From Gandalf to Glinda and Harry Potter to Merlin, if there’s one thing nerds love, it’s powerful mages. These characters and so many more are such a huge part of what defines fantasy culture.
When I was a little kid reading those books and watching those movies, I always felt like magic was just beyond my grasp.
If I tried hard enough, learned enough, could get struck by lightning in just the right way… whatever it would take. Playing a wizard has made that a reality for me, and it can for you too.
In Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons, wizards aren’t the only magic users, but they’re certainly one of the best.
Unlike sorcerers born with their magic or warlocks that obtain their powers from a pact with a powerful being, wizards put in the work.
This class pours over books day in and day out, discovering the secrets of the multiverse and harnessing unfathomable power for its own ends.
While there are other magic users out there, wizards are the ones with access to the greatest depths of knowledge D&D has to offer.
When it comes to casting spells, wizards do it the best. Not only can they cast the most spells out of any other 5e class, they have a whopping 13 powerful subclasses to choose from.
In this complete guide to the wizard class, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about becoming the foremost magic user in Dungeons and Dragons.
From the basics of the class’s features to the nitty-gritty options you’ll have to make when building your character and all the way to choosing the right multiclass builds, we’re covering it all.
You can jump to any of this guide’s sections using the contents table, or keep scrolling to jump right in.
Why Play a Wizard?
Where most classes fit firmly into a specific niche, the wizard class hands you the keys to the multiverse and a little post-it note that says “have fun.”
Wizards are an incredibly powerful class with versatility that is limited only by your imagination.
There’s a reason the company that publishes D&D is called Wizards of the Coast and not Fighters of the Coast.
Still, the wizard isn’t for everyone, so let’s see if it’s the class for you.
Wizards Have a Lot of Options
As of right now, wizards have the second largest roster of subclasses to choose from with 13 different archetypes, or schools of magic, to explore.
They also have the largest spell list, boasting 100 more available spells than the next highest class.
This means that there is a lot to decide as soon as you make your character with even more decisions coming in at second level when you choose your subclass.
All this choice can definitely be intimidating for newer players.
When I first started playing there was no one willing to guide me through the character creation process or to teach me about spellcasting.
I gave up and took the easy route with a fighter, and while that was a fun class to play, it still left me wanting more.
In a later campaign, I decided to take on the challenge of wizard, and as soon as I got through the initial 30 minutes of learning how the class works, it became one of the easiest characters I’ve ever played.
Options Mean Versatility
Once you understand how spellcasting works and have an idea of what kind of character you want to play, this class opens up like a rose before your eyes.
While the many choices you have might seem overwhelming at first, they are a pathway to creating just about any character.
Most barbarians like to hit things, and most rogues are sneaky, but there really aren’t any stereotypes for wizards that hold true. That’s because you can make just about any character you want.
Options also mean that you’ll be prepared for most situations.
Aside from healing, wizards have a spell list that can do just about anything.
Even as early as 3rd level, wizards can choose from a roster of over 100 spells that run the gambit from utility spells like mage hand (essentially telekinesis) to powerful damage spells like Melf’s acid arrow (which deals an incredible amount of acid damage, even on a miss).
Then, we get into all of the different subclasses. The wizard subclasses are really powerful and really simple. Each subclass, or arcane tradition, focuses on a different school of magic.
Wizards Only Get Better and Easier
While this class might come with a steep learning curve, once you’ve broken through the initial barriers set before you, the only direction you can go is up.
Of all the spellcasting systems in 5e, I enjoy the wizard’s system the most.
While the cleric may get to prepare any cleric spells at the beginning of each day, wizards have access to almost four times as many spells as their god-bothering contemporaries.
You see, wizards learn spells in two ways. The first is through leveling up like normal. The second, far cooler, method is copying down the spells you find on scrolls and other spell books into your own spell book.
If an infinitely increasing list of available spells wasn’t enough, wizards also come with some of the most impressive casting abilities out there, including the ability to eventually cast 1st-, 2nd-, and even 3rd-level spells without expending a spell slot.
The Wizard Is Arguably the Strongest Class
Most classes boast a few excellent subclasses, a few really awful ones, and maybe some that fall in the middle. Almost every wizard subclass has the potential to be great in some situation.
If you were to make your first character as a druid, the almost unanimous approach is to take the Circle of the Moon subclass.
Fighters are often led to the Battle Master or maybe the Samurai subclass, barbarians to the Path of the Totem Warrior, and so on.
Wizards are one of the few classes where, instead of a strong suggestion, you’ll probably just be asked “What kind of character do you want to play?”
