I'm confused about who can use scrolls in 5e. In the DMG, p139 under Magic Item Categories: Scrolls, it states that:

Any creature that can understand a written language can read the arcane script on a scroll and attempt to activate it.

This implies that anyone can try to cast a spell using a scroll. However, on p.200 in the Spell Scroll entry it states that:

If the spell is on your class's spell list, you can use an action to read the scroll and cast its spell without having to provide any of the spell's components. Otherwise, the scroll is unintelligible.

Then there is the bit about a DC 10 + scroll spell level ability check if the spell is higher than a spell slot that you can cast.

If the spell is on your class's spell list but of a higher level than you can normally cast, you must make an ability check using your spellcasting ability to determine whether you cast it successfully. The DC equals 10 + spell's level. On a failed check, the spell disappears from the scroll with no other effect.

So, which is it? Can anyone who can read a language use a scroll (like a fighter) if they make an arcana check, or just a PC with that specific spell in their spell list (only spell casters)?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it is a bit confusing. Seems pretty clear once you seperate out a SPELL SCROLL and SCROLL, OTHER though. I'm gonna homebrew this though, mainly because I want reasons to use that nice "spell misfire" table in the DMG :P \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason K
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ In case anyone is curious, my homebrew will be that PCs with spell slots can use a spell scroll not on their list with an arcana check, just as if it was a spell above their level from their spell list. PCs without spell slots make all checks at disadvantage. So a fighter without prof in arcana would have a tough time of it, but could expect to cast a low level spell scroll at least some of the time while a rogue with prof in arcana could pull it off much more often. Time will tell if this leads to my characters running around with stacks of "fireball" scrolls to solve their problems. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason K
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: What creatures can cast spells from spell scrolls? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 4:53

2 Answers 2


Remember in D&D RAW, specific overrides general.

The general rule for scrolls "any creature that can understand a written language can read the arcane script on a scroll and attempt to activate it" is overridden by the specific rule for Spell Scrolls: "if the spell is on your class's list you can use an action to read it...otherwise the scroll is illegible". So if it's a scroll anyone can read it and use it unless it is part of the specific category of spell scrolls then it must be on your class list to a) read it and b) use it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ An exception to the rule is the Use Magic Device feature of the 13th-level or higher Thief (Roguish Archetype): "You ignore all class, race, and level requirements on the use of magic items." D&D 5e designer Jeremy Crawford clarified, "The intent is that Use Magic Device does allow a rogue to try to use a scroll." [Emphasis added] While the tweet exchange uses scroll and not spell scroll, there would be no need to clarify a "regular" scroll since the general rule allows all classes to attempt their use. \$\endgroup\$
    – sadaqah
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is again an example of more specific trumping less specific. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 0:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Where is the rule mentioned above? I've looked through the PHB and DMG index for scroll, spell scroll, or anything like that. All I can find is the useless info on DMG 139. EDIT: NM I found it, on page 200. Would have been nice to put that in the index. \$\endgroup\$
    – emery.noel
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 0:26

Not all scrolls are Spell Scrolls. There is a Scroll of Protection. Granted the list of scrolls that NOT spell scrolls is limited to that one scroll. The section on page 200 is specific to Spell Scrolls.

The effect of the two rules is that anybody that can read a written language can use a Scroll of Protection while you need the spell to be in your class' spell list to use Spell Scrolls.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In theory, if the DM creates another type of magic scroll, one that creates a unique effect which is not produced by any existing spell (and provided that the DM doesn't also create a custom spell with that new effect), such a scroll would become a second example of a "scroll that is not a spell scroll" in that campaign. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 19:27

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