Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Oh buddy, get ready for a wild ride. I was going to go alphabetically along all of the classes in the D&D Players Handbook, but I got a specific request for Sorcerers after my first post on Barbarians.
I think it’s important to really stress upfront that there are a nearly infinite number of combinations of spells, races, backgrounds, and feats that can be mixed to min/max spell casters. It’s overwhelming to seasoned veterans and even more so to those that are new to the game. I’ll be breaking this into the simplest two-parter my brain could conjure (get it?) up.
I’ll be focusing primarily on the Players Handbook. I might talk about some things found in Xanathars Guide to Everything, but I’m going to do my very best to limit the scope to make it easier for everyone involved. Plus, I figure if you’re adding expansions you can skip to Part Two.
Part One will cover the best Races, Abilities, Sorcerous Origin, and Feats you can pick to optimize your Sorcerer build. Part Two will cover the spell casting mechanics first, then I’ll move on to some of the best spells to plan for as a Sorcerer. I have been lucky enough to DM for a fair number of players that were both veterans of older editions and new players and they ALL get hung up on spellcasting. I did too. I feel like the sooner I can get that clear for everyone, the easier the rest of this will be. It makes playing any spellcaster far less daunting when you know wtf is going on.
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Alright, let’s get weird.
Sorcerers are a strange spell caster in my honest opinion. You’ll be using Charisma as your spellcasting ability. Essentially a bard, but without any musical ability. Probably.
This makes your race selection the easiest thing about Sorcerer’s creation. You essentially have three picks, one of which I think I’ll talk about in literally all of these guides.
-- Tiefling - If you want the best starting Skill and Ability boosts, the handiest racial traits, and (in my honest opinion) the coolest archetype, this is the pick for you.
As a Tiefling, you get Thaumaturgy right away, Hellish Rebuke at 3rd level, and Darkness at 5th level. I’ll talk about those in Part Two, but trust me, those are super fun and duper useful spells that you get for free.
Darkvision and Fire Resistance are great, but the cherry on top of this is a starting +2 to Charisma and +1 to Intelligence. Charisma ftw.
-- Human Variant - Finnnneeeeee. Human Variants are great for everything, we get it. +1 to two different abilities, and a Feat right out of the gate. I recommend two feats below, and they’re totally interchangeable based on what you want most out of your sorcerer. Again, make sure your DM is ok with you picking this as a racial option, but if you can do it and you want to break the game a bit early on, this makes it easy.
-- Half-Elf - Like a Tiefling, just with +2 to Charisma and +1 to two other abilities. They have a nice boost to skills that you can pick as well. Essentially a more vanilla Tiefling if you’re into that sort of thing.
You’ll want to cross-reference this part with the second article on spell selection when you get to it. You can look at your Sorcerous Origin as your skill tree. Draconic Bloodline and Divine Soul are the two builds that you’ll see talked about in most guides. Draconic Bloodline is a great damage dealing build. Divine Soul is amazing for healing. We’re going to completely ignore those though. Sorcerers deserve cooler builds, in my opinion.
Also as a Sorcerer, you’re allowed to choose from Metamagic buffs. Two picks at 3rd level, then a pick at 10th and 17th levels. Making this short and sweet, I recommend Quickened Spell and Heightened Spell for your first picks. Consider Careful Spell if your party likes to crowd. Once you’re to 10th level you’ll probably figure out what’s most important to you, but Twinned Spell is great as well. This and Spell Slots are what you'll be spending your Sorcery Points on, so be picky. This guide is going to focus on Wild Magic and Shadow Magic. Wild Magic was featured in the Players Handbook and Shadow Magic is a part of Xanathars Guide to Everything. They’re incredibly unique, especially Wild Magic, and when used correctly can be incredibly powerful. **Disclaimer** You pick this at Level 1. It sticks with you throughout your entire build. Read all of them. These are my recommendations if you want to be a bit unique and rule as a Sorcerer.
-- Wild Magic - If you’re new to 5th Edition and go into this blind, it is going to complicate the living shit out of the game. Trust me though, I’m here to make it simple. If you decide to go with this subclass all you need to do is research the table of effects that Wild Magic can cause… it’s not that bad.
Any time you cast a spell as this subclass (not a cantrip, just a spell), your DM can ask you to roll a d20. If you roll a 1, that’s where this class gets interesting. Different effects, ranging from obnoxious (like having to shout for the next minute) to super helpful (like resistance to all damage) occur as a result. Throughout the course of a campaign, that tends to happen more than one would expect. It can come in really handy in a pinch, or at least make for a really interesting experience.
