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In the section Preparing and Casting Spells (PHB 114) it is said (emphasis mine):

You can change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Preparing a new list of wizard spells requires time spent studying your spell book and memorizing the incantations and gestures you must make to cast the spell: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list.

The first highlighted segment makes it so that a wizard is essentially preparing their spells for the day (or a very large portion of the day with a good nap). However, the second highlighted segment indicates that the preparation for each individual spell is not that onerous (6 first level spells would take less than 10 minutes).

The wizard in my group has realized that he would like to have two sets of spells, one when combat was unlikely (5 non-combat spells and 1 combat spell) and one when combat was likely (5 combat spells and 1 non-combat spell). Sometimes, the nature of role playing makes this impossible. However, when the party walks up to the mouth of the cave or the entrance to the cobwebbed dungeon, it seems reasonable that he asks the party for a short rest so that he can memorize new spells (not a rest for him, as he would be spending the hour memorizing).

Assumptions I make about the wording:

  1. It is designed to limit the Wizard class's flexibility, and thereby its power
  2. The game mechanic of a long rest is intended to represent the erasure of a wizard's spell specific memory - and thus it is free to receive new spells

Can a wizard partially switch out his spell list? In other words, can he trade rest duration to replace a smaller number of spells during a short rest?

Note: I have asked several questions here that are at the limits of printed rules. I understand that I can modify the rules as I see fit as the DM. The point here is that I am working with several young people, and I don't want them walking into a AL or other 5e game and not understanding the nuances of the game based on learning house rules the first time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I didn't find that in my search. I removed the alternate question, although the answers in that link did not agree... \$\endgroup\$ – tillmas Dec 10 '16 at 13:21
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This is one of those changes from 3.5e to 5e D&D

There was a mechanic in D&D 3.5e wherein a Wizard or other spellcaster that uses the spell preparation mechanic could in essence leave a few of their spell slots unprepared so that later they could be filled as necessary with spells that they might need throughout the day. These "late preparations" took a minimum of 15 minutes but allowed the spellcaster to get a deal of utility out of spells that had a non-combat role. The caveat was that the slots had to be empty and you couldn't drop a slot you had prepared a spell in to prepare a new spell unless you had just finished a full rest period.

The new edition introduced ritual spells to cover some of the need for this

Preparation in 5th edition changed a great deal from prior editions of Dungeons and Dragons. The 15 minute spell prep by leaving spell slots empty isn't really required anymore due to the ritual mechanic which allows using 10 minutes to cast non-combat spells (that have the ritual tag) outside of combat. This provides the Wizard with a lot more versatility on how to choose the spells they'll use to deal with the challenges they believe they'll face that day. (Gonna be in the middle of the desert? Probably won't need feather fall.)

The 5e rules also opened up your spell list so that you can prepare less of one spell level and more of another, giving many choices on how many spells of each level you'd like to prepare. You are no longer locked into 4 first level spells and 2 second level spells. You could choose to prepare 2 first level spells and 4 second level spells so you have more of the useful spells available to account for your daily challenges and to get the most out of your higher level spell castings.

What is your DM's preference?

Fifth edition never states that you can't prepare five of your six daily spells and leave the six slot open to prepare it later as you may need it. It also doesn't explicitly say that you can do that either. It's a decision that will most certainly have to be made by your GM. For instances where the book doesn't explicitly state what you can and can't do, the GM is responsible for making a call that might or might not allow you to do that thing.

Is it needed?

The usefulness of this is actually a great deal less than in 3.5. Due to the availability of ritual spells and the greater flexibility in spell preparation, there is less of a need for leaving empty slots in 5e than there ever has been in D&D. In short, the introduction of ritual spellcasting has removed the need for an empty slot / late preparation requirement that just wasn't present in prior editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

Each caster class is treated a bit differently.

Check the PHB for specifics for each class to understand how the ritual tag applies.

Ritual Casting (Wizard) Basic Rules p. 30
You can cast a wizard spell as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag and you have the spell in your spellbook. You don’t need to have the spell prepared.

The Cleric doesn't get the same benefit, for example.

Ritual Casting(Cleric) Basic Rules p. 22 You can cast a cleric spell as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag and you have the spell prepared.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The history actually helped. What I still don't understand here is the implied in game mechanic. The way the rule is written it indicates that the spell caster can (meaning he doesn't have to) prep new spells after a long rest. To me, this means he doesn't "forget" them in his sleep, which means he is choosing to forget them. My simple brain asks...why can't he "chose" to forget them whenever he wants? \$\endgroup\$ – tillmas Dec 12 '16 at 11:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D 3.5 explained that by stating that you'd need a long rest to just outright have the energy to forget one of your prepared spells entirely. Preparing spells uses up a portion of your spellcasting / vital energy for that day. So if you prepared all your spells as normal, you wouldn't have the energy available to you to re-prepare spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Sandwich Dec 13 '16 at 0:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ That makes bit more sense, something akin to the mental energy/anguish of forcibly removing well entrenched memories. Thanks for the extra time to reply. \$\endgroup\$ – tillmas Dec 13 '16 at 1:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem. Enjoy your game tillmas. \$\endgroup\$ – Sandwich Dec 13 '16 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tillmas I recommend this explanation of tie knots analogy for preparing spells using Vancian magic. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 13 '16 at 3:43
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Without a house rule saying otherwise, the answer is no.

The rules as written specify that you can only change your list of prepared spells when you finish a long rest. Nothing is mentioned about being able to switch out even a small number of spells during a short rest.

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The section on preparing spells means exactly what it says. You can change your prepared spells following at least one long rest (you are not obligated to) completed since the last time you prepared your spells and it takes at least 1 minute per spell level to prepare each spell you want when you do such a preparation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this answer addresses the confusion present in the question. Telling someone it works exactly as it says it does when they're asking what it does because because they don't understand what it says seems counterproductive. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Dec 12 '16 at 13:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm trying to point out that the confusion is coming from over analysing the text, perhaps to get a desired outcome as opposed to the actual rule. If you just take it as it reads it tells you what happens. Also I go on to explain what I mean by that statement. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Dec 12 '16 at 17:21
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Can a wizard 'switch out' spells during a short rest?

No.

Can a wizard recover spells during a short rest?

Yes.

With Arcane Recovery:(PHB 115)

Arcane Recovery You have learned to regain some o f your magical energy by studying your spellbook. Once per day when you finish a short rest, you can choose expended spell slots to recover. The spell slots can have a combined level that is equal to or less than half your wizard level (rounded up), and none o f the slots can be 6th level or higher. For example, if you’re a 4th-level wizard, you can recover up to two levels worth o f spell slots. You can recover either a 2nd-level spell slot or two 1st-level spell slots.

Some other classes have options similar to this. Off hand, the Druid Circle of the Land, Natural Recovery

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You can change your prepared spells when you finish a long could mean while you are long resting or after you have long rested. Take the staement: You can play video games when you have finished your homework.

That doesn't mean you are allowed to play while you are working. If that is the case, couldn’t a wizard take a long rest, journey to where a conflict might be, and then take a few minutes to prepare spells that this situation might need?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take the tour when you get a chance. It's worth noting that the rule says, "when you finish a long rest," and not, "when you have finished a long rest." \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Nov 8 '17 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @plisnithus8, your answer would be much improved if it clearly stated what your answer is. It may be that there isn't a clear answer, but you still should indicate as such. As this is written now, it appears that you're asking a followup question in something that should be a stand-alone answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Nov 8 '17 at 20:55

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