There are a lot of rules around in Dungeons and Dragons. If you have new players who want to play spellcasters, then they’re going to have even more learning to do!
As their Dungeon Master, you’ll probably want to check in regularly with them, and to tailor your DMing to reduce some of the overwhelm that so many players face when first playing a spellcaster.
We want our players to feel like epic badasses striding into battle, not unprepared students dragging their feet into an exam! ;)
If you haven't already, I also highly recommend you check out my post explaining how spell slots work in D&D 5e!
Today I’m going to offer seven different tools you can use to make it easier for your players to use their spells effectively!
Ask your players to read their spells
Yeah, no duh, Annabelle!
Perhaps the best way for players to understand their spells, is for them to put aside 10 minutes between each game to read them.
It’s not just DMs that need to do session prep!
It sounds obvious, but the trouble is, people have busy lives.
Often players may mean to do their prep but they … just … don’t.
Even with the best intentions, many players put down their character sheet at the end of the game, and do not pick it up until the start of the next one.
If that’s the case, set aside 10 minutes at the start of each D&D game as time to encourage your players to review their spells then and there.
Start simple and slow down the learning curve
I always like to start at a low level when DMing for new players, so they don't have to learn too many new abilities at once. As players level up they get access to more spells and options.
If players level up too quickly it can be pretty overwhelming for them. This is especially true for our newbies!
Sometimes it’s helpful to slow down the level up. This gives your players more time to become familiar with their characters abilities before new ones are introduced.
If you’re playing a campaign with milestone levelling timed with particular story beats, consider introducing a side quest that will add a few extra sessions at this level.
Of course, slowing down levelling isn’t always practical, especially if 3 out of 4 of your party are chomping at the bit to get their next abilities. But we have more than one tool in our GMs toolkit!
Try an Interactive character sheet like D&D beyond
I’ve talked about D&D Beyond character sheets before. One of the reasons I like them so much is because of the feature for spell casters where you can just click on a spell in your spell list, and have all the information about that spell pop up on the side.
Here you can check the components needed, the fine wording of the spell, the level etc.
If a player clicks “cast” on the spell, the spell slot is automatically marked off, which makes it easier to keep track of how much magical energy the character has used.
For some though, digital character sheets can be overwhelming in their own right.
So how do players look up their spells then?
Spell cards are an excellent option!
They are essentially cue cards that have all the info about the spell contained on them. If you want to go one step further, you can even highlight information like the spell level, or whether it’s a concentration spell, to make it easier for players to note that information at a glance.
For some folks, and especially those of us on the spectrum, it can be particularly handy to have something physical to hold and look at too.
Visual aids can be a game changer!
You can buy spell cards, or, if you’ve spent your money for this month on cool magnetic modular d&d terrain (Bwahaha smooth plug, right? ;) ), then you can always find the spells online, and print them out yourself! :)
Still finding it overwhelming? Try categorising spells
I’m a big fan of colour coding! It’s a great way to take in important information in the blink of an eye. Something we can use it for here, is categorising spells.
For example, you might colour code the spells listed on a character sheet as red for combat, blue for utility.
Now, if a player is frantically searching their spells, they can tell at a glance which ones are more likely to be useful to them in this moment.
Cutting down the number of spells your player needs to look at in the moment reduces the overwhelm they might be feeling. It also has the extra bonus of speeding up gameplay!
Use NPCs to teach by example
The party aren’t the only ones casting spells right? If an NPC around the party is casting spells, make sure you describe how they are doing it.
It’s even easier if you have a spell casting NPC travelling or working with the party for a bit. Through them, you can demonstrate selecting spells in the morning, and checking they have the components (if needed).
The NPC can even talk to the party about what spells they have, and ask them if they can be combined with other players skills in battle.
This will remind your spellcasting players of what they can do, as well as giving an example of how to creatively plan for spell use ahead of time.
I like this one because you’re teaching your players without it feeling like work to them.
The trick for this one is making it subtle, and not derailing the game for it.
You want the discussion of magic to be just another part of the story for your players.
Ask your players for descriptions of their spellcasting
Another story based way to help your players get familiar with their spells is to encourage them to make narrative descriptions of casting them.
It’s something Caleb of Critical Role campaign 2 did really well.
For example, False Life might look very different depending on whether it's being cast by an Artificer or Warlock!
Repetition, and saying things out loud is a really useful tool for making things stick in your head. It's as true for learning spell capabilities as it is for your times tables ;)
Encouraging your players to describe their spells will also get them thinking about the cool effects they’re doing.
It's a great little-but-often way to make their spells and abilities feel more familiar and memorable.
The final takeaway
Today we’ve looked at a few different ways to help our players feel more familiar and comfortable with spell casting.
These range from physical tools like spell cards, to sneakily delivering Magic 101 lessons via NPCs, to outright asking your players to research their spells between sessions.
You don’t have to use all of these techniques of course - chances are that you’ll find a few that you really vibe with, and a few that don’t quite suit either your player or yourself. That’s ok!
Just try them out and find the ones that click! :)
It only takes one or two to make a real difference to a struggling player! You got this!