Sorcerers and Manifestations of Magic!

Sorcerers carry a magical birthright conferred upon them by an exotic bloodline, some otherworldly influence, or exposure to unknown cosmic forces. One can’t study sorcery as one learns a language, any more than one can learn to live a legendary life. No one chooses sorcery; the power chooses the sorcerer.

— 5E Player’s Handbook

Wizards and artificers approach magic as a science. A warlock makes a bargain to gain arcane power. Magic is part of a sorcerer. It’s possible to inherit such power, but as the PHB suggests, it could just as easily be something entirely unique to the character. Later in this article I’ll discuss sorcerous origins tied to Eberron. But first, let’s consider what magic means for a sorcerer.

Manifestations of Magic

You’re a sorcerer. Your magic is a part of you. But it is still arcane magic… and at the end of the day, when you use that power you are still casting a spell. Unless you use the Subtle Spell metamagic feature, your sorcerer spells require all the same components—verbal, somatic, and material—as when a wizard casts that spell. In some ways this seems to clash with the whole idea of being a sorcerer. If your ability to cast a fireball comes from your draconic heritage, why do you still need to speak a word of power and throw a ball of bat guano to make it work?

One way to think about this is that arcane magic is a science… that as a sorcerer, the principles of magic come to you by instinct, but you ARE still casting a spell in the same way that a wizard is. But this doesn’t work with a lot of different character concepts. So let’s take a look at each of the different sorts of components and think about what they may mean for a sorcerer.

Verbal Components

Verbal components require the character to make a sound. Per the PHB a “particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion.” In my mind, a verbal component needs to be clearly connected to a casting oa spell: it can’t be something that could be mistaken for conversation. With that said, I feel that the exact form can vary from class to class and character to character. For example, I could see any of the following as being verbal components for a fireball.

  • A forceful phrase (“Consuming flames!”) in a variant of Abyssal or Draconic. The words feel hot in the ears of anyone who hears them. While this is in a language, it’s the thought behind it that triggers this searing effect; you don’t actually burn people or convey this power when casually speaking in Draconic.
  • A series of syllables that might feel like they’re based on Abyssal, Draconic, Giant, or Elvish (“Talash zash harkala!”), but that don’t form any actual words in those languages. This is the “machine code” of reality, triggering access to the forces the wizard channels in the rest of the spells.
  • An invocation of specific forces that will be channeled to power the spell. A divine caster might specifically call on an individual (“Dol Arrah, let your searing light lay my enemies low!”), while an arcane caster might invoke a power source, such as one of the eternal firepits of Fernia or the blade storms of Shavarath. On the other hand, a Warlock could specifically call on their patron by name.
  • A straightforward but clear description of the effect you are trying to create (“Let my fiery lash burn you to ash!”).
  • A bard might sing a song to cast a spell—but as with the first example, the song should feel clearly magical (unless Subtle Spell is used). As the words are spoken they might take shape in the air, or echo in the ears, or otherwise feel like there is a power behind them.
  • This would be a place to work in naming. Perhaps your sorcerer innately sees the true names of things, and you call out that name and an effect.

The point being: You could be syllables infused with arcane might to channel power into your spell. You could be naming powerful entities or cosmic forces whose power produces your effect. You could simply describe exactly what you want to have happen to your victims, essentially making a demand the universe will obey. But whatever it is, if you’re casting spells with verbal components, you’re producing sounds that are clearly tied to the magical effects you produce… so what are those sounds?

Somatic Components

Somatic components are gestures involved with the spell. Per the PHB, the most critical detail is that “the caster must have a free hand to perform these gestures.” Like verbal components, a requirement I apply is that it must be obvious that the hand gestures are tied to the spell. Someone watching you understands that there is a purpose to your gestures and that if they immobilized you, you would stop. So what forms can somatic gestures take?

  • As a wizard, you could follow the model of the recent Doctor Strange—tracing patterns of energy in the air, essentially drawing glyphs or writing out an arcane formula.
  • Taking away the lightshow, it can still be about precise hand and finger movements that trigger and focus mystical energy.
  • On the other hand, you could combine both these things without any finesse. You need a free hand and it needs to be clear that you’re using that hand to cast a spell. You could simply conjure a ball of fire that you physically throw at your enemy… or dramatically point at them, at which point the fireball emerges from your palm.
  • Another option is the Harry Potter approach: the wand. According to the PHB, the hand you use to access an arcane focus can be the same hand you use to perform somatic components. To me, this implies that my gestures could simply be some fancy wand-work. Again, the critical things are that it requires a hand and that it’s clear I’m using that hand to cast a spell.
  • If someone’s playing a warforged sorcerer, I’d be fine with them stating “Activate artillery mode” (verbal component) and turning their hand into a cannon (somatic component)—as long as it’s understood that they require freedom of movement to do this.

So again: the point is that you require a free hand and that it is obvious to an observer that you’re using that hand to produce a magical effect. But as long as those two conditions are met, you’ve got some room to move.

Material Components

Material components fall back into the realm of “If my sorcerer isn’t performing magic like a wizard, while do I still need a ball of bat guano to cast my spell?” Once again, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the impact of material components. Free material components—like the ball of guano—are primarily important because they can be taken away. If you’re trapped in a cell, whether you’re a sorcerer or a wizard, there’s an easy way for them to stop you from casting a fireball. Expensive material components—like the 100 gp pearl required to cast identify—prevent you from casting the spell casually, especially at low levels.

