Spellcasters are the masters of magic in D&D, and right or wrong there are classes in particular that jump out to mind when you think spellcaster: Warlocks, Sorcerers, and Wizards. But not all magic is created equal. Warlocks make pacts with patrons, Sorcerers tap into their Bloodline to unleash their innate magic, and Wizards study ancient tomes to master the most dangerous of arcane secrets. When it comes to combat and roleplay, how would they differ?
Warlocks are best suited for players who enjoy a more support-focused role and can dish out considerable damage. Sorcerers excel at spell versatility and adapting to different situations with their spells, while wizards are the ultimate spellcasters, with access to the largest variety and range of spells and are a nightmare to deal with when they can plan ahead.
Each spellcasting class has its own strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the right one can make a big difference in your D&D adventure. But which class should you choose?
The answer to this question depends on your preferred playstyle and the kind of character you want to create. Whether you’re looking for a supportive spellcaster, a versatile sorcerer, or the ultimate Wizard, let’s consider which class may suit you best. Here’s a quick which spellcaster should I play in 5E cheat sheet, but this is such a big question make sure to keep on the deep dive – this is just to give you a place to start.
|Very General Summary
|Play a Warlock If…
|You are big into mysterious backstories and want a melee/spellcaster combo with magic focusing on combat
|Spells Auto cast at highest level
Has most versatile number of builds
Get spells back with short rest
|Fewest spell slots by far
Can’t compete w/other casters at high levels
|No real outliers because Invocations allow stunning customization for all warlocks
|Play a Wizard If…
|You want to know ALL the magic, are obsessed with arcane secrets, love magic versatility
|Knows more spells than any other class
Incredibly versatile magic use
Living Gods at Level 20
|If your spells don’t match situation, tough luck until next long rest
Squishy – very squishy
|Blade Singer and War Wizards can actually melee with incredible effectiveness
|Play a Sorcerer If…
|You love charismatic characters, want to blaster cast, or like oddball sub-classes
|Many incredibly interesting sub-classes
Meta Magic is scary versatile
Wild Magic is awesome
|You know what you know – can’t add scrolls to a spellbook
Also very squishy
|Divine Soul sorcerers have access to Cleric spells, an insane spell list combination
Power Source: Warlock, Sorcerer, And Wizard Magic
Spellcasters of all kinds wield incredible powers in 5th Edition, and according to the 5E Players Handbook on page 203, there are plenty of schools of magic to get into for each class. Whether you’re an experienced adventurer or a curious beginner, you’ll want to know what makes each magic-user class unique and special.
This section will focus on the three most potent spellcasting classes – Warlock, Sorcerer, and Wizard – and reveal the secrets behind their extraordinary abilities. So get ready to open your spellbook, forge a bond with your patron, or unleash your natural talents!
First, let’s start with the basic rundown of each classes power source and a few advantages they have over the others:
Warlock Magic: They forge pacts with powerful and mysterious entities, such as fiends, celestial beings, or even great old ones. These patrons grant them access to their magical essence, which they use to cast spells and gain other abilities.
Example: Warlocks who make a pact with a fiend might gain fire-based spells and resistance to fire damage while a pact with an Arch Fey might lead to spells that make you hard to hit or see, opening up the doors for both sneakiness and mischief.
- They wear armor, allowing them to have higher survivability on the front lines.
- Spell slots reset after only a short rest instead of a long rest like the other casting classes require
- Can augment their spells with invocations
Sorcerer Magic: They rely on their innate magical abilities stemming from their arcane Bloodline. They can shape and manipulate the magic around them, granting them a wide range of options to choose from.
Example: A Sorcerer with a draconic bloodline might gain scales, claws, and breath weapons matching their dragon ancestor.
- A good blend between Wizards and Warlock – more spell access than the Warlock but fewer than the Wizard
- Extremely flexible and adaptable spellcasting class
- Can learn to cast powerful spells instantly and known to be feared for being overpowered without training
Wizard Magic: Wizards rely on their extensive knowledge of magic to cast spells. They spend years studying ancient esoteric tomes and arcane lore, gaining a deep understanding of the workings of magic. Through this study, they gain access to a vast array of spells, making them the most versatile spellcasters in the game.
