I'm running a campaign for a party that includes two casters: one Necromancy Wizard, and one Cleric. The party hit level 5 last session, and while the Wizard was consulting with me about what new spells to take, I realized that many of the spells they were considering (Speak with Dead, Animate Dead, Revivify, etc.) are also on the Cleric spell list, and thus the Cleric can automatically prepare any of them without having to spend level-up resources learning them.

Animate Dead isn't much of an issue, since the Necromancy School grants a better version of it for free at level 6 anyway, but outside of that specific case it seems like the Wizard is doomed to be less versatile than the Cleric, even though the main selling point of the Wizard is supposed to be versatility, unless I go out of my way to give the Wizard spell scrolls.

This presents me with a weird problem: It seems like the Wizard's balance specifically relies on my intervention as the DM. If I don't give out any spell scrolls or spellbooks, the Wizard will forever lag behind the Cleric. If I dish out too many, the Wizard may be too powerful (and other players will notice if I'm not going out of my way to shower them in magic items too). So my question is, is there a baseline number of spell scrolls that will allow the Wizard to differentiate herself from the Cleric without eclipsing the rest of the party and showering them in unearned loot?

Challenging the frame of this question is totally acceptable. For example, if I'm wrong about the status quo being unbalanced, or there's a good way to put scroll acquisition in the player's hands without totally unbalancing things, I'd love to know.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 just because I love how this question gets at the core of how (I believe) a wizard's play-experience is best when the GM recognizes that the player has opted in to the "let's loot some dungeons, find scrolls, and build up my collection of spells" minigame. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Nov 29, 2021 at 21:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you houseruling Revivify onto the Wizard spell list? It isn't normally available, even to a Necromancer \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ "It seems like the Wizard's balance specifically relies on my intervention as the DM" this is almost worth an entire Q&A on its own, because any class balance specifically relies on your intervention as DM, depending on your campaign setting and DM style. You choose the encounters as the DM, so you could seriously screw over any class depending on what enemies and terrain, etc. you choose for an encounter. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Nov 30, 2021 at 15:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget that wizards have the option of adding to their spell book by buying/borrowing scrolls/other spell books and spending time and money to copy spells from them. How often this is possible in game is up to DM discretion of course, but it seems pretty reasonable to assume a town big enough for a mage's guild would have the option of borrowing, if the mages guild likes the player well enough, and any general magic item vendor might have scrolls the wizard could learn from. Not that they should have to buy everything - but if they want something they haven't found... \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2021 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see @coppereyecat beat me to the punch; but I'll restate it as a question -- is there a reason your Necromancer can't buy scrolls? \$\endgroup\$
    – Gus
    Nov 30, 2021 at 18:32

8 Answers 8


The wizard, without needing anything, is the most powerful* class in the game. They do NOT need handouts.

There are several things that I think are wrong about your question, but primarily you seem to have a player who wants to play to a specific niche. As with a niche, doing so means they are going to be less versatile, and versatility is the wizard's biggest weapon.

You could give this player every wizard spell in the game, but if they are going to chose revivify over hypnotic pattern, slow or fireball, then that is their choice and not a problem with the wizard list, or the cleric list.

That said, here are some of my observations about the classes from years of experience playing and reading

The wizard spell list is AMAZING.

Healing in 5e is WAY overrated, as to a large extent is spell damage. The wizard has the most powerful spells in the game, and they are the control spells. Hypnotic pattern can make a deadly encounter with multiple enemies into several easy encounters. Revivify may let you bring back the dead, but if the cleric had hypnotic pattern and cast it in advance that death would probably have been avoided.

There are also plenty of spell preparation slots and spell choices that let you have your cake and eat it. I play a divination wizard, and similarly to your necromancer every time I level up I always pick a divination spell (where available) plus one useful other spell. I have more than enough awesome spells that I still have to put thought in each day on which spells to prepare, and have a spell for every situation I have encountered so far.

Giving me access to spell scrolls wouldn't help me much, the only scrolls I would really be interested in are rituals, because they would directly impact my power without costing me preparation slots. However that is just a direct buff which my character does not need.

