Very often, we hear that it is not possible to cast two spells in a single turn unless one of them is a cantrip. To that we say, “Balderdash!” If someone says this to you, you have our permission to slap them with a Player’s Handbook and then direct them here.
This article will explain why this misconception exists and the circumstances in which you are allowed to cast multiple spells in a turn.
Clarification On Actions
The “Combat” chapter in the Player’s Handbook details the different actions you can take. We frequently make reference in this article to the Cast a Spell action, which reads as follows:
Spellcasters such as wizards and clerics, as well as many monsters, have access to spells and can use them to great effect in combat. Each spell has a casting time, which specifies whether the caster must use an action, a reaction, minutes, or even hours to cast the spell. Casting a spell is, therefore, not necessarily an action. Most spells do have a casting time of 1 action, so a spellcaster often uses his or her action in combat to cast such a spell.
This article will focus on those spells which have a casting time of 1 action, 1 bonus action, or 1 reaction, as they are the spells which are typically used in combat and which are subject to restrictions regarding what you have cast in a single turn.
Let’s put an important point in no uncertain terms here: there are no rules that say you cannot cast two spells in a turn, let alone that they can’t both be of 1st level or higher. What has people confused is the following text, which appears on page 202 of the Player’s Handbook:
[When you cast a spell as a bonus action,] you can’t cast another spell during the same turn, except for a cantrip with a casting time of 1 action.
This is a narrowly circumscribed restriction that only applies in certain circumstances. Namely, when you cast a spell as a bonus action. Note that there is nothing there which says that you can’t cast two spells. It is the action economy (1 action per turn plus a possible bonus action) that normally prevents someone from, say, casting two fireballs.
Now that we have cleared that up, let’s move on to the five situations in which you can cast multiple spells in a turn.
Situation 1: Bonus Action Spell plus Cantrip
This is the exception to the rule that many people know about already (and is directly written into the rules), but it is worth going into because it is also the reason people get confused.
As quoted above, when you cast a spell as a bonus action, your other spellcasting on that turn is restricted. This means that if you cast misty step or hex, you can’t also cast a spell of 1st level or higher; you are limited to casting a cantrip. It also means that if you’re a sorcerer and you use the Quicken Spell metamagic option on a fireball in order to cast it as a bonus action, you are also limited to a cantrip when you use the Cast a Spell action. Whether you cast this cantrip before or after the bonus-action spell, the restriction is the same, so plan your turn accordingly.
Situation 2: Bonus Action Spell plus Item
Okay, so this one is a little trickier and requires that you read the item description closely.
Some items, such as a wand of fireballs, allows you to use an action to cast a spell from that item. Normally, using an item would mean taking the Use an Object action (PHB 193) on your turn, but in this circumstance these items are giving you a new action: expending charges to cast a spell. Even though this isn’t the Cast a Spell action, you are still casting a spell, and so you are bound by the same restrictions regarding bonus action spells.
However, other items such as a necklace of fireballs, do much the same thing but don’t specify that you are actually casting a spell. For those items, you can cast a bonus action spell and then use the action given in that item’s description to cause another magical effect to occur. Therefore, a sorcerer could use Quicken Spell to cast fireball as a bonus action and then throw a bead from a necklace of fireballs as an action to create another fireball.
To appease the pedants who will read this and leave angry comments: No, this is technically not casting two spells in a turn. However, it is creating two magical effects and therefore falls under the same general topic, which makes it prudent to mention.
Situation 3: Reaction Spells
Another action you can take to cast a spell aside from your regular action and bonus action is a reaction. Provided that you haven’t cast a bonus action spell on that turn already, if a situation would cause you to cast a spell as a reaction you are not precluded from taking the Cast a Spell action to cast another spell on that same turn.
For example, if you move out of a creature’s threatened space and it makes an opportunity attack against you, you could use shield as a reaction to prevent the attack from hitting you and still cast a spell like chromatic orb on the creature when you are safely out of reach.
Situation 4: Action Surge
Anyone with at least two levels in the fighter class can also cast two spells without having to contend with the restrictions on spellcasting. How? Well, they just don’t cast a spell as a bonus action. Instead, they take the Cast a Spell action, use their Action Surge feature to gain a second action, and then take the Cast a Spell action again. If they are an Eldritch Knight of at least 7th level, they can then still use their bonus action to make a weapon attack, too!
Situation 5: Wild Magic Surge
Very similar to the above case, Wild Magic sorcerers can also cast two action spells in a single turn, though they can’t do so reliably. A Wild Magic sorcerer who casts a spell of 1st level or higher has the potential to trigger a wild magic surge on a roll of a 1 on a d20 (rolled at the DM’s discretion). One possible result on the Wild Magic Surge table (81 or 82 on a d100 roll) is “You can take one additional action immediately”. Because it is a 1 in 1,000 chance, it is certainly easy to overlook, but a sorcerer who casts a spell and triggers this result could cast another spell. Theoretically, a Wild Magic sorcerer’s maximum spells per turn is limited only by his available spell slots (including what he could make from sorcery points using his bonus action), magic items (using the additional action to cast more spells), and luck—the likelihood of triggering multiple such surges asymptotically approaches zero after even just the first occurrence. [Thanks to reader Christopher for our discussion on this one!]
The information above was verified by close reading of the rules and confirmed by information contained in the Sage Advice Compendium, a compilation of frequently asked questions and their answers, plus clarification of the rules by the game designers.
You are free to adjust the rules at your table in a way that you and your players find agreeable, but if you want the “rules as written” answers to whether you can or cannot cast two spells in the same turn, the answer is “Yes, in the situations detailed above”.
What are your thoughts on the rules for spellcasting? Share them in the comments below!