Last Updated on January 22, 2023
From raging barbarians and stealthy rogues to sorcerers brimming with innate magical power and wizards poring over arcane texts, heroes in Dungeons & Dragons come in many shapes and sizes.
Picking your class is probably the most important decision you’ll make over the course of a whole Dungeons & Dragons 5e campaign. It’s certainly the most important part of creating a new character.
Sure, your ability scores, race, and background all carry significant weight; they help you figure out who your character was before they took up the adventuring life.
But your class, more than anything, determines who your character is, not to mention what they can do, what’s important to them, and how they go about getting it.
There are 13 playable classes (and, at the time of writing, 106 subclasses) in D&D 5e.
Whether you’re a new player feeling overwhelmed at the start of your first campaign or a veteran looking to explore something new, today we’re aiming to give you a comprehensive guide to picking your next class.
You can jump to any of the D&D 5e classes using the table of contents, or just jump right into our breakdown of what to think about when you’re picking your next character’s class.
Quick Class Guide
What To Consider When Choosing a Class
Your character’s class in D&D 5e is arguably their defining feature. It governs their skills, special abilities, whether they can cast spells and, if so, what kinds of spells they can cast.
From 1st to 20th level, your class is the thing that’s going define what you can do.
Mechanically, it’s no surprise that your class is the most impactful decision you can make in terms of what D&D feels like to play.
Classes bring different levels of complexity to the table, they reward different approaches to playing the game (bards and barbarians tend to have very different approaches to problem solving suited to their skillsets, for example), and they can affect not only your experience playing the game but the experiences of everyone else in your party.
There are all sorts of things you can consider when picking a class for your next character, from super-crunchy stuff like damage output per round to the breadth of the toolkit a particular class affords.
Personally, I’ve got my own process boiled down to three steps.
Choosing a Subclass
Character progression in D&D 5e is remarkably linear, meaning that choices you make in the first few levels of play set you on a fairly predetermined course all the way to level 20.
Just as choosing one class over another can radically alter the way D&D feels to play, figuring out which of the many subclasses to specialize into focuses that decision still further.
Aside from multiclassing, which requires you to start a whole different class over from scratch, your subclass is the only truly meaningful choice you’ll make about your character after 1st level.
Subclasses take the core concept of a particular class and tweak those central elements to create variety.
You want to play a fighter? Cool. Your subclass (or Martial Archetype in the fighter’s case) lets you decide what kind of fighter you want to play.
Do you want to be an astute tactician who outmaneuvers their opponents in combat like the Battle Master?
How about a devastating duelist who focuses solely on offensive-damage output like the Samurai?
What about learning some spells to augment your martial abilities by following the path of the Eldritch Knight?
All three subclasses I just mentioned are still fighters, but their unique abilities differentiate them from one another so much that they could be considered different classes in their own right.
So, my first piece of advice when you’re picking a class is to think about your subclass ahead of time.
Class Roles: Thinking about Playstyle and the Party
Speaking of how a character feels to play, the next thing to consider is what kind of experience you want to have at the tabletop.
What do you like about D&D? (If this is your first time playing the game, what seems appealing about it from the outside?)
Is it the combat? The daring escapades? The chance to explore new, fantastical worlds? How about getting sweet loot? Or playing politics? Or wielding magical powers? Or…
Once you figure out what you want to get out of your D&D experience, you can pick a class to suit your desired playstyle as well as your preferred level of complexity.
Want to play a character that’s super simple and focuses on combat? Play a barbarian.
Want to keep that combat focus but introduce some tactical depth and the ability to protect your allies? Maybe a fighter or a paladin is the choice for you.
The other important thing to think about when considering how your class will affect your playstyle is how that class will fit into the larger party.
Now, there’s nothing to say that a party of four fighters or wizards or rogues (I’ve actually seen this one in action and it was wild) can’t work, but D&D 5e plays best when each member of the party brings together unique, complementary strengths.
While defined party roles like “healer” and “tank” kind of went out the window after 4th Edition, they’re still a useful way to think about the ways in which a character can fill one or more roles that a party might need.
Because each class is different, it stands to reason that each class fits into these roles differently.
As such, when we talk about how classes play, we’re going to talk about their role within the party as a way to conceptualize what they do best.
The “traditional” roles within a D&D party that we’re going to be using include…
Nuker: Deals loads of damage but can’t necessarily support their allies or keep themselves safe.
Tank: Can take loads of punishment, usually as a way to help their allies avoid having to do it themselves.
Support: Buffs, heals, revives, inspires, and otherwise helps their allies perform better.
Utility: Can do a little bit of everything, especially when it comes to being effective outside of combat and social situations.
Controller: Debuffs, disrupts, and otherwise prevents enemies from doing what they want to do.
Face: Handles negotiations, bribery, flattery, and other social encounters. The party’s Face is the one that makes sure that arranging for a room in the local inn doesn’t turn into a wall-to-wall bloodbath again.
Do I Like It?
Yes, we’re going to talk about roles and playstyles and optimal subclass decisions as we go through the full class list, but honestly, the most important thing to consider when you pick your new character’s class is “Do I Like It?”
Picking something you think is cool and you enjoy playing is going to be so much more fun than muddling through with a class that doesn’t click for you or that you don’t enjoy just because it’s the “optimal” decision or because your friends insisted they needed a cleric.