Starting with free components, it’s worth noting that you can ignore free components if you are holding a spellcasting focus (holy symbol, wand, rod, orb, etc) or if you have a component pouch. Personally, if these conditions are met, I’m entirely fine with a player either defining a unique arcane focus or changing what’s IN the component pouch. So looking at examples…

  • A component pouch is a great way to define a unified set of components that fit your presentation of magic. Perhaps you perform sympathetic magic, creating a model of your victim and the effect you’re producing. Maybe you have a set of crystals, and you combine the crystals in different ways for different effects (“Fireball? I’ll need a sliver of Fernian basalt amplified with the Irianic lens”). Perhaps you literally assemble a wand tied to the specific effect you want to produce. If you want to get weird about it, you could have a component pouch full of liquids… you assemble a one-use potion from the pouch, drink it (somatic component) and then belch out the spell effect (verbal component). As a warforged sorcerer, I could have a pouch filled with little mini-wands that I attach to my hand. The critical point here is that the component pouch is a set of tools: what do your tools look like?
  • A spellcasting focus needs to cost between 5-25 GP to replace. It needs to be something that is clearly associated with the spell when it is cast. It can’t be used for another purpose (IE it can’t be a useable weapon unless your class gives you that option) and it requires a free hand to use. But personally, as long as all those conditions are met, I’m fine with that being unique to the character. A few exotic ideas for a spellcasting focus…
    • The rune-engraved skull of an ancestor. This could be a wand carved from an ancestor’s bone, or something similar.
    • The polished horn of a beast—either something I hunted and killed, or a creature that was close to me. A Talenta caster could use the fang of a former dinosaur mount.
    • An exotic mask I hold in front of my face.
    • A strange machine I’ve assembled myself.

With any unique or exotic focus, there’s two critical questions. How can you replace it? If you lose your grandfather’s skull, how do you get a new one? Normally, a player can simply go to the store in a big city and buy a new focus, so the point to me is that I’d allow a player with time and money to replace a lost focus, regardless of the form. Perhaps you can perform a ritual that reconstitutes your grandfather’s skull—it’s just that the ritual takes components that cost 10 gp, the same cost as buying a wand. Second: can you perform magic using the standard components? Normally, a wizard can use a wand or component pouch to cast a fireball, but if they lose the focus, they can whip up a ball of bat guano. Can use use guano in an emergency?

The final topic is expensive components. Chromatic orb requires a diamond worth 50 gp. It doesn’t matter what kind of a caster you are, you need that diamond. Personally, the only thing I generally care about is the cost. I’m fine with the idea that chromatic orb requires a unique focus that costs 50 gp and is only used for this one spell, but I don’t personally care if it’s something that is likewise unique to the way your character performs magic. Likewise, in my Eberron, Eberron dragonshards can take the place of any expensive component. Whether it’s the 5,000 gp cost of resurrection or the 100 gp cost of identify, that amount of refined dragonshards will do the trick; this emphasizes the idea that dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy. The only reason I’d restrict a spell to a concretely specific component is if I want to play up a particular region or individual as having a monopoly on that resource… if diamonds are consistently a thing, who has the diamonds? In Eberron, this is the role of Eberron dragonshards, which is why Q’barra and House Tharashk are important.

In Conclusion…

So putting all of this together, the question is: whether you’re a wizard or a sorcerer, what form does your magic take? Does your sorcerer have a magic musket with components they swap out (IE, exotic component pouch)? Do you carry around your grandfather’s skull (focus), hold it up (somatic) and ask it to produce magical effects (verbal)? Do you have henna tattoos (focus, as long as they can be removed) that you trace with a finger (somatic) while reciting words you learned in a dream (verbal)? If your power comes from exposure to the Mourning, do you wave (somatic) a piece of your house from Cyre (focus) while calling out the names of your friends who died (verbal)? You can have a unique style… but  you need to figure out how it meets the requirements of casting a spell.

Sorcerers in Eberron

So: this is an article about sorcerers, remember? While the previous section could apply to all sorts of casters, the point is to think about how your sorcerous origin is reflected in the way that you cast magic. With that said, I’m just going to dive in and look at some possible ways to justify sorcerers in Eberron.

Child of Khyber

Sorcerous Origin: Any

Aberrant dragonmarks are an unpredictable and dangerous form of dragonmark. For many centuries the aberrant marks that have been seen have been limited in power… but in the days of the War of the Mark, the Children of Khyber wielded marks that could destroy cities. You could justify your sorcerous powers as being tied to an aberrant dragonmark, with that mark growing in both size and power as your level increases.

Now: aberrant dragonmarks are specifically called out as being dangerous—channeling destructive or aggressive powers. This is your character, so this is a limitation you’re applying to yourself; but if you want to fit the IDEA of the mark, you should limit your spell selection to powers that fit this vision. You could play a divine soul as a character with an aberrant mark, but if so, you shouldn’t be using it to produce healing effects. One way to handle this is to suggest that you are essentially a crappy wizard or magewright who ALSO has an aberrant mark. So your one or two NON-aggressive spells are the spells you cast in a traditional arcane manner… and the aggressive spells are the ones tied to your mark. This also ties to the idea that an aberrant dragonmark is supposed to be a burden to its bearer, either mentally or physically. The mark could cause you pain every time you use it. It could be an effort for you to contain its power and to keep from accidentally hurting the people around you. It could whisper to you. None of these things have concrete mechanical effects; this is all about flavor and how you choose to present it. You are amazingly tough and focused and you overcome these things; but if it’s an aberrant mark, you want to keep the story idea that it is a burden.

