This article was first broadcast in Episode Forty-One on 19th September 2018.
Ryu: Oh not again…
Ryu: Well you’ve got a fishing rod and lures so obviously something’s going on with wizards or sorcerers.
Lennon: … I’m not seeing how you got that at all.
Ryu: It doesn’t matter how I got there, but you do have a question about them, right?
Lennon: Actually, yes. Ostron, you’re a wizard, right?
Lennon: So what’s the difference between you and a sorcerer. I mean, I get that sorcerers are 20% cooler, but, like, when you get down to it, what’s the difference?
Ostron: Well, see, I’m the product of careful study and appreciation of the magical arts, while sorcerers are flashy hacks that claim they just “know things” and don’t need to bother with careful study.
Ryu: I’m sensing some bitterness there? Do you want to talk to someone about it? I could get the hat!
Lennon: Why don’t we delve into this a bit more before resorting to drastic measures.
Wizard and Sorcerer are the two most obvious spellcasting classes in D&D (well, there’s warlocks, but nobody likes warlocks).
Ryu: We already established that was just you!
The terms “wizard” and “sorcerer” have been used in fantasy and mythology so much anyone who’s got a mild interest in the subject is going to figure out what they’re about right away. But if someone asks what the difference is between the two, sometimes even experienced D&D players will have to pause, and a lot of them won’t be able to come up with a quick summary of what differentiates the two classes other than flavor.
We’ll quickly touch on the lore explanation before delving into the mechanics, because that’s a bit simpler. Basically, wizards know and can do magic due to study and careful preparation. Most artwork of D&D wizards where they aren’t on an adventure shows them in academic or studious locations, usually surrounded by scrolls and books.
Sorcerers, on the other hand, have some part of their ancestry that means their very beings are imbued with magic. As a result, they’re able to call magic forth from themselves and shape it into spells, which usually has some side-effects on their own bodies.
To pull an analogy from real life, imagine you have two musicians. One of them is a pianist in an orchestra after studying for two decades. If you put any piece of sheet music in front of them, they can play it flawlessly, but they need those books of sheet music in front of them. Sure, they may be able to play a few pieces off the top of their head, but unless they prepare their songs ahead of time they’re largely stuck with a small repertoire. The other musician is one who can barely, if at all read sheet music, but they can walk into any club, bar, or concert hall, pick up an instrument and start playing — either all on their own or by joining in with a group already in swing. They don’t so much memorize songs as “feel” how they play, and just go with intuition. The first musician is the wizard, the latter is the sorcerer.
So that’s great for flavor and storytelling but doesn’t help when you’ve got a blank character sheet in front of you and are trying to pick what pages to copy. So mechanically speaking, there is a lot between the two classes that’s similar. Some people actually see very little difference between them and jump straight to archetypes. All of the archetypes for both classes provide extra bonuses and/or effects while casting spells, and in many cases they don’t have a lot to do with the spell being cast, so there is merit to the approach of looking at the archetype effects for both classes, and then choosing Sorcerer or Wizard based on what archetype you prefer.
But that’s still dodging the question, so here goes. Basic differences on paper are as follows: Both classes have the same number of spell slots, though the Sorcerer has more slots for cantrips. Wizards, however, have more spells, always; their spell list is larger, and they can acquire spells much more easily than the sorcerer. Whenever a wizard comes across a scroll, they can copy that spell into their own spellbook as long as they have access to spell slots of the appropriate level, 50gp, and some time. Wizards can also regain some of their spell slots during a short rest. However this can also work to a wizard’s detriment as if they lose their spellbook (due to accident or a massive dragon-sized fireball), they lose all the spells they know, other than cantrips.
However, Sorcerers can get spell slots back whenever they want, they just have to use sorcery points. The sorcery points are unique to sorcerers and in addition to regaining spell slots up to 5th level, they can do lots of fun things with the spells they cast through what’s called Metamagic. Some examples include splitting single target spells to multiple targets, increasing spells’ ranges, and allowing allies to more easily save against their spells’ area effects.
Now, Wizards can sometimes do things like that too, but they have to do it through their class archetypes or schools of wizardry, and sometimes it only applies to certain types of spells. For example, a wizard who chooses the School of Divination can regain an expended spell slot by casting a spell, but it has to be a Divination spell.
As we already mentioned, the other abilities granted by the wizardry schools or the sorcerous bloodline (which is what the archetypes are called for sorcerers) are somewhat comparable and don’t really follow a theme (although there are quite a few sorcery ones that give the player wings, for some reason).
And of course, there are the wild magic sorcerers, who take the mantra “no plan survives contact with the players” and turns it into an immutable law, since everything can literally blow up as soon as they cast a spell.
Ryu: All right, did that help? You going to put the rods and reels away now?
Lennon: Well, no because I’m actually going fishing. Or did you think Ostron was going to teleport the fish and chips in for dinner.
Ryu: Oh…I thought with the whole “casting” element, you’d just gotten confused again. Sorry. Also, can you catch chips?
Lennon: That depends entirely on how hard they’re thrown at me…
Ostron: *groan* Ok, thanks for that. Now we all have to make wisdom saving throws against that terrible joke… if you can even call it that!
Lennon: You’re just jealous because I can play the ukulele, flute, bass guitar, piano, mandolin…
Ostron: Hey, I studied the graphing calculator until grade 8 fastidiously!
Lennon: Graphing calculator? I think you mean “graphical calculator”, and that’s not an instrument!
Ostron: … Try me.
Lennon: Well there’s only one solution. A good, old fashioned play-off!