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This is quite a cheesy question, but let's say I have a human wizard. And I'm the last to "stand watch" so I've already slept during that rest. This is largely to avoid the incapacitated condition: see this answer to a question about concentration during long rests.

If I cast darkvision before the end of the long rest, then get all my spell slots back at the end of the long rest, do I essentially get darkvision (for the next ~8h) without expending a spell slot?

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Yes, you can do this

That's how it goes. Spell slots are regained at the end of a long rest, and there's no rule forbidding spellcasting during a long rest.

It's effective and somewhat cheesy, but not as broken as it might sound at first. To cast that spell before ending the rest, you need to save up a slot for it. If you intend to do this constantly, you find that while you get the spell for "tomorrow" free, you have to save one of "today's" slots in order to be able to cast it just before ending the rest. During longer expeditions it won't be that much different - you still have to save the slot to use the spell, just on a different day.

Of course, it's still a convenient way to squeeze extra utility out of one's slots when they do get left unused - and a good way to start the adventure after an uneventful day during which few slots were spent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a good point about saving up a spell slot. I was thinking more that if you had one left over so that it's not wasted, which may happen if the rest of the party took the brunt of the damage in a previous encounter and are all out of healing... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 25 '17 at 8:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS Excellent point to clarify in the answer, thank you \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Nov 25 '17 at 9:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Isn't casting spells listed as a "strenuous" activity, which interrupts long rest? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Nov 25 '17 at 9:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor most spells can be cast in a few minutes at most, while the long rest can be interrupted for 1 hour. \$\endgroup\$ – András Nov 25 '17 at 9:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm In principle, probably not. In practice, I'd be unlikely to care I guess. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Nov 25 '17 at 18:26
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Ask your DM

This is something that I would say is 100% DM's discretion but be consistent in the campaign.

On one hand it's promoting being efficient and utilizing all of the caster's resources. On the other hand if you are in a persistent campaign and you have a day that you are not doing any combat before you have a day that you expect to have combat you can buff your caster or the party immensely for the entire day after.

For example, in a campaign where you are taking a long rest in an inn during a day of down time in a town the odds of you using even half your spell slots that day are minuscule, leaving you a large list of spells you can cast: mage armor, darkvision, and any other non concentration based buff spells before you regain all your spell slots at the end of the long rest and the next day when you go into combat be OP against any encounters for the day.

A wizard with a 20 DEX could cast mage armor to boost their AC to 18 for the day and combining that with shield brings their AC over 20. Not to mention the other items they could have that boost AC making the caster as long as they have 1 good DPS Spell and the rest buffs, they'd be close to untouchable in combat while being able to deal a bunch of damage.

This effectively removes one of the wizard's biggest weak points is that their AC, unless they use shield, rarely goes up to 20. There are always ways to abuse this ruling if you allow it in your game. I personally started allowing it and almost instantly regretted it due to one of my players abusing it to become a god whenever they could using this rule.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I tried to clean this up to make it more readable, but not sure I succeeded. Also, how is the wizard using a shield? And if you're saying it's 100% up to the DM, can you support via rules that this can't be done? Because the other answer does support with the rules that it can be done. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 22 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ And welcome to the stack! Please take our tour to learn more about how we operate. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 22 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS I thought so, too, and was going to italicize it - but then it increased the AC by 2. Shield is 5. Shield of Faith is 2, but wizards don't get that. So /shrug? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 22 at 18:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Re-reading the original version, it says AC goes "over 20", so that's consistent with shield, but then towards the end says "up to 20", but I think that just means "wizards' AC is usually under 20", rather than there being any significance in going to 20 AC exactly. That's how I read it, anyway... But we're probably spending too much time on this at this point :P I think the OP's overall point is clear enough. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Oct 22 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS Yes, very true :) But the problem with edge cases are they are edge cases. You can always find something that looks like it breaks something else. And, of course, in order to have those slots available and useful, you need to either conserve or be lucky enough to have planned correctly. And there may be an enemy caster with dispel magic there to foil your plans. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 22 at 18:18

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