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What are the differences between Wizards and Sorcerers in D&D 5e, in broad overview terms?

Really, I'd like to know this from two perspectives. One I have a somewhat idea about from reading the PHB and other websites, one I don't get at all.

  1. What are the differences in the two classes from a character building background in terms of story and roleplaying? This is the part I don't have any clue about.

  2. What are the differences from a mechanical standpoint? I understand Sorcerers get spells a bit quicker and it looks like Wizards have to buy their spells but I'm really not too clear on this either.


I've already read a few articles and watched a few videos but still don't know the answer. I especially don't know the answer to the character building / roleplaying side as most of what I did find just talks about which one is more powerful. These are the resources I've looked at thus far (not including the Player's Handbook which I've read over and over now):

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In mechanical terms, are you looking for a high-level overview of the differences or a detailed run-down of each way they're different? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 12 '17 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie more high level stuff \$\endgroup\$ – RyanFromGDSE Apr 12 '17 at 21:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cool, I suspect that's more likely to be answerable without writing a book about it. :) I gave the post a small tweak to put that forefront in potential answerers' minds. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 12 '17 at 21:35
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Wizards study, Sorcerers know

Wizards practice learned magic. They study for years to learn how to manipulate the weave and become masters of it.

Sorcerers practice innate magic. They are gifted with an ability to manipulate the weave, and sculpt their interactions with it.

Class features

Wizards use Intelligence as a spellcasting modifier, while sorcerers use Charisma. These abilities are associated with different skills, so that difference may or may not be important to a player.

Wizards know more spells, and prepare a subset of those spells to cast each day. A wizard learns 2 spells per level, and starts with 6 at level 1, totalling 44 spells known. They prepare a number (INT+Level) of spells from that list each day to be able to cast. Wizards can also copy spells from spellbooks and scrolls they encounter, adding those to their spells known.

Sorcerers know fewer spells, but can always cast them. Sorcerers learn a total of 15 spells, but they're always able to cast them if they have spell slots available.

Wizards can cast more spells per day through their Arcane Recovery class feature. They restore a number of spell slots when they take a short rest.

Sorcerers can sculpt their spells to behave differently. Sorcerers have access to Metamagic, which allows them to increase the damage, range, or duration of spells, grant disadvantage on saving throws against them, cast silently, or affect an additional target.

Sorcerers learn more cantrips than wizards.

Wizards can cast spells as rituals, taking 10 additional minutes to cast, but without using a spell slot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another important difference is spell selection. There's only 8 spells sorcerers have access to that wizards don't, all of which are shared with druid and most with cleric too. Wizards have access to 100 spells sorcerers don't, some of which are unique to the class (starting at level 1 with Grease). \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Apr 13 '17 at 3:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, the wizards' ritual casting is unique — they can cast these spells without preparing them if they have them in their spellbook, which can be a significant boost in out-of-combat utility without trading combat options. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Dec 1 '17 at 22:20
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The basic, tl;dr, between Wizard and Sorcerer is: learned vs intuition/natural ability.

For a Sorcerer, their power comes from them. They are born into it, made into. They know, feel, and control magic on an intuitive level. They don't learn a lot of spells, but the few they learn they can be the masters of.

For a Wizard, their power comes from the knowledge they accumulate over time. Wizards read and learn how to bend reality with their will, how to put together the correct incantations to make the world do their bidding.

There are several mechanical differences between the two, but I think the most telling is the Number of Spells Known. A Sorcerer ALMOST learns a new spell per level, capping out at 15. Wizards, on the other hand, don't HAVE a cap on the number of spells they can learn. Over the course of leveling, a Wizard may learn upwards of 44 spells. However, a Wizard can pick up spells from other places besides just leveling. They could, essentially, learn every Wizard spell in existence if they have access to learn the spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Suggest you mention the matter, mechanically, of the wizard's loss of spell book during the course of play, which problem the Sorcerer never has to face. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 12 '17 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might also be relevant to mention that the Wizard can KNOW a lot of spells but he only PREPARES a subset of those for casting each day. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Apr 13 '17 at 6:35
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In addition to the mechanical benefits summarized by others, there are roleplaying differences depending on the setting.

In the Forgotten Realms, wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers consider each other fellow practitioners of the Art. In Rashemen, they are considered wise, and are generally well respected as rulers. In Thay, they are also the ruling class, but wield their power with brutality and scorn for their lessers. In Amn, arcane casters are mistrusted and persecuted. Around the Moonsea, Mulmaster in particular, they are strongly regulated.

In Dark Sun, arcane magic is directly responsible for the devastation wrought upon Athas - it consumes the very life force of plants and creatures around the caster. Mages and sorcerers are feared when strong, persecuted when weak.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There don't seem to be any differences in your answer, only cases where they are the same (as arcane casters). \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Dec 1 '17 at 22:21

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