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I'm currently working on a clockwork soul sorceror in D&D 5e, which uses clockwork magic. There seems to be a discrepancy between how I understand it and how some sample builds I found in various fora (reddit/giantitp) interpret it.

My question is essentially what is considered as gaining a level. The subclass description says "Whenever you gain a sorcerer level, you can replace one spell you gained from this feature with another spell of the same level."

The way I understand this, a level one character will know the two "Clockwork Magic" spells no matter what. When they level up to level two characters, they may choose to replace one of these spells, while keeping the other. (Keeping this in mind.) In a similar vein, reaching level three will always make your character learn Aid and Lesser restoration, one of which may be replaced upon reaching level four.

When I look at some sample builds, however, these changes are considered one level lower. First level builds often only use one of the first level Clockwork Magic spells, while the other is replaced. Moreover, it is suggested that on reaching odd levels only one of the new Clockwork spells is added to your spell list, while the other is replaced immediately.

Is my interpretation correct or the one I seem to find regularly?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ (As a minor addition: regardless of the answer, I'll probably use my own interpretation anyway, since it's least prone to minmaxing.) \$\endgroup\$ – HSN Apr 21 at 23:14
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If it were intended to run as you interpret it, I think they would spell it out, something like “Whenever you gain a sorcerer level, you can replace one spell you gained from this feature at a previous level with another spell of the same level.” Even simply using “had gained” would be a hint that we are talking about something “more past.” The lack of that wording is, to me, conspicuous.

But ultimately, the text is what it is. It says you replace a spell gained through this feature. No caveat or limitation—so it can be any of those spells, even one you just gained that same level. That ultimately is really the only answer we can give.

As for “min-maxing,” getting a spell you actually want a level early is hardly game-breaking. If anything, it allows a player to characterize their PC better—most would say that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t really even bother with enforcing the one spell per level limit in the first place, personally.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That sounds fair. It leaves me with the question about starting level, though. The premise of the description is still "Whenever you gain a sorcerer level". In my experience, getting to first level isn't considered as gaining a level, even though that would make sense for narrative reasons. Does your answer still apply there? \$\endgroup\$ – HSN Apr 21 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ (I think I agree with your assessment of min-maxing. I've probably become a bit too sensitive about that having played in a group that took min-maxing to the extremes for too long.) \$\endgroup\$ – HSN Apr 21 at 23:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Do you “gain” your 1st level? \$\endgroup\$ – Payden K. Pringle Apr 22 at 2:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PaydenK.Pringle Good point, at 1st, you can’t use this ability (though again, per my last paragraph, I probably wouldn’t say no to a player who wanted to). But this question is still relevant, since you might want to swap, say, aid at 3rd level, which is the same level you get first get it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 22 at 3:06

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