Coming up with a great backstory, personality, motivations and goals goes a long way toward making memorable D&D characters. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of what you can do, it’s all about class. Consider it your character’s vocation, calling, profession or craft, a character’s class picks up where their backstory leaves off, giving them the skills and abilities they’ll use on their life of adventure.
Rather than analyze the mechanics of each class, extolling the benefits of one option and admonishing the suboptimal drawbacks of another, what you’ll find in this “Playing D&D with class” is the usual musings that accompany any topic and hopefully some insight into different ways to approach the various classes in D&D 5E.
As a longtime player and DM, i’ve never put much emphasis on mathematical optimization, and when it comes to making characters i’m a purist – multi-class characters have never appealed to me. Instead, it’s always been about the concept, the who of a character more than the what.
The power chooses you
D&D had been around quite some time and evolved through several editions before the mighty sorcerer was introduced as a character class.
Prior to 3rd edition, wizards/magic-users and the various permutations of specialists like illusionists, abjurers and the like, were the undisputed masters of arcane magic. There were some other classes with limited access, like bards in 2nd edition, but by and large when it came to arcane magic it was wholly the purview of wizards.
Unlike wizards that learn the ability to manipulate arcane magical forces through intense study and discipline, sorcerers have an innate link to these forces that surround them, penetrate them and bind the universe together.
Compared to other primary casters, including divine magic users like clerics and druids, a sorcerer has a much more limited selection of spells to wield. But because their magic is so personal and particular to them, sorcerers have an incredible amount of control over and manipulation of their magic.
For a sorcerer, magic is in their blood and suffuses every fiber of their being. Sorcerer characters don’t choose to wield magic. Instead they are conduits of arcane forces that manifest and grow within them. In this way, they’re reminiscent of comic book characters like Marvel’s mutant X-Men.
A sorcerers’ power stems from a mystical connection to strange events or events in their own past or in the recesses of ancient history. Unlike a warlock, whose magic is granted directly through a bargain with a powerful being, sorcerers owe allegiance to no such patron.
The meat and potatoes of sorcerous magic in 5E is represented by sorcery points. With this pool of resources, a sorcerer can manipulate their magic in a variety of ways – not the least of which is by gaining additional spell slots! Conversely, spell slots can be converted into sorcery points that fuel the core sorcerer mechanic: metamagic.
Metamagic abilities allow sorcerers to exert control over the spells they cast. They can extend the duration or range of spells, make their spells harder to resist, increase the damage, cast them faster, protect allies caught in area effect spells and even twin a spell and cast it two times simultaneously!
The Player’s Handbook presents two different sorcerous origins for characters to draw power from: a draconic bloodline or wild magic, with the Sword Coast Adventurers’ Guide adding a third with storm sorcerer. If those aren’t enough, there’s two offerings from Unearthed Arcana playtest materials: the shadow origin and the favored soul.
That’s quite a bit of variety to inspire your imagination when creating a sorcerer character. Arcanists who rely on force of will alone to harness magical powers come in several flavors but all share the common trait that they don’t use magic – they are magic.
Because of this, it’s easy to imagine a sorcerer coming from any sort of background. Anyone from a noble to an urchin has the potential to manifest a sorcerous origin that turns their world upside down. Draconic blood in the character’s ancestry could have lain dormant for millennia. A fluke of nature, random chaotic surges of wild energy, genetic disposition, the touch of planar energy or the whims of the gods are just a few of the possibilities of where sorcerers gain their powers.
Looking for inspiration
Fictional characters who have unexplained powers are vast and varied. Marvel Comics’ mutant characters are a good place to start for drawing inspiration. The manifestations of mutant powers, triggered by a significant event like trauma or puberty, are a terrific parallel for the emergence of sorcerous magic. This could provide a wealth of roleplaying and story opportunities as well. It’s just as likely that people who possess unexplained magical powers could be just as “hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason” as those comics characters with an X-gene.
Force-users from the Star Wars universe share a lot of similarities to sorcerers, too. Arcane magic, like the Force, exists all around the world and for whatever reason (except the reason of midi-chlorians, which is stupid) some people have a sensitivity and affinity for it that allows them to channel and manipulate the energy.
For less specific examples, literature, film, TV, comics, video games and other media have countless examples of characters around whom strange things occur. Leaning more towards the wild magic aspect of sorcery, perhaps a sorcerer character is themselves largely unaware of their own power or ability to manipulate it. It’s not too difficult to imagine and roleplay your sorcerer not as a competent wielder of raw magical might, but instead as an instinctual caster. From a game perspective, sure, the desired effects are the the spells you as a player choose to cast. But in terms of your character’s existence in the world, it could be interpreted as dumb luck. (Also, there’s always the chance of wild magic surges…)
Roles not rolls
As with any class in D&D, the best advice i can offer is to set mechanical concerns aside and instead focus on creating memorable characters. Unusual race, class and background combinations are just as viable as character built to take advantage of every stat and ability. What you’re giving up from category A only means you’ll be stronger at something in category B or C.
D&D gives players a chance to create the kind of game they want to play, using as many or as few of the rules as those gathered at the table wish. At the core, it is a group-centered game and your characters come to life as individuals working with others to achieve their goals, so what works in one group might not be optimal in another, and that’s something number crunchers might overlook.
Sorcerers rely on their Charisma in every regard for any class features that reference an ability score. This alone can inform your character in a variety of ways. Is your charismatic sorcerer charming? Manipulative? Domineering? Maybe they’re reluctant to tap into their strange magical powers and instead try to use their personality to navigate encounters as best they can.
A sorcerer with higher Strength might wield a great sword and focus on buff spells like false life and mirror image (yes, there are nonconcentration buff spells out there!). Maybe your sorcerers’ magic manifests itself as personal enhancements like this. They could even be somewhat unaware of what is truly happening when their magic works.
Crowd control isn’t a bad choice for sorcerers either, using their metamagic to make resisting things like web, hold person or stinking cloud more difficult. Perhaps your sorcerer is appalled by the violence of the adventuring life they were thrust into as a result of their strange magical powers.
Sorcerers are one of those classes that are really only dependent on a single ability score (Charisma) so the direction you take with your character is as wide open as anything else about this class.
The next time you’re creating a character, whether as a DM or player, consider the sorcerer. At their core, sorcerers are possessed of strong will to harness innate magical powers. The limited selection of spells you choose for your sorcerer will determine what specialty they’ll bring to the party, with their metamagic providing flexibility to use those spells in different ways than any other spellcasting class.
Sorcerous origins give characters an avenue to think about where their powers derive from, whether the character is aware of them or not. But no matter how you envision your sorcerer character, they are if nothing else a truly magical character.
Consider the role your sorcerer will play, how their origin, background and spells combine to make them a unique individual in the game world. Will they be hated and feared by those who don’t understand, or fear themselves and what they’re capable of? Will they seek to understand and gain more control over the torrent of magical power in their veins, or give in to the whims of fate and ride along like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream? Like any character, your sorcerer comes to the table with a story to tell, as well as one that has yet to be written.