The Best D&D Classes, Ranked from Worst to Best
Dungeons and Dragons offers players a wide variety of classes for gameplay and roleplay alike. But which are the best class to play as?
Character classes are a staple of many RPGs. For some of us, they’re our favorite part of the game. Offering both a form of self-expression as to how they approach problems and come up with solutions. Also potentially giving the character a place in the lore and society of the world being played in. Dungeons and Dragons is the codifier of many RPG conventions, and this is no different. So what are the classes all individually? What can they do and why do they do it? Who are particular paragons of them all? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Read on and find out.
An elven ranger can pin a leaf to a tree from half a mile away.
Going forward, I’d like to emphasize that the “worst” and “best” qualifiers are entirely opinion based. You are free to agree or disagree. That said, rangers are by far the least interesting class. Their lore is perfunctory to their usage as the party’s scout and ranged damage guy. Their place in human society boils down to “hermit occasionally contracted for military recon” and at best they’re a corps. of particularly good archers among elves. Who are almost always good archers anyway so it really doesn’t make them stand out. Even their connection with nature is dwarfed in scale and detail by the druid class.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Rangers, as inferred, are skilled in the use of ranged weaponry. Typically bows and crossbows. They also have bonuses for dual wielding blades; particularly knives and short swords. The player chooses an archetype at level 3 on which weapon type they want to specialize in. They wear light and medium leather armor, a byproduct of hunting. It is tough enough to take some wear and tear but still light enough not to impede movement or create too much noise. Rangers are uniquely gifted when it comes to the actual traversal of adventuring. Players choose a kind of terrain, such as forest, tundra, or dessert, and they gain bonuses when traveling through it. Lastly rangers choose what is called a favored enemy, such as dragons, undead, or orcs. When dealing with something that falls under the ranger’s favored enemy type, they gain bonuses on how to fight them.
Famous Rangers: Link (Legend of Zelda)
“Ryū ga waga teki o kurau!”
I don’t need to tell any of you who Link is, hopefully. The eternally reincarnating hero has always had some of the mechanics of the ranger but his latest outing in Breath of the Wild particularly shows off Link’s pathfinding attributes. In addition to much greater emphasis on his archery skills, Link also proves to be a capable survivalist. Shown in how he braves biting cold and scorching heat while scaling sheer cliffs and while crafting his own supplies and tools. Which shows a ranger’s skill at navigating terrain others would find difficult to traverse. Though this could be the mechanical representation of a skill that has always been there. Link has always braved the wilds of Hyrule and other lands undaunted by the elements or the monsters that dwell among them. Link also shows the ranger’s signature weapon skills. In every adventure, he always has a trusty bow at his side for dispatching weaker foes or hitting hard to reach target areas on larger ones. While he lacks the dual blade skill of a ranger, he makes up for it with his shield always in his offhand. Combined with his arsenal of boomerangs, hookshots, hammers, and spare swords, Link is a deadly combatant at any range. He’s faced monsters and evils that would break lesser men with only blade and bow as his companions,That’s the thing, rangers are very often alone in their duties and travels. Link occasionally has a companion such as Epona, Navi, Midna, or the King of Red Lions, but when it comes right down to delving into the dungeons and braving the bosses, he’s on his own. Such is a solitary existence but Link faces these perils with almost no backup and with even less fear. Link is the greatest ranger because he can travel any distance and face any enemy in pursuit of his quest.
What’s good about rangers:
- Favored enemy offers character building and development. Why does your ranger hunt this specific foe? Did one kill his family? Are his people at war with them?
- Good for solo play and small groups as rangers are adventurers almost by default. They typically live or spend a lot of time alone and away from civilization and are uniquely equipped to handle wilderness survival.
- With stealth and specializing at long range, they can make good snipers or anti-air party members.
What’s bad about rangers:
- Very vague and unexciting given lore. Good class lore inspires DMs and players to customize and contextualize where the class fits in the world. Bad class lore doesn’t excite enough interest to create occupational or individual characteristics beyond the raw weapons and skills.
- Redundancy. Some classes cover basic functions in combat or overall adventuring. The ranger though can be outdone in almost every category he specializes in. Wizards and Sorcerers can rain all manner of destruction upon the enemy from a distance. Rogues are better at stealth. Fighters exceed them in melee combat. Anyone taking a “survival” skill even covers the basics of their out of combat utility.
Class Rating: 1/10
A tiefling rogue scoping out a mark.
It’s not them it’s me, really. For some stealth and deception are tactical options, for others they’re a lifestyle. Even when rogues don’t slit the throats of sleeping guards or backstab from the shadows they still steal, trick, and lie their way to victory. Rogues aren’t just flexible morally though. Part of the class’ appeal is that there is a lot of character that can be grafted on to them. Street urchin, purse-snatcher, murderous cutthroat, femme fatale, professional assassin, hardened spy, dashing swashbuckler, a combination of the above? The class has a specific but flexible kit and niche that nevertheless has lots of room for personal backstories and societal roles.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Rogues are skilled in all manner of simple light weaponry. Daggers, knives, cudgels, and such. They can also deliver silent strikes from a distance with hand crossbows. When open combat is inevitable, rogues still prefer precision and cunning over raw strength. Short swords, rapiers, and longswords are the order of the day. Rogues of all stripes can only wear light armor, even those not particularly stealthy need to be light on their feet to be effective. Rogues gain greater skill bonuses at the onset, can pull off sneak attacks for increased damage, and can understand Thieves’ Cant. The children in an alley singing a seemingly innocuous tune that warns the bootleggers to hide their goods? The innkeeper’s wife beating a rug with a particular pattern on it signaling a meeting of the Thieves’ Guild inside? That’s Thieves’ Cant. The coded phrases, signals, and jargon of the underworld. (Not to be confused with the Underdark. Those Drow don’t need to hide their murder and theft.) Rogues further can specialize in either being master thieves, ultimate assassins, or even use magic to complement their subterfuge as arcane tricksters.
Famous Rogues: Garret (Thief)
“They say diamonds are a girl's best friend. I guess I’m just that good with my hands then.”