The cleric spell list is quite poor after 3rd level

Revivify specifically is a tax on clerics, and they often end the day with a 3rd level slot left just in case. Not casting that spell likely meant one encounter was harder than it could have been, the party probably took more damage as a result, and the cleric might even have spent lower level slots on healing damage that wouldn't have been inflicted in the first place if they weren't afraid to use a 3rd level slot - or more specifically if they had been a wizard and had access to control spells.

I took a look at the 4th level spells at random. There are 8 (compared to 34 for a wizard!). Banishment is often thought of as powerful, but outside of targeting a rare save it does less than hypnotic pattern, which is a 3rd level wizard spell. The other good spells are divination (a ritual which wizards also get) and death ward which is another spell that you probably wouldn't need to cast if you were proactive with control spells.

The rest such as control water, freedom of movement and locate creature are somewhere between situational, very situational, and poor. And outside of a few standout spells, and people who over-value healing, it doesn't get much better.

Clerics standout spells are spiritual weapon and spirit guardians. These are low level spells that allow a cleric to wade into melee and cause damage. That is the strength of a cleric, but tops out pretty quickly.

I have played a cleric, and rather than agonising about which amazing spells I would have to not prepare today (like my wizard does) I was thinking 'which of these situational spells do I pad my preparation slots with?'.

Clerics allow for players to correct their poor spell choices every day, a wizard rewards (or even needs) forward planning and an understanding of the options

The only thing going the clerics way is that is the player makes a poor choice in preparation they can just pick better spells the next day. The wizard player on the other hand is stuck with their 2 picked spells unless the DM lets them change. That puts the onus on the player to understand their spell choices. I consider this a pro rather than a con, because knowing stuff is good.

If your player has a problem picking the right spells you are better off letting them swap spells when they level up or something similar rather than giving them more spells. But personally I would tell my player to put some effort in and learn their spells - I actually have a rule that spell casters in my game MUST know their spells, and I do test them occasionally (new players get a pass while I teach them).

*Figured I would explain my use of powerful. A wizard might not win a fight on their own, but they are the biggest force multiplier in the game, and that is where the true power lies in a game like D&D which is a resource management game at heart. A well played wizard lets other players do more with less and really makes the melee characters shine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that a wizard overly focused on control spells like Hypnotic Pattern might struggle when facing, say, a dragon with Legendary Resistance 3/day. Playing a wizard well requires a fairly high level of system mastery. \$\endgroup\$
    – user56480
    Nov 30, 2021 at 9:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like your approach to a wizard would not allow a wizard to pick situational spells if he wanted to. He would need to use those two spells that he learns per level to take the versatile, always good and honestly "boring" options. For example on 3rd level counterspell, hypnotic pattern, leomonds tiny hut and fireball. He could not take say "Gaseous Form" for the one day where they do infiltration and need to get through cracks, because he would give up a spell option forever. Maybe he could take one of those situational ones, but as you noted there are 31 spells that he cannot take. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @findusl my approach is that the balance of the class is determined by that restriction and giving more options increases the power unfairly. Pick what you like, that's half the fun, but you can't have everything. That said wizards in my games can have everything, scrolls are for sale just as much as magic weapons and armour and whatever else they want, so all classes get their boosts equally. The question isn't about that though. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri horizontal/vertical growth is moderately common terminology, so it’s worth knowing: roughly, does a character get more different things they can do, or do they get better at the thing they can already do? E.g. a character that only heals grows vertically by getting to heal more, and horizontally by getting to summon fish (or whatever). \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Dec 1, 2021 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri fectin has the right of it: In an RPG, vertical progression makes a character better at the things they could do already (e.g.: increasing your proficiency bonus), whereas horizontal progression gives a character the ability to do a greater variety of things (e.g.: learning new spells of a level you could already cast). Of course, some character improvements are both horizontal and vertical, and sometimes one kind of improvement can be parleyed into the other. Wizards learning new spells from scrolls and spellbooks is mostly horizontal progression. Mostly. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Dec 2, 2021 at 8:41

The Wizard is balanced enough. However, giving the wizard some extra situational spells, adds fun without balance problem

As many others already noted, if a wizard wants, he can use those two new spells per level to take the strong versatile spells on the wizard spell list, of which there are many. Then he is easily as strong as the Cleric, even if the Cleric has more spells to choose from every day. This point has been covered by the other answers and I will not go into detail.