Hopefully, our breakdown of the 13 D&D 5e classes will help you get to grips with your next character’s class before you sit down for your session zero.
- Roles: Support, Utility
- Complexity: High
- Primary Ability Scores: Intelligence, Constitution
The artificer was the first class to be officially introduced to D&D 5e since the Player’s Handbook came out in 2014.
Masters of machinery and invention, artificers are magical tinkerers who use a combination of arcane clockwork, alchemy, and magical tools to cast spells, infuse mundane items with wondrous properties, and even craft their own powerful artifacts.
The fact that their magic stems from binding arcane energy to physical objects, weapons, and items is unique in 5e, and they represent a refreshing change of pace for the veteran player looking to move beyond some of the more well-trodden fantasy tropes that permeate the other classes.
While artificers will never be powerful spellcasting specialists like the wizard or as effective in combat as the fighter, they’re easily a contender for the most versatile class in the game.
They have a massive toolkit of interesting magical effects they can apply to suit any situation, whether the problem at hand calls for a subtle, sideways approach or simply a lot of damage.
Artificers are the perfect class for a player who, appropriately, likes to tinker with their build.
Because they can switch out their spells and infusions regularly, they can rapidly redeploy from a damage-focused build to a passable healer or even a tank.
They’re most at home in a support role, however, buffing up their allies with powerful items, passively healing, and providing assistance from range.
The Artificer’s Defining Abilities
Aside from their spellcasting (drawn from the wizard spell list), artificers are defined by their infusions, which allow them to imbue mundane items with magical properties chosen from an extensive list.
These effects can range from specialized suits of magical power armor to replicating the effects of dozens of different magic items.
The Artificer’s Drawbacks
The sheer level of adaptability the artificer class provides also means its complexity is correspondingly off the charts.
If you’re a new player trying to get the hang of the game or an experienced one who suffers from analysis paralysis, this isn’t the class for you.
Artificers have the shortest list of subclasses in the game with a mere four options to choose from at 3rd level. However, each one brings a unique flavor to the class.
Alchemist: Combine alchemical reagents to heal, harm, and craft potions with magical buffs.
Armorer: Bring out the defensive potential of the artificer with this subclass focused on playing as a tanky frontliner who controls the battle with a mixture of arcane infusions, insanely high AC, and disruptive magic.
Artillerist: A specialist in long-range damage, the artillerist creates a drone-like cannon that follows them around, supplementing their offensive spell list with additional damage.
Battle Smith: A more damage-oriented version of the Armorer, the Battle Smith can wade into battle alongside most martial classes and is accompanied by a metal dog for backup.
- Roles: Nuker, Tank
- Complexity: Low
- Primary Ability Scores: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity
From Conan to the Hulk, fiction is full of powerful bruisers who wade into battle with nothing but the power of overwhelming rage and a pair of hot pants. If you want to bring that to your next D&D character, the barbarian may be for you.
This Strength- and Constitution-focused class is all about taking all the damage the enemy has to throw at them, shrugging it off thanks to their massive pool of hit points, and then dishing out twice as much in return.
The beauty of the barbarian lies in the class’s simplicity. It’s easily a contender for easiest class in D&D 5e to pick up for new players, and its various subclasses rarely muddy those waters.
The Barbarian’s Defining Abilities
Central to this class’s playstyle of “hit the thing, hit it again, check if it’s dead, hit it one more time to be on the safe side” is the barbarian’s Rage mechanic, which allows them to cut most incoming damage in half and buffs their ability to put the hurt on their enemies.
Rage, in combination with other abilities like Reckless Attack (which lets you gain advantage on weapon attacks in exchange for giving enemies advantage on attacks against you) and Feral Instinct (which gives advantage on initiative rolls and makes it harder for enemies to get the drop on you), serve to make you an absolute monster in combat.
The Barbarian’s Drawbacks
If simplicity is the barbarian’s greatest virtue, it’s also this class’s greatest flaw; a massive, skull-encrusted greataxe has two heads, after all.
Not only does the barbarian struggle in situations where the solution to a problem isn’t “hit it with my skull-encrusted greataxe,” but the lack of versatility in play that rage creates (you basically can’t do anything other than hit things while you’re raging, which also seriously undermines any efforts to make the class more varied by multiclassing) means that the class feels more or less the same at first level as it does at 20th.
If you like the way the barbarian plays, then good for you. But more experienced players might find themselves growing tired of having exactly one, very big, skull-encrusted tool in their toolbox.
Barbarian subclasses (Primal Paths) are, I think, thematically cooler than they are mechanically, and very few of them introduce more active abilities to the class, instead focusing on passive buffs that push the class in the direction of being either a better Nuker or a more durable Tank.
Ancestral Guardian: Shifts the focus of the barbarian from a damage-dealing nuker toward being an unassailable tank who can also defend their squishier party members.
Beast: A powerful blend of offensive and defensive capabilities, the Beast path barbarian takes on the characteristics of different animals to enhance their abilities and gain new ones.
Berserker: This Primal Path turns the barbarian’s rage ability up to 11 with the Frenzy feature. However, it also increases the cost and, given how nasty the effects of Exhaustion can be, it’s not something I’d recommend to new (or experienced) players.
Storm Herald: A selection of powerful magical auras allow you to emphasize your defensive capabilities and still dish out some decent area of effect damage.
