Hello, and welcome back. This is my third entry on my series of "Class Actions" (which, in law, is a form of lawsuit in which a large group of people collectively bring a claim to court, in this case, WotC D&D department). Here is the first one, about the paladin and here the second, about the cleric. Today we're talking about the sorcerer, recently added to the DnDNext playtest. But before, let me recommend you my very good friend, Lord Archaon's own view on what would be an ideal DnDNext Sorcerer.
Power in the Blood: The Sorcerer
As usual, we'll start pointing out the essential components of the class as it has been showed in previous editions of the game. Sorcerers were introduced in the 3rd edition Player's Handbook: they are masters of arcane magic, but weak in melee combat. Sorcerers' magical ability is innate rather than studied (in the words of the 3.5 Player's Handbook: "Sorcerers create magic the way a poet creates poems, with inborn talent honed by practice"), which means they use the classic vancian system with a twist: they do not prepare spells, just cast them if they know them. Many sorcerers claim that their magic comes from draconic blood, from some ancestor who was a dragon in human or other form. In the D&D world, this theory has not been confirmed, but people with dragon ancestors seem to be more common than most would think. In the 4e Player's Handbook 2, sorcerers were reintroduced to the game this time featuring more than just one origin to their power. Joining Dragon Magic, we had Storm, Cosmic and Wild Magic as empowering their blood. This time, though, the most important change is that sorcerers had their own list of spells, not sharing it anymore with wizards.
Again, I went on asking some friends and players about the class features they considered "essential" and not so essential to the sorcerer. It's no surprise for anyone that spontaneous spellcasting is considered as the most essential feature for the sorcerer. Which is really surprising is the second place on the list: the ability to create spells on the fly. I thought I was a lonely wolf on this complex idea, but it seems that I'm not alone. And this comes very close to an ability that belongs to psionics classes exclusively: the ability to augment spells.
Back to Basics
Let's start with the classics we already have. Yes, the sorcerer must be able to cast spells spontaneously. It's the concept of the class, after all. The fact that they use Charisma instead of Intelligence, as wizards do, help them differentiate them. Now, back in 3E, wizards and sorcerers used somatic, verbal and material components (movements, words and ingredients) to cast their spells. Particular knowledge, in the form of metamagic feats, allowed them to cast spells withouth them, but that was an exception. The idea was clear: manipulating arcane energies required precise thinking. Did it? Being spontaneous casters, imbued with the soul of dragons, why did sorcerers need to follow the same rules than wizards? Monte Cook recognized the issue when creaing his own version of the sorcerer, but only acknowledging the material components (his class featured the ability to burn XP instead of using material components). It's my opinion that, if components are back, as the rules package suggest, sorcerers should be unaffected by them. Be it by concentration or just sheer force of will, sorcerers do not need the science behind arcane magic that wizards use.
As we said at the beginning of this entry, when introduced, sorcerers were linked to dragons. Pathfinder expanded the idea with the bloodlines. Each one gave the sorcerer access to particular spells and granted powers, which is one of the greatest introduction from that book, in my opinion. 4E did its own, with a more limited scope, but just plain fine. As we said earlier, too, the best change 4E introduced was the sorcerer-only list of spells. If we see the poll's results, there is a bunch of players thinking that having the same spell list should be optional at best (47.6%), another bunch thinking they shouldn't share
the same spell list at all (23.8%). If there's a point of all the features that have our readers divided, is the familiar. It is the only feature that wasn't
voted as essential by anyone (0.0%).
Summarizing: We want sorcerers to be spontaneous casters based on Charisma, able to eschew materials and choose their power's origin among a selection of enigmatic sources beyond draconic, with access to flashy spells different to the wizards'. In case you need stats, the most valued feature (*) on the poll results is spontaneous spellcasting (3.76 score) followed by Augmenting spell effects (3.29) and Charisma-based (3.24). The least valued are the Familiar (1.71), the saves (2.05) and sharing the wizard spell list (2.10).
The (not-so) Really New Stuff
In particular, I'd like to see elementalist sorcerers as we saw in the Heroes of the Elemental Chaos 4E supplement. As such, sorcerers should be able to choose a classic element as the source for their power. It's a fantasy staple (maybe even a cliche) to see fire sorcerers, ice sorcerers and so on. If you don't believe me, look at Chandra Nalaar, from Magic: the Gathering, Lina Inverse and the Crystal Maiden from Defense of the Ancients and the whole Avatar series from Nickelodeon (I must confess I didn't watch it, but I want to, and I will some time in the future). Special powers, resistances, even an elemental apotheosis can all come from this.
But the really nifty part on the new things we want in the sorcerer is not exactly a new one either. Creating spells on the fly is another fantasy classic that doesn't have a place in D&D. Not as that, of course. We have seen two valuable efforts so far: the first and most notable one is the Epic Spells from the Epic Level Handbook (a book so broken, this is the only part I like and I have used so far). Fine, it was 3E before 3.5, but still. Anyway, we're here to talk sorcery, not WotC epic fail (Did you see what I did there? Epic Level Handbook = Epic Fail. That joke was epic!). The seed system seems to be more fit to a ritual creation mechanic, but with a little twitching, it can work for basic magical effects counting as sorcerer spells. The second try is Pathfinder's Ultimate Magic system for Words of Power. I haven't tried, but for what I've read, it isn't as versatile as it should.
Well, that's it. New expanded flavor for the sorcerer will always be welcome. But don't forget to include some really special mechanics to support that flavor. Please.
* Note on scores: The poll assigns a score of 4 when you qualify a feature as "essential", 3 for "non-essential", 2 for "optional", 0 for "doesn't know" and -1 for "shouldn't be a feature". The final scores are the average of the sum between the quantity of poll answers.