Sorcerers in D&D 3.5

The sorcerer class in D&D 3.5 is fairly interesting. Unlike wizards, sorcerers get fewer spells on the whole, but they don’t have to decide at the beginning of the day which ones to memorize—they choose at the time of casting. Instead of basing their abilities on intelligence (unlike wizards, they don’t rely on book-study), they base them on charisma (because they rely on force of personality). Often a sorcerer’s selection of spells tends to match her personality.

I prefer playing a sorcerer to playing a wizard, despite the loss of versatility. I hate bookkeeping when I play a game. I don’t want to keep track of how much it will cost to inscribe each spell, how many pages I have left in my spellbook, whether I have the right spellbook on me, and so on. I don’t want to keep track of which spells I’ve memorized each day, and have the success of an adventure (or my own helpfulness in it) hinge on whether I’ve chosen the right spell to memorize without any advance warning as to what might be useful. I know it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for some folks, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. I adore the intuitive approach that sorcerers use.

That said, I’ve noticed one thing about the sorcerer class that seems a tad broken to me: the skill point system. Sorcerers are charisma-based, so that’s likely to be your high stat. The class description says of the sorcerer, “he makes an excellent spy or diplomat for an adventuring group,” which implies abilities such as Gather Information, Diplomacy, and so on. Yet the construction of the class makes it virtually impossible to actually create the kind of character they imply.

Sorcerers get the same number of skill points that wizards do—(2 + Int modifier) x 4 at first level, and 2 + Int modifier thereafter, despite the fact that, unlike wizards, they’re unlikely to have a high Intelligence. They have fewer class skills than wizards do, which means fewer skills that they can buy on a one-for-one point basis, meaning those skill points won’t go very far unless they want to buy up a very limited set of skills. Finally, only one of those class skills is actually charisma-based—Bluff—which means it would cost so much to buy up those skills that are supposedly so appropriate to the sorcerer that you might as well not even bother.

It’s as though the designer used the wizard as a numerical template for the sorcerer, and then forgot to finish adjusting it as necessary to account for the actual class differences.

My DM solved this by turning three abilities he felt were appropriate to the class description into class skills for the sorcerer: Diplomacy, Gather Information, and Sense Motive. This has worked out quite well; I still have to spend my points very carefully, but I can create the kind of character that the class description implies and that I’d been hoping to create.

I do have to add that if you really want to play around with the whole “spells match your character’s personality” thing, it does help to have some books on hand other than the main player’s handbook, and to have a DM who doesn’t mind your picking spells from odd books. It can be tough to find enough spells of a given level that fit together—although there’s no reason you can’t also toss in a few utility spells that your character would find useful.


“Of course I have 100 feet of rope.
Doesn’t everyone?”

Posted in Gaming
7 comments on “Sorcerers in D&D 3.5
  1. ScottM says:

    I have had the same experience with Sorcerers, and the same complaints about the limited skill points and skill lists. After running a druid and burning out on daily spell memorization, Sorcerers (and other spontaneous casters) are definitely the way to go for me. Glad you’re enjoying them too.

  2. heather says:

    I absolutely love being able to customize characters in ways that reflect their personalities, which means the Sorcerer approach to learning spells—spontaneously developing spells appropriate to their personalities—is ideal for me. I’m really glad I have the kind of GM who’s willing to fix things like the skill point issue, though, as that’s another area where I like to customize to personality. The fix he put in worked out perfectly, IMO. I can spend a bare minimum of points in a couple of interesting non-class skills without completely screwing my character over, but not many—I still don’t have to worry about sprouting a massive and unbalancing list of skills as I level.

    I find it interesting that tabletop games appeal equally to folks at both ends of the spectrum—those who absolutely love the bookkeeping aspects, and those who hate it. It’s nice that we can now choose between Sorcerers and Wizards to reflect those two styles. I’m more than happy to lose some of the versatility Wizards have in order to play the way I most enjoy.

  3. Aaron says:

    It just so happens that I reinstalled Neverwinter Nights the other day and I’ve been playing a sorcerer. I love sorcerers as well, but I never completely adjust to games with limited firepower. Whenever I have limited resources in a game, I tend to be far too frugal with them, and they end up going unused much of the time. I suppose I’m always expecting disaster to strike.

