D&D classes are something between a job title and a social role. It’s your character’s specialization but it also sort of frames their personality and how they fit (or don’t fit) into society. While your character’s race defines natural, inborn talents, the class defines their learned skills—the special abilities that they developed intentionally, either through study, practice, or shady deals with supernatural beings.
There are 12 classes in the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. For new players, some of them can sound confusingly similar on the surface. Seriously, how are “sorcerer” and “wizard” different classes? They’re like the same thing, aren’t they? In D&D, they’re not. Here’s a quick rundown of the 12 classes, followed by some tips for helping new players pick a class that they’ll enjoy playing:
Fighters are the jack of all trades—if all trades were combat. While they tend to pick a favorite, they can switch from nimbly wielding a rapier to bludgeoning a skull in with a Warhammer or large rock without blinking. With so much combat skill, they tend to seek out danger. If they’re not slaying a monster or stopping a horde, they get restless.
The saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is perhaps truest when you’re talking about a bard. With the power of song and speech, they can wield powerful magic. This class thrives on storytelling and music—often at the same time in the form of ballads. Not all their stories are true but all of them are captivating and some of them can deal real damage (or healing power).
Rangers wander out to the far edges, tracking an enemy or just patrolling the perimeter. They’re stealthy, quick, and prefer to deal their damage from a distance—either by a ranged weapon like a bow or by spellcasting. Having spent so much time on the outskirts, rangers are incredibly independent but can also be solitary. They might struggle to compromise with others in a team or even feel like having a team is a burden slowing them down.
Resourceful and quick on their feet, rogues have a range of skills they can use to get themselves out of a bind. Some situations call for fisticuffs, others call for smooth-talking, and some may call for sneaking through alleys and sewers. The rogue can do it all and has an intuition for figuring out just the right way to keep themselves out of harm’s way. They’re great at heists or scams and generally have a knack for getting into places they shouldn’t be.
Clerics are warriors with divine powers granted to them by the god they serve. Imagine a priest but magic. Those divine powers might be healing or damaging or a mix of both. Either way, they are faithful servants of their chosen god. Almost every choice they make is in service of the god’s will—so other characters just have to hope that will align with their plans. Being so devout, clerics can sometimes come off as puritanical and preachy to characters who aren’t quite as pious.
Barbarians are animalistic and full of rage. Think Hulk, but less green. They love being out in the untamed wild, in the chaos of a battlefield, and anywhere where they can unleash their fury and quick reflexes with abandon. They can temporarily enter a berserk mode that is very Hulk-like, complete with superhuman strength and resilience. As useful as barbarians are in a fight, they struggle to contain their temper and don’t get along well in more civilized places where they’re expected to be polite or use the correct fork.
Each paladin has sworn an oath to uphold justice and stand for righteousness. Some swore the oath to a god, others swore it to a nature deity, others swore it to themselves after witnessing an unspeakable evil firsthand. Whoever the oath was sworn to, it is that oath that gives them their power—whether that power is unparalleled mastery of a combat style, magic-wielding, or healing powers. They’re always on the front lines, always seeking out injustices to stop.
Monks are sort of like the Jedi (or Sith, depending on alignment) from Star Wars. They harness the energy of the universe to achieve superhuman strength, speed, and other abilities. Also like the Jedi, they follow a Buddhist-like lifestyle of avoiding earthly attachments and spending lots of time meditating on the interconnectedness of all things. As a result, they’re rarely driven by material wealth and their ascetic ways can make them a bit of a buzzkill.
Druids harness their magical powers from either nature itself or from a nature deity. Maintaining the balance of delicate ecosystems is of prime concern to this character. This bond with nature is their source of power and their drive in life. They disapprove of any person or civilization that lives in opposition to nature and will go toe-to-toe with anybody who tries to upset the balance.
Sorcerers are born with raw magical talent that wants to be wielded, whether or not the possessor wants to wield it. If they underwent rigorous training, they learned to harness and control that magic responsibly and effectively. If not, that raw power is wild and can come out in unpredictable ways. Even if trained however, the power of that magic can still sometimes overwhelm them and cause unintentional harm. As a result, sorcerers make powerful additions to a party but always carry the risk that their magic spills out in erratic and dangerous ways.