Garrett from the Thief series of games is the quintessential rogue. Not only one of the pioneers of stealth as an engaging mode of play along with Solid Snake, many a role player owes more than a little to the personality archetype he laid out. Sarcastic, selfish, and flippant, Garrett steals not out avarice nor a tired Robin Hood complex but simply to retain his independence.Sympathetic without being terribly heroic, anytime Garrett is caught in the machinations of higher causes, his first reaction is to roll his eyes and wash his hands of such business. If you’ve played D&D more than once, you know (or were) that guy who avoids getting involved in heroics and quests to the point of outright defiance. Even without all that though, Garrett is the greatest rogue because he’s the everyman. The nobles and mystics have their grand schemes while he’s just a guy trying to sneak past all of them while bagging a few valuables.
What’s good about rogues:
- Very good for players interested in carving a unique backstory that falls along the line of living in the underbelly of society. Even for players not overly concerned with complicated backstories or deep role play can find verisimilitude in the rogue’s profit driven mindset. The character wants treasure and loot, the player wants treasure and loot.
- The best option for players wanting to be stealthy.
- Can disarm traps or pick locks. This helps to avoid obstacles or fights all together.
What’s bad about rogues:
- Very frail and easy to kill if statted or played the wrong way.
- Overtly criminal and chaotic behavior might not jive with some of the more invested role players.
Class Rating: 2/10
“I started a fire to draw out my prey. Smoky the Bear came out and gave me a lecture. I found my prey.”
For one’s inner Super Saiyan, when there’s no foe that can’t be overcome through absurd levels of anger and yelling, there is the barbarian. Barbarians are warriors hailing from tribal cultures. Rare, if not entirely unheard of, is the barbarian who was raised in a large city. Their strength lies in their primal rage. For the Barbarian, anger isn’t just an expression of frustration or grievance. Their rage is the manifestation of a primordial power that more civilized folks have effectively snuffed out by distancing themselves from their roots and growing complacent. Barbarians can be fun to role play as someone who actively disdains the creature comforts most people take for granted but even without that character involvement barbarians are good for players that are quick to violence and more interested in fighting monsters than character dialogue.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Barbarians can use simple and martial weapons but lack basic proficiency with ranged weapons. Such is against their nature. If a barbarian isn’t screaming into battle with a bloody sword, axe, or club he’s not much of a barbarian. Barbarians can wear light and medium armor and even carry shields but they are also unique in that they gain armor bonuses when wearing no actual armor. Presumably a product of their natural toughness from living in a harsh environment. Another benefit to this is a kind of danger sense. Just as they would know when a predator is hunting them, they know when a room is holding its collective breath trying to look casual while psyching themselves up for an ambush. At level three, the Barbarian has a choice of two primal paths for their rage to manifest as. The Berserker, effectively Barbarian classic flavor, for those who want to shatter ribs and cut off heads for the sake of it. And the Totem Warrior; a more spiritual and overtly magical path where the rage summons great power as a result of bonding with an animal or nature spirit.
Famous Barbarians: The Dovahkiin (The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim)
"Fus Ro Dah!"
Yes, the player character in Skyrim has no set “class” and can be customized to fit a number of playstyles and archetypes but just taken in the broad strokes and official artwork, they fit the mold pretty nicely. Braving the biting cold to defend the small settlements from savage dragons with naught but sword, axe, and shield. The Dovahkiin’s quotable catchphrase is just the beginning of the Thu’um power, which essentially boils down yelling at reality at the top of one’s lungs and then it listens! They even fit the more magical and purpose driven Totem Warrior path, possessing the soul of a dragon and a specific shout (Thu’um spell) channeling that draconic spirit through the body for use in combat. Even what we’re given in the story kind of leans to being a barbarian hero. The very first thing that happens is the more conventionally civilized Imperials sentencing you to death for little more than to tick a box. One’s sympathies might be swayed a little to ally with the Viking-like Nords or at the very least keep your nose out of politics and just focus on what is best in life. The Dovahkiin is the greatest barbarian because they channel not just rage but absurd levels of passion in the player. The song of the Dovahkiin is enough to send one’s spirit soaring.
What’s good about barbarians:
- Very easy to slip into the adventuring lifestyle, with little justification needed but not prohibiting the freedom of a backstory or unique spin based in any number of ancient real cultures or a completely made up one.
- Having your special quality that puts you above the layman dungeon crawler be; “I’m pissed off,” can lead to a lot of laughs around the table as well as brutal badassery.
- Doesn’t require a lot of equipment to use their abilities.
What’s bad about barbarians:
- While illiteracy is no longer required, some DMs might still enforce it for the sake of your character’s oral tradition background. (Trust me, that’s far from the worst thing a jerk DM can do.)
- Depending on the character and the situation, city adventures might be more of a problem than dungeons. (How many youtube videos can you find of the Dovahkiin getting the attention of the guard in Whiterun?)
Class Rating: 3/10
"One can’t put a price on their soul! So, I took the best offer.”
Ambition, morbid curiosity, and a lust for power and knowledge are the guiding motivations of a warlock. While not every warlock makes a deal with the devil specifically, all of them are defined by their agreed subservience to something explicitly not divine. The Fey Courts, the Circles of Hell, and the Lovecraftian nameless ones are always willing to make an offer to some enterprising mortal for access to powers and secrets unknown or forbidden to the world in exchange for something in return. Exactly what that “something” is and how costly it truly is . . . well, be sure to read the fine print. More plainly, the nature of the pact is defined by the player and the DM working in concert with one another.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Unlike some of their spellcasting counterparts, Warlocks do not forgo traditional weapons. They’re just as likely to use a sword as a staff and they wear light armor. Like all spellcasting classes, Warlocks can choose from spell tables when they level up, some spells requiring higher levels than others. Warlock patrons like to bait their suckers, I mean, clients early on as the first unique gift Warlock’s get is a choice of a familiar companion to perform simple tasks or attack foes, a weapon they can summon to their hand and dismiss at will, and a grimoire of dark magic called the Book of Shadows. Once they reach level three, the player must choose which nasty party they’re in bed with. The basic options are the Archfey, lethally whimsical faerie nobles; the Fiends, the Devils or Demons of the lower planes; or the Great Old Ones, beings utterly alien in mind, shape, and kind. Each of them offer unique secrets and powers to unlock.
