Sorcerer Creation Guide: Part 2 | How Spells Work

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

As a Sorcerer, you are inherently imbued with magical essence. This could be a result of either genetics or a separate magical event. Either way, your choice is either to control your power or let it run wild.

Before we get too deep into building this class, I wanted to take a minute and explain Sorcerer spellcasting in 5th Edition. Any spellcaster can be tough to understand, but once you get it, you can master it in both Roleplay and Combat.

We’re going to be covering two important topics, Spell Levels and Save Mechanics. I’ll be putting out a shorter Part Three detailing some of my favorite Spells for each Spell Level, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

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To begin, Sorcerers are the easiest spellcasters to comprehend. There’s no preparation involved. If you know a spell, you can cast it. The number and level of spells you know is based on your character level. Simple right? Kinda. I stole the chart below from D&D Beyond. I’ll also link their full breakdown below.

To explain the important bits in this chart, I’ll go from left to right:

Character Level - When your DM and (hopefully) the rest of your party levels up.

Sorcery Points - I referenced this in Part 1, but you can use these for Metamagic buffs. You can also convert Sorcery Points to Spell Slots and visa versa. They come in handy.

Cantrips and Spells Known - This is how many Spells and Cantrips you know overall. This differs from the number of spell slots you’re allowed to use per day. Think of your known spells as the bookshelf where you store all of your information.

Spell Slots per Spell Level - Lastly on the far right, and what I’m trying to differentiate from your Character Level, is your Spell Level. This is representative of how many spells you can cast per day. For example, if you’re at the 3rd Character Level that means you know four Spells, but can CAST those spells up to 6 times per day.. If we’re thinking of the number of Spells Known as your bookshelf, Spell Slots are the number of books you can read in a day.

Two 1st level spells you should pick are Magic Missile and Feather Fall. I’ll explain them when we build a character in a bit, but I’d take those before anything else.

Two 2nd level spells you can use as an example (and will, because it’s my character guide) would be Suggestion and Web.

Now, to cast those spells, you have to use a Spell Slot. Using 3rd level as an example, you have four 1st level spell slots and two 2nd level spell slots. You can never cast a spell at a lower level than its baseline (e.g. you can’t cast Web at 1st level). However, you can cast spells at higher levels to gain a boost to their effect. As an example, if you cast Magic Missile (a first level spell) with a 2nd level spell slot, it sends out two missiles instead of just one.

Again, we’ll review with a step by step Sorcerer build, but that should give you the gist of it.

So when I say “Spell Mechanics”, I’m referring to when spells hit, how enemies defend against them, and what terms like “Spell Attack” and “Spell Save DC” actually mean in a practical scenario.

I feel like this is the sticking point for many new spellcasters.

First, without having to detail out every different casting type, we can pretty easily widdle spells down to three categories.

1. You roll an attack die to hit, just like a melee attack

2. Whatever you’re casting the spell on (normally a monster/the DM) has to Roll a d20 against your Spell Save Difficulty Class (Spell Save DC).

If your Spell Save DC is a 14, the DM’s Roll has to beat a 14. In a reverse scenario, if an enemy or monster casts a spell on you, you roll against THEIR Spell Save DC to see what happens.

3. The Spell just automatically hits or has the intended effect.

Let's dig into those in some more detail.

Scenario one is by far the most familiar to anyone that has played D&D before. We’ll use Ray of Frost as an example:

You get to roll a d20 and add your Spell Attack bonus to the roll. If the target’s AC is equal to or below your roll, congratulations, you scored a hit.

Scenario two is unique to spells, traps, etc. and a bit less common overall. We’ll use Burning Hands as an example here:

To make two use cases out of this:

  1. You cast Burning Hands on 3 monsters. Your Spell Save DC is 15. Those monsters roll a 10, a 15, and an 18. The monster that rolled a 10 takes 3d6 fire damage, the other two take half that amount.

  2. An enemy sorcerer casts Burning Hands on your party. Their Spell Save DC is 13. Each of you rolls a d20+your Save Modifier. You each get 8, 10, 13, and 16. Two of you fail the save and take 3d6 damage, however, the 13 and the 16 pass the check so that damage is reduced by half for those party members.

Make sense? I sure hope so...

For the third and final scenario in our list, Spells that just automatically take effect, like Feather Fall:

As you can see, no checks, no attack die, nothing complicated. Just have to be in range and the spell works.

That was a lot… I know. Please feel free to ask questions when they come up too. I try to be super responsive to comments, so fire away.

Look for Part Three soon! I’ll pick a couple spells that I love for each Sorcerer Spell Level and hopefully give y’all some good ideas! D&D Beyond is also an amazing resource for this, and far more complete. Check them out here -

Thanks so much for reading. I’ll put out video iterations of these at as well if you’re into that sort of thing!

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