NEW PLAYER SERIES
D&D 5E Classes Guide
JUN 22, 2022
The two defining traits of your Dungeons & Dragons character is their race — such as elves, dwarves, and humans — and their class. Character class is more than just a role; it’s their wheelhouse. Like any job, your character improves over time with practice (leveling), but they start with a skillset that makes them exceptional.
D&D 5E lists twelve classes that you can choose from in the Player’s Handbook. Expansion books and special D&D settings give plenty of options if you don’t find what you are looking for, but these twelve classes are especially good choices for new players. You can also multiclass as your character levels up, which means that during the game your character may have started out as a fighter but found their calling as a paladin .
Class ability is the statistic used the most for a character’s particular features, like a fighter depending on their strength for powerful attacks and damage. Saving throws are a proficiency bonus that reflects a skill that the class would excel at, such as dexterity for a rogue who nimbly dodges an attack. Armor and weapon proficiencies grant a bonus to using those items, but it doesn’t mean that is the only option available. For example, your wizard could wield a two-handed axe, but they’d have better odds of sticking with a quarterstaff.
Let’s break down what each class in D&D 5E excels at to find out if it matches what you have in mind while creating your character for the table. Click any link below to skip down to a specific class.
If you like the idea of a character who uses emotions when they fight, a barbarian is a solid class choice. They getthe ability to Rage, which gives a strength bonus and increased attack damage. Besides anger, there are some creative options for the barbarian class using different emotions to trigger Rage, such as a fear of blood or defending loved ones. The barbarian class can lead to some great roleplaying opportunities as those emotions are brought into the story.
Barbarians don’t have proficiency in heavy armor, but they are proficient in all weapons. Their primary ability is strength, and saving throws are strength and constitution. Barbarians can’t cast spells while raging, so if that’s a dealbreaker you may want to take a look at a fighter or paladin. Depending on where you specialize, called Primal Paths for barbarians, you can make a unique character for your table.
Creatives are often drawn to the bard class, whose magic is dependent on performance. Most bards lean heavily on singing or playing a musical instrument. Unconventional bards perform through storytelling, poetry, or dancing. Bards are utility spellcasters who can choose certain wizard or cleric spells, plus their own musically-based magic. They can also grant Bardic Inspiration through their moving performances, which grants a bonus that the recipient can add to an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw.
Bards are proficient in light armor and simple weapons and generally stay further back in battle to sing spells. Their primary ability is charisma, and saving throws are dexterity and charisma. You can play a bard without being an extrovert. There are plenty of roleplay opportunities that depend on your dice rolls more than your real-life music skills. A bard’s specialization is based on a college of study, which gives you plenty of options to create an extraordinary character.
Dedication to the divine is the primary motivation for clerics. Clerics are champions of one of the gods, and draw their magical power from their piety. They are diverse spellcasters. While most clerics focus on healing their party, some clerics use their divine connection to smite their enemies with the power of nature or through trickery.
Clerics can also be frontline fighters using proficiency in light and medium armor and simple weapons. Their primary ability is wisdom, and saving throws are wisdom and charisma. Clerics have a lot of spell choices through their Divine Domains, which will define your character’s backstory. This is a great class to choose to support a party – healers, like in most games, are always needed.
The druid class relies on the power of nature for strong magical abilities. Druids, at their core, harness nature in their spellcasting. They have the unique ability to shapeshift into animals through Wild Shape. They have an incredible range of spells to choose from based on their druid circle, from wildfire to the stars.
Druids are proficient in light and medium armor and a handful of simple weapons, but can’t wear metal. The unwillingness to wear metal armor has been a theme throughout D&D editions for the druid class, as metal disrupts their connection to nature. A druid's primary ability is wisdom, and saving throws are intelligence and wisdom. The Wild Shape ability alone makes druids a standout choice for your character.
Fighters are the most popular D&D class for a reason. Flexibility! They have versatile fighting styles to choose from including archery, defense, dueling, great weapon fighting, protection, and two-weapon fighting. Second Wind allows a fighter to regain hit points, and an Action Surge grants one additional action. When you level up you can choose a martial archetype to grant more bonuses and round out your character.
Fighters don’t have to only use a sword and shield, but they can if that’s what you want. They also make great archers, warriors, and fencers. They are proficient in all armor and weapons. And if you want to do a bit of magic, the Eldritch Knight archetype adds spells to your fighter. Their primary ability is strength or dexterity, and saving throws are strength and constitution. You really can’t go wrong with a fighter, and multiclassing makes a highly customized character.
Monks are a great choice if you want a class that specializes in hand-to-hand combat. Monks are dedicated to perfecting their body and martial arts. They use Ki to channel their abilities. Ki points are spent to adapt to the combat situation with a Flurry of Blows, Patient Defense, or Step of the Wind.
