I apologize in advance, as I fully admit that this post is asking for the community to help me overcome some of my reading comprehension problems. However, with the success I have had with this community, I am very hopeful for the results in my 1 year study of the wizard class.

What gets me the most confused is how interwoven the terms spells known, prepared spells, and spell slots are used, which jumbles as I read it, so here's how I understand it:

Spellbook: a fancy notebook (tattoos or whatever that can contain notes written in expensive ink) that holds all the theoretical formulae regarding your studied spells.

Spells Known. The number of spells you have studied and have the formulae written down in your spellbook. This is equal to 6 at level one and increases by 2 for every level, BUT can also increase if you can borrow the notes from a spell scroll or another person's spellbook.

Prepared Spells: If the spells known would be the notes taken on each spell, I am guessing the prepared spells would be a quick guide for practical use. Kinda like having a mnemonic fresh in your head. The number of prepared spells, or mnemonics you can remember, are calculated by your Intelligence modifier + your wizard level, aka how smart you are plus your experience.

However, some spells do not require being prepared for practical use and can be done the long way, which is called ritual casting. So as long as you don't mind spending an hour to cast it, you could cheat and say your prepared spells are your Int Mod + Wiz Lvl + Known Rituals, so to speak.

Finally, Spell slots: The best way for me to understand how this works is by looking at this like a vending machine with a broken return slot. Your body produces a certain number of "spell slots" or coins per day, and you can use them to produce any spell you have prepared (ignoring the rituals you cast). While sometimes you can pay a bigger coin to get a bigger bottle of the spell, there is no way to make change, so you'll have to use whatever you got if you want to cast a spell.

If that is all correct, that would mean that you are reliant on the balance of all three to be a wizard, with little to no physical skills aside. So you stand in the back of people who can stab others and cash in your coins to help them out. Meanwhile how effective you can be is reliant on what spells you know how to cast and which one you remember well enough to cast immediately.

Have I finally understood how to play a wizard?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB Ritual spells take 10 minutes to cast, not 1 hour, btw. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 13:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ The topicality of this question is being discussed on meta here: Should we close questions where the asker is looking to double check their understanding of basic rules? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH my bad. Most rituals that I found are 1 hour spells to begin with, which is where I got confused. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems like several Q's. One is the difference between Spell Books and Spells Known, another about Known vs. Prepared spells, another about the reason for Spell Slots, and a fourth about a wizard's role in fighting (you rejected an answer saying wizards could also be in melee, so maybe you asked that by mistake or meant to clarify it). Q's about one thing tend to get more focused answers. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Owen Reynolds while yes there are multiple parts, the point of this question was less about answering each section seperately, and more about seeing which parts I was failing to comprehend. The issue that the community helped me address was getting the different parts mixed up and confusing myself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 10:12

5 Answers 5


While this answer may not fully address all of your concerns:

Yes, you appear to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of playing a wizard. I've run tables with players with very young and reading deficient players before, and one thing I highly recommend for such players are index cards.

Create an index card for every spell known that you have, with the complete spell description and a "Cheat notation" of whatever your saving throw is or damage done at your current level written on it. Then just set those cards out in front of you that are "Prepared". You can use tokens or dice as markers to notate your daily uses, which you can remove or spin down as you cast your spells. You can also make personal notations of how and when to best use those spells to prevent over referencing and you can express those spells in your own words for simplicity.*

When you cast a spell, remove a token, or put the spin down a counter. And you're done. Daily spells and such taken care of with a sense of physicality that may help you keep track of everything.

Doing this will greatly help speed up play and take a lot of the work of guessing about what you can and can't do with your magic slots, letting you focus more on the game and not about what the explicit description of the spell is in the book. It will also let your more experienced comrades visually see what resources you have available and give advice for what you could be doing in a round until you get the hang of things.

Wizards of the Coast also published spell card decks that are essentially every spell for a class. But those can get expensive, and what's written on the cards may not be exactly what you need. It's a lot faster starting out to just make the few starting index cards for your spell list and go from there.

