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Rules FAQ How Many Spells Can You Cast in a Round in D&D 5E?

NOTE: In the light of information missed in the first version of this article, it has been revised.

Spellcasting in D&D 5E is normally a pretty straightforward thing, especially at lower levels. But there are some tricky edge cases that can and do cause more play imbalance and more arguments than they need to. So how many spells can a player character cast in a single round in D&D 5E?

spells.jpg
As many as eight, depending on your character build and the circumstances, though four or five are much more common limits, and even those don’t come up frequently.


This is the part of a weekly series of articles by a team of designers answering D&D questions for beginners. Feel free to discuss the article and add your insights or comments!


Before we get into the hows of it, though, a few key ground rules:
  • Cantrips with a casting time of one action can always be cast if you have an action available.
  • Spells (cantrips or using a spell slot) with a casting time of one bonus action impose restrictions on what you can do for the rest of the turn you use them in, but not the round. Specifically, if you cast a spell with a casting time of one bonus action on your turn, you cannot cast any other spells on that turn (before or after the bonus action spell) except cantrips with a casting time of one bonus action. This restriction is where most people get tripped up.
  • It’s possible to get multiple reactions off in a single round, provided that you have turns between them.
  • For the purposes of this exercise, a twinned spell is still a single spell.
With those rules in mind, here are the scenarios:

Four spells in a round:

This is the most a typical single-classed spellcaster can pull off, and is therefore the most common ceiling for a character’s spells per round.
  • Spell 1: After the start of the round, but before the character’s turn, another participant in the combat does something that allows the character to cast a spell with a casting time of one reaction as a response. The most common scenarios are shield or hellish rebuke in response to an attack or counterspell in response to another caster’s spell.
  • Spells 2 & 3: The player’s turn arrives and their reaction recharges. They cast a cantrip with a casting time of one action, then another spell (which can be either a cantrip or a leveled spell) with a casting time of one bonus action.
  • Spell 4: After the player’s turn, but before the end of the round, they cast another spell with a casting time of one reaction in response to something else.

This requires two things the character can react to and also requires the character to have reaction spells, but that’s a fairly common scenario for mid-level casters and up.

Five spells in a round:

If the character has two levels or more in fighter so they have access to Action Surge, they can use it to add a second one-action cantrip to the breakdown above.

It’s worth noting that if the PC forgoes the bonus action spell, they can use their Action Surge to cast two spells using spell slots. This is often the better tactical choice, as it allows two powerful spell effects in one turn (but obviously lowers the total number cast). Two levels of fighter also aren’t particularly crippling to a character’s spellcasting progression.

Eight spells in a round:

This goes deep into the realm of theoretical possibilities, because it requires not only a very specific build which is barely a spellcaster at all, it also requires an equally-specific set of circumstances to pull off. The example below uses a tiefling rogue (Thief) 17/fighter 2/sorcerer 1 (bloodline unimportant) with the Magic Initiate (gaining access to shillelagh), and Fey Touched (giving access to misty step) feats. Again, this build is not much of a spellcaster at all, with just two first-level spell slots at level 20. There also need to be “reactable” events interleaved through the initiative order, but if that all comes together, and it’s the first round of combat where the bonus turn from Thief’s Reflexes is available, here’s one example of how it could work:
  • First enemy’s turn: cast shield (sorcerer spell) in reaction to an attack. (1 of 2 spell slots used, 1 spell cast)
  • Character’s main turn: casts fire bolt, casts shillelagh, uses Action Surge, casts booming blade. (1 of 2 spell slots used, 4 spells cast)
  • Second enemy’s turn: casts racial hellish rebuke in reaction to being hit. (1 of 2 spell slots used, 5 spells cast)
  • Character’s secondary turn: casts fire bolt, casts misty step using free “slot” from Fey Touched. (7 spells cast, 1 of 2 spell slots remaining)
  • Third enemy’s turn: casts feather fall (sorcerer spell) in reaction to being shoved off the ledge they’ve been fighting on. (8 spells cast, both spell slots used)

Conclusion​

While you can use highly-specialized builds and rare sets of circumstances to push the numbers of spells per round to crazy heights, the two most likely practical caps are five (for characters with Action Surge) and four (for those without). And frankly, what self-respecting rogue is going to use a club or quarterstaff with shillelagh instead of a finesse weapon?

