Content of the article: "Things You Should Know About: The Sorcerer Class"
I'm trying to start a series of articles about different topics in D&D and similar RPGs. Specifically, I want to bring some context to terms that have become really common in these kinds of stories, but it feels like we might not know much about in reality (words like paladin, monk, lock-picking, pirate, barbarian, etc). And while I'm at it, I have a number of thoughts about a lot of these topics which I would bring to my players to shape how they view their characters and the setting they're playing in.
Quick shoutout, but a lot of my inspiration for this stuff comes from Gm Word of the Week. It's a podcast I've been listening to for a few years now, and it's full of insightful stuff like this from Fiddleback. And if you want to branch out from that, one of the collaborators on the early episodes of that podcast is The Angry GM, who writes a lot of articles on the subject of playing D&D. I'll probably get my research from other sources, but I already know that a lot of the stuff I bring up will come from these guys, so I figure I'll go ahead and source them (plus, if you aren't already checking their stuff out, they're pretty great even after several years of content).
This time, we're going to talk about the sorcerer class, and what they're all about.
The Sorcerer in 5e
The 5e PHB has this to say about sorcerers:
Golden eyes flashing, a human stretches out her hand and unleashes the dragonfire that burns in her veins. As an inferno rages around her foes, leathery wings spread from her back and she takes to the air.
Long hair whipped by a conjured wind, a half-elf spreads his arms wide and throws his head back. Lifting him momentarily off the ground, a wave of magic surges up in him, through him, and out from him in a mighty blast of lightning.
Crouching behind a stalagmite, a halfling points a finger at a charging troglodyte. A blast of fire springs from her finger to strike the creature. She ducks back behind the rock formation with a grin, unaware that her wild magic has turned her skin bright blue.
Sorcerers carry a magical birthright conferred upon them by an exotic bloodline, some otherworldly influence, or exposure to unknown cosmic forces. One can’t study sorcery as one learns a language, any more than one can learn to live a legendary life. No one chooses sorcery; the power chooses the sorcerer.
Magic is a part of every sorcerer, suffusing body, mind, and spirit with a latent power that waits to be tapped. Some sorcerers wield magic that springs from an ancient bloodline infused with the magic of dragons. Others carry a raw, uncontrolled magic within them, a chaotic storm that manifests in unexpected ways.
The appearance of sorcerous powers is wildly unpredictable. Some draconic bloodlines produce exactly one sorcerer in every generation, but in other lines of descent every individual is a sorcerer. Most of the time, the talents of sorcery appear as apparent flukes. Some sorcerers can’t name the origin of their power, while others trace it to strange events in their own lives. The touch of a demon, the blessing of a dryad at a baby’s birth, or a taste of the water from a mysterious spring might spark the gift of sorcery. So too might the gift of a deity of magic, exposure to the elemental forces of the Inner Planes or the maddening chaos of Limbo, or a glimpse into the inner workings of reality.
Sorcerers have no use for the spellbooks and ancient tomes of magic lore that wizards rely on, nor do they rely on a patron to grant their spells as warlocks do. By learning to harness and channel their own inborn magic, they can discover new and staggering ways to unleash that power.
Sorcerers are rare in the world, and it’s unusual to find a sorcerer who is not involved in the adventuring life in some way. People with magical power seething in their veins soon discover that the power doesn’t like to stay quiet. A sorcerer’s magic wants to be wielded, and it has a tendency to spill out in unpredictable ways if it isn’t called on.
Sorcerers often have obscure or quixotic motivations driving them to adventure. Some seek a greater understanding of the magical force that infuses them, or the answer to the mystery of its origin. Others hope to find a way to get rid of it, or to unleash its full potential. Whatever their goals, sorcerers are every bit as useful to an adventuring party as wizards, making up for a comparative lack of breadth in their magical knowledge with enormous flexibility in using the spells they know.
Mechanically, sorcerers in this edition have the following traits and abilities:
- Sorcerers are a spell-casting class, with little focus on martial combat. They get a d6 hit die, the lowest any of the classes can get. They have no armor proficiencies, and proficiency in only a few simple weapons (dagger, dart, sling, quarterstaff, light crossbow).