Aside from people having bad experiences with a subclass or two (likely due to reasons other than the subclass itself), you won’t hear people talking badly about the options wizards have to choose from.
In fact, the only bad thing I often hear about wizards is that they just become too powerful for a lot of classes to keep up with at higher levels.
The Wizard’s Defining Features
The wizard’s defining feature is the ability to cast spells really, really well. It’s that simple. When we’re talking about the class as a whole, the wizard doesn’t rely on any gimmicks, like channel divinity or extra attacks, to kick ass.
The wizard may often get a bad rep for being extremely complicated, but when it comes down to it, they only really have one feature that matters.
Their spellcasting feature creates the backbone for every other feature the class provides you with.
Let’s compare a little bit to a truly complicated class: the warlock.
Warlocks get their own unique version of spellcasting called pact magic that is an absolute slog to learn.
If that wasn’t enough, the core class offers a further level of customization completely separate from subclasses called a pact boon.
They go on to get eldritch invocations and several other relatively complex features that I won’t even begin to describe.
Now, I love warlocks, but especially for new players, they can provide a level of complexity that is almost a turnoff from D&D as a whole.
Coming back to the class of the hour, wizards only have to worry about spellcasting and whatever their subclass offers – which almost exclusively relates to, you guessed it, spellcasting.
Of course, they do have other features. Like I said, they are really good at casting spells. They can recover spell slots in a method that is far more efficient than any other class with the same ability.
All they have to do is rest a bit and they get back some of their magical energy.
There’s no need to worry about a pool of points that is completely separate from spell slots but can also be used to create spell slots in the most confusing manner (I’m looking at you, sorcerers).
Once you’ve got that, you won’t have to refer back to the main class abilities until 18th level when you start casting spells for free.
So, all in all, we have a class that does one thing extremely well and makes no effort to confuse along the way. It consistently gets stronger through the natural progression of spellcasting.
Then, you just have to worry about your subclass abilities until you eventually have the insane amount of power to cast some spells without even using a spell slot.
The Wizard’s Limitations
The biggest limitation of the wizard class has to be that they don’t force you into a niche. After that, most people would probably list the complexity of the class, but that’s something that goes away with a little bit of time and patience.
Realistically, both of these limitations are two sides to the same coin.
In not forcing you to play one type of character with small variation, the wizard class gives you enough options to choose from that it can be overwhelming and feel extremely complex at times.
When I first looked at the progression table for wizards, it looked like a bizarre collection of numbers.
I genuinely thought that I was getting into a hobby that was going to require me to be doing a whole lot of math. As a physics major at the time, there was nothing I’d rather not have been doing in my spare time.
So yes, I’ll admit it, spellcasting is intimidating. Fortunately, intimidating does not mean difficult.
Within a few sessions of play (once I switched over to being an English major and said goodbye to whiteboards full of numbers), spellcasting became second nature.
I’m convinced that (specifics aside) this is the experience that most players have.
Unfortunately, once you understand spellcasting, you can run into a whole new problem. Which spells do you cast?
Those five words can lead to some serious anxiety if you haven’t done your research and know what your spells do. There’s a good reason people use Fireball for everything.
If you’re prone to analysis paralysis – the inability to make a decision brought on by overthinking – by all means, put some serious thought into whether or not this is the class for you.
D&D players can be pretty patient, but 5 minutes for each turn because you have to figure out the perfect spell can strain even the kindest souls.
Yet again, there are simple solutions to this weakness as well. First, the point of the game is to have fun.
Just because your most important ability score is intelligence doesn’t mean you have to treat every encounter like a pop quiz.
The second solution is to just spend a little bit of time learning about what your character can do.
Sure, it takes a bit more time than learning how much damage a greatsword can deal, but it’s worth it to feel confident in your abilities as a wizard.
Wizards would do great in interviews. When asked what their biggest weakness is, they’d probably say something to the tune of “I’m a perfectionist.”
Unlike a cocky business student trying to make themselves sound good, a wizard’s biggest weaknesses really are just their strengths in disguise.
The Wizard’s Role(s) Within the Party
Well, you probably shouldn’t be attempting the role of a healer anytime soon. After that, it really just comes down to the spells you have available and the subclass you choose.
At their core, wizards are relatively squishy characters with not a lot of health or armor that do their best work from a distance. Even then, there are a couple of subclasses and plenty of other ways that you can go about changing that.
While you should probably leave the tank role to barbarians or paladins and the healing role to clerics or druids, you can approach just about any other role with confidence.
Even healing and the tank role are possible if you put in a bit of work to get there.