Aberrant marks take many forms, as long as they are aggressive in nature. As a result, you could tie this to any sorcerous origin. If you justify your draconic bloodline with an aberrant mark, you aren’t ACTUALLY descended from a dragon… and the effects of your draconic bloodline could take other forms. Draconic bloodline provides you with high AC and resistance to a particular damage type. It could be that your mark actually acts as armor and absorbs the damage; the mark could even extend from your body in the form of wings. But it could also be that the mark is mutating your body in a disturbing way.

The secondary issue here is components. Your power is supposedly coming from your mark… and yet, you still need those components! One approach is to say that your mark extends to one of your hands, and you have to point that hand at the target to perform somatic components. For material components, you could use a “crystal” arcane focus—in your case, a Khyber dragonshard that amplifies the power of the mark. Which just leaves verbal components. Perhaps you shout arcane syllables that come to your mind unbidden. Perhaps you have to tell the mark what you want it to do. The critical point is it needs to be clear that you have to be able to speak, and that your words are tied to the effect.

Divine Soul

Sorcerous Origin: Divine Soul (duh)

A divine soul casts clerical magic as a sorcerer. What does that mean? Well, first of all, it doesn’t HAVE to be connected to a divine source. It could simply be that you have an aberrant dragonmark that produces traditionally clerical effects, or that you have an exceptional Mark of Healing; these are covered by my other suggestions.

But what if you DO have a connection to a divine power source? What does that mean? How does it work?

There’s a few paths I could see. First of all, the idea in Eberron is that we don’t know for certain that the gods exist. But we know that divine power sources exist. And people do have divine visions and such. So: as a divine soul, you have a connection to a divine power source. One option is that you’re hacking this power. You don’t BELIEVE in the religion; you’ve just figured out how to use arcane techniques to connect to the Undying Court or the Silver Flame and draw on its power. The power is unquestionably there, and it’s not like your using a bit of it will somehow drain the Silver Flame. Such a character could be a bit of a smug jerk—in your face, people of faith! The question would be how people OF that faith would feel about you. Your actions might not actually threaten to drain with Undying Court of its power, but that won’t stop the Deathguard from kicking your @$$ if they ever come across you.

A second path is that you have faith, you simply don’t know the rituals normally associated with it. You have connected to the Silver Flame in a weird and unique way, but you still understand what the Silver Flame is all about. You acknowledge it as the source of your power and invoke it in your verbal components, and you may use a holy symbol as your spellcasting focus. You’re NOT a cleric, but you are a person of faith.

A path that lies between these is that of the chosen one. You know nothing about the divine. You don’t know where your powers come from. And yet, you have visions that are driving you on your quest. The power has chosen YOU… but you don’t know why. Imagine your power comes from the Silver Flame. You don’t know this. You don’t believe in the Flame. But you have visions of yourself fighting supernatural evil. Perhaps a couatl whispers to you. Essentially, the Flame believes in YOU, and seems to have a purpose for you. Will you discover faith along the way? Or are you just a vessel? In this case, verbal and somatic components could be confused invocation (“Um, strange power, can you help my friend?”), or it could be that they come to you instinctively; you never know what you’re going to say when you open your mouth, but the words just come out.

Draconic Bloodline

Sorcerous Origin: Draconic Bloodline (duh)

So what if you WANT a draconic bloodline? There’s nothing wrong with that; dragons exist in Eberron and are a source of powerful magic. In standard Eberron, draconic bloodlines aren’t a defined thing. The primary magical bloodlines in the world are the Dragonmarked Houses. But there’s a few ways to do it. Perhaps you are part of a noble house that claims draconic heritage; I’d just be inclined to say that it’s very rare for a member of the family do develop powers beyond those of a first or second level sorcerer. Perhaps you’re a first generation draconic bloodline; which of your parents was a dragon, and what does it mean? Or perhaps you’re not LITERALLY descended from dragons, but rather the result of a Vadalis experiment that attempted to infuse humans with dragon’s blood. Are you the only success out of this program, or are there a number of dragon-blood super-soldiers out in the world? Are you working with House Vadalis, or are you a fugitive?

As a dragon-blooded sorcerer, you still run into the “What does my magic look like?” question. When you perform verbal components, do you instinctively speak draconic words of power? Or is it that the magic is in your blood, and you’ve jury-rigged some sort of spell system that lets you unleash it?


Sorcerous Origin: Divine Soul, Storm Sorcery, Shadow Magic

Along the same lines as an aberrant mark, if you’re of the proper race and bloodline to have a dragonmark, you can say that your unusually strong connection to your dragonmark is the source of your sorcerous abilities. Essentially, it’s clear that you have the potential to develop a Siberys Dragonmark, but rather than it manifesting all at once, it is emerging over time.  A halfling divine soul with healing abilities could attribute the power to the Mark of Healing; a Phiarlan or Thuranni elf could have access to shadow magic; a Lyrandar heir could be a storm sorcerer. Like the Child of Khyber, you’re entirely on the honor system to choose spells that make sense with your mark. Or, like I suggest for the Child of Khyber, you could present yourself as a minor wizard or general sorcerer who ALSO has a powerful mark—so the spells that don’t fit with your Dragonmark are tied to this secondary path. A Siberys dragonshard would be a logical spellcasting focus, but you could also have an object that incorporates a Siberys shard—a tool designed by your house to channel this sort of power.