Example: Wizards who study the Tome of the Stilled Tongue might learn secrets of necromancy and how to create undead servants.
- Widest selection of spells compared to the other classes and can hold many more spell slots.
- You can learn new spells without leveling up
- Wizards have access to the greatest level of spells giving them the most versatility, and many wizard spells offer the best utility
Each class has a unique advantage over the other and has a different power source that reflects their personality and playstyle. Since Warlocks are mysterious and charismatic, making deals with entities beyond their comprehension is part of their identity.
And how Sorcerers are spontaneous and adaptable, unleashing their natural magic with flair and creativity, while Wizards are studious and intelligent, mastering the secrets of magic with diligence and discipline to define their identities.
But how does their power source affect their spellcasting abilities? But how do they compare regarding spell slots, Spell lists, and other features? In the next section, we’ll look at the spellcasting abilities of each class and see how they differ from one another.
Spellcasting Abilities: Comparing The Spellcasting Features
Spellcasting is the core feature of Warlocks, Sorcerers, and Wizards. They all use magic to create various effects, from blasting enemies with fireballs to healing allies with cure wounds.
However, they have different ways of casting spells and using their magical resources. So, to help you deiced between these three major spell slingers, keep the following in mind.
Spell slots are the basic unit of magic in D&D. They represent how many spells a spellcaster can cast per day before needing a short or long rest. Each Spell has a level from 1 to 9, and a spellcaster must expend a spell slot of the same level or higher to cast it. For example, to cast a 3rd-level fireball, a spellcaster must use a 3rd-level or higher spell slot.
- Warlocks have fewer spell slots than Sorcerers and Wizards, but they regain them after a short rest instead of a long rest. This means they can cast more spells throughout the day but have less flexibility in choosing which spells to cast. Warlocks also have a fixed spell slot level that increases as they level up, meaning they always cast their spells at the highest possible level, and their lack of spells is partially made up from custom boosts from Invocations as well as unique spells only available to their class.
- Sorcerers and Wizards have more spell slots than Warlocks but regain them only after a long rest rather than a short rest. They have more flexibility in choosing which spells to cast but less endurance throughout the day since they don’t regain spell slots from a short rest. Sorcerers and Wizards can also choose which level to cast their spells at, meaning they can conserve their higher-level slots for more powerful spells.
Spell lists are the collection of spells that each class can learn and cast. Each class has its spell list reflecting its theme and power source. For example, Warlocks have more spells that deal with dark magic, such as hex or arms of Hadar, while Sorcerers have more spells that deal with elemental magic, such as chromatic orb or fire bolt.
- Warlocks have the smallest spell list among the three classes, but they can expand it by choosing an Otherworldly Patron that grants them additional spells related to their patron’s theme. For example, a Warlock who chooses the Fiend patron can learn spells such as burning hands or fireball.
- Sorcerers have a larger spell list than Warlocks but smaller than Wizards. They can also expand it by choosing a Sorcerous Origin that grants them additional spells related to their Bloodline’s theme. As mentioned, a Sorcerer who chooses the Draconic Bloodline can learn spells such as dragon’s breath or fear.
- Wizards have the largest spell list among the three classes, covering almost every aspect of magic. They can also expand it by choosing an Arcane Tradition that grants them additional spells related to their school of magic. For example, a Wizard who decides on the School of Evocation can learn spells such as magic missile or cone of cold.
Combat Roles Of Each Spellcasting Class
Spellcasting classes are not only powerful but also versatile. They can fill different roles in combat, depending on their spells and features. However, some classes are better suited for specific roles than others. Let’s take a look at the combat roles of Warlocks, Sorcerers, and Wizards and see how they excel or struggle in them.
This role is focused on dealing as much damage as possible to enemies, either with single-target or area-of-effect spells.
- Warlocks are excellent damage dealers, thanks to their Eldritch Blast cantrip, which scales with their level and can be enhanced with Eldritch Invocations. They also have access to some powerful spells that deal fire, necrotic, or psychic damage, such as Hex, Fireball, or Synaptic Static.