Your spells will be the main factor in setting up a role, but even that is subject to change as you fill page after page of your grimoire with new spells.
Use the spells at your disposal wisely, and on any given day, you can be a utility caster, blaster, support, controller, striker, scout, tank or any number of other roles that you can put a name to.
I know this may seem like I’m copping out of a real answer here, but I promise you, the wizard is just that good of a class.
A bladesinging wizard can have one of the highest ACs in the game before we even start looking at magic items.
Spells like invisibility, dimension door, mislead, and etherealness can make you a better rogue than a rogue.
Clever use of feats and multiclassing can even make you a real competitor for the clerics territory as a healer.
If you want my recommendation, stop asking what role a wizard can play, and start asking yourself what role you want to play. It’s like the matrix; the only limitations are the ones you believe are there.
Alas, “I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.”
How To Roleplay a Wizard
Roleplaying a wizard can be extremely exciting. For the same reasons that you can fill just about any role, you can also roleplay just about any character you want.
This kind of goes for any class, but I’d say that wizards even do this part of the game the best.
Fifth edition has this very beautifully written line in the Player’s Handbook:
“Wild and enigmatic, varied in form and function, magic draws students who seek to master its mysteries.”
At their very core, wizards are students of magic. When you look at this with a wider lens, wizards are students of the very cosmos themselves.
The differences in roleplaying wizards comes from your motivations.
Some seek to master the arcane arts in an attempt to gain power, others seek to create a better world, and still others are concerned with more philosophical questions.
The great science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of science fiction comes to mind. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
That rule works perfectly for sci-fi, and yet if we flip it, we get something that is perfect for a fantasy setting. To quote myself, “Any sufficiently powerful magic is indistinguishable from science.”
I look at wizards like scientists. In our world, there are scientists who create incredible weapons, scientists who study creatures, scientists who focus on the environment, social scientists, and so much more.
Wizards are just scientists who in their quest for knowledge also obtain an incredible amount of power. How you role play that for your character is completely up to you.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but they are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your character.
The Wizard Class Progression
The very basics of any class are the hit dice, proficiencies, and equipment that they start off with.
Before we jump into the actual features of the class, let’s take a brief look at what we’re working with here.
Hit Dice: 1d6 per wizard level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 6 + Con modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d6 (or 4) + Con modifier per wizard level
Health is not the strong area for wizards. They have the lowest hit dice of any class, tied with the sorcerer.
This is why a lot of wizards struggle to stay alive at early levels. Until you can find a way to improve your AC, you’ll want to hang back out of reach from most threats.
Not having access to any armor is a tough sell. You’re going to be left with the base calculation for unarmored AC (10 + Dex modifier), which isn’t a lot to work with.
Spells, like mage armor, or racial abilities, like the Tortle’s Natural Armor, go a long way in keeping you alive.
Weapons: Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows
Weapons aren’t very important to wizards since you can rely on cantrips for most of your free damage. If you do want to go for a more weapon-based approach, there are definitely ways to do so though.
You may pick up tools from your background, but these aren’t necessary to playing a good wizard. Your spells are your tools.
Saving Throws: Intelligence, Wisdom
Proficiency in these two saves is incredible, protecting the wizard from some of the most dangerous spells. Constitution would be incredible for the purposes of holding concentration, but we can pick that up elsewhere.
Skills: Two from Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion
Skills are a variable part of the game, their frequency of usage is highly dependent on a DM’s style of play.
However, the crop available to the wizard is great for making a very smart character that’s great at figuring out what is going on in any situation.
You have the following options for starting equipment:
- (a) a quarterstaff or (b) a dagger
- (a) a component pouch or (b) an arcane focus
- (a) a scholar’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
- A spellbook
While I could rate these as well, I don’t feel the need to be so nitpicky. The choices you make for equipment won’t greatly affect how well you play. Rather, they add flavor to your character.
Probably the biggest choice is component pouch or arcane focus.
The former allows you to be a forager, collecting odds and ends to use for the cheaper material components of a spell, while the latter calls to mind a wizard with a great beard and a staff or a wand. It’s all about style.
We’re here! The core of the wizard’s entire function. I’m going to do my very best to make this as painless as possible for you.
Wizards use intelligence for their spellcasting.
This means that they add their intelligence modifier and proficiency bonus to their spell attack rolls, and the DC for any saving throws their spells require is 8 + Int modifier + proficiency bonus.
That might not make sense yet, so let’s go over how spells work as quickly as we can without missing anything.
To start off, there are essentially three types of spells you’ll cast.