Mad Artificer

Sorcerous Origin: Any

Like a wizard, an artificer approaches magic in a scientific manner. But what if they didn’t? What if they create magic items that should never actually work, yet somehow do? The point with this character would be to present all of their magic as coming from strange devices that they create. From a mechanical perspective, they’d have a component pouch—but that pouch would be filled with lint, shards of broken glass, and so on. Part of the concept—what differentiates this character from an actual artificer—is for their explanations of their magic to make no sense. “We just saw three doves in the sky. So if I pour the yoke of this dove egg on this magnifying lens, it will triple its ability to focus the light of the sun and create a deadly beam of heat. Simplicity itself!”

The mad artificer could follow any path, representing their “arcane field of study.” A draconic bloodline sorcerer who follows this path would “artifice” as an explanation for the benefits of the class. Their natural armor could be the result of mystical tattoos that channel a low-grade repulsion field; their dragon wings would be an Icarus-like set of artifical wings.  

Manifest Magic

Sorcerous Origin: Any

Manifest zones are places where the energies of the planes flow into Eberron. A character born in a manifest zone could justify their magical abilities as being based on an innate bond to that plane. A character with an innate connection to Mabar could possess shadow magic. Irian could grant the powers of a divine soul. Kythri or Thelanis could be a source of wild magic. As with other examples, you’d either need to voluntarily limit your magic to powers tied to your plane of choice, or come up with an explanation for where your other spells come from. Alternately, you could play a character who’s found a way to channel the energies of different planes—a form of the mad artificer, using spells that open up temporary portals to the planes you need. This would fit with the idea of verbal components calling out specific sources of extraplanar power, or material components tied to artifacts from the planes in question.


Sorcerous Origin: Any

In the City of Stormreach sourcebook we present a gang of people who survived the Mourning and emerged with strange arcane powers. While you could use this as the explanation for any sort of ability, it’s generally tied to the idea of disturbing abilities, not unlike the Child of Khyber. It could be that the Mourning is now a part of you, and you unleash its powers on your enemies. A Mourborn sorcerer with a “draconic bloodline” could be twisted into a monstrous shape. Or it could be that your magic has a secondary connection to the Mourning: you were the only survivor of your family, and now the spirits of those slain in the Mourning cling to you… demanding vengeance, but granting you the power you need to take that vengeance. This could be the sorcerer whose material focus is the bones of fallen friends, whose verbal components involve calling on them for aid.


This is a deep as I can go in the time I have available, but there’s many other possibilities.

  • The warforged created as a “walking wand.”
  • A changeling who weaves glyphs and mystic sigils into their skin.
  • A Vadalis experiment, magebred to harness mystical power.
  • A creation of the daelkyr.
  • An Aundairian duelist who specializes in wandcraft

… and so on!


I recall that in the Eberron setting dragons do not mingle freely with mortals. There’s the entire tragedy with Erandis Vol’s parents marking her status as a half dragon something unique. So how is draconic ancestry justified for a PC? Wouldn’t the dragons of Argonessen have hunted down their entire bloodline ages ago? 

The line of Vol wasn’t exterminated because of half-dragons; it was exterminated because Erandis Vol developed an apex Dragonmark, something that was likely only possible because she was a half-dragon.

The issue with dragons not mingling freely with normal races is because in a dragon you have a being that can live for thousands of years, who possesses tremendous physical and magical power and a civilization that is tens of thousands years old and has a deeper understanding of reality than most races… and then you have a human. Humans and other standard races are literally like housepets to dragons: The don’t live very long, they aren’t as smart as we are, it’s kind of cute when they act like they think they’re dragons. You might feel affection for one, but the idea of actually producing some sort of CHILD with one is simply bizarre. It’s not that the child has to be hunted down; it’s a question of WHO WOULD DO THAT? The only particularly logical reason is if it’s necessary to pursue a particular path of the Prophecy, or to achieve a specific end that absolutely requires it—both of which were the case with Erandis Vol.

So on the one hand, I suggest that you might have first-generation dragonic heritage; this would mean that you were created for a specific reason, and your draconic parent likely has an agenda involving you. On the other hand, I suggested that you might be part of a family that claims to have draconic heritage; odds are good that they’re mistaken. Either way, it definitely wouldn’t be a common thing, but neither is it something requiring immediate extermination.

Also, how common is it for celestials to mingle with humanoids in Eberron? Is it common (or at least, known to be possible) for a divine soul sorcerer to obtain their powers from celestial ancestry?

It depends what you mean by “mingle.” Celestials almost never casually interact with mortals. When they are encountered, it’s worth noting that immortals in Eberron don’t reproduce; there’s a finite number of them, and when one dies, the energy reforms to create a replacement. So if you’re suggesting that a celestial sires a child, it would be very unusual. On the other hand, what I suggested with aasimars is that the mortal is touched by or connected to an immortal. So the divine soul wouldn’t literally be the physical child of an immortal, but if there was a purpose for it, some celestial could have marked the child in the womb, or even worked magic to cause it to be born.  But again, such things are extremely rare.

Do you consider spells to be discrete things that can be recognized? Like if an Aberrant Marked Sorcerer uses Burning Hands and a classically trained wizard cast the same spell would trained observers know they were both using “Burning Hands as isolated by Bob the Pyromaniac in year 1082…” or would they just notice bursts of flame that are superficially similar?

