I've looked this up several times but I haven't found an explanation succinct and clear enough so that I could actually keep it in my mind.

It would be great if somebody could describe a simple mental model that is easy to remember.

For other classes this might be something like:

Druid: Nature based magic, often shapeshifter

Cleric: God based magic, mostly healing

Now, clearly these are oversimplifications but at least in this way the concepts mean something to me. Warlock, wizard and sorcerer (or mage, witch - but those aren't used in Dnd, right?) on the other hand are just in the same bucket in my head.

So please help me split them up. :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify: Have you read the Player's Handbook's own descriptions of these? If so, can you say how they fall short of the kind of explanation you're looking for? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23, 2017 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ They are just too long. \$\endgroup\$
    – Simon F
    Jun 23, 2017 at 15:23
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Right, but those can be looked up, which is the obvious solution to the average reader. Yet the question is being asked, so that causes the reader to wonder if the problem is not obvious nor solved with the obvious solution. So your response makes me wonder: is the question actually “How do I stop forgetting the difference?” or perhaps “What is an effective mnemonic for remembering the difference?”, or is the problem to be solved something else? Because “What is the difference” is available at one's convenience by reading the book's words… which is the same task as reading words here. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23, 2017 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


Sorcerers gain their arcane power via a magical bloodline. They have moderate flexibility, and the ability to make specific enhancements to spells (metamagic).

Warlocks gain their arcane power by making a deal with a more powerful entity. They have the least flexibility, but great repeatability (fewer spell slots that return on a short rest).

Wizards gain their arcane power through book learning. They have the greatest versatility - paper may not be cheap, but it's plentiful.

They all have similar spell lists, with utility and damaging spells, but little or no healing.

Also, you left out Bards. They are somewhat like wizards, gaining arcane power through learning, but they focus it via music and song - an innate ability more like sorcerers. They have a much broader range of capabilities, including the option to be a competent healer, but lack true area blasting capability.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Short and to the point. The only way to make this better would be with pictures for a family tree, a daemon and a book. \$\endgroup\$
    – Simon F
    Jun 23, 2017 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. an interesting side-point is that historically, at least in 3.5, Bards were more like Sorcerers in the family tree. Might be worth mentioning as a supplemental refinement. \$\endgroup\$
    – godskook
    Jun 23, 2017 at 15:58

Sorcerers: Charisma based spells. Magic comes from themselves (magical bloodline). Less known spells overall, but much more flexibility when it comes to casting them. Flexible casting, which mean Sorcerer can cast any spell they know as long as they have the spell slot for it, no need to prep spells each day. Able to use meta-magic to modify various properties of their spells.

Warlock: Charisma based spells. Magic comes from bond with other-worldly patron. Less known spells overall, but has other abilities dependent on what otherworldly patron a warlock bonds with. Must prepare their spells at the beginning of the day.

Wizard: Intelligence based spells. Magic comes through extensive studying of magic and it's properties. Has the capability to learn the most number of spells but each one requires time and resources to learn. Spell casting is the most ridged of the 3 classes, with the need to prep spells at the beginning of the day and having no flexibility to change those spells throughout the day, due to the rigidity Wizards typically have slightly more spell slots to utilize.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please cite the rules that indicate a Warlock must prepare spells at the beginning of the day. \$\endgroup\$
    – Davo
    Feb 25, 2019 at 17:10

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