Best of luck.


*Previously I had mentioned that you can remove cards to cast "Prepared" spells. This is a holdover from 3.5. With 5e, once a spell is prepared it is not "lost" once cast, you merely expend the appropriate spell slot for the day. I apologies for any confusion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Unlike some previous editions, in 5E prepared spells do not become "unprepared" when they are cast. While using cards can be helpful for separating spells known and spells prepared, they would not need to be removed from the set of prepared/available spells after being cast. \$\endgroup\$
    – DqwertyC
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 0:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I like the idea of the tokens and cards, even using paper clips to refer to which ones are prepared. However, the only time I ran a spell caster, I flubbed each one (thinking I had the ability to cast all my spells known as many times as I wanted up to the number of spells prepared, as long as I had the spell slots for it). Now that I finally got it, the token system would work well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 0:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Victor B, you are actually correct, if you have 6 spells prepared, and 10 spell slots, you can use all 10 slots casting a first level spell if you so choose. There is no "preparing 3 castings of a spell" :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 2:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I corrected the error regarding "Prepared spells." Sorry, my default is pathfinder, 3.5 and 2nd edition. If you see anything else egregious I invite you to correct it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 15:26

Yes, probably.

Your vending machine analogy did not make sense to me, but it seemed to convey the same idea. (I compare spell slots to ammunition; it is used or unused and the slot needs to be at least as powerful as the spell.)

On all other points, you seem to have correctly described the mechanics of a wizard's spellcasting.

Aside: There is value for a wizard in preparing a ritual spell, for those times when it needs to be cast immediately instead of 10 minutes (100 combat rounds) from now. Definitely a niche case, but it can literally save a character's life.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Rituals are the normal casting time PLUS 10 minutes... which would be a minimum of 101 combat rounds but not all ritual spells are a normal cast of 1 Action which is my point here. Just a nitpick on the casting time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 15:14

This is basically correct, with just a couple minor issues.

I would avoid using the term "spells known" with a wizard. "Spells known" is a specific mechanic used by certain casters, like sorcerers and bards, who just know a small number of spells and don't have to deal with spell preparation. Bringing it up in the context of a wizard might help you draw a parallel with other casters, but in the long run I'm afraid it'll bring more confusion than clarity.

You have a spellbook that you sometimes add spells to. Every day you pick a number of those spells to prepare for the day. Each spell slot can be spent to cast one spell off your current prepared list.

You can overspend, using a bigger spell slot for a smaller spell. Sometimes you get a little power boost for doing that; sometimes you don't. It depends on the spell. (This is often unofficially referred to as "upcasting".)

Some spells allow you to do a ritual to cast them without a spell slot, but you need to have A) your spellbook in hand, and B) plenty of time. I wouldn't think of those as spells known; rather rituals are a whole separate thing.

It's an important distinction, because you don't want to get confused between spells prepared and spells you can cast as a ritual.

For example, if you have comprehend languages written in your spellbook, you can always take a time-out and do a ritual to cast it, whether you prepared it today or not. But if you prepare the spell, you give yourself the extra option of spending a spell slot to cast it fast, which might be important if you find yourself being held at spearpoint and really need to understand the local language. The cost is you've chosen not to prepare some other spell that you might find you want to use later.

Yes, there's some overlap between "I prepared this" and "I can cast this as a ritual" since both of them allow you to access a specific magical effect, but it's better to keep your prepared spells and your ritual list very separate.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Spot on to elucidate the distinction between spells known and spells prepared. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 22:43


Another way of thinking about spells an spell slots is to think of each spell as being like a special gadget you can use to produce a certain effect. Spell slots are batteries you can use to power up the gadet. Each spell/gadget has a minimum power requirement for the slot/battery in order to make it work. However, in many cases, you can use an even more powerful slot/battery to produce a better effect. You hang each gadget on a utility belt which can only hold a certain number of them. That number depends on your intelligence and class level. Rituals are like using a hand generator to power up a spell without using a slot/battery and you can use a spell/gadget you don't have hanging on your belt.