- Sorcerers are also good damage dealers, especially with their Metamagic feature, which allows them to modify their spells in various ways. For example, they can use Empowered Spell to reroll low-damage dice or Twinned Spell to target two enemies with a single-target spell. This can turn them into Blaster Casters especially once they get fireball. They also have access to some elemental spells that deal fire, cold, lightning, or acid damage, such as Burning Hands, Ray of Frost, Lightning Bolt, or Acid Splash.
- Wizards are decent damage dealers but unless specifically built that way are often not as good as Warlocks or Sorcerers. They have access to the most wide-ranging spell list among the three classes, including powerful damage spells such as Fireball, Cone of Cold, or Disintegrate. However, they lack the features that enhance their damage output, such as Eldritch Invocations or Metamagic and while they can be devastating at damage, wizards often choose a balance of spells to bring much needed utility to the party. It’s not that wizards can’t be the most powerful casters, it’s that they go the versatile route to be more useful in all situations.
Choosing a Support is focused on helping allies with buffs, healing, or utility spells.
- Warlocks are not very good at this role, as they simply have too few spells that benefit their allies. They can choose the Celestial patron to gain some healing abilities, such as Healing Light or Cure Wounds. They can also select the Archfey patron to gain some utility spells such as Faerie Fire or Greater Invisibility but in general the closest they can come to support is cutting off a part of the battle field using spells like Evard’s Black Tentacles or to tank an extra turn or two with Armor of Agathys to allow other party members to do their thing before needing to support you.
One of the unique features of Warlocks is that they can wear armor, allowing them to have a higher AC and tank a bit on the front lines. However, they are still limited by their low number of spell slots and Spell choices and their armor is limited unless you take the Heavily Armored Feat.
- Sorcerers are better at this role than Warlocks, but still not great with the exception of one very specific sub-class which is busted good when it comes to support. That would be the Divine Soul origin to access the Cleric spell list, which includes some helpful support spells such as Bless, Healing Word, or Revivify. They can also use their Metamagic feature to enhance their support spells in various ways.
For example, they can use Extended Spell to double the duration of a buff spell or a subtle spell to cast magic without verbal or somatic components. However, they are still limited by their lower number potential spell choices.
- Finally, Wizards are the best at this role among the three classes, as they have access to a wide range of support spells that can buff, heal, or provide utility for their allies. For example, they can cast Haste to increase an ally’s speed and actions, Heal to restore many hit points; or Teleport to transport themselves and their allies to another location.
They also have features that enhance their support abilities, such as Arcane Recovery (which allows them to regain some spell slots after a short rest) or Arcane Traditions (which grant them benefits related to their school of magic). Since Wizards have access to the largest number of spells and have multiple schools to choose from they are arguably the most customizable class in all of 5E D&D.
Comparing The Spell Versatility
Spell versatility is the ability to change or adapt one’s spells to different situations or needs. Spell versatility can be measured by several factors, such as the number of spells known, the number of spells prepared, and the ability to swap and modify spells.
So, let’s compare how Warlocks, Sorcerers, and Wizards fare in terms of spell versatility and see how they can best use their spells.
Spells known are the spells that a spellcaster can cast without preparing them beforehand. They are usually fixed and limited by the class and level of the spell caster.
- Warlocks have the fewest spells known among the three classes, starting with two at 1st level and ending with 15 at the 20th level. Still, they can learn additional spells from their Otherworldly Patron or Eldritch Invocations features, as well as specific feats that may fit in very well wit their patron like the Shadow Touched Feat or Fey Touched Feat.
- Sorcerers have more pool of spells known than Warlocks, but similarly, starting with two at 1st level and ending with 15 at the 20th level. They can also learn additional spells from their Sorcerous Origin feature.
- Wizards have the most spells known among the three classes, starting with six at 1st level and ending with a massive count of 44 at the 20th level. What’s great is that they can also learn additional spells from their Arcane Tradition feature or by finding and copying them into their spellbook.
Spells prepared are the spells that a spellcaster can cast after spending some time preparing them beforehand. Typically defined as flexible and variable by the class and level of the spell caster.
- Warlocks do not need to prepare their spells, as they can cast any spell they know using their spell slots and the spell always casts at the highest possible slot, adding a little extra punch.
- Sorcerers also do not need to prepare their spells and can also cast any spell they know using their spell slots but they only know the spells that they can cast which can be changed at level up.