However if you give him some extra Spellbooks with suboptimal/situational spells from which he can copy, he will have some of the suboptimal/situational spells in his spellbook. Now there are two options:

  • He never prepares them. Well that was a waste of gold and time for the wizard, no balance problem.
  • The wizard uses one of his valuable prepared spells to prepare one of these situational spells. If it is not used that day, the wizard was just less powerful than usually. If the spell gets to be used that day, it is super cool for the player and it feels so fucking good. And to be clear, the cleric can do the same gamble. He can every day prepare one of his situational suboptimal spells, of which his spell list has less than the wizard, but still some. Giving the Wizard the option to take this gamble is fun and feels good for the player, so I recommend doing it. It does not unbalance the class, because as said, the spell is situational and/or suboptimal.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I still think that is a balance problem, why does the wizard get the option of situational spell scrolls but the fighter doesn't get 'potion of situational spell'? It seems to be just assumed that wizards get extra choice, but they aren't the only ones who should get that option and it does affect balance. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 30, 2021 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri isn't that just the design/playstyle of the class? Casters tend to get versatility and fighter et al. get consistent damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – mbrig
    Dec 1, 2021 at 0:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mbrig additional items are not part of the design though, they are additional. You should look to use items to give flexibility to the inflexible so they can participate in more of the game, wizards don't need to be special in that regard. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Dec 1, 2021 at 10:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @seriousbri there are multiple points here. But the question was only about balance compared to clerics so I only answered that. However copying spells is part of the wizard class, so there is a design intent for it to be used. Also I compared clerics to wizards, fighters on the other hand can get versatility with different magical weapons which are useless to wizards. Also I asked the asker for clarification why he wants exactly scrolls not spellbooks, because that is a difference. And I'm running out of characters \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Dec 1, 2021 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I think with starting the whole additional items discussion, you're already missing mbrig's point. Wizards excel at flexibility, whereas fighters shine at consistently dealing and tanking damage. Both are advantages that are meant to balance each other out. Wizards are horizontally strong, fighters are vertically strong. \$\endgroup\$
    – Egor Hans
    Dec 3, 2021 at 7:53

Classes are intended to be inherently balanced

In theory you should be able run a game where the party finds no magical items at all and still expect the classes to be balanced out about the same. That is the design of the game after all, whether the designers have accomplished that is a completely different debate though.

Some things to consider also:

  1. Spell casters can only prepare as many spells as they have class levels plus their casting stat modifier. A wizard will gain two new spells from levelling up but, aside from levels where they increase their modifier, only gain the ability to cast one extra spell.
  2. More spells might mean more versatility, but how many casters are going to completely change their prepared spells very often?
  3. As you mentioned, the cleric will have some of the same spells that the wizard will have access to. Unlike earlier editions, 5E does not distinguish between arcane and divine spell scrolls. So they cleric could always scribe any spells the wizard can cast to a scroll and let him scribe them to his spell book.
  4. You could always provide the party access to some means of purchasing magical items like scrolls. That way, you won't have to guess what spells the wizard might like and let them purchase whatever they are interested in.

5e is resilient here

It is true that more flexibility is useful. But wizards already have the ability to pick significantly more spells than they can prepare in a day; almost twice as many.

A skilled player can get a great baseline set of "everyday" spells and have plenty of room for situational spells in that selection.

Adding more spell scrolls (especially random ones) will boost the less skilled at picking spells player's PC, while helping the more skilled at picking spells PC less.

It is sort of like picking players for a sports team. The wizard starts out with being able to pick twice as many players as they can field at once. Adding more players at random from a pool could help, but it would take a lot to matter significantly.

The cleric, even with the ability to pick from the entire pool to field players, is not that much ahead of the wizard's position. The kind of players in each team's pool matters more than the picking mechanic.

Don't sweat it

Provide spell scrolls as consumables. Both cleric and wizard and other classes should find spell scrolls (which are extra spell slots) pretty valuable. Wizards gain the option of transforming them into spells in their spell pool if they prefer.

Add in some wizard spell books when it makes sense. Having too many or too few won't matter that much balance wise; picking 1/2 or 1/5 is a minor difference.

The biggest additional thing the wizard gets is, honestly, ritual spells.

