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DnD Spellcasting Ability 5e – Find, Calculate Modifier & Increase!

Hands crackling with lightning, you reach towards the Blackguard’s breastplate to shock them into the next century… And miss! Oh geeze.

What do you need to make sure more of your spells hit the mark? A higher Spellcasting Ability modifier would help! In this article, we get into what the Spellcasting Ability is, how to find your Spellcasting Ability in 5e, how to use it, and how to increase your Spellcasting Ability modifier to electrifying effect!

What is the DnD Spellcasting Ability in 5e?

Your character’s Spellcasting Ability is one of the character traits that goes into calculating how effective your character is at spellcasting.

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Your Spellcasting Ability, Spell Attack Bonus and Spell Save DC boxes are all found on the Spellcasting page of the character sheet.

Each one serves a different purpose in DnD.

Spellcasting Ability

Your Spellcasting Ability is determined by which base ability your character uses to power their spells. For example, Sorcerers get their spellcasting power from their Charisma, so their Spellcasting Ability is Charisma.

Your Spellcasting Ability modifier is a number taken from the ability used to power the spells. So for a Sorcerer, their Spellcasting Ability modifier is the same as their Charisma modifier found on the first page of the character sheet.

Your Spellcasting Ability modifier is one element that goes into calculating your character’s Spell Attack Bonus and Spell Save DC.

Spell Attack Bonus

Sometimes you’ll need to roll to see if your spell hits your mark. Your Spell Attack bonus is what you add to your d20 attack roll.

Spell Save DC

Your Spell Save DC represents how difficult it is for your targets to resist your spell. The higher your Spell Save DC, the harder it is for them to resist it. Usually, when your DM rolls for monsters to see if your spell hits them, Spell Save DC is what they are rolling against.

How to find the Spellcasting Ability for your Character

DnD 5e Spellcasting character sheet showing Spellcasting Ability box
DnD 5e Spellcasting character sheet showing Spellcasting Ability box

In the Spellcasting Ability box on your character sheet, you want to fill in your Spellcasting Ability. Different classes use different abilities such as Intelligence, Charisma and Wisdom.

For example, Wizards use Intelligence. So while building my latest Wizard, I wrote Intelligence in this box.

Spellcasting Ability by Class

You can find your character’s Spellcasting Ability in their class description, normally under “Spellcasting” in their “Class Features” section. If you’re playing a warlock, you can find this information under “Pact Magic.”

To save you looking up your class in a handbook, here’s a handy reference table!

ClassSpellcasting Ability Modifier
ArtificerIntelligence
BardCharisma
ClericWisdom
DruidWisdom
Fighter (Eldritch Knight)Intelligence
Monk (Way of the Four Elements)Wisdom
PaladinCharisma
RangerWisdom
Rogue (Arcane Trickster)Intelligence
SorcererCharisma
WarlockCharisma
WizardIntelligence
Spellcasting Ability modifiers by class

How to Calculate the Spellcasting Ability Modifier

DnD 5e Spellcasting character sheet showing Spellcasting Ability modifier
DnD 5e Spellcasting character sheet showing Spellcasting Ability modifier

Because the Spellcasting Ability modifier number is used to calculate Spell Save DC and Spell Attack Bonus, I find it helpful to write that in the box as well as the Spellcasting Ability.

To find the Spellcasting Ability modifier number for my Wizard, I would look at the first page of my character sheet and see what modifier is in the Intelligence ability box. That’s my Spellcasting Ability modifier.

By way of working example, say that a Wizard’s base Intelligence score is 16. A base 16 score has a modifier of +3. The Wizard’s Intelligence modifier is +3, so their Spellcasting Ability modifier is +3 too.

Different base scores have different modifier numbers. For quick reference, a table for the base ability scores and what their associated modifiers are is below.

 

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ScoreModifier
1-5
2-3-4
4-5-3
6-7-2
8-9-1
10-11+0
12-13+1
14-15+2
16-17+3
18-19+4
20-21+5
22-23+6
24-25+7
26-27+8
28-29+9
30+10
DnD Ability Scores and Modifiers

How to use your Spellcasting Ability Modifier in 5e

Your Spellcasting Ability Modifier becomes part of two other calculations in DnD. (It isn’t used on its own.) The two calculations are Spell Attack Bonus and Spell Save DC.

The spell’s description will give you the exact details on which one you need to use.

Spell Attack Bonus

These kinds of spells typically say something like, “make a ranged spell attack”.

Your Spell Attack Bonus = your Spellcasting Ability modifier + your Proficiency bonus.

Spell Save DC

These are for spells that don’t need to be aimed, but may allow the target a chance to resist. The spell’s description will say something like “target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw.” To succeed, the target’s roll needs to be above the caster’s DC (or Difficulty Class).

Your Spell Save DC = 8 + your Spellcasting Ability modifier + your Proficiency Bonus + any Special Modifiers

How to Increase your Spellcasting Ability Modifier

You can increase your Spellcasting Ability modifier, using Racial bonuses, feats, items, and of course, by levelling up! Any increase to your Spellcasting Ability modifier will have a direct improvement to your Spell Attack Bonus and your Spell Save DC.

Spellcasting Ability Racial Bonuses

To give your spellcasting ability modifier some oomph early on, consider choosing a character race that coincides with the class’s magic speciality.

