D&D 5E Sorcerers and Primal Caster concepts

Einlanzer0

Explorer
This came up in another thread and I thought I'd post it here to get some more general attention and peoples' thoughts. Many homebrew class discussions revolve around concepts that could be grouped as primal casters - i.e. witches, shamans, prophets, etc. I think this happens because there's a gap in the core classes that causes these archetypes to need to be shoehorned into classes that are defined by some pretty specific fluff - druids, warlocks, and wizards. This causes collisions, so it produces a lot of cognitive dissonance and therefore leads to lots of nerdy discussions.

IMO, there was a pretty big missed opportunity with the sorcerer class in 5e. It lost a lot of its identity with the move away from classic vancian casting, so instead of putting some serious thoughtwork into redefining it in a more unique way for 5e, they went ahead and just let it land again as a minor variant of wizard. In my head, the sorcerer should have taken on a more primal identity, allowing it to more easily absorb all kinds of archetypes that don't fit other casting classes that well because of the specific flavor trappings they all have. Thematically, this makes sense, because innate magic would have likely been the earliest and most primitive expression of magic, before it was deeply studied and poked at by more modern societies and leading to the proliferation of classes like wizards, clerics, druids, and warlocks. Mechanically, this makes sense because it would have allowed for the sorcerer to be more of an analogue to both the fighter (by its generalized and mechanically broad structure) and barbarian (through its primal-esque theming), rather than just a variant of a wizard.

So, I'm working on fleshing this idea of using subclasses to subtly alter the flavor of the sorcerer to push it in this direction. Specifically my aim is to create a few new sorcerous origins with the following ideas behind them, which are adapted from kibblestasty's occultist class. They all, by design, mix arcane and divine to a greater extent than the core sorcerer as well as most of its existing subclasses.

Fey Witchcraft - coven-based fey magics meant to allure, confuse, heal, curse, or generage chaos, depending on the type of coven
Sprit Channeling - shamanism-themed with a focus on trances, fetishes, and channeling spirits (note that this will be nothing like druid)
Chosen - Oracles that bring revelations and reveal mysteries. Similar to a divine soul but with more of an esoteric prophet flavor

All of these would explore new ways of using sorcery points - things like witchy transmutations, jaunts to the ethereal plane, or revelation of mystery & fatespinning. None of them are in a polished enough state yet for me to present with scrutiny, but I was curious what other people thought about this or what alternative ideas anyone has spent time thinking through.
 
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Yaarel

Mind Mage
For me, the Bard class is the go-to for a shaman concept. The Charisma, healing, shapeshifting, mind magic, divination, and teleportation and planar travel, are spot on.

The witch concept depends on which witch.
• Psychic witch − Psion (for now, a variant Warlock with curated spell list)
• Nature witch − Druid
• Fey witch − Warlock
• Devil witch − Warlock



Regarding the Sorcerer, I like less its fiddly mechanics, so I tend to steer clear of it.
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
For me, the Bard class is the go-to for a shaman concept. The Charisma, healing, shapeshifting, mind magic, divination, and teleportation and planar travel, are spot on.

The witch concept depends on which witch.
• Psychic witch − Psion (for now, a variant Warlock with curated spell list)
• Nature witch − Druid
• Fey witch − Warlock
• Devil witch − Warlock



Regarding the Sorcerer, I like less its fiddly mechanics, so I tend to steer clear of it.

I can't really get behind this because the concepts behind those classes are really specific and too pigeonholing for concepts like witches and shamans. The idea of someone that is called a shaman being a skill-monkey entertainer that studied in an organized college and casts spells that are performance-themed is just something I could never get on board with - it would be way, way too much reflavoring.

The difference, I think, is that there are two types of people in these discussions - those focused more on the thematic aspects of classes, and those focused more on the mechanical aspects of classes. I'm the former, so I'd rather start from a broad theme and build mechanics around it, rather than start from a defined set of mechanics and build a new theme around it.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
I can't really get behind this because the concepts behind those classes are really specific and too pigeonholing for concepts like witches and shamans. The idea of someone that is called a shaman being a skill-monkey entertainer that studied in an organized college and casts spells that are performance-themed is just something I could never get on board with - it would be way, way too much reflavoring.

The difference, I think, is that there are two types of people in these discussions - those focused more on the thematic aspects of classes, and those focused more on the mechanical aspects of classes. I'm the former, so I'd rather start from a broad theme and build mechanics around it, rather than start from a defined set of mechanics and build a new theme around it.
The Bard is a mythologically accurate Celtic bard! It is a shaman, and its class features match the mythology about bards, including Taliesin and Merlin. It also happens to match the Norse shaman, the vǫlva.