Building a spellbook is a Player/PC motivation tool

As noted, the power gain from more random spells is not that huge. But "I am collecting more spells!" is a fun PC goal that can help motivate a player.

Especially if the PC has no clear motivation hooks, dangling "there is an interesting spell" can help pull someone along a quest. Heck, "lost spells" that are not much more than variations of existing ones could make some PCs/Players go gaga, so long as you don't make them more powerful than existing ones.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a really good analogy, thank you! \$\endgroup\$
    – Tack
    Dec 1, 2021 at 19:06

The Wizard will literally never lag behind the cleric.

Two new spells in the spellbook per level is plenty to play a wizard as the strongest member of a party. Everything else (found spellbooks & scrolls) is gravy. The real reason it's fine is because wizards get to choose those 2 spells from the Wizard spell list, which is tip-top.

To compare the Wizard and Cleric spell lists, exact numbers are hard to find, but a quick google search says someone counted 315 Wizard Spells and 113 Cleric Spells. This matches my quick view on DNDBeyond, which shows 6 pages of cleric spells and 21(!) pages of wizard spells. Wizards will be able to learn all the spells they need to remain viable, and few would argue that a 20th level wizard with 44 spells in their spellbook (6 from 1st level plus 2 per level thereafter) would be limited by the spells they know. The problem playing wizards is which spells to choose, not wishing for more spells to choose from. The breadth of the Wizard spell list means that a player can choose almost any set of spells to specialize in and still have room for several generalist's spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The reason I specified that the Wizard is a necromancer is because their "two spells from the wizard spell list" are fairly likely to overlap with things the cleric can do. Maybe in the abstract two spells from the Wizard list is enough, but given this extra constraint on the Wizard's choices I'm not sure. Leaving that aside, we're still left with the question of how to handle a class that relies on DM intervention to determine its versatility. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tack
    Nov 29, 2021 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tack The wizard’s choice of school doesn’t constrain their spell choices. The necromancer can learn Fireball just fine. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Nov 29, 2021 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marq I'm aware of that, but presumably they chose Necromancer because they were interested in casting at least some Necromancy spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tack
    Nov 29, 2021 at 21:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tack so this isn't about how balanced the wizard is, but about the choices your player makes? Essentially 'if my player makes poor choices how do I make up for it?'? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 29, 2021 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AllanMills You make a compelling point, but counterpoint: fireball is always the right spell to prepare. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29, 2021 at 21:35

Additional take on the good answers posted already:

Never "hand out" - if the character needs something let the player work for it.

If the wizard needs scrolls, or if his player thinks he does, let him solve the problem. That is part of the fun and challenge. Let him spend his coins on scrolls in the city, let him create scrolls by himself, search for them, join a guild, whatever it takes. Bring it into the game instead of dropping loot. This is not an MMORPG.

more details / reasoning:

First, giving regular handouts to a player can demoralize both him and the other players in various ways (favorites, not feeling the character is viable without, etc.) and it can make him dependent on GM handouts.

Second, I am not against one-time loot drops in order to bail someone out of a bad place so they can continue to enjoy the rest of the session. But make him feel the pain first so he learns.

Third, make the player understand that the wizard class depends on preparation, that is one of the class features. This can be a blunt explanation if it's a novice player.

Fourth, by "work for it" I don't mean grinding. I mean that the work of being prepared is the player's duty, not the GMs. Let the player buy, make or otherwise obtain scrolls, spend time on thinking about what he'll need, etc. - the Barbarian can just storm into somewhere, the wizard should make a plan and do some research and try to figure out which spells and scrolls he'll most likely need.

Fifth, if the player actively tries to prepare, don't make it difficult for him. Don't make the scrolls he wants to buy suddenly scarce or difficult to obtain, for example.


Wizard VS Cleric - This is looking at the situation incorrectly

The hardest part regarding playing any spell caster is what spells they prepare. A wizard with a poor spell book, means their spell selections for the day will also be poor. A cleric with poor prepared spells will underperform just as badly as a wizard with poor spell selections.

If you are worried about your wizard falling behind, take a look over their spell book, as that is where the problem lies. Wizard spells, pound for pound, typically do more - especially in the offensive and utility roles. This is a table player's skill deficiency - not a deficiency in the classes.