It’s a little hard to say. I would allow an observer trained in Arcana an opportunity to identify the spell being cast (“That’s burning hands“). But no, they aren’t doing the same thing. If a divine soul tied to the Silver Flame casts burning hands, I’d probably make the flames silvery. If an Child of Khyber does it, they might actually project dragonmark-like tendrils of energy from their skin… even if I said those tendrils inflicted fire damage. Meanwhile, I’d personally allow a Storm Sorcerer to learn a version of burning hands that inflicts lightning damage instead of fire damage, but otherwise behaves the same. So the common spells are essentially benchmarks of common effects that can be produced with magical energy, and what the Arcana check ACTUALLY tells you is “They just generated a 15-foot cone of fire, inflicting a base of 3d6 damage.”

So it’s not that the spell is literally recognized because it’s the exact same spell; it’s that the trained observer can identify and evaluate the effects. With that said, an Arcana expert could potentially identify the technique—so “That’s burning hands, and they learned it from the Arcane Congress” or “That’s burning hands, but they’ve got no magical technique whatsoever; they’re just ripping open a portal to Fernia and spilling it out.”

To elaborate a little on my question about spells as discrete things, I meant along the lines of Burning Hands being like electron energy levels, a basic part of reality, or like steel, contingent convergences of simpler natural principles.

Good way to distinguish! To me it’s like steel. We recognize the end result, but they’re achieving it in different ways with a range of cosmetic effects.

Do you see Dragons, and other “natural sorcerers” as all being the same where their magic is concerned? At least along species lines.

If a species possesses natural sorcery—like 3.5 dragons, who universally gain sorcerer ability over time—then I usually depict that as taking the same form. So you wouldn’t have one dragon who’s a divine soul and another one with “draconic ancestry.” With that said, some 3.5 dragons have class levels in addition to their natural powers. And if you had another species with innate sorcerer levels I might present that in a different way.

What have YOU done with sorcerers or arcane components? If you have questions or ideas, share them below. As always, thanks to my Patreon backers, who make this website possible!

Dragonmarks: Magicians

It’s busy as always here. Renegade Games just announced the Scott Pilgrim game I’ve been working on, and I just got back from a trip to LA where I did some things with Maze Arcana, Saving Throw, and Geek & Sundry. I don’t have time for a big article, but an interesting question came up during the week and wanted to explore it.

Before I start I want to take a moment to address the limitations of this format. Eberron is the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast, and at the moment, only WotC can create new material for Eberron. What I can do – both here and on Manifest Zone – is to clarify the material that does exist, as well as talk about how I use it and interpret it. But I can’t create entirely new material. So for example: I’d really like to write more about the planes, but I can’t precisely because so little has been written about them – and it’s a logical subject for an official sourcebook or series of official articles at some point in the future. This is why I’m planning to post more Phoenix material here in the future. I can’t create new material for the Shadow Marches, but I can create material for the Fens in Phoenix… and give some tips as to how you could adapt that to the Shadow Marches. So keep an eye out for that. And in the meantime, the best thing you can do for Eberron is to continue to voice your interest and support – to be sure that WotC knows there is ongoing interest in new material!

This question came up in a discussion earlier this week, and it pushes a lot of my buttons, so…

I’ve always felt the sorcerer is a strange class. They don’t “understand magic,” but they can read scrolls, use wands, and have Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana in their skill list. Theoretically you could have a sorcerer with Charisma 18 and Intelligence 3, who can barely read but can still use scrolls… Finally, specifically for Eberron, do they immediately control their power or do they have the same problem as aberrant dragonmarks, where they could accidentally harm friends or family? And aren’t they persecuted as “Hidden Aberrants?”

The first issue here is how you view classes. Are classes a construct that exists in the world exactly as they exist in the rules? Does every member of a class have access to all the choices within that class? Or are they simply mechanical tools that allow us as GMs and players to model the characters we want to play? Does every sorcerer in the world recognize “I am a sorcerer?” Or is that a term we use to identify anyone using this rule set, but not something they would recognize?

To me, what’s important is to start with an idea of who a character is and what their role is in the world. Then I will apply a class and break it down from there. Each class has a core, basic mechanical principle; the sorcerer’s is I cast arcane magic from a very limited list of spells, but with greater flexibility in casting than a wizard. The wizard has to memorize spells in advance, but has the ability to use any spell they can acquire; the sorcerer is limited to a very specific set of spells. Bear in mind that arcane magic is an ambient force that exists in the world of Eberron. The power is there, and it can be manipulated by tools, by formulas, by innate talent. A sorcerer interacts with this power in a fundamentally different way than a wizard – but within that framework (spontaneous arcane casting) there’s room for a lot of different concepts and stories.

