DMs Corner: Dungeons and Dragons Class Selection Guide
Updated: Aug 7, 2018
Here you stand, perhaps for the first time or once again after many trials.
Before you lie a nearly infinite array of options to create your perfect character with which to delve the endless sea of fantasy adventure. The decision you’re about to make will forever change not just the story you’re playing, but the fate of many worlds could hang in the balance. To you, the player, comes this perilous burden of choice.
What will you play?
The Druid sounds cool, but also kind of complicated. I like magic so how about a Wizard or Sorcerer! Wait, I don’t really understand all of those spells, and what’s an “Arcane Focus”? Okay, how about a Rogue, a thief would be fun! Yikes, but this seems very skill heavy. I could be a Fighter, oh but which weapons to choose? How do I decide!?
Most gamers at some point or another have had a similar chain of thought, especially when starting out. For the purposes of this article, we are going to be looking at RPGs in a very broad term, with emphasis on the two most popular Dungeon Crawling Fantasy tabletop games on the market today, those being Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.
To be clear, the deeper you delve into any RPG type experience, the more complex every class and every character will become. This is the nature of level progression, and with the sheer amount of customization options available, it is impossible to go over every single combination. We will be looking at basic level one starter variants of classes, what the simplified description of the character is, boil down each to its core metrics, and finally leave newer or less experienced players with a better grasp of what class options are available to them. Also, while the expansion books to games allow for Hundreds of class options, we will be looking at Core Classes today.
A final note before we get started: It is crucial to bear in mind that your characters are, first and foremost, YOURS! Play in a style you enjoy, and customize it in a way you enjoy. We will not be Min-Maxing characters here, or looking for Twink builds. This is simply a look at basic character generation. Let’s get started!
If you ever get confused about your role, look hard into the eyes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it will come to you.
A brutal savage, a mountainous warrior, free from the confines of so-called society. Relentless, wild and barbaric! The Barbarian class focuses on martial prowess, that is to say, melee combat. At its heart, we see the Barbarian really shine when using Rage Powers. Every Barbarian has the option to fly into a rage, and in doing so become temporarily stronger, faster, hardier, and even more resistant, and allows Barbarians to wade into the thickest parts of battle and break even formidable enemies while being supported by his comrades. Generally, this method of combat leaves only ruin in its wake and is often referred to as a heavy hitter.
Your role as a Barbarian is to find the biggest beating stick you can and wail on anything standing in front of you. Your job, simply put, is “Hulk Smash!”
The role of a Bard is one of the trickier to master, and truthfully is something that you may want to leave until you’ve had a few games of experience. This is because Bards are what we will refer to as a Support Class. , Bard wishes to avoid direct, or even indirect, combat and rather focus on his abilities to survive. While Dungeons and Dragons Bards tend to focus on their ability to cast Magic, Pathfinder Bards lean more heavily on Skills and Songs. This difference is minimal, and Bards of both games share these abilities to some extent.
At the heart of it, a Bard is first a scholar and a musician, a traveler with wanderlust before blood frenzy. Your character craves knowledge above all else, and curiosity leads you more than lust for treasure. As a Bard, you will focus on staying out of the thickest bits of combat, and will instead do your best to bring Support Magic to bear. This takes the form of blinding, distracting or demoralizing your foes usually.
Alternatively, you can use your Performance abilities to bolster allies, shouting encouragement that magically makes your allies stronger or more resilient. You truly shine the most outside of combat, where your silver tongue and wealth of knowledge aids you. Bards know no strangers, can talk their way out of almost any situation, and know a little bit about everything in the world.
Your job is to keep the party informed and be their mind and their heart – not their strong weapon arm.
Clerics were once viewed in RPG terms as clothed sages, robed inhabitants of monasteries that used strange trickery from their gods to bless or curse their enemies. That is still fairly true, except the modern interpretation of Clerics includes some heavy melee hitters! Clerics are what you get when you cross a faithful character duty bound to a deity with the martial skill of a warrior. Stalwart and capable as combatants, Clerics really shine when invoking their deities. This generally takes the form of hindering the enemy or healing the friendly. Clerics can restore flesh to the wounded, create food and water as miraculous gifts to those in need, and lay darkness heavily upon the eyes of those who oppose their god.
