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At level 20, a wizard gains the Signature Spells feature. This allows them to choose two 3rd-level spells, and from then on they always have those spells prepared and can cast them once each without using a spell slot between rests.

What happens though, if a wizard reaches level 20 and does not have two 3rd-level spells in their spellbook for some reason? Is the ability suspended until they scribe two such spells in their spellbook?

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You Gain Nothing

When you level up, you resolve all the aspects that go with leveling up at that time (though DM's often postpone the actual process of leveling up to the end of the adventure day).

If you have no qualifying spells to choose from, you don't meet the requirements for the feature, which by RAW means they would lose the ability to select spells for this feature. Since Signature Spells are selected when you level up, gaining 3rd level spells later won't be able to retroactively meet the requirements.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since no one should ever enforced that rule for this feature, this answer seems deficient—mentioning the official rule without pointing out how bad that would be for your game is not providing the expert advice people come here for. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kryan while I would never enforce this rule myself, the question respondent is well within their right to enforce it, and I've certainly known GMs who would expect the player to manage their spells accordingly so they don't miss out on a feature like this. I do agree in that the answer would feel more complete if the respondent stated what their position is and why they feel that way based on their experience playing or GMing, or just basic human decency. \$\endgroup\$ – lightcat Mar 3 at 5:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm coding up a 5th edition character generator and I ran into a crash when I had a wizard hit level 20 since I hadn't picked up any third level spells and hadn't handled the case of a character not having any (I was just grabbing random spells at each level and just never took any third level spells). I believe it is unlikely that a character would actually hit level 20 without 3rd level spells since haste, dispel magic and counterspell are three of the best spells in the game, but I was wondering in terms of actual rules how to handle such a case. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Mar 3 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Given that the question is about RAW for the situation, your suggestion seems to me to add a primarly opinion based section to the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Lause Mar 3 at 10:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kryan A bad GM is one that is not clear with their expectations, not one you disagree with. This ruling could be applied by a good GM or a bad GM, but the ruling itself does not define them as such. How they've established expectations in the first 19 level-ups is far more telling of their quality than just one ruling. \$\endgroup\$ – lightcat Mar 3 at 16:51
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The situation cannot occur without deliberate choice by the player

For this wizard:

Each time you gain a wizard level, you can add two wizard spells of your choice to your spellbook for free.

In the unlikely event that the wizard had no 3rd level spells in their spellbooks, they have a final opportunity when they reach level 20 to choose 2 in order to meet the requirement for Signature Spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that there are situations that can arise in which a Wizard may arrive at 20th level with no 3rd level spells; situations that are beyond their control. If a Wizard prepared no 3rd level spells one morning, loses their spellbook or has it destroyed, then levels up, they fall into the scenario as described by the OP. \$\endgroup\$ – Nesbitto Mar 3 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bot when they level up they can choose two 3rd level spells so they will always have the opportunity to have them. @Nesbitto \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 3 at 7:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ you can't add spells to your spellbook if you don't have a spellbook :) \$\endgroup\$ – Nesbitto Mar 3 at 7:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nesbitto if you work hard enough you can come up with any scenario - even absurd ones. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 3 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ The body of your answer is fine and a good point (they can just learn the spells when they also gain the feature). The heading doesn't really match the body and is problematically absolute and basically blames the player regardless of the context. I suggest you change that heading to match the rest of the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 3 at 12:40
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The Signature Spells feature says:

When you reach 20th level, you gain mastery over two powerful spells and can cast them with little effort. Choose two 3rd-level wizard spells in your spellbook as your signature spells. You always have these spells prepared, they don’t count against the number of spells you have prepared, and you can cast each of them once at 3rd level without expending a spell slot. When you do so, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

If you want to cast either spell at a higher level, you must expend a spell slot as normal.

You gain the benefits of leveling up as soon as you level up, unless the DM house-rules otherwise. The feature requires you to choose two 3rd-level spells in your spellbook as your signature spells; if you are unable to do so, you simply don't get the benefit of the feature. This choice can not be made at some later point.

That said, this is a very unlikely situation; the only way it would be possible is if you picked only 1st- or 2nd-level spells when you gained your 5th and 6th wizard levels, and continued picking only non-3rd-level spells as you continued leveling up. (Or, I suppose, if your spellbook was somehow lost/destroyed after your 6th wizard level and you never chose a 3rd-level spell after that.)

Obviously, this would be a terrible idea, as you'd get nothing from the capstone feature. At the same time that the player goes up to level 20, they get to add 2 spells to their spellbook as always; if they've somehow managed to accidentally never take 3rd-level spells for some reason (which really is highly unlikely without doing so intentionally), they can do so when they go up to 20th level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Losing a spellbook after 6th would also do it, far more plausibly. Anyway, since no one should ever enforced that rule for this feature, this answer seems deficient—mentioning the official rule without pointing out how bad that would be for your game is not providing the expert advice people come here for. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: I figured it was pretty self-evident to OP that it would be a bad idea to set themselves up such that they'd get nothing from the feature... Don't really need to be an expert to figure that out. Edited anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 3 at 5:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, I was not referring to bad for the player. I was referring to bad for the game—as in, no DM should ever enforced that rule that way in that case, but should implement houserules to allow the player to choose spells later (or otherwise not miss out on their capstone). Yes, it’s obvious from the player’s perspective. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: Given how obvious it is from the player perspective, it's virtually impossible for this hypothetical scenario to come about accidentally. I don't think it necessarily needs to be house-ruled, because as Dale's answer (and now mine) points out, when they go up to level 20, they can add two 3rd-level spells to their spellbook at the same time. It's basically only possible for it to be a problem if the player is actively choosing to avoid 3rd-level spells even when they reach this level. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 3 at 16:40

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