As I explained here, I envision the Sorcerer not only as a magic user whose talent is innate, as opposed to the learned wizards and the bargaining warlock. But I see (or wish I could see) the Sorcerer as a wielder of a more fundamental type of magic. The neglected, once-fabled Elemental Power Source, basically. But in what I could explain as a transition between Elemental and Arcane, Sorcery should actually be "raw magic". A dangerous, chaotic, roiling energy that only very few individuals can "see", let alone use.
Key Concept: Raw Magic
The Sorcerer as I envision it could have been born with this privilege or not. Be part of a bloodline of sorcerers or not. have Draconic ancestry or not. It's not something that I like to see in the class, since Backgrounds can cover the non-combat aspects derived from such ideas, and Specialties/Feats can further explore the matter, especially since they could be Sorcerer-only (or not).
Key Concept: Leaving Origin to Backgrounds and Specialties.
So what belongs in the Sorcerer class? Many things. Or actually just one, but big: a completely separated magic system, different from that of any other class. But surprisingly simple.
Seeing the actual version of the Wizard and Warlock as good ones, I'll often use them as comparisons, and endpoints from which the Sorcerer should stay away, mechanically speaking. In particular, I'd like to form a particular mechanical relationship in which if the Wizard has daily-based management f resources, the Warlock encounter-based management, then the Sorcerer should take an even "faster pace" of resource management. I'd like the Sorcerer to manage its resources on a round by round basis.
Key Concept: Round-per-Round Resource Management.
Adhering to this model is cool for the Sorcerer for one particular reason... It makes it feel what it is: a being that breaths magic. And as a breathing lung, it produces a rhythmical respiration, taking energy in and out. I envision the Sorcerer alternating rounds of "charging" to rounds of "blasting".
Key Concept: Charging and Blasting
Another model I'd like to base the Sorcerer on is that of being "the Barbarian of Magic Users". In two ways: being easy and fun to play, and being potentially dangerous, especially to himself. Words such as "Surge", "Overcharge", and similar come to mind. The concept here is that the Sorcerer can eventually break its "respiration function" that is the charging/blasting rhythm, to reach higher levels of power, at a dangerous cost.
Key Concept: The Barbarian of Magic Users / Surges of Power
At the same time, other Sorcerers may prefer a different style. Their personality should reflect on their way of channelling raw magic, so a Chaotic or simply impulsive individual may follow more the Barbarian model, while a more Lawful or simply calmer individual may take an opposite approach. While the Surges of Power focus on the Blast phase of Sorcerer's channelling, at the cost of needing more charging afterwards and/or becoming a glass cannon, the Arcane Stance method is something that recalls the Monk class and the katas of meditative martial arts. It is nothing less than the missing link between Sorcery and Wizardry, and it's about a focus on the Charging phase and on passive magic. That is, at the cost of being more passive and blasting less, a more defensive and efficient way of channelling magic is reached, with various advantages. Of course, Arcane Stances are completely incompatible with Surges of Power. They can coexist in the same Sorcerer, but not in the same event of magic usage. That is, not in the same encounter.
Key Concept: The Monk of Magic Users / Arcane Stances
A good link is forming under my eyes, between these latest key concepts and the mechanics of the class. While the Surges of Power seemingly need a lot of physical strength, the Arcane Stances, with their martial arts-like movements and discipline seem more linked to agility and precision. Keying these two mechanics to Strength and Dexterity respectively might be a really good idea, for two reasons. Both are used for weapon or anyway physical attacks, and Dexterity points to a dodgy form of defense. Thus making Strength a candidate for mechanics such as Damage Reduction, to compensate for a low AC.
Key Concept: Strength for Power, Dexterity for Discipline
A disciplined Earth sorcerer needs no protection other than his magic-infused body and agility.
But the true power of the Sorcerer always came from Charisma. Will I leave that stone unturned? Yes and no. I think certain sorcerers, perhaps the majority, are quite fine with Charisma being their primary Magical Ability. But others would need something else. And here comes another division for the Sorcerer class, one much more radical than the Power/Discipline one. And it has to do with the type of energy that the Sorcerer channels. And I'm not talking about the particular element either. I'm talking about a fundamental difference I'd like to see between Elementalist Sorcerers and Chaos Sorcerers. The Elementalist kind has the true energy of the elements flowing inside their very bodies, so I think Charisma would help them very little in resisting those energies, let alone using them. Elementalists should use nothing less than Constitution as their primary Magical Ability. Chaos Sorcerers are instead the ones who channel that undefinable part of raw magic that was later organized in spells that don't deal with elements. It's way more subtle, but not less deadly. And is controlled through sheer force of will, Charisma.
