Save My Game
Who's the Best Wizard?
Which Race Grants the Most Wizard Benefits?
By Jason Nelson-Brown

This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!

Problem: Choosing the Best Race for Your Wizard

I am fairly new to this concept, and have a few questions:

  • When playing a wizard, what is the best race that offers the most towards his abilities?
  • When can you choose different classes and races in campaigns? [Say you are playing a basic campaign, and you want to be a Wu Jen Drow] would that be allowed?

That's all the questions I have right now, and any other helpful information for beginners would be much appreciated, thanks.

-- Kevin, from AskWizards.com

Kevin is a new player, and last time we answered a question about whether you should always start a campaign with a new, low-level character. To follow up, we now turn to the other questions he has about the game.

The answer to what race makes the best wizard is an interesting one, because there are a lot of possible answers depending on what you want your wizard to be. Combining your race with your class is something you might do because you have a vision in your mind of what you want your character to be. If your idea of a wizard is Gandalf or Elminster, you probably want to be human. If you're thinking more of Galadriel or Elric, you might lean more toward an elf or half-elf.

I think your question, though, is more meant to ask what are the game-rule benefits of the different races as wizards. I'll try to give a rundown on the advantages of each.

Dwarf

Pros: Wizards have bad hit points and Fortitude saves, and your Constitution helps these. It also helps your Concentration skill.

Cons: Your lower speed might make it hard for you to keep your distance when enemies close in to attack you.

Elf

Pros: Free proficiency with a bow is a nice backup when you run out of spells or if your spells don't work, especially with your Dexterity bonus on ranged attacks. Dexterity helps your generally poor Armor Class and Reflex saves. Wizard is also a favored class for elves, so it is easier to multiclass and combine wizard with other classes. Your bonus to Spot, Listen, and Search is good, because none of those are class skills. Your free Search check to notice secret doors will probably be good, because your Intelligence score should be high.

Cons: Your Consititution penalty hits you where you are already weak -- Fortitude saves and hit points.

Gnome

Pros: Your Constitution bonus helps offset a wizard's weak Fortitude saves, hit points, and Concentration skill. You are also good with illusion spells and could build your wizard around that. You get a bonus to Craft (alchemy), a useful wizard skill.

Cons: Your small size and low Strength limit how much gear you can carry, including your spellbooks, and your slow speed makes it harder for you to avoid melee.

Half-Elf

No real pros or cons to being a wizard.

Half-Orc

Not a good choice in terms of rules-based benefits. Intelligence is a wizard's most important ability score, and half-orcs suffer a penalty there. Play a half-orc wizard only as an interesting role-playing challenge.

Halfling

Pros: Your bonus with thrown weapons, combined with your small size and Dexterity, make you dangerous with thrown daggers as a cheap and effective backup for your spells. You also excel with spells that require ranged attack rolls, such as ray spells. Your small size and Dexterity improve your poor Armor Class and Reflex saves and make it easier for you to hide when danger threatens.

Cons: Your small size and lowered Strength make it hard to carry much equipment, especially your spell books. Your low speed also makes it hard to stay out of melee.

Humans

Pros: Getting a bonus feat is always great. It puts you one step ahead in getting feats in a necessary sequence, such as Spell Focus/Greater Spell Focus, or a combination such as Spell Focus (conjuration) and Augment Summoning, as early as 1st level.

Cons: None really, although humans lack special senses such as darkvision and low-light vision which often come in handy, especially at lower levels. The extra skill points for being human may not be as valuable for a wizard as they would be for other classes, because your high Intelligence means you probably have enough skill points anyway.

Those are all the basic races. Overall, humans and elves probably make the best wizards. A little care and thought when designing your character, however, can yield a halfling or gnome that equals a human or elf. Half-orcs are really the only poor choice for a wizard.

As to your second question, it relates to the first, in that there are exotic races from various sourcebooks that make excellent wizards. Any race with an Intelligence bonus is a viable choice. Look for good movement rates (to stay out of combat), good Dexterity (to improve ranged attacks and ranged spells and improve a wizard's poor Armor Class and Reflex saves), good Constitution (to offset a wizard's poor hit points and Fortitude saves), and small size. All of those are positive attributes for wizards (who rarely carry heavy armor or weapons -- usually their spellbooks are their biggest burden). Races with spell-like abilities are less useful, because they can already 'cast spells', but defensive abilities such as spell resistance or damage reduction are great.

Whether you want to introduce a lot of new and exotic races and classes, though, is always a tough question. It adds choices and variety, but every new book added to the campaign is another load on the mind of the DM (and to a lesser extent the other players).

Because you're relatively new to the game, I suggest sticking with the core books. There is a lot of variety there, a lot of ability to customize your character, and plenty of chances to practice your skills at the game. I would add in other options (classes, races, or otherwise) one or a few at a time, on an experimental basis. If some things seem over- or underpowered, be willing to adjust them a little, or to simply rule them out -- "Yeah, we tried it, but it didn't work out very well." It's fun to experiment, but give the core rules a fair chance before you jump into the deep end of trying a little bit of everything.

D&D Tutorials

If you're new to the game, this series of articles is a great way to learn the ropes. Just pick a topic and explore.

Have a question for the Save My Game column? Head over to the message boards: What's a DM to Do or What's a Player to Do. Be sure to include "Save My Game" as part of your message's title. Or, send us a question directly, to Ask Wizards -- and again, be sure to include "Save My Game" in the subject line.

About the Author

Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, and son Allen. He just finished his doctorate in education and is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981.


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