- Wizards must prepare their spells before casting them, as they can only cast a limited number of spells from their spellbook daily. They can prepare several spells equal to their Intelligence modifier plus their Wizard level, but they can know many times more spells than they can cast. This allows them to adjust their daily spells based on what challenges are likely to show themselves in the upcoming day.
Swapping spells is the ability to change one’s spells known or prepared after gaining a level or completing a long rest. It allows spellcasters to adjust their selection according to their needs or preferences.
- Warlocks can swap one Spell they know for another spell of the same level from the Warlock spell list whenever they gain a level in this class.
- Like Warlocks, Sorcerers can swap one Spell they know for another spell of the same level from the Sorcerer spell list whenever they gain a level in this class.
- Wizards cannot swap their spells known, as they are fixed by their spellbook. However, they can exchange their spells prepared after a long rest, choosing from any spell in their spellbook. This means a wizard can potentially change out nearly all their spells from one day to the next.
Modifying spells is altering or enhancing one’s spells using special features or abilities, allowing spellcasters to customize their spells according to their situation or style.
- Warlocks can modify their spells using their Eldritch Invocations feature, which grants them various benefits or effects related to their spells. For instance, they can use Agonizing Blast to add their Charisma modifier to the damage count of their Eldritch Blast cantrip or Sculptor of Flesh to cast Polymorph once per long rest without using a spell slot.
- Sorcerers can modify their spells using their Metamagic feature, which allows them to spend sorcery points to apply different options to their spells. For example, they can use Quickened Spell to cast a spell that typically takes an action move as a bonus action, the famous Twin spell to make that cast fireball two fireballs (and a living nightmare for opponents), or Heightened Spell to give one target of their Spell a disadvantage on its saving throw.
- Wizards can modify their spells using their Arcane Tradition feature, which grants them various benefits or effects related to their school of magic. For instance, Wizards can use Portent to replace a roll made by themselves or another creature with one of two dice rolls they made at the start of the day. They can even use Empowered Evocation to add their Intelligence modifier to the damage of one evocation spell they cast.
Eldritch Invocations vs. Metamagic vs. Arcane Traditions
Finally, if you are not aware of them already, Eldritch Invocations, Metamagic, and Arcane Traditions are unique features each class gains at certain levels. It is critical to know if you want to choose a spellcaster for your next campaign.
They allow the class to customize their spells and abilities in various ways, enhancing their versatility and power.
However, depending on the class, they also have different costs and benefits. That said, the following are some useful fundamentals to go over that may help you decide which direction you want to go.
Warlocks gain access to Eldritch Invocations at the 2nd level.
They can choose from a list of options that grant them various benefits or effects related to their spells or class features. As mentioned, they can use Agonizing Blast to add their Charisma modifier to the damage count of their Eldritch Blast cantrip or Book of Ancient Secrets (forum chat link) to learn two rituals from any class and add them to their Book of Shadows.
- Warlocks can choose two invocations at the 2nd level and one more at the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 18th levels, for a total of eight invocations at the 20th level.
They can also swap one invocation for another whenever they gain a level in this class. Some invocations have prerequisites, such as a minimum level or a specific pact boon or patron.
Generally speaking, all warlocks will pick up Agonizing Blast and likely other Eldritch Blast related Invocations because that is how to power them out and make them living nightmares. What is worth noting is that there are so many Invocations that do different things that it makes Warlock a surprisingly versatile class that can be built in dozens of different ways from frontline tank to sneaky rogue.
Sorcerers gain access to Metamagic at 3rd level.
They can choose from a list of options that allow them to spend sorcery points to modify their spells in various ways. With just a flick of their wrist, they can use Twinned Spell to target two creatures instead of one with their Spell of choice or Empowered Spell (just like the Wizard) to reroll the damage of a spell that didn’t hit as hard as they’d hoped.
Sorcerers can choose two options at the 3rd level, and one more at the 10th and 17th level, for a total of four options at the 20th level.
They can also swap one option for another whenever they gain a level in this class. With Metamagic at their fingertips, they are truly a force to be reckoned with as sorcerers can go full on blaster caster, pick silent casting to counter counterspell, or even trade sorcery points back in for an extra spell slot.
