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If something other than your class determines a ‘spellcasting ability,’ such as a racial trait, feat, feature, or item, add the phrase “If you don’t have a spellcasting ability,…” to it. Ex: The tiefling’s racial trait Infernal Legacy now reads: “If you don’t have a spellcasting ability, Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells.”

There’s a commonly used nerd term called ‘grok,’ meaning to understand something on an intuitive level. In the world of game design, some designers use it to describe player’s ability to implement rules of complicated phrasing or description, but simple usage during play. It’s understood that sometimes, when designing a rule, it’s ok for that rule to be thorough and complex if the players can ‘grok’ it, especially if the rule embodies the player’s natural inclinations. This ruling seems complicated on the surface, but I know you can grok it, because some of you have already been playing with this rule without even realizing it. This ruling puts into words that practice which you have been using throughout the campaign thus far, and hopefully avoids future headaches by making spellcasting a little more ‘grokable’.

The ruling, in layman’s terms, means you only need one ability to cast spells. If you have a class that can cast spells, that class defines what your spellcasting ability is under its Spellcasting or Pact Magic class feature (Charisma for bards, paladins, sorcerers, and warlocks; Intelligence for eldritch-knight fighters, arcane-trickster rogues, and wizards; and Wisdom for clerics, druids, and rangers). With this ruling, you use that ability for every spell you cast, no matter where the ability to cast that spell came from. Some abilities, like the Magic Initiate feat or a high elf’s Cantrip trait, would originally have you use a different spellcasting ability for the spells granted by them, but now those only apply if your class lacks a spellcasting ability, such as the barbarian, fighter, rogue, and monk. For example, we have a cleric with the tempest domain. If this cleric takes the Magic Initiate feat, choosing Light, Fire Bolt, and Thunderwave (for some reason) from the wizard spell list, he uses his Wisdom modifier to determine the attack bonus and save DC. Without this ruling, the cleric would need to use Intelligence for those spells, even though Light is a cantrip on the cleric spell list. The tempest cleric would have also had to differentiate between the Thunderwave used with this feat, and Thunderwave cast as a cleric spell with his domain.

While this ruling has the potential to shift the power of certain feats and race options, I believe that ultimately this will streamline an uncharacteristically complicated aspect of the game by making it more intuitive in actual gameplay. There’s now only one ability any caster needs to worry about when it comes to their spells, and far less bookkeeping of numbers and abilities.

Features this change affects:

  • High elf: Cantrip trait
  • Drow elf: Drow Magic trait
  • Air genasi: Mingle with the Wind trait
  • Earth genasi: Merge with Stone trait
  • Fire genasi: Reach to the Blaze trait
  • Water genasi: Call to the Wave trait
  • Forest gnome: Natural Illusionist trait
  • Tiefling: Infernal Legacy trait
  • Magic Initiate feat
  • Ritual Caster feat
  • Spell Sniper feat
  • Svirfneblin Magic feat

Add the following paragraph to p.144 of the PHB under the section “Shields”: “Using a shield effectively requires an amount of martial discipline. If you don’t have proficiency with shields, you receive no benefit from donning one.”

There’s a story Magic: the Gathering designer Mark Rosewater shares from time to time: He used to work in a department that required a company issued ID in order to access the building. The access was ultimately granted by a security officer at the front desk, who would buzz you in upon seeing the ID. Over the years, Mark befriend the guard, and would share stories, laughs, and all around be good natured to each other. One day, Mark forgot his ID, and approached his friend at the desk about it. The guard… refused him entry, saying the rules were that he needed to see an ID to be let in. We are met with the true irony of intent of the law versus the letter of it.

The point of the procedure was to deny strangers access to the building. The person enforcing this procedure is able to identify if someone is a stranger or not if they carry an ID. Ergo, an ID is needed to enter the building. And because of the rigidity of the procedure, its purpose was defeated when someone, easily identifiable, was denied access because he was lacking the piece of identification.

According to most answers given on the internet, wielding a shield seems to be the same story with a different author. Most believe that lack of proficiency with a shield merits the same penalty as lack of proficiency with armor (including by 5th edition’s creators). That penalty is “If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells.” That’s pretty steep. Applying this to spellcasting, what about donning a shield would make one unable to cast a spell? Clearly, it would interfere with the somatic components of a spell. But, if my other hand is free, shouldn’t I still meet all the requirements of being able to cast a spell? What is it about having a shield occupy one’s hand that’s different than that hand holding something else large and cumbersome, like a wooden chair?

The War Caster feat brings up another example. It’s second benefit states: “You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands.” So, if I have a shield in one hand that I lack proficiency with and nothing in the other, and what would prevent me from casting those spells dictated under the armor proficiency rule is actually the interference with somatic components required of the spell, then shouldn’t this feat circumvent that restriction? No, says the internet, because the rules say so.

But they don’t, also according to the powers that be. Shields are not armor… they’re shields, of course. So why grant them the armor penalty? When the rule is ridged, have we defeated the purpose? Yes. Plainly put, shields are not armor, and should not carry the same penalties as armor.

However, this presents a new problem: what’s the point of a shield proficiency? Or rather, what does a proficiency with shields actually grant you, if anyone can receive its bonus, and there isn’t any clear penalty for not having it? I feel WotC has already solved this problem with weapons, in that lack of proficiency just doesn’t grant a bonus. Shields grant bonuses, so why not treat these things the same way?

So, shield proficiency grants you the ability to add its bonus to AC. If you don’t have proficiency with shields, donning one doesn’t do much, except occupy that hand.


Tyranny of Dragons Aerodus