Cantrips are like 0th-level spells. These can be cast at any time. You start off knowing three cantrips, learning a fourth at 4th level and a fifth at 10th level.
Cantrips are your bread and butter. Since you can always rely on having access to them, you use these in much the same way that a martial combatant would use their weapons.
Spells of 1st Level and Higher
These spells require spell slots to be cast. You have a certain amount of spell slots of various levels based on your level in this class as is shown on the table.
In order to cast a spell, you expend a spell slot of the appropriate level. You gain back all spell slots that you used whenever you finish a long rest.
Now, the levels of spells don’t directly translate to your character level. Instead, there are nine levels of spells. You can see how many spell slots of each level you have access to in the table above.
For example, as a level five wizard, you will have access to four 1st-level spell slots, three 2nd-level spell slots, and two 3rd-level spell slots.
Some spells of 1st level and higher will have a ritual tag on them. This means that you can cast them without using a spell slot; it just takes 10 extra minutes to do so.
This is incredibly useful out of combat if you’re trying to conserve spell slots.
Next up, let’s familiarize you with the anatomy of a spell.
- Level – The level of spell slot needed to cast this spell. If it says cantrip, it’s a cantrip.
- Duration – This is how long a spell lasts. There are a few terms inside of this you might want to know.
- Instantaneous spells happen as you cast them and that’s that.
- 1 Minute is how long a typical combat lasts. Essentially, this means one combat encounter.
- Concentration is a mechanic in spellcasting that means a spell requires your focus. If you lose concentration the spell ends.
You can only focus on one concentration spell at a time, although you may cast other non-concentration spells with no penalty.
You will need to make a constitution saving throw to hold concentration if you take damage. The DC for this save is 10 or half the damage you took, whichever is greater.
If you are incapacitated or killed, you lose concentration.
- Casting Time – This is how long it takes to cast a spell. Combat spells are split into action, bonus action, and reactions. You can only cast two spells on your turn if one is on a bonus action and the other is a cantrip that takes an action to cast.
- School – The school of the spell comes into play for your subclass. Most subclasses can record spells of their respective school with much more ease than another subclass might.
- Range/Area – How much space the spell covers.
- Attack/Save – Spells that affect others may require you to make an attack roll, or they may require the target(s) to make a saving throw.
- Components – Spells can require verbal, somatic (gestures), and/or material components. Material components that don’t have an indicated cost can be supplemented with your material pouch or arcane focus.
- Damage/Effect – If you’re scrolling through DNDBeyond.com, you will see this helpful little guide that gives you the basics of the spell.
- Spell Text – The actual text of the spell tells you everything you need to know about how it works. Some spells are complicated (and we’ve got plenty of guides to make them less so), but most are fairly straightforward once you understand the rest.
That’s how spells work! Now let’s talk about how you as a wizard use spells.
Wizards hold their spells in a spellbook. They start off at level one with six 1st-level spells. Whenever they gain a level, they can record two more spells in their spellbook.
They can also record other wizard spells they come across into their spellbook if it is of a level that they can cast.
Doing this requires time spent decoding and practicing, along with money spent on any material components you use in the process. It’s going to cost you 2 hours and 50 gp multiplied by the level of the spell.
You can also copy your own spells into another book, just like backing up a hard drive. This costs only 1 hour and 10 gp for each level of the spell.
Now, you have access to all of these spells but not all at the same time. You have to prepare spells at the beginning of each day by choosing a number of spells in your spellbook to keep at the front of your mind.
You can prepare a number of spells equal to your Intelligence modifier plus your wizard level.
Ritual spells and cantrips don’t need to be prepared in order for you to cast them.
Congratulations! You now (hopefully) know how to cast spells. If this still sounds like gibberish, don’t worry.
With a little bit of practice and hopefully some guidance from your DM or fellow adventurers, you’ll have this mastered in no time.
This feat allows you to regain a total amount of spell slots up to half your wizard level (rounded up) when you finish a short rest. The one caveat is that they can not be any higher than 5th level.
Example time. As a level-three wizard, half of your level rounded up is two, meaning that you can recover up to two levels worth of spell slots.
This is pretty limited; it’s either two 1st-level slots or one 2nd-level slot.
This allows you to choose a 1st- and 2nd-level spell that you can now cast without expending a spell slot. You now basically treat these as cantrips.
You’ll notice that there is a colossal gap in class features, and this comes in all the way at 18th level. If it weren’t for the huge gap here, this would be an S-tier feature.
Unfortunately, few campaigns ever make it this far in the progression, so you likely won’t see this come to fruition.
