Pathfinder Class Analysis 10: Sorcerer

Paizo's Iconic Sorcerer
Paizo’s Iconic Sorcerer

Core Concept: While the sorcerer is objectively more limited than the wizard, I like the class. Even in the earliest, simplest forms of D&D, playing a Magic User meant taking on an extra layer of rules and complexity. There’s not much that can be done about that, but the sorcerer’s limitations go a long way towards mitigating it. For that reason, I often recommend sorcerers to my less experienced players who want to play a magical character.

Were it up to me, I think there might even be a few more variants on the magic user class, all of which would interact with magic in a different way.

Spells: Unlike the more traditional magic user / wizard style of spellcasting, the sorcerer is a ‘natural’ caster. They know the spells they know, and can cast any spell they know at any time, but they can’t add to their spell repertoire the way a wizard can. In trade, the sorcerer is able to cast more spells per day than their more learned counterpart. Back in D&D 3.5, this trade was terribly unbalanced in the wizard’s favor. Fortunately, bloodlines have helped to balance this out.

As mentioned above, I like the idea that different arcane spellcasting classes would manage their spells differently. Though I might take it even a step further. Perhaps granting the sorcerer a few more spells per day, a few more spell slots, and make all of their spells completely random. After all, if their power is a naturally developing thing, why should they be able to pick and choose?

Of course, that would never fly with most RAW Pathfinder players.

Find Familiar: This is not a sorcerer ability, which is why it is not linked. I bring it up because in D&D 3.5, it was a sorcerer ability. To my knowledge, this is the only instance where a class had an ability removed* in the change from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder. Likely because Bloodlines are such a large change which grant the sorcerer a large range of additional powers.

While it is still possible to get a familiar, I rather prefer the class without it. As a friend of mine said shortly after we found Pathfinder, familiars never seemed to be in tune with the way sorcerers approach magic. A familiar, in our eyes, is primarily meant to assist the caster in magical research, which the sorcerer never needs to do. And bloodlines are so awesome, that it hardly feels like anything was lost at all.

*I am well aware that the Rogue had the Improved Evasion ability removed, but it remains as a rogue talent**, so it’s still easily attainable without needing feats.
**I am also well aware that sorcerers may select the arcane bloodline and thus get their familiar without needing a feat. However, doing so requires you to make a choice which will dramatically change the way your character progresses, whereas the rogue can pick up improved evasion and move on. There are no long-lasting consequences for getting improved evasion as there would be for a sorcerer who wanted a familiar.

Eschew Materials: Sorcerers cast their spells naturally, so it would be cumbersome for them to deal with material components. This works fine.

Cantrips: Anything I might say about cantrips was already written about Orsions in my analysis of the Cleric. Though I would add the caveat that the sorcerer is the only class where limitless low level casting actually kinda makes sense. I could be okay with the sorcerer having this ability if every other magic using class did not have it.

Bloodlines: Most of the sorcerer’s class abilities fall within the bloodlines, so I’ll be discussion bloodline skills, arcana, powers, spells, and feats individually. However, as a general concept, it’s important to know that I think bloodlines are a great idea. In D&D 3rd edition, the origin of a Sorcerer’s power was given a bit of throwaway fluff text about how sorcerers are descended from dragons, but that this might be true or might simply be something sorcerers like to boast about.

The Pathfinder devs took that piece of throwaway fluff, and developed it into an interesting mechanic which further differentiates sorcerers from wizards. And while I’m not always wild about the specific ways in which bloodlines are implemented, they’re still awesome.

Bloodline Skill: Each bloodline grants the sorcerer one additional class skill, relevant to the bloodline. Much as I dislike the skills system, this seems like a creative way to use it.

Bloodline Powers: The powers are my favorite part of the bloodlines. I think that if it were up to me, spells and feats would be dropped, and bloodline powers would be emphasized further. The specific powers are rarely filler nonsense, but are instead interesting abilities, such as elemental resistance, long limbs which grant extra range on touch attacks, a breath weapon, wings, or any number of other interesting oddities. I also think it’s cool that some of the powers aren’t perfectly suited to a sorcerer. A claw attack, for example, doesn’t really help someone who does their best to stay out of melee. But having an odd ability here or there can really come in handy when the characters are in a pinch.

Bloodline Arcana: The arcana abilities are really just Bloodline Powers which permanently modify a normal sorcerer ability, rather than introducing something new. What is written above applies, though these often enter “filler ability” territory, where they merely grant a small bonus in a very particular circumstance which most players will forget about during play.

