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Is there a rule for monsters that allows a higher-level spell to be cast using a lower level?

I ask because I came across the "Shadow Fey Enchantress" statblock in the third-party book Tome of Beasts (p. 170-172) by Kobold Press. Its Spellcasting trait lists the spell conjure fey at 3rd level (bold for emphasis mine):

The shadow fey is a 10th-level spellcaster. Her spellcasting ability is Charisma (save DC 15, +7 to hit with spell attacks). She knows the following bard spells.

[...]
3rd level (3 slots): conjure fey, fear, hypnotic pattern
[...]

However, conjure fey is a 6th-level conjuration spell.

I checked with the errata, but it doesn't mention this as an error. Perhaps it was overlooked, or perhaps there is a monster creation mechanic that I'm not aware of?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wonder if the writer was thinking of the third-level spell Summon Fey Spirit from UA - Spells and Magic Tattoos, soon to be Summon Fey in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. \$\endgroup\$
    – notovny
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 21:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: All the monster statblocks in Tome of Beasts are considered "Open Game Content" by Kobold Press, as detailed at the bottom of p. 3 of the book: "Open Game Content: The Open content in this book includes the monster names, descriptions, monster statistics, and monster abilities. No other portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without permission." That's why 5eSRD includes that information, but not stuff like the art. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 5:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @notovny: Tome of Beasts was published in 2016, and even if the UA had been out then, it'd make no sense for a published (3rd-party) book to refer to playtest content that hadn't been officially published in a book yet. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 6:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast My mistake, I'd assumed that the Tome of Beasts was an online resource whose copyright boilerplate hadn't been updated on the webpage for awhile, rather than a book. Objection withdrawn. \$\endgroup\$
    – notovny
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 11:16

3 Answers 3

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There are no rules for down-casting spells.

There just aren't, even in the monster creation guidance found in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

So this is most likely an oversight on the part of the author. It should be noted, this is not official content. Since this creature does not have 6th level spell slots, it cannot cast a 6th level spell, and there is no mechanic for casting a 6th level spell at 3rd level.

It's worth noting that the Monster Manual states that monsters with the spellcasting feature should use the normal rules found in the Player's Handbook:

A monster with the Spellcasting class feature has a spellcaster level and spell slots, which it uses to cast its spells of 1st level and higher (as explained in the Player’s Handbook).

The DM can make the monster do whatever they want.

Even though there is no written mechanics or guidance for giving monsters higher level spells than spell slots, the DM has freedom to do something like this, but care should be taken not to make monsters more powerful than expected by giving them stronger spells than they should have.

That source lists the Shadow Fey Enchantress as a CR 7 creature, which seems about right without conjure fey. Conjure fey adds the ability to summon another CR 6 creature, which should probably push the CR higher than 7, so be aware of this if you decide to use conjure fey when running this monster.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Looks likely to be a mistake that should say conjure animals to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 22:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for the "monsters have no rules", maybe they decided a Shadow FEY enchantress is especially good with Fey spells. And the spell implies the CR is equal to the slot level, so maybe it's even fair. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 5:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding the second half of the answer: Homebrew monsters could do what they want, sure, but if they're going to make up new mechanics they need to actually explain how they work. This statblock doesn't do that. As @SeriousBri says, the statblock almost certainly intends to refer to conjure animals instead. The only other officially published 3rd-level creature-summoning spell (not including recent UA/upcoming releases) is summon lesser demons, which is not remotely similar to conjure fey; meanwhile, conjure animals also summons beasts, so it's much more likely the intended spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 6:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carmeister Only WotC publications are official for D&D 5e. For reference, DnD Beyond has most of that material, though there are some Adventurer’s League specific rules that are not published there. For more details, see this Q&A: Where do I find the “official” rules for D&D 5e? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 8:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast; I was also looking at Conjure Animals, as in that's a good chance the designer intended that spell instead. This is insightful for someone that comes across this question and wants to run this monster. Perhaps add this suggestion to the answer, with a note of course that this is still a (reasonable) assumption? \$\endgroup\$
    – svenema
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 8:34
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I've reached out to Kobold Press for support and received the following response:

Looks like the Enchantress somehow either summons animals (which is the errata we'd probably take) or has innate spellcasting ability for Conjure Fey. Either solution works if you are looking to run this monster on standard spell levels.

Happy gaming!

Until an official errata is released, it seems that the spell should be Conjure Animals.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That is very useful, thanks for clearing that up! \$\endgroup\$
    – svenema
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 19:18
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Monster creation doesn't have to follow the DMG guidelines

Whether it's pure homebrew or a third party publication, creating monsters can work however you want it to work. While it could be a mistake in their creation (that publication has some idiosyncrasies), it also doesn't really matter in the terms of your question.

Most likely an error

My experience with using that book has shown there are a lot of errors in the text. This is likely another one, but you do need to also consider that the monster mechanics in the Tome are often different than the official monsters from Wizards of the Coast. It's possible that they just felt it was thematic and wanted it to work, but it's more likely that it's just another error.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it worth noting that monsters with spell slots explicitly use the spellcasting rules from the PHB? (MM p. 10) \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil I thought about that, but again, homebrew monsters can kinda do what they want. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Homebrew monsters could do what they want, sure, but if they're going to make up new mechanics they need to actually explain how they work. This statblock doesn't do that. It's almost certainly just an error, likely intended to refer to conjure animals instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 6:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I'll make an update. I agree it's likely an error because that book is full of errors, but that book also uses a lot of mechanics that other official monsters don't. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil And then there are special cases like a CR 4 Couatl being able to cast 'at will' greater restoration. ( fifth level spell) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 14:13

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