Your role is what we’ll call Melee Support. You follow the party into the heavy fighting, capable of holding your own, but with the intent of giving aid between the blows you deal and absorb. Some Clerics do play as more strict Casters, preferring to focus on magical aptitude over melee prowess, and this generally has the same result as Caster Support, throwing Blessings and Curses alongside the Mage fireblasts and lightning charges. A versatile class, but one that shines most when helping others to shine brightest.
To experienced players, Druids are some of the most fun and formidable among all of the Class Options. We would caution newer players that you may enjoy playing a Druid more once you have a firmer grasp on the intricacies of certain game mechanics. Essentially a Druid is what you get when you combine a powerful wizard with a feral beast.
Druids generally take one of two forms. The first is a peerless spell caster, with enough versatility to focus on outright combat or supporting the party. These Druids are accompanied by companion beasts, often a large Bear or Wolf, and can summon allies from nature to wage war for them, in effect creating their own faithful army from nature itself. Other Druids, however, prefer a more direct approach and choose to use their powerful magic to transform themselves into these forces of nature. These Druids take the form of any animal they wish and become a sentient, spell casting version of that creature. Few enemies can stand when confronted by a giant grizzly bear that mauls with one paw, and hurls divine magic with the other.
Your role as a Druid is to either use your magic to summon the forces of nature to your side, or to become that force of nature yourself, and bring your fury on all those in your path.
As the name implies, Fighters excel in combat. Your job as a Fighter is to be in the very thickest part of the combat and to do your best to influence and control the ebb and flow of the fighting. You have the armor and the health to absorb any direct confrontation, as well as the resilience to shrug off even powerful spells.
Generally, you must choose a weapon specialization as a Fighter, and this will determine the role the Fighter plays more directly in the party. Archers would stay out of the thickest fighting and instead whittle the enemies with withering fire and volleys of death. Spearmen and Pikemen support their fellow melee combatants, often fighting directly over their shoulder to add damage from the second rank. Shield Bearers, often referred to affectionately as “Sword and Board” Fighters, stand at the very front, where the fighting is most fierce, and take a blow on their mighty shields and armor for their friends while they do most of the killing. Two-Handed Fighters are the primary Melee Damage sources of the class, characters consisting of little more than a moving mass of muscle and brawn that cleave paths through enemy formations one swing of a great-sword at a time. Finally, there are Mounted Fighters, using heavy lances or bow while charging on their mounts in and out of combat, inflicting heavy damage but restricted to only certain venues for fighting.
Your job as a Fighter is to choose your combat style, master it, and use your peerless specialty skills to break any enemy your party confronts, very directly and very personally.
Have you ever watched a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee movie and said, Hmmm, I wonder if they could kill a dragon? Well, let’s find out! Monks in RPG terms are generally of the Eastern variety, masters of both body and mind. They possess training in ancient fighting styles, and can choose to fight barehanded or with any number of a variety of weapons. Monks focus on taking advantage of the vulnerabilities their enemies present, navigating battlefields with ease and offering support to their allies when and where they can. Further, possessing the secrets of Ki and the unlocked potential of the mind, Monks can use this pseudo-magical power to augment their combat or to aid their friends.
Your job as a Monk is to overwhelm the enemy, landing a furious flurry of blows that strike pressure points with such precision and skill that no blow goes uncounted. Your Ki flows through you like a river, and that river will wash away those who once stood in the party’s way.
Paladins are first and foremost, an ideal. This is the paramount of the Knight in Shining Armor, the hero of legend, a beacon of hope standing alone against the hordes of darkness undaunted, unafraid. Newer players should be cautioned, Paladins are restrictive in how they are played. All Paladins are held to a code of conduct, forcing you to follow that code and restricting your actions to those in line with your faith. Paladins can never be criminals, and can never turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. This can complicate situations very quickly! Be mindful of these restrictions, and in turn how that will restrict the party, if you choose this path.
Paladins are known to wear heavy armor which is further augmented by magical defenses granted by their deities. When it comes to fighting the forces of Evil, Paladins are peerless. Their Smite ability allows them to cleave their enemies down for massive damage, and are exceedingly well suited for blessing their allies with the strength needed to continue fighting. Paladins make excellent Primary Combatants, drawing fire and dealing it back blow for blow. With additional divine support from the gods above, in the right circumstance, a Paladin is essentially a beacon of their god, an Avatar of Heaven itself.
Your job as a Paladin is to strike down those that oppose you without mercy, while showing mercy to all those who side with you. You are a Champion of the Light to those you aid, but don’t forget the expectations and burdens champions must continuously meet, no matter the cost to themselves.