Totem Warrior: One of the most popular and enduring barbarian paths, the Totem Warrior embodies one of five different animal spirits, which can provide powerful buffs and a good degree of versatility.
Zealot: The very embodiment of being too angry to die. The Zealot is all about soaking up massive, eye-watering amounts of damage and walking away.
Well, not away, per se; walking toward whoever dealt the damage and beating them to death with a fantasy bible is probably more accurate. Even if you do die, the Zealot is a subclass that’s purpose-built to be easier (read: cheaper) to resurrect.
Wild Magic: My personal favorite Primal Path, the Wild Magic barbarian is suffused with the chaotic energy of the feywild, allowing (well, causing might be a better way to put it) them to manifest random, highly powerful magical effects whenever they rage or take damage.
- Roles: Face, Support, Utility, Controller
- Complexity: Medium
- Primary Ability Scores: Charisma, Dexterity
Eloquent entertainers, skilled diplomats, charmers, schmoozers, silver-tongued hucksters, swashbucklers, and surprisingly powerful spell-slingers, bards bring a whole lot of social skill to a party – as well as a little bit of everything else.
Aside from their skill in social situations, where their high Charisma and access to a large number of enchantment spells like charm person make them master manipulators, bards are most effective when it comes to supporting their allies, both in and out of combat.
However, this doesn’t mean that bards need to be restricted to buffing their party members. Depending on your choice of subclass, bards can fill just about any role in a party, from a frontline fighter to a disruptive controller.
Bards are also consummate skill monkeys, able to give themselves an edge on just about every skill check, not to mention “borrow” spells from other class’s spell lists at higher levels.
The Bard’s Defining Abilities
Bards bring a lot of tricks to an adventuring party, but most iconic is their ability to inspire their allies with words of encouragement or music.
This Bardic Inspiration allows bards to give dice (that get bigger as they level up) to allies, who can then add them to checks, saves, and attack rolls.
The Bard’s Drawbacks
Honestly, there aren’t many. Bards obviously aren’t as specialized at spellcasting as classes like the sorcerer or wizard, and they aren’t as combat oriented as fighters and barbarians… but they’re pretty close.
Bards have spell lists that progress like a full caster and share the same hit die size as rogues and monks.
They’re alright healers too and, honestly, if you put a bard fully geared toward being a healer up against a cleric, I’m not sure most parties could tell the difference.
Then, there’s the fact that, no matter which style of play you’re emulating, bards are also going to be generally competent and hugely powerful in non-combat encounters.
Bards choose their subclass (known as a bardic College) at 3rd level and receive additional benefits from their choice of college at 6th and 14th level.
College of Creation: The most recent bard college to be added to 5e, the College of Creation teaches young bards to harness the magic of the ancient songs sung by the dragon gods Bahamut and Tiamat.
This subclass gets extra buffs to its bardic inspiration and specializes in animating and creating objects from nothing using echoes of the song of creation.
College of Eloquence: Masters of wit and words, bards belonging to the College of Eloquence excel at oratory, weaving subtle magic into their words that further empower their bardic inspiration to aid allies and trip up their enemies.
College of Glamour: Charm, illusion, and fey enchantment – Glamour bards are all about using the magic of the faerie realm to trick, amaze, and delight.
College of Lore: This subclass takes the bard’s ability to know a little bit about everything a little bit further. They are expert storytellers who can use their vast wealth of knowledge to support allies and undermine their foes.
Lore bards also get access to the bard’s Magical Secrets ability (which lets them select spells from any other class’s spell list) a full four levels before all other colleges.
College of Swords: Sword bards mix daring, performative feats of weapon prowess, like carnival knife throwing, with actual martial skill.
This college pushes the bard closer to being a martial character with access to a fighting style, an extra attack, and the ability to wear medium armor.
College of Valor: Walking encyclopedias of heroic deeds, bards from the College of Valor are both powerful martial warriors (with bonus weapon and armor proficiencies to match) and powerful sources of extra ferocity for their allies, who can add bardin inspiration to their damage rolls.
College of Whispers: Bards trained by the College of Whispers practice subtle, dangerous arts that make them effective spies, assassins, or criminals.
They empower their weapons with psychic damage, terrify their enemies with subtle paranoia-inducing enchantments, and can even take on the identities of the dead like normal folk would change clothes.
- Roles: Nuker, Support, Tank
- Complexity: Medium
- Primary Ability Scores: Wisdom, Strength
Clerics draw their power from one of the many powerful deities that exist throughout the D&D multiverse, acting as servants of their faith and progressing from lowly acolyte all the way to a living extension of their god’s will.
While clerics are universally known (and rightly so) as the most effective healers in D&D 5e, the class is every bit as diverse as the pantheon of gods that are worshiped across the planes.
With access to more (and more varied) subclasses than any other type of 5e class, clerics can suit a wide array of different flavors and playstyles.
Generally speaking, however, clerics combine martial prowess and the ability to wear heavy armor with a powerful spell list focused on healing, supporting allies, and divining both truth and the future.
The Cleric’s Defining Abilities
Clerics are defined by their relationship with a deity, which also shapes their divine domain and subsequent specializations.
As a cleric grows in power, they begin to be able to channel the power of the divine being they serve to accomplish small miracles, like turning back the undead, dispelling magical darkness, creating illusions, and many other effects tied to the nature of their deity.
