Class is in session, and my friends, it’s time to blow stuff up. Fire, cold, acid, lightning, and poison—oh my. As an evoker—that is a wizard who studies the magical School of Evocation—you are an adept in the art of arcane destruction. Whether you pick a single element to focus in or spread your interests across the entire spectrum of elemental annihilation, evocation is the best pick for wizards that long to lay their enemies low with sheer, unstoppable damage.
Story of the School of Evocation
“You’re studying to learn the secrets of fireball, are you?” said one wizard to another. The two wizards stood in the middle of a grassy courtyard surrounded by white marble pillars. The yard was filled with the ambient sounds of instruction and the scribbling of quills emanating from a nearby classroom, and the indistinct chatter of a half dozen other students of magic laughing and joking as they studied nearby. The former wizard wore long black robes and clasped his cloak with a silver brooch adorned with a symbol shaped like an omega. This simple icon was enough for any wizard to instantly identify him as a necromancer.
The necromancer shook his head. “Such a spell is far too flashy. Too loud. Too easy to…” he paused and chuckled to himself, “Well, to trace to its source.”
“Oh, lay off it,” said the other wizard, his voice tinged not just with annoyance, but also exhaustion. It wasn’t the first time he’d been spoken down to like this. He was dressed in a simple apprentice’s tunic colored deep red—no robe, like the upperclassman demeaning him—but he clasped his cloak with brooch bearing a symbol of its own. This one was a circle with eight small lines radiating out from it, like a child’s drawing of the sun, with a vertical cross cutting through the edges of the circle. The symbol of evocation magic is one of the first that any student of magic learns. At least, any student that wishes to join the army as a war mage, or eventually become a scholar of evocation. “I’ll bet your spellbook is crammed full of evocations.”
The necromancer scowled and looked askance. “I suppose I do have a few spells of that particular school inscribed within my tome. However…”
“No ‘however!’” the evoker said. His face was flushed as he took a single step towards the necromancer. “Do you know the teasing I’ve put up with all my life just because I’d rather blow up kobolds with a fireball like my mom did? You know how many smarmy illusionists and transmuters look at me like I’m a dullard, just ‘cuz my magic is more direct than theirs? You wouldn’t even get half the dead bones you like to puppet around without folks like me!”
The necromancer was taken aback. He stood in stunned silence for a moment, and the evoker realized that everyone else around him had fallen silent, too. Even the scribbling of quills from within had stopped. He could see a dozen heads turned from within the classroom, staring at him with eyes like saucers. The necromancer eventually looked back up at the evoker and haltingly said, “I had no idea. I’m, uh, I’m actually terribly sorry.” He paused again. There was silence. “You know,” he started.
“Know what?” the evoker said sharply.
“What you said. About the bones, and the, uh, explosions. Now that I come to think of it, I think you and I would make quite a team. If you would incinerate our enemies on the field of battle, and I were to reanimate them.”
“Are you serious?”
“Deathly so,” the necromancer said with a laugh.
School of Evocation Features
Evokers are masters of destructive magic, possessing the ability to push their spells beyond normal limits and even shape their spells to avoid striking their allies with the big, area-of-effect damage spells they love so much. The wizard gains five subclass features at 2nd, 6th, 10th, and 14th level. You can read all the School of Evocation features for free in the D&D Basic Rules. In summary, your class features allow you to:
- Study evocation spells more efficiently, halving the time and cost of copying such spells into your spellbook.
- Sculpt your evocation spells so that they avoid wounding creatures of your choice.
- Improve the power of your cantrips that require saving throws.
- Increase the damage of your evocation spells.
- Overchannel your evocation spells, dealing maximum damage at the cost of your own vitality.
Benefits of the School of Evocation
If you’re looking for supreme elemental damage, look no further. Every power that an evoker possesses is in the name of learning, casting, and maxing out the potential of their evocations. Combined with the expansive wizard spell list, you can become a Swiss Army knife of damage dealing, with a damaging spell for every occasion. While many evokers specialize in a single element (and may even take the Elemental Adept feat to improve their spells that deal that type of damage), an evoker can be even more powerful when they have spells of many different damage types at their disposal.
When an evoker specializes in fire or cold damage, for instance, they are often stymied by fiends that resist their specific damage type. Evokers who specialize in acid or poison damage, on the other hand, tend to be flummoxed by the limited number of spells that are able to deal that type of damage—or find that those spells are less powerful than their more iconic counterparts, such as Melf’s acid arrow versus scorching ray. If you spread your spell knowledge out across all five elemental damage types (acid, cold, fire, lightning, and poison), and you pay close attention to what types of damage your foes resist, you can quickly recalibrate your arsenal for any situation.
Drawbacks of the School of Evocation
The main complaint leveled against evokers is that their magic is too simplistic. While specializing in the School of Evocation doesn’t prevent you from using spells of other schools, your subclass features do make prioritizing damage the most attractive option. If you’re playing an evoker and finding that pumping out wild amounts of raw damage isn’t thrilling you like controlling the battlefield with illusions and snares or beguiling foes with enchantments, then consider asking your DM if you can retrain your subclass. However, if you’re enjoying blasting your enemies to bits, but you want a little bit more variety, don’t hesitate to look beyond the evocation school for spells to round out your arsenal. Try to keep an approximately 50/50 balance between evocation and non-evocation spells in your spellbook, if you can.
