ith Gen Con in our rearview mirror, the cat is finally out of the bag. We’ve been working on the warlock and sorcerer for the past couple of months and now it’s your turn to test them out. If you haven’t downloaded the updated D&D Next playtest materials yet (or even signed up for the playtest) you can do so here. In looking at all of the classes in D&D, we settled on these two as the pair that needed the most conceptual work. Paladins, rangers, druids, and so on are fairly well-defined within D&D. They have been in the game since the 1970s. The sorcerer and warlock, on the other hand, have less history and are fairly thin on background material. The story behind these classes, where they fit into the world, their distinctive traits, and so on, drove much of our work.
Sorcerer: The text that accompanied the sorcerer’s appearance in 3e is a bit thin. It draws a connection to a sorcerer’s draconic heritage, and points out that sorcerers first exhibit their power at puberty. As it turns out, that’s only half the story.
A sorcerer does indeed have access to an innate, magical nature, but that power is by no means tamed, controlled, or passive. A sorcerer’s power is a second soul trapped within the sorcerer’s body. It is a feral thing of arcane magic and strange instincts. Above all else, it is an intruder that seeks to escape.
Luckily for a sorcerer, she is not a mere victim of this intruding power. The magic that infuses a sorcerer’s second soul also extends to its host. A sorcerer can wield that magic, turn it into spells, and more importantly use it to contain the very source of her power.
As a sorcerer shapes and channels arcane energy, her willpower, the very sense of her own identity and existence, slowly decays. Powerful effects sap more of this will, while weaker ones sap less of it. A sorcerer forced to expend much of her will to channel magic undergoes a dramatic transformation as the entity within her surges to the surface. The intruder’s essence takes on a physical manifestation, transforming the sorcerer into a creature of fey magic, draconic might, or some other aspect.
Most sorcerers quickly recover their own sense of themselves and return to normal. Others are not so lucky. The soul riven, as they are called, are forever changed by their use of magic. The arcane power that seethes within them devours a soul-riven creature’s personality, leaving behind a permanently transformed creature that is something else, something alien and unknowable.
Any self-respecting wizard will tell you that sorcerers are at best dangerous to themselves, at worse a dire threat to those around them. Through study, logic, and careful training wizards have learned to wield arcane magic with the necessary care and foresight. Sorcerers have no such training. They must be controlled and studied so that whatever power they hold can be harnessed and put to better use. Evil wizards have no compunction with capturing sorcerers, experimenting on them, and eventually harvesting their organs for magical potions and other items.
Warlock: There are many powerful beings in the cosmos. Some are gods, who lend power to those mortals whose worship and obedience lends them power in turn. Others are more direct in their dealings with mortals. For those who can unlock the riddles of creation and the endless puzzles of reality, they are patrons and allies who can offer great power, though always at a price.
In a world infused with magic, warlocks have learned long-forgotten, ancient secrets that lay bare the intricacies of the material world and the planar system that encompasses it. Some warlocks purposefully seek out this lore, but others start this path with more innocent steps.
A mathematical equation scribed in the margins of a dusty volume of poetry buzzes in a young scribe’s mind for days. Disturbed by strange dreams, the scribe wanders in the forest outside of town until he stumbles across an ancient menhir carved with symbols. A few of the symbols look familiar to the scribe, and his mind is flooded with strange possibilities and whispers of hidden power. Months, perhaps even years, of searching follow. The scribe seeks out books long thought lost, secrets and lore kept well-guarded by those who know their true power.
If the scribe chases down enough of this forbidden lore, he unravels the fundamental truth of the cosmos. The magical energies that flow through the world become visible to him, and he unlocks methods for turning them to his will. Soon, he learns to reach out to cosmic entities, mighty denizens of the planes, and conduct trades with them for more secrets, more lore, and more power.
The trades seem innocent enough. A warlock might deal his reflection in a mirror for an invocation, the color of his hair, or even his own name. Such baubles mean little in return for arcane power, or at least that is how the warlock justifies the bargain.
If wizards fear sorcerers, they hate warlocks. Many arcane academies hold the very tomes and ancient scrolls that warlocks seek to unlock the cosmic secrets they pursue. Wizards regard warlocks as meddlers, thieves, and dangerous renegades. They practice magic without concern for the consequences their actions might bring about. Some wizardly academies go so far as to seek out and destroy the books that warlocks seek. There are some secrets, a wizard may tell you, that are better off kept secret.
There are few enemies as daunting or horrid as an evil warlock. Most warlocks are circumspect in their dealings with the planar powers. They offer only those things that they can do without. Evil warlocks gladly sacrifice their very souls for power, replacing them with seething magic and an unflagging devotion to their patron’s will.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.