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I've recently joined a D&D table which happened to be with only new players, including the DM himself.

The thing is that, we added an extra friend to the party that decided to play a sorcerer, and it has been an awful experience to all of us.

We just started to grasp the applications of "Spells Known/Spell slots", and then we concluded that we have no clue about anything when this "Flexible Casting" feature of the Sorcerer showed up.

We started to wonder "How does this apply to the game when the sorcerer gets, for instance, to level 5?". We were baffled: at 5th level a Sorcerer gets to know 6 spells. However, the number of spells slots are 9 (1st level: 4 / 2nd level: 3 / 3rd level: 2), if we got this correct.

Does that mean that he has 3 slots to freely burn – whatever the level they may be – without any repercussion or impediment? How does Flexible Casting really work?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey @Namnan, welcome to RPG.SE! You say that your table grasped the concept of spells known and spell slots; it might help answerers understand your confusion if you explained a bit in your question about how you believe spells known and spell slots work. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16, 2023 at 6:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Feb 16, 2023 at 7:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey @KernelPanic. First of all, thank you for your words. For the rest, I'll attend this matter when I respond to the answer of the question. You are right about that explaining our mess with that will hopefully lead to a better understanding and a better answer altogether. \$\endgroup\$
    – Namnam
    Feb 16, 2023 at 12:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ (general question) Is there a canonical for "How spellcasting works in D&D 5e"? And/or something that describes spell slots vs spells? Seems like a large part of this question is about that. And a very minor part about Flexible Casting. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 16, 2023 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VLAZ, you are totally right. When I first wrote about this topic, my general concern was about the misunderstanding we had in our table. Then, we mixed up with the metamagic problem, so, when I wrote this little article I added some parentesis in the title refering that this was about some specific aspect of the sorcerer regarding some confusion over spells known/spells slots. \$\endgroup\$
    – Namnam
    Feb 16, 2023 at 19:39

2 Answers 2

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Spell casting 101

Spell Slots

All spell casters (with the exception of Warlocks, which we'll ignore for all of this) have a certain number of "Spell Slots". The number of slots the caster gets and the level of those slots increase with class leveling.

A 1st-level Sorcerer has 2 Spell Slots, both at 1st-level.

Spells Known/Prepared

There are two terms that mean roughly the same thing; spells that are "known" and spells that are "prepared". I'll explain the difference shortly.

Different casters learn spells in different ways:

For instance, Clerics, Druids, and Artificers have access to all the spells for any level they have appropriate Spell Slots. So at 1st level, they have access to any 1st-level spell from their class spell list, but they can only prepare a certain number of spells based on their level and their spell-casting ability score. They can change out the spells they prepare each night after a long rest.

Wizards are similar in that the number of spells they can prepare is based on their level and Intelligence score. However they don't automatically know all of the spells for a given level. Instead they can chose 6 spells at 1st Wizard level, and get 2 more each Wizard level thereafter. Similar to the above, Wizards can change out their spells every night, but only from the list of spells they have learned. So that would be the original 6, plus the 2 chosen per each additional level, plus whatever spells they manage to find/buy and inscribe in their spell book.

Bards and Sorcerers have access to all the spells for the appropriate level. However, they can only know a fixed number of spells per level. Additionally, they can only swap out the spells they know when they level up in that class.

And that is the key difference between prepared and known; when a class prepares spells, they get to pick and choose on a daily basis, whereas when a class knows a spell, they can only modify the list of spells while leveling up in that class.

A 1st-level Sorcerer knows 2 spells (and 4 cantrips). They also only have 2 1st-level Spell Slots in which to cast those spell in any way they want per long rest; either the same spell twice, or one spell each. At 5th Sorcerer level, they have a total of 6 Spells Known with a mix of 1st and 2nd-level spells. They also have 4 1st, 3 2nd, 2 3rd Spell Slots. This makes 9 Spell Slots, but slots have a power level. You can only cast 3rd-level spells using a 3rd-level Spell Slot. You could also cast a 1st or 2nd-level spell using that same 3rd-level slot, and depending on the spell it may become more powerful.

There is no direct correlation between the number of Spells Known/Prepared and the number of Spell Slots. You could have all 1st-level spells; although you should really have a good spread of all available levels.

This was alluded to earlier, but bears repeating. When you learn spells (known or prepared), they are not tied directly to your Spell Slots other than certain spells will require higher level slots. In prior editions of D&D, the slots were tied directly to the spell. So if you wanted to cast a spell twice, you would memorize it twice. This is no longer the case. For instance, when my Sorcerer was 1st level, he knew magic missile and sleep. On any given day he had two 1st-level Spell Slots. He could use those slots to cast sleep twice, magic missile twice, or each once. And he did not have to make that distinction prior to actually using the slots--Only when he decided to cast a spell.

