Last Updated on February 10, 2023
Whether you want to try out something different, build a brand new type of adventurer for your homebrew campaign, or have a character concept in mind that doesn’t line up with any of the 13 existing classes for Dungeons & Dragons 5e, one possible solution is to create your own character class from the ground up.
In this guide, we’re going to take you through everything you need to know about homebrewing your own character class. To help out, I’m also going to come up with the broad strokes of my own homebrew class along the way: the Vizier.
Step One: The Core Concept
Before you dive into working out the rules for a whole new character class, it’s important that you have an idea in your head of what the finished product will look like. This could be as simple as “Batman” (okay, I’ll admit that’s just an Oath of Vengeance paladin with the Unarmed Fighting Fighting Style) or as complex as “a stealth and misdirection-focused half-spellcaster who focuses on frightening their enemies and taking on large mobs of goons” (which, now that I think about it, is also Batman via the Oath of Conquest Paladin).
That actually brings me to an important point: before you make a whole homebrew class for 5e, ask yourself…
- Does this already exist? The 13 official 5e classes already cover a broad range of concepts that can be messed around with even further using feats, multiclassing, and subclasses. Even if the idea you have feels unique, you should still ask…
- Is this actually a subclass? There’s a lot of variety within each major class’s subclasses. If you have an idea for a street-wise detective with a flair for creating exciting (uh, bat-themed) gadgets, maybe you’re actually looking at a new version of Artificer instead of a whole new class. Lastly, it’s vitally important to ask yourself…
- Would I actually rather be playing Gotham City Chronicles? Yeah… this last one might just be for me.
But I digress.
If you think the concept you have in your head isn’t represented by any preexisting classes or subclasses (or multiclass combos), it’s time to get started.
You can gather up public domain images by interesting artists to help inspire your character and jot down notes of what you’d like them to be able to do. Once you think you have a decent grip on what you want your homebrew class to be, it can be helpful to “pitch” that idea in a single sentence. Then, keep coming back to that sentence when you have design decisions to make down the line.
For example, if I were to sum up the 5e rogue class, I’d say it’s “a stealthy, sneaky character that’s weak but fast and deals massive damage against unsuspecting enemies.” All rogues fundamentally come back to that idea, especially in combat.
Now, I want to do the same for my own character class concept: the Vizier. I want this class to be “a supportive spellcaster who uses its intelligence and knowledge to outwit their enemies and propel their allies to victory.” I’m imagining a character who can find weaknesses in enemies, empower their allies, and excels at negotiation — which also lends itself to some broad-stroke ideas for subclasses.
Once we have the core concept locked in, it’s time to tackle the three major sections of building a homebrew class: the Broad Strokes, the Features, and the Development.
I should also take a second here to recommend the fantastic piece Guidelines to Homebrewing Classes in DnD 5e by James Musicus. He goes into great detail about the different types of characters in D&D and how to create a new class that fits within that structure.
Step Two: The Broad Strokes
Figuring out the broad strokes of a character class involves figuring out the class’s role within the party and where it falls on the spectrum between martial and full spellcaster.
We talk about party roles and composition more in this article, but in essence, there are a number of unofficial archetypes that D&D character classes tend to fall into depending on their job within the party. Examples include the Tank, whose job it is to get hit so their buddies don’t have to, or the Face, who takes the lead in social situations.
Think about the role you want your class to hold within the party and look at the existing classes that overlap with that role. This will probably help dictate 80% of the basic decisions you need to make about the character from their primary ability score to the size of their Hit Dice.
For example, the Vizier is going to be somewhere between a Support, a Utilitarian, and a Face, meaning the class will have most in common with a Bard, followed by a Cleric and a Druid. From this, I can make some important decisions about the ways in which I want the Vizier to be similar and/or different from those classes.
- I want this class to be Intelligence based rather than Charisma; the Vizier uses their mind to help their allies, not their personality.
- I want the Vizier to have either a d6 or d8 Hit Die; they’re not going to be on the frontlines themselves, and a smaller HP pool is a good way to balance, giving this class more powerful abilities.
- They probably won’t need any crazy armor or weapon proficiencies; I think they’ll mostly be a spellcaster, but I want to put a unique spin on it that involves empowering but also using fellow party members as a resource.
