This question is updated to request additional answers and details in light of information now available in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

In the released DM basic rules, Lost Mine of Phandelver, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and the DMG teaser there are wands, staves, and rings that you can use to cast spells.

  1. Do abilities that trigger from casting a spell activate when casting a spell from an item?

  2. Can the character modify the spell using class abilities when casting a spell from an item?

Examples include:

  1. An abjurer Wizard's arcane ward recovering hit points from a Dispel Magic cast from a Ring of Spell Storing

  2. A sorcerer using Twinned Spell on a ray of enfeeblement from a Staff of Power

  3. An evocation wizard using Sculpt Spell on a fireball from a Wand of Fireballs.

Now that the DMG is out we have some clearer rules on casting spells from items (DMG p. 141):

Some magic items allow you to cast a spell from the item. The spell is cast at the lowest possible spell level, doesn't expend any spell slots, and requires no components, unless the item's description says otherwise The spell uses its normal casting time, range and duration, and the user of the item must concentrate if the spell requires concentration.

A magic item, such as certain staffs, may require you to use your own spellcasting ability when you cast a spell from the item.

Does whether or not you can apply class abilities to the casting of the spell depend whether the item uses the user's own spellcasting ability (such as the Staff of Fire) versus an item that comes with a fixed spellcasting ability built-in (such as the Wand of Fireballs)?

Does it matter if it's something that triggers more or less automatically like Arcane Ward, versus something you have to control, like Careful Spell?

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Using a magic item to cast a spell is its own unique action type.

Jeremy Crawford has said via Twitter that casting spells from magic items (scrolls, wands, staves, etcetera) is neither a Use an Object/Item nor a Cast a Spell action. This means that casting an Abjuration spell from an item will not trigger Arcane Ward, spells cast from an item cannot interact with the Twin Spell metamagic, and Thieves cannot use Fast Hands to cast a spell from an item as a bonus action. A further tweet from Mike Mearls agrees with this ruling, as he says that features like Arcane Ward only apply to spells that you cast using your own personal spell slots (which would also break the popular Wizard 18 / Warlock 2 build which uses at-will Mage Armor to refresh Arcane Ward).

The DMG, which JC said would clarify this situation, states this on page 141:

If an item requires an action to activate, that action isn't a function of the Use an Item action, so a feature such as the rogue's Fast Hands can't be used to activate the item.

I have asked for further clarification but seeing as JC has the final say when it comes to officially sanctioned rulings, his perspective should be considered to be the definitive rules-as-written until a book explcitly says otherwise or he provides additional clarification.

  • 5
    The Arcane ward description says "When you cast an abjuration spell of 1st level or higher, you can simultaneously use a strand of the spell’s magic to create a magical ward on yourself that lasts until you finish a long rest.". It does not say "when you cast a Wizard abjuration spell..." or otherwise reference where the spell cast must come from, it just says "when you cast an abjuration spell" so this comes down to what counts as RAW. For instance it is clear from the PHB, as it stands, that the wiz/warlock build mentioned is valid (though I don't like it). – Protonflux Nov 30 '16 at 18:40
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    Does this also mean that you can't apply a magical item bonus (like Wand of The War Mage) to another spell cast from a magic item? The referred wand bonus would only apply to the caster's slot spells, correct? – Seyres Dec 22 '16 at 20:35

RAW

As waxeagle's answer states, it appears that since "you cast" the spell using the item, you can use any of your character's abilities that can be used "when you cast a spell".

DMG P. 141 lays out the rules for items that allow the user to cast spells from them:

Some magic items allow the user to cast a spell from the item. The spell is cast at the lowest possible spell level, doesn't expend any of the user's spell slots, and requires no components unless the item's description says otherwise.

and a little further down:

A magic items, such as certain staffs, may require you to use your own spellcasting ability when you cast a spell from the item.

In both quotes it says that the user casts the spell -- not that the use of the item triggers the casting of the spell or any other wording. Thus abilities that you can use "when you cast a spell" are usable -- you are very clearly casting a spell. No ability I have found says "when you cast a spell from your daily spell slots" or "when you us the Cast a Spell action" or anything else that seem to explicitly restrict it from applying when you cast a spell from an item.

RAI

Mike Mearls posted a not very certain reply stating "believe it's only when you cast from your slots"

Jeremy Crawford has tweeted that casting a spell from an item is neither a Use an Item action nor a Cast a Spell action. The DMG section (p.141) that was supposed to clarify this mentions only the Use an Item action, and remains silent on Cast a Spell.

Nonetheless, it is not clear that whether or not something is a Cast a Spell action is what determines whether or not you can apply class abilities to the casting. What type of action something is is used to determine under what circumstances you may take that action. None of the class abilities say anything about "When you use the Cast a Spell action..." -- the abilities simply say "when you cast..." while being agnostic as to what kind of action (or item?) is used for the casting.

A proposed compromise:

How we have been playing it is that if you are using an item that uses the user's spellcasting ability (such as most staffs), it is just as if they are casting from slots, except that a slot (and components) are not required. In that case you can use any special spellcasting abilities, such as sculpting, metamagic, powering your Arcane Ward, etc. When you are using such an item, the use of your own spellcasting ability suggests that you are interacting more directly with the weave, and doing more to actually create/shape the spell. The item in this case "merely" allows you to do it without using spell slots and components (and helps cast it even if you wouldn't otherwise know how), but doesn't provide a fully-formed spell for you. You have to bring the spell into being with your own spellcasting ability.