This is a lesser warning, but a warning nonetheless. Though the evoker’s spell selection is replete with elemental damage, some of the game’s most powerful damage types—force, radiant and necrotic—are woefully underrepresented on the evocation spell list. Magic missile will serve you well as early as 1st level, but it’s the only spell that deals any of these three mighty damage types until you can pick up Bigby’s hand as a 9th-level wizard, or sunbeam at 11th level. This won’t usually be a problem, but take special care against incorporeal undead, such as specters or ghosts. Since these monsters lack a physical form, they are highly resistant to elemental damage, making your favorite tools all but useless against them.
As a wizard, you choose your Arcane Tradition at 2nd level. This gives you a little bit of time to feel out what you want your playstyle to be before you select your preferred subclass. Do take note, though, you may feel as though evocation magic is a bit lackluster at early levels because you have so few spell slots. As you level up, you may find that you have more low-level spell slots than you know what to do with, making it easy to turn them into consistent damage without just falling back on your cantrips.
You should choose a race that improves your Intelligence score, and either your Dexterity or Constitution scores. As a wizard, Intelligence is your most important ability. Your spells are powered by your own knowledge of the arcane workings of magic, and improving this understanding makes it easier for you to hit with spell attacks and harder for enemies to save against your spells. As such, gnomes make fantastic wizards, as their innate intellect makes them natural studies. High elves also make excellent wizards, as they gain a natural bonus to both Dexterity and Intelligence, and also grant you an extra cantrip. Variant humans also have a good time as wizards; gaining a free feat is nothing to sneeze at.
Choose EQUIPMENT instead of GOLD at the end of character creation. Since you’ll probably be choosing at least one ranged damage-dealing cantrip, you can take a quarterstaff so that you have a little bit of protection up-close. Choosing a component pouch or an arcane focus is a purely aesthetic choice, and choosing a scholar’s or an explorer’s pack is a fairly insignificant decision. A scholar’s pack will be useful in a more city-based campaign, but if you plan on traveling cross-country, then an explorer’s pack will be superior.
(However, if you want to get your hands dirty and choose your equipment manually, you may want to do a little bit of legwork to get an expensive diamond so that you can cast chromatic orb, the premiere earlygame damage spell.)
Wizards can copy so many spells into their spellbook that you don’t have to be too choosey when selecting your spells at each level. Nevertheless, it couldn’t hurt to make very clear choices, especially if your DM doesn’t give out a lot of spell scrolls to copy, or doesn’t pit you against many other enemy wizards with spellbooks to steal. As a 1st-level wizard, your spellbook starts with six spells in it, and you can prepare a number of spells equal to Intelligence modifier + your wizard level (minimum of one spell). Don’t forget that all of these spells must come from the wizard spell list. You also start play with 3 cantrips, also from the wizard spell list. You gain two new wizard spells every level, and you also gain new cantrips from time to time, so keep an eye on the Wizard Table when you gain a new level.
When picking your cantrips, you’ll want to pick cantrips that force the enemy to make a saving throw, rather than those that ask you to make a spell attack. This is because the Potent Cantrip feature you get at 6th level makes your saving throw-based cantrips even more powerful. Strangely enough, this means choosing cantrips that aren’t from the evocation school, but instead the conjuration school. Weird! In any case, good options from the Basic Rules are: acid splash and poison spray.
As an evoker, you'll at least three spells marked OFFENSE, one spell marked DEFENSE, and two spells marked either SOCIAL or SUPPORT in your spellbook, depending on how you want to play your character.
Note that this list only includes some spells from the Player's Handbook, so if you want to choose more unusual spells, or have other sources like Xanathar's Guide to Everything, you'll have to do a little self-directed research. This list is just here to get you started if this is your first time playing School of Evocation wizard.
- Burning hands (OFFENSE)
- Chromatic orb (OFFENSE, but note its expensive material component)
- Charm person (SOCIAL)
- Color spray (DEFENSE)
- Disguise self (SOCIAL)
- Grease (DEFENSE)
- Magic missile (OFFENSE)
- Shield (DEFENSE)
- Tasha’s hideous laughter (DEFENSE)
- Thunderwave (OFFENSE)
At Higher Levels
As a wizard, you gain two new spells naturally each level, and can also copy spells from scrolls or other spellbooks into your own spellbook. As you gain levels, your first priority is to max out your Intelligence score. Get that to 20 as soon as possible, to make your spells as strong as possible! Once that’s done, consider taking some feats instead of increasing your ability scores. Even if you don’t specialize in a single element, taking Elemental Adept (Cold) is a great idea, since cold is the most commonly resisted damage type in the game, but its spells can be very powerful—cone of cold is an outstanding spell with immense range. Of course, Elemental Adept (Fire) is also useful just because there are so many varied fire spells.
Spell Sniper is also a feat that serves you well, especially if your DM likes to have encounters in the wilderness begin at immense range. Free cantrips and picking your enemies off from range is a great feeling. Keen Mind also has some interesting exploration and roleplay uses, and a +1 to your Intelligence is useful if you started off with an odd number in that score and want to take a feat early.
Beyond feats, keep an eye on the most powerful damaging spells at each level, and see which seem the most fun to you. Fireball and lightning bolt are both excellent and iconic options, and represent a huge increase in power for wizards when they reach 5th level. The ongoing Spell Spotlight series focuses in on a new spell every month; sometimes a good spell, sometimes one to avoid, or sometimes one that’s just plain weird or fascinating.
If you want more advice for building a wizard, check out Wizard 101. Have you ever played a School of Evocation wizard ? What advice would you give to players that want to make a character like this?
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their animal companions Mei and Marzipan. You can find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.