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A Wizard prepares a number of spells equal to his Wizard level + his Intelligence modifier.

But what happens if he loses Intelligence (the most obvious way I can think of is unattuning to a Headband of intellect and having a base Intelligence score of less than 18) after preparing his spells? Does he...

  1. Lose access to the first [INT mod lost] spells he prepared?
  2. Lose access to the last [INT mod lost] spells he prepared?
  3. Randomly lose access to [INT mod lost] of the spells he prepared?
  4. Keep access to all his prepared spells (but will be able to prepare fewer spells after his next long rest, unless he regains the lost intelligence)?
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Losing intelligence probably shouldn't affect the Wizard's currently prepared spells

Ability score loss/damage is an uncommon mechanic in 5e and there are no general rules about how it works. However, it looks like losing intelligence shouldn't affect the wizard's access to currently prepared spells. Excerpting from the Wizard's class description:

You prepare the list of wizard spells that are available for you to cast. To do so, choose a number of wizard spells from your spellbook equal to your Intelligence modifier + your wizard level (minimum of one spell).

...

You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of wizard spells requires time spent studying your spellbook and memorizing the incantations and gestures you must make to cast the spell: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list.

No circumstances are given for the Wizard's spell list changing except for if they change their list of prepared spells when finishing a long rest. I would interpret these rules to mean that the precise value of the Wizard's intelligence is only relevant at the moment they are preparing a list of spells; their intelligence, and their wizarding skill (as represented by their level) determines how efficiently they're able to prepare their spell list, but once it is prepared, that's it - the list is fixed until they change it.

I'd further argue that preparing a new list of spells is an entirely optional part of the day for the Wizard; nothing states that taking a long rest causes them to forget their current list, only that they can memorise a new list instead after they've taken a rest. If the Wizard chooses not to prepare a new spell list, I would rule that they retain access to all the spells they already had prepared, even if their intelligence has changed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is precedent to a spell caster losing intelligence: Feeblemind. --On a failed save, the creature's Intelligence and Charisma scores become 1. The creature can't cast spells, activate magic items, understand language, or communicate in any intelligible way.-- Now, that is an extreme case, but it is possible to lose access to spells due to a change of intelligence. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Jun 28 '18 at 20:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott However, considering that a Wisdom-based caster also loses the ability to cast despite not losing Wisdom, I think this is due to the spell itself, not the ability loss. \$\endgroup\$ – Gael L Jun 28 '18 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I mean, I would rule that the creature temporarily loses spells because of the text that says, "The creature can't cast spells." \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Jun 28 '18 at 21:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I'd say this reinforces Carcer's point. The intelligence loss and spellcasting loss are two distinct effects of Feeblemind. There's nothing to suggest that one follows from the other. The flavor of the spell is that Feeblemind produces some overarching mental impairment, and this impairment relates to the game's mechanics in that it causes both the stat loss and the spellcasting loss (as well as some other restrictions). \$\endgroup\$ – Greg Faust Jun 28 '18 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ If an INT score of 1 would inherently stop any casting by an INT based caster, it wouldn't be necessary to state that they lose access to spells unless there was some other caster who might still access spells without INT - you know, like a druid. That said, I feel taking a spells list of effects as causing eachother implicitly is asking for Jeremy Crawford to laugh at you. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Jun 29 '18 at 5:58
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What do the rules say?

There doesn't appear to be an official rule, so "Rulings over Rules" would apply - it's sometimes annoying how often it comes up, but for 5e at this stage it would seem "it's up to the DM."

Even without direct rulings for this, and remembering that drawing inferences from similar existing rules and imagining them as RAW seems to make Jeremy Crawford chuckle, we can see that changes to ability scores can have immediate and considerable effects, at least in the case of CON/maximum hit points -

if you're 7th level and some effect lowers your Constitution score so as to reduce your Constitution modifier by 1, your hit point maximum is reduced by 7. - PHB 177

What ruling should I make?

That said, there are reasons to rule either way. As discussed in Carcer's answer and it's comments, there is nothing in the rules to explicitly state that you'd lose them, and the example of the spell Feeblemind only really serves to highlight that an effect that reduces your Intelligence to 1 also has to state that you lose the ability to cast spells - though, to be fair, it would have to state this anyway; as a player with INT 1 and WIS 18 could still be a very effective druidic caster RAW.

However, PHB 177 says "Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason", and on 173, literally "memory" - which would be why you are able to "memorize" more spells based on your INT modifier.

You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of wizard spells requires time spent studying your spellbook and memorizing the incantations and gestures you must make to cast the spell: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list. - PHB 114

If your memory has been damaged, it is reasonable to assume that certain complex things you can only remember with careful and regular study might become... well, corrupted. If we decide that this means that you lose a spell from your prepared list, there are three ways we could resolve this:

1. Lose the most complex or recently learned spell. The highest level spell, or one that has only recently been added to your spell book may be a reasonable option. This spell has seen less practical use, or is just too complicated for you to keep track of in your dulled state.

2. Lose the least interesting spell. This would basically give the player a choice of which spell they'd lose, with the justification being "the spells I'm most interested in come to mind often. The ones I am less keen on get less focus, and therefore aren't as fresh in my mind.

3. Lose a random spell. There are dice. It's a thing.

Does the wizard even know they've lost a spell?

Unless the spell lost is the most interesting one, it's possible that the character doesn't even know that they've lost it. Based on the lack of RAW either way it's likely the player didn't think about it, and there's no rule that you have to tell them.* Even if they do think about it (or you tell them) if either of you decide the character wouldn't notice, that makes this meta knowledge.

Wizard spells are described as incredibly complex and intricate. Perhaps all that was forgotten was a small element. If you decide the character doesn't realise, determine as the DM (secretly) which spell has been forgotten, and then if the character attempts to cast it, describe the spell failing. For example:

Player: I cast Fireball at the centre of the group of goblins.

DM: You trace your fingers through the air, and a faint red mist begins to form. You begin uttering the incantation as you have so often before, but suddenly you get stuck. It's like the arcane words just aren't quite right, and you can't remember what they should be instead. The red mist fades, and there is no effect.

When the player goes to prepare their spell list next you may need to remind them that they can no longer prepare as long a list; especially if they do so before they attempt to cast the forgotten spell, if you decided they lost it on the spot and that you wouldn't alert them.


*Though if you feel it may upset things so much that it damages the enjoyment for one or more players... most people play games for fun, IMHO.

A decent compromise might be, at the point that their INT goes down, to tell them that they "have that annoying feeling that you've forgotten something, maybe the iron is still on, or you've left your lunch at... the castle?"

You could also have them roll a perception check to see if they notice, and/or a history check or arcana check to identify which spell they've forgotten. You could choose to do these regardless of whether the player thought to ask if they'd forgotten any spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your third heading and the text under it don't match - player and character are not the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Mar 8 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. I wasn't using them interchangeably, but rather using the different words to highlight that one may or may not know, which won't necessarily impact on whether the other knows. If the character knows, I'd argue the player should, and if they don't the DM should rectify this whenever it is likely to be relevant (like losing a spell they may want to cast) If the character does not necessarily know, the DM could rule that it is meta knowledge and choose not to inform the player. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Mar 10 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I don't mind swapping the word out there terribly, but I don't know that it clarifies anything. I used the two separate words to highlight the differences; for clarity I'm going to give them some format emphasis to demonstrate to the reader that I'm using them intentionally, and that perhaps attention should be given as to why. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Mar 10 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacReefman cool, it works best in your own voice \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 10 at 21:49

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