DnD 5e Classes
Choosing your character’s class is one of the most important decisions you will make in a campaign.
Choosing the right class for yourself AND your character will dictate the rest of your character’s career. Making sure you choose right the first time is imperative as once you start playing a character it’s quite a pain to go back and re-roll a new one. Not only will the time you invested into creating your first character be wasted but the campaign will have to accommodate the new character creating work for your DM and an interruption for the story as your new character is introduced.
This article goes into depth on each DnD 5e Class and will give you the proper tools to make the right decision for your character.
What is a Class in DnD 5e?
Fun Fact: Dungeons & Dragons was the first formalized game to use the character class mechanic.
A character’s class determines their skills and abilities. Skills are broken into Feats and Talents, while abilities are measured by Ability Scores. This article is going to be focusing on giving you a general overview on the choices you have for 5e character classes so Feats and Talents will be focused on in a separate article.
How Ability Scores Shape Your Character
There are 6 Ability Scores used in DnD 5e, they are:
- Strength (STR)
- Constitution (CON)
- Dexterity (DEX)
- Intelligence (INT)
- Wisdom (WIS)
- Charisma (CHA)
Classes like Barbarians and Fighters are Strength and Constitution focused, meaning that they focus on going to be good at hitting things and getting hit by things.
Wizards and Sorcerers on the other hand are Intelligence and Wisdom based, they are also able to cast spells. This means they are going to be very resourceful when stuck in a tricky situation but won’t be as useful if stuck they are in a tavern brawl.
Dexterity based characters like Rogues and Rangers are going to be your sneaky, ranged based players. These characters like to use bows or other dexterity based weapons to seek advantages and catch their enemies by surprise.
Finally, Charisma based characters (which is a bit of a weird one) are going to be your Bards and Warlocks. These classes cast spells with their Charisma (see, I told you it was a weird one) and are usually the ones in your party to talk their way out of (or in to) situations.
Each character is going to have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, your roided out Barbarian may be great at cracking skulls but isn’t going to be the one to win over a diplomat in a civil discussion. Before choosing your character’s class you want to make sure you consider all of your options and the strengths, weaknesses and playstyles that come along with each of the classes.
If you take a look at the Barbarian Character Sheet, it’s pretty obvious how Barbarians are meant to be played. You are usually going to put all of your skill points into STR and CON, while dumping the other stats, to give yourself the fantasy equivalent of the Hulk (complete with the uncontrollable rage!). This may leave you with a bit of a meathead but at least he’s your meathead.
Barbarians are the kings (or queens) of melee damage in DnD 5e. They have the ability to go into a Rage to get a bonus to any check made using STR and a nice bonus to damage. You also gain the ability to attack recklessly which makes it easier to hit opponents with the caveat that they get to hit you more easily.
Barbarians also have the ability to absorb tons of damage. They have the highest hit dice in the game which, combined with a maxed out CON skill, will give them a frankly ridiculous amount of HP. As a bonus, when they Rage they take half damage on all physical attacks. Talk about tanky.
The barbarians weaknesses are what you might expect from the beefiest character class in 5e. Barbarians aren’t going to offer a whole lot in the way of utility, they’re more of a go here and hit that type of character.
In a situation in which they can’t punch, kick or bite their way out, Barbarians aren’t going to be a whole lot of help to the party.
Most people who have seen a Bard played correctly will think that Bards are the most powerful 5e class, but they are also one of the most difficult to play. The Bard’s spell list demand that you think outside the box and it’s strengths push you to interact with people constantly. The Bard class wants you to be gregarious, and it was designed that way. If you want to be silly, clever, and powerful, the Bard might be the class for you.
The 5e Bard is a bit of a Jack of All Trades. Depending on how you want to play your Bard he can flaunt the combat prowess of the Fighter or a dexterous skill set of the Rogue. One thing that is for sure is that the Bard is the best Support Spell Caster in 5e.
Bards get a featured call Bardic Inspiration which allows them to give any party member an extra dice to roll on attack rolls or skill checks. While this ability by itself is amazing, Bards are also a full caster (meaning they get spells up to level 9) and get access to the second largest list of spells which will allow them to (mostly) always be prepared for those sticky situations.
This is an interesting one as it is quite a common opinion that Bard’s are the most powerful 5e class. I think a weakness for Bards, that would be a strength for some people, is the amount of Roleplaying that is necessary for the character.
When asked about players that don’t like to RP or be the face of the party, most people will come back with “that’s okay, no one needs to play an extroverted character”. While this is true for most classes, the Bards strengths are really only maximized when that player is interacting with other party members and NPCs.
