When creating your very own character to play Dungeons & Dragons, the hardest decision is definitely making your mind up on what class to play, especially if you’re a novice. Some of the classes seem overly complex, and you might be tempted to select something like Fighter because it seems simpler, but let me fill you in on the why for’s & what-nots on classes to dispel those clouds of confusion. This article, and definitely a brief conversation with your DM concerning the environment and setting of your adventure, should make this decision much easier!
There are 5 editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and the alternative, Pathfinder (a fine system I have played, and enjoyed whole-heartedly). But I’ll be concentrating on 5th Edition D&D and the 12 classes found in the Player’s Handbook for the sake of brevity. All those other classes in all their forms (and the prestige classes) are interesting and worthy of your attention, but that’ll be for another time. Herein lay the classes ranked from worst to best, graded on the role they provide and whether you’ll have fun playing it (based solely upon the notion that everything I like is great).
Here we go!
I know it ended up at the bottom of the stack, but really there’s nothing so terrible about playing a Fighter. You can go the archer route, and put yourself in control of a character like Hawkeye, or craft a combat-hardened swordsman like The Hound from Game of Thrones. There’s features like Action Surge and Second Wind, that combined with your Martial Archetype have you mastering combat faster and better than everyone else (and earlier), BUT that’s where it ends. Once you choose your fighting style, that’s where the circumscribed features end, and there’s more to this game than combat. Yawn.
D&D is a blend of legendary tales influenced from a myriad of cultures like Norse & Greek mythology, borrowing heavily from all, but for some reason the introduction of the Sinosphere is discordant to me. Don’t get me wrong, these mythic warriors of East Asian origins are badass, have a cool backstory & ethos, and are likely a blast to play. Right from the get go you’re a living weapon that’s never unarmed, or unarmored, and within a few levels your increased speed and Flurry of Blows have you flattening foes and using your Ki to perform feats of wonder. If you want to karate chop a dragon in the nuts, this is the class for you, but not for me.
This is the simplest class there is. Want to avoid having any confusion about what your character’s complex motivations are for any given situation? Well, look no further. Paladins,(there are FOUR Billy Jack movies, and if you have not seen any one of them, you’re playing a paladin incorrectly) are literally the quintessential knights in shining armor, and live their life in accordance with an inflexible code of virtues. Right off the bat you can sense evil, heal your pals, and be a god-damn champion. Some have groused that this class is a drag because it’s like being in the party with a cop, but you’re not obligated to play a zealot any more than the rogue is compelled to steal from the group. The cool thing about a 5th edition Paladin is that it is not alignment restricted. The oath you swear can take many different directions on the path of your divine quest, and each one adds wildly different identities for each. I have never played a paladin, but I always thought it’d be cool to have a party made up of players that took at least one level of paladin.
Here’s a hybrid class! One that is considered a full caster with spells that go up to 9th level, and some melee chops, but never really excels at either. Sure, you whoop some ass as well as you can with Shillelagh (sort-of), but without single-target spells you have some positioning issues to figure out, else your party hates your for casting Entangle while getting tromped by trolls. Wild Shape has it’s charms, though. Need to climb up a wall? Bam! You’re a spider! Have to burrow into a hole in the ground? Poof! You’re a groundhog! Want to cheer up a sorry fuck hawking cabbages? Pow! You’re an otter!
Technically this is the coolest class, and probably the most popular. Who the hell wouldn’t want to be mighty Aragorn slaughtering dozens of orcs, or peerless Drizzt cooly stalking his prey with his panther pet at his side? However, this class isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so let me explain. They really excel at multi-target damage at a distance, but one-on-one with a monster, and you’d better have some loaded dice. The D10 HD could make you beefy, but likely you’ve shot your wad with DEX, WIS & STR so that evens out. Favored enemy could be a solid plus, so long as your DM takes that in consideration, but that goes with the rest of the ranger’s features. Unless the DM’s adventure caters to you, and is outdoorsy exploration heavy, your abilities are just crayon scribbles on a page, and you’re a watered down fighter with a pet monkey.
This is the one they warned you about. The notion that you actually have to be Encyclopedia Brown (we used to read these things called books when I was a kid, and E.B. figured largely in that medium) to play this class is an exaggeration, but it does involve the player to actually exhibit a bit of brainy behavior. Why would anyone opt for it? Simple. Every single problem that arises in this game can disappear with a wave of your hand. With their access to the widest available selection of spells, the wizard is the chief spellcaster. Some say these badasses are “glass cannons” but a low level spell like Mage Armor gives you a bonus to your AC for eight hours, so there goes that bullshit opinion (those people actually think their opinions matter, lol). The bad news is that access to those spells costs you a ton of gold and effort in finding & transcribing spellbooks & scrolls (that’s if your DM isn’t being all dickheaded about it), AND even if you manage to collect and fire off that killer spell, DM’s tend to adapt, rendering that spell useless & taking up precious space in your ridiculously expensive spellbook. Of course, you will build your repertoire with tried & true spells like Mirror Image & Counterspell that allow you to do the impossible, and rarely fail, but with it comes a lot more headaches. I say take the plunge and play a wizard, but you were warned.