The Cleric’s Drawbacks
While clerics are certainly as much of a spellcasting class as the sorcerer or the warlock, they suffer from a more limited spell list.
Speaking of limiting, while the cleric as a whole is a very versatile class, the various divine domains can get quite specialized right from 1st level.
Deciding to play a War Domain cleric and then, around 2nd level, deciding that what you really need to be is a better healer is going to leave you feeling ill-equipped without much you can do about it.
Essentially, this class requires you to make your biggest decisions at 1st level and that’s it.
You’re more or less locked in between then and level 20. For players who like more decisions to make beyond their next spell, the cleric may not be as fun as they’d hoped.
Clerics are relatively unique among classes, since they choose their subclass (Divine Domain) at 1st level, rather than later.
Given that a Divine Domain shapes most aspects of how your cleric will play, it’s worth taking the time to make the right choice.
Arcana Domain: Students of magic beyond the divine, Arcana clerics can also borrow from the wizard spell list for even more magical versatility.
Death Domain: Heavily focused on damage, probably evil, definitely into wearing black and a lot of skull jewelry.
This subclass is technically supposed to be for NPCs like the Oathbreaker paladin, but it’s super powerful and, if your DM says it’s cool, why not?
Forge Domain: Heavily armored, combat-focused frontliners that mixed fiery offensive options with nigh-untouchable AC.
Grave Domain: Dedicated to preserving the natural order of life and death, Grave clerics bring a powerful (although admittedly spooky) mixture of offensive, defensive, and support abilities to the table.
Knowledge Domain: Experts in a lot and pretty well versed in everything else, Knowledge clerics can fill the skill-monkey utility role just as well as a bard or a rogue.
Life Domain: The classic cleric, totally focused on healing and protecting their allies from harm.
Light Domain: Sun-worshiping fanatics with a whole load of radiant damage output.
Nature Domain: A big old handful of druid spells and heavy-armor proficiency makes nature clerics great Tanks and battlefield Controllers.
Order Domain: Great options for enhancing your allies’ abilities and debuffing enemies, all while wearing heavy armor and shouting a lot.
Peace Domain: Focused on helping your allies deal insane amounts of damage so you don’t have to get your hands dirty.
Tempest Domain: Storm-themed clerics with access to a host of disruptive offensive magic.
Trickery Domain: Dedicated to trickster deities, these clerics are skilled at using illusion and deceit to outfox their opponents.
Twilight Domain: A highly defensive subclass focused on operating in darkness.
War Domain: War clerics borrow from the paladin’s list of proficiencies and spells to be monsters in combat.
- Roles: Tank, Support, Controller, Utility
- Complexity: High
- Primary Ability Scores: Wisdom, Dexterity
Druids are protectors and servants of the natural world, capable of wielding powerful magics, communing with animals, and even taking on the form of beasts they have seen before.
The result is a highly versatile class with a unique roster of abilities that make druids able to tackle most situations and come out on top.
The Druid’s Defining Abilities
Aside from their spellcasting, which provides excellent battlefield control, moderate healing, and passable damage options, a druid’s defining ability is their Wild Shape, which lets them assume animal form.
This – especially at lower levels – allows druids to be a better Tank than the most powerful barbarian and a better scout than the stealthiest rogue.
The Druid’s Drawbacks
The main issue with druids is that they require a lot of concentration to play – in more ways than one.
First, their spell list is predominantly composed of concentration spells, meaning druids have to manage their positioning carefully so as not to get hurt and end a spell effect early.
Second, bouncing between an extensive spell list, wild shape, and a druid’s subclass abilities is a lot to handle, especially for a newer player.
Druids choose their subclass (Druid Circle) at 2nd level and receive additional benefits at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
Circle of Dreams: A feywild-themed subclass with a delicate, ethereal playstyle that balances healing, support abilities, and some teleportation.
Circle of the Land: For druids that prefer to emphasize their spellcasting and connection to nature over their Wild Shape, the Circle of the Land druids get additional spells themed to specific types of environments.
Circle of the Moon: For druids that want to make their Wild Shape the heart and soul of their build, turn into more powerful animals, and even cast spells in beast form.
Circle of the Shepherd: A druid circle that focuses specifically on summoning hordes of woodland creatures (or, if you’re well traveled, velociraptors) and fey spirits to fight by your side.
In fact, the Unicorn Spirit that the Shepherd druid can summon is so effective at healing that it makes this subclass a match for the Life Cleric as one of the strongest healers in the game.
Circle of Spores: A fungally focused druid circle that deals massive amounts of poison damage to just about anything standing nearby.
Circle of Stars: A circle for druids who draw on the magic of starlight and unravel the mysteries of the cosmos. This is a powerful divination-focused subclass with some added damage and mobility options at higher levels.
Circle of Wildfire: In addition to a slew of fire-based damage spells, the Wildfire druid can also summon a powerful fiery fey spirit to fight by their side.
- Roles: Nuker, Tank
- Complexity: Low
- Primary Ability Scores: Strength, Constitution
Warriors of all sizes, shapes, and styles call themselves fighters.
This archetypical martial class is all about skill with weapons in combat and arguably makes the perfect jumping off point for newer plays since the class starts out simple and only gets more complex later on if you want it to.
The Fighter’s Defining Abilities
At the heart of the fighter class is their ability to make extra attacks on each round of combat, starting at 5th level. By level 20, a fighter can make four attacks with a single action.
