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The official D&D 5e book Acquisitions Incorporated published by Wizards of the Coast includes an adventure, The Orrery of the Wanderer. In a section of Episode 2 (p. 116), a hobgoblin carries spell scrolls which it may use in battle:

One of those hobgoblins carries and will use two spell scrolls [...]

This is a regular CR 1/2 hobgoblin with no spellcasting abilities, no spellcaster class, no spell slots or levels. It is not a shaman, witch doctor, acolyte/priest/mage/druid/magic initiate/ritual caster or in any other way different from a standard, non-magic-using hobgoblin.
How can it use these spell scrolls?

Similarly, Episode 3 (p. 121) and Episode 5 (p. 162) of the adventure include NPCs that use the typical wererat and spy stat blocks respectively (modified for special weapons or race, but not to add spellcasting). Both carry spell scrolls that it is strongly implied (although not actually stated) they will use if the situation demands.

Nowhere does it explain this as a special situation ("specific beats general"), either for these specific creatures or for this campaign setting (which takes place in the official Forgotten Realms setting, and refers players to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide and similar resources).

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Monster abilities do not have to mirror player character abilities.

Thomas Markov gives a very thorough explanation on a possibility that will allow this, but I wish to be more general.

It does it because it can. Monsters have abilities and skills and actions because of just generally what they are and the story that needs to be told. A Hobgoblin in this setting can read scrolls, one in another setting might be able to use a Staff of Power. If the writer of the adventure chooses to give you a background why this is ("A Djinn gave this Hobloblin the powerful staff and imbued it with the power to wield it as a spellcaster") then you can know why. But if the writer does not choose to inform you why this is then apparently it didn't matter to the writer. In this case, sure, maybe the hobgoblin is a documancer. Or maybe it's just a scroll savant.

DND is a set of rules that are used to guide gameplay in a fantasy setting . It is NOT a fully formed world with rules and logic that must work together in a complete whole. In this case there isn't a relevant rule that needs to be satisfied other than that the hobgoblin has the ability to use scrolls, which seems inherent in the description.

To finish with a bit of a rant... To me, this question is similar to questions about why characters in Star Wars acted a certain way (the reason is it's a fictional entertainment franchise, not a reckoning of actual beings with agency). Hopefully the writer does a good enough job on the movie or module to have it make sense, and if not there are at least enough shiny things to take your mind off of it (yeah, Lucas, I'm looking at you).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm afraid that's a weak answer. The 5e rules do describe which monsters can or can't use magic items, but in this product there are at least 3 instances where non-spellcasting monsters use spell scrolls, and only 1 of them could be a documancer. (Another is a wererat bandit, and the third is a hoardsperson). The writer/DM can certainly overrule a rule for story reasons, but it should at least be acknowledged that this is happening. Rather, it seems like in the AI version of 5e/FR, either everyone can use spell scrolls (a big rules change) or the writer misunderstood the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 8 at 3:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Rules can be changed as needed but not without reason. Players have a right to expect some consistency, such as who can or can't cast spells from scrolls. Ignoring that rule arbitrarily or randomly is sloppy writing. Players seeing an NPC using a spell scroll have every right to assume that NPC is a spellcaster and act accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 8 at 4:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe wotc should have edited more aggressively, but I think you're expecting the wrong thing from a module that is a celebrity collaboration with an internet-famous dungeon master known to never let a rule get in the way of his story and regularly blogs stuff like: I think Dungeons and Dragons is a special case though. In my opinion it is a testament to the pure genius of the rules, that a crazy person like me can stretch them like taffy and still maintain the spirit of the game. You can look at D&D as a finished game, or you can look at it as an incredible foundation for your own. \$\endgroup\$
    – Affe
    Apr 8 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ErïchJacoby-Hawkins, the last paragraph addresses your concern. You can hope for an explanation, but there is no rule-based reason why there should be one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tiger Guy
    Apr 8 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for the "rant". I have the exact same issue with those types of questions. The answer is "because it is convenient for story purposes." Usually any other answer is just BS made up on the spot (using the "shiny things" that happen to have been left lying around in the story.) \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 10 at 17:40
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The hobgoblin is likely a documancer.

Franchises from the Acquisitions Inc. book have an organizational position called a Documancer:

Every great Acquisitions Incorporated quest begins with a contract from Head Office — and a franchise’s documancer is most likely the one who controls and channels the power of that contract. A documancer bears the responsibility of managing each of a franchise’s quests, of ensuring that every condition of the quest is fulfilled, and of recording and sending on information vital to Head Office when the mission is complete. When creating contracts with other organizations, a documancer makes sure that the language benefits both the franchise and Acquisitions Incorporated.

A documancer has a particularly relevant ability:

In addition to the proficiencies noted below, you can add your proficiency bonus to an ability check to organize lore, analyze official or arcane documents, or convey a legally binding point of view.

The position description goes on to assume that a documancer can use spell scrolls even if the spell does not appear on their spell list. The documancer's Satchel of Holding feature states:

Additionally, you can use an action to draw forth from the documancy satchel a spell scroll of comprehend languages. The scroll vanishes when used, or ten minutes after it appears.

The feature just assumes you can use a comprehend languages scroll, even though it is entirely feasible that your chosen class could not normally use it. The rank 4 feature Scroll Service continues in this assumption:

Also at rank 4, you can use an action to request one spell scroll containing a spell of up to 3rd level from Head Office. If you succeed on a DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check, the scroll instantly appears within your documancy satchel. Only you can use this scroll.

So while it is not explicitly stated that documancers are an exception to the spell scroll class restriction, it is quite heavily implied to be so.

This is further supported by this statement about company positions:

When you choose a company position for your character, that choice is independent of and in addition to your character’s background, class, and other options.

You choice as a documancer is supposed to be independent of you choice of class, but if the spell scroll restriction applies to the documancer, then it is not indpendent.

Since this particular hobgoblin is an employee of Dran Enterprises, and it is stated that they will use spell scrolls, the most likely answer is that they are a documancer in that organization, and so are particularly gifted at reading arcane documents.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was also going to ask about the documancer getting scrolls that they might not even be able to use, but I guess this answers that question, too. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 7 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ The documancer explanation can explain the hobgoblin, but there is also a wererat bandit with a spell scroll, and another non-spellcasting franchise member with a spell scroll who is a hoardsperson, not a documancer. (You can only have 1 faction role). \$\endgroup\$ Apr 8 at 4:03
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It appears that the writers of this book weren't aware that only spellcasters can use spell scrolls.

Thomas Markov cites several features of the documancer which allow them to acquire spell scrolls which only they can use. Nothing about the documancer explicity gives them the ability to use spell scrolls.

You cite three different NPCs in this book which carry spell scrolls even though they are not members of spellcasting classes.

It appears that the writers of the book simply didn't know (or didn't care) about the restriction on spell scrolls. It appears that this was not caught in editing.

If this bothers you, I recommend telling your players in advance that, in this setting, anyone can use any spell scroll.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Best answer by far, thank you. This is what I suspected was the case but the rules of this board somehow don't allow me to ask the question this way or suggest that reasoning. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 9 at 18:12

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