Enhancing D&D Spellcasting with Unprepared Magic

One limitation of some D&D spellcasters is that you have to prepare the spells for the day, when you do your morning ritual. Taking the Wizard as an example, they sit down with their spell book and slowly commit to memory the spells they want to use that day, leaving burning magical letters hovering in their mind, ready to release when needed. 

However, the Wizard knows a lot more spells than they can prepare for a day, especially as they go up in level. So, they have to think ahead, wondering what challenges the day might bring, and also prepare those spells that might save their life when things go wrong, like Feather Fall and Shield.

So a wizard leaves most spells, unused, in their spell book, returning to the same group of spells every day, with few exceptions. And when they finally get into a situation where Feign Death, or Magic Mouth, would be a great spell to use; they haven’t prepared it, cause it’s way down on the list of priorities. 

So, how can you fix this and make the wizard actually able to use all their spells? Well, there are a lot of different ways to do that, some more, and some less balanced gameplay wise. This time around, I’ll propose one of them. I’ll write more in the future.

The Spell Sacrifice Method

The spell user will prepare spells as usual after a long rest. Casting spells and using spell slots work as usual as well. But when the spell user finds themselves in a situation where a spell they haven’t prepared could be helpful, they can sacrifice any other spell slot for the day to cast the unprepared spell. 

So, let’s say that Riarch the Magnificent, a level 5 Wizard with an intelligence score of 17 (+3), has prepared the following 8 spells for the day. 

Cantrips (4): Fire Bolt, Dancing Lights, Blade Ward, Ray of Frost 
1st level (4): Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Shield
2nd level (3): Blur, Hold Person, Misty Step
3rd level (2): Fireball, Haste

Riarch and his group of adventurers travel into a dungeon in search of a holy relic, an army on their heels, only a day away. As they move deeper into the dungeon, they notice that the lower levels, where the relic is, are flooded. Riarch checks his spells, and realizes that he has the 3rd level spell Water Breathing in his spellbook. However, it is not among his prepared spells, as he never calculated on having to use that spell so far away from the sea. 

Normally he would have to wait till the next day to change the spells prepared, but using this rule, he sacrifices a 1st level spell slot along with the 3rd level Water Breathing requires, and is able to pull the spell from his memory and cast it, making the whole party able to breathe under water, and get to the relic.

The group, having secured the relic, comes back up and leaves the dungeon, Riarch having only two 2nd level spell slots left by now. As they exit the dungeon, the heavily wounded party is faced with a scouting party from the army. They engage them before they can return to the army and tell them where they are, but in the skirmish, their cleric goes down, with no one able to heal him in time. He dies as the combat ends. Riarch rushes to his side, and sacrificing a 2nd level spell slot, he manages to cast Gentle Repose on the body, giving them extra time to get him to another cleric to help. This uses up Riarch’s last two spells, and he hopes they don’t run into more on the way home; as he is down to his cantrips.

I hope this seems like a fun idea for your game. I’m sure your spellcasters will appreciate expanding their versatility. If you wanna read more about spells, I suggest checking out my Random Wild Magic Effects page.