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Do clerics absolutely need to choose your spells right after the long rest, or can they choose some of them later in the day?

For example, I can take 8 spells. After my long rest I choose 6 of them — can I keep 2 slots empty for later in the day (so if I need a specific spell I can prepare it later that day)?

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RAW answer: No.

Per the SRD, v5.1, p. 16:

You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of cleric spells requires time spent in prayer and meditation: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list.

That's pretty explicitly saying that you change your list of prepared spells, and that you can do it when you finish a long rest. So filling part of your list and leaving other slots empty is outside what's allowed by the rules.

What exactly "when you finish a long rest" means, and whether there's any kind of interval you can let pass between completion of the rest and preparation of spells is not as clearly defined, so maybe a DM would interpret that to mean that you can prepare at some later point after completing the long rest, but even in that case, this rule as written would mean you have to change them all in the same prayer/meditation session.

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No, you cannot*.

That would completely circumvent the idea behind Vancian magic, and making the game much easier because you don't have to prepare anything in advance.

By game flavor, it's always been that spells must be prepared while the mind is fresh and not occupied by any thought. That's the very first the character needs to do (well, maybe except physical needs), before breakfast too.

The rules states that: (thanks Polisurgist for the easy link)

You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of cleric spells requires time spent in prayer and meditation: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list.

You cannot wait, you cannot consult with any other character about it (you should do that the evening before).

This is true for any edition, and it's not restricted to clerics but it's true for wizards too.

*Of course, if everyone else agrees, you can always make it as a home rule. But it's just semantic, and in most D&D settings doesn't even make sense.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In past editions (3.x specifically), it has explicitly been possible to prepare spells hours after waking up, even in multiple sittings. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Jun 12 '17 at 11:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Where did you read that? \$\endgroup\$ – II ARROWS Jun 12 '17 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ In 3.5 (page 32) it's stated that's not after a rest (for clerics), but each day at the same hour, you can't do it in multiple sessions. "Each cleric must chose a time at which he must spend 1 hour each day in quiet contemplation or supplication to regain his daily allotment of spells. Typically, this hour is at dawn or noon for goods clerics and at dusk or midnight for evils one. Time spent resting has no effect on whether a cleric can prepare spells. A cleric may prepare spells on the cleric spell list [...], but he must choose which spells to prepare during his daily meditation" \$\endgroup\$ – II ARROWS Jun 12 '17 at 12:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Depending upon edition, the clerical spell prep and magic user spell prep are different. In 5e, the "Vancian" preparation mechanic has been softened considerably. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 12 '17 at 13:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Korvin is referring to rules that allow clerics to prepare spells later in D&D 3.5e, similar rules for wizards in D&D 3.5e, and the same function existing currently for wizards in D&D 5e. The Vancian idea is already circumvented in the way you appear to describe in your answer, so it doesn't hold water to appeal to that kind of circumvention to say something ought to not be possible. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 12 '17 at 14:03

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