Just like spell mastery, you gain the ability to cast two spells without the use of a spell slot. For this feature though, you get to pick two 3rd-level spells.
Again, this is an amazing feature. You can cast free fireballs with it! Unfortunately, level 20 play is far and few between.
I’d highly suggest the idea of a high-level one-shot adventure to your DM so you can experience the full might that wizards have to offer.
The Variant Features
There are some features that are optional. These are features that were written after the core rules for a class were published, most coming from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
The book offers up a lot of ways to customize and make classes more approachable.
These features might be banned at some tables, but they’re generally useful and have been designed to not be too overpowered.
The only thing that felt off about wizards was that they couldn’t learn more than five cantrips throughout their career. Fortunately, this feature lets you swap out one cantrip you know for another wizard cantrip anytime you finish a long rest.
This feature is a huge lifesaver. Some cantrips are better at lower levels. Sometimes we run into cantrips that we just don’t enjoy. Some situations we might be getting into call for the use of different cantrips.
With this, you don’t have to stress so much about which cantrips you choose when you create your character; you can just play around until you find what works for you.
Creating a Wizard: Step-by-Step
Here we are. If you’ve read up to this section, you understand just about everything you need to know about wizards. If you just took the link to this section, feel free to scroll up if you need any clarification.
We’re now going to get into the actual process of building your own wizard. Below you’ll find suggestions for choosing the various different elements of your character.
You can take these suggestions or use the tips inside of the suggestions to create the perfect character for you. My job is just to point you in the right direction.
If you’re looking for just a straight-up build, scroll to the end of this article for the quick-start section, which includes a few builds we really enjoy.
Since we use intelligence for our spellcasting, it is of utmost importance.
This will give us a better chance of hitting when we make an attack roll, and it will make it harder for our foes to save against any effects we throw at them.
After that, we want to do everything we can to stay alive. We’ll be trying to give our health and AC as much help as they can possibly get.
This means that our second-highest ability should be either our Constitution or Dexterity.
Everything else is pretty much up to how you want to build your character.
Tier II: Constitution, Dexterity
Tier III: Wisdom, Charisma
Dump Tier: Strength
Strength: Unless you’re playing a wizard that focuses on the use of weapons or plans to multiclass into a martial class, strength isn’t necessary to get the job done. It’s not useless, but it’s not useful to the class as a whole either
Dexterity: Dexterity lets us move around stealthily and nimbly, but it also is what defines our armor class. Without armor, our AC is only going to be 10 + our Dex modifier.
With the 1st-level spell Mage Armor online, our AC is going to be 13 + our Dex modifier.
Just about any AC calculation we come across will rely on dexterity, so if you want to be able to protect yourself, you’ll want this to be decent at best.
Constitution: Constitution doesn’t just benefit our hit points. It is also the modifier we’ll be using when we make our concentration saving throws. If you want to rely on some of these spells, you’ll want a robust constitution.
Intelligence: Do you want to cast spells? Are you a wizard? Congratulations, get that intelligence score as high as it will go.
Wisdom: Wisdom can be really useful for saving throws or skill checks. Luckily, you already have proficiency in wisdom saving throws, so anything your modifier can tack on is a nice bonus.
Charisma: Wizards don’t need to be charismatic, but it can’t hurt to have a good score here helping you with saving throws. You’re probably not going to be as charismatic as a sorcerer, but you can always try to have some well-adjusted social skills.
Choosing a race is all about picking up cool traits and abilities that make you better at what you want to do. For us, that’s going to be casting.
Races also tend to give ability score bonuses, so we’ll want a race that boasts an increase to our intelligence and maybe one of our second-tier abilities.
Custom Lineages and 5.5e
It’s worth noting that if you like the aesthetics and roleplaying elements of a particular race but their abilities don’t fit a fighter, you can recreate them using the custom lineage options available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Also, the way that D&D 5e handles races and innate bonuses (or penalties) is set to change pretty dramatically over the next few years with the coming “Next Evolution of D&D” looking like it might do away with inherent ability score bonuses altogether, meaning you can play whichever race you want in whatever class and still have it be “optimal.”
For a while, gnomes were the only way to get your hands on a +2 to intelligence from your race. As such, they kind of became the default race for players looking to maximize their abilities.
They also have the ability Gnome Cunning, which gives you advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against magical effects.
This is so huge for casters because your biggest enemies are often going to be other casters.
There are a few gnome subclasses to choose from. You can go for a forest gnome or deep gnome to get a +1 to dexterity, or you can choose rock gnomes to take a +1 in constitution.