The single biggest stumbling block (big enough that it got your humble author in the first version of this article!) to remember is the one about spells with a casting time of one bonus action. Once you’ve used one of those on your turn, you’re cut off from leveled spells until your turn ends, and if you cast a leveled spell, you’ve by definition foregone the casting of bonus action spells that turn. This means, among other things, that bonus action spells cannot be defended from a hostile counterspell with a counterspell of your own, per RAW. So cast those healing word spells with caution around enemy casters, folks!
 
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Peter N Martin

Peter N Martin






Tormyr

Adventurer
The important facts to remember:
  • Spells with a casting time of one reaction are not limited by the above rules.
This is technically not true:

Personally, I think it is one of the stranger clarifications, and I think it should be the way it is written in the article, where a character could cast a spell with a casting time of a reaction during its turn regardless of what other spells it cast on the turn. Since a character only gets one reaction per round, the limitation should be that it used the reaction.

It seems silly to me that any number of powerful spells can be cast with a single action (firestorm, wish, fireball, cure wounds), and then counterspell can be used to defend an opponent's counterspell, but the character cannot use counterspell to defend their own healing word.
 

Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
Kinda confused due what is written on page 5 of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.

6. BONUS ACTION SPELLS
If you want to cast a spell that has a casting time of 1 bonus action, remember that you can't cast any other spells before or after it on the same turn, except for cantrips with a casting time of 1 action.


I was all in on the articles points until I recalled the information from Tasha's that I listed above. Now I'm just confused. Lol
 

volanin

Explorer
This is technically not true:

That's curious, this Crawford tweet has (arguably) two interpretations:

A. Casting a spell as an action doesn't prevent you from casting one as a reaction in your turn. BUT casting a spell as a bonus action DOES prevent you from casting one as a reaction. (The bonus action observation replaces the first part of the previous sentence).

B. Casting a spell as an action doesn't prevent you from casting one as a reaction in your turn. BUT casting a spell as an action DOES prevent you from casting one as a bonus action. (The bonus action observation replaces the second part of the previous sentence).

I always thought he meant B (and so, the way described in the article would be correct).
Very interesting.

EDIT:

I guess @Paragon Lost post cemented that the correct interpretation is A.
Damn, this doesn't make any sense in my head!
 





FarBeyondC

Explorer
Four, if you build your character to be able to do so.

You can build your character to potentially do a whole lot more than four if you wanted to. Thief 17 / Eldritch Knight 3 is one way to do so on the 1st round of a given combat, being able to do:

  • 1 reaction spell before your 1st turn (if not surprised) that round
  • 2 spells (must be cantrips) requiring an action on your 1st turn (Normal action and Action Surge action)
  • 1 bonus action spell on your 1st turn
  • 1 reaction spell at some point between the start of your 1st turn and the start of your 2nd turn that round
  • 1 spell (must be a cantrip) requiring an action on your 2nd turn
  • 1 bonus action spell on your 2nd turn
  • 1 reaction spell after the start of your 2nd turn but before the start of your turn next round

For a total of 8 spells. The number of spells that a character can cast in one round can get (in theory) arbitrarily large if said character has access to a trait such as Reactive, which allows multiple reactions in a single round.

The important facts to remember:
  • If at any time a character casts a spell with a casting time of one bonus action (cantrip or leveled), the only spells with a casting time of one action available to them that round are cantrips.

This should read: "If on a given turn a character casts a spell with a casting time of one bonus action (cantrip or leveled), the only spells available to them that turn are cantrips with a casting time of one action."

  • Order does not matter. If a character casts a leveled spell with a casting time of one action, they cannot cast a bonus action leveled spell that turn, though they could cast a cantrip with a casting time of one bonus action (such as shillelagh).

This should read: "Order does not matter. If a character casts a leveled spell with a casting time of one action, they cannot cast a bonus action spell that turn."

  • Spells with a casting time of one reaction are not limited by the above rules.