  • Harry ir’Potter. There are people in Eberron who simply have a natural potential to channel the ambient arcane power in the world, but it’s a gift that they’ll never manifest unless they learn to harness is. Arcanix seeks out these sorcerers. By studying the principles of magic and engaging in a focused curriculum, they learn to produce specific magical effects. This character possesses both Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana, reflecting their disciplined study of magic. Their spells have no particular relation to one another, because they have chosen exactly what spells they want to cast as part of their studies; they understand their talent and its limitations. These characters are called sorcerers at Arcanix, though many wizards refer to them as “living wands”, mocking their inability to master a spell from a spell book.
  • Touched By Fire. Irilask is a tiefling conceived in a manifest zone tied to Fernia. She is a living conduit to Fernia, and she has developed the ability to channel its eternal flames. All her spells have to do with fire; as DM, I may allow her to cosmetically shift some spells to reflect this, so maybe her ghost armor is made of solidified flames. She could know Spellcraft or Knowledge: Arcana, but it’s up to the player; her spells aren’t tied to arcane study and there’s no reason she needs to have these skills.
  • Dragonmarked Savant. Haskal d’Lyrandar is a dragonmarked scion with the Mark of Storms. While he only possesses the Least Mark of Storms, he has connected to the mark in a deeper way that most heirs ever do. His mark is a lens through which he focuses arcane power related to winds and lightning; he levitate on a cushion of wind, or strike his foes with lightning or shocking grasp. Again, these are powers most heirs can never develop (and more destructive than the typical mark powers); the point is that the mark helps him understand and focus arcane power. Like Irilask, he doesn’t need to understand how magic works, because the mark is the tool that allows him to use it. He could study Spellcraft, but he doesn’t have to.
  • Deadly Aberrant. Tesha possesses an aberrant mark with power not seen in centuries. Like Haskal, she has a base mark (Inflict Wounds)… but like Haskal, I’m using the sorcerer class to represent the unusually powerful and versatile nature of her mark, which does far more than simply granting a single spell-like ability once in a day. Just as in the stories, Tesha’s abilities manifested when she was young and were never under control, and she killed her family before she knew what she was doing. Even now, these powers frighten her… and yet, they continue to grow stronger (as she gains new spells). If Tesha was a PC, I might provide her with a mechanical benefit (say, +1 to save DCs) in exchange for the downside that as GM, I can trigger her abilities without her permission. Meanwhile, she knows absolutely nothing about Spellcraft or Knowledge: Arcana; she doesn’t understand her powers or CHOOSE to make them grow stronger, they simply do.

These are just a few concepts off the top of my head. A sorcerer could be someone twisted by the power of the Mourning. They could be the beneficiary of some sort of fey boon, or the result of mysterious magebreeding experiments. A sorcerer could have a connection to one of the Progenitor dragons, something I explored in a Dragon article back in the day. Of all these examples, Harry Potter is the only one who would think of himself as a “sorcerer” – it’s simply that *I* will use the class to mechanically represent the concepts I’ve come up with. Most likely an expert in the arcane will use the term “sorcerer” to identify “spontaneous arcane caster”, and HE might call Tesha or Irilask sorcerers, but THEY don’t identify that way.

Let’s revisit a few specific points…

They don’t “understand magic,” but they can read scrolls, use wands, and have Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana in their skill list.

First of all: a sorcerer doesn’t have to understand magic. That doesn’t mean they don’t. Looking to the examples I gave above, Harry Potter DEFINITELY understands magic and based on his concept he should have Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana. Haskal and Irilask don’t have to understand magic, but they could if you wanted to take the character in that direction – in which case they should take the skills reflecting it. Tesha definitely doesn’t understand magic and her powers have nothing to do with Spellcraft or Knowledge… so I wouldn’t give her the skills. The fact that they are on the skill list is a tool we can choose to use; but if it doesn’t make sense with the concept, don’t give them those skills.

The second question does follow, though: Tesha could be an illiterate peasant. So how is it that she can use a scroll?

The question you have to ask here is what is a scroll? Being literate doesn’t allow you to use it; a normal person can’t read a scroll and produce a magical effect. A scroll isn’t written in any sort of normal language, hence the existence of the read magic spell. Instead, a scroll is about sigils and symbols that contain pure arcane magic… and once you activate the scroll, the magic is GONE. So again, it’s not simply about words; a scroll is a spell that’s been frozen midcast and bound to paper. In my opinion, the ability of a sorcerer to use a scroll doesn’t represent them literally reading it the way you might read a book; it represents them connecting with the magic, feeling the locked progress, and having the power to unlock it and release the power inside. The same principle holds true for a wand. A wand doesn’t have a button; you have to understand how arcane magic works. A wizard may have a disciplined, technical approach to using a wand. In the case of Tesha, whether she’s using a wand or a scroll, she doesn’t understand what she’s doing in a scientific way. She just holds the scroll and she can feel the power within it, see the pattern in her mind… and she somehow knows that if she completes that unfinished pattern, makes that connection, the power bound to the page will be unleashed.

Because they approach it technically, a wizard can look at a scroll and copy the concept into their spell book. They look at the frozen spell and say “I get it – I understand the principle here and I think I can replicate that.” The sorcerer can’t do that, but they can still unleash the frozen spell.

Finally, specifically for Eberron, do they immediately control their power or do they have the same problem as aberrant dragonmarks, where they could accidentally harm friends or family? And aren’t they persecuted as “Hidden Aberrants?”

As outlined above, this entirely depends on the story of your sorcerer. Harry ir’Potter will never manifest magic if he doesn’t get training. Irilask is in some ways like an aberrant, having the ability to spontaneously produce fire, but the fact that it IS entirely under her control and has no negative consequences is what makes her NOT an aberrant. Meanwhile, Tesha IS an aberrant, and her sorcerer levels are simply a reflection of her aberrant power; and it’s part of her story that these powers are dangerous, and thus she WILL be persecuted.

Bear in mind that people with PC class levels are rare in Eberron, and add to that the idea that there is no one set of rules governing how a sorcerer’s abilities manifest. Even with aberrant dragon marks, it’s STORY that says that they are dangerous to the bearer and those around them. Mechanically nothing says an aberrant mark can trigger on its own; it’s a choice we ENCOURAGE because it’s part of the flavor of the setting, and that STORY is why aberrants are feared.

I almost always have low level NPCs call their spells by other names, until some bookish wizard gets a chance to correct them. 