Famous Warlocks: Merrill (Dragon Age II)
For the sake of professionalism, I’d like to make a disclosure. Yeah, I tapped that.
In a tossup between her and Warcraft’s Gul’dan, Merrill won out as an example of not only a Warlock who is good, but whose reasons for meddling with the ruinous powers is more nuanced than either power lust or a “fight Hellfire with Hellfire” justification. No surprise for a Bioware party member, Merrill is a deep and complex character whose actions or goals could be interpreted as foolish but her reason being the relatable human desire to help her struggling community. But I get ahead of myself. For those who don’t know, in the world of Dragon Age, blood magic is strictly outlawed and not without reason as using it can invite demons into the physical plane even unintentionally. Demons coming from an ethereal realm called the Fade, also inhabited by more benign “spirits.” Merrill is one of the best examples of a Warlock because she fully acknowledges that the forces she holds congress with are dangerous but views them the same way animal handlers view getting close to large predators, it’s all a matter of understanding them and being on guard. Ironically, this makes her savvier than her more traditional Mage friend Anders, who thinks she’s nuts for using blood magic and consorting with demons but made a similar pact with a spirit of justice that forced him into actions that disgusted him. To reuse the metaphor, Merrill knew that just because they’re not carnivorous, you shouldn’t jump in the river with a hippopotamus, Anders didn’t. Even Merrill’s biggest flaw is a quintessentially Warlock characteristic, pride. Merrill wants to help her people so she’s willing to strike pacts with eldritch entities to obtain a magical artifact that will restore some of their lost history. In one way, she’s selfless. Using her own blood for the rituals and making certain that if she is possessed, someone is on standby to kill her! On the other hand, though, in a stunning display of moral tunnel vision, Merrill never acknowledges the possibility that even if she takes every pre-caution, there could be collateral damage that is the result of her actions. She can’t, or won’t, admit that when you play with fire someone else might get burned. She shook hands with the Devil and counted her fingers and toes, but did not count her friends and family. Merrill is the greatest Warlock for understanding the true nature of her pact with demons of pride, even if it didn’t protect her from the sin of pride.
What’s good about warlocks:
- Even in heroic campaigns, anyone who wants to play an evil character can get a lot of mileage out of the Warlock’s diabolical theme. Vanishing into mist, turning a victim into your thrall, and literally sending your foes to Hell, all with the wave of a hand.
- Even playing an otherwise well-meaning character can lead to some interesting situations. How does your character square his noble aims with his unholy methods? What would he say if one of his companions called him out on endangering himself and possibly the rest of them?
- The Warlock pact offers many options and variations that make for interesting backgrounds and goals. Why did you strike the pact? Was it for reasons that might be considered noble? Was it out of a sense of guilt or desperation? Who did you strike the pact with? Did you go seeking for a specific patron or were you made an offer and not in a position to look closer at the details? Critically, what is the price? Do you wake up a week after every New Moon with no memory of what you did? Are you marked with an eerie symbol somewhere on your body that seems to be getting bigger every time you look at it? Are you fully aware of what’s required of you and dreading it or have the terms of the pact been “interpreted” in a way you didn’t want?
What’s bad about warlocks:
- Again, it all comes down to what exactly you and the DM decide, but the nature of the pact could mean negative consequences for you and the party as it is rife for exploitation.
- Not all players or GMs would even allow Warlocks in their campaigns. Even if they are allowed, it might create serious friction with other party members.
Class Strength: 7/10
If John Woo directed Harry Potter. You know it would involve a sorcerer's dual hand and acrobatic spell casting.
While people with magical powers have always been a staple of fantasy fiction, the Sorcerer class is unique in that it draws more on modern fiction of people granted great power through chance and marked as outsiders within society. Sorcerers control a magic that is different from that of others within their world, it’s wild and personal. Where a wizard would utter an incantation or a warlock would perform a ritual, a sorcerers’ magic is at their fingertips and summoned by their will alone. The most common reason for this is being descendent of a dragon or some other magical being, or being exposed to raw magic early in life in some fashion. Even considering that adventurers are exceptional individuals, sorcerers are very rare and both their scarcity and their powers make them special in the eyes of others either as someone to be feared or admired.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Sorcerers have no proficiency in armor at all. The best defense is a good offense in their case. Their standard weapons are also paltry. Daggers, darts, slings, and quarterstaffs are the order of the day. The Sorcerer’s first tool though is called the Font of Magic, as they level up, they gain sorcery points which can be turned into spell slots, allowing them to cast spells more often than other spellcasters. Next there is metamagic, where a sorcerer can buff spells to have different effects like negating friendly fire or making the spell’s effect last longer. Lastly sorcerers choose an origin as to where their magic comes from and that grants them different powers at level three. Draconic bloodline, which allows you to have heightened resilience and dragon wings. Or Wild Magic, which allows you to muck about with chaos, chance, and fate.
Famous Sorcerers: Elsa (Frozen)
Why mention it? It’s already playing in your head right now.
