The simultaneous beauty and terror of Dungeons & Dragons 5E classes comes from the variety of options you face during character creation. Sorcerers need origins, druids need circles, clerics need deities - not to mention how to choose the right character race in Dungeons & Dragons to combine it with. Deciding which of these your character is going to choose may seem overwhelming at first but the main thing you need to know is what D&D classes cater to which play styles.
If you already have an idea of the basic elements of your character, such as their primary abilities, the weapons and armour they like to use, what spells they might use, and more (if you don’t then we recommend you read our guide to how to make Dungeons & Dragons 5E characters), then having a gander at the table on page 45 of the Player's Handbook could see you steering towards a certain class.
Otherwise, we’re going to go through a brief summary of each D&D 5E class, just to give you an idea of which of our guides you should hop onto next (because they’re going to be the most useful class guides possible, I guarantee it).
It’s not hard to picture what a Dungeons & Dragons barbarian might look like; loincloth, muscles, furry halter-top, double-bladed axe, that sort of thing. Barbarians are essentially the hippos of the D&D world: bloody enormous and incredibly aggressive. They’re a class that’s built to cut down hordes of smaller enemies, dealing huge amounts of damage with each hit and shaking off any melee damage dealt to them.
Barbarians are pretty much defined by their unique rage ability, which enables them to apply advantage rolls and damage bonuses to melee attacks, as well as benefit from having resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage. Rage wears off if a barbarian has not attacked or taken damage during the course of their turn which, in combat terms, means that barbarians are at their best when they’re constantly exchanging damage.
Thanks to the pure chunkiness of the barbarian (barbarians use a d12 when rolling their hit dice) and their damage resistances, they’re probably one of the most durable classes to play as well.
So, if you imagine your character wading through hordes of squatters, swinging some monstrous weapon, then the barbarian is a damn good fit for that.
Ever wanted to unleash your inner Rod Stewart? (Clearly the rock star for the discerning audience.) The bard is the class for anyone that ever dreamed of getting a crowd to their feet with charming words and, of course, a voice worthy of making angels weep.
Whilst many Dungeons & Dragons classes have a mixture of both practical and combat-focused skills, some do fall almost completely into one or the other. The bard is the ultimate utilitarian class, possessing feats, skills and spells that are almost entirely useless during combat (such as Knock, which is a spell that automatically unlocks any door). However, this doesn’t mean they can’t do anything mildly offensive - after all, they can take a spell that literally harms enemies by mocking them. It’s just that their arsenal is often built around either supporting their partymates or messing with their enemies.
The ability unique to this class is bardic inspiration, which enables the player to gift an inspiration die to another, which they can then roll before adding the total to any attack, saving throw or ability check they attempt in the future - you can work these numbers out using our guide on how to play Dungeons & Dragons 5E. This ability will gradually improve, allowing the bard to use this feature more often and changing the die from a d6 to a higher die.
If you want your character to be a literal D&D hype man then the bard class is for you.
All spellcaster classes owe their magical abilities to one particular type of power. Whilst the other D&D 5E classes rely on such heinous sources as pacts with demons - which is the case with the warlock class - and tainted bloodlines, which is how sorcerers are made, the cleric relies on the support of a holy entity. Thanks to their chosen deity clerics can shoot literal holy fire at their enemies, heal their friends with pure blessings and smite those non-believers cocky enough to think they can take them.
Clerics may be known as the default healers of Dungeons & Dragons (and in many cases, they are), but they have the potential to be so much more than that thanks to the variety of divine domains they can choose to follow. Which divine domains a cleric chooses determines the general direction their character follows, both in regards to spells and feats, as they tend to each focus on different flavours of magic. For example, the Knowledge domain grants clerics spells that enable them to, surprise surprise, acquire knowledge such as the Speak With Dead spell (which enables a character to have a brief chat with some sort of desiccated husk or the like).
Where each divine doman really shines is with the Channel Divinity spell which, depending on the cleric’s chosen deity, can produce a drastically different effect when cast; ranging from healing another character to taming beast or fauna. This means that the cleric is arguably the most customisable class in the entire game making it a solid choice regardless of which domain and weaponry you choose to wield.
Druids are the environmentalists we all need right now. Born and raised in Mother Nature’s very own mud, druids call upon the powers of nature to cast spells and do super-rad stuff, like creating stinking clouds of poisonous gas and summoning plagues of various biting insects.
Druids have a reputation amongst the Dungeons & Dragons community as being incredibly powerful at higher levels - and this is because they are. Whilst somewhat limited to begin with, druids can quickly grow into absolute monsters by gaining access to a collection of some seriously powerful spells, which they can then partner with their ultimate ability: Wild Shape.
