There are four classes that most likely leap to mind when a person talks about Dungeons & Dragons. The sly Rogue, the brutal Barbarian, the agile Ranger, and the wise Wizard.
Of the four, arguably the most powerful, but also the one that requires the most bookkeeping, is the Wizard.
Some people go as far as to say that you should not play a Wizard until you have some experience with the game. To that I say, “Tosh.” If you want to play a Wizard, play a Wizard.
Hence this guide on making a Wizard in Dungeons & Dragons.
What Is A Wizard?
In Dungeons & Dragons there are multiple casting classes. The Bard, the Cleric, the Druid, Sorcerer, the Warlock, the Paladin, the Wizard, and the Ranger, just from the Player’s Handbook. There are even sub-classes of the Barbarian, Fighter, Rogue, and Monk, that can cast spells also. Magic is part and parcel of the Dungeons & Dragons world. What distinguishes between them?
The first division should be made between full casters and part casters. Wizards, Bards, Sorcerers, Druids, Warlocks, and Clerics are casters from their first level to their last. With the exception of Warlocks, who are a bit weird, they gain an every increasing number of spell-slots across their full character progression, and have a large selection of spells to choose from as they progress.
The other classes start gaining spell-slots after their first level, they have less of them, and their spells come from a much smaller pool. Magic is secondary to their class function. A Paladin can indeed cast spells, but his main concern will be hitting foes with his primary weapon. The same can be said of the Eldritch Knight.
The second division is between casters who have memorized a small number of spells and casters who can choose their spells afresh at the beginning of each day.
To keep the list making short, Wizards, Clerics, Druids, and Paladins can choose their spells afresh each day. Every other magic user has only a comparatively small number of memorized spells, of which they can exchange one for another when they level up.
Clerics, Druids, and Paladins, when they choose their spells, have access to their entire spell lists. As long as a spell is of a level they can cast they can add it to their daily repertoire, up to a certain limit.
Wizards get a spellbook.
A Wizard’s spellbook starts with six level 1 spells in it. Every time the Wizard levels up in the Wizard class they can add two spells, of a level they can cast, to that spellbook.
Each morning the Wizard may read his spellbook and choose a number of spells, up to a number that equals his Wizard level plus his Intelligence modifier, and that will be his spell list for the day.
Therefore at level 20, if he has not multi-classed, a Wizard will have 44 spells in his spellbook, and assuming he has maximized his Intelligence statistic to 20 for a +5 modifier (as he will have), he can have 25 spells available to him each day.
The Handbook states that memorizing these spells takes 1 minute per spell level, but I have never played a game where anyone was keeping track of this time.
However, in addition to the spells that the Wizard gains through his level progression, he can also copy spells into his spellbook. These can be spells from other Wizards’ spellbooks, or spells from scrolls and books that your Dungeon Master sprinkles through your campaign. Provided they are a Wizard spell of a level the Wizard can cast they can be written into the spellbook, becoming one of the spells that the Wizard can choose each day.
This means it is not impossible for a Wizard to have access to every spell available to Wizards, provided that the DM is willing to drop scrolls like confetti.
It must be said that this flexibility and power does not come cheaply. For each level of spell the Wizard wishes to copy into his spellbook it costs 50 gold, and takes 2 hours of in game time. A significant portion of the Wizard’s income will go into adding spells to his spellbook.
Also, because a Wizard’s power is so tied to his spellbook, it being lost or destroyed is a major problem for him. While he will still have the spells he memorized from it, he will not be able to replace them with others until he replaces his spellbook and recovers the spells lost with it. Sensible Wizards will keep a backup spellbook in a safe place. It is cheaper copying spells you already know, so writing in your backup spellbook only costs 10 gold per spell level.
So Why A Wizard?
Why would you play a Wizard?
Wizards embody the principle that knowledge is power. With the exception of the Arcane Trickster and Eldritch Knight sub-classes they are the only Intelligence based caster in the PHB. Where other classes are dumping Intelligence for an extra point of Strength, the Wizard seeks knowledge and understanding of all things.
