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I'm starting up playing again with 5e.

Our DM wants to dictate which cantrips and 1st level spells our characters can know. He doesn't think we should be able to pick from the full list of cantrips or first level spells so he has limited which ones we can use. He wants to occasional have characters find scrolls to learn spells as we adventure.

His reason is he doesn't think all the spells should just be available and interchangeable on a regular basis. That they should be found and learned first. I argue that a wizard, for example, studies the magic arts. There are schools or mentors that teach.

This doesn't seem right to me. Can a DM influence character advancement in this way?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You are not playing in some kind of Adventurers League? Or published campaign? This might influence answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Feb 8 '18 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you don't trust your GM that the decision to limit spell selection will make the game more fun or interesting, then why are your playing their game? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Booth Feb 8 '18 at 12:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ No league game....private campaign. Trust isn't the issue here. He's a long time friend but fairly new DM. I'm just learning 5e after years off from AD&D. As a group we are creating our world, but he and I are the only ones with any kind of experience at all with D&D or even role playing. We're just trying to find the best way to make it enjoyable for all. \$\endgroup\$ – E.Knight Feb 8 '18 at 12:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you read the part of the Players Handbook that addresses spell selection? I seem to recall that as you go up, you can pick at most two new spells at each level, and the rest you have to find if you want to flesh out your spell book. (Will check book later). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 8 '18 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Okay..... tackle the same question for a druid or a Ranger. How do they learn.....is it fair to limit their choices? I can agree as you say with a wizard finding new spells as loot or consciously making a decision to visit a library and study while the rest of the group looks for a contact in some city for example. But a druid...... \$\endgroup\$ – E.Knight Feb 8 '18 at 17:03
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It is the DM's choice. As others have pointed out they are setting up the world. It can kind of conflict with established world lore like Forgotten Realms but maybe the DM's world is a scarce magic world and the main wizard academies only have general spells at their disposal and wizards hoard more exotic ones.

Now if your DM is limiting spells just because it makes some things easy then, in my opinion, they aren't doing their job. There are times when a player skills makes something easy. There should be different ways to tackle an objective and if you happen to pick a useful spell in the past for a given situation great. Odds are in a good campaign there will be other situations that some other spell, that you don't have, would have made something super easy. This same thing can be said for other utility classes. Often a rogue can make some situation super easy because they figured out how to do something.

Ultimately the DM is the arbiter of the campaign. It can be a learning process and this is how various house rules crop up. Work with your DM. If they treat the game as a competition between them and you then it probably won't be enjoyable. Talk with them about your view. If they are pulling spells from the world or even limiting them then it is kind of like saying "Rogue's can't use rapiers because finesse weapons make rogues do to much damage" and ignoring that rogues are balance based on these factors.

Now I have no issue with limiting purchasing of spells. It isn't like you should expect to just be able to walk into any city and buy any spell you want.

If they want to provide spells as rewards and you already have that spell well then unlucky you. It is a bit like the party finding a +1 War Axe and the fighter already has a better weapon or already has that weapon. The spells you get at level up aren't that many and you have to make some hard choices on what is best for your play style. You don't get 20 new spells in your book. Point this out to them. Sure a spell might be handy but end of the day you can't spam them and a spell isn't going to be useful in all situations. The DM should know what is in your spell book. They should be able to tweak encounters accordingly. If they find your wizard is always finding a easy way around their encounters then I think it is more a problem of the encounters all being to similar.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wholeheartedly agree. It needs to make sense and be for the purpose of interpretation, not for the ease of the DM's job. For instance, if you starter character at lvl 1 is a boy who came across magic and became a wizard, living in a very small village with limited resources... Well, most spells are definitely hard to come by. Medium towns might have some spells. Huge towns should have most spells. Highly arcane towns might have all spells. Now, if you are a cleric/sorcerer/druid/etc that inherently knows spells, none should be restricted, except maybe alignment ones for clerics. \$\endgroup\$ – Elindor Feb 8 '18 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm totally coming around to the idea of the limitations for a wizard, it just makes sense, spells are not readily available. However you have now touched on another point that I hadn't even mentioned. Is it fair to force a druid into the same? You've said it,a druids magic is it learned as well? \$\endgroup\$ – E.Knight Feb 9 '18 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ See answer below \$\endgroup\$ – E.Knight Feb 9 '18 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ This DM may be limiting spells partly because, as a new DM, it makes his job that bit less intimidating at first. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly if he's still learning how to build and balance encounters. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Feb 9 '18 at 10:54
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Yes, this is within the power of a DM. For clerics, druids, and paladins, he could simply decide which spells the gods wish to bestow. For all the other classes, he can decide which spells are native to your area, or which ones were taught to you by your mentors, etc. He can even declare which spells even exist on his world, and which simply do not.