Obviously, destroy the lute. Let the verbal spell component also replace any material component. Without the musical instrument, everything is shaman.

Bardic Inspiration is either verbal poetry (Celtic) or verbal commands (Norse).



Regarding the Druid class, it is an excellent alchemist. This nature magic lends itself to the kind of witch that brews herbal potions and communes with the elementals.
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
The Bard is a mythologically accurate Celtic bard! It is a shaman, and its class features match the mythology about bards, including Taliesin and Merlin. It also happens to match the Norse shaman, the vǫlva.

Obviously, destroy the lute. Let the verbal spell component also replace any material component. Without the musical instrument, everything is shaman.



Regarding the Druid class, it is an excellent alchemist. This nature magic lends itself to the kind of witch that brews herbal potions and communes with the elementals.

The Bard is a mythologically accurate Celtic bard! It is a shaman, and its class features match the mythology about bards, including Taliesin and Merlin. It also happens to match the Norse shaman, the vǫlva.

Obviously, destroy the lute. Let the verbal spell component also replace any material component. Without the musical instrument, everything is shaman.

Bardic Inspiration is either verbal poetry (Celtic) or verbal commands (Norse).



Regarding the Druid class, it is an excellent alchemist. This nature magic lends itself to the kind of witch that brews herbal potions and communes with the elementals.

It's not that I don't think your rationale makes sense; it's just not my preferred approach. For one, a celtic bard /= a tribal shaman or witchdoctor; the theme is not nearly as aligned as you're implying it is - there's some heavy refluffing you'd need to do to make a bard even come close to representing more culture-agnostic animism or shamanism concepts. Druids come closer to aligning with witches, but still not a good enough match for me - they are both too organized and too specifically nature-themed but without any notable fey or hag influence.

The core idea I'm going for here is that the sorcerer class represents the most primitive and raw expression of magic later adapted by more "civilized" spellcasters through study, manipulation, etc., which includes all other spellcasting classes - bards, clerics, druids, warlocks, and wizards. Its lack of highly specific flavor combined with the generic nature of is primary mechanical focus (metamagic/sorcery points) makes it a good facilitator for these kinds of concepts.
 

cbwjm

Legend
The sorcerer would have been great as the caster that gained access to the different spell lists depending on bloodline. Many of them may have ended up using the wizard spell list but the divine should could have used the cleric exclusively, aberrant mind and shadow could have used the warlock spell list, etc. I think that would have kept the sorcerer a little more interesting.

Fey Witchcraft - coven-based fey magics meant to allure, confuse, heal, curse, or generage chaos, depending on the type of coven
Sprit Conduit - shamanism-themed with a focus on trances, fetishes, and channeling spirits (note that this will be nothing like druid)
Blessed - Oracles that bring revelations and reveal mysteries. Similar to a divine soul but with more of a wandering prophet flavor
These are great ideas, I think sorcery points having options to fuel abilities that aren't covered by spells would help differentiate them a bit more and could be quite flavourful.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
It's not that I don't think your rationale makes sense; it's just not my preferred approach. For one, a celtic bard /= a tribal shaman or witchdoctor; the theme is not nearly as aligned as you're implying it is - there's some heavy refluffing you'd need to do to make a bard even come close to representing more culture-agnostic animism or shamanism concepts. Druids come closer to aligning with witches, but still not a good enough match for me - they are both too organized and too specifically nature-themed but without any notable fey or hag influence.

The core idea I'm going for here is that the sorcerer class represents the most primitive and raw expression of magic later adapted by more "civilized" spellcasters through study, manipulation, etc., which includes all other spellcasting classes - bards, clerics, druids, warlocks, and wizards. Its lack of highly specific flavor combined with the generic nature of is primary mechanical focus (metamagic/sorcery points) makes it a good facilitator for these kinds of concepts.

For me, the spell list of the Sorcerer is too elementalist.

An animistic shamanic spell list is more about divination, healing, psychic journeys, taking on animal forms, and similar. In other words, the Bard spell list.
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
For me, the spell list of the Sorcerer is too elementalist.

An animistic shamanic spell list is more about divination, healing, psychic journeys, taking on animal forms, and similar. In other words, the Bard spell list.

Yes, but the spell list is just about the easiest thing to alter, both the base spell list and the expansion of spells through subclasses. That goes back to my post above :)
 


Ashrym

Hero
Yes, but the spell list is just about the easiest thing to alter, both the base spell list and the expansion of spells through subclasses. That goes back to my post above :)

I agree with Yaarel.