Although some might argue that Wizards lose out to Sorcerers in raw damage, there is not much of a difference between them, and the Wizard brings more to the dungeon than simple brute force. The Wizard is an craftsman, wielding a variety of spells from his toolbox to achieve his desired ends.
The Wizard brings variety. Whether it be summoning the hordes of the undead, bringing down massive fireballs, shrouding your foes in illusion, or even clashing with the foe with elven blade in melee, there are a multiplicity of Wizard traditions for the player to try.
Do you want to play a character that is smart, powerful, and offers you a lot of options?
Play a Wizard.
Building Your Wizard
When building your Wizard your primary concern is Intelligence. Since a Wizard’s casting statistic is Intelligence it is best to start with as high a statistic as possible.
That favours races that add bonuses to Intelligence and, in the PHB, there are five races that offer bonuses to Intelligence, either directly or by offering flexible bonuses.
The first, and in my opinion the best, option is the High Elf. This race not only adds a +1 bonus to Intelligence, but also brings an additional Wizard cantrip. Cantrips are spells that do not require a spell slot to cast, and their general utility means it is always good to have a lot of them.
The second is the Gnome. This race comes with a +2 bonus to Intelligence, and the Forest Gnome subclass also comes with the Minor Illusion Wizard cantrip. Since Minor Illusion can be quite powerful when used with imagination this is also an excellent combination.
Third on my list is the Variant Human. It offers two floating +1 statistics, one of which can be added to Intelligence, and allows the player to start with a feat. Two notable options for Wizard are Spell Sniper, which adds one cantrip and doubles the range of all spells that roll to hit, and Magic Initiate (Wizard) that adds two cantrips and a level 1 spell that can be cast once a day at its lowest level without needing a spell slot. However, because it is a known Wizard spell, it can also be cast using spell slots as normal.
Fourth for me is the Tiefling, which also brings a +1 Intelligence bonus, and offers the Thaumaturgy cantrip and the Hellish Rebuke, and Darkness spells as racial features. A small weakness in these features is that Charisma is the casting stat for these, but only Hellish Rebuke is a resisted spell so it isn’t that important.
Fifth is the Half-Elf which also has floating bonuses that can be used to boost Intelligence, however in this company it suffers for not bringing anything else to the class.
Although it does not bring a boost to Intelligence, the Mountain Dwarf deserves an honorable mention. With a +2 bonus to Constitution, and proficiency in light and medium armour, the Mountain Dwarf can work around one of the Wizard’s weaknesses. Wizards are quite fragile, at least in the beginning of a campaign. Higher Constitution increases the Wizard’s hit point pool and helps with Concentration saves, and having access to armour can boost their armor class considerably.
As already said, the primary statistic of concern for Wizards is Intelligence.
Because Wizards do not typically wear armour, and both unarmored defense and armor class while using the Mage Armor spell depend on Dexterity, that should be considered the secondary stat of importance.
Constitution determines your character’s hit points, and also helps with Concentration saves, so that should be considered the tertiary stat of importance.
Using Point Buy I would generate the following statistics for a Wizard.
Since the Wizard gains +2 to any stat, or +1 to any two stats, at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels, leaving your statistics as even numbers is the most efficient way to allocate points. If your plan for your Wizard includes using “half-feats” which are feats (p165 PHB) that give your character an ability and +1 to a statistic, then you may want to have an uneven statistic.
If you intend to multi-class (p163 PHB) your Wizard then that too might place extra constraints on your statistic allocation, however my own view is that Wizard doesn’t gain enough from multi-classing to justify the hassle.
Although the traditional background for a Wizard might be a Sage (p137 PHB) a Wizard can come from any walk of life. However, as I mentioned in my Skill Proficiencies guide, you can swap out skill proficiencies, and also language/tool proficiencies.
Wizards naturally give you a choice of Insight, Investigation, Arcana, Medicine, History and Religion. Using my principle of skills that actually get used I would recommend Arcana and Investigation.
This means that, unless you are already proficient in Perception because you’re a High Elf, you should take the Perception skill proficiency from your background. For my other choice I would take Stealth.
