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The Raw Magic section (PHB 99) for the sorcerer states:

Magic is a part of every sorcerer, suffusing body, mind, and spirit with a latent power that waits to be tapped.

while the Weave of Magic lore (PHB 205) states:

All existence is infused with magical power, and potential energy lies untapped in every rock, stream, and in the air itself. Raw magic is the stuff of creation, the mute and mindless will of existence permeating every bit of matter and present in every manifestation of energy throughout the multiverse.

It seems a given that magic would be part of every sorcerer. Is there something in the lore I'm missing? How is the magic within a sorcerer different from the magic permeating everything else such that they naturally cast spells and most do not?

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The sorcerer's magic isn't any different from the magic that permeates everything

In both cases, the magic is raw magic. As The Weave of Magic section [PHB 205] tells us,

Mortals can't directly shape this raw magic. Instead, they make use of a fabric of magic, a kind of interface between the will of a spellcaster and the stuff of raw magic. ... By any name, without the Weave, raw magic is locked away and inaccessible; the most powerful archmage can't light a candle with magic in an area where the Weave has been torn.

Even though everyone may be infused with a small amount of raw magic, they can't use raw magic for anything. So, what then makes sorcerers different?

Sorcerers are born as raw magic magnets. They either attract or generate raw magic in a way that normal creatures don't. While the exact reason for their affinity to raw magic is left to the player, every sorcerer has a higher concentration of raw magic within them. It is alluded that having this higher concentration of raw magic about them leads to their innate ability to manipulate the Weave. The Unexplained Powers section of the Sorcerer's class description [PHB 99] states,

Socerers are rare in the world, and it's unusual to find a sorcerer who is not involved in the adventuring life in some way. People with magical power seething in their veins soon discover that the power doesn't like to stay quiet. A sorcerer's magic wants to be wielded, and it has a tendency to spill out in unpredictable ways if it isn't called on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So everyone has magic in them but not everyone has a high enough to cast magic? \$\endgroup\$ – kent Mar 14 at 3:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ As you quoted before, "All existence is infused with magical power, and potential energy lies untapped in every rock, stream, and in the air itself." So yes, everyone has magic in them. However, they need to learn to manipulate the Weave before they can cast magic. Sorcerers have exposure to a lot of raw magic and wild magic effects from their unused power. It's not a large step to see them learning to manipulate the Weave to control the raw magic always around them. \$\endgroup\$ – CertainlyNot Mar 14 at 4:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ ah so the higher concentration leads to them learning. I thought you meant you need a high concentration of raw magic within you in order to cast spells naturally. \$\endgroup\$ – kent Mar 14 at 4:49
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The sorcerer, as we know it, dates back to D&D 3e, which was the first under Wizards of the Coast. To date, to my knowledge, they have never gone into a lot of detail about this kind of thing.

In 3e, even the whole concept of sorcery coming from a bloodline wasn’t really a part of the original description.

Some sorcerers claim that the blood of dragons courses through their veins. That claim may even be true in some cases—it is common knowledge that certain powerful dragons can take humanoid form and even have humanoid lovers, and it’s difficult to prove that a given sorcerer does not have a dragon ancestor.

(D&D 3.5e Player’s Handbook pg. 51)

The “bloodline” concept—and in 3.5e it was solely and explicitly draconic bloodlines—got solidified more during 3e and the “3.5 revised edition,” but other than “well sorcerers do it the same way dragons do it,” which just shifts the question rather than answering it, we don’t get more detail on how sorcery actually works. There were a lot of books about dragons (Draconomicon, Races of the Dragon, Dragon Magic, Dragons of books for each setting, etc.), which describe some of this, but most of it is like this:

In essence, dragons are created from a blend of magic and the most basic elements, bonded powerfully to the magical world. Just as an individual magic item or locale might be a focal point for magical energies, dragons are focal points for the flow of magic—living, breathing conduits between its raw potency and the rest of the world.

(Dragon Magic, 3.5e, pg. 59)

It doesn’t really tell us a whole lot, and that doesn’t even begin to cover non-draconic sorcerers, since those weren’t even really a thing in that edition.

The sorcerer in 4e—where it was not a core class, but introduced in Player’s Handbook 2—got to choose a “Spell Source,” with “Cosmic,” “Storm,” and “Wild” joining “Dragon” as options. In general, 4e was a bit... fluff-light, we’ll say. The sorcerer gets a couple sentences each about their role and power source, and then three short paragraphs of description, and that’s it.

Anyway, on power source, this is what we’ve got; note that Player’s Handbook 2 only had Dragon Magic and Wild Magic, and Cosmic and Storm would come later.

Arcane magic is in your blood, as a touch of either ancient draconic power or untamed chaos energy, and you unleash it through sheer force of will and physical discipline.

(Player’s Handbook 2, 4e, pg. 136)

And then in 5th edition, well, you’ve already quoted the most relevant details we have.

So there just isn’t much more than “it’s in their blood” to be had. Given that, I’d like to offer some, say, informed speculation. None of this is official, but I’m pretty sure none of it is “officially wrong,” either, that is, I’m pretty confident nothing out there is going to contradict me.

Dungeons & Dragons started out in 1974 with just three classes: fighting-man, magic-user, and cleric. The magic-user would be the one that matches what we would call the wizard today. Nothing like the sorcerer existed, or would exist until 2000’s 3rd edition Player’s Handbook. The wizard, then, is the original “arcanist,” and indeed, it most closely matches the characters in the novels by Jack Vance, whence we get the term “Vancian” to describe D&D’s magic.