One thing you didn't quite get right though is the wizard's role in the party. For most wizards you do want to avoid getting into melee combat. However, each class in 5th edition D&D has different archetypes (or arcane tradition for wizards). These can make large changes to how the class is normally played. In the case of the wizard there is the bladesinger who is more of a front line fighter type than a typical wizard. Also, even without spell slots, cantrips have unlimited uses and can generally do a reasonable amount of damage.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I do realize that some subclasses change how a wizard is played, however, I was focusing on the core component as that was the part I had problems understanding. Now that I am grasping that concept, it is a lot easier to look at the nuances of subclasses that might change how they are played. But thank you for quite a well-spoken reply. Batteries does sound like a good alternate explination to keep on hand. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 4:08

Instead of the vending machine idea, it might make sense to think of a wizard as a WIZARD. Each of your spells is a big deal, but you can't cast many. Four orcs? The sword-jocks can handle that; it's not worth wasting a spell slot. You'll need as many slots unused as possible to save the day in the boss encounter at the end.

Since sitting around saving your spells can be boring, they gave wizards weak use-all-you-want spells (lvl 0 cantrips). Doing 1d10 on a hit with a Fire Bolt isn't as good as an archer, but it's something. It's better than throwing a rock, and you get to act out pointing your wand and saying "whoosh, firebolt!". But it's still "do I waste a spell here? Nah -- just cast a cantrip".

The next topic is Spell Books and Known Spells. They're the same -- things you could possibly do, just not right now; and ways to customize your character.

If you have Comprehend Languages in your spell book you can eventually read that ancient scroll. Ritual casting says you can just do it out-of-combat (in the old days you had to cast it using a slot, the next day). If you pick lots of combat spells than even if you can't prepare them all, you can choose a new mix each day.

That's what the limit on Prepared spells is for. Wizards are a "thinking" class. They can do a lot with their spells, but they have to look ahead and guess what spells they might need. Feather Fall could save someone's life, if you suspected lots of falling and prepared it.

Having a fixed number of slots of each level is just the way it worked out. GM's used to experiment with "spell points" instead -- you got X spell points and each spell cost its level. But there was always some way to abuse that. The current rules for up-casting let you customize a little -- if you really hate your 3rd level spells for a certain big fight, use those slots to up-cast a 1st or 2nd level spell. But the slots mostly encourage you to use different spells -- you probably have some 3rd level spell that would be better.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't feel your comment helps the situation any when my question was to clarify the mechanics of the class (how it works, not why). I am sorry, but reading through your comment twice, I feel like that student who asked the teacher how algebra works and being told "forget about it, just know that the answer is 13" \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 4:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB That's fine. StackExchange is better for specific Q's. I thought your Q was about what wizards do in a day of fights -- you didn't say you wanted How vs. Why. And the answer you selected didn't answer your Q! That person really told you "forget about your questions -- use spell cards". But do you at least understand that Spell Books and Known spells are the same thing? A spellbook is simply a list of your known spells, nothing more. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OwenReynolds I specifically stated "you appear to have a basic understanding..." So there is no requirement to regurgitate what they already wrote or make corrections. After that I assumed the asker was similar to other players I've worked with before and threw up my advice I give such tactile personas. The shortest most concise answer would be "Yes, you are correct" end of post. I added information I thought would be usefull. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OwenReynolds I am sorry if my question was confusing, however, my first unitalicized paragraph did clearly say that the issues I was having were in defining the terms and understanding their limitations. (a clear question) Play Patrice has done well (above) to explain why I felt her insight was both a good answer and went above in how to apply it practically. I am also sorry for insulting you with the teacher comment, though that was referring to statements like "it's the same thing" and "that's how it works". Those don't help to clarify the confusion of defining terms. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 3:04

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