This, combined with abilities like Action Surge, means that fighters almost always get to feel like they have a lot of agency in combat.
The Fighter’s Drawbacks
While fighters can use feats and subclasses to make sure they’re good at just about every different flavor of fighting, their dependence on having high values in multiple ability scores tends to mean they struggle outside of their class’s core competencies – something that a relatively short skill roster does little to make up for.
Fighter subclasses (known as Martial Archetypes) kick in at 3rd level and gain additional features at 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th levels.
Arcane Archer: A powerful ranged subclass that applies magical effects to ranged weapons.
Battle Master: Tactical masterminds and skilled combatants that use powerful combat Maneuvers to deal extra damage, protect allies, outmaneuver their enemies, and otherwise control the flow of battle.
Cavalier: A highly defensive subclass that excels at mounted combat.
Champion: One of the simplest subclasses in the game with an emphasis on passive abilities and a devastating critical hit.
Eldritch Knight: A versatile half-casting subclass that borrows spells from the wizard spell list.
Purple Dragon Knight / Banneret: A support- and social-encounter-focused fighter that can pull double duty as the party’s Face.
Psi Warrior: A psionics-wielding, damage- and mobility-focused archetype.
Rune Knight: Warriors who can harness the power of giants’ magic runes to buff their abilities.
Samurai: A highly offense-focused Nuker with good survivability but little to offer by way of being a team player.
- Roles: Nuker, Controller
- Complexity: Medium
- Primary Ability Scores: Dexterity, Wisdom
Monks are warriors who have learned to harness the energy that flows through their body in the form of Ki. By channeling their Ki, monks are able to perform dazzling feats of mobility, dexterity, and strength.
Masters of martial arts and (mostly) unarmed fighting, monks are a highly mobile class that can use their Ki points to catch arrows mid-flight, run up walls, move faster than the eye can see, and use their Dexterity instead of Strength for melee weapon attacks and unarmed strikes.
The Monk’s Defining Abilities
The monk is almost entirely geared toward using their Ki points to add extra effects to their attacks, disrupt enemies, and defend themselves.
From 2nd level, monks can start using Ki points to take additional attacks and dodge or dash as a bonus action, unlocking more powerful effects as they level up.
The Monk’s Drawbacks
Despite being an ostensibly melee-combat-focused class, monks are remarkably squishy, relying primarily on their Wisdom and Dexterity modifiers to boost their unarmored defense.
As a result, monks end up being quite multi-ability dependent, needed a good Wisdom, Dexterity, and Constitution modifier to be effective.
Also, with a whole extra ruleset (Ki points) that makes liberal use of the monk’s bonus action, I’ve seen this class be a little overwhelming for new players and, as a result, feel underwhelming at the table.
There are 11 monk subclasses (known as Monastic Traditions), making this class a contender for the most diverse subclass roster in 5e.
Monks choose a monastic tradition at 3rd level, gaining additional features at 6th, 11th, and 17th levels.
Way of Mercy: Monks who follow the Way of Mercy are as effective at using their Ki to heal as they are at using it to harm. This subclass creates an interesting mixture of Nuker and Support.
Way of the Shadow: A monk subclass that dips its toes into spellcasting and stealth abilities that boost its ability to do rogue-like melee damage and reduces its reliance on Ki.
Way of the Ascendant Dragon: A draconic-themed Monastic Tradition that gives its practitioners dragon-like breath attacks and the power of flight.
Way of the Astral Self: Summon a pair of spectral arms that boost your combat abilities for 10 minutes.
Way of the Drunken Master: A (surprisingly non alcohol-related) subclass that emphasizes the monk’s propensity for hit-and-run tactics, encouraging you to embrace your role as a Nuker.
Way of the Four Elements: A highly versatile subclass that lets you use Ki points to fuel elemental spellcasting.
Way of the Kensei: A combat-focused subclass that lets monks move beyond simple monk weaponry and into martial weapon territory for a devastating melee nuker.
Way of the Long Death: A subclass entirely geared toward being very, very hard to kill.
Way of the Open Hand: Whether armed or otherwise, Open Hand monks focus entirely on martial arts combat with additional enhancement to their Ki effects.
Way of the Sun Soul: This subclass lets you convert Ki points into radiant damage for a divine-influenced damage dealer.
- Roles: Nuker, Tank, Controller, Support, Face
- Complexity: High
- Primary Ability Scores: Strength, Charisma, Constitution
Paladins are proud, powerful warriors whose talents for combat are matched only by the power of their sacred oath.
This class is one of the most powerful and self-sufficient in the game, combining high AC and hit points, charisma, damage dealing abilities, and some great utility spells with powerful auras and enough healing to keep it in the fight as long as necessary.
The Paladin’s Defining Abilities
Paladins are defined generally by their Divine Smite ability, which lets them dish out an insane amount of radiant damage on top of a melee attack.
Like clerics, they can also turn back the undead and, while their spellcasting will never keep up with a full caster, they can throw out a few seriously powerful and unique spells by the time they reach higher levels.
The Paladin’s Drawbacks
One of the things that makes paladins so effective is their versatility. However, this comes with added complexity attached.
Their long list of class features interact with virtually all the game’s mechanics – there are very few other classes that, for example, use conditions as a core element of their play style.