Elsa fits the criteria for a sorcerer and of course she’s the face of one of the biggest franchises on the planet right now. We’re not given much detail on the origin of Elsa’s powers, although it is mentioned that sometimes they do come from royal blood as that’s one possibility to inherent sorcerer magic, but she was born with them all the same. Like a sorcerer, Elsa doesn’t need a wand or similar accoutrements to use her magic, it’s completely instinctual for her. Even when she’s years out of practice and finally cuts loose, her powers are awe-inspiring, easy for her to use, and with side effects that could be seen as metamagic that she didn’t even intend. She builds an entire castle from thought and some power chords and even creates life in the form of Olaf. Even her limit to ice magic is similar to a sorcerer’s limited spell pool when compared to other magic classes. Yes, all Elsa can do is create and manipulate snow and ice, but she gets a lot of mileage out of that. Elsa also fits the common sorcerer lore position of being feared and outcast by society. What’s more, she fears herself for much the same reason, she’s not entirely in control of what affects her magic has. It’s said that sorcerer magic “wants” to be used and when it’s not given an outlet it might manifest in unexpected ways. Elsa desperately tried to smother her magic for most of her life after she accidentally hurt her sister, so not only did she have an icy outburst in front of a delegation but she inadvertently froze her kingdom in winter. Both Elsa’s initial goal and final resolution also fit the sorcerer mold. Sorcerer adventurers tend to have goals that are focused in some way on their magic. Understanding it, exploring it, being rid of it, or such. Elsa is terrified of hurting someone with her powers but once she thinks she’s safely removed from civilization she absolutely revels in having them. Without spoiling, Elsa eventually manages to overcome her fear and still enjoys her gift. Else is the greatest sorcerer because her powers are one of only two presences of magic in her world yet how she uses them drives the plot and conflict of the story.
What’s good about sorcerers:
- Easy class for players more used to modern story telling conventions rather than old school tales and epics. Sorcerers can be easily swapped in for X-Men and similar set ups of people gifted with power and feared by a populace terrified of their capabilities.
- Very straightforward spell casting class, focusing on being good with a smaller set of abilities than average with a lot of them.
- Easy for DMs to play with “chosen one” narratives due to their exceptional nature.
What’s bad about sorcerers:
- Having less spells might leave less options if they are the party’s only spell caster.
- No starting armor skill. Hope you have a friend to take the hits for you.
Class Strength: 7/10
The dwarven bard plays a song of mourning for his ancestors. Then he shouts, "I've got blisters on my fingers!"
Bards are the oddest of spellcasters. Not a wizard’s tome, warlock pact, nor even the empowered blood of a sorcerer; bards weave magic through music and oration. To a bard, their music and poems aren’t just words and notes, they are the means to play the minds of men and the forces of nature like a violin. Playing a soaring solo to boost morale, a merry jaunt to make diplomacy easier, or barbing insults to make enemies angrier and more vulnerable to counter attack. Bards also have a less flashy but very practical skill and that’s skill itself. Bards are the ultimate jacks of all trades. Whether it’s picking a lock, identifying a rare flower, splinting an arm, or navigating by the stars, bards pick up all manner of mundane but essential talents.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Limited to light armor but bards join warlocks as spellcasters that can put up a fight if cornered. With rapiers, daggers, and short swords. Hand crossbows also seem to be a favorite of bard players in my experience. Of course, the bard’s greatest weapon is no blade or club but their instrument. Harps, flutes, mandolins, or whatever else your mind can come up with that the DM would permit. It is with these that the bard nudges the world to his liking. Bards choose a “college” to join at level three. Bard Colleges are not usually formal universities though it’s possible for them to be so, but they are associations of bards brought together for the purpose of furthering their arts and talents. The College of Lore is for bards focused on the acquisition of knowledge for the sake of truth and beauty. These are the bards that sing in courts or on stage who seek to entertain and enlighten. Then there’s the College of Valor. These bards recount the tales of heroes and legends so that they may not be forgotten and inspire new generations. Close to the historical basis, these bards would sing in taverns or on ships before a battle.
Famous Bards: Eddie Riggs (Brutal Legend)
“Oh mighty sun, burn the creatures of the night from this land while I enjoy coffee and bacon!”
In a criminally underappreciated gem of a game called Brutal Legend, released by Tim Schafer of Psychonauts and Grim Fandango fame, Jack Black played the hammy but humble roadie Eddie Riggs. Transported from our own world to what can only be described as the Wizard of Ozzfest, a world where Heavy Metal music and aesthetics is both history and power, Eddie as the old school metalhead acclimates quickly and finds himself of great use to the people there being oppressed by demons. Eddie fits the most overt criteria of being a bard by playing magical music. In addition to quick jams that strike bad guys with lightning or set them on fire, Eddie learns of number of more elaborate guitar solos. The Battle Cry is a buff to his allies the same as a bard would do and Call of the Wild summons animals to his aid. One of the theories in-universe of how bard magic works is that the music people play are echoes of the songs that sung creation itself into existence. This is explicitly how Eddie does his thing. Heavy Metal music is the death cry of the being whose body made the world Eddie was transported to. So, playing it can alter and effect reality. Eddie even fits the bard’s nature as the proclaimer of heroes. As in, other heroes, not himself. Eddie is a roadie, the world’s greatest roadie and he’s proud of that, but his whole approach is that he’s not the Rockstar he’s the guy who makes it so that the Rockstar can do their thing. In order to do that, Eddie slips into the bard’s other use of being multi-talented in practical but unglamorous fields. Specifically, it’s Eddie’s ability to build and fix cars and equipment as well as recruitment and management like he would on tour that allows his friends to build an army to oppose the bad guys. Eddie Riggs is the greatest bard because at first glance he’s kind of a looser but becomes the unsung hero all the while rocking out and having a good time.
What’s good about bards:
- While not every DM will let one role play explicitly as a Rockstar, there are a lot of the same tropes and themes one can invoke when playing a bard.
- Bards make good generalists for beginning players still looking for a role they like, melee combat, ranged combat, magic, diplomacy, etc.
What’s bad about bards:
- The obvious downside of being a jack of all trades is being master of none. Bard players may find themselves obsolete as other players advance.
- While bards may be fun to play, they do have something of a negative reputation among players. So, groups might be slightly more willing to throw a bard to the wolves than they would a rogue or fighter. Don’t think being the party’s only healer would save you from that either.
Class Strength: 7/10
A wizard conjuring a spell from his tome.