Bard has received the most amount of derision and hatred of any class, and up until 5th edition you’d be right to do so. They have always been a support class and not given much of anything to do, other than infer bonuses to ungrateful party members who forget you told them LOUDLY that you spent your turn plucking a lute so they could make that CON save, so fuck’em if they forget, right? Thankfully that’s no longer the case, and Bards are now a wildly versatile class where you can be the party’s healer, or play off-tank, but most likely you’ll be the face of the party, weaving performance with spells to a devastating effect (Vicious Mockery is your best friend), and yes assist your party with bonuses to things they quickly forget. Played correctly, Bards are a shit-ton of fun; controlling the battlefield, manipulating everyone you encounter, and they can even felch spells from other caster spell lists, like Ranger & Paladin’s 5th level spells WAY before they have access to them. Play them poorly, and you’re the reason everyone hates Bards. Don’t screw this up jackwads.
The thing I like most about the cleric class is that it really favors every race, and aside from their wide array of play-styles, is a true hybrid class that affords you the combination of armored ass-kicker & full spell caster with powerful spells that go up to 9th level. As that caster you could go toe-to-toe with any wizard, BUT you are hands down the best healer, so that’s where your spell slots will be spent. Everyone else depends on you to sling them heals, so if you’re comfortable in that role, cool. However, you don’t HAVE to do that whole schtick. The gods sometimes choose a person to be their vessel, not the other way around, and you can have your own reasons for why the powers of domains like Trickery, or Tempest works through you the way it does. Just know that the moment everyone else in the party discovers you rolled up a cleric, they automatically assume you’re the healbot that allows them to have actual fun in this game.
To hell with all the careful planning & deliberating. Just kick down the door, and annihilate everything in a blind rage. Sound good? Well Barbarian’s the class for you! This class can dish out damage like any other melee class, but where they really excel is TAKING damage. Increased speed allows you to fly into danger with a D12 hit die per level + an AC that you get to add your DEX & CON & shield bonus too, and even if they manage to hit you you take half damage so you can draw enemies into position while the rest of the party can prance around behind you like Legolas. Being the master of pain absorption means you can check traps with your feet, wade through thickets of spears, and huff clouds of poisonous gas while laughing your ass off.
How the hell did this caster end up higher on the list than the mighty wizard? The wizard has access to more spells, and can cast many more per day, right? Certainly, buuuuut as a sorcerer you have raw magic coursing through your veins due to your Sorcerous Origin, so you can dispense with the perpetual hassle of researching and paying out all your gold on acquiring spells to spend long hours transcribing into a stupid book you have to lug around (and quite possibly lose, rendering you useless). You also get a better CON save, which comes in real handy when you see how many spells require a concentration check. Most importantly you get Metamagic, which allows you to alter your spells to suit your needs, like force disadvantage, reroll damage, cast subtly, or target multiple people with a single target spell. Honestly, all practicality aside, this class is a chance for you to play the bohemian, free spirit, and with a Wild Magic origin you’re the thing that will keep this game from ever being a cookie cutter, boring ass game of forgone conclusions.
You know why it’s fun to be the scoundrel? The world is yours for the taking, and you’re first in line. This class is defined by it’s access to the most skills, and due to Expertise you’re given the highest bonuses to those skills, which gives your character all kinds of options and puts you at home in almost any environment. Being the member that scouts ahead to search & disarm traps can be a chore, but your abilities never wane, and require a whole lot less book keeping than the other classes whose features get complicated, or disappear entirely depending on engagement. Combat wise, you have the distinction of the highest single-target damage, and that results in a buttload of one-shot kills, but it largely depends on you having your pals around, or striking first from the shadows. You’re not that tough, but thanks to Evasion you’ll wriggle out of hits that would drop anyone else. The Archetypes afford you powerful advantages like using magic devices, assassinating your targets outright, and augmenting your sneakiness with spellcasting to make it awful tempting to get overconfident (I recommend doing so, as it makes for great stories).
Here’s your chance to be the party’s eerie-pervert-weirdo-oddball! [Editor’s note: see above picture for visual reference] Of course that route appeals to me, but this class is SO versatile that there’s a great many ways to play it, such as expanded books that now bring the subtypes up to NINE different Otherworldly Patrons you can choose from, and the powerful features that come with them. As a spellcaster, it’s a sublime boost to note you can cast in light armor, all of ’em are cast at the highest level available, and although it’s a scant amount of spell slots you regain them with a short rest. The spells themselves are scary as all get out, and YES Eldritch Blast is indispensable (the Invocations you have access to allow you to ramp this cantrip that already does 1D10 damage to wicked ends). Since your primary stat is CHA you’re a very capable face of the party, and when coupled with the burden of a Faustian bargain you have the makings of the most interesting role-playing experience possible built right into this class.
Well that’s how that shook out this time. I feel like this list would be re-arranged if you asked me later on, because the final five or so each occupy many happy memories of D&D for me, and it really was hard to keep from juggling it around. I know my opinions are an infinitesimal blip on the world wide web, but I think it might just make choosing a class easier for you.