This is the other thing druids are known for and it can get incredibly out of hand incredibly quickly. At second level, druids can change their shape into a beast of their choice (with limits) gaining that beast’s stats and abilities. Whilst the beasts you have access to at the game’s burgeoning levels are kind of rubbish (think wolves, rats, a particularly large cow...), once things start kicking off in the higher levels you’ll be killing it as a woolly mammoth or gigantic hippo.
If you picture your D&D character as primarily a magical and physical damage-dealer (with some cool little tricks on the side), then druid is your pick.
What could be more classic fantasy than a good ol’ fashioned sword ‘n’ shield affair? Fighters are your Dungeons & Dragons weapon experts as they’re capable of swinging or shooting pretty much anything sharp or blunt from the get-go, and certainly don’t hold back when it comes to laying into some nasty little grunting thing crawling across the floor.
Fighters are a formidable class to play on the battlefield (though not so much off it) capable of carrying an entire team of adventurers through a fight. The combination of their two key features - Action Surge, which enables a fighter to perform two actions a turn, and Second Wind, which enables a fighter to use a bonus action to heal during a turn - is incredible because it allows them to dole out several attacks a turn without having to move out of danger.
If you choose to play as a fighter, you can also expect to gain a ton of ability score increases with each level-up thanks to your fighting specialisation (ability score increases can be generated using our Dungeons & Dragons 5E character creation guide). Also, you can get spells.
In other words, if being able to carry an entire armory’s worth of weaponry is what you want out of your D&D character then please, please, please play as a fighter.
But what if you didn’t want to use a weapon? What if you wanted to mash some monster meat with your bare hands? Yeah! Squeezing eyes like they’re boiled eggs between your palms. Luckily for you there’s a healthy output for those kinds of fantasies in playing Dungeons & Dragons 5E as a monk.
All joking aside, monks can actually wield weapons, but they can also gain feats that allow them to deal more damage or cause awesome effects if they choose to fight without one.
Monks don’t really have a single outlining ability to set them apart from other combat-heavy classes like the fighter, instead they can use something called Ki points to perform certain manoeuvres in battle. These manoeuvres manifest as abilities that enable a monk to better navigate the battlefield and augment their existing attacks. For example, Flurry of Blows allows a monk to perform two unarmed strikes immediately after attacking on their turn. This trend continues as a monk levels up gradually learning more manoeuvres and building up an impressive collection of combat options, until they gain access to an enormous menu of ways to kick butt.
Playing a monk isn’t for those who desire instant gratification; it’s for the D&D player who patiently enjoys gathering power and revelling in strategic options.
Paladins may seem very similar to clerics (and in many ways, they are), but they do have a few unique aspects that set them apart as a class.
Firstly, they’re often big ‘n’ bulky types that can take a lot more of a beating than a cleric can (thanks to their hit points being rolled using a d10 rather than a d8 - find out more with our Dungeons & Dragons 5E character creation guide), and secondly their Channel Divinity abilities tend to focus a lot more on attacking and aggressive status effects than supportive stuff. In other words, the paladin is what you get if you take a cleric and inject it with five pints of steroids.
Paladins choose to follow an oath that determines their designated ‘holy quest’ so they’re not so much dedicated preachers of a particular deity, but rather enthusiasts of a certain way of living. Including a paladin in your D&D party is not a bad shout, particularly when it comes to combat, as the mix of meaty attacks and offensive spellcasting makes for one heck of a reliable battle partner. Paladins are the Dungeons & Dragons equivalent of the ‘he attac/he protec’ meme, as they’re extremely capable of performing both an aggressive and defensive role (and even some support).
So if you want to look out for your friends in the mist of terrible beasties then it sounds like you should follow the paladin’s call.
Rangers are hunters that seek the dankest corners of the natural world crouching around in swampy puddles and squatting amongst the branches of trees, waiting for their prey to just slip into view before striking.
Rangers are probably one of the more specialised classes in Dungeons & Dragons, relying on select decisions of feats that may or may not actually turn out to be useful depending on what they happen to encounter. Creating a ranger will have you choosing a favoured enemy (you have certain advantages when attacking that type of enemy) and a favoured terrain (you have certain advantages when moving through that environment), alongside your selected fighting style (you have certain advantages when using that weapon type). Which can make for some great customisation especially when it comes time to pick between hunter and beast-master specialisations - yes, you can tame bears - but can also lead to a potentially underwhelming character.
Essentially, maybe avoid playing a ranger if you’re not sure what kind of stuff D&D campaigns contain or if you’re somewhat unfamiliar with the game in general. Of course, you’re also welcome to make things spicy and bet on the roll of the die (pun intended) as to how good you can make a ranger for the first time.