When most people think about cleric they think of the quiet party member who heals when needed and throws some ranged attacks around when no one’s hurt. While 5e’s Cleric can be like that, they can also be heavy armour wearing, mace wielding, summoning-lighting-bolts-with-one-hand-while-mass-party-healing-with-the-other…ers. Like Druids, Clerics are a spellcaster that has a ton of versatility and a long list of roles it can fill.
The Cleric’s spellcasting has a certain focus on healing and buffing your party members. This will allow you to heal downed party members or give your party members a boost when they need it.
After Spellcasting, Domains are the Cleric’s biggest class feature, and tend to be very defining of your character as they represent what your Cleric worships. Each Domain gives you bonus Domain Spells, unique abilities, and a bonus to damage with either spells or weapons.
Having a solid healer/buffer in your party is indispensable, although some might call it the “boring” job.
In my opinion, the Cleric’s spell list is one of the most interesting out there as you have to make sure you are using your spell slots wisely and always keeping an eye on what spells to use.
In DnD 5e, there is a mechanic called Concentration. This mechanic forces your spellcaster to remain focused on a spell for the duration of its effect. In my experience, Clerics have a lot of spells that require concentration so making sure you know your spell list and which spells do and do not require concentration is going to be a big part of playing a successful Cleric.
What do you get when you cross a Cleric with a Hippie?
Druids are a really cool support class with tons of versatility. Want to sneak like a rogue? Turn into a Giant Spider. Want to tank and deal damage like a Barbarian? Turn into a Brown Bear. Want to heal and buff the party? You’ve got spells for that.
Druids can wear many hats in an adventuring party but have limited resources to do them all. Ensuring your keeping an eye on your spells slots and Wild Shapes will be key to playing a successful Druid.
A Druid’s main class feature is they can shapeshift (or “Wild Shape”) into beasts that they have seen before. This ability gives the Druid a ton of utility, both in and out of combat, as they are able to transform into a stuff like a bear for tanking damage or a spider for climbing to hard to reach places and stealthing.
Beyond their Wild Shape feature, Druids are a great spellcasting class as they have access to spells all the way up to 9th level. This, combined with their Wild Shape abilities allows them to be versatile with healing, tanking in combat and utility outside of combat.
To help balance the pure awesomeness that is Wild Shape, most of the beasts you can transform into have a low Armour Class, meaning they are easy to hit and kill in combat.
Their spell list is also a bit weaker than Sorcerer/Wizards as they don’t have access to the big damage spells like Fireball, this also includes their cantrips so early levels can feel like a bit of a slog if you find yourself running out of Wild Shapes.
Fighters are meant to be among the best damage dealers and soakers in DnD. This means that your bread and butter is going to be when Initiative gets rolled. Outside of combat, Fighters can definitely still participate in RP but they won’t be able to be a whole lot of help in tricky situations where punching your way out isn’t going to help.
Funnily enough Fighters are good at fighting. By second level they are given skills to heal themselves and get an extra round of attacks in combat and their starting proficiencies allow them to use all weapons and all armour.
These class features plus their extra attacks at levels 5, 11, and 20 ensure that the Fighter class is the epitome of a damage dealer.
Some people may complain that they don’t want to play a character that is a one dimensional “hack and slasher” but that’s not that case with Fighters. With a fighter you can definitely go for the straight up damage dealer, but you could also go for an Eltrich Knight who uses magic to supplement his melee capabilities or a Battle Master that allows you to influence the battlefield in a strategic manner. No matter what type of Fighter you go for, you can be sure the in combat they can put down more pain than just about any class.
While Fighters are amazing at Fighting, some complain that they lack versatility outside of combat. Because of their need to output and soak damage in combat, they usually have to put all of their eggs into the STR and CON basket. This means having low CHA for social interactions or WIS/INT for problem solving and spellcasting.
Monks are a very unique and fun class to play. While some say they are underpowered, you’d have to be crazy to think playing a ninja won’t be awesome.
Monks are great support characters as they have the ability to move through combat with relative ease, going where the fighting is thickest or getting out of tricky situations. They also have some really cool out-of-combat features that makes them great candidates to be the stealthy infiltrator of the party.
Overall, a Monk isn’t going to be the class you choose if you are planning on being the strongest character in the party. They do, however, offer a very unique play style and can be an indispensable asset to the party if played correctly.
Monks are dexterity based class which makes it easy to ensure your Monk is good at what he is supposed to be good at. By dumping all of your ability scores into DEX you can ensure your character:
- Hard to hit
- Does a fair amount of damage
- Can sneak around like a ninja
Not many other classes can say the same as they typically have to stack at least 2 Ability Scores.
Monks are a melee fighter class that doesn’t have a lot of HP. This makes them susceptible to getting knocked out when in close quarters combat (which is where they will likely be). They also deal an underwhelming amount of damage compared to other melee characters like Fighters, Barbarians and Paladins.