Also, very few paladin abilities reset on a short rest, which means you’ll have to become more adept at on-the-fly risk assessments to determine whether you should burn your last Divine Smite now or hang on to it for later, while the Wizard burns Level 2 spells like their cantrips.
Lastly, because Divine Smite is firmly tied to melee attacks, paladins feel seriously underwhelming in ranged combat.
Every paladin is defined by (and gets their power from) their Sacred Oath, which they wear at 3rd level, cementing their subclass. They gain further benefits from their sacred oath at 7th, 15th, and 20th levels.
Oath of Conquest: Brutal tyrants who embody the idea that might makes right. Oath of Conquest paladins excel at frightening their enemies and dishing out large amounts of damage.
Oath of Devotion: The archetypical questing knight, emphasizing goodness and justice and backing it up with the ability to turn back the forces of darkness (and a fairly insipid spell list).
Oath of Glory: The Oath of Glory is intended to replicate the superhuman athletic feats of legendary heroes like Theseus, Hercules, and Achilles.
Oath of Redemption: One of the most interesting Paladin subclasses, the Oath of Redemption heavily reworks this martial class into a supernaturally persuasive pacifist.
Oath of the Ancients: An unassailable bulwark protecting the natural world. Oath of the Ancients paladins are one of the most effective Tanks in the whole of 5e.
Oath of the Watchers: Vigilant defenders against extraplanar threats, this admittedly situational subclass is all about taking down fey, demons, and celestials.
Oath of Vengeance: Possibly the ultimate melee Nuker, the Oath of Vengeance blends a little bit of battlefield control with the best single-target damage output of any paladin oath.
The Oathbreaker: These fallen paladins have forsaken their oaths and become twisted, evil reflections of the paragons of goodness they once were.
- Roles: Nuker, Utility, Support
- Complexity: Medium
- Primary Ability Scores: Dexterity, Wisdom, Strength
If you want to play an explorer, a hunter of monsters, and a guardian of the borders between civilization and the nightmarish things that live in the wilderness, then the ranger might be for you.
This semi-martial class brings a dash of druidic magic and a flair for surviving in the wilderness to an otherwise pretty straightforward martial class.
In combat, rangers use their unique spells like Hunter’s Mark to deal massive damage from afar, and some subclasses can even tame a wild animal spirit to fight by their side.
The Ranger’s Defining Abilities
The ranger brings a broad skillset to a party, along with some seriously powerful damage output.
Their Natural Enemy and Favored Terrain features let them truly excel in certain situations and feel genuinely like experts when fighting or tracking particular types of foe.
The Ranger’s Drawbacks
More than any other class, rangers can suffer from “being in the wrong campaign.”
Especially at lower levels, rangers can feel woefully underpowered if, say, they were expecting to be in an arctic environment and instead are traipsing around the underdark fighting hobgoblins instead of gnolls.
Very little needs to change about the adventure to take a ranger from a top-tier class to the dumpster.
Thankfully, this is one of the things that the array of excellent subclasses more recently introduced has kind of fixed for the ranger.
While the original three from the Player’s Handbook aren’t great, newer additions, like the Swarmkeeper, Gloom Stalker, and the Drakewarden, are all fantastic.
Rangers choose their subclass (known as Ranger Archetypes) at 3rd level, receiving additional features at 7th, 11th, and 15th levels.
Beast Master: Charge into battle with a fearsome pet (or, if you’re using the updated rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything – and you should be – an animal spirit) by your side.
This subclass is all about empowering your animal companion to deal more damage.
Drakewarden: If bears, wolves, and hawks are a little tame for you, then the new Drakewarden subclass for the ranger lets you develop a slightly more powerful animal companion: a small dragon.
Your companion levels up as you do, progressing from what is basically a big, fire-breathing dog into an actually rideable draconic mount.
Fey Wanderer: A highly magic-focused subclass that allows the ranger to serve as a highly effective Face for the party.
Gloom Stalker: A devastating ambusher at home in the gloomy tunnels of the Underdark, able to make themselves functionally invisible in darkness and dim light, and then explode from the shadows with a flurry of extra attacks.
Horizon Walker: Similar to the Gloomstalker but with the darkness replaced by teleportation magic.
Hunter: The hunter chooses to firmly focus on the martial components of the ranger, leaving the spellcasting relatively untouched.
This is probably one of the better subclasses for a newer player with its emphasis on dealing extra damage, especially against large monsters.
Monster Slayer: Ironically, this is far from the best monster-slaying subclass of ranger. The Monster Slayer instead focuses more on defensive abilities.
Swarmkeeper: A highly evocative subclass that gains access to greater spellcasting, damage, and control by means of a swarm of small insects, animals, birds, or other living things that follow them around.
- Roles: Nuker, Utility, Face
- Complexity: Medium
- Primary Ability Scores: Dexterity
Stealthy, dextrous, and deadly, rogues are the quintessential infiltration and assassination (not to mention theft, trap disarmament, and secret-door locator) class.
While they’re technically a martial class like fighters and barbarians, rogues never unlock access to extra attacks, instead relying on their Sneak Attack ability to throw potentially massive amounts of extra damage at their targets.
The Rogue’s Defining Abilities
From their Sneak Attack (which adds a pile of d6s to successful attacks when the rogue either has advantage on an attack or is hitting an enemy who is beside one of the rogue’s allies) to Cunning Action and Evasion, virtually everything about the rogue’s combat abilities (whether in melee or at range) are tailored to making them delicate, precise Nukers.