Here’s a list of the most common races and their natural gifts to a character’s ability scores.

Races with Charisma Bonuses
Dragonborn+2 Strength, +1 Charisma
Elf (Dark or Drow)+2 Dexterity, +1 Charisma
Halfling (Lightfoot)+2 Dexterity, +1 Charisma
Tabaxi+2 Dexterity, +1 Charisma
Tiefling+2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence
Races with Intelligence Bonuses
Elf (High)+2 Dexterity, +1 Intelligence
Gnome (Forest)+2 Intelligence, +1 Dexterity
Gnome (Rock)+2 Intelligence, +1 Constitution
Tiefling+2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence
Races with Wisdom Bonuses
Aarakocra+2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom
Dwarf (Hill)+2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom
Elf (Wood)+2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom
Races with Variable Bonuses
Half-Elves+2 Charisma, +1 two others
Humans+1 to all ability scores

Feats that Increase your Spellcasting Ability Modifier

Feats are available at first level and every three thereafter. And choosing feats that give you a buff to the ability score which corresponds to your spellcasting is a solid plan for powering up your magic and adding flavor and versatility.

For example, a Bard with the Actor feat could make a mean standup comedian: they’re great at impressions and the Charisma boost makes their Vicious Mockery even more cutting!

Note: We’ve picked out the relevant parts of all the feats below. Some have even more cool benefits. Don’t forget to check out the full description in the core rulebooks!

Charisma Increasing Feats

Actor

“Skilled at mimicry and dramatics, you gain the following benefits… Increase your Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 165, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Resilient

“Choose one ability score… Increase the chosen ability score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 168, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Intelligence Increasing Feats

Keen Mind

“You have a mind that can track time, direction, and detail with uncanny precision. You gain the following benefits… Increase your intelligence score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 167, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Linguist

“You have studied languages and codes, gaining the following benefits… Increase your Intelligence score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 167, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Observant 

“Quick to notice details of your environment, you gain the following benefits… Increase your Intelligence or Wisdom score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 168, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Resilient

“Choose one ability score… Increase the chosen ability score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 168, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Wisdom Increasing Feats

Observant 

“Quick to notice details of your environment, you gain the following benefits… Increase your Intelligence or Wisdom score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 168, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Resilient

“Choose one ability score… Increase the chosen ability score by 1, to a maximum of 20.”

Page 168, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.

Items that increase your Spellcasting Ability Modifier

Magical items that give you a bonus to your spellcasting ability modifier are rare, so keep your (and your familiar’s!) eyes peeled for these treasures.

Charisma Increasing Items


Tome of Leadership and Influence

“If you spend 48 hours over a period of 6 days or fewer studying the book’s contents and practicing its guidelines, your Charisma score increases by 2, as does your maximum for that score.”

Use it wisely, because the Tomes lose their magic for an entire century afterward.

Page 208, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.


Ioun Stone (Leadership)

A type of magical stone named after the Goddess Ioun. It circles your head and bumps your Charisma up by 2 whole points (but maxes out at 20).

Just don’t let your guard down or that sneaky little kobold could snatch your shiny, airborne treasure and it’s sayonara to your CHA bonus.

Page 177, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.


Intelligence Increasing Items


Headband of Intellect

“Your Intelligence score is 19 while you wear this headband. It has no effect on you if your Intelligence is already 19 or higher without it.”

Page 173, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.


Ioun Stone (Intellect)

Another of the variety of Ioun Stones. When this one is orbiting your head “your Intelligence score increases by 2, to a maximum of 20.”

Watch out though, other creatures can try to grab it out of the air and steal your buff!

Page 177, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.


Tome of Clear Thought

“If you spend 48 hours over a period of 6 days or fewer studying the book’s contents and practicing its guidelines, your Intelligence score increases by 2, as does your maximum for that score.”

Usable once a century.

Page 208, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.


Wisdom Increasing Items


Tome of Understanding 

“If you spend 48 hours over a period of 6 days or fewer studying the book’s contents and practicing its guidelines, your Wisdom score increases by 2, as does your maximum for that score.”

Like the other Tomes, this one is a ‘once every 100 years’ deal.

Page 209, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.


Items that Increase an Ability Score of Choice


Deck of Many Things (Star)

Feeling lucky, punk? If you draw the Star card from the Deck of Many Things you can increase one ability score of your choice by 1 point (max of 24).

It isn’t all stat bonuses and daisies though – there are good, bad, and just plain wacky outcomes. Free magic weapon? Cool! Losing 10,000 XP? Not so cool. So you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’

Page 162, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.


Level Up to Increase your Spellcasting Ability Modifer

Gaining experience and leveling up is probably the most reliable way to increase your ability scores and, by proxy, your spellcasting ability modifier.

Each class gets a freebie point at level 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19.

A few notable exceptions: Fighters get an extra ability point to spend at level 6 & 14, and Rogues at 10th level.

What’s the Highest Possible Spellcasting Ability Modifier?

Ability scores top out at 30. It ain’t easy, but if you manage to boost the corresponding ability score to 30 you’ll be rewarded with a godly +10 spellcasting ability modifier!

A note: D&D Spellcasting Ability 5e

I hope that this article helped demystify how to boost your boom spells with tactics like careful base stat selection, racial bonuses, and magical items to quest for. 

Let’s see those monsters dodge your Shocking Grasp now!

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