Scrolls are best utilized when you need one or two rarely used spells on standbye at all times. Any time I play a caster (Cleric or Wizard), I allways have at least two scrolls of dispell magic created by a 10th level caster. Especially if we are below 10th level. As a wizard I usually pack in an extra fireball for a last hail mary DPS burst if needed, and as a cleric I pack a Revify and Hide from Undead scroll in my backpack "Just in case".

From a gameplay mechanic they are emergency one-shot magic items. A wizard can spend time crafting a few extra fireballs or lightning bolts just in case the fight with the BBEG goes on a little too long. If characters are playing heavily around scrolls either their build is specifically built for it - or they are preparing the wrong spells for general adventuring.

I would suggest looking over your players Wizard Spell Book and make sure they have some of the basic essentials, and then actually prepare those essentials for general adventuring.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think they mean give them scrolls as in the ability to copy those scrolls to their spell book, so they can later prepare them, not to use as consumables. Alternative to scrolls are have enemy wizards that when you beat them you get their spell book, or just have a magic library, etc. that charges you gold to copy spells. Most settings have something like that. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2021 at 2:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ The point I was trying to make is that the author is approaching a problem using a tool that is primarily meant for something else. Yes - scrolls can "Fix" a bad wizard's spell list - but that is not the primary function of scrolls. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2021 at 19:04

For parity, wizards need a little under 2 extra spells per level

I'll go into the mathematical basis for this, starting with some simplifying assumptions.

  • Clerics get approximately 10 spells per spell level
    • This is true until 8th/9th level spells - most campaigns aren't going to last that long
    • This assumes only PhB. It's false if you have more books in play.
  • Approximately 20% of those spells are so circumstantial that they shouldn't be counted.
    • 20% is a very high estimate, but there's some number of cleric spells (Geas, Speak With Dead, Remove Curse, etc.) which are very circumstantial and won't come up in play. The Cleric player likely doesn't think of them as part of their kit.
  • Wizard and Cleric spells are equivalent
    • This is pure opinion. There are some players who believe that wizard spells are more fun because they allow the wizard to do more, but I'd have a hard time arguing that any 3rd level wizard spell can be as significant or impactful as Revifify.

This means that the Cleric is gaining, on average, 4 useful spells per level. For the wizard to keep up with the Cleric's versatility, they would need to get 2 useful spells (from scrolls, spellbooks, etc.) per level as well. I believe that the Wizard shouldn't expect to reach the cleric's level of day to day versatility, but they should be close.

Use a mix of scrolls and spellbooks to achieve this

You can achieve this by dropping a spellbook with 6-7 useful spells in it every 4 levels, and then a scroll every level or two.

Tips for Scrolls

  • Have specific scrolls available for sale in specific places; not "You can buy any level 4 spell scroll for 900GP," but rather "This shop in this city has a scroll of Animate Dead for 900GP."
  • Make scrolls available if the PCs need a spell to advance - for example, if the party needs to be able to fly, make a scroll of Fly
  • Include scrolls in treasure seldomly and where it makes sense.

Tips for Spellbooks

  • Include spellbooks among loot occasionally - every time they fight a wizard, for sure, but even if not a wizard could have died in the dungeon before them.
    • One spellbook every 3-5 levels is good.
  • Each spellbook should have a flavor - what kind of wizard was its previous owner?
    • A spellbook from a fellow apprentice of the same master can be expected to have many of the same spells as the Wizard PC. A spellbook from a rival school might have a large number of new spells, but not those that fit the PC's style. Their own master's spellbook would have most of the spells they have, plus some higher level spells that they were planning to pick up later.
  • Pad out the spellbooks with
    • Spells that the Wizard PC already knows.
    • Circumstantial/bad spells (even homebrew joke-spells, if you're confident)
  • Include spells that are too high level for the Wizard PC to learn yet. Giving the players a spellbook of something they were planning on learning later feels awesome.
  • Make sure to track the scribing spell costs - your wizard doesn't get every spell they come across for free.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your 20% circumstantial spells seems way underestimated to me. I just looked at random at level 4 cleric spells and 5/8 are circumstantial. But mostly I had to downvote because you said the cleric and wizard spells are equivalent, that's just something I cannot agree with. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 29, 2021 at 22:32

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