The rules for Activating a Magic Item state:

Some magic items allow the user to cast a spell from the item, often by expending charges from it. The spell is cast at the lowest possible spell and caster level, doesn’t expend any of the user’s spell slots, and requires no components unless the item’s description says otherwise.

Dungeon Master's Guide, p. 141

The phrase was added in a 2018 errata:

[New] Spells (p. 141). In the second sentence, “lowest possible spell level” is now “lowest possible spell and caster level.”

What exactly is caster level referring to in this rule? Further to this, what mechanical purpose does this phrase serve? What behavior is being restricted by this phrase? What ambiguity is being clarified by this phrase?

To be clear, I am not at all interested in any sort of speculation about why the designers included this phrase in the rule. To put it another way, if this phrase were deleted from this rule, what could I do that I couldn't do before? Or, what ambiguity would arise that would no longer be clarified?


1 Answer 1


One place it would make a difference is cantrips

Cantrips are fairly (but not entirely) unique in that their power is based on the level of the person casting.

For instance, the Fire Bolt spell:

This spell's damage increases by 1d10 when you reach 5th level (2d10), 11th level (3d10), and 17th level (4d10).

As a cantrip, it can only be cast as a zeroth level spell (no up casting). However, it can change based on the level of the caster. So in the case of a magic item that casts a cantrip, it will only use the weakest damage (lowest caster level).

  • \$\begingroup\$ So is the lowest caster level always 1? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5, 2021 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Gus, cantrips are the only thing that came to mind, but I didn't want to say it as an absolute as eventually someone will point out that spell X also depends on caster, not spell, level. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Apr 5, 2021 at 23:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just nitpicking but caster level doesn't matter for cantrips they scale by character level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Apr 5, 2021 at 23:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth: I'm not sure there's a distinction between those terms in 5e. I know there used to be an explicit difference in some previous editions, mostly for multiclass characters. In 5e, the multiclass spellcasting rules reference a character's level in a class, but the term "caster level" isn't generally used for that as a jargon term. In the rules passage quoted in the question, I'm pretty sure "caster level" just has its plain English meaning: the level of the caster. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blckknght
    Apr 6, 2021 at 6:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cantrips don't scale with caster level, they scale based on character level (for PCs). When a Wizard 1/Fighter 19 casts Fire Bolt, it deals 4d10 damage. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 7, 2021 at 20:56

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