Personally, I think this is kind of a controlling behavior, but I could see that if he had a world in which spells were rare, a valuable commodity, and only available in certain places, this could be an important part of the design.

On the other hand, choices of spells and cantrips are an important part of character design and development, so I'd hope and expect that if he is going to specify what spells the characters have, that there be a good reason for that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree it feels controlling. We're gonna need to talk it out..... it's a good group, we should be able to. Thnx for the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – E.Knight Feb 8 '18 at 2:40
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Discussing the issue more fully with your DM is the best solution. Focus on your character background as a potential reason for why a wizard PC would know certain spells. Note that backgrounds are typically approved by the DM first, so that they will fit with the overall campaign.

So, is your wizard the top graduate of the greatest magic school in the world? It seems reasonable for the wizard to get to pick from most or all of the spell list in this case. Is your wizard the apprentice of the local hedge wizard? Here, it's a lot harder to argue a wide spell availability.

Certain spells, especially those with the creator's name attached such as Melf's Acid Arrow or Leomund's Tiny Hut, may also be restricted by the DM in a homebrew campaign as the spell creator or anyone who knows the spell may never have travelled to this world. You would have to justify how you know these spells in this situation.

Again, character background comes into play. Did your PC discover an ancient spellbook that mysteriously appeared from a dimensional rift and disintegrated once the spells were copied? Is the PC the only one who knows these spells in the world? Is he being hunted by a wizard organisation seeking this knowledge?

Offer the DM a chance to set up future plothooks, and they will be more likely to accept such backgrounds and the reasoning for your character to know such spells. Work with your DM on a compromise, and remember to point out that the campaign should be one where the DM has fun running the world and the players have fun adventuring in it.

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Although D&D has collaborative elements, the DM is charged with adjudicating action, providing story, conflict and in general providing the environment within which the characters will operate. Some DMs are comfortable using the entire gamut of official materials, some will even accept homebrew if they have a chance to review it. Others may decide that certain elements are difficult for them to write adventures around. Zone of Truth and mind reading spells can make short shrift of most mysteries, for instance.

It is therefor entirely within the DM's prerogative to disallow any element of the game they do not feel like running. The players have a similar agency. If they appeal and the appeals are considered and refused, they have the right to vote with their feet. For an RPG to work, it has to be a mutually enjoyable experience.

It sounds like your DM has artifically constrained your choices. That's fine. They might want to run a campaign where all elves were destroyed in a war, or spellcasters are hunted and feared by the world they have sworn to protect. If no one wants to play that, they will either need to make changes or find new players. But there is no rule that says a DM has to use any rule in the book.

Finally, you mention that the DM has indicated that you will find new spells by finding them on scrolls or other external sources. This is pretty much the by-the-book way for wizards to gain new spells, barring those they get automatically at leveling time. If the DM wants to change that formula, that is their right. It is the players' right to refuse the game however.

Ultimately, the solution is talk and compromise. But if you are looking for some sort of rule that will compel a DM to run a game they don't want to run, you won't find it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you point on the fact that there are spells you automatically get at leveling. Let's take this example. Ranger lvls up to 2. Now has a spell slot. I would pick cure wounds but if the DM decides I can't use that spell...... just not right. Thnx for the answer \$\endgroup\$ – E.Knight Feb 8 '18 at 2:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the DM ruling that the spell is not available, or that your character specifically cannot have that spell? There's a difference. And if it's the latter, does the DM give an explanation why? \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Feb 8 '18 at 6:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Last paragraph; beautifully succinct. +1 per the usual kc productions ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 9 '18 at 19:18
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So we have a lot of questions that start with “Can the DM..?” that I answer with No. This is another one.

The rules themselves give the DM authority to change the game to improve the game. There are no explicit limits given—that would defeat the point—but there is an inherent limit given by the very nature of the game being a game and the purpose of the tool being to improve the game.

