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Is there a general rule about getting a benefit from feats that offer redundant abilities (from RAW, Sage Advice, UA, etc.)?

My specific scenario is considering the Arcanist feat from Unearthed Arcana: Feats for Skills:

Arcanist

You study the arcane arts, gaining the following benefits:

  • Increase your Intelligence score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

  • You gain proficiency in the Arcana skill. If you are already proficient in the skill, you add double your proficiency bonus to checks you make with it.

  • You learn the prestidigitation and detect magic spells. You can cast detect magic once without expending a spell slot, and you regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest.

If you already have prestidigitation and/or detect magic, are these just nullified benefits?

I know the feat already addresses what happens if you have the Arcana skill, but I did not know if there was an overarching rule that I missed somewhere that would address this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the title, since "ability" is a specific term in 5e (that means Dexterity, Strength, etc.). Feel free to roll it back if you want to. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 30 '18 at 15:17
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In your specific scenario, yes.

As mentioned by John Carroll, you still get the ability to cast Detect Magic without expending a spell slot once per day. That, by itself, is a way to benefit from it.

Generally, rules don't provide any way though.

Usually, if you get the same non-stackable benefit from two different sources, you simply waste the second source. Some exceptions are made in specific texts, e.g. for proficiencies from the background

If a character would gain the same proficiency from two different sources, he or she can choose a different proficiency of the same kind (skill or tool) instead.

With the clarification from Crawford that it's indeed an exception.

The proficiency rule for backgrounds applies when you gain your background at 1st level. It has no relevance outside that context.

Yet, generally, you can benefit from it: How?

Simply: plan ahead. If you are going to take that feat, don't take that cantrip and that spell earlier. You can live until 4th level to learn Detect Magic (usually). If you know you are going to get some kind of feature that provides you a specific, non-changeable benefit, don't get that benefit earlier unless really needed.

Some DMs might give you the easy way as well

It's not uncommon to rule that if you are choosing a feat later in the game and it gives you something that you already had, you can choose something else that still fits the flavor and doesn't break the balance (i.e. same power level). You need to talk to your DM for that, though.

Note about UA

Just a reminder, for this specific case, UA is likely not balanced and not polished in its writing, so you should talk to your DM anyway to check if you're going to be able to use this feat as it is.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Retroactive replanning is also common (ie, rebuild "as if" you had left the slot open for Detect Magic). Also, you might want to stress that UA is test material, and often has rough spots that DM's need to smooth over. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jul 30 '18 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Simply: plan ahead. suffice it to say this only appropriate for certain play styles that approve of power building and don't favor more organic character growth. Not a wrong answer, but not appropriate for all groups. \$\endgroup\$ – Sled Jul 30 '18 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ArtB From experience, a more organic play would end up falling into the "easy way" category. After all, it doesn't make sense that the character is studying the same thing again, for example - that's a completely not organic restriction, if you think about it. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 30 '18 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk That would essentially be the same as my last section: either you rebuild "as if" Detect Magic was open or Arcanist gives you something different from the same spell level. In practice, both lead to the same thing. I'll add about UA as a note. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 30 '18 at 20:12
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Mostly. You can still cast Detect Magic without using a spell slot once per long rest.

This feat is actually really nice in that every section gives you something more even if you already have the advantage it gives you.

You learn the prestidigitation and detect magic spells.

If you already know these spells, unfortunately there's nothing more to learn. However, the next part is pretty cool.

You can cast detect magic once without expending a spell slot, and you regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest.

Even if you already know the spell, you essentially get an extra daily slot for that specific spell! That isn't half bad.

You get cool stuff even if you're already proficient with Arcana, and you get the ability to cast Detect Magic for free once per long rest even if you already knew the spell beforehand!

Is there a general rule that deals with redundancy? No.

If there was a general rule about gaining benefits from redundant abilities then the feat would not specify what to do in the case of a redundancy. It seems a lot of the Unearthed Arcana Skill Proficiency Feats are now handling cases where the player already has the provided advantages and adds more on top of them. I think that's pretty awesome.

Ask your DM.

RAW there isn't a way to benefit except by the one exception HellSaint mentioned in his post. However, if you did not plan everything to the last detail, if all else fails, you can ask your DM to retcon your cantrip choice that you made at the beginning of the game to get a more optimal benefit from the feat.

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Note that for a lot of spellcasters who learn spells during level ups (like the Bard, Ranger or Sorcerer) they can change one of their spells to another one when they level up:

Additionally, when you gain a level in this class, you can choose one of the <class name> spells you know and replace it with another spell from the <class name> spell list, which also must be of a level for which you have spell slots.

So if you already know Detect Magic then this would mean that when you opt for this feat you could switch Detect Magic to something else, and then immediately re-learn it (and also gain the extra per-day use) through the feat. This means you don't lose out on any of the extra features of the feat if you do it this way.

However this means you do lose out on being able to exchange one of your other spells. Also note that Prestidigitation is a cantrip for which you cannot use this exchange option. You could try to ask your DM about it, but as far as I know there's nothing RAW that would allow it on a level up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer misses some of the nuances, particularly that swap-out is not an option for cantrips (they're handled differently from known spells), and the spell is only once-per-day but in addition to other spells. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jul 30 '18 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. updated. Note that for Detect Magic the description says you both get the spell and an extra one-day use, not just the latter \$\endgroup\$ – SztupY Jul 30 '18 at 14:42

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