Key Concept: Constitution for Elementalists, Charisma for Chaos Sorcerers
So now we have some neat borders, classifications. Structure. But we have dodged the heavy work, the true cogs of the mechanism of Sorcery, the Channelling of Raw Magic. Well the idea is this: while the Wizard spends his existence in search of new spells that shape reality each in a different way, and the Warlock seeks eldritch knowledge that lets him bypass the rules of wizardry and "crack reality" with mysterious invocations, the Sorcerer takes a nearly opposite direction. He IS the spell that cracks reality, and he passes all his life to "learn to cast better himself". Mechanically speaking, this means that the Sorcerer doesn't have spells. He has something more akin to a single magic weapon or better yet "weapon of magic", maybe two or three. And he learns maneuvers to use them in different ways, to strike an analogy with the Fighter.
Key Concept: No Spells, but a Weapon of Magic (and maneuvers to use it)
The only problem is that while the Fighter has just to learn the moves, train, and repeat without much effort, the Sorcerer is exposing its very life essence to dangerous levels of energy each time he or she channels magic, especially when such channelling becomes complex, quick, or intense. The sorcerer has a pool of Raw Magic that as we said he can charge and discharge. But discharging more than a certain number is dangerous, and overcharging to over-discharge is even more dangerous. What is this danger then? I have an idea: the terrible, dreaded, Ability Drain. What should be tested is if it's better to drain the secondary or primary Magical Abilities. Both would make sense, but the primary would be a greater danger of course, since accuracy would take a hit, and damage too. And in case of Constitution, even HP. But the point is giving the Sorcerer a second level of resource management, with a general rule such as "too much power, or too much discipline, and your body or mind will take a hit". Note that accuracy shouldn't be a big problem for the Sorcerer, since ideally, in the rounds of charging he/she could try to gain Advantage for the next round.
Other "more permanent resources" that a Sorcerer could burn are HPs and HDs. These would be perhaps easier to manage, and would make for an Encounter, instead of Daily based second level of resource management. Even Ability Drain could be, for this sole purpose, reduced to something recoverable after each encounter, but it could seem like too much even for the magic-infused Sorcerer perhaps!
A surging Air Sorcerer can be a living weapon of lightning, his very muscles pumping energy in his deadly bolts.
Key Concept: Physyical Drain for excessive "withdrawal" from Raw Magic Pool
Well, the class is taking form. Now back again to the main mechanic though, because we're dodging it again. These "weapons of magic". I basically envision three of them. The Burst, the Blast, and the Ray. The Blast would actually be more like Area in 4e terms, and the Ray would be more like Ranged, and could eventually be used in melee too, since it would be more like any form of Concentrated energy, not necessarily ranged. The interesting thing could be that Sorcerers actually begin their lives with just one of these capabilities. The others would be unlocked through experience. But where's the versatility then? Well here's the trick. The Raw Magic Pool, a pool of points, can be used to modify any of these, and sometimes even simulate another Form. The fact is that it will cost you. So the first Form is important because it will become the "cheaper form to use". The other points can be used to do other things such as increasing damage, increasing range/area, casting faster (yes, even while moving!), or transforming the effects altogether.
Key Concept: Basic Forms of Burst, Blast and Ray, Points used to Modify and Augment.
About these transformations, it is tricky. First of all, each element would have its own, and Chaos would have the most different from all of course, being actually a different subset of Raw Magic. Examples, anyway, could be things such as Flight for Air and Fire. Conjuration of structures for Water/Ice and Earth. Immobilization/Caging for Ice. Ongoing damage for Fire. Pushing around for Air. Blocking and Proning for Earth. All of these would have their own costs, and the tricy thing is that even at low level, a Sorcerer can attempt difficult ones using Surges of Power or use Arcane Stances to get minor but more constant and less costly effects.