The Martial-Spellcaster Spectrum
All D&D 5e classes (and subclasses, which is where things get a little muddy) fall into one of four categories with regard to spellcasting:
- Full Martial: classes and subclasses with no access to spellcasting, like the Barbarian, Fighter (bar the Eldritch Knight), and Rogue (barring the Arcane Trickster).
- Quarter-Spellcaster: characters from classes without spellcasting that gain access to limited magic through their subclass, including the Eldritch Knight and the Arcane Trickster. Spellcasting is obtained at 3rd level, higher level spells are unlocked more slowly, and the character has access to fewer spell slots.
- Half-Spellcaster: characters that split their abilities between martial and spellcasting, like the Paladin or Ranger. No cantrips and a smaller spell pool than full spellcasters.
- Full Spellcaster: characters entirely focused on spellcasting to the detriment of martial and physical abilities, including wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers.
Each of these formats for character advancement has a different rate at which they accrue new class features, subclass features, spells, ability score increases, etc. Once you know which type your character is going to be, you can find another class with the same format and use their Class Features table as a template.
For example, the Vizier is going to be a full spellcaster like a Bard or Sorcerer, so its Class Features table will look like this.
Spell Slots per Spell Level
Once we have these broad strokes developed to create a framework for our core concept, we can move into the meat of designing a character class, the Core Features.
Part Three: Features
This is definitely the most labor-intensive part of building a new character class: figuring out what this class can do in a way that fits the structure, archetype, and core concept we already established. Then, we need to spread those features out across the levels in a way that makes the class’s growth feel natural and in keeping with the official classes that already exist.
James Musicus, whose excellent guide I mentioned earlier, notes that character class features come in three flavors: Core (the thing that makes the class unique and good at what it does), Strength (additional buffs that empower what the class is good at), and Flavor (more narrative embellishments that don’t increase a class’s effectiveness dramatically but still make it feel unique).
- Examples of Core: Sneak attack, Rage, Bardic Inspiration, Metamagic, Spellcasting, Channel Divinity, Lay on Hands.
- Examples of Strength: Fighting style, Ability Score Improvement, Extra Attack.
- Examples of Flavor: Druidic, Thieves’ Cant, Tongue of the Sun and the Moon, Timeless Body, Natural Explorer.
Also, at 20th level, each class gets a “Capstone” ability, which dramatically improves or alters the way the character plays. Examples include the Druid’s unlimited wild shape or the Fighter’s 3rd extra attack.
For the Vizier, I’m just going to come up with one Core ability, one Strength, and one Flavor.
Insightful Counsel: as an action, the Vizier offers a stream of helpful advice and tactical expertise to anyone who happens to be listening, granting a number of allies up to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1) within 30 feet who can hear you one of the following benefits:
- Gain 1d4 + Proficiency Bonus + INT modifier Temporary HP at the start of the Vizier’s Turn.
- Overcome one enemy damage type resistance (eg. slashing, fire, etc.) available to the Vizier. Choose two damage types at 1st level. You may choose additional damage types at levels 11 and 15.
- +2 AC.
The effect lasts for 1 minute or until there are no allies nearby to benefit.
Tactical Tips: You can take the help action as a reaction. You may do this a number of times per long rest equal to your Intelligence modifier + Proficiency bonus (minimum of 1).
Extensive Schooling: When you encounter a language you do not speak, you can make an Intelligence check (DC 12 for a common language, DC 16 for an exotic language) to understand and speak it in a rudimentary form. When you gain this feature, learn two additional languages of your choice.
Part Four: Develop It
This is the hardest part, the longest part, and the part I can help you the least with. Once you have your class’s features, mapped them onto your basic scaffolding defined by its archetype and martial/caster split, and made sure it all aligns with your core concept, you’ll also need to…
- Create at least one Subclass.
- Choose basic weapon and armor proficiencies as well as starting equipment (and gold).
- Pick Spells (if it’s a spellcasting class).
- And finally… Test It Out.
Try out your character in a one-shot (assuming your DM is okay with it), or see if different people are willing to try it out. Make sure you see how the class feels at different levels, and don’t be afraid to go back, tear up what you’ve done and start again.
If you’re looking for inspiration, I can’t recommend this great Reddit post by u/herdsheep enough. They break down a wealth of homebrewed classes and include links to them. It’s super helpful.
That’s all from us on homebrewing your very own D&D 5e class. Let us know what you think in the comments below, and definitely share any ideas you have for cool homebrew classes that you’re thinking of making. Until next time, happy adventuring.
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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.