Any of these work well on the basis of the main race without even worrying about anything else.
This race, which comes straight from WotC’s other fantasy product Magic the Gathering, is the only other (pre-Tasha’s) race to give a +2 to intelligence.
On top of that, they offer a +1 to wisdom for the makings of a very smart and wise wizard.
They also get what is essentially Gnome Cunning+, an ability called Vedalken dispassion that gives them advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws.
As some fun added bonuses, you can also breathe underwater for an hour, and you’ll get proficiency in one of six skills and a tool of your choice.
Elves in general aren’t an excellent choice for wizards, but the high elf gets a +1 in Intelligence on top of the +2 to Dexterity from the base race.
You’ll also get an extra wizard cantrip, advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and a nice set of weapon proficiencies.
This is a solid race and even better for a wizard that wants to dabble in some dexterity-based weapon fighting from time to time.
Skills and Languages
Aside from common, any other language you get access to has the potential to help you interact with a specific group.
As someone seeking knowledge, your other languages can be associated with ancient societies or any society in your world that has a lot of magical knowledge to obtain.
This is often elves, but ask your DM what the world you’re playing in calls for.
As for skills, the only two that probably won’t serve you very well or very often are Medicine and Religion.
The other four skills that you can choose from thanks to this class can help you in interactions with the environment around you or any sort of magical artifacts you might seek to understand.
Arcana and Investigation are probably the two I’d go with nine times out of 10. Both of these rely on your intelligence, and between the two, you’ll be able to get an understanding of most anything you come across.
History and Insight come after that. Realistically, you can trade out history for arcana to make a more grounded wizard as both rely on intelligence.
Insight is just a great skill to have. It’s going to let you understand the motivations of other characters better, but it is a wisdom-based skill, so your modifier will be a bit lower.
Of course there are plenty of skills that are just useful for any character. Some skills you might want to pick up from a background or race include, but are not limited to, stealth, perception, acrobatics, and persuasion.
At the end of the day, you should choose based on what kind of character you want to play – not just what’s useful.
I’m not really in the business of suggesting backgrounds, but some people enjoy using this as a way to maximize benefits for their character.
For me and I think most D&D players, this is a way to make your character feel the way you want them to feel.
A background gives you a basis for what your character was doing to survive before they took on a life of adventure. This is why the PHB recommends the sage background, so you can portray a scholarly wizard.
Here are some backgrounds that I personally think make for fun wizards.
Searching for lost artifacts and mysteries. You probably started casting spells by accident as you were attempting to decode some ancient text that ended up being a lost spellbook.
Maybe that’s even your spellbook now. You can frame this as you’re not learning new spells, just decoding more and more of this precious artifact.
This background screams mad scientist. Locking yourself away for hours trying to come up with new spells.
Your hair is probably pretty messy, and your social skills might need a little work, but damned if you’re not the smartest creature in the room.
You didn’t choose the magic life, and it didn’t choose you either. No, that was your parents’ doing. No child of theirs would follow some crazy idea of becoming a warrior. That sort of work is for peasants.
This makes a really fun way to set your character up to multiclass out of wizard.
Of course, your character might find a deep love for magic, using it in unexpected ways that defy your parents’ wishes. After all, you are your own person, not their puppet.
Now this is the only one that can be called objectively good. It’s going to give you access to an entire feat just by taking the background along with several spells.
It’s honestly a bit ridiculous how much this makes every other background look like garbage.
Strixhaven is a school and a setting that exists in the D&D multiverse. Your DM might not accept this unless your campaign is actually going to involve that plane. Still, it’s worth a try!
Feats are a really cool way to further customize your character. At certain levels (4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th), you can either take a bonus to some of your ability scores or grab a feat.
If you’re satisfied with where all your modifiers are, then try one of these on for size to get a really interesting build.
Your subclass might greatly change what feats you want to take, and each of our subclass guides will recommend a more specific set of options, but these are some good general choices to start thinking about.
This feat gives you a +1 to an ability score and advantage for saving throws using the same score. Naturally, we’re going to use this with constitution to pick up advantage on our con saves.
This will do leagues for our concentration spells while putting our constitution up just a bit more for some more HP.
You could also use this for intelligence or any other ability, but if you want a lot of advantage on useful saving throws, just refer above to the Vedalken or Gnome races.
This feat grants you access to one of the best parts of the warlock class without having to multiclass.
You get to choose an Eldritch Invocation for which you meet the requirements. You can also change the invocation any time you gain a level.
There are a lot of invocations to choose from. My top three for wizards are as follows:
- Armor of Shadows – You can cast mage armor at will.
