A Beginner’s Guide to DnD Classes
Approaching Dungeons and Dragons as a newcomer can feel a bit overwhelming. You are handed a character sheet full of empty boxes and a Players Handbook that is over 300 pages of information you should at least somewhat understand. The first thing everyone wants to do, however, is jump into character creation. While there is a debate amongst some circles as to whether a player should pick their character’s race first, then move on to class – this is the order that is in the Players Handbook – others choose the opposite. Keep in mind that neither way is wrong, just a different approach to the same end. No matter how one goes about it, there are a lot of pages of the Players Handbook, or PHB, dedicated to classes. All that reading might seem a bit overwhelming for a new player. With that in mind, let’s go over each class in the PHB in just a few sentences to make the choice of class a bit more palatable and, hopefully, help you decide on a very broad idea of what each class can do. The beauty of Dungeons and Dragons is how every character can break the mold and be unique, so keep in mind these are generalizations of each class’ original mechanical design and nothing more. You can play any class in any manner you like, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Dungeons and Dragons Classes
The first class listed in the book, and probably the simplest to understand; you are a sack of hit points that gets in the enemy’s face and ruins their day. While some of the subclasses have some magical features, there is not a lot to worry about as a Barbarian. Armor? Who needs it?! Spells? Those are for wimps. You’re just unbridled anger with the biggest weapon you can find looking for something to smash. With a high health pool due to a massive D12 hit die, and the Rage ability that allows you to half a lot of damage that comes your way as well as some lethality to your own attacks, you’re going to be right on the front-line clobbering anything that looks at you the wrong way, even if it is just a wall.
The Bard has a bit of a reputation around it, and not a wholly good one at that. While a lot of players view the Bard as the comic relief of the group that is usually trying to seduce anything with 2 legs…or even 4, the truth is that the Bard is a powerful utility character that can quickly adjust to fill multiple roles. Its trademark ability, Bardic Inspiration, allows the rest of the party to be better at nearly anything they need to do. Combine this with a versatile list of spells and abilities that vary by the subclass, and you can build a solid jack-of-all-trades character that can feel useful in nearly any situation.
Largely viewed as one of the “core” classes, the Cleric will usually serve as the primary healer of a party. Built to take a moderate beating and, depending on how they are built, able to dish out a fair bit of punishment (especially to the undead), they can actually be a solid first-class to play as. Usually, the main duty of the Cleric is to just make sure everyone else stays on their feet and to stay out of harm’s way. Throw out some healing when someone is looking pretty beat up, and you’ll be doing alright.
Oh boy…the Druid. While many of these classes tend to fit into a particular niche or role, the Druid is a hard class to nail down. They can be powerful spell casters, giving them incredible offensive, defensive and supportive capabilities, be a potent healer, or they can just turn into a bear and east someone. Their signature Wildshape ability allows them to turn into various animals a few times a day that only get more and more powerful the higher level they become. They can even change into elementals at higher levels. For a new player, there is a lot to digest if you want to play a Druid, but all that work can certainly be worth it. The subclasses help a lot in narrowing down a particular focus for the character. If turning into an elephant while raining lightning from the sky sounds like your jam, the Druid may be for you.
Another one of the “core” classes, the poor Fighter gets a bad rap as a boring class. The fact is the Fighter has a role and does it very well. While that role may be viewed as the guy up front taking the hits for the squishy backline, it doesn’t have to be. The Fighter excels at combat in general, not just being the party’s tank. Sure, you can slap a shield and some heavy armor on your Fighter and let him stand as a wall of steel between the enemies and the party, but they are not limited to just that. With a ton of attacks at their disposal, give them a bow and let them darken the skies from a distance. Choose a Battle Master subclass and use your superiority dice to control the battlefield. How about slapping an ax in each hand and turning your Fighter into a walking blender? Combat is the Fighter’s bread and butter no matter how you approach it, so have some fun with it. As a bonus, they usually have some of the coolest Dungeons and Dragons miniatures as well!
There are a thousand Bruce Lee references that could be made here, but the truth is that the Monk is a less tanky version of the Fighter. Instead of needing weapons, YOU are the weapon. Now don’t let the fact that they can’t take a beating like a Fighter or Barbarian can turn you off this class. Play them wrong, and you’re going to be spending a lot of turns rolling death saving throws. Play them right, however, and you are a force to be reckoned with. They sacrifice a high hit point pool to add a ton of speed and utility to their kit, like increased movement, extra attacks, running up walls and across the water, reducing fall damage, and chain stunning enemies into the ground. They also have a consistent uptick in damage as they level up, making them predictable even without gear. The Monk does not need weapons or armor to be a deadly opponent, but you do have to manage a unique resource called Ki which is what allows you to do many of these superhuman feats. You don’t get a lot in the beginning, but the good news is that it recovers very quickly. They take some time and finesse to really master, but can be a game-changer in later levels.
While the Paladin is often viewed as being the holy protector of the good and just and held to the strict code of law and order, that is no longer true. Paladins within the rules of Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition can be of any alignment and follow any god or oath they wish. It is the dedication to the oath that grants them powers. They have some access to spells, with their most well-known talents being Lay on Hands – basically amounting to free healing injuries and disease without the need for spells- and Smite -the ability to turn unspent spell slots into ridiculous amounts of melee weapon damage. They are powerful, have a ton of utility, and are not overly complicated, with just enough skills and spell to make them interesting. With the relaxed rules in 5e, they have been given more room to be unique, making them a great first class to pick up.
The Ranger is a class with a bit of a troubled past. Balance issues and poor optimization has plagued the Ranger, with some sub-classes being incredibly underwhelming from a mechanical standpoint. They suffer a bit from a lack of identity. There are just other classes that can do most things they do better. Each of their subclass’s tent to fill a niche and perform it incredibly well, but falls a bit flat otherwise unless careful planning goes into character creation. That being said, they have some cool abilities, access to a smattering of spells, and can even have a pet to take into battle! Viability be damn, that’s just awesome! In case you are worried your pet may die in some horrible accident, the Rangers magical bond with their pet allows them to bring it back to life with just some time and a few coins. Just make sure the inn your party is staying at doesn’t have a “NO PETS” policy.
With the Rogues signature ability being named Sneak Attack, it is pretty clear where it fits into a party. They are the master of stealth and secrecy; of lockpicking and pickpocketing. If you are wanting to play the street-smart opportunist, the Rogue is definitely a class to look into. They get tons of proficiencies making them skilled in pretty much anything they want as well as being effective in both combat and non-combat situations. They even have a trait that keeps them from rolling below on a 10 on any skill they are proficient with. They are a solid class without much complication and a plethora of sub-classes to fit nearly any style, from the dangerous Assassin to boisterous Swashbuckler. The hardest part about playing a Rogue is figuring out when to apply your sneak attack damage and trying not to be a broody lone-wolf edge lord.
The Caster Classes
Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard are usually considered to be the “caster” classes, as their focus is usually the spells that they have at their disposal. While some of the differences between these classes are quite obvious, others can be a lot more subtle. These classes and the variations of their mechanics will get a deeper dive next time, as a lot of players tend to get some of the nuanced strengths and weaknesses of each wrong.