So, now you have some ideas for how you might build onto the bare bones of your Wizard moving forward, here are some general tips on how you might play your Wizard in-game.
Spells are your way forward in combat. At all times. You're better off not being in the thick of combat (unless rolling characters is your favourite ever thing in which case, feel free to wade in!) At early levels when you don't have many spell slots, cantrips are your best friend. As long as you have even one damaging cantrip, you're golden – yes, a light crossbow lets you add a modifier to your damage die, but Fire Bolt still has a chance at dealing a similar amount of damage, assuming you haven't for some reason maxed out your Dexterity. Remember also that cantrips deal more damage once you reach a certain level. 2d10 with a Firebolt obviously has a much higher potential than 1d8+modifier for a crossbow, and by the time you're done getting bonuses for having survived to tier 4, you'll be at 4d10 for your cantrip, which is nothing to sniff at!
There are many ways of tailoring your combat strategy, including control spells, which will often start forcing Wisdom saves on your enemy, and area of effect damage spells, which will often force Dexterity saves on multiple enemies. This is why a high Intelligence is the best tool in your offensive arsenal – it jacks up the number that your hapless enemies will need to roll to avoid incineration, paralysis, or someone getting over-excited and standing in the middle of a bridge yelling “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”
Managing resources is both simple and agonizingly painful for Wizards. The main thing you'll need to keep an eye on is your spell slots – remember that you only get a small number of these back on a short rest, and you really need a long rest to be able to recharge. Finding the balance between restricting yourself to cantrips and piling through your spell slots might be tricky at first, but don't be afraid to cast spells where there is a clear opportunity to make an impact. If you open a dungeon door to find a horde of angry monsters waiting for you, and they look like rank and files, go ahead – drop a Fireball. The more you can thin out their ranks with an area of effect spell, the happier the rest of the party will be, because they can then focus on the tougher critters.
It will always be tempting to use your magic toolkit to solve problems. Remember that Ritual spells do not cost you a spell slot, just a little extra time. Unless a situation is pressing, a ritual is always preferable if it's available, because then you can use your spell slots for casting in combat, which will usually be more valuable to you.
The final thing for you to keep an eye on at max level is going to be your uses of Signature Spell. This won't be difficult to keep track of as you're just using each spell once before you have to revert to casting it with spell slots.
Usually, you'll be looking at casting a spell with your action and then passing the turn once you've used your movement (if you don't want to stay still). You then have your reaction available for a defensive spell (such as Shield or possibly Absorb Elements if you need resistance rather than AC), or to cast Counterspell if needed.
Your bonus action is best used casting something like Misty Step to help keep you from getting penned in by bad guys but remember that if you do, you will only be able to use your action for a cantrip due to the general spellcasting rules. (Unless your table is running homebrew rules akin to the ones on the first season of Critical Role, that is.)
Roleplaying a Wizard
There's no real way around one major part of the Wizard stereotype. Having learned your magical abilities through study and practice is hard-coded into this class, and it will be really tough (and mechanically non-viable) to attempt to play a Wizard that isn't particularly intelligent. Maybe your character hides the fact that they're at least book smart through modesty for some reason, but you can definitely afford to lean into the fact that you're likely to have spent years holed up in a tower, poring over dusty tomes so that you can level large sections of the world with the might of your will alone.
Some things to consider when you create your character:
- Where did they learn their magical skills? Was it in some kind of academy? Did they stumble over some forbidden volumes that they kept secret and only read during the night time hours so there was less chance of them being discovered?
- Do they find learning and remembering spells easy or difficult? Do they need to read from their spellbook to be able to cast spells (even in the middle of battle?)
- How do they interact with other people? Are they used to doing it (maybe because they learned magic in a classroom full of other students?) Is it something they're out of practice with (maybe because they studied in secondment?)
- What is the source of their knowledge? Is it well known to other casters, or are they sitting on a book that not many people have seen before? (Obviously you still have access to the same list of spells, but this could create some intrigue in game and give the DM a chance to add in some subplots for you!)
Your choice of skills and background will inevitably give you some other cues about how to play, and you should feel free to choose from literally any of the options available to you here. There's no reason, for example, why an Urchin Wizard couldn't exist – imagine a mischievous character that steals pages of books from other Wizards that ride through the streets of the city, or even attempts to copy pages from memory or from sneaking a glance through a window in an inn. They could be working on a 'grand project' – a hidden spellbook where all of their knowledge is gathered. Every penny they manage to get their hands on that isn't needed for food could be spent on materials for inks to add extra entries into their book.