One of my players is playing their first caster in 5e and chose a wizard.

Unbeknown to them, the wizard class comes with a fair amount of bookkeeping both in long rests and downtime with their spell lists, both spellbook and prepared, and this doesn't appeal to them.

I would like to avoid allowing them to change characters because we have had some issues with people attempting to seem displeased with a character so they can play the cool new character idea they've come up with. I found allowing this greatly took away from the RP side of things.

The player seems to find anything non-combat uninteresting and is frequently on their phone while the others are RPing or resting/downtime-ing.

Simply what tried and tested techniques work for getting a player to bookkeep more? I am willing to teach them the rules and spells but they don't seem to be very interested.

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    \$\begingroup\$ what kind of book keeping they are struggling with? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 4:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Spells mainly and the two separate lists (spell book and spells prepared) but also book keeping in general. the former is the one this question is aimed at though. \$\endgroup\$
    – rpgstar
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 5:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ You mention that the player is also inattentive outside of combat. Is this a symptom of him having to do bookkeeping or is that "normal" for him? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dinomaster
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 8:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dinomaster this is fairly normal. He RP'd somewhat as a fighter high-elf earlier but even then he only RP'd so much as to describe his actions in battle more. Things like having a catch phrase (i cant remember it) and describing where he wants to hit. \$\endgroup\$
    – rpgstar
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 10:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @rpgstar then I think Theik propbably has the right of it and the bookkeeping is probably not the issue \$\endgroup\$
    – Dinomaster
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 10:08

6 Answers 6


I have to say that I agree with Theik. I think this is not really an issue of bookkeeping at all, but of misjudged interest or perhaps a discomfort with roleplaying. But maybe I am just confused by your explanation and bookkeeping really is the issue, so I'll give my thoughts on both problems.

First, I recommend you talk to your player one on one. Tell them that you've noticed that they seem bored (phone, etc.) and that you want to make sure they're having a good time/what you can do to help them have more fun. As you have this conversation, here are some things that hopefully you can figure out:

  • Why they signed up to play in the first place- what they were hoping to get out of this.
  • What drew them to their wizard character, and if they feel like their expectations about playing a wizard have been met.
  • One or two moments that they have really enjoyed so far, whether that was a silly running joke, a cool thing they got to do in battle, figuring out a puzzle, etc.
  • One or two moments that they have disliked or felt "meh" about so far, such as a moment where they didn't know what to do next and felt like the group had lost focus, a moment where they weren't sure what spells they had available, etc.

If you can figure out those things, you will likely have a much clearer understanding of how to best address the issue, but I'll give you some general tips as well.

Dealing with Players who Only Want Combat

(Note: I'm assuming here that they are going to continue playing in your game. There are cases where a person just doesn't understand or enjoy the spirit of collaborative storytelling, and really just wants to play video games with a friend. I'm assuming that is not the case for the sake of this answer.)

  • Manage expectations: Talk to your player and make sure that they actually know what the game you're playing entails. When I talk about table-top RPGs to the uninitiated, I typically describe them as "It's a collaborative storytelling session! We sit at a table and make up a story together. To keep it interesting for us, we sometimes use random chance to see how things turn out." Make sure that your player knows what that they signed up to make up stories which sometimes involve swords and spells, not just to beat up enemies like in a video game.
  • Draw in their character: If they have a hard time getting involved in roleplay and more general adventuring, have the adventure come to them. An NPC from their past shows up, what does he want and why is he being so cryptic? The party is asked to go to your player's hometown for some reason, but when they get there, the house your player grew up in is gone, and only a charred ring marks where it once was. While shopping for magical artifacts in a market, they pick up a strange disk that burns an ancient rune onto their hand which starts to periodically glow. When it lights up, strangers don't see your player but instead the person last on their thoughts. How does your player deal with being mistaken for a lost lover, a friend who is standing right there, or a mortal enemy?
  • Deal with any accessibility issues: This might seem like an obvious thing, but are there any barriers preventing your player from enjoying themself? Do they need to be doing something with their hands? Suggest a fidget cube, knitting, or doodling. Are they given time to think about their actions before someone else cuts in? Or are they being talked over and bypassed? Can they hear everything that's going on? Position them in the middle of the group or closer to you if possible.
  • Get them to put down the phone: I get it, screens are captivating and when you're bored it is hard to not pull out something more engaging. But I bet if your player wasn't on their phone, they would have an easier time being less bored. I personally always ban phones when I GM. If my players need to text someone, I ask them to physically step out of the room while they do it to "avoid distracting others" (which is part of it, I find phones very distracting. But mostly it's to limit their screen-time while in game.) This is a great time to review any ground rules your group set at the beginning or to make some together! Be Present should be on the list, and you can cite it when asking them to put their phone away.

