Cantrip: What’s Up with the Wizard in D&D?

D&D wizard
A wizard as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
Wizards in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons have been on my mind a lot lately.

A number of factors contribute to this.

  1. The next Playing D&D with Class post focuses on the wizard
  2. My main character when i get to play D&D is a wizard
  3. Awesome Gale Force 9 D&D Spellbook Cards: Arcane arrived and now rest snugly in their spellbook binder
  4. A Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Facebook group thread got heated (imagine that!) after someone asked for opinions on a “basic spellcasting class” for their significant other to play as a new D&D player
  5. i notice “wizard” almost never comes up in discussions of favorite class or multiclass builds

i began to wonder what was up in the world of D&D arcane magic.

For all that i see criticisms of the sorcerer class, it sure pops up often in build advice and among player favorites.

On a side note, i’d like to start adding content more regularly and since i lean towards longform writing i’m going to tag these shorter posts as Cantrips. Seems fitting, since i write about D&D quite a bit. Cantrips are quick, easy spells and these will be quick, easy posts.

In a 2016 Wizards of the Coast D&D survey, wizard showed as the fourth most popular class behind fighters, clerics and rogues. Not too shabby. In fact there’s your classic party makeup right there. That warms my old gamer heart to see the original team (well, not exactly the rogue but close enough) shooing all the new fangled classes from their grognard lawn.

More recently, in terms of player satisfaction an EN World survey showed wizard rated among the highest in satisfaction – very satisfying as a matter of fact. However, in the numbers there is a curious clue.

Wizards received the lowest total number of votes. Huh. More on that in a moment.

Over on Reddit a similar What Is Your Favorite Class survey found the wizard in high standing again, but here it received among the most votes. Although ultimately placing third, it was a very close margin between wizard, bard (No. 1) and warlock (No. 2).

Considering all these wildly varying results from discussions, surveys and polls my guess is that wizard seems perhaps intimidating and/or boring compared to other arcane spellcasters. Bards and warlocks are immensely popular. Both have access to arcane spells but also lots of other nifty features. And sorcerers got that whole “I don’t cast magic – I AM MAGIC” thing going on.

But for those who play wizards we know the deal. Everyone else is a dabbler. Regarding ease of use or complexity as a spellcasting class, i suppose there’s some merit to the argument that other arcane casters (bards, warlocks, sorcerers, Eldritch Knight fighters and Arcane Trickster rogues) are easier to manage. Rangers also fall into this camp. They choose their spells and those are the only ones they’re concerned with.

On the other side of the magic coin, divine casters (clerics, druids and paladins) are free to choose any spells from their respective spell lists every time they get a chance to prepare spells.

So is it the spellbook aspect that turns people off from the classic D&D wizard? Are they too squishy? Is just casting spells not alluring enough in this day and age? (To be fair wizards get swanky abilities through their arcane tradition, too.)

There’s a lot that can be said of D&D wizards, and you can be sure my standard lengthy post will do just that. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on wizards: great spellcaster or greatest spellcaster?

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