In D&D 3.x, spontaneous full casters (like the Sorcerer or Oracle) gain their higher level spells a level later than the equivalent prepared caster classes (like Wizard and Cleric). For example, a Sorcerer gets 2nd level spells at Sorcerer level 4, where a Wizard gets 2nd level spells at Wizard level 3.

Why is this? Broadly, I know that the answer is 'game balance', but is there a more specific explanation provided by the game's developers themselves? Are there interviews with D&D or Pathfinder devs where they explain this discrepancy? I've heard the idea tossed around that it was because Monte Cook hates Sorcerers, but I haven't seen any sources to back this up.

This question is not looking for balance analysis of Wizard vs Sorcerer. Multiple such answers have already arrived and been deleted. This question is looking exclusively for developer commentary, the developer's reasons, in their words, not player analysis.

In answering, please make sure that you have sources to back up your claims. The simple answer might be "game balance", but I'm looking for the answer from the horse's mouth, preferably with as much detail about the decision as possible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A reminder that answers here should back up their statements with citations. Unsubstantiated speculation, opinions, or guesswork about why this might possibly be the case does not make for a useful and reliable answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17, 2014 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ As is, this question may be unanswerable. Game designers often never explain things like this in public. It's a perfectly legitimate question, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Jun 17, 2014 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tridus There was a lot of public discussion of 3e from the developers at the time. Lots of it has been lost (because WotC redesigns their site and incompetently destroys swathes of content when they do, every couple of years), but it's likely to have been discussed. And it's OK for a question to go without answers for an indefinite amount of time, because we serve the long tail here. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17, 2014 at 23:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, please don't answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2014 at 0:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because [designer-reasons] questions are no longer on-topic, per this meta. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Jun 1, 2018 at 0:18

1 Answer 1


Short version

According to Skip Williams, as quoted in RPG Hour: Third Edition D&D Sorcerers Fri. July 20, 2000*, there were three main reasons for the limited number of spells that sorcerers know:

  1. The designers wanted the decision between sorcerer and wizard to be a 'hard choice'
  2. The sorcerer is designed to appeal to a certain type of player, who prefers a more limited selection of spells.
  3. The idea of sorcerer as "natural" spellcasters suggested a more limited spell list to the designers.

These reasons can help us understand why spontaneous spellcasters lose out on a level compared to prepared spellcasters. It is reasonable to assume that the same design philosophy lay behind both limitations (limited number of known spells and later acquisition of spell levels).

Long version follows...

3e sorcerer design philosophy

The key citation to support the three points above follows. TheSage is Skip Williams.

Shane_M: Why do sorcerers have so few spells that they can “know” and does that number increase with Charisma like spells cast does?

TheSage: Three reasons. First, there has to be a hard choice between choosing a wizard and a sorcerer. Second, the sorcerer class, as I mentioned earlier, is for players who don't want to mess around with piles of spells. Finally, the class concept, a “natural” spellcaster, lends itself to a small, personal bag of tricks. Sorcerers do get bonus spells for high Charisma, but that's only for the number of spells they can use each day. Their selection of spells is fixed (though it expands with increasing level).

Point 2 above is further explained by the following exchange from the interview:

Guest47: Why would someone want to play a wizard now over a sorcerer (outside of roleplaying)? What is the downside of sorcerer?

TheSage: Wizards are much more versatile than sorcerers are. A sorcerer has a very small bag of tricks. If you're they type of player who only uses 3 or 4 spells of each level anyway--the sorcerer is made for you. If you've taken some time to study the spells, a wizard is going to be more to your liking, especially in the long run.

Later acquisition of spell levels

The only weakness of this interview is that it does not specifically address why sorcerers start gaining spell levels at a later character level. In fact Skip Williams avoids answering a question about this:

Guest47: Any chance of getting some specifics on a sorcerer? How many spells can they “know” per level? What is to stop them from learning beyond that limit with a scroll?

TheSage: Yeah, in about three weeks.

Three weeks was when the 3e PHB would hit the shops.

Nevertheless, the interview shows what kinds of design decisions probably influenced the slower spell progression for sorcerers. Williams does not say, "Sorcerers get 2nd level spells at 4th level because...", but it seems reasonable to assume that the design motivations were similar to those explicitly stated for the limited number of spells a sorcerer gets.

The value of this interview

This interview is a great source as:

  • it contains the words of one of the three 3e designers
  • it specifically deals with the relative weakness of sorcerers over against wizards
  • it is contemporary to the very start of 3e, and so to the introduction of sorcerers into D&D

Did the designers 'hate' sorcerers?

There is nothing in the interview to suggest that Skip Williams or anyone else 'hated' sorcerers, unless you interpret the following quote to be an expression of dissatisfaction, especially the last sentence.

Dark_Blade: Besides versatility, are there any other advantages a wizard has over a sorcerer (And I mean anything)?

TheSage: Yes. Wizards pick up higher level spells sooner than sorcerers do. Sorcerers cannot specialize in a school the way a wizard can. The new game as something called a Metamagic feat that wizards can use more easily than sorcerers can. Also, let's face it, having Charisma as you prime requisite isn't exactly a great deal.

*I apologize for using a direct document link, but the directory http://www.wizards.com/chat/logs is not accessible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wow. This is certainly a blast from the past. I think you may have found the best source for this question, harlandski. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Apr 1, 2015 at 12:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ It was fun doing a bit of legitimate necromancy @DuckTapeAl! Of course Googling "site:www.wizards.com/chat/logs" pulls up all sorts of other early 3e discussions if you're interested... \$\endgroup\$
    – harlandski
    Apr 1, 2015 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @harlandski Oh, cool! The wonderful Wayback Machine does let you browse the old WotC chat logs directory if you plug in http://www.wizards.com/chat/logs/*. (I would direct-link, but the star gets lost in translation.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 1, 2015 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel that the overwhelming majority of this answer does not address the question. They’re talking about limited spells known, not delayed spell progression. The two aren’t the same, and you could easily have one without the other. The statements seem to imply that this limitation was the primary, if not sole, limitation of the sorcerer relative to the wizard; the fact that they’re also a level behind isn’t mentioned at all. The final quote is better, but it doesn’t touch on why, it just states the fact. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 1, 2015 at 17:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan. You're right but a) I've admitted this myself in the answer b) I think it's not too big a leap to assume that the limitations we don't know the reasons can be explained by transfer from the ones we do know the reasons for. I have tried to make both these points clear in my answer. Please let me know where I'm not getting that across and I'll change my answer accordingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – harlandski
    Apr 1, 2015 at 17:22

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