Dealing with Players who are Unsure How to Roleplay

This might well be the issue. When I played my first game I don't think I ever said anything at all without the GM or another player prompting me to. I hadn't made a particularly interesting character, and I wasn't sure at all what to say or do. I was also more than a little bit intimidated by my much cooler (ie nerdier) friends in the group and was afraid of doing it "wrong."

  • Draw the character into the action: see above
  • Give opportunities for character building: when you take a break or when you end a session, ask your players to think about the answer to a character building question (you can google for them, there are thousands online). When you regroup next, share your answers or have everyone write them down and guess who's was whose. You could also roleplay character building by having your party play truth or dare, never have I ever, etc.
  • Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute: If one or two players aren't talking much, make sure that you go around the table and ask everyone what they're doing in most situations. Change up the order too, so that one person isn't always the last to speak.
  • Provide hooks for actions: While experienced players can often handle being put in an open world sort of situation ("You enter the gate of the small town, what would you like to do?"), new players can feel overwhelmed by the options or be unsure what to look for. Instead try using your descriptions, NPCs, etc. to suggest a few possible points of interest. Maybe there's a broom sweeping a porch of one of the houses (no human visibly using it, just a broom sweeping by itself). Maybe the rich scent of roast meat and mead greets the travelers as they enter, coming from the village common. Maybe a loose goat runs past followed by a dog followed by a young girl followed by a crying toddler, each one chasing the one before. Sure, your players don't have to investigate any of those things, but a player who doesn't know what to do will probably jump on one of them.

Dealing with Players who Struggle to Keep Track of Mechanics

Honestly, I don't think I have anything new to contribute on this topic that someone hasn't already said in an answer. Spell cards are great. You can make them for your player or they can make their own. Make sure they're tracking which spells have been used and remind them that they can always ask for help if they are confused about something.

I hope this helps! Good luck!


Use Spell Cards.

The primary bookkeeping issues with Wizards are knowing what your spells do, knowing which spells you have prepared, and knowing which spells you know.

Physical cards with the spells written on them solve all three of these issues. You can buy them, or you can just make your own.

This way, you always have the spell text itself handy, and your player can make a deck of the spells they have prepared each day. Physically shuffling cards around helps a lot in keeping spells straight, and it's a lot easier than writing and erasing a lot.

One of my fellow players uses this to play her wizard character, and it seems to work out very nicely for her--she keeps the cards in a big binder, and swaps them out whenever appropriate.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've used this method with maneuvers (D&D 3.5 Tome of Battle) for keeping track of which of my ~20 maneuvers were ready, expended or not prepared and it worked like a charm. However I am concerned by the amount of cards a Wizard could need: how many spells did your fellow player have in their spellbook (and what was their level)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 9:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ "When they cast it, they can set it aside" In 5e spells do not become "unprepared" when cast. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 11:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. In 5e, it's not as bad because you only need to short spells as prepared/unprepared. Than you have a separate stack of tokens (I use marked poker chips) that represent the spell slots you are expending. In 3.5, it was harder because you could prepare multiple copies of a spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tezra
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. Yes, but you only need cards for the spells you actually use, and you can make them as you prepare them, and keep the rest in a notepad if you like. My spell deck usually just consists of "prestidigitation" and "Explosion (fireball)" =P \$\endgroup\$
    – Tezra
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Using cards is a good idea for many players but I don't think that's the solution to this particular problem. In this case, the player is only interested in combat and I think the "book keeping" excuse is a lame attempt to cover for the lack of interest in the rest of the game. If the player built the character with a combat focus, they may feel that they can't really contribute to non-combat aspects of the game and cards will not do anything to resolve the problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 23:50

There's no need to, you just have a low-interest player

You are severely overestimating how much bookkeeping is involved in being a wizard. I've had first-time D&D players play a wizard with no real issue after I helped them set up their initial spelllist, it's really not that much different from playing a different caster, as first-time players can simply prepare a list of spells and never change it if they don't want to.

