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(Note: I feel that this question is sufficiently different from this one to justify a new post, as my question is about specific information informing Wizard spell preparation)

(Additional note: These same issues may be similarly relevant for other preparation casters. I chose to focus on Wizards because of my personal experiences as a player, my current needs as a DM, and the flexibility in access to spells that is unique to Wizards.

Please feel free to address this question for any preparation caster; Wizards simply have more opportunity to make "bad" choices in preparing spells due to their large spell list and greater number of spells known, while also having one of their key features be their versatility in what spells they can bring to a challenge)


One of the major class-balancing elements of the Wizard class is that they are only able to prepare a certain number of spells at a time. Among all magic using classes, wizards have access to the largest number of spells that they can learn, which makes them extremely versatile, but that versatility is tempered because they can only prepare a subset of those spells at any given time.

This can be very exciting-- it adds a degree of planning, creativity, coordination, and tension to playing a wizard. It is also valuable in that it helps prevent the wizard from overshadowing other spellcasters with less expansive spell lists.

However, it can also be frustrating, particularly at lower levels when fewer spells can be prepared at once. It's difficult to choose which spells to prepare if you don't have any idea what challenges you'll be facing, and even if you do have some information about that there may not be enough time to change which spells are prepared beforehand. It can be annoying to be completely mis-prepared for challenges.

Sometimes that's appropriate: surprises do happen, narrow windows of opportunity may appear, and being maximally appropriately prepared for every encounter is not a realistic goal. Often there will be a middle ground, such as knowing you'll be exploring an area rumored to be filled with undead enemies and so it might be a good idea to have spells that are useful against the undead.

But it's not much fun to only rarely be able to use spells that you've learned specifically to deal with situations in which you find yourself because you didn't (whether or not you couldn't) know anything about what you're walking into. Using magic to solve problems is largely what the Wizard class is about.

This has frustrated me as a player, and I'm having trouble balancing those concerns in a game I'm running now. If my approach to the issue is fundamentally that:

  • Surprising encounters can happen, particularly if my players drive those events
  • Events which are known in advance may not offer enough time to swap out prepared spells before dealing with them
  • Gathering advance knowledge about upcoming challenges won't always be equally possible or reliable
  • Obtained knowledge about future challenges shouldn't be a how-to guide on min-maxing those challenges
  • I don't want to do away with the preparation mechanic
  • I don't want to elide the issue by providing abundant spell scrolls or similar items

My experiences playing a wizard have been plagued by this issue, often leading me to wish I'd just chosen a different class. I'd like to spare my players that irritation if I can.

How can I telegraph enough information to a player with a preparation caster character (especially at lower levels) that they can avoid being totally mis-prepared, and how often should I do so?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 20 at 1:54
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Why do you feel this is unjust for Wizards alone?

Most every class can suffer from FOMO; they brought the wrong tool, memorized the wrong spell, took they wrong skill proficiency, didn't have enough ball bearings.

Preparing spells is no different. Every morning when the character wakes up they need to make choices about how to prepare for the day--What spells to prepare (if they even get a choice!1), what weapons to have ready, what supplies to bring, and what clothes to wear.

This is the same for you and me! You get up in the morning and have to decide what clothes to wear, what books/supplies you need to bring to your school/job, whether or not to carry a pocket of change or just a credit card, whether to carry a pocket knife with you, and so on.

So again, why do you feel making choices is a burden to just being a Wizard?

Telegraphing

Do you need to telegraph what is going to happen? To me, this borders on railroading.

DM: "Tomorrow, you're going on a boat."
P1: "Guess that means we should prepare Water Breathing..."

And even if you're that blunt about it, players still have free will and may decide to spend the day at the tavern with their characters talking to locals. Players will do as they want. You can drop hints which can be used or ignored. They may come up with a completely different method to solve the problem.

DM: "The mayor wants you to investigate why ships are disappearing around Shipwreck Cove."
P1: "I'm going to prepare Zone of Truth to interrogate the Harbor Master."
P2: "I'll use Commune and Scrying to see what I can learn about the area."
P3: "I'll head to the library to do research."
P4: "I'm going to go meddle with Old Man Johnson at the old Saw Mill. He always dresses up as a monster to scare people to get away with something."

So just play the game. The players make choices for their characters; sometimes for the better, sometimes meaning they need to improvise. That's part of the fun!


1 As I mentioned in a comment, Warlocks and Sorcerers can only choose what spells to "prepare" once per level? They can't change spells over night even if they know about something days in advance. Wizards get at least two spells per level they can switch off as needed. And within those spells, some can be ritual so they don't even need to prepare them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also worth mentioning that if your players don't know what they are doing the next day they are not doing their job, they should be planning and investigating. \$\endgroup\$ – John May 19 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. I've edited the question to include other preparation casters as well, and also tried to emphasize that the ability to switch spells every day (and therefore be better prepared for specific challenges) is a meaningful part of a wizard's unique role as a class. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case May 19 at 20:10

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