The Monster Manual describes a Variant rule for Innate Spellcasting for dragons in p. 86. The book does not specify a specific class for the spell list, so which spell list do they use?

Possible rulings that I know:

  1. Book does not specify a list. Pick and choose any spell from any list.

  2. Sorcerers and warlocks have 'granted-spontaneous' magic, so do dragons. Choose from sorcerer and/or warlock lists.

  3. Dragons obviously serve/worship Bahamut/Tiamat. Hence: cleric spell list.

  4. Thematic approach per individual dragon (with examples): One Silver dragon is very paladin-like, so paladin spells for him. This Green dragon is 'very smart' and researches a lot - so wizard-list for her, with many books in & around her lair. Pick one list / stick to it.

Are there any official rules (in books, including VGM or XGtE or Crawford's tweets) clarifying this matter?

  • 2
    "Young and older dragons can use a 'variant' for gaining spells." — could you please specify the reference? – enkryptor Nov 24 at 16:17
  • 3
    @enkryptor given the wording (and the correct system already tagged :P), I'm quite sure it's from the Variant greenbox in the beginning of the Dragons section from MM (p. 86) and have added the reference. – HellSaint Nov 24 at 16:59
  • @HellSaint well, in this case, dragons don't "use a variant" for anything. It is a variant rule for DM, a building block for their campaign. Like "in my campaign, this gold dragon is a spellcaster". – enkryptor Nov 24 at 17:04
  • @enkryptor oh yeah, poor wording haha I'm unsure about asker intent on that, but I'll assume he understands the rules correctly. I will try to edit for a more clear version and hope the asker comes back if I messed up. – HellSaint Nov 24 at 17:12
  • My original text got a wee bit edited by someone / somehow (?). Not sure what the confusion is? That said, my original question is answered (below) and i am happy. Thanks to all = ) – Tim of Time Nov 25 at 2:57
up vote 27 down vote accepted

Not specified, so the DM chooses it.

Well, it is a variant rule so it is up to the DM from the beginning. There are no references in XGtE or VGM about it, at least not one that I remember from when I read them or one I could find in a quick search. From the principle of there are no hidden rules, we can assume that if the spell list was intended to be limited to some class, it would say so, just as it does for Mindflayers (which have Wizard spells), Driders (which have Cleric spells) and others.

Volo does talk about Kobolds, which are draconic creatures linked to dragons, and their spellcasters are Sorcerers (p. 64), if that helps you at anything.

My personal guidance on how I ran dragons in the past is simply choose the one that makes more sense for your dragon, as you described in your fourth bullet.

Remembering the spellcasting divisions is something that may help you in deciding which makes more sense.

  • Arcane or Divine? The Spellcasting chapter describes how magic works through affecting The Weave. There are two types of magic: Arcane or Divine1.
  • Spontaneous or Prepared? Spontaneous spellcasters simply know spells, such as Sorcerers, Bards and Warlocks, while prepared spellcasters have access to many (usually all, except for Wizards) spells, but can only prepare (through Praying, Studying or something else) a limited number, such as Clerics, Druids and Wizards.

So, which ones do your dragons fit better?

In particular, Sorcerers are probably the closest to Dragons

While there are a few spontaneous casters (Sorcerer, Warlock, Bard), the ones described as being born with that magic running through their veins are the Sorcerers (under Unexplained Powers, for example):

People with magical power seething in their veins soon discover that the power doesn’t like to stay quiet.

Additionally, sorcerers have the Draconic Bloodline origin, putting them again as the one closest to dragons - one of their possible magical sources is the same as dragons.

Finally, note how the text describes the dragon spellcasting.

Dragons are innately magical creatures that can master a few spells as they age, using this variant.

A young or older dragon can innately cast a number of spells equal to its Charisma modifier. Each spell can be cast once per day, requiring no material components, and the spell's level can be no higher than one-third the dragon's challenge rating (rounded down). The dragon's bonus to hit with spell attacks is equal to its proficiency bonus+ its Charisma bonus. The dragon's spell save DC equals 8 +its proficiency bonus + its Charisma modifier.

From this text, the resemblance to Sorcerer is quite huge: They use the same Charisma modifier (opposed to Wisdom or Intelligence) and it's likely their spellcasting uses their own understanding of the Weave, not intervention of some god like Tiamat or Bahamut. For that reason, I usually use as default that dragons are sorcerer-like spellcasters, and a few dragons are exceptions to that, e.g. a dragon that spent its life studying magic fits better as a Wizard, as you said, and I would change its spellcasting ability to Intelligence as well. This is completely on the realm of house-ruling or even homebrewing already, though.


1 - PHB, p. 206:

The spells of wizards, warlocks, sorcerers, and bards are commonly called arcane magic. These spells rely on an understanding— learned or intuitive—of the workings of the Weave. The caster plucks directly at the strands of the Weave to create the desired effect. Eldritch knights and arcane tricksters also use arcane magic. The spells of clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers are called divine magic. These spellcasters’ access to the Weave is mediated by divine power— gods, the divine forces of nature, or the sacred weight of a paladin’s oath.

  • 4
    Nice job folding in both Draconic bloodline and Kobolds. +1 – KorvinStarmast Nov 24 at 20:46

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