Of the tools and language proficiencies the only ones that seem to come up in games are Thieves’ Tools, so I would replace one of the tool or language proficiencies with that. For the other, pick a tool that you think suits your character. If an Entertainer (p130 PHB) take a musical instrument. If a Sailor (p139 PHB) then navigator’s tools. If an educated person, take another language (p123 PHB).
Variant Humans and Half-Elves can choose more skills, but I’ll leave those up to you.
Because of his spellbook a Wizard has greater flexibility than those classes that know only a small number of spells. If you happen to pick a bad spell you can always replace it the following day with a better one. However your character is limited to the spells in his spellbook, so he is also less flexible than the Druid, Cleric, and Paladin classes who have access to their entire spell list.
Especially at lower levels, where you are very likely to run out of spell slots in combat, you should have cantrips that can deliver damage to the enemy. On the Wizard list in the Player’s Handbook the damage cantrips are Acid Splash, Chill Touch, Fire Bolt, Poison Spray, Ray of Frost, and Shocking Grasp.
An important feature of damage cantrips is that they gain an extra damage dice at set character, not class, levels. This happens at 5th, 11th, and 17th levels, so while a cantrip is unlikely to ever be the best spell you’ll cast, it’s not going to be completely useless either.
With ranges of 10 feet and touch respectively, Poison Spray and Shocking Grasp can be considered melee spells. These should be considered “just in case” an enemy gets past your melee characters and charges your Wizard.
Although Poison Spray uses a D12 damage dice, which is the largest available, poison is the most commonly resisted damage type in the game, which means it’ll be doing half damage a lot of the time, and the target has to fail a Constitution saving throw in order for it to do damage. Since many creatures have decent Constitution scores that’s not a reliable source of damage.
Shocking Grasp meanwhile uses a D8 damage dice, and lightning is not as commonly resisted as poison. The spell also gets advantage (roll two D20s and pick the highest) when attacking a foe wearing metal armour. I would choose Shocking Grasp as my melee cantrip.
Looking at ranged cantrips, Fire Bolt rolls a D10 dice with a 120 foot range, but fire damage is probably the second most commonly resisted damage type.
Chill Touch has the same 120 foot range, rolls D8 damage, and does necrotic damage which is far less commonly resisted. It also has minor benefits when fighting undead.
Ray of Frost has a 60 foot range, rolls D8 cold damage, and causes the targeted creature to lose 10 feet of movement. Although this is a useful penalty the short range does count against it in my opinion.
Acid Splash also has a 60 foot range, requires the target to fail a Dexterity save, and then does D6 acid damage. Its only selling point is that it allows you to target two creatures, provided they are only five feet apart. Short range and puny damage? This is definitely the weakest link.
If I was building an Evocation Wizard I would take Fire Bolt as his ranged cantrip, and with any other Arcane Tradition I would take Chill Touch.
For the third cantrip I would always take Mage Hand. This allows your character to interact with the environment at range, avoiding things like traps.
A feature that Wizards share with a handful of other casters is the ability to ritual cast known spells.
This allows them to cast a spell, that must be specifically labeled a Ritual spell, as a ritual. This means that the spell takes ten minutes longer to cast, but doesn’t require a spell slot.
Wizards can not only cast spells they’ve memorized for the day as rituals, but they can also cast spells from their spellbook as rituals. Wizards also have the largest number of ritual spells available to a class. This combination means that Wizards can be a utility spell toolbox even if their daily spell list is optimized for another purpose.
Every spell in the game requires at least one of three components. Verbal (V) the spoken spell, Somatic (S) the hand movements associated with the spell, and Material (M) which are the materials used in, and perhaps consumed in, the spellcasting.
Spells with a verbal component require the caster to be able to speak and be heard, not gagged or under the effect of the Silence spell.
Somatic components require at least one hand to be free, not bound, paralyzed, or holding a weapon or shield.
Material components, unless they have a gold cost or are consumed in the casting, can be replaced with a component pouch or arcane focus, one of which your wizard will start with. Those materials with a gold cost, or which are consumed in the casting, must be correct.
If a caster is using a spell with both a somatic and material component then they can use the same hand holding the material to perform the hand movements for the somatic requirement, so they only need one free hand.