Warlocks were not born with magic but were imbued with it after making a pact with an otherworldly being (not a god but maybe a demon, alien, or other powerful non-deity). Because of this pact, warlocks have a similar relationship with that being that a cleric has with their god. Everything the warlock does must be in service of that being. This can create conflict in parties, especially if the being the warlock made a pact with has something nefarious planned.
Wizards were not born with or given magic powers. Instead, they got their magic the hard way: through years devoted to studying the art. You could call them the muggles of the magic-wielders. Because there isn’t magic inside them, their spells are cast using potions and powders and incantations. Even so, with enough experience and study, they can grow to be just as powerful as other magic-wielders and, because they gained the skill through study and practice, are often much more controlled than a sorcerer and much less beholden to a potentially evil otherworldly being than a warlock.
Tips for Choosing One of the D&D Classes
There are no rules about choosing a class. You can pair any class with any race. But with such great freedom comes great responsibility. If you’re still relatively unfamiliar with these classes, how do you even begin to choose? Here are a couple of common approaches that D&D players use:
Pick An Optimal Pairing for Your Race
Many races tend to have natural talents that will make them better suited to certain classes more than others. As a result, some classic pairings have emerged. You might call them cliches. You might also say cliches exist for a reason. Here are some of the most common class choices for each race:
- Dwarf: Barbarian, Fighter, Cleric, Paladin
- Human: Literally anything, humans are versatile and can be adapted to any class. Good luck choosing.
- Elf: Druid, Wizard, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, Rogue
- Gnome: Wizard
- Halfling: Monk, Ranger, Rogue, Fighter, Druid, Cleric, Bard
- Half-Orc: Barbarian, Paladin, Fighter
- Half-Elf: Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer, Warlock
- Tiefling: Sorcerer, Warlock, Bard, Rogue, Paladin, Fighter
- Dragonborn: Wizard, Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin
Fill a Gap In Your Party
An ideal adventuring party has a balance of characters with different skillsets. The perfect mix really depends on what kind of adventuring your doing. But, if everybody else has picked a class and they’re all waiting impatiently on you, just pick a class that fills a gap in the existing party.
There are roughly five core roles that an adventuring party has. That blanket statement will upset many and possibly spark riots as some argue that there are more than five and others argue that pigeonholing characters like this is misleading since they tend to wear many hats.
All of this is correct. Just because your dwarf cleric is drenched in the blood of the marauding orc horde she single-handedly slaughtered doesn’t mean she can’t also be “the face” of the party—right as soon as she washes the blood off.
Nevertheless, I’m going to pigeonhole anyway—just to offer a convenient shorthand that can help you narrow down your pick. Here are the five party roles:
This is the fearless, battle-hungry heavy hitter who impulsively charges right into the middle of a conflict and then proceeds to slash and burn their way out of it. They tend to have high scores in strength and constitution. The best classes to fill the tank role are:
Part healer, part cover fire, the support usually stays out of the fray but still deals a few points of damage here and there, usually from a distance. Their main job, however, is to heal the other characters. They should have high constitution and possibly intelligence or wisdom. The classes that make great support include:
With little in the way of combat skill and lots of vulnerability, the “carry” is so called because the other characters usually have to shield this character and keep them alive until they level up enough to be useful. This tends to be magic-wielding characters since lower level spellcasters are not especially useful. The carrying will be worth it later, though, because, once they level up enough, watch out world. Common carries include:
The striker is a versatile but more focused damage-dealer than the tank. Rather than mowing down enemies, strikers focus all their force on strategic targets—usually the toughest or most important ones—while the tank plows through the lower priority targets. They should have a good balance of strength and dexterity. Common strikers include:
The face of the party is the one who handles the negotiations, persuasion, and any other function that requires some talent with speaking and socializing. They should be loaded with charisma and have high points in wisdom (for a more intuitive approach) or intelligence (for a more reasoned approach). The best faces are:
Either choose a party role that seems to be missing or choose one that sounds fun to play and pick a class from that list.
Choose a Character Model
Sometimes, players will model a character after a real or fictional person and then use that to determine everything from race to class to personality and backstory. Pick a favorite character from a TV show, movie, or book and pick a class based on what most closely reflects a Dungeons & Dragons version of that character. Gnome Costanza, for example—my forest gnome version of Seinfeld’s George Costanza—is an opportunistic rogue who avoids confrontation (and bills) at all costs.