Wizards are the classic archetype of magic users, keepers of esoteric knowledge who act as guides and guardians. Wizards in the worlds of D&D would be considered a hallowed institution. When they aren’t actual schoolmasters or court magical advisors, they are renowned selective teachers. The respect wizards are given is rightly earned in most cases. They not only command immense power but that power comes from years of study and discipline that theoretically anybody could attain if they truly committed themselves to it.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Wizards are defined by their spells and with good reason. While most classes have a handful of specializations they can take, wizards have a whopping eight in the standard player’s book alone! This gives them a dizzying breadth of capabilities in later levels of play. The School of Abjuration for dispelling and repelling negative magic. The School of Conjuration for summoning objects and creatures. The School of Divination for peering into the future and seeing the invisible or shadowed. The School of Enchantment for subverting the minds of others. The School of Evocation for those who want to manipulate the elements of reality. The School of Illusion for creating false images and perceptions. The School of Necromancy for raising the dead as servants. The School of Transmutation for exploiting the law of conservation of mass and energy.
Famous Wizards: Garth (Fable II)
If Morgan Freeman played Gandalf, he’d look like this.
Fable II had you as the player character recruit other heroes to oppose the evil Lord Lucien. Much like a D&D party, each of them had their own unique set of skills. Garth, as the Hero of Will, was the magic expert. Garth exemplifies everything about the wizard class. For starters, his appearance. With scrolls in his bandolier and flasks holstered on his leg, along with a monocle banded to his head like an eyepatch, Garth looks the part of an adventuring scholar. He even has the white hair and beard of a sage but both are very well groomed. By far his most striking physical feature though is that of glowing blue patterns that can be seen marking his entire body when he uses his will. You can get similar if you use magic and they only get more elaborate as your power grows, Garth has more than you can obtain, which communicates both his raw magical might and the amount of time he has been practicing it. Said magic is a sight to behold when we do see him cut loose. He uses all of the same spells you can but to greater degrees and in different ways, showing his great understanding of the underlying principles of Will. The most impressive display of this is when he turns an entire harbor of ships into an inferno from a great distance where you can only throw incrementally bigger fireballs across a room. Personality wise, Garth is primarily concerned with an almost universal fixation of wizards, the pursuit of arcane knowledge. Among your companions, he is the only one who had prior contact with Lord Lucien. He was helping him to construct a massive magical device called the Spire but when it became clear Lucien was willing and planning to destroy the civilization of Albion to re-build the world, Garth defected. Garth’s trust in ancient knowledge was shown again in his interactions with the more skeptical of your companions, Hammer the Hero of Strength. Recently lapsed from a pacifist order, she is quick to dismiss the traditional texts of her faith. To which Garth responds that nothing that ancient could possibly contain any wisdom, sarcasm dripping in his tone. Garth though, shows his true wisdom in regard to the Old Kingdom. Like other wizards, Garth is something of an archeologist to the civilizations that predate him. His tower is filled with research notes on the Old Kingdom and his initial interest in Lord Lucien’s project was because the Spire was an Old Kingdom device. While Garth appreciates the secrets that can be culled from the old world, he’s not obsessed with it to the degree Lucien is and even warns him that the ruins of the Old Kingdom are around them precisely because of the very same kind of grand reality warping that Lucien is trying to pull in the present. Garth is the ultimate wizard because he tempers his scholarly quest with actual rationale and he wields such destructive power with the consummate understanding of a scientist.
What’s good about wizards:
- Established and respected in almost all settings of D&D.
- THE spellcaster class with a dizzying range of spells.
What’s bad about wizards:
- Not very good at the start. All the impressive abilities come from leveling up.
Class Strength: 8/10
Little known fact, many Disney Princesses have at least one level in the Druid class.
Be you a hippie, animal lover, luddite, gardener, or biologist, we can all agree that nature is awe-inspiring and powerful. Roots can crack stone, raptors can see the twitch of a mouse from miles away, volcanoes could end civilization as we know it. This is the power of the Druid. Druid’s are the keepers of the natural world, the balance of the elements and the wild places of flora and fauna. To do this, they become extensions of nature, commanding the elements and shapeshifting. Druids in the world are typically hermits that live places like forests, jungles, coasts, or mountains that they take as a protectorate. When they do live among people they are typically small communities in which they hold a great measure of authority and respect. In either case, druids speak their own language called Druidic and sometimes meet during special events such as the equinox or during times of great crisis so even in their isolation there is a close-knit vocational community.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Druids will never wear armor composed of metal but they do use forged materials for weapons such as knives, spears, or sickles. Even still, druids can use their magic to influence life around them, such as healing wounds or calling upon plants to ensnare or trap foes. They can also summon the elements such as causing the boom of a thunderclap to damage foes or drawing a blade of pure fire. By far the most unique of the druid’s abilities is wild shape, which allows them to assume animal form. Another benefit druid’s get late in their careers is the timeless body, presumably because of their connection to the very essence of life, for every ten years that pass, they physically age only one year. At level two druids choose a “circle.” Circles are groups of druids with a specific focus or goal. The Circle of the Land allows you to use the world as a weapon and tool, melding into stone, breathing underwater, controlling trees as guardians or bridges. The Circle of the Moon mimics the everchanging lunar cycle so that you can assume more dangerous animal forms, enhance your animal claws and teeth with magic, and transform into raw elements such as fire and wind.
Famous Druids: Malfurion Stormrage (Warcraft)
“Fly my pretties, fly!”