Hunters and Beast Masters, Rangers live on the fringes of society and are skirmishers more than fighters. They will snipe away at their prey from cover or shadows, and dive into combat wielding blades like fangs in vicious and unforgiving melee combat. Rangers shine the most when supporting their allies, not when bearing the bulk of the fighting themselves. A Ranger’s sword can tip a battle in the favor of a Fighter, or his Archery can shift the flow of combat just enough to turn the tide of the battle. Further, with an affinity for the wilds, the aid of an animal companion, and even a limited but effective pool of wild Magic to call upon, the Ranger is the ideal support class for fighters.
Your job is to scout for the party, to track your enemies to their home, to set an ambush and fall upon your prey like the wolf that follows loyally by your side. You are not the strongest or most magically adept in the party, but your support in any capacity makes the pack stronger, a pack you can rightfully claim Alpha status to.
First, an observation. For reasons that cannot be fully or adequately explained, in fifteen years of playing tabletop RPGs, the Rogue seems to have the highest mortality rate. Whether or not this is a truth to the nature of the class or an outlier is unclear, but the nature of a Rogue means you will often be alone or separated from the party, and this can often end tragically. Be warned!
Thief. Scoundrel. Coward. Assassin. These descriptions often accompany any Rogue during their lifetime. Rogues are first and foremost shadows; a Rogue survives and thrives by never facing a threat directly where it can be avoided. Rogues seldom have heavy armor or weaponry, relying instead on stealth, poison and what many would call dirty tricks when fighting. With a powerful Sneak Attack ability, Rogue can quickly cripple an enemy with a surprise attack or by taking advantage of an enemy distracted by a friendly warrior. A Rogue’s daggers often find their homes in the niches between armor, and in the tendons of unaware foes. Further, Rogues truly shine in the shadows when focusing on their role as Skilled adventures; Opening locks, disabling traps, sneaking through shadows, lying with a silver tongue, picking pockets and whispering intel from every street urchin in the city.
Your job as a Rogue is to infiltrate, to steal what you can and get away without ever being seen. You do your best to avoid direct combat and know that survival comes from a shield of shadows and well-placed dagger. You are a cloak and dagger in the whispers of the night, and your sharpest weapon is not your array of daggers but your intellect and razor-sharp wit.
Deep in your blood lies the latent untapped potential of your ancestors. You are related to the greatest magical forces the world has ever known. Your heritage is one of dragon and fey, or angels and demons alike. Somewhere in your family’s past a drop of blood entered, and has persisted from generations to generation until it manifested fully in you. You are a Sorcerer, and your magic comes from within. A Sorcerer gains magical abilities directly from their Bloodline, for one example we’ll look at a Dragon Bloodline. You, a descendant of one of the terrible wyrms of olde, possess their magic. You can shed your shell of flesh and adopt the scales, wings, and claws of your ancestor, breathing fiery death and resisting even potent magic, all the while flinging the terrible arcane spells the great destroyers of legend were known for. Your abilities are not limited, but more accurately specialized, focused like a laser. No two Sorcerers are alike, and so too no two Sorcerers share the same role in a party. Some may adapt to the form of a demon and fight from the rear summoning imps and infernals while dragging others magically into hell itself, while another may be a champion of angelic descent healing all their friends and offering resistance to even the worst magics, while still another may assume the form of a savage dragon and tear headlong into the enemy.
You are specialized, a surgeon's tool more than a cudgel, and your job is to shine at whatever it is you do best, nothing more, nothing less.
You are an enigma, an individual so infused with magic at your core that it manifests with no training, sometimes in uncontrolled ways. You may not even fully understand yourself, but you know your well of magic is nearly limitless. You are a Warlock. The role of a Warlock can best be described as one of Support Caster. Lacking the focus of a Sorcerer and the sheer wealth of options at a Wizard’s disposal, Warlocks use the arcane tricks and powerful supernatural creatures at their disposal to supplement their allies and undermine their foes. Often chaotic and seldom a friend of order, Warlocks focus on using trickery and magics that hinder more than doing direct damage to a foe.
Your role is one of magical torture, crippling enemies with sinister dark magic. You lack the survivability and sheer ferocity of full casters and warriors, however, you more than make up for this in your ability to manipulate any and every foe your allies create an opening to. You are a potent weapon of the arcane, and a nightmare to those you torment.
