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I'm fairly new to DnD and I wanted to create my own NPC's. What is the currently accepted "correct" way to specify spellcasting for a monster/npc?

  • Does it go under the "actions" or does it go above it?
  • Do I still need to specify caster level?
  • Can a caster have a multiattack consisting of a spell + an attack? How would one phrase this correctly?
  • Do I still need to specify spells by level or by number of times per day? (There seems to have been an update some while ago?)
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack! You're not new to SE but I'll drop these anyway: tour and help center. Do you own the Monster Manual? There are examples of spellcaster NPCs there. If not, have you looked at free resources like D&D Beyond? The Lich could help you. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2023 at 20:02

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Basically, there's an "old way" and a "new way" to specify spellcasting for monsters. Some monsters written for the "old way" have been updated to fit the "new way"; many have not.

I would argue that the "old way" is not wrong to use. The "new way" is certainly simpler and more streamlined, but maybe you don't want streamlined. So I will try to describe both.

The old way

According to the "Monsters" section of the Systems Reference Document, there are two ways that a monster can cast "normal" spells: with the "Spellcasting" trait, or the "Innate Spellcasting" trait. Both fall under the "Special Traits" section of a monster's stat block, which comes after the challenge rating but before the actions.

A monster can also have monster-specific spell attack actions under its Actions section. Unlike the "Spellcasting" or "Innate Spellcasting" traits, these do not reference any spells written outside the monster's own stat block. Instead, the action simply does whatever it says it does.

Spellcasting

Spellcasting is similar to what a PC has. You specify spellcaster level, spellcasting ability (WIS, INT, CHA, etc.), spell save DC / +X to hit, spell slots, and spells prepared. The spells generally map to a specific player class (cleric, wizard, etc.). The SRD also specifically notes that the DM is free to swap any spell listed for any other spell of the same level and class, since the monster may have other known spells that it could choose to prepare.

Examples of monsters with this trait:

Note that a few of these have special notes on them:

  • The Archmage has a handful of non-cantrip spells that can be cast "at will", outside of the normal spell slot system.
  • The Androsphinx does not need material components for its spells.

So apparently those are options.

Innate Spellcasting

Innate Spellcasting is somewhat different. Thematically, it is meant to represent magic that a monster "just has", as opposed to something the monster needed to learn. You do list a spellcasting ability and a spell save DC / +X to hit, but not a spellcasting level or spell slots. It is implied that spells are not prepared, since they are "innate" and all, but they are generally restricted to a number of castings per day.

Examples of monsters that use this trait:

Note that for all of these monsters, the stat block specifically notes that they can cast without material components. That makes sense, since their magic is "innate".

More examples of special notes:

  • The Deva doesn't need material or somatic components to cast their spells.
  • The Night Hag's plane shift is annotated as "self only"; they can't use it on anyone else.

"Spell Attack" Actions

Many monster actions in the "Actions" section are specifically noted as "attacks". Attacks describe whether they are melee or ranged, whether they are weapon or spell, their +X to hit, their reach/range, their number of targets, and what damage or other effects they have when they hit. They typically have no limitations on how often they can be used.

Examples of monsters with spell attack actions:

Multiattacking with spells

A monster can only multi-attack if it has the Multiattack action, which always describes which attacks the monster can make (e.g. one bite attack plus one claw attack). Technically, the monster takes the Multiattack action as its action, and then its multiple attacks are sub-actions of that.

I cannot find any examples where Multiattack allows the monster to combine a melee attack with a Spellcasting or Innate Spellcasting spell. As far as I can tell, Multiattack only ever cites other actions in the Actions section. (But then again, I haven't read everything, so who knows?)

There are examples of combining a listed melee-attack action with a listed spell-attack action. For example, the Horned Devil can use the Hurl Flame attack in place of any of its three melee attacks.

The new way

To quote from the Sage Advice blog:

Since 2014, spellcasting creatures have tended to have the Spellcasting trait, the Innate Spellcasting Trait, or both. Starting in 2021, we have merged those two traits into an action called Spellcasting. That action now appears in the “Actions” section of a stat block, and it has a few important qualities:

  • The Spellcasting action doesn’t use spell slots. A creature can cast the action’s spells a certain number of times per day.
  • The only spells that appear in the Spellcasting action are ones that take an action to cast. If a spell requires a bonus action, a reaction, or a minute or more to cast, that spell must appear elsewhere in the stat block. This change ensures that bonus actions and reactions—such as misty step and shield—aren’t hiding out in a list of spells.
  • We’re more selective about which spells appear in a stat block, focusing on spells that have noncombat utility. A magic-using monster’s most potent firepower is now usually represented by a special magical action, rather than relying on spells.

So there you have it. The "new way" replaces the two special traits from the "old way" with a single action, which behaves more or less the way that "Innate Spellcasting" used to behave.

As an example, compare the old version of Storm Giant from the SRD with the new version from D&D Beyond:

  • Old version:

Old stat block for the Storm Giant monster

  • New version:

New stat block for the Storm Giant monster

And since Spellcasting is now an action, it should play nicely with Multiattack.

Monster-specific "spell attack" actions are presumably unchanged.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this still currently accurate though? I see resources like this one giving examples of spellcasting being under the actions section. \$\endgroup\$
    – Willem
    May 4, 2023 at 16:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. Well, there goes my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – MJ713
    May 4, 2023 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Willem I've updated my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – MJ713
    May 4, 2023 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Phenomenal answer. Thanks a lot! \$\endgroup\$
    – Willem
    May 4, 2023 at 17:48

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