In the world of Azeroth, the Night Elves once ruled most of the planet. A fantasy world where the elves were a great precursor race? You’re shocked, I can tell. Anyway, they ruled in part because of their great magical power, which sprung from a lake called the Well of Eternity in the center of their civilization. Malfurion though, was different. While his peers reveled in the splendor of their great cities, he attended the private tutelage of the demigod Cenarius in the forest. Cenarius taught Malfurion the ways of the druid, how to speak with the living things around him, respect them, and in turn be aided by them. Malfurion took to these lessons with vigor and he and his teacher developed a relationship like that of child and parent. Those wings and antlers? Not typical of Night Elves and not always features of Malfurion. Cenarius though? He does have a great pair of antlers that his student would come to mimic. As Malfurion has aged and his powers have reached the point where he ranks among the most magically powerful beings on Azeroth, he has steadily grown to be a physical extension of nature’s will. When the Night Elves’ magic drew an army of demons called the Burning Legion to their world, Malfurion participated and helped end the conflict that would become known as the War of the Ancients. It was during this conflict that he came into his own and showed his people a new way through his abilities. Such included thrown leaves severing entire body parts, grass taking on the qualities of quills, and most impressively, causing a downpour that almost turned into a drowning flood of Biblical proportions. That last one was particularly impressive as he wasn’t even really trying to tell the rain to do that, it was just reacting to his emotional state of loss at the capture of his childhood friend and unconfessed love interest. That’s another thing, Malfurion does care for all life but this sometimes comes across as a kind of controlling personality. When the stakes are high, he sometimes leaves others’ thoughts or objections on the wayside. The most notable instance of this is when he sacrificed the Night Elves’ immortality in order to once again stop a demon threat. Arguably the right thing to do but the fact that he did not consult anyone before acting has been a topic of discourse by fans. Nevertheless, Malfurion is not always the Archdruid, he does have a more “human” side, and there is one person to thank for that is the aforementioned childhood friend Tyrande Whisperwind, his wife. She is the one he confides in and in turn, she reminds him that one has to take a closer look than the big picture sometimes. The only other person Malfurion shows a similar kinship with is Illidan, his brother, the Cain to Malfurion’s Abel. While Illidan ended up betraying his people Malfurion recommended mercy be shown to him that he made a mistake but could redeem himself one day. It was Malfurion’s displays of natural power as well as his retained compassion and wisdom that showed the Night Elves they did not have to rely on the arcane magic that almost destroyed them all. For thousands of years since then, the druidic Cenarion Circle guided the Night Elves and they lived in harmony with nature. Malfurion is the greatest druid because he not only has immense power, but he actually changed the society in which he lived to be overall more in line with his own path.
What’s good about druids:
- Wild shape, even at lower levels, offers an incredible amount of versatility for creative players. Speaking from experience.
- Druid Circles offer options for characterization. Why did you choose one Circle over another? Was the Circle of the Moon too aggressive for you? Or did you see the Circle of the Land as ineffectual?
What’s bad about druids:
- Druids are like wizards in that their true power lies at higher levels. Anyone wishing to fly for instance, even as an insect, is going to be in for a wait.
- Depending on class makeup and character personality, the druid might find himself butting heads with the more civilization centric characters because of their high emphasis on the world beyond the walls of cities needing protecting.
Class Strength: 8/10
The legendary fighter Tordek ready to take an army, or a dragon, or an army of dragons.
Summarizing the lore of the fighter is actually quite a challenge. Not every guard or soldier is a fighter but a fighter can easily come from their ranks. Arena gladiators who learned to fight through experience and maybe a few tips could be fighters but then again so could royals formally schooled in the arts of war. Fighters are like rogues in that where they fit into society and where they came from is very malleable. What all fighters have in common though is at least passable skill with almost any weapon imaginable and armor type being just as much a preference as a necessity.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
As stated, fighters can use all manner of weapons and armor. This is even an ability of theirs called a fighting style. Archery, two weapon fighting, sword and shield, etc. You choose one as a specialty but all the others remain options you’re simply less skilled with. Fighters can also recover a short amount of health with second wind, a testament to their toughness and physicality. They also can use action surge to take an additional action in combat, essentially a rush of adrenaline. Of course, the real meat of it comes from the Martial Archetypes. The Champion is the prototypical Fighter, dedicated physical powerhouse that can hit like a brick wall and can take about as much. The Battle Master is a tactician and strategist who directs his allies as his weapons just as effectively as the ones he carries on him. The Eldritch Knight is a warrior wizard who supplements their focus of weapon fighting with magic.
Famous Fighters: Broxigar (also Warcraft)
"May your axe arm be strong."
Narrowing down a list of fighters in fantasy fiction was hard since anyone sufficiently skilled and not explicitly using magic could qualify. When it came down to it though, there could only be good ol’ Brox. Lesser known than some of Azeroth’s more famous fighters such as Saurfang, Lothar, or even King Varian Wrynn, Broxigar nevertheless embodied what it truly meant to be a fighter. A veteran of three prior wars, Brox suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. In particular, he was the sole survivor of a battle against demons and he carried a great deal of survivor’s guilt, calling his endurance of the battle “cowardice” and saying how his friends died honorable deaths. Due to some time travel shenanigans, Brox would go on to other battles in the long past War of the Ancients and in every one of those battles he prayed for death. He made it a point to Tyrande, whom he befriended, that he would never take his own life but he desperately sought release from what he saw as a living Purgatory where his death was the only penance. Eventually Brox comes to believe that his survival was because he was meant to do something beyond the battle that killed his friends. It should be noted this did not come to him as a revelation or vision, it was just something he decided while separated from Tyrande and Malfurion and fighting on his own. In fact the only supernatural thing about Brox, besides being displaced in time but he wasn’t even the only one of that event, was his axe. Having lost his original weapon when he arrived in the past, Cenarius shaped a replacement for him entirely out of wood, even the blade. Nothing apart from the weapon’s origin and sharpness was supernatural though. It’s ability to fell thousands of demons came from Brox’s own skill. Broxigar’s reason for his survival though turned out to be one of the most badass moments in Warcraft lore. During the final battle, with one last goodbye to a friend, Brox quite literally leaps into Hell. Diving through the portal that the Burning Legion was coming through, Brox held off the main force long enough for the heroes to close the portal. Brox was such a one-man army during this that the leader of the demons, the Dark Titan Sargeras, by all rights a god, came to personally end the orc. Brox then did what had never been done before or since, he drew blood from Sargeras. In a world of continent reshaping dragons, reality warping mages, and divinely empowered agents of justice, Broxigar was simply an old soldier with an axe. Yet he did what they could not. That’s not what makes him the best fighter though, that’s just the crowning moment of it. No, Broxigar was the best fighter because everything about him was relatively normal, his veteran status, his survivor’s guilt, his skill with an axe. Yet never was this commented on. No one looked down on him for his lack of magic and Brox never felt the need to prove his usefulness. His new friends saw his inner strength and great skill and he was valued amongst them for it. When he does jump into that portal as his last act, it’s not out of bravado but seeing that only he can buy enough time for the world to be saved even it’s the last thing he does.
What’s good about fighters:
- Vast possibility of backstories and motivations. If it involves the use of a weapon, it’s viable.