Thanks to the Jack Vance’s novels, plus the 26 years of D&D that preceded the existence of the sorcerer, we know a bit more about how wizardry actually works. It’s not super clear that all the old lore—to say nothing of the novels that inspired Gygax but were fundamentally independent—actually still applies “canonically” today, but again, nothing out there outright contradicts these ideas. Wizards study arcane patterns, formulae, and the like. They have to memorize with utter precision the weft and weave of the arcana involved in each spell, the pattern, the gestures, the utterances, and so on. In Vancian spellcasting, preparing the spell is where most of the work actually takes place, when you can dedicate time and care, and reference your materials. You build up the spell in your mind, and store it there, just incomplete, so that you can finish it in a moment of “casting” it. The prepared spell is an actual thing that exists in some mental dimension, made out of magic and living in the wizard’s brain.

(For those players only familiar with wizards of 4e and/or 5e, I should note that prior to 4e, wizards had to prepare not just which spells they wanted to use, but also how many of each. Each spell slot was spoken for, and if you had five 1st-level spell slots, you might prepare three magic missile spells and two grease spells—and if you ended up needing a third grease spell, you were out of luck. This is closer to how things work in Vance’s novels. The changes to how preparation work in 4e and 5e—which are not at all similar in this regard—probably don’t really change anything on a fluff level, since the prepared spell just needs to be somewhat more “durable” to allow its re-use so long as you have spell slots, but I thought it might help with the imagery to know that originally each spell was prepared separately.)

What does this mean for the sorcerer? Well, their “casting” of a spell is just like a wizard’s—they use the same gestures, the same utterances, and so on. A wizard can recognize the spell that a sorcerer is casting and vice versa (explicitly, in 3e; 4e and 5e get a little more nebulous on this in my experience). So the sorcerer must also have a “prepared spell” somewhere, only they didn’t prepare anything. But since the prepared spell is an actual, physical thing that the wizard created out of magic, all we need for the sorcerer to have one as well is just to imagine that someone or something else created that magical structure. It lives within the sorcerer just the same way that the wizard’s does, only it’s permanent and the sorcerer didn’t have to make it.

So what did? I like to imagine it was deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). I’m serious—why not? DNA and RNA and the associated mechanisms are responsible for our cells producing exceptionally complicated molecular structures—some of the proteins our bodies make, using the blueprint found in DNA, are preposterously complicated. If magic lives in everything in the world of D&D, then it can live in cells—and the mechanisms of the cell can potentially manipulate it just as they manipulate chemicals. Perhaps, in a magical world, that’s even necessary, that all creatures necessarily create those little bits of magic that enable their functioning.

And sorcerers? They’ve just got genes for actual spells in their DNA. Inherited from dragons, or mutated by the whims of Chaos, or whatever. It doesn’t, obviously, have to actually be DNA, it’s just some genetic part of the sorcerer’s body that creates these magical structures that a wizard has trained himself to do manually (well, mentally). An autonomous process, so much easier, but a sorcerer maybe doesn’t actually get to decide what spells they have—maybe they just grow into using more of the spells that were already encoded in their DNA.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 16 at 19:34
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The magic itself isn't any different

How they tap into it (without needing preparation) plus how they manipulate it (metamagic) is their unique feature.

The point is not that 'their magic' is different, it is in how they apply it and manipulate it that is unique to their class.

The Weave, as you point out from the rules citation, is there (Chapter 10, PHB).
It is simply tapped into via differing means: divine preparation (paladins, clerics, druids), arcane study and preparation (wizards), "class knowledge" (bards/rangers), pact magic "warlocks" or "because they can naturally" (sorcerers).

That's it. It isn't any more complicated than that.

Metamagic is their unique method of manipulating the Weave / magic

None of the other classes get Metamagic. Sorcerers can do some particular things with magic/the Weave via Metamagic that others can't.


An analogy that may be helpful. (Thank you @Aaron)
Electrons and electrical charge is in everything around us-every rock, every grain of dirt, every creature, and even in the air itself. Certain creatures can manipulate electricity while most other creatures cannot. Humans manipulate electricity by altering things based on their knowledge (similar to how wizards apply magic; without their books and gadgets they can't do it). Electric eels manipulate electricity by an innate electrical control that is a part of who they are(somewhat similar to how sorcerers do magic; no books or gadgets are necessary. Granted, the analogy only goes so far, since sorcerers can use certain magical items, but they can as designed go from level 1 to 20 with zero magical items)

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I'm going to use an analogy that may or may not help, but here we go:

Everyone has a tongue (well almost everyone), but not everyone can roll their tongue. So if we assume that 'everyone has a tongue' to be 'the raw magic everyone has inside them' then being able to roll your tongue would be the ability to cast magic.

Sorcerers are born with the ability to roll their tongue, it comes naturally to them, whether this is because of their dragon blood or some aspect of chaos that doesn't really matter.

Wizards can roll their tongue through years of learning and hard study.

Warlocks have been gifted the ability to roll their tongue through the generosity of their patron.

So the reason that everyone can't cast magic even though they have magic inside them is because they lack the natural ability to do so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 because I imagined a warlock's great old one patron reaching into their mouth from another dimension and it creeped me out \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Mar 13 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is the natural ability to cast spells? \$\endgroup\$ – kent Mar 13 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 14 at 5:43

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