane Trickster)
The Rogue Archetype, Arcane Trickster, is a 1/3 Caster that gives the class some magical utility. This subclass uses the Wizard spell list and uses Intelligence as its Spellcasting Ability.
Sorcerers can wield magic naturally due to their bloodline or some otherworldly boon or curse bestowed upon them or their family. Their subclasses, called Origins, include Aberrant Mind*, Clockwork Soul*, Divine Soul*, Draconic Bloodline, Shadow Magic*, Storm Sorcery, and Wild Magic. This class uses Charisma as its Spellcasting Ability.
Warlocks draw their magic from an otherworldly entity called a patron. Their subclasses, called Otherworldly Patrons, include the Archfey, Celestial*, Fathomless*, Fiend, Genie*, Great Old One, and Hexblade*. This class uses Charisma as its Spellcasting Ability.
Wizards are learned scholars of the arcane arts, practicing magic as an intellectual pursuit and developing spells through study. Their subclasses, called Arcane Traditions, include Abjuration, Bladesinging*, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Order of Scribe*, Transmutation, and War Magic*. This class uses Intelligence as its Spellcasting Ability.

*These subclasses come from either Xanathar’s Guide to Everything or Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

So, as you can see, you have a wide variety of spellcasting classes in D&D 5e to choose from depending on the type of magic user you want to play.

Spellcasting & Multiclassing

Photo Sketch of a Woman Holding a Magical Flame in Each Hand
Multiclassing adds a bit of complication to the spellcasting classes

Spellcasting gets a bit confusing once you start multiclassing. The calculation of of Spell Slots often proves to be the most complex aspect of these mechanics.

Multiclassing and spellcasting in D&D 5e introduces a few complications to your character.

First off, you need to meet the minimum Ability Score requirement to multiclass into another class. This often means having a 13 Ability Score in a caster class’ Spellcasting Ability.

Second, your number of Spell Slots involves calculating your spell level depending on which classes you’re playing. Each class contributes a different amount to your overall level. So, you need to understand which classes add how many levels.

Finally, you need to keep track of what spells belong to which class. This is because you still use that class’ corresponding Spellcasting Ability to cast those spells. This means recalculating your Spell Attack Modifier and Spell Save DC for those spells.

If you want a full breakdown of how these systems work, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Multiclassing in D&D 5e.

D&D 5e Spellcasting FAQ

Photo Sketch of a Woman Looking into a Crystal Ball

Do You Need a Spellcasting Focus for Cantrips?

Some Cantrips require a Spellcasting Focus as they have Material requirements. For example, dancing lights, friends, and light all require Material components. So, a Spellcasting Focus helps overcome this requirement.

Can You Make a Melee Spell Attack for an Opportunity Attack?

You can not make a melee spell attack as an Opportunity Attack in D&D 5e. This is because you’re not technically making an attack. When you cast a melee attack spell, you’re actually casting a spell that requires a melee spell attack which is enough of a semantic difference to disqualify them from Opportunity Attacks. That said, the War Caster feat does let you cast a spell as an Opportunity Attack if you take it.


Summary of D&D Spellcasting

That’s about it for spellcasting in 5e.

At its core, spellcasting is the method of using magic. You need to understand what your Spellcasting Ability is and how it affects your Spell Attack Modifier and Spell Save DC. Also, you should know what each of the spellcasting classes are so you can build the character you want to.

Now, if you’re 100% fresh to Dungeons & Dragons, I usually recommend not playing a spellcaster as your first character. 5e has enough going on that keeping track of the general mechanics and the spellcasting rules can become overwhelming.

That said, if you really want to play a spellcaster, go for it. I’ll always encourage players to play the character they want.


What’s your favorite spellcasting class to play in D&D 5e? Personally, I’m partial to Clerics because of their versatility. Leave a comment below with yours.

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2 thoughts on “How D&D Spellcasting Works”

  1. Brief note: Artificers are half-casters like Rangers and Paladins (AND they get their first spells at Level 1, unlike Rangers and Paladins).

    Other than that, this is a great resource!

  2. Just wanted to say thanks for this. It was clear, concise, and helpful to a beginner DM. Appreciate your efforts.

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