And that limit is whether or not people are still willing to play the game. That limit is whether or not the game is still fun for everyone.

So the question really is, can the DM do this and still find people to play? My answer would probably be No, hence the opening line of this answer. Choosing my spells is a big part of what makes playing a spellcaster fun for me—choosing what my character focuses in and trains for, generally, is a big part of what makes the game fun for me. Taking that away leaves me uninterested in the game.

Could there be exceptions? Yes, of course. As @PhilBoncer’s answer says, there’d have to be good reason for this—very good reason. It would take a lot to convince me.

And if the DM didn’t convince me—or worse, didn’t think he had to, and expected me to simply accept his dictum—then I would politely excuse myself from the group. I recommend you take the same approach: explain to your DM that this doesn’t sound like a game you’re interested in playing, that you don’t see the upside to this change in the game rules. Allow him to try, if he likes, to convince you. But don’t be afraid to say No, that doesn’t sound fun to me, and walk away. No game is usually better than a bad game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I think you're spot on with the fact of is it still fun for everyone. Or even can we make it fun for all. We'll put it to vote on Saturday and see how the people it affects feel about it. Thanx \$\endgroup\$ – E.Knight Feb 8 '18 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Feb 8 '18 at 15:32
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As a DM, I see it as my responsibility to limit what spells are available in the world and which are not, in the interest of making the game world an interesting place. I think it is important to be fair in this situation of course, if a spell isn't available for a player, neither is it available for an NPC or anyone else, but as long as I am fair in my dealings, and it is otherwise sensible from a rule perspective, modifying the spell lists are well withing my realm of authority.

Controlling spell availability is one of the many steps I do to make my game world as interesting to play in as I can. I want to make an interesting world for my players to play in, with a distinct flavor, and many spells do not fit with that flavor, so I remove them from the spell lists.

I read many other answers here about recommending player giving up that game, and my reaction to that is simply; If such a detail would cause you to want to abandon the game, then you probably don't really like what I have to offer anyway. I value my players, but it is also important that the players value their DM and what they are offering.

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I concur with the answers provided thus far, but wished to add my own. As stated in @KRyan's answer, the reason for the deviation from the rules should be explained in a manner that convinces players. In general, my belief is that the DM should control the world and the players should control their characters and interact with that world.

The aspect of this which has me most concerned isn't so much enforcing a level of control over 1st level spells (though that is an issue), it's the level of control over cantrips. 1st level spells should be able to be changed over time and some effort, but cantrips are locked from the get go.

As a Wizard, when you pick up Acid Splash at 1st level, you still have it at 20th, so I hope you like it because that's what you've got. That feels like an overreach to me and I don't think there's any practical or good reason for a DM to enforce that level of control over a character, doubly so without a profoundly good reason.

If the DM cannot convince you and insists on enforcing this level of control over your character, I would recommend walking from that table unless you've good reason to trust them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Apparently, you last paragraph is not the case, based on the comments and on the "answer comment" from the querent. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 8 '18 at 14:08
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As long as there aren't overarching player community rules which limit the GM's powers (Adventurer's League guidelines, for example, disallow the GM's to outright modify rules and allow only to adjudicate them) the GM's decision is the foremost authority. Granted, points of contention should be discussed with the players, but both too much and too little in the sense of discussion could hurt the game flow.

That means:

  1. The GM can adjudicate any real or perceived loopholes in the spell description as written (or not written)
  2. The GM could modify/adapt any spell to make it more fitting to the game world.
  3. The GM can completely add or remove spells to the game world. For example, spells like "Detect Undead" would make no sense in a world without undead.
  4. The GM can decide which spells are available to the players and which are not, for various reasons (rarity being the first and foremost).

So, for example, if the GM says "this particular spell is known only to five persons in the whole world - and your character isn't one of them", there's not much you can do.

On the other hand, if you feel that your character should know this spell, be prepared to present a solid case in your favor.

Reasons might be:

  1. Game balance. Without the spell it would become much harder to proceed, much to the detriment of future gaming sessions.
  2. Reasoning. Many spells are accompanied with a 'light show' to varying degrees, so why shouldn't your mage being able to learn to create a magelight?

In any case, stay reasonable and calm, when discussing the issue with your GM. If his reasoning to limit your spell selection exhausts itself to "just because I say so" it might be an indication of a deeper issue that needs to be addressed soon enough.

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