Dungeons and Dragons is a constantly-evolving game. The 5th Edition is a huge return to form after the more video game-inspired 4th Edition, and that means a return to a lot of what has traditionally made Dungeons and Dragons work. With that change has come a huge update in the base classes for the game and, in some cases, how those classes work. If you’ve never played 5th Edition – or if you’ve never played a role-playing game at all – this guide can give you a hand in figuring out how to pick your character’s class.
D&D 5th Edition Classes
- What is a D&D Class?
- Weighing Your Options
What is a D&D Class?
Classes are at the heart of Dungeons and Dragons. The class is a short-hand descriptor for what you player character can do and, importantly, how your character will work within the party. No one character in the game can do everything, so it is usually the responsibility of the group to build up a party of characters that will have all the necessary skills to conquer any challenge thrown at them. (Pop Quiz, Hot Shot: What D&D Class Are You?)
Every class has restrictions and skills. The restrictions might inform your alignment, type of weapons you can use, your armor, or even your character’s background. The skills range from awe-inspiring combat abilities to the amount of social intelligence your character is able to display in certain situations. Choosing your class locks you into a path for the remainder of the campaign, so making that choice is one of the most important steps towards having a good time playing the game.
The Big Factors
There are a few big factors that should inform your class choice. While it’s possible to get granular with them, they all really come down to your play-style and your experience playing the game. Once you are honest about these two factors, you’ll have a much easier time making your choice.
Your play-style should be the biggest factor informing the class you choose. It doesn’t matter how cool a class looks on paper – if they don’t conform to the way you like to play, you’ll probably have a bad time. You need to find something that makes the most of the experience for you, even if they’re not the current flavor of the month for theory-crafters.
The big divide in characters are those who are combat-based and those who are social-based. If you like the combat of D&D, you want to find a character who can contribute more to combat situations, whether it’s through dealing damage or keeping the team alive. If you like role-playing, you want a character who has a good pool of skills and for whom you can craft a good story.
Always remember to choose a class that works with your campaign. If you are in the middle of a locked-room mystery, you’re probably not going to get much out of a Barbarian. Likewise, heavily social-based Bards aren’t going to be too useful in a pure dungeon crawl. Know your adventure before you choose a class.
It’s also a good idea to weigh your personal experience in playing the game before you choose a class. Some of the classes have pretty esoteric mechanics, some of which take a few play sessions to get down. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t choose what you like, but realize that you’re going to need a guiding hand in order to get the most out of the more complex classes.
It’s also a good idea to remember the level of experience your DM has. Most newbie DMs run campaigns that don’t really take advantage of the setting, which means that some of the cooler things your characters can do outside of combat are going to fall by the wayside. Of course, your DM needs to learn, too – and if you aren’t willing to pull out some of the weirder classes, he or she will never learn how to handle them properly.
Weighing Your Options
The 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons has a truly astounding number of base options. Below are all of the starting classes of the game that you can find in the basic books, along with a brief description of what makes them tick. These are your options, so weigh them wisely!
Barbarians have been a core class in Dungeons and Dragons for a few iterations now, and for good reason. They present a kind of visceral combat experience that works very well within the game’s ecosystem, as well as one that presents just enough cool mechanics to make it a natural evolution for front-line players who are tired of being generic fighters.
Barbarian isn’t for everyone. This is a class that thrives on risk, so those who don’t want to get beat up need not apply. It’s not exactly a class for those who want to have a huge skill pool when it comes to the more “talky” side of Dungeons and Dragons, but they still play a very important role within the party.
PLAY STYLE: Combat-focused melee damage-dealer
Bard is absolutely one of the trickiest classes in the game. It’s perhaps the class most built around role-play and skills, with a paucity of direct damage attacks and a ton of feats that revolve around supporting the team. Bards are an absolute blast to play if you love the social side of the game, but they take a ton of skill to pull off correctly.
Good bards provide a lot of spice to a team’s mechanics. They are not, however, absolutely necessary for success. This is the class you play because it sounds fun and you’ll almost certainly have to do a little work to make sure it picks up the slack in areas that your party lacks.
PLAY STYLE: Social-focused support character
Clerics are the very necessary healers of Dungeons and Dragons. Sure, they’re able to haul around some decent weapons and armor, but their primary role will always be keeping the team alive. This is an incredibly big responsibility, but it’s one that’s actually well-suited to new players as well as old. Healers can always focus on keeping the team alive, which does remove some of the difficulty from making big combat choices.
Good clerics are the backbone of a team. If you’re a fan of team-work and playing support, you’re not going to find a better class in the game. If you want to focus more on smashing than keeping players alive, though, you’ll find combat with a cleric to be a bit of a slog.
PLAY STYLE: Combat-focused support healer
Druids are the weird nature magic wildcards of Dungeons and Dragons. While you’re very rarely going to build a group around one, you’ll always be happy to see a druid in your party. They combine some of the best parts of the skill-sets of a magic user and a ranger, but don’t do the job of either.