However, they’re more than just a glass cannon.
Rogues are almost as good at amassing a diverse array of skill proficiencies as bards, can use trickery and disguises to operate as the party’s Face in social situations, and have a level of mobility that lets them contend with the monk when it comes to getting in and out of tricky situations.
The Rogue’s Drawbacks
The “glass” part of “glass cannon” has burned many a rogue player before.
For a class that tends to be remarkably combat focused, rogues tend to have a pretty small pool of hit points, not to mention the fact that their reliance on one attack per round can make their contributions to a fight feel very swingy.
Rogues unlock a subclass (known as a Roguish Archetype) at 3rd level, gaining additional benefits at 9th, 13th, and 17th levels.
Arcane Trickster: A highly versatile semi-spellcaster subclass that gets a souped-up version of Mage Hand and some useful utility and offensive spells from the wizard spell list.
Assassin: An incredibly straightforward class that focuses on infiltration and dealing massive (seriously… so much) damage to single targets.
Inquisitive: The combination of the rogue’s expertise and the Inquisitive’s features like Eye For Detail make this subclass the undisputed king of perceptiveness.
Mastermind: An expert at manipulation and misdirection, able to outfox their enemies in and out of combat.
Phantom: Rogues with a mystical connection to death itself that blends necrotic damage with the ability to temporarily gain new skills by talking to ghosts. One of my favorite rogue subclasses.
Scout: A more outdoorsy take on the rogue compared to all the urban-sophisticate grittiness that the other archetypes seem to favor.
The Scout is a mobility-, stealth-, and exploration-focused rogue that focuses on ranged combat and can navigate the wilderness better than most rangers.
Soulknife: One of three Psionic classes in 5e, the Soulknife rogue fights with blades of pure psychic energy and has access to a suit of useful powers, including telepathy, invisibility, and teleportation.
Swashbuckler: A more up-front, in your face, daredevil roguish archetype that focuses on melee combat.
Thief: Inspired by the original version of the rogue class (also called the thief) from the first edition of D&D, this subclass is all about mobility, picking locks, disarming traps, and other non-combat proficiencies.
- Roles: Nuker, Controller
- Complexity: High
- Primary Ability Scores: Charisma, Constitution
Brimming with innate magical energy, sorcerers are one of the most powerful and versatile spellcasting classes in the game.
While they have access to a slightly smaller roster of spells than the wizard, they have the ability to alter and change the effects of those spells using a feature called Metamagic.
If you want to play a powerful, adaptable magic user whose powers step from their ancestral bloodline, the influence of a god, a brush with a demon, or some other strange form of contact with powers beyond comprehension, the sorcerer may be for you.
The Sorcerer’s Defining Abilities
More than anything, it’s a sorcerer’s ability to cast spells and then modify those spells with metamagic that sets them apart.
Metamagic effects can range from increasing the damage of a spell to changing its casting time from an action to a bonus action or even switching out the damage type completely (you’ve heard of Fireball. Well, get ready for Thunderball!) and give you an unprecedented level of control over how you apply your magic.
The Sorcerer’s Drawbacks
Sorcerers tend to be the archetypical Nuker, much to the detriment of their defensive capabilities.
A small hit die and mediocre defensive options mean that careless players might see their fortunes turn around on them very quickly – which is more likely than you think when you’re managing spell slots, metamagic, and a handful of subclass abilities as well.
Also, sorcerers have a pretty big complexity spike along with their power bump at 3rd level when all their core abilities finally come online.
You can go from playing a survival horror game with an underpowered cantrip-slinger one minute to juggling half a dozen different options the next.
Sorcerers choose their subclasses (fitting known as their Sorcerous Origin) at character creation, unlocking additional features at 6th, 14th, and 18th level.
Aberrant Mind: A Psionics-focused subclass that augments the sorcerer with new spells, telepathy, and the eventual ability to fully unleash the eldritch monstrosity that dwells within you.
Clockwork Soul: Magic from the cosmic plane of order imbues this defensive sorcerer subclass with abilities that focus on eliminating randomness by canceling out advantage and disadvantage
Divine Soul: A support-style sorcerer that mixes metamagic with cleric spells for a truly unique and powerful subclass.
Draconic Bloodline: The classic sorcerer subclass that focuses on damage output and resistance.
Shadow Magic: Powerful and versatile, this subclass infuses you with the dark magic of the shadowfell, focusing on controlling and disrupting enemies.
Storm Sorcery: This subclass focuses on elemental air magic that makes Storm Sorcerers invaluable assets to ships at sea. Otherwise, they still make for powerful mobility- and battlefield control-focused spellcasters.
Wild Magic: Suffused with wild, untamable magic, this chaotic subclass balances some powerful luck-based features with the looming prospect of rolling on the Wild Magic Surge table, which can produce some truly cataclysmic (or pretty useful) results.
- Roles: Nuker, Utility, Controller, Face
- Complexity: High
- Primary Ability Scores: Charisma, Dexterity
Seekers of forbidden, forgotten, ancient knowledge, warlocks gain access to spellcasting through a pact, a bond of servitude sworn to some great and powerful entity – not a god, per se, but something god-adjacent that lends the warlock a fragment of its powers in exchange for… well, that depends on the entity.