At my table, the spell the sorcerer casts may not BE the same “spell” that the wizard uses. In the examples above, the way Irilask casts her fireball will be quite different to what Harry would do, let alone a wizard. These spells have to have the same limitations laid out in the rules: verbal components, somatic components, etc. And someone can use Spellcraft to recognize a spell from these things. But that doesn’t mean that there is one single incantation that is the only way to cast a fireball, and that Irilask has somehow spontaneously stumbled onto it thanks to her connection to Fernia. Irilask has to have SOMETHING that matches the limitations of a verbal component; but in her case, that could be a strange sort of throat-singing that helps her focus her power, while Harry DOES use the same incantation an Arcanix wizard would use. Spellcraft is about recognizing patterns of magic as much as specific words.

This ties to my idea that Aereni arcane magic presents very differently from Aundair’s path. At my table the idea is that the Aereni use a definitive lexicon of magical incantations, and that as an Aereni wizard you not only learn the 82 words for fire and the proper conjugation, you also learn to enunciate them with the exact pronunciation the elf who first scribed the spell… while Aundair’s Path is that each wizard works from a basic toolset but personalizes it. So four wizards from Arcanix are all using the same fundamental incantation for their fireball, but they are emphasizing different syllables, and they’ve added or dropped a few words to find out what works best for them. Their gestures are similarly unique. Think of it as the magical equivalent of music. The Aereni are a classical symphony orchestra, where each piece has to work just so; Arcanix teaches jazz, and every time you cast a spell the casting might be slightly different, as you adjust to the feelings of the moment. Which is why an Aereni spends a century learning the same foundation a human can master in a decade. It’s not that the elf is stupid; it’s that their wizardry is literally more ARCANE, and human wizardry is more “figure out what works and run with it.” I think the Aereni are appalled by human wizards and amazed that they somehow produce magic with their clumsy, kluge-y methods. Meanwhile, those same methods are why human wizards are coming up with things that the elves have never tried in twenty thousand years of working spells… because their approach to magic encourages creativity.

With planes like Lamannia and Thelanis, is it possible that “sorcerer druids” would appear in the Eldeen Reaches and similar places, essentially treating primal magic like normal sorcerers would arcane?

I have no object to the concept of a spontaneous primal caster. The point of the sorcerer vs the wizard is that arcane energy exists in the world waiting to be manipulated, and the two classes represent two different ways of manipulating that energy. Primal magic is also a force that exists in the world, and I am entirely open to the idea that there are different ways to manipulate that. With that said, I seen Thelanis as more tied to arcane magic than to primal magic… back to my previous posts on Thelanis, I don’t see there being anything natural about Thelanis. A dryad is a fey creature, not an elemental. She’s not a natural entity; she’s about the magic we imagine could be part of the world. So it’s more that I see there being Greensingers with levels in Sorcerer and Bard, who supplement their primal magic with arcane illusion and enchantment, than I see Thelanis producing primal sorcerers. Lamannia is a stronger possibility, but personally, I’d see a primal sorcerer as someone who has simply developed an innate connection to Eberron itself. On some level I could see this in the Rothfuss style of someone who knows “the name of the wind” – they don’t know any of the standard druidic rituals or tradition, but they have found a way to directly interact with primal forces.

How do you conceptualize progress as a wizard (i.e. levelling up) versus society’s progress in arcane magic as a whole in a world where magic is a scientific discipline?

Good question. Check out this post if you haven’t. The main issue is that arcane magic IS fundamentally different from our science and technology. It behaves in a scientific fashion: it is reliable, repeatable, predictable. However, it is something that incorporates a living component in a way that’s not easily defined. A 5th level wizard may be more intelligent than a higher level wizard, and could have a better understanding of magical theory (Spellcraft) than that wizard. They can read a 7th level spell and understand the concept, but they can’t cast it. Further, even the higher level wizard has to memorize that spell and then they can only cast it once before they need to prepare it again. Which means that it’s not simple science like a software engineer coding a piece of software or a scientist making a calculation. The wizard is a direct living component of this effect. The basic idea of arcane magic is that there is ambient energy in the world that can be channeled to alter reality. But beyond understanding theory, I believe that this requires significant willpower and takes a certain toll on the mind of the user. Note that a wizard’s Will Saving Throw goes up as they increase in level. In memorizing a spell, a wizard is balancing forces, weighing energy, both making mental calculations and potentially performing sub-rituals that are triggered when the final spell is released. But the short form is that a lower level wizard literally cannot cast that higher level spell. Something about their brain simply isn’t capable of serving as a channel or focus for the power that’s being unleashed. And that right there is something scientists in our world don’t generally have to deal with.

So first of all: It is certainly the case that if you go to Arcanix, they have a library of spells that almost no one can cast. They’ve had high-level wizards (like Mordain) in the past. And there are a few 12th level wizards floating around Aundair over the course of the war. They know this power exists, but most people simply cannot perform these spells. And you can be sure that they’re researching ways to make that possible.

WITH ALL OF THAT SAID: A fundamental pillar of Eberron is that player characters are exceptional. This is reflected by action points, by the fact that they use player character classes, and by the fact that they can both quickly advance in level and attain levels far beyond the masses. So if a wizard is a scientist, your PC IS Tesla or Einstein. The fact that YOUR wizard can create new spells doesn’t mean that EVERY wizard in the world can do it so easily; your character may make arcane breakthroughs people have been struggling with for centuries.