- Sorcerers have access to arcane magic, like the wizard class. However, while they have a set of spell slots that they can use per long rest, they do not have to prepare their spells ahead of time. Instead, the sorcerer can cast any spell they know using a spell slot of the appropriate level. They do not get to learn new spells from books or scrolls; they can only learn new spells by leveling up. The sorcerer has the same number of spell slots as the wizard does at any level.
- Chosen at character creation, a sorcerer has a Sorcerous Origin, which is the curcimstances that have given them their magical power. These origins give the sorcerer a number of benefits as they level up, from knowing more spells, to bonuses on spellcasting or certain ability checks, to unique spell-like abilities.
- At level 2, sorcerers gain a pool of sorcery points. Sorcery points can be spent to regain a spell slot, and later on to apply metamagic effects to their spells. Metamagic adds unique changes to a spell, such as a longer duration, dealing more damage, and selectively damaging certain creatures within range. Sorcery points, like spell slots, are regained after a long rest.
Other Editions of D&D
The sorcerer was first introduced in 3.0 as a core class, and a variant on the wizard class. The sorcerer was explained to be a step away from the Vancian magic system that wizards and magic-user classes had used in previous editions. Like in 5th edition, the sorcerer could spontaneously cast (meaning, cast without preparing at the start of the day) any spell that they knew with the right level spell slot, and they had a limited ability to learn new spells. Level for level, the sorcerer class actually had slightly more spell slots in this edition than the wizard class did. However, aside from the ability to summon a familiar at level 1, the class had no other features, and gained none of the extra magical feats that the wizard did in 3.0. Edition 3.5 did little to change the class, only to update it to the newer edition of the game. Because the sorcerer had a limited number of spells they could learn, it was common for players to pick offensive spells, with a few non-offensive spells to use in specific situations.
Pathfinder sorcerers were similar in concept to 3.5, with the one major change being the addition of Sorcerer Bloodlines (which were similar to the later Sorcerous Origins). Bloodlines gave the sorcerer a list of spells that they automatically learned as they leveled up, a list of bonus feats the sorcerer could acquire at certain levels, and a list of special abilities and traits they acquired as they leveled up. While sorcerers did not have a familiar in this game, they did get the Eschew Materials feat at level one, which allowed them to cast without material components.
Sorcerers were introduced to 4th edition in the Player's Handbook 2, as an arcane striker class. Sorcerers in this edition had a list of spells which were separate from the wizard's, and which focused mainly on offensive attacks. In 4th edition, sorcerers had a Spell Source, which was their version of a Sorcerous Origin. Sorcerers started with two spell sources to choose from, and gained two more in the later Arcane Power supplement: Dragon Magic, Storm Magic, Cosmic Magic, and Wild Magic (this one would become widely associated with the class in 4e, and was known for producing wild and random effects while spellcasting).
Sorcerers in Historical Context
As we mentioned in the article on the wizard class, the term "sorcerer" was just another generic word that meant "person who could use magic" until fantasy games like D&D established a distinction between the terms. However, if we look at magic-users in folklore and mythology, we can definitely see a difference between figures who use magic with special tools, materials, and techniques, and those who seem to create magical effects naturally from their own willpower. While we mention Merlin as an example of a wizard, he actually could be argued to fit the role of a sorcerer as well: when he uses magic, there are no arcane formulae or pouches of strange substances; he just points his finger and produces the magic from nothing. From ancient Greek mythology, you might also consider the sorceress Circe, from The Odyssey: at one point she turns the men Odysseus travels with into pigs when they visit her island. She doesn't use magic words to make this happen; the magic seems to exist purely as an expression of her will.
Often, there is a perspective on magic-users when they are portrayed in such a way. While a wizardly character in folklore might be a mortal man, dabbling in a science or the arcane arts, a sorcerous character is often accused of been more than human, a demigod or possibly a creature in disguise. Other characters sometimes treat these characters with a mixture of respect and fear, and sometimes the sorcerer is a subject of distrust, as others find it hard to truly believe their motivations.
References for Sorcerers
Elsa, from the Disney movie Frozen, is a great example of a sorcerer. She is born with magical power, which she has to learn to channel through herself as she grows up. At times, the magic is released in unexpected ways when she's stressed or upset. And the people around her are uncertain of her when they learn of her ability, accusing her of being an outsider to their community.