More than just about any other class (with the possible exception of clerics), playing a warlock comes with strings attached. Your powers come at a cost, and when your otherworldly patron says jump, you’d better say “how high?”
The Warlock’s Defining Abilities
Warlocks’ connection to their patrons is expressed through their access to Pact Magic, a unique and largely inferior style of spellcasting that gives warlocks a smaller spell list and fewer spell slots but allows them to regain those spell slots on a short rest.
They also have access to the game’s objectively best damage cantrip, Eldritch Blast, and can further augment it (and their other abilities) with special bonuses called Eldritch Invocations.
Lastly, warlocks are also defined by their chosen Pact Boon, which feels a bit like a second subclass, and can create several benefits, from extra cantrips to a powerful familiar.
The Warlock’s Drawbacks
As I said, warlocks suffer from a smaller spell list (though the spells they do get tend to be pretty powerful) and a truly miserable pool of spell slots. Seriously, an 18th-level warlock has as many spell slots as a 3rd-level wizard.
Also, all Pact Magic spell slots are the same level, meaning that a warlock who wants to cast a 1st-level spell has to use one of the same spell slots they could use to cast a 5th-level spell instead.
Higher-level spells can’t even be cast with spell slots and instead require a special feature called Mystic Arcanum, which makes Pact Magic even less flexible.
This doesn’t mean warlocks are bad – far from it. However, you will have to juggle a lot of balls to make this class work well, and even at its best, it probably won’t feel effortless.
A warlock’s subclass is tied to their Otherworldly Patron and is selected at 1st level with additional benefits being unlocked at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
The Archfey: A great option for warlocks looking to confuse, bamboozle, and otherwise run mental rings around their enemies.
Your powerful fey patron gives you access to an expanded spell list full of options, like Faerie Fire, Sleep and, at later levels, Dominate Person. Your other pact features also give you a handful of tools for influencing the weak-minded.
The Celestial: A powerful celestial grants you access to an expanded spell list replete with radiant damage dealing cleric spells like Sacred Flame and Searing Vengeance as well as some healing magic.
The Fathomless: Something ancient and powerful from the ocean’s depths grants you a solid mixture of environmental- and battlefield-control magic with an admitted dependence on being close to water to feel effective.
The Fiend: The classic faustian bargain that gives you access to a host of offensive spells, typically with a thematically on-point fiery motif as well as some much-needed defensive options like Dark One’s Own Luck, which lets you effectively give yourself 1d10 bardic inspiration once per short or long rest, and Dark One’s Blessing, which keeps you topped up with temporary hit points as long as you keep the fires of Hell stoked with the blood of your enemies.
The Genie: The best and most versatile expanded spell list of any warlock class, including Wish, which is huge, and generally an interesting take on the idea of an otherworldly master.
The Great Old One: This eldritch pact gives you a pretty strong expanded spell list packed with all sorts of evocative, tentacle-based options – not to mention great control, enchantment, and debuff spells like dominate person and detect thoughts.
The Hexblade: Easily the most unique warlock subclass in terms of both narrative and playstyle, the Hexblade turns the warlock into a devastating melee combatant, thanks to the cursed blade made from living darkness that’s now attached to their soul.
The Undead: Sworn and beholden to a vampire, lich, or other immortal, necromantic being, the Undead patron gives you access to a fraction of their death-defying power, which translates into a very necromancy-heavy spell list, including False Life, Speak With Dead, and Antilife Shell.
- Roles: Nuker, Utility, Controller
- Complexity: Medium
- Primary Ability Scores: Intelligence, Constitution
If magic is the thing that excites you most about playing D&D 5e, then the wizard is the class that’s going to let you live out that fantasy with the fewest distractions.
Wizards are the most powerful spellcasting class in the game with the largest spell list by far.
As a wizard grows in levels, they progress from a sniveling apprentice to a godlike archmage capable of rewriting the entire fabric of reality on a whim at least once per day.
The Wizard’s Defining Abilities
Wizards begin and end at their spellbooks (or arcane foci). This class can cast (not to mention collect) more spells from a bigger list of options than any other and subtly alter the way their spells work depending on their specific school.
The Wizard’s Drawbacks
Being the best at magic unfortunately means you’re going to be the worst at… pretty much everything else.
Wizards have a measly d6 hit die, can’t wear armor, and have about as much use for their Strength stat as a dragon has for a toaster.
Also, while the wizard grows into the game’s most powerful class, at 1st level (and for a while after that, to be honest) they feel like the weakest.
Wizard subclasses are numerous and, with the exception of the bladesinger and the order of scribes, primarily focus around copying down spells from a specific school more cheaply.
As such, we’re going to group the eight schools of magic into a single entry.
Wizards choose their subclass (known as an Arcane Tradition) at 2nd level, unlocking further features at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
Bladesinging: The counterargument to the idea that wizards can’t fight. Bladesingers combine grace and lethal martial skill as a way to channel their spellcasting talents, able to take extra attacks and block incoming damage by burning spell slots.
Order of Scribes: Wizards are already a bookish class, and the Order of Scribes takes this many, many steps further, allowing you to tweak spell effects and create magical scrolls.
Schools of Magic: Depending on your chosen school of magic – whether you wish to enchant your enemies, burn them with fire, raise the dead, or something else – you get a few small bonuses themed around that school.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.