Whilst the barbarian may excel at dealing with sheer numbers the rogue has the potential to make a single opponent’s entire existence absolute hell. Rogues specialise in surprising potentially deadly foes and with devastating attacks that are guaranteed to mess them up one way or another, whether that’s with damage or status effects.
See rogues are tricky little buggers that slip and slide out of danger like a moray eel, specialising in performing all sorts of nefarious deeds from mischievous magic and stealing stuff to good ol’ fashioned murder. The words rogue class and sneak attack are entirely synonymous with each other, with any sneaky individual being able to deal extra damage if their enemy is distracted by their allies. Learn more about damage rolls with our guide to how to play Dungeons & Dragons 5E.
With every level, rogues gain feats that provide benefits both inside and outside of combat, making them a class with a much greater mix of fighting and utilitarian potential. Additionally, depending on which roguish archetype you decide to specialise in, rogues gain abilities that push them towards either becoming a greater part of the pack or more of a lone wolf.
If it’s sneaky damage-dealing and general skulduggery you’re looking for then embrace the life of the rogue.
Do you want your D&D character to use magic? If the answer to this question is yes then here’s another question; do you want to use a lot of magic? If the answer is still yes then congratulations! You’ve tested positive for wannabe sorcerer.
Sorcerers may appear very one-note (all the spells, all the time) but they’re actually one of the more complicated classes to make in Dungeons & Dragons 5E. When you create a sorcerer, you have to pick a bloodline origin for their magic (in other words someone at some point, had a meet/cute with an immensely powerful magical creature) which means that unless you want to stick to a draconic origin you’re going to have to venture outside the Player's Handbook.
Usually we’d advise against looking at anything not included in the Player's Handbook when creating your first character. However, the options for sorcerer origins are so many that you’ve pretty much got no choice in the matter. Which is why, like the ranger, we’d recommend not picking a sorcerer if this is your first way round the D&D roller coaster.
However, if you really want to play a sorcerer then there are a ton of amazing customisation options to choose from, especially once you get to third level and gain the ability to apply different effects to your spells.
Sorcerers have the potential to control the entire battlefield, so if near-unlimited power is your jam (not literally, mind you) then this class is the way to go.
Warlocks are the rogues of the Dungeons & Dragons spellcasting fraternity because they also specialise in doing nasty things to people, ranging from a simple bamboozling to transporting them to a nightmarish hellscape from which they might never return.
Whereas other spellcasting classes owe their magical abilities to forces of either inherent good or relative neutrality, warlocks get their powers from literal demons which does colour their character’s morality somewhat. Whether or not you’re into this idea will likely determine if you fancy making your character a warlock.
Other factors will be whether you enjoy the idea of being an absolute pain in the backside, as a lot of a warlock’s spells and features revolve around disabling enemies - as well as just generally causing quite a bit of damage. The D&D 5E warlock class is interesting because they’re a little difficult to pin down and can err on the side of the situational. However, they also have the potential to be a lot of fun as with each eldritch invocation your warlock learns (which are spells you gain from learning other spells), you steadily become able to do more and more horrible things to people.
Warlocks are another one of those classes that require patience before you start seeing the rewards - but boy - are those rewards oh-so-sweet when they come. To the most morbid of D&D players out there consider trying your hand at making your own warlock.
Wizards are the nerds of the Dungeons & Dragons world. Like the sorcerer, their entire class is dependent upon the spells they learn (dear god, please don’t try to make a wizard use weapon) but unlike the sorcerer wizards don’t inherit the magic naturally. They don’t even get it from worshipping a god or making a pact with a demon. Oh no. Wizards get their magic from… books.
As much as it is easy to mock this (and it is) the D&D 5E wizard class is really one of the RPG’s more fascinating classes because they don’t rely on anything other than pure knowledge. A wizard will begin their adventure with their very own spellbook; filled with the spells the player has chosen from the available wizard’s spell list. As their adventure continues a wizard will come across other spells written in text and will, like a filthy little cheat, copy these into their own book.
This is what makes wizards such an interesting class because they don’t have to wait to level-up before gaining new spells. Of course they’ll get new spells with each additional level anyway, but these will simply augment whatever spells they’ve already managed to find. If you’re playing a wizard your character will likely gain more spells than any other class in Dungeons & Dragons (even sorcerers), which does make them a little bit of a one-trick pony. However, they’re also far more customisable and wonderfully unpredictable because of that, which is why we wouldn’t advise creating one if this is your very first D&D character.
Nevertheless, the wizard class is entirely designed for those players hungry to get their teeth into the largest available pool of spells in Dungeons & Dragons.
If you’re interested in learning more about getting started with D&D then have a look at our guides to what to buy if you want to play Dungeons & Dragons and how to start a Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying group.