Wizards gain access to Arcane Traditions at 2nd level.
They can choose from a list of schools of magic that grant them various benefits or effects related to their spells or class features. For example, they can use Sculpting Spells to create pockets of safety within their area-of-effect spells or Illusory Reality to make one of their illusions partially real.
The Wizard truly covers a broad range of almost any playstyle; you may want to check out the schools of magic to get truly creative.
Additionally, Wizards can choose one school at the 2nd level and gain additional benefits from it at the 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
Roleplay Considerations Of Warlocks, Sorcerers, And Wizards
Spellcasting classes are not only powerful but also flavorful. They have different backgrounds, motivations, and personalities that shape their interactions with the world and other characters.
As you’ve probably already seen in many movies, anime, and books, roleplaying a spellcaster can be a lot of fun but also challenging. It would be best to consider how your power source affects your character’s outlook, goals, and relationships.
Let’s look at roleplay considerations for each of these classes and see how they can bring their characters to life and some background examples.
(Remember that they are only examples, and you can go in any direction out of these examples that you feel drawn to as unique stories and takes on traditional tropes are a major part of what makes D&D so much fun).
Warlocks: Embrace The Darkness (Or Not)
Warlocks are spellcasters who have made a pact with a powerful entity, such as a fiend, a fey, or an ancient god. Their power comes from not only their patron’s favor but also their demands, and roleplaying a warlock involves balancing your own desires with your patron’s expectations. No power comes for free, so why did your patron grant you some of their power?
You may have to perform tasks or services for your patron or follow certain rules or restrictions. Maybe there’s a quest to be set upon, a standing order, or one hilarious but dark one could be a Great Old One warning him to make the warring parties become quiet so he could sleep or he would make them all quiet.
Depending on the circumstances, you may also have to deal with the consequences of your pact, such as being feared or hated by others or being hunted by your patron’s enemies. Demons hate Celestials, Celestials hate Fiends, many parties are going to be fascinated or fear Great Old Ones, and then there’s the Arch Fey…could look ever knowing what they want!
On the other hand, you may also enjoy the benefits of your pact, such as having access to secrets or allies that others don’t – or just being plain on mysterious, seeming like the bad guy but actually the good guy!
Warlocks have an amazing array of options on how their patron affects their roleplay and I’ve seen great warlock back stories ranging from a thirst for knowledge to restore a long since fallen noble family’s name back to a higher status to a Tabaxi who was being chased by the King of the Fairy Dragons in the Fey Wild and during a time stop could become a Patron or die to “I touched a small rock carving and then I had powers.”
As far as backgrounds go, Warlock is pretty tops.
Background Example (Hexblade): Born into a family of powerful warlocks, you were expected to follow in their footsteps and make a pact with a malevolent entity. But one act of kindness received when you were young instilled a ray of light in your soul, echoing your refusal to serve evil. Instead, you learn about a rumored magical sword that could put an end to the evils your family has wrought.
One day, while searching for this mighty magic sword, you stumbled upon a mysterious tomb. There, you discovered a sentient blade that promised you great power in exchange for your service.
The blade, known as the Hexblade, revealed to you that it was once wielded by a noble warrior who fought against tyranny and injustice.
Now, it seeks a new champion to continue its legacy. With the Hexblade as your patron, you possess the power to smite your enemies and protect the innocent. However, your connection to such a dark and malevolent weapon makes others distrust you, and you must constantly struggle to prove that you are not among the monsters of your family that many believe you to be.
Sorcerers: Unleashing The Arcane
Sorcerers are spellcasters who have innate magic in their blood. Their power comes from their ancestry, such as being descended from dragons, celestials, or elementals – which can ignite some fascinating roleplay opportunities.
Roleplaying a sorcerer involves exploring your heritage and its implications. You may have to deal with the effects of your Bloodline, such as physical traits or personality quirks. You may also have to deal with the reactions of others, such as being admired or envied by some (because you look super cool in the draconic bloodline features) or being shunned or persecuted by others.
On the other hand, you may also embrace the benefits of your Bloodline, such as having an affinity or connection with certain creatures or forces. Was there a history of magic in your family or were you touched by wild magic and it just appeared one day?