    There are a number of D&D features I wish video games would adapt more often. One feature is how the classes are so vastly different from one another. Wizards and sorcerers are both spellcasters, but they’re like night and day. The personalization of spells and skills is another awesome feature. Making clerics choose domains is an inspired idea.

    I like to make polarized characters, like the sorcerer with 18 Charisma but 8 Constitution. Some classes are harder to do that with than others, but I don’t mind them offering such varied gameplay experiences.

    More customization and personalization is always a good thing, as I see it. Customization and dynamics are the key ingredients of any game I would invent.

  4. heather says:

    The limited resources issue is another reason I like playing D&D sorcerers, actually. When you don’t have to memorize your spells at the beginning of the day, you don’t have to worry quite so much about blowing your one and only memorization of a given spell. Your only concern is your daily spell limit for each level, and with a good Charisma score that isn’t too bad.

    I agree on polarized characters—it’s kind of funny that you used that particular example, as my current Sorcerer has an 18 Charisma and an 8 Strength. Weaknesses can be as much a part of customizing a character as strength. I do miss having a merit & flaw system in D&D for that reason, although you can work many such types of things into character background if you have an accommodating DM.

    I can understand why online games tend to allow much less customizability than tabletop—you don’t have one GM per four or five players to handle balance issues, so you need to keep things simple in order to make it easier to balance the game. As it is games have a ton of difficulties with balance—additional customization would add to that exponentially. Still, I hope they gradually manage it. I get the impression City of Heroes/Villains caters to that desire quite a bit with the ability to customize your character’s costume and such right up front (in other words they solve the problem by giving you something to customize that doesn’t affect game balance); I’m looking forward to playing with that.

  5. Aaron says:

    CoH did a good job with customization through costumes but also in other ways. Their skill system not only makes you choose from between skill possibilities for your class, but it also allows you to upgrade each of those skills in the ways you prefer. You might have 3 augmentation slots for a particular skill. You choose (partially based on what augmentations you loot from your kills) whether you want that skill to be stronger, require less energy, recharge faster, last longer, etc. That was a major reason I enjoyed CoH. The game also encouraged movement and had vertical environments. Ultimately though, it became a grind like any other MMO.

    I don’t believe balancing combat power is as important as most seem to think. The more similar to D&D games are, in that there’s depth beyond hit points and xp, the more variety is possible without things becoming unmanageable. My fondest memories of D&D are of experiences that were not directly tied to combat powers, like falling in a pit or busting friends out of jail. Balancing sheer power is tantamount in linear gameplay. In lateral gameplay, there’s more room for nuance and a wider variety of skills.

    But I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if what I’m really hoping for is an MMO or a single-player game.

  6. James(Iowa) says:

    I find it easier to play them in NWN/NWN2 because a limited spell selection seems to work fine against a general array of limited/similar encounter types.

    However table top they’re harder. The Archmage class is feat spendy to qualify for in the table top but lends a pretty large hand to a sorceror I’ve found. I tend to dump combat casting to make room for 2 metamagic feats in my choice. Ussually human so I can get the extra feat. Gets you 8 by level 20 which isn’t TOO bad since 3 of them have to be 2x spell focus and skill focus. I only pick up combat casting if we’re doing an epic game for the improved version prereq.

    This works pretty well if you get yourself a variety of evocations or conjurations that have elemental effects and different AoE patterns. When you pick up mastery of the elements you can throw them as any elemental type (ussually sonic) and cover large areas, cones, rays, bolts etc.. mastery of shaping helps a lot with this too so you can throw them over your party and not kill them in the process.

    This mostly only works for elemental focused evoc with those two high arcanas. Though reach mastery and the like can help a touch based sorc as well. The big problem really I’ve found is the lack of prestige classes for them over all. There’s quite a few but they’re like half this/half that which I feel is nerf.

  7. Mikee says:

    I just hit level 9 with my sorcerer and decided that because of our current events in the campaign my character would take a dark turn down his path. I’ve just adopted Seed of Undeath and Animate Dead from the Player’s Handbook and the Complete Mage books. I have to admit that turning my sorcerer from a strict damage character to a warlock-esque necromancer is a very badass move in my opinion. It’s amazing the customization a sorcerer can have.

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