- Eldritch Mind – Advantage on concentration (constitution) saving throws.
- Eyes of the Rune Keeper – You can read all writing. This is just so cool and amazing for knowledge seekers like wizards. I’d also argue that it makes copying spells easier but… that’s up to your DM.
Multiclassing out of wizard should not be taken lightly. Missing out on higher-level spells is a tough thing to justify. Realistically, most builds shouldn’t plan on making it to 20th level.
So, we can begin to think about other ways that we can get access to amazing abilities without waiting for a promise that may never come.
The way we do this is a process called dipping. We’re not really looking at full-on multiclassed characters that go with a 60/40 split.
Instead, we’re going to grab a couple levels in a class for some abilities that function really nicely.
Fighter – 2 Levels
Prerequisite: Strength 13 or Dexterity 13
Just two levels are all you need to get a lot out of the fighter class and still feel like a wizard.
You actually get a lot of abilities with just this tiny dip. Mainly though, we’re here to pick up light and medium armor proficiencies and the Action Surge feature.
Action Surge is going to let us pull out an extra action once per short or long rest. Two spells in one turn for a wizard of any level is an absolute power move. You can end entire combats with the right setup here.
Artificer – 2 or 3 Levels
Prerequisite: Intelligence 13
Artificers are the only other class that use intelligence for spellcasting, so even though they’re half casters, you don’t miss out much on your spell progression.
This class is also going to get us light and medium armor proficiencies along with artificer infusions at 2nd level or a nice subclass at 3rd level.
Infusions allow the artificer to improve items with their magic. There are so many infusions that are useful for a wizard, including robes that help with your concentration, wands and staves that give a bonus to your spell attack rolls, and armor that boosts your AC.
If you go all the way for three levels in artificer you can get the first features of any of the amazing subclasses that artificer has to offer.
Plus, with the way that multiclassing and spellcasting works, at level 20 you’d still get access to 9th-level spell slots as normal, and you’d only be missing out on a single 7th-level spell slot.
The main way to customize your wizard is by simply choosing the spells that you want to cast. The subclasses, or arcane traditions, make this very clear as most focus on a specific school of magic.
There are 13 arcane traditions all together. Eight of these correspond with the eight schools of magic, while the remaining five are based more on magical archetypes or concepts.
So what do the actual subclasses look like? Well, before I jump into each one, I want to call to your attention a common thread.
If you take a school-based subclass, the time and gold it takes you to copy spells of that school into your spellbook will be halved.
This is often why people think that those subclasses can only cast spells of their respective school, but nothing is farther from the truth.
While your subclass abilities will all make casting those spells easier and/or more powerful, you can still cast any wizard spells.
There is a lot to go through, so I’m going to keep these nice and brief.
These spells are used for protection and control. This is extremely evident when we look at the impressive warding ability that comes with this subclass.
When you cast an abjuration spell, you can use some of that spell’s energy to create a protective ward around yourself that functions almost like temporary hit points.
Leveling up means that ward gains the ability to protect your allies as well, and you’ll be able to cast counterspells and other similar abjuration magic with much more ease.
Conjuration magic is used to move things from one place to another, conjuring them up as if out of thin air.
This magic school has uses from teleportation to summoning creatures, and everything it can do is reflected excellently in the subclasses features.
Divination is all about uncovering secrets. From scrying into the future to identifying invisible creatures, this magic school will let no information slip by you.
This subclass doesn’t just give you cool abilities like seeing into the future.
Oh no, this arcane tradition’s stand out feature is Expert Divination, a 6th-level feature that allows you to regain a spell slot whenever you cast a divination spell.
There are a few caveats, but this is amazing if you want some nonstop casting.
If controlling the actions of others is something you’re interested in, this is the subclass for you.
This subclass increases the natural potency of enchantment magic, making you more charming and exerting natural influence over creatures that dare cross your path.
Evoking the powers that lay dormant in magical energy, evocation magic can do a lot. Perhaps most notably, this is the school of magic that Fireball belongs to.
The subclass is going to allow you to control these incredibly strong spells better than you normally could.
You’ll be able to make your allies automatically succeed on saving throws against your bigger AOE spells, and you’ll become much more efficient with any attacks you make in the process.
Illusions are a lot more than card tricks and rabbits in hats. You can completely disorient your foes by messing around with the very fabrics of their minds.
Like Loki, the god of mischief themselves, this subclass will give you the power to create such powerful illusions that even gods may fall victim to your tricks.
A class wouldn’t be complete without a subclass that borders on evil. Necromancy doesn’t just raise the dead though; it harnesses the very flow of life energy.