Druids are definitely a class that excels in the hands of a skilled player. It’s got too much going on for most novices, though the learning curve isn’t all that steep. Consider this class if you want to be a bit of a wild-card who doesn’t mind going off the beaten path.
PLAY STYLE: Nature-based Jack of All Trades
The Fighter is kind of the all-purpose fighting class of D&D 5th Edition. This character doesn’t quite specialize in the same way as any of the other melee characters, but does haven’t any of the same weaknesses. It’s kind of a generic fighter, but that can be incredibly useful for someone who has never played the game before.
In fact, the Fighter is so generic that it is both the perfect fit for new and experienced players. Newer players get a relatively straightforward experience that’s great for getting into the thick of the action while experienced players get a platform that’s great for customization. Fighter might not be the class with the most flavor, but it’s definitely a class that has a lot of room for improvisation.
PLAY STYLE: Combat-focused melee jack-of-all-trades
Monks are the ninjas of Dungeons and Dragons, for both good and for ill. They’re a great class when you learn how to play them correctly, though many players are left a bit puzzled by their general lack of weapon usage. This is a class that involves a lot of proper character building, which makes it great once you have some of the basics of the game down.
Monks aren’t for the faint of heart, though. They’re not for people who love loot or even people who just want a simple fighter. Monk takes a lot of skill to play well, and even more to build correctly. If you’re up for a challenge and want to see how far you can push a melee character, though, this might be the class for you.
PLAY STYLE: Melee-focused damage dealer with a spiritual side
The Paladin has long been one of the most complex classes to role-play in D&D simply because of the requirements around keeping one’s powers. Fortunately, the 5th Edition version of the paladin does loosen up the restrictions a bit, though it does still provide a fantastic experience for those who really want to grapple with questions of morality in the game.
Paladins are up-front smiters who really specialize in taking on evil. If you’re looking to run an evil campaign, then, paladins aren’t going to be great – and that if you can find enough ways to break the rules to make one work in your party.
PLAY STYLE: Spiritual damage dealer, evil-smiter, and social character
Rangers are another big step up from fighters. Capable of going dual-wielding or with a bow, they’re skillful combat specialists that have a whole host of nature-based skills at their disposal. It takes some work to get one to work in urban campaigns, but they’re almost always useful. Rangers also have the unusual distinction of having a lot of really good social-based skills in addition to their fantastic combat capacity.
Rangers are especially good for fighter players who want to move in the direction of a more skill-based build. A good ranger can do an awful lot, but it does take some patience to get where the characters where it needs to be. The longer you expect to play, the more amazing things your Ranger will be able to do.
Rogues are part of the original class structure of Dungeons and Dragons. They’re the characters in charge of being sneaky and doing a lot of the heavy social lifting, though a few other classes can now shoulder that burden. These days, a good rogue is a combination of social savant and combat pragmatist. A great traditional party will always have a good rogue who understands how to play the game very well.
Being a good combat rogue is all about knowing the field of battle and understanding combat very well. As such, there’s a pretty steep learning curve. While many new players like to be rogues, it’s often recommended that you have a little combat experience under your belt before you give the class a try.
PLAY STYLE: Skill-based combat character with high tactical potential
We’re now at the point where we’re looking at the magical side of the game, and D&D splits up its magic into three really distinct play-styles. Sorcerers are all about pumping out spell damage from the word go. They’re got a good spell-list, but the real benefit of choosing sorcerer is that the class isn’t really beholden to anything. Sorcerers are the ultimate magic fantasy in a good campaign.
That freedom comes with a price, though. Sorcerer’s don’t necessarily scale in power quite as immensely as wizards, nor do they get some of the cool tricks of a warlock. They’re best for players who just want to watch the world explode. Choose a sorcerer if you really just want to see some fantastic magic in your games.
PLAY STYLE: Pure damage-based magical caster
Warlocks are undoubtedly a cool class. Getting the most out of them, though, really requires spending some time looking at D&D’s cosmology. This can make the class fantastic for those with a good DM that cares about the world, and a little redundant if your campaign is all hack and slash. Warlocks are really made by the campaign more than by the player.
Warlock isn’t necessarily a great starter class. Players who want magic without strings attached are probably going to go elsewhere, while those who want a giant spell list with no real downsides are going to look at wizards. If you like demons and the weirdness they bring, though, this might be the class for you. If you prefer simplicity with your magic, look elsewhere.
PLAY STYLE: Demon-loving combat magic caster
The Wizard is D&D’s traditional magical class. It is a character that has to spend a long time preparing and learning spells, but that can ultimately become one of the most powerful base classes in the game. If you’re looking for raw power – and a lot of intellect with which to use it wisely – the Wizard is your best choice.
Wizards don’t do so well in one-off, low-level campaigns. They take a good bit to get going, with most of their great stuff at higher levels. 5th Edition has made lower-level wizards better than they once were, but they do still require a little bit of love to get to the good stuff. As such, Wizards are definitely recommended for those players who expect to be around for the long haul.
PLAY STYLE: Highly prepared combat magic caster, with intelligent skills
Pop Quiz, Hot Shot: What D&D Class Are You?