Background Example (Draconic): You could play a sorcerer who has draconic blood in their veins. You may have scales, horns, claws, or wings that mark you as different from others. You may also have a strong personality that reflects your dragon ancestor’s nature, such as being proud and noble or greedy and cunning.
You may be adventurous and courageous or arrogant and haughty. You may be respected by some for your heritage or feared by others for your power. However, you may also have access to draconic lore and allies, such as dragons or kobolds.
Wizard: Mastering The Arcane
Wizards are spellcasters who have learned magic through study and practice. Their power comes from their knowledge and skill in manipulating the arcane forces of the universe, and roleplaying a wizard involves pursuing your intellectual curiosity and mastery of magic.
You may have to deal with the challenges of learning new spells and secrets, such as finding sources of information or overcoming obstacles – but that is all part of the adventure and can surely shape a curious personality.
Still, you may also have to deal with the risks of using magic recklessly or irresponsibly, such as causing accidents or attracting danger. On the other hand, you may also enjoy the rewards of using magic wisely and creatively, such as solving problems or creating wonders – and nothing beats finally obtaining a powerful spell after a hefty challenge.
Background Example: You could play a wizard who has dedicated their life to studying the mysteries of magic. You may have a spellbook full of notes and formulas that you constantly update and revise. You may also have a thirst for knowledge that drives you to seek new spells and secrets wherever you can find them.
You may be admired by some for your intelligence and expertise or distrusted by others for your meddling and experimentation. However, you may also have access to arcane lore and allies, such as other wizards or magical creatures. You may be curious and inventive or eccentric and obsessive.
Pacts, Bloodlines, And Studies
Pacts, Bloodlines, and Studies are subclasses that each class can choose at a certain level. They represent the specific source or aspect of their power that defines their spellcasting. Choosing a subclass can significantly impact your character’s abilities, roleplay, and story.
Warlocks can choose a Pact Boon at the 3rd level and an Otherworldly Patron at the 1st level. A Pact Boon grants them a special feature or item that enhances their spellcasting or combat abilities.
For example, they can choose the Pact of the Blade to create a magical weapon, the Pact of the Chain to gain familiarity, or the Tome to learn additional cantrips. An Otherworldly Patron grants them additional spells and features that reflect their patron’s theme, nature, and story.
Sorcerers can choose a Sorcerous Origin at 1st level. A Sorcerous Origin grants them additional spells and features that reflect the theme and nature of their Bloodline. For example, they can choose the Draconic Bloodline to gain dragon-like traits and abilities, the Wild Magic to gain unpredictable and chaotic effects, or the Divine Soul to gain access to divine magic.
Wizards can choose an Arcane Tradition at 2nd level. Again, Arcane Tradition grants them access to many schools of magic, which in turn offer up additional spells and features that reflect the theme and nature of their school.
For example, they can choose the School of Abjuration to play a more defensive role and gain protection and warding abilities, the School of Illusion to gain deception and manipulation abilities, or the School of Necromancy to gain control over life and death.
Customize the Magic Caster You Want to Play
Warlocks, Sorcerers, and Wizards are all unique spellcasting classes with different sources, features, and abilities. Warlocks are damage-focused and durable, Sorcerers are flexible and adaptable, and Wizards are versatile and knowledgeable. The choice between them ultimately falls on your personal preference and playstyle.
There is no wrong choice here, so go with the option that sounds more like your style and feel free to customize away until you get the type of character that you’re looking for.
Play The Spellcaster You Want To Be!
Each of these classes can take on many forms and once you have the base that you’re most excited about because it fits with the type of character you want to play, build around it!
When you have an idea of how you want to play it gets easier and easier to customize your story as you see fit to get a spellcaster that rocks your next campaign!
Other DnD Articles You May Love
- 5E Sorcerer Vs Wizard
- 5E Fighter Vs Barbarian
- 5E Best Feats for Warlocks
- 5E Best Feats for Wizards
- 5E Best Feats for Sorcerers
- Spells and ability info sourced from sites like Roll20 | DnDBeyond | ForgottenRealms | Travelogue
- Various discussions on each class vs. found on forums like Reddit | DnDBeyond | Quora
Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.