My 5e D&D party is on an extended set of encounters in which we won't be in civilization for a while, and my DM and I have gone back and forth about the new spells my Wizard gains after leveling up. I've looked at this post and this one but they aren't exactly what I'm looking for.

In the PHB, a wizard gets two additional spells in his or her spellbook when leveling up. My DM argued they wouldn't just appear, and should involve some time, at least a long rest so I can write down what I'd been pondering as I adventured. I think that makes sense in terms of gameplay, but then kind of feels like wizards would get a disadvantage if other classes don't have to use a long rest to gain the benefits of leveling up. That being said, maybe that's part of the point, to balance wizard's ability to access huge amounts of spells.

Another member of the party pointed out it doesn't really matter, since I'd need a long rest to prepare the new spells anyways. But I'm still interested in anyone's thoughts. Partially for angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin reasons (which I think are appropriate for a wizard). But also because I was wondering if I'd have immediate access to any rituals I add.


7 Answers 7


The way I've always thought of levelling up is this: It's an an abstraction of what would really be an ongoing process. A character doesn't instantly get better at a bunch of things once they've killed that 37th orc, they've actually been improving continuously the whole time, so leveling up us really just a 'tipping point' where the increase in skill becomes consistently effective.

In the case of a fighter, it would be them properly internalizing in muscle memory a technique they've noticed makes it a little easier to score a hit in some situations. They've known about it for awhile, but they don't always pull it off right (represented by random dice rolls). When they level up and get that extra BAB, they've got it down, and can do it every time.

For a wizard's spells, I imagine a wizard is constantly experimenting and doing research 'in the background'. When they level up, and get a new spell they've actually been working on that spell for a long time. They've only just has that final 'ah-ha!' moment to make the spell effective and reliable - good enough to use consistently. They still can't use it right away, because they need to finalize their notes and prepare it.

I also figure that levelling up doesn't neccessarily mean they can do the new thing 100% perfectly. +1 BAB (usually) doesn't mean you hit some enemies 100% of the time, so dice rolls still represent trying a new thing and failing. Things like feats and class features fit into this less well, but I like to think this explains things well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D 5e doesn't have BAB; you might want to make sure voters know that you know which game the question is about by avoiding using terms foreign to 5e. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding a wizard's experiments, yes, that is out of the PH, p. 114: "The spells that you add to your spellbook as you gain levels reflect the arcane research you conduct on your own, as well as intellectual breakthroughs..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh cool, so I did read that somewhere. \$\endgroup\$
    – hoylemd
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 15:09

By RAW, they are free

The rules for leveling up a wizard state that you can add two wizard spells of your choice to your spellbook for free. The rules for gaining a level (PHB p. 15) state that a character who reaches a specified experience point total advances in capability. There is no mention of a delay on either point.

But your DM is free to change this

Your DM could say that the, "free", in wizard leveling up only applies to the gold normally spent to scribe a spell and that it still takes time. They could say it takes less time since you've suddenly had an insight, they could say it takes more time because you're writing something brand new rather than from notes. They could say no one gains levels until they've spent time and money training (variant rule from DMG p. 131). They could say only wizards need to spend time and money training because unlike everyone else they rely on what they've written in a book. As long as they communicate clearly what rules they are using it's up to them.

Classes don't need to be the same

There's no problem with saying the rules for leveling up are different for wizards compared to all other classes because classes don't need to the same. A wizard slowly developing new magical insights and jotting them down isn't the same as a fighter perfecting their swings. A cleric learning to better understand their deity isn't the same as a bard learning how music binds us all.

It's not a "disadvantage" for wizards to have to wait until they can write down their new spells to gain access to them, it's just a wizard being a wizard. Same as it's not a disadvantage for the fighter to be asked to leave their weapons at the front desk, the cleric to be barred entry to a temple opposed to his god, or the paladin to be beholden to their order. It's just the classes being different.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point on Classes not needing to be the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – RS Conley
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 17:51

I can add references from the DMG/PHB but my interpretation of this situation is as follows.

