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I'm playing a 10th-level cleric. I attempted to cast an 8th-level Power Word Stun spell from a scroll that the DM gave me. When I attempted to cast it, the DM said it does not automatically succeed because I can only cast 5th-level cleric spells. The DM gave me a 30% chance of success, and he gave me 3 tries (one attempt per round).

Is this correct? I don't see anything in the DMG or PH that suggests scroll spells are less successful when cast by lower-level spell casters.

When a character tries to use a spell scroll to cast a spell of a higher level than they could normally cast, how does it work?

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It doesn't automatically succeed but the way your DM handled it was also incorrect with regards to the rules.

From the Spell Scroll's description on page 200 of the DMG:

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.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ron I thought Power Word's were all Bard spells? At any rate.... in your case, no, you can't even begin to read the magical incantation from the scroll because this spell does not appear on your spell list and thus it renders you incapable of understanding the magic written on it. You'd have to let your wizard friend take a shot at it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airatome
    Mar 10, 2016 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Purple Monkey I would include the part at the start of page 200 to help clarify what I just told Ron. "...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 components. Otherwise, the scroll is unintelligible. ..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Airatome
    Mar 10, 2016 at 14:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also from Sage Advice Compendium: "...The rule for scrolls (p. 139) is for scrolls in general, including a 'scroll of protection', and it allows you to try to activate a spell if you’re literate. The rule for a spell scroll is specific to that type of scroll and introduces an additional requirement: the spell on the scroll must be on your class’s spell list for you to read the scroll..." Feel free to include these for RAW textual assistance with your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airatome
    Mar 10, 2016 at 14:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ron No, as Airatome mentioned, PWS is not on your list of learnable spells, so you can't even read it, let alone attempt it. Also, spell level is not the same as class level. A 10th level cleric can only cast up to 5th level spells with guaranteed success; the table for spells you can cast (from spell slots you earn) per class level is listed on page 57 of the PHB (for Clerics), and other pages for other spellcasting classes. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Jul 9, 2018 at 5:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Airatome I'm sure you've looked it up in the past two years, but Power Word Stun and Power Word Kill are on the spell lists for Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards. Power Word Heal is only on the Bard's spell list (though frankly I think it should be on the Cleric's list, too, and allow them to learn it in games I DM) \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Jul 9, 2018 at 5:57
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The spell must be on your spell list; otherwise, you can't even read what the spell scroll says

The description of the spell scroll magic item (DMG, p. 200) begins:

A spell scroll bears the words of a single spell, written in a mystical cipher. If the spell is on your class’s spell list, you can read the scroll and cast its spell without providing any material components. Otherwise, the scroll is unintelligible. [...]

In this case, the power word stun spell is on the bard, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard spell lists. However, since you're playing a cleric, your character would not be able to read this spell scroll in the first place, let alone use it.

But let's say that at least one person in your party is a bard, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. They then try to use the spell scroll, but the spell's of a higher level than they can cast (I'm guessing they're 10th-level characters as well). What are the rules for this?

If it's on your spell list, you need to pass a spellcasting ability check (DC = 10 + spell level) to use the spell scroll

As noted in Purple Monkey's answer, the second paragraph of the spell scroll magic item description adds:

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.

Assuming you have an ally who has the spell on their spell list, they can attempt to use the spell scroll. To successfully cast the spell from the scroll, they must make an ability check using their spellcasting ability; the DC for this check is equal to 10 + the level of the spell on the scroll.

In the case of a spell scroll of power word stun, the DC for the spellcasting ability check would be 18. (A bard, sorcerer, or warlock would make a DC 18 Charisma check – since Charisma is their spellcasting ability – while wizards would have to succeed on a DC 18 Intelligence check.)

Note that regardless of whether the character succeeds or fails on this spellcasting ability check, the spell scroll is consumed/destroyed after it's used.

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