Spell scrolls are one use consumable items in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition that allow characters to cast the spell contained within the scroll without expending a spell slot.
There are a lot of rules and conditions around using spell scrolls. We’ll take a look at them in this post.
Personally I (and many other DMs) find the rules as written around spell scrolls somewhat limiting so I’ll also introduce you to some of the common homebrew rules that have evolved around the use of spell scrolls in D&D games.
What are Spell Scrolls?
In DnD 5e, spell scrolls are magical items that allow magic users to cast the spell on the scroll without needing to provide material components or use a spell slot.
This is pretty massive actually, as spell slots are precious resources!
Material components for some of the larger hitting spells can be hard to come by and worthy of a quest in their own right.
The words on a spell scroll are written as a mystical cipher, unintelligible to most normal folk.
Once used, the words on the scroll fades and it crumbles to dust (DMG, pg 200).
Spell scrolls produce the effect of a real spell and range from relatively common cantrip scrolls right up to legendary artifacts containing the most powerful 9th level spells.
Their cost and abilities reflect the power of the spell they contain. The rarer and more powerful scrolls have proportionally higher spell save DCs and Attack Bonuses.
You can use this table below to check the power, rarity, DC and attack bonus of a spell scroll you wish to use.
I’ve included a suggested price for spell scrolls depending on level. Note, I used the Magic Item Rarity table (page 135, DMG) as a basis of determining cost of scrolls.
It’s worth mentioning that “spell scrolls” are different to “scrolls”, such as the “Scroll of Protection” (yes, I know, confusingly similar names).
The main difference is that scrolls such as the “Scroll of Protection” don’t entirely mimic spells in their full capacity, and they can be used by anybody, caster or not.
Can I use a spell scroll of a higher level than I can normally cast?
Yes, you can! But, channelling magic of a higher power than you’re used to can be difficult, so characters are required to make an ability check to see if they can do it successfully.
The ability modifier used for this check is the characters spell casting ability modifier. Makes sense, right?
The DC that needs to be beaten in order to cast the spell correctly is 10 + the spells level.
For example, if trying to cast a fifth level spell, a character must get 15 or higher on their spell casting check.
If you fail on the spell casting check then the spell disappears from scroll with no effect and the item is rendered useless.
Can I use a spell scroll that isn’t on my class list?
Rules as written, you can’t use a spell scroll that contains a spell not listed on your casters spell list.
“If the spell is on your class’s spell list, you can read the scroll and cast its spell … otherwise, the scroll is unintelligible” - DMG Pg 200.
This is quite a restrictive rule and is often one that gets homebrewed.
Some DMs allow characters of any class or magical prowess to be able to use any spell scroll.
Others allow casters to use a scroll containing a spell not on their list after a successful spell casting ability check.
If you’re a DM, it’s worth considering what your position on spell scrolls is and communicating it with your players.
Personally I find opening spell scrolls up to different classes more fun. :)
It can lead to more creativity from your players which is always a joy to see, as well as making spell scrolls a more useful and sought after item.
Can non casters use spell scrolls?
Rules as written the answer is pretty much always “no”.
The exception is for characters that have a class spell list but themselves do not have spell slots.
This is pretty much only seen in half-casters like Paladins at first level, before they have access to spells and spell slots.
Other than that, non casters don’t have class spell lists, so aren’t able to use spell scrolls.
This is another one of those rules that is often homebrewed (AKA ignored) by DMs.
Giving anyone the ability to use spell scrolls can be pretty awesome.
It empowers non-casters and gives them a taste of the creativity and opportunity for roleplay that magic lends itself to.
Scrolls can inspire them to try things beyond the normal boundaries of their class!
As well as the in game effects, I tend to find that out of game, players prefer it if spell scrolls are less limited. It’s definitely worth considering for your table!
There are some drawbacks worth keeping in mind, in particular the increased difficulty of balancing encounters for the characters with the added utility of spell scrolls.
Some spells are more potent in the hands of certain classes. If spell scrolls are too readily available it can diminish the power of casting classes.
As DM, homebrewing the rules like this does add a bit more to your workload.
You may need to spend some extra time balancing encounters and coming up with fresh challenges that account for the party’s extra spellcasting abilities.
It’s entirely up to you as a DM whether you keep to the rules as written or homebrew things a bit - both a perfectly valid choices!
Personally, I like my homebrew though ;)
How to use Spell Scrolls as a DM
Spell scrolls are useful not just as items, but as plot points.
As rare (and upwards!) items, spell scrolls are not going to be often found in the market square. They're specialist items that require powerful mages to make.
More likely, the party will need to investigate ancient libraries or wizards towers.
Perhaps a certain temple is rumoured to have a scroll of raise dead. Now that is a prize worthy of a quest of its own!
As a DM, it can be neat to reward players loot that fits their characters and the same goes for spell scrolls.
Try to work out what would excite their characters and give them the opportunity to experience it!
It’s a chance to give your players access to spells they otherwise would be unable to access as part of their class lists.
Spell scrolls are also a great opportunity to slip the players some OP item, since they’re a one time use thing.
If the worse comes to worst and you realise you’ve drastically miscalculated and they are way too powerful …
well, at least you only need to be panicking for one encounter!
The final takeaway
All in all, spell scrolls are a great addition to your game that you should definitely use!
The rules as written can be a little limiting, with spell scrolls only being able to be used by casters who already have access to said spell on their class lists.
There are some different homebrew rules out there used by DMs, ranging from allowing spell casters to use other class spell scrolls with an ability check, right through to giving anyone who can read the ability to use the scroll.
As a DM, this is entirely up to you to decide - what feels right to you for your game?
Whichever way you choose, spell scrolls remain really fun and useful items that give your players the chance to explore higher power magic without you having to risk unbalanced encounters becoming a permanent feature.
I definitely recommend you sprinkle some into your games!
And if you have your own homebrew rules for spell scrolls, let me know in the comments! I’d love to see what other DMs have come up with and enjoy using! :D