Metamagic and Sorcery Points

Sorcerers also have something called Metamagic. It's a feature that allows them to shape spells in ways no other class can: improve damage, cast without moving, cast a spell as a Bonus Action, etc. But all these features require Sorcery Points. Sorcerers, starting at level 2, have a number of Sorcery Points available to them on top of having Spell Slots. Each Metamagic option takes a certain amount of Sorcery Points. These too are not tied to specific Metamagic options; you can pick and choose how to use the points as you need them.

Flexible Casting to tie it together

Flexible Casting lets you convert Spell Slots into Sorcery Points or from Points into Spell Slots.

Let's say you've used up all of your Sorcery Points, but you want to do a Subtle Spell soon. As a Bonus Action you can use Flexible Casting to convert an unused spell slot to create some Sorcery Points. So if you have a spare 2nd-level Spell Slot, you can convert that into 2 Sorcery Points allowing you to cast a couple Subtle Spells.

Alternately, if you have extra Sorcery Points, and need to cast an emergency 2nd-level spell. As a Bonus Action you can change 3 Sorcery Points into a 2nd-level Spell Slot and cast a 2nd-level spell.

Recap

  • Just because the 5th-level Sorcerer has 4 1st-level Spell Slots does not control whether on not the character should have 4 1st-level Spells Known.
  • Flexible Casting is just a method for converting Sorcery Points to Spell Slots and back again. It gives the character "flexibility" in how they use their magic for the day.

Think of all of these things as buckets; Spells Know, Spell Slots, Metamagic options, and Sorcery Points. So each level you get to have a bucket of Spells Known. You have a bucket of Spell Slots to cast those spell. You also have a bucket of Metamagic options and a bucket of Sorcery Points that can use as needed. Flexible Casting can convert things from the Spell Slots bucket into things for the Sorcery Points bucket or Sorcery Points bucket into Spell Slots bucket.

And when it comes time to cast a spell, you grab a spell from the Spells Known bucket and match it with a Spell Slot. And maybe you grab a Metamagic option and use some of the Sorcery Points to apply it. Put everything together, then cast your spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great explanation. It could be worth noting that the concept of having spells directly attributed to spell slots is a concept that was found in previous editions, but not the way 5e works. This might be the source of the asker's confusion in the first place (most new players don't even know that different editions of D&D are separate games with drastic rule changes in the first place). \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Feb 16, 2023 at 7:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm so thankful for all your answers and annotations to finally starting to get this right. Nevertheless, I'm still having some issues about this: so, at 5th level a sorcerer will get to know 6 spells, meaning that he'll have access to prepare only 6 spells -again, whatever they level might be. Let's say that he'll prepared 3 1st-level spells, 2 2nd-level spells and 1 3rd-level spells. By that reasoning, he could only get some sorcery points from, lets say, his only 3rd-level prepared spell, and that would be it. It is that correct? \$\endgroup\$
    – Namnam
    Feb 16, 2023 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Namnam You convert slots into sorcery points not prepared spells, so any unused spell slot can be converted into sorcery points and sorcery points can be converted into spell slots, not prepared spells. Sorcerers know the spells they know and that can't be changed outside leveling up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Warcupine
    Feb 16, 2023 at 14:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop, that's not actually correct. 5e has definite terms for "known" and "prepared" (I clarified in my answer). So using this explanation is mixing terminology. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 16, 2023 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I'm really grateful about your answer and your time trying to explain this to us. It's so well writen and detalied that I've been able to straighten my idea about all of this spells knowns/spells slots confusion \$\endgroup\$
    – Namnam
    Feb 16, 2023 at 19:42
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It sounds like your conundrum stems from a misunderstanding about (prepared) spells and spell slots

at 5th level a Sorcerer gets to know 6 spells. However, the number of spells slots are 9

The key here is that in the 5th edition, the spell slots are completely distinct from the spells you know or even the spells you prepare. You might have heard that in the 3rd edition you prepare a number of spells and then you cast them (there aren't any spell slots); this is different in the 5th edition, where you prepare some spells and then cast them using a spell slot.

In other words,

  1. prepared spells is what defines what you can cast,

  2. spell slots is the resource that gets expended when you cast it;

The spell doesn't disappear when you cast it; if you have an appropriate spell slot, you can cast it again.

Note: for sorcerers you treat all "spells you know" as "spells you've prepared"

(The ovals in the illustration would be the same size):
enter image description here

Finally, flexible casting allows you to convert from spell slots to sorcery points and back.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're confusing terms which may confuse the reader. Sorcerers "know" a certain number of spells, but they don't "prepare" them. Wizards, Clerics, Druids, etc have a number of spells available and so they "prepare" spells each morning. Whereas Sorcerers, Bards, Rangers, etc only "know" a set of spells for any given level and the next level they "know" a modified version of that set (add 1, swap 1). \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 16, 2023 at 17:57

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