A 20th level wizard living in the present is going to be able to call down meteor swarms just as a 20th level wizard living in pre-Galifar Khorvaire 1,500 years earlier would be. The GM could restrict the spell list for the earlier wizard but does that still leaves us with phenomenally powerful spells available in the present (and also probably upsets the player of the ancient high level wizard)?

There’s a few ways to look at this. In the case of non-human civilizations, that’s correct. Giants, dragons and Aereni were all throwing around meteor swarms long ago. With HUMAN civilization, there’s room to play with this. Some day I’d like to do a deeper look at the evolution of arcane magic, and to identify the breakthroughs and legendary wizards who made them. But here’s the simple answer I came up with using 3.5 rules to consider how magic might have evolved in Galifar: Components. In 3.5 there are meta magic feats – Still Spell, Silent Spell – that let you cast a spell without verbal or somatic components… by increasing the slot of the spell by one level. This means it is POSSIBLE to perform those effects without gestures or incantations. In MY Eberron, those gestures and incantations didn’t appear out of the blue: they were painstakingly developed over centuries of research. The fact that proper gestures help to efficiently channel arcane energy was a revelation, and then generations of human wizards worked to refine those gestures. Likewise with incantations. So go back a thousand years and a wizard would be casting many of the same spells, but he’d be doing it without somatic or verbal components, and the spell slot would be two higher. So back in the day, Magic Missile was a third level spell. When your future wizard pops back, flinging magic missiles around like they’re nothing, it’s AMAZING to past wizard… even though he recognizes the principles you’re using. Meanwhile, in the present day, we’ve become so dependent on incantations and gestures that most wizards can’t even imagine casting a spell without them without special training (metamagic feats)… just as now we have matches and lighters, most people don’t know how make a fire without them.

How do NpC adepts fit into the mix, especially in 3.5 when they get familiars? If they are a healer, does their magical companion strike anyone as out of the ordinary?

First of all: just as I’ve outlined with sorcerers, the adept is a tool you can use to represent a certain type of character. Just because it has a particular spell on its spell list or skill in its skill list doesn’t mean that EVERY adept has access to that spell in the context of the world. And looking to familiars, note that per the SRD, they may call a familiar; it doesn’t automatically appear if they never call it. So, for example, most Jorasco healers are adepts. Some revere Arawai or Boldrei, while others are agnostic and draw their healing power through the lens of their dragonmark. A Jorasco adept whose power is justified as coming from his mark will simply never take spells like Burning Hands or Wall of Fire; those spells are on the adept spell list, but they don’t make logical sense for THIS adept.

So within the world, adepts are healers, both secular and religious. They are found in all of the major faiths as a step between the mundane priest and the full cleric; they are able to touch the divine, but not with the full power of a cleric, just as the magewright understands the principles of magic but not so well as the wizard. They can also be found in places like the Elder as a simple village healer… though I also created the Gleaner to serve this role.

As for familiars, there are wizards and sorcerers in the world. Familiars exist. And hey, in 3.5 gnomes can talk to animals… not to mention Vadalis magebreeding. Familiars may draw attention, but it’s not like people will freak out about them; it’s a recognized magical talent.

Would 4E/5E rituals be the natural culmination of the process of greater spell acessibility at the cost of more complex spell components? It seems to me that rituals almost all but eliminate the caster themselves as a living component.

I’ve written about rituals before. The basic CONCEPT of rituals is a far better match for Eberron’s vision of a magical economy than Vancian magic. It’s hard to imagine a magewright making a living making arcane locks if he can only make two per day; what’s he do for the rest of the day? This is what led to Dragonmark Focus Items in 3.5 – the point that while a Sivis Gnome can cast Whispering Wind once per day with his mark alone, what is economically important is that it lets him use a Speaking Stone and communicate more frequently. In addition, the idea has always been that Eberron dragonshards are the “fuel” of the magical economy. If you consider 4E’s residuum to be crushed and refined Eberron dragonshards (something I discussed in the Q’barra Dragon backdrops, IIRC) then that works. The magewright can cast arcane lock as often as he wishes during a day, provided he has the time (15 minutes per ritual) and a sufficient supply of dragonshards,  and he marks up the costs to make his profit.

So: the basic principle of rituals is very good for Eberron. However, what I HATE about 4E rituals is the idea that it’s all about just essentially reading them off a book. Because Magewrights and Eberron are about the idea that performing a particular ritual or set if rituals is a JOB – that you have an arcane locksmith who knows knock and arcane lock, an augur who can perform divinations, a lamplighter who makes continual flames… not that these guys could pass books around and suddenly trade jobs. So what I do in 4E is to say that Magewright is a feat allowing the individual to perform three rituals without a ritual book. So PCs with the Ritual Caster feature are prodigies who are so talented that they can just look at a book and perform the ritual on the spot; but most people in the world spend years studying a book and mastering the ritual. They don’t need the book to perform the ritual, but they also can’t just spot-read a different ritual.

Having said all of that, how do rituals eliminate the caster as a component? The ritual can’t cast itself. It’s a pattern that produces an effect… but you still need the ritual caster to perform that ritual, channel and focus the energy, and make it happen. Even dragon mark focus items require a character with a dragonmark to operate them.

Tied to “Greater Spell Accessibility”, in my 4E Eberron I also restricted a significant number of rituals to the dragonmarked… essentially having rituals take on the role of the Dragonmark focus items in 3.5, but with the idea that the Arcane Congress is always looking for ways to replicate these effects with rituals anyone can learn. This is discussed in far more detail in this post.

How have you used sorcerers and magic in YOUR games?