- Versatility when it comes to combat options.
What’s bad about fighters:
- Less useful in combat light campaigns. The Battle Master archetype provides some options to give the fighter some standing in formal settings but they’re still overall wasted in less action heavy adventures.
Class Strength: 8/10
"Heroes never die!"
The mortal scions of the divine. Clerics are more than simply clergy in a religious institution, they are Moses parting the Red Sea or St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. Their deity invests them with divine magic to work miracles. Clerics may be priests or priestesses in a hierarchy or they may be solitary preachers. In any case, clerics are given their magic for a reason. It may be explicitly laid out for them or they may not know for certain, but in any case, they have a mission that draws them to adventure.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
The cleric club is iconic to the class. Hammer, mace, or maul, clerics are always ready to bring it down like a gavel of judgment against evil. The Cleric’s true theurgy comes from a domain. Deities in most settings have a portfolio of things they govern and/or embody and you choose one to invoke. Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, or War. Each domain offers spells relating to that aspect. Light lets you cast away supernatural darkness and bewilder shadow lurkers. Trickery lets you fool or deceive kings and conquers. Tempest lets you call upon storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.
Famous Clerics: Thoros of Myr (Game of Thrones)
He’s my new favorite character. Which, probably means he’s not long for this world.
(Minor spoilers ahead) Honest men of faith who are free of corruption in Westeros are a rare thing to come by, and that’s counting the ones who honestly believe but are rather fundamentalist in their approach. Thoros may be corrupt in the sense that he is an alcoholic womanizer but he is honest in both this behavior and his faith in the Lord of Light, R’hllor. Many are the adherents to a particular religion in fantasy fiction but Thoros explores and aspect of this rarely seen in the genre, faith lost and found again. Thoros was sent to Westeros to convert the then current king Robert to the Lord of Light for his lecherous and debauched ways, but Thoros admits by this point his faith had withered and he was not much different than the man he was sent to show a better way. This all changed when Beric Dondarrion, his only real friend, was killed in battle. Rushing to Beric’s side, he said a prayer purely out of habit, the words meant nothing to him. They meant something to someone though as Beric lived again. Six times since Thoros has brought his friend back from the dead in their adventures. This genuine miracle resurrected more than just Thoros’ friend, but his faith as well. Although he’s still a drunkard and in league with a group of bandits, well intentioned as most of them are, Thoros is a kind and humble man. He never takes credit for bringing back the dead, recognizing that it’s not him doing it just imploring the Lord. Thoros recognizes that there is a great evil on the march and believes he and Beric have a part to play in stopping it. In contrast to the fanatical Melisandre who uses her magical gifts to try and force the world to match what she thinks is R’hllor’s will, Thoros is content to listen to R’hllor and let His will become clear. Tellingly, Melisandre looks upon Thoros as this unwashed apostate and is flabbergasted that he would be given the power of resurrection. Thoros of Myr is the best cleric because, in a world of sinister septons and mad mystics, he had a realistic crisis of faith and became a miracle worker.
What’s good about clerics:
- Could open a lot of doors for the party if their temple or church is a major institution in the world or region.
- Access to potentially some of the most powerful spells in the game.
- Primarily healers.
What’s bad about clerics:
- Might make roleplaying “tricky” to say the least. Religion in mixed company, character acting as extensions of player ideals, you do the math.
- As a healer, might be targeted first by smarter adversaries.
- Primarily healers.
Class Strength: 9/10
“I was told to clean my weapon. So, I took a shower.”
The odd duck out and that’s partly why it’s so high on this list. The assumed D&D setup is a world at least partially drawn from western and central Europe. The monk class draws its primary inspiration from the Shaolin and Wudang monks of China or the Ikko-Ikki of Japan. With hammering fists, crescent kicks, high flying acrobatics, or exotic weapons whose dimensions would make them seem ill-suited for combat to the untrained eye. It would be like dropping Li Mu Bai from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon into the Fellowship of the Ring. Even in settings where monks don’t come from an Asia analogue, they tend to keep to their monasteries and live a cloistered life. Overall, monk adventurers aren’t as rare as sorcerers but have a greater level of mystique since people know about them but rarely see them. There are exceptions though, where communities live near or around a monastery and the monks protect or even govern them.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Much like the barbarian, the monk gains a defensive bonus when wearing no armor. Only in their case it’s their training that has hardened their body and sharpened their reflexes rather than exposure to the elements. (Although that might have been part of the training as well.) Of course, there is the obvious draw of the monk that they can fight empty handed with unarmed strike but even then, they have their own unique monk weapons such as nunchaku, bo staves, or sickles called kama. Monks have the unique skill to attack twice in the same action if using a monk weapon, which unarmed strikes also count as. So one could follow up a staff strike with a kick for instance. Monks have a choice of three “ways.” Way of the Open Hand, straight forward physical martial arts. Way of the Shadow, becoming a ninja. Way of the Elements . . . yes you become the Avatar with water, fire, earth, and airbending. Speaking of which . . .
Famous Monks: Avatar Aang (Avatar: the Last Airbender)
Seen here refusing to grow up.