The role of the shaman was a healer, prophet, and keeper of history and tradition. Bards were healers, prophets, and keepers of history and tradition. The reason to go with bard is the very similar function because bards are similar in their roots. Bard's association with "echoes of these primordial Words of Creation" sounds pretty primal.

Any 3 musical instruments can also be thematic. Rattles, stretch drums, etc. If you read Singing to the Plants by Stephan V. Beyer as an example you'll find discussion on performance in shamanism as well as the icaros, which are the shaman's songs. These songs are given to the shaman (per that example) by the spirits of the plants and animals for things such as healing, protection, attacking, etc.

So for example using the game terms and mechanic I would take bard as the class and would likely use a custom background but acolyte works. At 1st level bard that would give applicable knowledge, religion, and insight. For bard skills I would probably add history (because it was a main part of the historical role) and that leaves two more skills that a player might think are thematic. I favor the knowledge / mystical aspect so arcana and nature.

Cantrips would be minor illusion and prestidigitation. Spells might be animal friendship, speak with animals, identify, and cure wounds depending on the theme. I'm keeping it mostly nature. Depending on the level of supernatural or curse feel Tasha's hideous laughter, sleep, bane, dissonant whispers, or command are suitable to use or add at 2nd level and maintain the theme. The important thing is the spells that the players take match the theme that player is looking for as the character levels and bards are good for that.

Lore bard is generally a good choice for most concepts but spirits bard already has a built in connection to the spirit world that fits better. My expertise would be in history, arcana, religion or nature, and insight.
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
I agree with Yaarel.

The role of the shaman was a healer, prophet, and keeper of history and tradition. Bards were healers, prophets, and keepers of history and tradition. The reason to go with bard is the very similar function because bards are similar in their roots. Bard's association with "echoes of these primordial Words of Creation" sounds pretty primal.

Any 3 musical instruments can also be thematic. Rattles, stretch drums, etc. If you read Singing to the Plants by Stephan V. Beyer as an example you'll find discussion on performance in shamanism as well as the icaros, which are the shaman's songs. These songs are given to the shaman (per that example) by the spirits of the plants and animals for things such as healing, protection, attacking, etc.

So for example using the game terms and mechanic I would take bard as the class and would likely use a custom background but acolyte works. At 1st level bard that would give applicable knowledge, religion, and insight. For bard skills I would probably add history (because it was a main part of the historical role) and that leaves two more skills that a player might think are thematic. I favor the knowledge / mystical aspect so arcana and nature.

Cantrips would be minor illusion and prestidigitation. Spells might be animal friendship, speak with animals, identify, and cure wounds depending on the theme. I'm keeping it mostly nature. Depending on the level of supernatural or curse feel Tasha's hideous laughter, sleep, bane, dissonant whispers, or command are suitable to use or add at 2nd level and maintain the theme. The important thing is the spells that the players take match the theme that player is looking for as the character levels and bards are good for that.

Lore bard is generally a good choice for most concepts but spirits bard already has a built in connection to the spirit world that fits better. My expertise would be in history, arcana, religion or nature, and insight.

Whether scholar, skald, or scoundrel, a bard weaves magic through words and music to inspire allies, demoralize foes, manipulate minds, create illusions, and even heal wounds. The bard is a master of song, speech, and the magic they contain.

Just... no. For one, I've already stated a preference for expanding broadly structured classes over refluffing less broad classes to fit an unconventional theme. The core concepts of the shaman are trances, fetishes, tribal community, vision questing, care for the sick/injured, and commuting with spirits. More important, they are primal, not a product of collegiete study with like-minded individuals.

Please stop perpetuating this as an argument on how best to express these concepts (which is too subjective for there to be a right answer) and reread my post above. The core idea of this entire thread is the utilization of the sorcerer class to support primal manifestations of magic that would be the precursors to the magic practiced by bards, wizards, warlocks, druids, etc.

To that end, my question to you is - why do you think the sorcerer doesn't work for this? Are there reasons other than their normal spell list? Because that's not really a reason for me. It's far easier to curate/modify a spell list than it is to reflavor an entire class.
 