As you might guess, monks are proficient in simple weapons, and that’s about it. They rely on their abilities to avoid an attack so they aren’t built to take damage. But they can definitely dish it out! Their primary abilities are dexterity and wisdom, and saving throws are strength and dexterity. Montastic Traditions determine your monk’s dogma and there are plenty of options to make a monk a strong roleplaying class.
The paladin class is a well-rounded D&D experience. Paladins are bound to their oaths and are well-spoken to talk about the virtues of their deity. Divine Sense detects the presence of evil, and Lay on Hands is a useful heal when down on hit points. Like fighters, paladins choose a fighting style in defense, dueling, great weapon fighting, or protection, and they use spells that are similar to clerics. Divine Smite attacks extra damage to melee weapon attacks and increases if the foe is undead or a fiend.
Paladins are proficient in all armor and weapons. Their primary abilities are strength and charisma, and saving throws are wisdom and charisma. A paladin’s Sacred Oath determines their loyalty and righteousness to their cause, giving plenty of roleplaying chances when a DM creates a choice that challenges their beliefs.
The ranger class has powerful options if you’re looking to create a specialized character with a good backstory. Rangers are hunters and warriors of the wilderness, usually living alone on the edge of civilization. They have a Favored Enemy that they’ve learned to hunt, study, or track. Choosing these foes grants advantage on tracking and intelligence checks to remember details about them. Rangers are also Natural Explorers which makes them benefit in traveling in a type of land, such as arctic, forest, mountains, or the Underdark. Rangers get access to a good list of spells and a Fighting Style, so you get a lot of options with this class.
Rangers wear light and medium armor and are proficient in simple and martial weapons. Their primary abilities are dexterity and wisdom, and saving throws are strength and dexterity. Ranger Archetypes, including Hunter and Beast Master, work with the other class choices to make deadly characters.
Rogues rely on their stealth and shadowy skills to identify and stalk their foes. Rogues are usually burglars or assassins, working the seedier side of a city. They also make excellent investigators and hunters, giving them unlimited utility in any D&D setting. Rogues get Expertise to add additional proficiencies and a secret language called Thieves’ Cant to hide messages to their networks. They are powerful fighters who use their Sneak Attack and Cunning Action in combat; the first giving extra damage and the last giving an extra bonus action.
Rogues are proficient in light armor and simple weapons, in addition to weapons like crossbows and rapiers. Their primary ability is dexterity, and saving throws are dexterity and intelligence. Roguish Archetypes specialize this class into a thief, arcane trickster, or assassin, each with special abilities and more proficiencies.
For some spellcasters, they get their magic from years of study. But the sorcerer class is dependent on having a gift for magic innately or from a bloodline, making it wildly unpredictable. Options for Sorcerous Origin include Draconic Bloodline or Wild Magic.Font of Magic generates your character’s sorcery points. These points are used to gain additional spell slots, or you can give up spell slots for more points.
Sorcerers don’t have armor proficiency, and can use limited weapons like daggers or quarterstaffs. Their primary ability is charisma and saving throws are constitution and charisma. Metamagic is where sorcerers really stand out from other magic classes. It twists their spell in one of many ways, such as an Extended Spell or Twinned Spell. The opportunity to excel or disastrously fail from Wild Magic Surges makes the sorcerer a chaotic class choice.
Warlocks forged a bargain with an extraplanar being, either for good or evil. This class is defined by having a pact, made willingly or unwillingly, with the Archfey, Fiends, or the Great Old One that grants a warlock their magic. Thinking of a warlock’s origin of power not only determines how you play this class, but it can directly impact the story of the game. Pact Magic limits the spells that a warlock can use, which isn’t bad when the list of hundreds of spells can be daunting. Eldritch Invocations grant a spell or ability and increase as your character levels.
Warlocks are proficient in light armor and simple weapons. Their primary ability is charisma and saving throws are wisdom and charisma. Pact Boons are where patrons really come into play, where the deity grants your character a gift such as Pact of the Chain, Pact of the Tome, or Pact of the Blade. Warlocks are wonderful for roleplaying as their Patrons have direct control over their lives.
If your character has a thirst for magical knowledge, the wizard class is the clear choice. Wizards make the study of magic their life’s goal, spending hours and years studying and learning new spells. It’s usually the lure of knowledge that gets a wizard out of the library and out adventuring to discover old secrets of magic. Wizards rely on their spellbook, where they write down the spells they’ve found. When they study, wizards use Arcane Recovery to regain some of their magical energy.
Wizards don’t have armor proficiency, and they use limited weapons including light crossbows and quarterstaffs. Their primary ability is intelligence and their saving throws are intelligence and wisdom. Arcane Traditions determine your practice of magic from the eight schools: abjuration, conjuration, divination, enchantment, evocation, illusion, necromancy, or transmutation. Tying the school of magic with your backstory can create a memorable character at your table.