Aang was, of course, the last airbender. Hence the name of his show. So, in terms of being an outsider even in an Asiatic setting, Aang would qualify. By the time the story takes place, the Air Nomads are extinct, their spiritual customs are forgotten, airbending is a lost art, and their temples are ruins. Aang would be an exceptional monk as being the most important member of his party in terms of their overall quest. His obligations as the Avatar meant it was his mission and training that became the goals of his friends, although since his goal was saving the world from the imperialistic military machine that threatened them all, it worked out for everyone. Speaking of training, Aang fits that common monk mold of already being pretty skilled by journey’s start. Having been raised in a temple where airbending practice took up the most time training as well as being used for sports and play. Aang was already more capable in a fight than Katara and Sokka at the very onset. His iconic arrow tattoos? Only given when one becomes a master airbender. Even though he was a goofy kid, Aang also had the zen wisdom common in monks (and less common in monk players.) He was a natural mediator who tried to diffuse situations and make things work out for all parties involved. The monk sometimes falls into the role of diplomat when the bard, cleric, or what have you is not available. Arguably, the least monk-like thing Aang did was run away from the temple. Now almost every monk player character obviously leaves the temple for a reason but they usually leave for a reason beyond fear of responsibility and being separated from a parent figure. Even then though, that could easily be a product of his age, needless to say not many choose to play as a twelve-year-old. By the time Aang’s adventures come to a close though, he has matured significantly and mastered many bending techniques. While not every master martial artist is a bender, every master bender is a master martial artist. With all four elements at his command and training from some of the greatest and unorthodox benders of his time, there was little in the world, human, animal, or spirit that posed a significant threat to Aang. By far his greatest ability though and the thing that makes him the greatest monk is his ability to spirit bend. See, D&D and most modern fantasy emphasizes the monk’s power being internal. Any magic they use is an extension of their own spirit and body union. In this particular case, Aang learned a technique where he would bond with another living being and then the battle would go from physical to spiritual. This technique was risky because it meant Aang could be completely destroyed if his will wasn’t stronger than his enemy’s. When he did win though, his opponents ability to bend, and therefore their ability to harm, would be completely removed. Aang in the greatest monk because he had gained such mastery over his whole being that he was able to use his soul as a tool of peaceful resolution even with unrepentantly evil people.
What’s good about monks:
- For real life, martial artists (such as myself), projecting one’s hobby or lifestyle into a fantasy context is a riot to role play.
- Can’t be easily disarmed.
What’s bad about monks:
- No armor makes for a bad time when you do get hit. You can only be so good before you take a minotaur’s axe to the midsection.
- The lack of ability with more conventional weapons especially magic ones can be limiting at times.
Class Strength: 10/10
1 ) Paladin
Dungeons and Dragons has codified many elements of the modern fantasy canon and one of their biggest contribution is the idea of the Paladin. Far more than a fighter who can do a magic or a cleric who is good in a melee, Paladins are living weapons against evil. Amongst all the classes, Paladins are the most storied. While history abounds with feats of famous fighters, it is those individuals that are recounted. Paladins meanwhile, are living legends as a whole. Adventurers almost by default, they’re quests are grand and their vigils everlasting.
Weapons, armor, and skills:
Paladins are, by definition, knights in shining armor. Even if they eschew heavier armor and weapons for leather armor and a rapier, a Paladin is a soldier against the powerful forces of malevolence and comes suitably equipped. Two of the iconic starting abilities for a paladin are the ability to detect the presence of evil creatures or magic and the ability to “smite” where their weapon is imbued with sacred energy. The source of a paladin’s powers is their sacred oaths. By swearing vows that bind the paladin to what they can or cannot do and what they must do, they are in turn empowered to meet their oath. The Oath of Devotion is when the paladin swears to live by the highest virtues of honor, compassion, courage, and justice. In turn they gain protection against curses and can repel undead with an icon of their faith. The Oath of the Ancients takes a more abstract root where the paladin devotes themselves to the light in a cosmic struggle against the darkness. In turn the paladin is granted druid-like abilities such as plants coming to their aid or transforming into a beast-like champion of the world itself. Finally, the Oath of Vengeance is commitment to the punishment of the wicked at any personal cost, including moral cost. In turn, the paladin gains abilities such as supernaturally instilling fear in others, or increased speed when a suspect or retreating evil doer is fleeing.
Famous Paladins: Highlord Tirion Fordring (Warcraft)
“A new Order is born on this day...an Order which will dedicate itself to extinguishing the evil that plagues this world. An evil that cannot hide behind politics and pleasantries. This I promise... This I vow...”
For one last time we return to the world of Azeroth. Tirion Fordring was one of the founding Knights of the Silver Hand, the original paladins on Azeroth. Far more than any though, he truly was the exemplar of what that vocation meant and it cost him much. During a time when the orcs were considered evil incarnate, one named Etrigg saved Tirion’s life even after the paladin attacked him. So on his honor, Tirion swore that he would protect him against his brethren. This action was seen as treason and he was stripped of his knighthood, exiled from his home and holdings, and a ritual magically severed his connection to the Holy Light from which his powers sprung. His wife and son would not follow him into exile even. Having lost everything, Tirion could only ride to save Etrigg and keep his oath to protect the orc against his brethren. He succeeded but Etrigg was badly injured in the process. Desperate to save the only friend he had left, Tirion prayed to the Holy Light, and his powers were restored. Tirion healed Etrigg. The Silver Hand saw his actions as treason, the Light they claimed to serve saw Tirion’s actions as just. Years later, Tirion would return from exile to re-found the order that excommunicated him, brandishing their holy weapon the Ashbringer and welcoming all races under his banner, Tirion would lead the Argent Crusade against the undead hordes of the Scourge, led by the Lich King, himself a fallen paladin. Tirion is the greatest paladin because he didn’t just understand personal sacrifice to do the right thing, he lived it.
What’s good about paladins:
- For those who want to role play a hero and have that actually mean something beyond taking jobs that happen to involve killing dangerous monsters and people, the paladin holds you to a higher standard of ethics.
- Different oaths provide some flexibility with the moral standard you hold yourself to.
- Paladin powers are both useful and cool to visualize.
What’s bad about paladins:
- Any D&D veterans will know that it is practically the DM’s duty to try and force the paladin player into a morally compromising position. These can be great for character development or creative outside the box thinking but occasionally you get that DM who puts you in a no-win scenario just for the sake of it.
- Relations with the party and group can be strained at times as well. It varies but paladins are often expected to hold their companions to a similar standard as themselves or at least not to tolerate obviously immoral things that they see happening.
Class Strength: 10/10
I hope this list has inspired you in some fashion. If you’re a D&D veteran, maybe I gave you some new ideas for characters or campaigns. If you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons and this peeked your interest, even better. Ultimately, there’s nothing quite like a handful of these aforementioned heroes banding together or being thrown together by chance to undertake a grand quest. By the end of the campaign, everyone will have a shining moment that highlights their contribution and a feeling of comradery that maybe even the players themselves might share.
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