Order of Events:

  1. Player is in combat/finished combat
  2. Player gains experience from encounter, enough to level up.
  3. According to the rules, player levels up immediately.
  4. There is no specific rule saying the player does not gain spells normally, so all new spells are added to the players list.
  5. (the rub) Even though you gained new spells, it requires a long rest to prepare them.

As far as the role playing goes, I'v always looked at this more as the spell-caster had these spells all along. Perhaps he/she did not understand them or fully grasp the spell yet. A wizards spellbook is never just "the handfull of spells they already know with some notes". Its probably a lot of spells, and the wizard just was not powerful enough yet to cast the higher level spells.

For a little bit of textual support:

Page 260 of the DMG under Experience Points.

Experience points (XP) fuel level advancement for player characters and are most often the reward for completing combat encounters.

Note that this is likely up to the DM to decide when to reward experience or have players gain levels (may be capped, have other requirements, etc). However I'd say for typical play following the core rule-books, exp is given after completing combat, and if the experience if sufficient then the level up is immediate.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep, I describe it as like an "aha" moment. However I do believe the wizard needs to research spells that are not learned/chosen at level up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Escoce
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ The rules make no mention of when experience is granted or when the level up happens. The designers have stated multiple times that it's up to the DM. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sh4d0wsPlyr The rules make no such distinction. They only say, "A character who reaches a specified experience point total advances in capability. This advancement is called gaining a level. When your character gains a level, his or her class often grants additional features, as detailed in the class description." The emphasis in your edit also downplays the importance of the words "most often." Completing combat encounters is not the only way to gain experience points, and the DMG also explicitly mentions that you don't have to use experience points at all (milestone-based leveling). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sh4d0wsPlyr I think you're referencing PHB p.15 "Beyond 1st Level" where it says "a character who reaches a specified experience point total advances in capability. This advancement is called gaining a level." We don't really get get guidance anywhere else in the PHB or DMG on when to level. But I think it'd be strange to ignore when answering the traditions around leveling: training, only out-of-dungeon, as a downtime expenditure, &c. that are deep in D&D's marrow. Consider, for instance, that AL--the public face of D&D--only allows leveling after a long rest or at the end of an episode. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ btw, +1 for the really reasonable idea that the Wizard's got a whole text of spells hanging around, only some of which he understands. It throws a bit of a wrench into the "copying a spell into the book" section on PHB p.114, but it's a neat interpretation I'd not seen before. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:51

I think it could be inferred that the wizard was taking notes and developing those two new spells as he or she leveled. Then at the point of leveling, said spells are finally ready. So, for example during the past few months while wandering around the Foothills of Krog at level 10, the wizard encountered many things and added these findings and research notes to their spell book, each night practicing and perfecting the art, refining and testing the limitations. At the point in which they 'ding' and achieve level 11, the wizard feels the spells are ready to be prepared and enacted.


@Sh4d0wsPlyr accurately sums up the RAW and gives a possible in-game explanation that would make sense within a setting.

A counterpoint to trying to justify the RAW is to remember that the focus of roleplaying game is not to play the rules but to experience a campaign. Any RPG Campaign has a setting whether it is an entire world like Forgotten Realms or a dungeon like Castle Blackmoor, or Tegel Manor.

The setting of a campaign has it own logic. It can be very different like M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel or a reflection of a fantasy medieval Europe like Gygax's Greyhawk. The setting logic often includes the way magic works, which in your case is focused on how spells get into spellbooks.

In past editions of D&D the acquisition of spells was treated naturally. Within the campaign, your character had to find another book with the spell in it and copy it. Or had to spend considerable time in doing magical research in creating the spell from scratch. The only mechanics governing this was the time and cost involved.

So for the referee of the campaign you are involved in, he obviously views that spells should be acquired from other sources and probably would agree that you could do research for a new spell.