Only if the reaction spell is cast on a different turn than the bonus action spell.
 

zhivik

Explorer
That's curious, this Crawford tweet has (arguably) two interpretations:

A. Casting a spell as an action doesn't prevent you from casting one as a reaction in your turn. BUT casting a spell as a bonus action DOES prevent you from casting one as a reaction. (The bonus action observation replaces the first part of the previous sentence).

B. Casting a spell as an action doesn't prevent you from casting one as a reaction in your turn. BUT casting a spell as an action DOES prevent you from casting one as a bonus action. (The bonus action observation replaces the second part of the previous sentence).

I always thought he meant B (and so, the way described in the article would be correct).
Very interesting.

EDIT:

I guess @Paragon Lost post cemented that the correct interpretation is A.
Damn, this doesn't make any sense in my head!
I believe this was included only to reinforce the idea that action order is irrelevant. Thus, it doesn’t matter when exactly do you use your bonus action to cast a spell - before or after your main action(s) - you are still limited to cantrips on non-bonus actions if you cast a spell with your bonus action.

Crawford’s clarification is perfectly fine, though he could have also clarified that a reaction is still part of your turn. The description in the Player’s Handbook clearly includes reactions within turn breakdown, so if you cast a spell on a bonus action, the cantrip restriction will apply to your reaction as well, as it is still the same turn. On the other hand, if you don’t cast a spell on your bonus action, there is no restriction what you spell you can cast on a reaction or on an Action Surge, as long as that spell has a casting time of one action.
 

volanin

Explorer
I believe this was included only to reinforce the idea that action order is irrelevant. Thus, it doesn’t matter when exactly do you use your bonus action to cast a spell - before or after your main action(s) - you are still limited to cantrips on non-bonus actions if you cast a spell with your bonus action.

Crawford’s clarification is perfectly fine, though he could have also clarified that a reaction is still part of your turn. The description in the Player’s Handbook clearly includes reactions within turn breakdown, so if you cast a spell on a bonus action, the cantrip restriction will apply to your reaction as well, as it is still the same turn. On the other hand, if you don’t cast a spell on your bonus action, there is no restriction what you spell you can cast on a reaction or on an Action Surge, as long as that spell has a casting time of one action.

I see your point, but there is a mistake. You can only cast spells during your reaction that have a casting time of 1 reaction, like Feather Fall. You can't cast a cantrip with a casting time of 1 action during your reaction.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Kinda confused due what is written on page 5 of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.

6. BONUS ACTION SPELLS
If you want to cast a spell that has a casting time of 1 bonus action, remember that you can't cast any other spells before or after it on the same turn, except for cantrips with a casting time of 1 action.


I was all in on the articles points until I recalled the information from Tasha's that I listed above. Now I'm just confused. Lol
Don't be. The above article is simply wrong. Always go with the books.
 

zhivik

Explorer
I see your point, but there is a mistake. You can only cast spells during your reaction that have a casting time of 1 reaction, like Feather Fall. You can't cast a cantrip with a casting time of 1 action during your reaction.
You can, if you have the Warcaster feat :)
 
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TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
@volanin Right!? I'm taking it to mean A as you said based on the RAW in Tasha's.
I'm pretty sure it's the opposite.

If we put aside feats and other shenanigans, just a basic caster...

On your turn (not once per round), you can cast either:
  • An full spell with your action (let's say Cure Wounds).
  • A cantrip with your action, and a full spell with your bonus action.
In either case, you can use your reaction to cast a reaction spell like counterspell, as you're not casting that on your turn, but during the round and someone's else turn.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
I'm pretty sure it's the opposite.

If we put aside feats and other shenanigans, just a basic caster...

On your turn (not once per round), you can cast either:
  • An full spell with your action (let's say Cure Wounds).
  • A cantrip with your action, and a full spell with your bonus action.
In either case, you can use your reaction to cast a reaction spell like counterspell, as you're not casting that on your turn, but during the round and someone's else turn.
You can cast a spell as a reaction on your turn (using counterspell vs counterspell, walk off a cliff and cast feather fall, etc.). Crawford's tweet and Tasha's say that you cannot use your reaction on your turn to cast a spell if you used your bonus action to cast a spell (or vice versa).
 

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