Welcome to the character class guide for the wizard! If you're looking to ala some kazam, you have definitely come to the right place! This is the 'bare bones' guide, which covers the parts of the Wizard class that are available to every book-smart spell-toting robe-wearing wonder (OK so I stereotyped a little, the truth hurts) before taking subclasses into effect. If you've got your heart set on a specific subclass, you'll need to read this and follow it up with the article relating to your favourite flavour of the magic circle! Alternatively, if you're looking for inspiration on which subclass to choose, give this a look and then go browsing – it may just help you reach that final decision!
So, without further ado, let us begin!
What is a Wizard?
Wizards are arcane casters that gained their power through studying the mystic arts. This is the main feature that differentiates them from the other “mage” classes - Sorcerers, who have innate magical power, and Warlocks, who received their power from making a pact with a powerful being.
If you like having access to a huge variety of spells, with some room to personalise your casting style through your choice of subclass, Wizard is definitely for you. Your primary duty will be to cast spells, and lots of them. When you're in power saving mode, or you've run out of spell slots, you'll be hammering the cantrips. Seriously, you'll be casting like it's going out of fashion. What you cast and how you strategise will be up to you, and again, your subclass will have a lot to do with this. However, there is a huge amount of room for latitude and you can build an extremely versatile caster who's always got the right answer for any given situation.
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Except healing. That's not for you. Someone else can take care of that.
One of the sometimes overlooked sides to Wizards is that they are also functionally the brains of the bunch – and if you want to build an effective Wizard that's able to do things like hurt enemies in combat, this will come naturally without you having to do a lot else. Your primary ability will feed a lot of skills that need you to be 'book' smart (or have paid attention in class) – something that is not as intrinsic to any of the other classes. Until Artificer came along, that is!
The Wizard class shell revolves largely around your spellcasting ability, and there are very few new features for you to manage as you work your way through the levels other than attempting to fill up as many pages in your spell book as possible. Let's take a look at the two class features you receive at level 1:
To no-one's surprise, Wizards are “full casters”, which means they gain access to spells at all levels as they rack up experience. They get a decent amount of cantrips – 3 to begin with, and then shiny new ones at levels 4 and 10. These are your bread and butter, particularly at early levels, until you gain more spell slots and therefore more chances to cast spells with a level higher than zero!
Wizards access spells in a couple of different ways. You start the game with six 1st level spells chosen from the Wizard list, and then you prepare a number of spells equal to your Wizard level (1) plus your Int modifier. Obviously both of those numbers have the potential to increase as the game goes on, so at 20th level you could easily have 25 spells prepared.
Choosing your original six spells symbolises your character writing them down in their spell book. The preparation mechanic then signifies the act of memorising a small number of those spells – because intelligent people can be scatterbrained, and who wants to be stuck frantically flipping through a book in the middle of a fight? “I thought that spell was in this chapter!”
Whenever you level up, you pick up two new spells to add to your book, for free. Why make that distinction? Because if you're willing to throw a little gold at the situation and you happen to stumble over someone else's spell book during your adventure, or even a scroll of a spell that appears on the Wizard list, you can copy that spell into your book, permanently. This isn't cheap, but it's definitely worth it – and by the way, congratulations on being the only class in the game that's able to do this. If any of those other classes that think they know how to cast spells find a scroll, they get to use it once and then poof! Gone. Suckers!
Of course, even with a combination of the learning new spells/preparing from a larger list methods from other caster classes, things are not quite complicated enough, so let's chuck a spanner in the works now before anyone gets too comfortable.
All of this revolves around your spell book. All of it. Lose that book, and that's it – any spells that you don't currently have prepared are gone. So, say at 20th Level you have a pretty full book, and you've racked up 35 spells. 25 of those are prepared because you maxed out your Intelligence. Then you lose your book. That's 10 spells gone, along with the money you paid on the materials you needed to copy them into your book, all of the effort you went through to learn them in the first place, and (probably) your will to play the game.
You can get a new book, but if you do, you then have to go through the rigmarole of copying all of the spells you have prepared into the book. You also get to look at blank pages where all your other spells used to be. Tell me that doesn't make you sad?
Fortunately, there is an entry in the class rules about making a backup copy of your book. Definitely do this. But then definitely keep the thing safe. You do not want to lay temptation at the door of your DM and give them a chance to have an evil Wizard steal it, otherwise you've probably just given them all the tools they needed to kill you!
One more thing you have over most of the other caster classes is Arcane Recovery – an ability that allows you to regain some of your spell slots on a short rest. The value of this feature cannot be put into words – even with good cantrips, Wizards can end up feeling a little out of their depth once they run out of spell slots, so being able to get them back without having to take an 8-hour nap is a huge bonus.