On the other hand, if you are casting from an item that does not use the user's spellcasting ability (such as most wands), we are treating it as if the spell is essentially stored in the item "pre-formed" (with a fixed DC, shape, etc.) and can't be modified, and thus (contrary to what is written) the user isn't really casting the spell for the purpose of using/triggering special spellcasting abilities (but rather it was the creator of the item who had cast the spell, and the user is just commanding it to go off at a selected time). Thus the user's special spellcasting abilities cannot be used.

  • 2
    This answer might be improved by comparison with the recently posted rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/105781/… - intuitively, the difference between "Cast a Spell" and "casting a spell" should be the same as the difference between Attack and attack, so I'd like to see you state whether you agree or if there's a reason to disagree. – SirTechSpec Aug 28 '17 at 18:16
  • @SirTechSpec Perhaps we're in need of a question about the "Cast a Spell" action vs. 'casting a spell'. – CTWind Aug 30 '17 at 20:40
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    @Slagmoth - good catch, that should say "components" not "concentration" -- fixing – PurpleVermont Aug 31 '17 at 20:49

You're casting the spell.

The verbiage is always "you cast," for the items in question. The Ring of Spell Storing uses "you cast" (and it's a good test case as it uses the spell save DC and slot level of the original caster), as do all of the wands I can find.

That means any other effects you have (Such as the Abjurer's Arcane Ward, and the Sorcerer's meta magic) that happen when "you cast a spell" are allowed to trigger on spells cast from a ring of spell storing or a wand or other items that can cast spells (Staff of Defense etc).

Yes.

While casting from an item is neither a Casting a Spell action, it is still casting a spell. Jeremy Crawford has posted a number of answers we can point to in the time since this question appeared that verifies this really is the case.

Metamagic

Can Metamagic be used on magic item casting a spell? Yes.

If a magic item's description says you cast a spell from it, you can use Metamagic on the spell. #DnD

https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/714690060734631936

and

Metamagic works w/ any spells that sorcerers cast. Wild Magic Surge can work w/ any sorcerer spell they cast. #DnD

https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/652539767821766656

Wild Magic

Can using a magic item cause a Wild Magic Surge? Yes

Yes.

https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/729792450395430913

Arcane Ward

Can casting from a wand/staff recharge Arcane Ward? Yes

Arcane Ward/Twinned Spell works when you cast a qualifying spell. It even works when an item says you cast one. #DnD

https://twitter.com/jeremyecrawford/status/769594143886614528

  • I'm surprised by his Wild Magic Surge answer; Wild Magic Surge specifically says when you cast a Sorcerer spell. – CTWind Aug 30 '17 at 21:43
  • Hmmm... Oversight? Or do I have an answer to another question to change? – J. A. Streich Aug 30 '17 at 21:46
  • I'm guessing 'oversight'- I agree with your other answer, and it seems like it's probably easy to forget about the, like, 3 on-cast mechanics that care about if the spell came from the same class. – CTWind Aug 30 '17 at 21:53
  • Apparently, my definition was too strict. It looks like being on the spell list is sufficient. – J. A. Streich Aug 30 '17 at 21:55
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    @J.A.Streich Your last link is identical to the first one, and doesn't include the quoted text. Here's the proper link: twitter.com/jeremyecrawford/status/769594143886614528 – V2Blast Mar 17 at 18:39

Based on Jeremy Crawford's and Mike Mearl's comments brought to light by Eric's excellent answer, I infer that abilities like Metamagic, Arcane Ward, or Sculpt Spells only work with spells that are cast using the Cast a Spell action (as defined on page 192 of the PHB, using one's own spell slots and the appropriate casting time for the spell); not spells that are cast using magic items such as wands, rings, or staves. This is true regardless of whether or not the caster is using his or her own spellcasting ability.

  • 2
    Can you explain why you think the abilities should only apply to the "Cast a Spell" action when they aren't written that way? It's a perfectly plausible conclusion, but I don't see that it's any more viable than @waxeagle's answer that anything that say "you cast..." triggers an ability that you can use "when you cast..." – PurpleVermont May 13 '15 at 2:47
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    @PurpleVermont Because that's what JC said. In response to whether or not class features (he specifically calls out the Rogue's Fast Hands, but I argue it applies equally well to any class feature) can affect casting spells from magic items, the answer he gave is no because casting a spell from a magic item is its own distinct form of action. In an isolated void where we had no designer input I could see the logic of waxeagle's answer (in fact I had previously up-voted it myself) but JC's comments seem to directly contradict it. – Dyndrilliac May 13 '15 at 3:53
  • but if I'm reading JC's comments correctly, they're only about when a magic item can be used, and not how (or if the spells can trigger other effects). The rogue's Fast Hands feature specifically mentions which action types it applies to. That is not so for features like Metamagic etc. – PurpleVermont May 13 '15 at 4:17

protected by Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 19 '15 at 6:59

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