Whether you use this to harm or to heal is largely up to you… in theory.
In reality, this subclass is all about killing and summoning an undead army.
If you want to use your necromancy for some more helpful causes, consider putting your undead to work on a farm or multiclassing into cleric for some of the more healing-oriented necromancy spells.
Transmutation is the art of changing something into something else. You can use that to turn Flesh to Stone or you can use it to create a Magic Weapon.
There is a huge variety of spells that are finagled to fit this school’s very broad description.
The subclass features focus on making you a master alchemist, even giving you your own philosopher’s stone (named a transmuter stone here, but we all know what’s going on) that can do some incredible things, like deaging an individual.
Bladesinging is an ancient elven art that combines magic, swords, and dance. It makes for an amazing subclass that gracefully bounds across the battlefield, slicing up your foes and casting powerful spells.
With extra attacks, high AC, a bonus to movement speed, and many more abilities, this basically makes you a powerful martial combatant that still has all the benefits of being a wizard.
This subclass alone is better than just about anything a ranger brings to the table.
You can become the time wizard! Chronurgy is magic relating to time. While it isn’t a school of its own, chronurgy is a compilation of various spells that fit the central theme.
The features of this incredible subclass allow you to pause and even manipulate the fabric of time.
You even can cast a spell and freeze it in time, carrying it with you as a bead of energy that you or an ally can unleash later on.
Where there are time wizards, there must also be space wizards. These magical savants manipulate the fabric of reality to create gravitational forces on a whim.
This gets so powerful that they can basically become a black hole at 14th-level. If you’re looking for a class that stretches the boundaries of what even magic can do, this is it.
The bladesinger’s brother in arms, the war magic wizard is focused more on the spell side of up-close-and-personal combat.
Boasting some serious defensive abilities and a strong focus on battlefield control, this is a great subclass for players who want to take the frontlines without worrying about carrying a weapon or wearing any armor.
Order of the Scribes
The order of the scribes has a lot of incredible abilities, but there is one thing that I love more than anything else.
With this class, you can change the damage type of a spell you cast to the damage type of another spell in your spellbook of the same level.
This means that you can make force damage fireballs, possibly the most dangerous 3rd-level spell imaginable, and that’s as a 5th-level scribe wizard.
Just imagine where this subclass can take you with some careful planning and ingenuity.
Wizard Quick-Start Guides
Here are the basic selections for a few sample builds.
This wizard focuses on making a non-stop barrage of brutal attack spells. While they might supplement with some battlefield control here and there, their main goal is to decimate their foes with powerful magic.
- Class/Subclass: Scribes Wizard 20
- Race: Vedalken
- Skills: Arcana, Investigation
- Background: Cloistered Scholar
- Feats: Elemental Adept x2 (fire, cold), Eldritch Adept
- Cantrips: Fire Bolt, Frostbite
- 1st level: Burning Hands, Frost Fingers
- 2nd level: Flaming Sphere, Snilloc’s Snowball Swarm
The battlefield is yours to control. You support your allies and stop your enemies from having the ability to do anything.
- Class/Subclass: Enchantment Wizard 20
- Race: High Elf
- Skills: Insight, History
- Background: Noble
- Feats: Telepathy, Resilient (constitution)
- Cantrips: Friends, Mind Sliver
- 1st level: Silvery Barbs, Tasha’s Hideous Laughter
- 2nd level: Hold Person, Crown of Madness
Deadly as the Night
This is a stealthy approach to becoming a necromancer. You’ll be using all the dark powers you can obtain to raise an army at your service.
- Class/Subclass: Necromancy Wizard 20
- Race: Deep Gnome (MotM version)
- Skills: Investigation, Arcana
- Background: Criminal
- Feats: Eldritch Adept (One with the Shadows), Shadow Touched
- Cantrips: Chill Touch, Toll the Dead
- 1st level: Cause Fear, False Life
- 2nd level: Blindness/Deafness, Wither and Bloom
This is a stealthy approach to becoming a necromancer. You’ll be using all the dark powers you can obtain to raise an army at your service.
- Class/Subclass: Bladesinger Wizard 20 / Battle Smith Artificer 3
- Race: Rock Gnome
- Skills: History, Arcana
- Background: Guild Artisan
- Feats: War Caster, Fighting Initiate
- Cantrips: Sword Burst, Green Flame Blade
- 1st level: Absorb Elements, Find Familiar
- 2nd level: Cloud of Daggers, Magic Weapon
Now go on and discover the secrets of the multiverse.
As always, happy adventuring!