Chaos would be different in that it can control minds to a certain extent (a chaotic extent), generating lots of Conclusion-like effects, teleporting of objects and creatures, and creating pseudo-illusions perhaps. But the principle is the same.
Key Concept: Elements and Chaos offer Different Transformations of the Basic Forms.
So let's stop theorizing and start creating something practical. First of all, while not as squishy as the Wizard, the Sorcerer is not exactly a tank by itself. So staying in melee for prolonged amounts of time can be dangerous. So the basic forms will deal more damage the more risky they are.
This also puts a parallel with the Warlock's Eldritch Blast which is the closest thing to the Basic Forms of the Sorcerer. Eldirtch Blast is more damaging than the Sorcerer equivalent, but if the Sorcerer uses its Burst, in melee, the damage becomes equal. Not only that, remember that the damage can be boosted. Ideally, boosted so much that casting every other turn is feasible. So I'd say let's start with a Raw Magic pool of 3, just like the current Sorcerer's Will Power points. These points mean up to +3d6 damage (but leaving the pool at 0 would cause damage to the Sorcerer), or +2d6 normally. But when you charge from the pool you're not casting. So ideally, we're comparing a 4d6 ray every other turn in the Sorcerer with a 3d6 ray every turn from the Warlock. It's starting to look underpowered right? But then you should see the Surge of Power... With a Surge of Power, you add your Strength modifier to the amount of Raw Magic points you can collect. That's ideally up to +3d6, making the Sorcerer's ray a 7d6 beast, even at first level. If accepting the risk of the Surge (not decided yet, but see Ability Burning and HP/HD are considered, see above). Now, considering that this Ray would be shot with Advantage, ideally, an accurate 7d6 every other turn is already better than 3d6 every turn. And if the Sorcerer starts with Blast, they would be 6d6 in a 15x15 feet area, or even in a 20x20 area, using the last point of the pool. We're looking at a fireball at first level, so the drawbacks must be big.
Key Concept: Outdamaging Other Classes at a Big Cost, or Staying Lower.
We've jotted down an example of Surge mechanic: adding Strength mod to the raw Magic Pool. And I like it because it evokes the image of a Sorcerer that strains itself to squeeze more power. The Arcane Stance, the other method, should be quite different. I see it more as a list of traits that the Sorcerer can acquire if he/she refuses to use Surges. And the number of these acquirable traits could be based on Dexterity, since a lot of coordination would be needed to keep many of them active (they are slow and arcane movements, like martial arts katas, combining them increased their complexity and difficulty). The basic idea is that first of all, for every stance you have active, you can have one round of free recharging before a short rest. This compensates the fact that you can't use the Surge, by channelling more often. Then, you'd have the benefit of the particular stance chosen. Boosts to movement, to defenses, damage to attackers, and perhaps even regeneration or benefits to allies. More powerful stances can be acquired with higher levels.
These stances would cover a bit of the ground normally covered by cantrips, with stances dedicating to detecting magic and boosting Wis-based skills for example, or others that create Light and impose penalties on melee attackers.
Note that it's not just damage that takes a hit when using Stances. Actually, damage takes the least amount of nerfing. The problem is that certain Trasformations cost lots of points, and only with Surges (or waiting till higher levels) you can use them. So I think a balance can be found, and the good thing is that a Sorcerer can start the battle without using any of these techniques, to then wait and see how the battle unfolds. If more power or bigger effects are needed, Surges are the way to go, and Stances become unavailable. if the situation require more defense, than Surges will be unavailable until short rest, and Stances are available.
Key Concept: Arcane Stances as Cantrips and Defensive Boosts, Mutually Exclusive with Surges of Power.
Well, time to think some final details. First of all, another effect of Surges would be Damage Reduction, to compensate both for a lower AC of the typical user, and the probable bull's eye that an intelligent enemy would paint on such a dangerous opponent. Damage Reduction could be equal to the Strength modifier, and be active only during recharge. It would basically be the Stance-compensating factor: just as Stances compensate the lack of Surges with rounds of free recharging, Surges compensate the lack of Stances bringing a little Stance of their own, giving Damage Reduction, and perhaps also the same mount of damage reduced being dealt to the attacker enemy, if it's adjacent. It's like power erupting from the body of the Sorcerer after all.