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MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Honestly I’m surprised there hasn’t been some nature focused sorcerer subclass yet, just say they’ve got a bit of fey in them or a dryad as an ancestor or something and you’re ready to go
Because for the designers magic=blasting and double so for the sorcerer. I keep saying, for wizards we have reached peak archetypes, for warlocks the limit is the entries in the monster manual and for sorcerers the limits are the words in the dictionary. Yet the designers would rather keep scratching the bottom od the barrel for wizards while giving a token effort for sorcerers and warlocks once in a blue moon.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
Not sure if this is exactly quite in line with what’s being done here but my impromptu expanded spell list for a primal nature sorcerer:
1st find familiar, goodberry
2nd healing spirit, spike growth
3rd conjure animals, speak with plants
4th grasping vine, guardian of nature
5th awaken, commune with nature or tree stride?
 


My suggestion is to use the concept of "archetypes" from Pathfinder, or the "variant classes" from 3.5 Unearthed Arcana.

Then the "wilder" could be "recycled" as a psionic sorcerer. I like the changes for "psychic enervation", instead losing power points, the wilder is "dazed" for a turn.
 

Ashrym

Hero
Whether scholar, skald, or scoundrel, a bard weaves magic through words and music to inspire allies, demoralize foes, manipulate minds, create illusions, and even heal wounds. The bard is a master of song, speech, and the magic they contain.

Just... no. For one, I've already stated a preference for expanding broadly structured classes over refluffing less broad classes to fit an unconventional theme. The core concepts of the shaman are trances, fetishes, tribal community, vision questing, care for the sick/injured, and commuting with spirits. More important, they are primal, not a product of collegiete study with like-minded individuals.

Please stop perpetuating this as an argument on how best to express these concepts (which is too subjective for there to be a right answer) and reread my post above. The core idea of this entire thread is the utilization of the sorcerer class to support primal manifestations of magic that would be the precursors to the magic practiced by bards, wizards, warlocks, druids, etc.

To that end, my question to you is - why do you think the sorcerer doesn't work for this? Are there reasons other than their normal spell list? Because that's not really a reason for me. It's far easier to curate/modify a spell list than it is to reflavor an entire class.

"Just... no" comes across as condescending to me. I hope that wasn't the intent.

You seem to be begging the question on whether bards are less broad or that this is an unconventional theme. You are mistaken. Celtic and Nordic comparisons to Indigenous shamanism has already been a real world topic of discussion for some time. It's unconventional to you because of your preconceptions.

Bards are preservers of ancient history, their songs and tales perpetuating the memory of great events down through time -- knowledge so important that it is memorized and passed along as oral tradition, to survive even when no written record remains. XGtE page 12

Why do you think there's a difference between memorizing oral tradition being passed down by a bard versus being passed down by another class? Why do you think a bard singing and performing rituals is different from another concept singing and performing rituals? I don't agree that shamans, witches, prophets etc don't already fall under the bard category because the term "bard" refers to a specific group but the game term "bard" refers to that group and similar roles from other cultures that use different names. Players use the class to cover those concepts from history or mythology and folklore.

2e specifically pointed this out and bards filled those roles in some of the cultures from 3.e's Ebberon campaign system to show that bards in this capacity isn't a new concept, and to reinforce that it's not unconventional.

I didn't say the sorcerer doesn't work for this. I said the bard already works better. Not the same thing. ;-)

When you say the sorcerer is using primal magic and giving a history you're already doing the refluff work. Doing that plus mechanical design is more work than saying "my bard is based on this concept" easily. You'll have to prove that there's more work involved in mechanical design and adding the fluff to go with it versus just claiming different fluff.

As far as that fluff goes, I'll point this out too: bards echo the power of creation. If we're defining what's primal and what's not that existing fluff is more primal than redefining sorcerer bloodlines as somehow primal. Bards, druids, and rangers already fall into more of a primal category.

If you want to make more sorcerer subclasses to fit your concepts that's up to you, obviously. It looks like more work to me than using what already exists, however. ;-)
 

cbwjm

Legend
Honestly I’m surprised there hasn’t been some nature focused sorcerer subclass yet, just say they’ve got a bit of fey in them or a dryad as an ancestor or something and you’re ready to go
I'm a little surprised at that as well, I kind of feel like both fey and fiendish types should have shown up by now. I wonder if wotc think it might be too close to the warlock subclasses so they haven't done then.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
I'm a little surprised at that as well, I kind of feel like both fey and fiendish types should have shown up by now. I wonder if wotc think it might be too close to the warlock subclasses so they haven't done then.
Yeah, i was looking at the archfey patron features earlier and thought you could probably just use it as a sorcerer bloodline wholesale, maybe swap out a few of the expanded spells as the sorcerer already gets alot of the archfey bonus spells in their natural spell list anyway.
 

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