By far the most intricate and complex Class in most RPGs. It is recommended that newer players explore either a Sorcerer or Warlock role before diving headlong into the role of a Wizard. The primary reason for this is the heart of a Wizard is the options at your disposal. At any given point a Wizard can only access a small percent of the spells they have the potential to cast, but make up for this with the ability to switch between the spells they can wield. Given the sheer number of these options, the intricacy some of these require, and the staggering amount of spells to understand to fully know what your options are, we recommend wading into this class, not diving in headlong.
Wizards are the absolute masters of the Arcane. There are some that master archery, or swordplay, or tracking or even the history of the world. Wizards scoff at this lesser knowledge, and command the entirety of the cosmos at their fingertips. A well trained Wizard will have hundreds, if not thousands, of spells at their disposal. Every morning a Wizard picks which spells to prepare and carry that day, putting these at the top of their minds, ready to be launched with but a word and a gesture. The only real limits a Wizard faces are twofold; The first is that despite the vast command of Arcane options Wizards are restricted by their mere corporeal form the at best a few dozen spells a day, and spells they deliberately focus on in advance at that. Second, Wizards are so outwardly focused with their vast minds and intellect they often forgo more immediate defenses like armor and swords. Though some will never admit it, a Wizard performs at his highest potential when amidst the ranks of allies, allowing him time to bring his might to bear.
You are a prism through which any number of Arcane lights may be unlocked, a limitless well of magic drawn up one bucket at a time. You are powerful, versatile and the master of all things magical, even if a bit less survivable when left unsupported.
A Note on Party Dynamics
Before you make your decision, you should also consider what the rest of the party will be comprised of. Suppose you will be joining an existing group of adventurers, and this group consists of a Ranger, a Fighter Archer, a Wizard and a Sorcerer. You might notice this group is sorely lacking a frontline warrior, and would benefit from a Paladin, Barbarian or Fighter Shield Bearer. Conversely, you might decide to play a Rogue and use your skills to supplement what the group already excels at. You might even choose to duplicate an existing Class to further stack what makes this particular party strong. Perhaps you’ll choose another Ranger and really add to the Ranged effectiveness of the group. The decision is yours!
There is no wrong Class to choose, and at the end of the day, you should choose the Class you’re going to have the most fun with. That being said, remember that you are not the only player. If the rest of the players are thieves and scoundrels, they may not appreciate you walking in with a Lawful Good Aligned Paladin or Cleric, a circumstance where you would be obligated t hinder or halt their activity completely. Similarly, you may find it frustrating to play a demon-blooded Sorcerer bent on a reign of chaos and suffering if your party consists of a Paladin, a Cleric, and a local Fighter who champions the Temple of Light. So just be mindful of what your inclusion may mean to the group.
It can be both entertaining and challenging to come up with the right party structure for your group. If you feel uncertain where your group should start, strike for a balanced approach. One player should be a frontline warrior, and another should support him. A third should have a ranged option, a fourth a magical option, and the fifth ideally a utility class. A standard, though proven, group for beginners, in order, would be a Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Wizard, and Bard. The Fighter carries combat, the Rogue supports the combat and offers utility for outside of fights. The Cleric buffs and heals the party, while the Wizard harms and hinders the enemy. All the while the Bard makes everyone perform at their peak, and then uses his out of combat abilities to help the party win friends and allies.
If you’re looking for a challenge, try playing a group that all share the same class. This can, and has, ended disastrously! A group of all Rogues will eventually find a circumstance where they could dearly benefit from magical support, or a group of all Wizards will someday wish dearly for a few heavily armored bodyguards among their allies. There is a certain charm and fun though in overcoming these hindrances, and in maximizing so totally what the group does. A group of four or five Rogues can essentially go wherever they want unnoticed, and a group of Paladins will seldom be openly challenged while traveling down a road.
And dwarf fighters will seldom run out of mead!
A parting note: Remember that this is a simplified glimpse at what your Class options are when starting out. There are ways to play melee heavy Wizards, and Magically adept Rogues. You can unlock prestige classes that offer further specialization options, such as the Eldritch Knight, Duelist or Arcane Trickster. You may discover a supplementary book with a Class like the Gunslinger or Cavalier that have their own flavor and appeal. You might even combine Classes in what is called Multi-Classing, taking the bonuses of two or more Classes and breeding them into your own custom Class! There is no limit to the options before you, but remember that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Our best advice is to start in the beginning, even if it is a bit less exciting. You’ll find your own play style in time, and with it, the Class that is perfect for you.
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Originally published by Donald