Monks have feats that really come in handy at ranged distance as the can catch projectiles and avoid anything require a DEX save quite easily but in order to be effective in combat, most monks need to get up close.
There are Monk archetypes that allow the class to become more deadly at range but they still won’t be as effective and as Ranger or Rogue with projectiles.
The Paladin is a class known for its heavy armour, damage output and high RP demands.
Righteous warriors on the path of the Paladin must dedicate themselves completely to an Oath devoted to certain ideals.
- The Oath of Devotion for the classic Paladin feel. Frequently lawful or the follower of some deity.
- The Oath of the Ancients if you wanted to ease up on the straight lawful good RP. Protectors of sacred groves as well as innocents, the Paladins of the Oath of the Ancients devote themselves to protecting the Light from the darkness of the world, which is a pretty vague mission and gives some room for flexibility.
- The Oath of Vengeance is for people who want to go for a more Marvel’s Punisher vibe. This Oath is dedicated to the single-minded pursuit of the guilty at the cost of all else. Extremely mobile and terrifyingly efficient, Paladins of this Oath will never stop pursuing their prey.
Paladins are another great option for a tanky damage dealer. They a semi-spellcaster (meaning they only learn up to 5th level spells) and have a limited pool of spells to draw from.
They are proficient in all weapons and armour so they have their pick of the litter when it comes to how they want to outfit themselves for combat. This on top of their Divine Smites, which do extra damage on melee attacks, make them one of the highest damage outputters available.
Paladins have a unique ability to be a sort of “battlefield medic” where they can be in the thick of the fray without getting killed but they also have a pool of healing to draw from in case one of their party members goes down. The limited spell slots they have also has a certain focus on healing/revival spells which allows awesome support if the party doesn’t have another healer.
Similarly to Bard’s Paladins are known as one of the stronger DnD classes due to its damage output and versatility. Again, similar to Bards, Paladins require a strong RP to play an effective character. A Paladin’s Oath is what gives the class their holy whoopass powers and sticking to this oath is important to maintain these powers.
The common motif around the Ranger in 5e DnD is a skilled hunter, tracker and woodsman, most at home on the fringes of civilization and the first line of defense against threats from the wilds.
Most Rangers are played as loners in social settings and will be more than happy to scout out ahead for the party. While their semi-caster status gives them some versatility, they typically are nerfed quite hard when travelling in environments that are not preferred or fighting enemies that are not their favored type.
Rangers are typically ranged based characters so having high DEX is important. They are also known to be awesome scouts and wilderness survivors so making sure you spend points on WIS is also important.
Rangers are also best of the martial classes against multiple enemies and hordes. Many of a Ranger’s combat abilities are devoted toward attacking multiple foes in a turn, and to bolster that role, Rangers also have Area of Effect (AoE) spells that can damage multiple foes.
Rangers have two other very unique abilities granted at level 1: Preferred Terrain and Favored Enemy. The Favored Enemy ability grants the Ranger particular advantages on attacking and tracking their favored enemy. Preferred Terrain helps the Ranger and their party, survive, travel and navigate certain environments.
Many of their abilities, including their signature favored enemies and terrains and their stealthy features, are highly situational and don’t always mesh well with a party setting, especially a combat-heavy setting where opportunities to advance scout are at a minimum.
When Rangers are NOT in their favored terrains or dealing with their favored enemies, their skill effectiveness and exploration ability is sharply lessened so those abilities are situational at best.
Rogues are definitely for the player that likes to lie, cheat, steal and backstab their way to victory. The tendency of Rogues to be the scout of the party, combined with the unique nature of a Rogue’s combat abilities mean Rogues are very technical to play.
Rogues are the stealthy thieves and assassins of the DnD world. They are mainly a DEX based class to ensure maximum sneakiness and potential damage. WIS and CON are still important Ability Scores for them to take because of Perception checks and health being big aspects of their characters. This brings Rogue players to make some tough choices early on as to whether you want to buff out-of-combat skills as opposed to combat skills.
Rogues are proficient in more skills than any other class except for Bard which allows them to take point on a lot of skill check. Things like scouting ahead, picking locks and taking out enemy patrols are the common items on a Rogue’s laundry list.
Rogues in 5e get an ability called Sneak Attack which allows them to get extra damage on unaware or flanked enemies. This ability goes hand in hand with the Rogue’s tendency to be the party’s scout and also dictates their more “hit and run” style in combat.
Rogue’s also get extra movement options in the Cunning Movement talent which allows them to disengage from combat even after they have taken a standard action to make an attack.
Rogues are not front line warriors; they have neither the HP nor the AC for prolonged exchanges. If your party gets caught out in the open without the element of surprise and little to no cover Rogues can go down pretty easily.
