Just starting out in Dungeons & Dragons can be a little daunting. This is a tabletop game that requires you to act, think on your toes, do a little math, and buy a textbook to learn how to play. New players, unfortunately, have a steep learning curve, but once the dice start rolling and the adventure begins, you’ll find that tabletop role-playing games give you something truly unique, choices.
D&D and other TTRPGs, allow you to try virtually anything. Yes, there are rules, but you’re free to explore and experiment in any way you want. However, with all this freedom, it can be hard to choose from the plethora of options available. One of the first choices you need to make can also be one of the most important, what class are you going to play?
This can be a tough question to answer for new players. Without ever seeing these features in action, it’s hard to determine what gameplay is actually going to be like. I don’t want to break down each class feature. Reading the player’s handbook will do that for you. I’d rather examine the overall playstyle that can be employed with the types of classes available. How are you really going to use this class when you sit down at the table?
This post is intended to give new players a better understanding of how gameplay feels with these classes. What are the types of things these classes do well, and what are the things that they do not so well? I want new players to feel excited and confident when taking their class, instead of overwhelmed.
(Note: Because this is meant for new players, I’ll only be discussing classes from the player’s handbook. I’m trying to give the novice adventurers a big picture approach to gameplay, and not overwhelm them with too many details, rules, and exceptions to rules. Even if you’re thinking about picking a class or subclass from a module or companion book, most of the content here will still be relevant.)
Categories in Gameplay Style
I’m going to be separating the classes into overarching categories that speak more about the tactics and play styles the players will use during the game. Let’s shine a little light on how these classes are played. The categories are…
Keep in mind, that these categories are all about how the classes are used in D&D. I’ll be going over some of the specific abilities, but when I do talk about class-specific features, it will be as an example. I’m going to be showing new players what these classes are generally all about, not how to build the best wizard, Paladin, or whatever.
So let’s jump into it!
I’m placing 3 classes into the Arcane Caster category, wizard, sorcerer, and warlock. Druids and clerics draw their magic from other sources. Clerics can cast spells because of their link to their deity, and Druids their intuitive connection with nature to alter the world around them. Arcane casters draw the fundamental and raw power of magic itself into a spell. Technically Bards do this as well, but I’m throwing them into the “Support” category because this is about gameplay and not game lore.
I’m starting with Arcane Casters because I’ve seen so many new players go through the time-consuming process of building a wizard and immediately start looking for a sword. Wizards don’t get proficiency with a sword and they don’t get swords as part of their equipment for a reason, they have magic…
When trying to understand how gameplay is really going to work, how it flows, and what you’re going to be doing, it helps a little to understand how the class works within the overall structure of the game itself. Arcane casters employ magical effects, typically at a distance, and typically with a lot of power. The developers keep the game balanced by giving casters lower health and armor; they’re kind of a glass cannon. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but overall, you’re going to want to keep your magic slinging, curse flinging, lightning summoning powerhouse in the backline. They have the potential to do some major damage, but they can also get dropped in one or two hits.
Arcane casters are complicated and time-consuming builds. All casters start with some spells, but arcane casters need to put extra time and consideration into picking the spells. You choose what spells your character knows at the beginning of the game. Every time you level up, you choose what spells they learn. You don’t have access to the rest of your class’s spell list during the majority of the game, so choosing the right spell matters. Clerics, on the other hand, choose their spells at the beginning of each day, so if you chose poorly, you get to pick new spells after a long rest. But more on that when we dive into the Support builds.
These classes require a bit of homework and extra attention. Every spell has a different set of rules and requirements to be cast, so players need to read and understand the rules of not only their class and abilities but also for the specific spells they chose. You have to think about how you’re going to employ those spells, where they might be most useful. In other words, playing a caster is not for the casual player.
Wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks are going to end up being more challenging to play, but they’re also more strategic. Yes, these classes require you to read and remember more rules, but that also means you get more options during the gameplay. If you’re the type of player that likes to strategize, build statistics in a character, read through the book, and daydream about what you can do in the game, then you’ll love playing one of the arcane caster classes. If that seems a little too daunting and you’re not sure how much time you want to put into a game, these might not be the best pick for you.
I started with Arcane Casters because I see them frequently misunderstood and misused. Now I am going to tackle what’s going to be the most controversial category. Remember, these categories are of my own making and based on what the player is really doing during the game.
Obviously, the Fighter and Barbarian classes fall into this category, but I’m also placing Rangers here as well. And no, Paladins and Monks aren’t going into this category. Why I separated these builds like this has to do with the tactics employed during combat scenarios.
Combat is a central function of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, when Dungeons & Dragons was first released, most of the modules and adventures released for the game centered around the dungeon crawls and combat. Most class features are designed for a combat scenario. The official advice on how to run a session is to ensure that the players do three things, go someplace, learn something, and fight something. Going someplace and learning something can use a variety of abilities or no abilities at all, but fighting always employs class abilities.
When deciding on these overarching categories, I have to, of course, look at how these classes behave in combat. That’s what players are going to be spending most of the time doing, fighting. The classes that made it into my Tank category use different techniques but ultimately have the same goal. They attack an enemy directly and with intent. They do this at range or close-up and personal, but ultimately their strategies and approach to the game are direct and somewhat simple.
Fighters are the obvious and unambiguous addition to this category. All of their class features center around messing up the bad guy’s face. Rangers, on the other hand, are more versatile in terms of gameplay, but their combat remains focused on a straightforward fight. They do use magic, but the majority of their spells Support their role in combat. Even spells like “Protection from Poison” help keep them on their feet when facing an enemy wielding poisoned weapons. Ranger features are balanced so that they can do what they do best, attack.
