In the current edition of D&D, every class has access to spellcasting to some degree. Not all classes are based around spellcasting entirely, nor is every class required to cast spells, but they all have the potential to do so. In light of this, the decision of what spells to cast and know can define traits of the character.
Before we dive into what spells to cast, I'd like to address if our characters should be casting at all. The choice of whether or not to play your character as a spellcaster is fairly major. You of course make this choice first at character creation. You decide if the concept in your head is one of a wizard throwing lightning bolts at their enemies, or a humble fighter who lives by the might of his sword. This says a bit about the character's upbringing. If they were raised to be a wizard, they're likely at least somewhat studious. Likewise, family and lineage tend to be especially important for a sorcerer, since that is the source of their magic. These aspects might be less emphasized for other character classes, if the player so chooses. More importantly, we make this choice again later on even if we choose to avoid spellcasting from the outset. For example, if you are playing a Rogue or Fighter, you initially won't have access to spells, but by the time you choose your archetype around 3rd level, you can choose to dip into with the Arcane Trickster or Eldritch Knight or other options. This allow you to define your character as being someone who takes a blended approach to magic, weaving it in with your more mundane skills. Alternatively, by choosing another option, you can forego magic in favor of focusing more on other specializations. If you choose to pursue magic at this time, you should consider how your character might have learned it, as well as how they feel about their magic use. Likewise, if you avoid it, maybe use this opportunity to provide a rationale for why that is. This detail can be used to provide further characterization for your PC and flesh out some of their opinions and values.
But on to spellcasting itself. The choice of which spells to know and use can be important as well. Do you focus your efforts on healing and wards? Maybe your character has very altruistic motives, seeking to help others first and foremost, perhaps even being a pacifist. Or maybe your character is a necromancer. They could have a fixation with death and mortality. maybe they're afraid of it, perhaps even a bit cowardly. But they could be seeking to unravel the mysteries of life and death as a way of avoiding their inevitable end. Where your character is steering their spellcasting efforts hints at their priorities and motivations. Lean into that. Use every opportunity you can to demonstrate who your character is. Likewise, you can dive into the minutia of selecting individual spells to probe at deeper character traits. A brilliant example of this is Caleb Widogast from Critical Role. This character has a fear of fire after a traumatic incident with it, and when he uses a fire based spell to kill people he is racked by intense emotional distress. Doing this lets us see that he has had this trauma and invites us to read into it. Yet he continues to use it, so perhaps there is yet more to it than we think. You can do something similar. Having a reason for a particular focus of spells can tell us more about your character and why they might have that preference.
Ultimately, spellcasting is simply another tool in your character's bag of skills. But it doesn't have to be just that. it can be something more meaningful to the roleplay of your character if you take efforts to make it be. If you want to really present the concept you're roleplaying, present it wholistically. Let every choice reflect the identity of the character. And spellcasting is another of those choices.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For more on a similar topic, see the post on my personal blog about using equipment as characterization. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.