At 6th level with Wild Magic, you have the ability to affect the rolls of anything you see by 1d4. You have to expend some sorcery points, but it’ll save your ass in a pinch. You also get additional bonuses to your rolls at higher levels.
Listen, I’m not saying Wild Magic is the technical winner when it comes to Damage output or skill boosts on its face, but the opportunity to expand on some of the weirder parts of D&D is a really fun concept. This is a fun first build that gets you comfortable with lots of spellcasting mechanics right out of the gate.
-- Shadow Magic - This is a much more conventional, much more apparently useful subclass selection. When we’re talking about survivability, the ability to help your party, how much damage you can throw down, and overall functionality, I think this class is peachy. I’ll be using it as an example in Part Two for my Spellcasting Mechanics Guide.
You start out with 120ft of Darkvision and the promise of Darkness at 3rd level, which is monumentally helpful. Hound of Ill Omen, while not great at putting out damage, gives its target disadvantage on saves (helpful for when you cast spells against the target), and just gives you a nice tactical advantage in combat.
14th level is what really makes this class a winner for me. You get Shadow Walk, which lets you teleport 120ft as a bonus action when you’re in dim light. It lets you control the entire battlefield in lots of situations. There’s no catch, it’s free teleportation… for 120 feet.
18th level Umbral Form is nice too. You can walk through walls and enemies as a shadow and it lets you get through tricky doors and such. It’s somewhat expensive to do, but can come in handy as a gameplay mechanic.
Abilities - When we’re thinking about strategic ability selection with your Sorcerer we need to balance how easy it is for enemies to murder you with how easy it is for you to get out of their way. Spend your highest roll on Charisma. That’s your main stat as a Sorcerer, so it’s a must. Second, I would personally recommend Constitution or Dexterity, your choice as to which, then Intelligence or Wisdom.
If we’re keeping it even more simple, Charisma, Constitution, Intelligence, and dump the rest.
Skills - Persuasion, Deception, and Intimidation are all must-haves. Arcana, History, Religion, and Insight are fine, but not all that helpful in comparison.
Backgrounds - Ah, good old backgrounds. There are a few fun options for Sorcerers but as usual, pick what feels right for your roleplay style!
Noble - Who doesn’t love the trope of a snotty mage. This is both fun and technically useful as you get History and Persuasion proficiency and an extra language. Plus you get to be snotty and get away with it.
Haunted One - Cooler than the above. You have a deep dark secret, two skill proficiencies, and two extra languages.
Acolyte - This is a good specialty build if you’re in the mood to have a religious or culty vibe accompanying your Sorcerer. Insight and Religion aren’t technically helpful, but two additional languages out of the gate are nice.
This is legit probably the only time I’ll say this throughout all of these guides. Feats as a Sorcerer aren’t super useful. I recommend two, one to start and one as an option when you get a little bit further down the road. Other than these, take your skill bumps.
Spell Sniper - Get this at first level and take Eldritch Blast. As a noob Sorcerer, your damage output is a bit limited, Eldrich Blast is a great way to remedy that, plus Spell Sniper gives you double range and the ability to ignore cover. It’s a great tactical bonus in combat.
Ritual Caster - I’m a huge proponent of snagging this at 4th level. You get to save some of your spell choices and toss rituals in a book. Plus it gives the opportunity for your DM to reward you with additional rituals as “treasure” when you’re looting. You get three picks with this. I recommend Find Familiar, Detect Magic or Identify, and Comprehend Languages or Unseen Servant. Those all save tons of time, resources, and give you advantages in combat and RP.
Ok, that concludes the first part. Sorcerers are a super fun class, any spellcaster in D&D is. They take a little bit more TLC, and some more patience to figure out, but it’s totally worth it.
Part two will cover spellcasting mechanics, choices, and a mock build of a Sorcer using the above advice. I’ll go with a Tiefling using Shadow Magic. I will build up the class, explain my spell choices, and go into how to use spells in easy to understand situations. There is a stunning lack of simple explanations when it comes to spellcasting and I aim to fix that.
Let me know if you have questions or if you think I’m flat out wrong about any of this in the comments. Look out for part two really soon, as well as a Bardic one I had completed before I dove into this project!