Bloodline Spells: Bloodline spells are similar to a cleric’s domain spells. I hate domain spells, because they’re an extra layer of pointless complication which doesn’t improve the player’s gameplay experience in the slightest. That being said, bloodline spells work a little better than domain spells do. Since sorcerers don’t have to prepare their spells each day, but instead have a permanent list of spells which they ‘know’ and may cast at will, the bloodline spells don’t significantly increase the bookkeeping the player needs to do. They just write the spells on their spell list when they level up.

This still seems a little annoying to me, though. Perhaps it’s just a personal peeve, but I think it’s annoying to get the same thing (in this case, spells) from multiple sources (in this case, leveling up & bloodlines).

Though if sorcerers had their spells randomized, as I suggested earlier, then Bloodline spells could serve as a way for the player to have some control over how their character’s spell list developed.

Bloodline Feats: They’re feats. We all know how I feel about feats by now, right? Though I do kinda like that some of these feats are completely different from anything a sorcerer would normally pursue. Seriously, “Cleave” is in there at least once.

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11 thoughts on “Pathfinder Class Analysis 10: Sorcerer”

  1. Im not a fan of an entirely random spell list, as that could leave a character completely useless due to poor spells. On the other hand I really like the tables you had for wizard spells known in D&D&LB. Also you could look at te 1st edition rules where you picked the spell you wanted, then rolled to see if you knew it; that is probably too complicated for your liking though.

    1. A completely random spell list will never produce a ‘useless’ character unless there are useless spells on the list, which there should not be. It will certainly result in an un-focused character, but that is desirable to me. Instead of building their spell list around pre-determined strategies, players will need to build strategies around a spell list which is not in their control.

      To me, that’s the more interesting kind of challenge, and the kind I would rather face as a player. It requires more creativity, and more engagement with the game world, as opposed to the game system.

      And if players want to have more control over their spellcasting, they can play wizards. Multiple play styles is the point of multiple caster classes.

      I’m not saying I would house-rule this version of the sorcerer into Pathfinder. But I’ll probably write this version of the sorcerer into Rocksfall.

  2. Well then you should totally run an online Rocksfall game so I can try out your new and improved sorcerer! >Hint hint nudge nudge<

  3. I agree with sorcerer bloodline spells and feats. It’s cool to get bonus spells, but I wish they omitted them in favor of putting more oomph into the bloodline powers. Some of them are pretty awful. Many bloodlines have huge gaps where you get no new powers.

    There’s also another problem with bloodline spells you haven’t mentioned. While it’s thematic to gain bonus spells related to your bloodline, you can be punished for choosing those spells on your own. For example, let’s say I want to play a pyromaniac sorcerer who learns they’re descended from Efreetis. Obviously, I want to learn fire spells, especially the iconic fireball. I can learn fireball as early as level 6. However, I get the spell automatically at level 7 from my bloodline. But why would I wait another level? I want to learn fireball as soon as possible! Logically, it -should- be the first 3rd level spell I learn because I have Efreeti ancestry — it’s where my spellcasting originates. However, if I learn fireball at 6th level, I lose a free spell because I’ll already have it at 7th level. Why is the game punishing me for doing something that’s logical for my character, both by choice and chance?

      1. You can, but it’s a pain to have to use that benefit just to re-train bloodline spells you picked a level early, when you could be using it to replace spells that are no longer useful. Plus, when you get your level 7 bloodline spell you’d have to wait another level to retrain your level 6 selection, so you’ve still got one fewer spell than you should on every odd level.

    1. One sorcerer houserule I like is having the sorcerer learn bloodline spells two levels earlier than they currently do – so in fact you learn your bloodline spell one level before any other spells of that level (at the same level a wizard can cast it). It’s still the same level spell, so you’d need to give the sorcerer a single slot of that level to cast it once per day (or maybe let them cast it once per day using the next-highest spell slot).

  4. I could be way off base here but after reading a few of your analysis of path finder classes I feel like you may not be a fan of spell casters in general. Or am I wrong?

    1. I’m actually a huge fan of spellcasters. Some of my best work has been in tinkering with how magic works.

      The problem, really, is that I’m not a huge fan of Pathfinder. The Class Analysis series is pretty old at this point. And, in retrospect, I can see that the whole thing was kinda my last parting shot at the Pathfinder rules system. I had already been convinced to stop playing it, but I was still playing it, so I was still writing about it, but I didn’t actually think it was good.

      The whole exercise did give me a ton of ideas on how to develop good classes, though.

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