Your problem isn't that the player isn't able to bookkeep, it's that they don't want to.

You are playing Dungeons and Dragons with Michael Bay, and the moment the game isn't about explosions and combat, they zone out and stop paying attention. This is perfectly evident when a player stops paying attention outside of combat and instead spends time on their phone.

You have an expectation mismatch between this player and the rest of the group (you included), in that you expected everybody to be interested in all aspects of the game, while Michael Bay is only interested in the exploding special effect bits.

In the future, this is where a Session 0 can be extremely valuable so everybody is on the same page. For now, you're going to just have to either deal with it or kick the player if it ends up becoming too disruptive for your group. You can print all his spells out for him and make it easy as can be, but if they're simply not interested, they're not going to be interested then either.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Underrated answer. Making it easier to play a Wizard only solves the problem of Wizard being hard to play, which does not seem to be the actual issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael W.
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 19:40

Booking Solutions

Multiple Spell Loadouts

To help with bookkeeping for full casters with lots of options I think the best approach is to create multiple Spell Loadouts. A fully prepared list that is suited for certain situations. For example:

  • A combat spell list. This is the list to prepare when you expect a lot of combat. Look for damage spells and battlefield control.
  • A utility spell list. Prepare this list when you no there is low chance of combat, but could need ways to bypass traps, trick guards or open doors. Include social spells, detect magic and other utility spells.
  • An allrounder list: Prepare this list when you don't know what they day ahead will hold. Include your most effective combat spells and your most often used utility spells.
  • An explorer's list: The spell your need out in the wilderness are quite different to the ones you need in town. Prepare travel spells, things to increase movement, find resources and particularly spells that allow you to take long rests in magical safety.

They can then simple choose which list to prepare for the given day. Reducing their options from dozens to 3 or 4.

I have used this successfully with the Wizard in my party until he got a better grip on his class and now no longer needs it. Though he does have a preset list that he brings most days.

Spell Cards

Either purchase the official ones or create your own. These are hands down the easiest way to remember how spells work. My players all have binders with card pockets in them. They each have their own system for how they sort them but having the spells at the table without checking the book is a big plus.

Additionally having card pockets in binders gives me an easy way to hand out items. I create item cards in the same size to hand out at the table. I even have cards for potions, No Card = No Potion. Reduces the book keeping of remembering how many you have.

Spell Slot Tracking Sheet

I haven't had to use this one since my players were new but it might be something you could use.

Create a simple template with the correct number of checkbox per level as they have spell slots. They can them mark then off on the sheet quickly and easily. You can either just print a bunch of these, or print one, laminate it and use an erasable marker. Though this is risks rubbing off between sessions.

Problem Player

On top of needing help with book keeping it sounds like your player may be a problem player. They may not be if them being on their phone doesn't disrupt your table. However, if this is behaviour you wish to correct we have lots of good questions in how to deal with this sort of things, check out:

It is important to remember that there are multiple play styles and potentially the player simply isn't interested in non-combat scenarios. You should talk to the player and try to figure out why. Maybe they feel uncomfortable roleplaying? In which case the advice in the linked question will help.

Whatever the reason, you can't resolve it if you don't know what it is. Remind them that you want them to have fun and that if non-combat isn't currently fun for them you would like to find a way to improve it.


Reduce the amount of bookkeeping and use Spell cards.

You can remove some of the repeated bookkeeping by remembering that the wizards does not have to prepare his spells every rest only if he wants to change them.

Besides this I would advise the use of either bought or made spell cards as in Icefire's answer. I would add to it to keep a separate box stack for spells in the spell book so you can easily figure out which spells you can prepare instead of having to find them in the rest of your stack of cards.


The DMG (p. 288) has an option for using Spell Points instead of spell slots, with a table indicating how many spell points a slot of each level is equivalent to. We've used in in our group and has worked out great for us. It gets a little OP after level 11 or so, but before that I'd say to give it a try.

Also, for one of our players, that's older and just learning D&D, we allowed him to use any spell from his book and to not worry about preparing. That way all his combat spells are ready and if he ever sees a corner case utility spell out of combat, he can use that as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you quote the pg number for that variant rule? For the spell points. I've never heard of it in any official book \$\endgroup\$
    – rpgstar
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 21:32

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