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I have a druid with the ability to cast level 5 spells. If I multi-class this druid to be a level 1 cleric, In theory, I should be able to read and use any cleric scrolls.

But in the DMG (page 200) it says

If the spell is on your class's spell list but of a higher level than you can normally cast, you must make an ability check using your spellcasting ability to determine whether you cast it successfully. The DC equals 10 + spell's level. On a failed check, the spell disappears from the scroll with no other effect.

Now here is the conundrum, If I were to use a level 5 cleric scroll (like Hallow) Since I can normally cast level 5 spells, (even some cleric spells because of my druid circle) Would I have to make this check because I am a level 1 cleric, or do the rules mean what they literally say here, that as long as the spell is not above a level which I can normally cast, I do not have to make the check. Is there a further clarifying rule about this I am missing or is this just something inherently vague that the DM would have to decide?

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You have to do the Ability Check.

The rule in the DMG (page 200) that you quoted has the solution (emphasis mine):

If the spell is on your class's spell list but of a higher level than you can normally cast, you must make an ability check using your spellcasting ability to determine whether you cast it successfully. The DC equals 10 + spell's level. On a failed check, the spell disappears from the scroll with no other effect.

Take a look at the rules for multiclassing in PHB (page 164) too (emphasis mine):

If you have more than one spellcasting class, this table might give you spell slots of a level that is higher than the spells you know or can prepare. You can use those slots, but only to cast your lower-level spells.

Here, since you have two different spell lists (which may overlap, in this case):

  • Druid's list, you known and can prepare spells up to 5th level
  • Cleric's list, you known and can prepare spells up to 1st level

Since you total level is 10 (or 11\$^1\$), you have 5th spell slots available, but you can cast only 1st level spells from the cleric's list. If you try to cast a Cleric spell\$^2\$ of level greater than 1 from a scroll, then the enlighten parts of the rule for casting from a scroll applies: the spell is in your class list, but it has an higher level than the one you can normally cast as a cleric, not as a character of level 10 (or 11).

Consider, for example, a scroll with Daylight: it is a 3rd level spell and it belongs to both cleric and druid lists. You can decide which class use to read this scroll: as a druid, you have no ability check to do, while as a cleric a 3rd level spell is beyond your maximum and then you have to do the ability check.


Another interesting point refers to Casting a Spell at a Higher Level:

When a spellcaster casts a spell using a slot that is of a higher level than the spell, the spell assumes the higher level for that casting.

This does not contradict the above ruling, since the wording higher level than you can normally cast does not apply here: in the OP case, the character can not normally cast (i.e., prepare and cast) 5th level Cleric spells, but only 1st level ones using a 5th level slot. This rule refers to special cases when the effective casting level matters (e.g., 3rd level Counterspell against an empowered 5th level Fireball).


\$^1\$ Depending on your Druid level when you decided to multiclass.

\$^2\$ By as a Cleric spell I mean as a spell belonging to the Cleric's list, as clarified also in the Spells Known and Prepared section here (emphasis mine):

[...] Each spell you know and prepare is associated with one of your classes, [...]

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    \$\begingroup\$ You should defend why you've added "as a cleric", a stipulation the rules do not actually have. (I'd likely argue that the rules assume you aren't multiclassing, and try something from there, but perhaps there's a better explanation) \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Jan 6 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I will expand that part, trying to clarify it. I find the rules poorly written indeed, and there is no indication in the Sage Advice Compendium too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Jan 6 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage I appreciate your breakdown, but I am not convinced by the argument. The rule says "a higher level than you can normally cast" not "a spell that you can not normally cast" and the rules do not seem to stipulate that it has to be from the same class. The other rule you cited applies to spell slots and while it may be reasonable to to rule that way as a DM, I'm just not seeing that in the actual rules so far. Of course house rules trump everything, but that is not really the question. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @UrsineFavor "a higher level than you can normally cast" and "a spell that you can not normally cast" have the same meaning, because you have to consider the previous sentence If the spell is on your class's spell list. If you are a lev 1 cleric you cannot normally cast a 5th lev cleric spell, which means that a cleric spell of 5th lev has an higher level than the spells you can normally cast. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Jan 8 at 23:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ What if you had a 5th-level scroll of Guiding Bolt (i.e. a 1st-level cleric-only spell upcast to 5th level)? Would an ability check be requried? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8 at 18:32
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Yes, you need to make the check

You have to treat each spell you are trying to cast from a scroll individually.

For your example of hallow, it is a spell that is a higher level than you'd be able to cast as a level 1 cleric. You can only cast level 1 cleric spells at that level. As such, you'd need to make the ability check.

If you were trying to cast something like greater restoration then you wouldn't need to make a check since you can already cast that spell.

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Simple answer; Yes, you need to make the ability check

Long answer; It looks like you have fallen into the trap of merging together what level you can cast, and what level spell slots you have.

Watch how often the word level comes up in this discussion...

Your character is a 1st-level Cleric and a 9th-or-higher-level Druid. I have a character that is the opposite; a 16th-level Cleric and a 1st-level Druid.

Because these are both multi-class full-spellcasters, the number and the level of spell slots they have is not diminished in any way. But when it comes to the level of spell at which a class can cast, that is determined by the level of each single class. Per the PHB:

You determine what spells you know and can prepare for each class individually, as if you were a single-classed member of that class.

Being a Druid/Cleric, you have a number spells that are common to both, and spells that are unique to each.

As a 1st-level Cleric, you have access to Bane, Bless, Command, Guiding Bolt, and a few others that a pure Druid would not be able to cast. But since you are only a 1st-level Cleric, you can only know and prepare, and thus cast, 1st-level Cleric spells. Since your character is 10th level (or higher) they can cast those 1st-level spells using a 5th-level spell slot for a biggest affect. But you cannot know or prepare spells like Aid, Remove Cruse, or Hallow because those are 2nd-level or higher spells; out of reach for a 1st-level Cleric. They are of a higher level than you can cast.

Now let's apply that to scrolls:

If you had a scroll with the spell Meld into Stone, that is a 3rd-level spell. It is a Cleric spell, but it is also a Druid spell. Since your Druid can know and cast 3rd-level spells, it would not require any check. But Hallow is a 5th-level Cleric-only (and a couple of subclasses) spell. So you can only go by the level of spells your Cleric can cast; only 1st-level. This makes Hallow, "of a higher level than you can normally cast," and thus, the need for an ability check.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you are confused about what I am asking. What I am asking has nothing to do with spell slots. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5 at 21:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @UrsineFavor, you are saying that your first level cleric is able to cast 5th-level spells (like Hallow) which is incorrect. You can cast 1st-level spells like Bless and Cure Wounds, but you can use 5th-level spell slots to cast it because of your levels in Druid. Hallow is "of a higher level than you can normally cast". Per the PHB, "You determine what spells you know and can prepare for each class individually, as if you were a single-classed member of that class." You cannot prepare a Cleric-only 5th-level spell as it it too high. Same goes for scrolls. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jan 5 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is true that "hallow" is a spell that I can not normally cast. It is not, however a spell "of a higher level than I can normally cast". I think you are missing the core argument here which has nothing to do with spell slots or which spells I can prepare. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @UrsineFavor, but it does. As I pointed out, when dealing with Cleric-only spells, you cannot know, prepare, or cast spells above 1st-level. Therefore, a 5th-level cleric spell is higher than you can cast. I have the exact oppisite character; a 16th level Cleric/1st level Druid. He only gets to use 1st-level Druid-only spells. But he can use 5th-level spell slots to cast them. It does not mean he can cast 5th-level Druid-only spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jan 8 at 16:41

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