Is your referee right in ruling as he did? The answer is not that simple. While the point of roleplaying games is to play a campaign in a setting with it own logic. The point of the rules is to be consistent in how the actions of the characters are adjudicated, along with defining the capabilities of creatures, characters, and objects in the campaign.

The problem with what your referee wants to do is that the ruling will change how the setting works according to the RAW in the MIDDLE of the campaign. If he laid out the change at the beginning of the campaign, you may have disagreed with it but at least you could have factored that in to any decision you made as your character. So while your referee has the right to make the ruling that spells for spellbook has to be acquired in-game, based on the information you provided it would not be a fair ruling.

I personally try to avoid doing this in the middle of the campaign. If I find something I don't like about the rules I am using, I will make the fix for the next campaign I run and just live with it for the current campaign.

But on the other hand I have been running my Majestic Wilderlands setting for a series of campaigns stretching back 30 years. I know how magic works in my campaign, along with other things. When I use a new set of rules, like D&D 5e in 2014, to run a new Majestic Wilderlands, I can make a sheet of house rules to communicate to my players how I adapted it to my setting.

A referee with a new campaign or limited experience may not have thought of the implications of everything before the start of the campaign. In this case it is best to just talk it out and come up with a consensus that works for everybody. Whether to make the change right then and there, to make it for the next campaign, or perhaps it is just not a good idea for any campaign after further reflection that RAW is the way to go. (I had a few of those myself).

Finally (specific to your issue) is to remember that in D&D 5e you can cast a lower level prepared spell through the slot of a higher level spell. Some spells, like magic missile, will receive a benefit this way, other won't. So if your campaign decides that spells have to be acquired in-game, you will still benefit from having higher level slots.


You roll your hit-die, add your new class features, and select your new spells at level up. Per the rules in the PHB, the spells can be added to your spellbook as part of your leveling up process, and assuming you have done so, should be available to you as soon as you have finished leveling no different from any other class feature. If you have leveled up, those spells should be in your spellbook. If your DM is not ruling it this way, he is making a house rule, which is fine as long as everyone in your game agrees.

If your DM thinks that there should be a period of reflection before they take effect, he should require it for the entire leveling up process, not just for the wizard's new spells. Otherwise, all the other PCs are going to have new class features they have access to right away, while the wizard has nothing new (unless he's 3/6/14th level). That's kind of a crappy situation to be in if you're the wizard.

The only hard limitation to making use of those new spells is that if you haven't long rested (in my games I require a long rest for characters to level) then you won't be able to prepare your new spells for casting. You should definitely have immediate access to any ritual spells that are added to your spellbook as part of your level up.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Requesting feedback on a post and then getting upset at people who suggest changes is counterproductive. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 22:18

I would say instantly, for the simple reason that levelling is an abstraction that represents you gradually learning by doing.

This means that every encounter, you're becoming a little bit better at doing your thing - a fighter might be slightly faster, a wizard a bit quicker on the cast. But practically - we don't recognise that improvement, until it's a big enough chunk to represent with a stat change. You don't have fractional improvement to base attack bonuses, even if in theory with half a level's worth, your fighter should be on about +0.5.

The 'level up' point, isn't the point where you suddenly get better, it's the point at which you've become better by enough of a margin to do it reliably.

If you think of martial arts classes - you don't suddenly become better when you get a black belt. A black belt is merely the recognition that you've got enough better to pass the test.

This is how I'd call it with RPG mechanics - they're an abstraction that represents a gradual improvement. I see no particular reason why a mage shouldn't be in a similar situation - they're stretching their magic capability all the time, but the 'level point' is when they've done so enough that they can reliably do the spell in combat conditions.

We hand wave away the practicing around the campfire during an adventure - much like a fighter will likely be doing a range of sword drills, the wizard will be doing a bunch of magic 'drills' because that's what you need to keep improving.... and then one day, you'll realise that it's 'sunk in' enough to be something you can pull off reliably enough to use in combat - and that's when you 'levelled up'.


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