Also, due to their high number of proficient skills, Rogues are usually scouting out ahead for dangerous situations. One bad roll could mean your Rogue has been discovered by a group of Goblins that you have no chance of taking alone or failed to notice a trap that drops you into a spike pit.
Sorcerers are different from Wizards because, instead of studying the arcane arts, their magic comes from innate magical talent through their bloodline.
Sorcerers have a restricted spell list, number of spells they can learn and spell slots when compared to Wizards. This is made up for the versatility when it comes to casting their spells using the Metamagic ability. This ability allows Sorcerers to duplicate spells, weave spells around friendlies or recover used spell slots.
If you can look at the Sorcerer spell list, find 15 spells that you are happy casting all day, every day, and aren’t going to constantly regret not having a dozen other spells available, then the Sorcerer will work just fine for you, and can actually be quite amazing.
Sorcerers are full casters, much like Wizards. The way they differ is a somewhat restricted spell list and Sorcery Points. Sorcerery Points are a mechanic that allows the Sorcerer to manipulate his spell slot levels to some extent, as well as do nifty things like copying a spell or weaving it around friendlies.
Like mentioned above, Sorcerers have a restricted spell list compared to Wizards. Much like Druids, they learn spells as they level up and cannot learn anymore until the next level up. This means that Sorcerers won’t have the utility that some other casters do but the decrease in utility is certainly made up for in the buff to sheer damage and utility Sorcerer Points can put out.
As with other full-casters, Sorcerers are susceptible to melee combat as they have low AC, HP and damage output.
As with all caster-classes, Spell Slots are a hot commodity. If your party is having a particularly bad day with no time for a Long Rest, Sorcerers can run out of spell slots (meaning they will have to rely on weaker, non-limited spells called Cantrips) quite easily.
Warlocks get their powers by dedicating themselves to an Eldritch Being. These Beings tend to be rather on the dark side so your character might have a tough time getting along with a party’s lawful good Paladin or righteous Fighter. This devotion to an Eltrich Being comes with it’s fair share of dedication so you may find yourself in tough situations where your party is wanting to do one thing but your Eltrich Patron wants another.
Warlocks are not AoE blasters like the evoker wizard or the sorcerer. Instead, they have a few major defining aspects – eldritch blasts, curses, and mind control.
Warlock is another full caster class, but like Sorcerers have a few quirks that make them vastly different from OG full caster, Wizards .
First of all, Warlocks are CHA based casters, secondly they have a very reduced number of spell slots because they can only ever cast spells at their highest level. This means that all of your spells are going to packed one hell of a punch but with the caveat that you will run out quite easily.
One good thing to note about this is that Warlocks regain all of their spells slots with a Short Rest, so with as little as 1 hour of down time Warlocks can be back at full offensive strength.
Warlocks also have a number passive abilities called Invocations. The best Invocation, Agonizing Blast, allows Warlocks to add the CHA modifier to their best cantrip, Eltrich Blast. This allows Warlocks to always put out a fair amount of damage, even if they run out of their meager spell slots.
A Warlock’s Spell Slots are its biggest weakness. Up until level 10th level they only have 2 spell slots per short rest which can get used up very quickly.
This, combined with the fact that they don’t have awesome combat focused abilities mean that a Warlock’s resources can get used up pretty quick and become a very Cantripy character.
Wizards are spellcasters that have studied their art and have gained the fundamental knowledge of magic itself in order to weave it to their will.
They are a class that relies on their Intelligence to outsmart opponents and get them out of tricky situations. This reliance on Intelligence will likely become apparent to players as they realize that they have to use their own noggin to manage a massive spell list and be the party member everyone relies on to always have a plan (thanks Gandalf for setting unrealistic expectation).
The Wizard class is your typical full-caster. They have an unparalleled spell list that they can prepare from every day to ensure they are always ready for whatever situations may arise.
The Wizard’s strengths really lie in the classes versatility. Falling from a building? Got a spell for that. Need to kill a clumped together group of bad guys? Got a spell for that. Need to infiltrate a tightly patrolled encampment? Got a spell for that.
A Wizard’s weaknesses are about what you would expect. They have very low AC and HP and are pretty useless when it comes to a fist fight.
They also have the tendency to run out of Spell Slots if they need to flex their spells too much between Long Rests. Once they run out of Spell Slots their power and utility fall a sharp degree.
The last thing is, Wizards rely heavily on their INT ability score to cast spells. It’s widely known the at INT stat is one of the most useless in the game due to the lack of Saving Throws and skills that overlap.
WotC has done an awesome job on making every 5e character class unique and viable. While some characters are objectively stronger than others, this is a roleplaying game. Making sure you choose the class that most reflects the character you want to play is more important than min/maxing your Pact of the Blade Paladin/Warlock multi-class.
You will also find that knowing your character’s abilities, paying attention to the DM and being creative can make any Character Class the strongest character in the party.
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