Level 1 Spells
Wizards start the game with six level 1 spells in their spellbook, of which they will have memorized three or four depending on their intelligence modifier.
In my view spells fall under three main headings. Damage, protection, and general utility.
Remembering that we can always cast ritual spells from our spellbook without having to memorize them, it can be considered a good idea to have two or three rituals in our first selection of six.
Because we are at the start of the game we will not have easy access to exotic components like diamonds worth 50 gold, so our initial spell picks should only require verbal, somatic, and generic material components.
An important principle when picking damage spells is to not pick too many. If you do so you will undoubtedly find yourself casting one spell the majority of the time with the others hardly ever being used.
Considering spells of protection first, there are two obvious options in the Wizard spell list. The first is Mage Armor, and the second is Shield. The former makes the AC of the target 13 plus their dexterity modifier for a period of eight hours, so long as they are not wearing armor, and the latter can be cast as a reaction to increase the caster’s AC by 5 until their next turn.
While Shield can be a very helpful ability to turn a hit into a miss, it should be remembered that at level 1 your Wizard has only two spell slots. They are unlikely to get much benefit from Shield at this point. Although Mage Armor also costs a spell slot its effect lasts for eight hours, which can reasonably be considered a complete dungeon delving day.
As an aside remember that while your Dwarf Wizard might be proficient with medium armor and a warhammer, they won’t be starting the game with either. That’ll have to wait until you’ve earned some gold and can buy equipment. Consequently they’ll still want to start with Mage Armor even if it’ll later be redundant.
When it comes to casting damage spells a similar situation arises. Although there are some decent damage spells in the Wizard’s level 1 list, your character still only has 2 spell slots to cast them with. Consequently most of your damage is likely to be done with your cantrips at this point.
My personal preference at this point is to take the Magic Missile spell. Though this is not the most damaging of spells, casting three darts that do D4+1 damage, it does force damage, which is one of the least resisted damage types in the game, and it does not require a roll to hit. That means that when you choose to use your precious spell slots you’re guaranteed to do damage.
For the remaining four spells I would pick utility spells with ritual tags. They make you useful to your party, and spare your slots.
Detect Magic would be my first choice. There is a chance that you will be looking for a magical object or person, and this can allow you to determine if such a thing is within thirty feet of you.
Unseen Servant would be my second choice. Its ability to perform simple tasks while being completely disposable can be extremely helpful when you need a floor tested for traps, or to determine if that chest is indeed a mimic.
Comprehend Languages allows your character to understand any spoken or written language for the duration of the spell. Again very useful when you might encounter ancient texts or strange creatures whose language you do not understand.
Alarm allows you to set a magical guard against being attacked while your party rests.
Honorable mention goes to Find Familiar, which is an extremely useful spell that provides your character and party with an extra pair of eyes. Its material costs are not great, so while it isn’t immediately available, it is easy to come by.
For our example build we will create a High Elf Wizard, Marcello Ferretti.
Marcello has the background of an Acolyte (p127 PHB) of Deneir, the god of writing, whose domain is arcana and knowledge. He has the Feature: Shelter of the Faithful which means a temple of his faith will provide free healing for he and his party if asked (although the party still has to provide any necessary components). This also means his fellow faithful will provide modest accommodations for him free of charge.
We will use the High Elf stat block given above.
For his starting skill proficiencies we will take, Perception, Arcana, Investigation, Stealth, and Persuasion.
For languages: Common, Elvish, Infernal, Abyssal.
Tool proficiency: Thieves’ Tools.
He will start with 8 hit points and 1D6 hit dice.
Starting Cantrips: Chill Touch, Shocking Grasp, Mage Hand, Prestidigitation.
Starting Spells: Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Detect Magic, Unseen Servant, Comprehend Languages, Find Familiar.
Memorized Spells: Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Detect Magic, Comprehend Languages.
Starting equipment: From the Acolyte background: A holy symbol, a prayer book, 5 sticks of incense, vestments, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 15 gold.
From the Wizard options: A dagger, a component pouch, an explorer’s pack, and his spellbook.
This gives us a Wizard ready to take to the table and play.
At level 2 the Wizard chooses an Arcane Tradition to continue their growth in. However that is an essay for another time.