For another example of a character who is not in control of their magic, you might consider Harry Potter in the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone. In the first few chapters, before Harry learns of his wizardly heritage, the book describes moments of strange happenings that stem from Harry's magic: he flies onto the school roof while his cousin is chasing him, and, of course, he accidentally removes the glass on the python exhibit while visiting the zoo with his family. Such growing pains of magic might be relevant to a young sorcerer, who would have had to learn to control their power and accept it as a part of themselves.
Maleficent, both from the original Sleeping Beauty and moreso in the later Maleficent film, is another example of a sorcerous figure who is distrusted by others. While in her case, Maleficent is distinctly non-human, the character is feared for the power she controls, and she carries herself as someone who can bring such power to bear without hesitation.
My personal favorite reference to make for sorcerers is the show The Dragon Prince, which was produce for Netflix. In this fantasy story, magic is commonly seen as something that non-human creatures have, like elves and dragons. These creatures have access to a "school" or "element" of magic, which they channel through themselves naturally. While the protagonist Callum is distinctly human, he does learn to use this magic to a degree over the course of the show. And this is definitely an internal act, that comes from something like an emotional state or an inner connection to the magic.
Plus I love this scene as an example of why sorcerers can't learn magic from a wizard's spellbook. It's just not the same thing to them.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________Questions for a Sorcerer Character
If you are building a sorcerer character, or if you're a GM with a player rolling a sorcerer, you may want to consider these questions:
- While your character's Sorcerous Origin will explain it somewhat, what is the source of their magical power? Was one of their ancestors a magical creature in human form (dragon, genie, elemental, fey, another extraplanar being)? Were they born under auspicious magical curcumstances, like a magical storm or the death/birth of a powerful being? Were they exposed to magical energies at a young age? Was their family line affected by a blessing or a curse? Did a history of their ancestors studying magic as wizards infuse magical energy into their bloodline? Were they the subject of a prophecy? Does you character know all of the details about this origin? Did their parents celebrate their nature, or did they worry and try to hide it? Did anyone else around them have an opinion of it?
- When did your sorcerer first realize they had magical power? Did something happen by accident? Were they informed by their family? Did a passing wizard or magical creature notice the innate magic running through them? What happened as a result of this revealing?
- Did your sorcerer have a teacher who taught them to harness their inner magic? Were they another sorcerer? A dragon or some other magical creature? Were they self-taught through trial and error? Did this teacher agree to tutor your character for a price, or did they have a personal reason for offering their knowledge?
- What was the first spell your sorcerer tried to cast? Were they successful? Were there any unexpected consequences?
- Does your character have a signature spell, that they love to cast most of all?
- How does your sorcerer learn to cast a spell? Do they practice the somatic gestures and the pronunciations of the verbal components? Do they visualize the effects of the spell? How much time does it normally take for your character to memorize a spell?
- How would your sorcerer describe the experience of casting a spell? Do they feel chills, or warmth on their skin? A rush of electricity through their bodies? Do their senses change while casting spells? Do they smell brimstone? Does their vision blur, or or turn a certain color? Do they hear a ringing in their ears? Does your character do anything while casting, like take a stance or wave their arms in a specific motion? Are there external effects to the magic? Do they hover a few inches while casting a spell? Is there a flash of light or darkness? A rush of wind? A sudden noise like a chorus of angels or a loud gunshot? Does their voice resonate or sound louder while intoning the verbal components of a spell?
- What does your character do mentally when they cast a spell? Do they visualize the results? Do they imagine the words to the spell scrolling through their head? Or the somatic gestures they use? Do they picture the face of their teacher? Or someone else who is special to them? Do they imagine a copy of themselves watching them as they cast?
- Some sorcerers bear marks on their body that represent their sorcerous origins. Does you sorcerer have such a mark? A patch of skin that is scaly and rough like dragon's skin? Small lumps on their forehead that resemble horns? An extra finger or toe, or digits that are longer than normal? Are their eyes an abnormal color? Does their hair stand up slightly, as if by static electricity?
- Does your sorcerer do anything, or carry an object with them, to remind themselves of their magical connection? Do they carry a dragon's scale or tooth on a cord around their neck? Do they sit outside for an hour when a thunderstorm passes through the area they are in? Do they carry an object that represents an element they have an affinity for? Do they pray to a particular devil or celestial, or perform some sort of ritual? Do they carry a memento from their days of training to become a sorcerer?
- A feature for the sorcerer
- What do you think of this revision to sorcerer?
- How I think sorcerer should have been handled.
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