Other things... While the Stances are learned from a list, the Transformation are all available, as long as you have the Raw Magic points to spend. And there are different lists for each element.
So what about the elements? Well, just as the basic forms, I think they should be "unlocked" with levels. You start with one, and get the second quite soon. A third much later. The fourth never, and it could be the opposite element of your first. That is, a Sorcerer that starts with Earth will never master Air, and Water will never mater Fire and vice-versa. Chaos instead is another matter. Chaos sorcerers don't learn elements, so what do they learn when Elementalists learn new elements? I'd say they learn some permanent transformations, allowing them to focus on Charm, Illusion or things like that.
At high levels, Sorcerers can also learn to pass at least once to Surges from Stances and vice-versa, overcoming a big strategical limit, perhaps a limited number of times per day.
As per the actual charging mechanics, I'd say that each time the Pool of Raw Magic reaches 0, the Sorcerer gets damaged. Either 1 point of Magical Ability or 2 HP. Doing so in a Surge could raise the damage, and the Surge should also have additional drawbacks. Perhaps, damage taken from a Surge doesn't heal till Long Rest. Maybe a cool table of random effects is rolled upon, each time a Surge is used, with consequences that could go from the Intoxicated state to Immobilization and such! Maybe each element gives its own Surge state, with Fire Sorcerers taking more damage, Air Sorcerers moving randomly and so on.
Well, time to write down the first draft of my Next Sorcerer, levels 1 to 5!
Weapon Magic Spell Hit Raw Arcane Class
Lv Attack Attack DC Dice Magic Stances Features
1 +2 +2 10+Cha/Con 1d6 3 1 Element/Chaos, Form, Stance
2 +2 +2 10+Cha/Con 2d6 4 2 Surge
3 +2 +2 10+Cha/Con 3d6 4 3
4 +2 +3 10+Cha/Con 4d6 5 3 Form
5 +2 +3 10+Cha/Con 5d6 5 4 2nd Element/Chaos Trait
Forms: Burst (2d8), Ray (2d6), Blast (2d4) [1 less die for Chaos]
Lv Arcane Stances
1 Sorcerous Vision, Raw Light, Channeling Hands, Far Reach (Chaos)
5 Solid Power, Arcane Speed, Entropic Missiles (Chaos)
RM Element: Water (Cold)
1 Damage, Reach
3 Slowing, Area
5 Flow, Wall, Cure
RM Element: Earth (Acid)
1 Damage, Reach
3 Proning, Area
5 Tunnell, Wall, Shield
RM Element: Air (Lightning)
1 Damage, Reach
3 Pushing, Area
5 Fly, Wind, Whirlwind
RM Element: Fire (Fire)
1 Damage, Reach
3 Ongoing, Area
5 Ignite, Firewall, Shroud
RM Chaos (Force)
1 Damage, Reach
3 Trait, Area
5 Teleport, Vortex, Entropy
Chaos Traits: Charm, Illusion, Trasmutation
Element/Chaos: If you choose Element, choose Air, Water, Fire or Earth, and you will always use Con as your Magic Ability.
If you choose Chaos, choose a Chaos Trait, and you wlll always use Cha as your Magic Ability.
Surge of Power:
As part of the action for recharging your Raw Magic Pool, you can initiate a Surge and gain DR equal to your Strength modifier for one round, and during that round enemies hitting you take the same amount of damage, of the type determined by your element. You also recharge the same quantity of additional Raw Magic points. You cannot initiate a Surge if you have initated a Stance, unless you take a short rest in between.
As part of a move action, you can initate a Stance if you don't move more than 10 feet. You gain the benefits of the stance and a free recharging of your Raw Magic Pool. You can have active as many stances as your Dexterity modifier. You cannot initiate a Stance if you have initated a Surge, unless you take a short rest in between.
Recharging and Channeling.
Recharginng requires an Action and always brings your Raw Magic Pool back to its maximum point value. Channeling requires an Action and it means using a choosen Form and eventually applying effects to it determined by your Element, paying a certain amount of Raw Magic points. If the Raw Magic pool ever reaches 0, you take 1 point of Ability Burn in your Magic Ability and you lose 2 HP. The Ability Burn can only be restored by a Long Rest.