For the novice D&D player, the classes that fall into my Tank category offer an easy to moderate learning curve. When deciding on combat-related tactics, their class features are easy to understand and remember. You still have the opportunity to think tactically, but perhaps have fewer options than some of the other classes.
When choosing this class, remember that they have higher health and armor ratings. These characters can take some damage and keep on swinging. They’re going to be pivotal in a fight. Even if you build a Ranger specializing in a bow, you’ll employ aggressive and direct tactics. These are good classes for players that are unsure how much time they can commit to the game or who are nervous about learning complicated rules.
The Precision Striker playstyle focuses on dealing with exacting and swift damage with less emphasis or focus on defense. These classes can really rack up the body count, but their health and armor are a little on the lower side. They also have either a moderate to a high degree of application outside of combat. I placed rogues and monks into this category.
Both Rogues and Monks can deal an exceptional amount of damage, and they both have features that allow them to disengage from combat as a bonus action. Hit-and-run tactics are central to a Precision Striker’s tactics. You move in, pound the snot out of the bad guy, and get out before they know what happened. I sometimes hear monks considered to be a tanky build, but I think that’s a mistake. Monks have a lower hit dice when determining their HP. They don’t get the benefit of armor, but they still have a decent armor rating because of their dexterity and class features. Rogues are in a similar boat. They have the same hit dice as the monk, they can wear light armor (which is better but not great for AC), and have class features that help minimize damage.
A new player may initially find Precision Strikers a little tough to learn, but once the features are understood these builds are easy to play. The tactics available inside and outside of combat are varied and numerous. This is a good class for players that really want to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons but are a little intimidated by learning all the rules. Monks and Rogues are easier than Wizards and Warlocks but a little harder than Barbarians and Fighters. There also a lot of fun. I find Precision Strikers to be amongst my favorite class type and play style.
Clerics are obviously a Support class, and, as I stated earlier, I’m placing Bards in this category as well. Yes, Bards use arcane spells, but this is about gameplay, not Dungeons & Dragons storylines and lore. Many of the Bard’s abilities pertain to aiding allies and slowing down enemies.
It’s not hard to grasp what a Support class is. Most of the abilities available to Support Classes help party members more than directly affect enemies. They have spells that replenish health and bolster allies when they make attacks or ability checks. Many of their offensive abilities focus on status effects as opposed to directly hitting HP.
I find that many newbies carry a preconceived notion that Support Classes are less impactful, important, or even boring. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I greatly enjoy playing a cleric. The tactics are completely different for a Support Class, but they are by no means boring or less important. Your job is to make sure that the team wins. Tanks and Precision Strikers are supposed to kill enemies. Arcane Caster tactics can be more diverse, but they still generally zero in on dealing damage. Support classes look at the big picture.
Support classes will replenish health when it’s needed, bolster allies when it’s needed, slow down or attack enemies when it’s needed. The point is, they do what is needed. It’s up to the player to determine what the team needs in order to win at any given moment. It requires a strategic and tactical mind. The type of player that can look at everything that’s going on and find the best opportunity to move forward.
The class abilities are easy to learn and readily available for support builds. As I stated earlier, clerics choose their spells each day. Bards don’t get the same opportunity, but they have other class features that make up for it. The classes that fall under the Support category are a good fit for first-time players. Their abilities are pretty easy to learn and their role is fairly forgiving to mistakes. Because clerics choose their spells every day, it’s not a big deal if they pick something that doesn’t offer a lot of use. Bards have a fair number of abilities that keep them out of the middle of a melee fight. Which is good, because they don’t have great AC and a novice player might send them in without realizing how vulnerable their singing swashbuckler really is.
Paladins and Druids fall into this category, because where the hell else would they go? Paladins could easily fit into the tank category. They can wear every level of armor, fight with simple and martial weapons, and their HP is reinforced with a D10 hit dice, but spells are a big part of this class. And not just any spells, holy spells! Most Paladin spells focus on Support, just like a cleric. The duality of this class’s features makes it hard to categorize.
It’s the Druid’s diversity of abilities that lands it in the WTF category. Druids cast spells and could be part of the arcane caster category despite the fact that their magic isn’t arcane in nature. Remember, this is about function not lore. The Druid spell list is exceptionally diverse. They wheeled spells for attack, healing, and utility, giving them arguably the most tactical options. Defensively, they’re fairly solid; being proficient with medium armor, and their hit dice is a 1D8. Offensively, their attack spells are Supported by some melee options and features. And then there’s Wild Shape. Druids can transform into beasts which reinforces their HP, attacks, and utility.
Basically, Paladins and Druids are kind of all over the place in terms of tactics and how a player can utilize their features. They’re very strong and useful in a party, especially a small party. Because they wear so many hats, a game table light on players can patch some of the holes in versatility and tactics with Druids and Paladins. Paladins can be heavy hitters and take a lot of damage, but they can also Support and heal the party. Druids, well Druids are just insane.
I rank this category as a moderate/high difficulty level. Paladins can be somewhat challenging on the role-playing side of the game because they’re typically a “goody-two-shoes” type of character. That isn’t always easy to play. Druids are easier in terms of role-playing, but they have so many diverse features, it can be a little hard to keep track of them all. Tactically, Druids offer a lot, but that means a player has to work a lot. First-time players should be prepared to scale a learning curve when diving into these classes.
“So, what should I pick?”
I never discourage a player from picking a particular race or class. Play what you want. This breakdown of how these classes are played should provide insight into what you will experience as a player. How much you’re going to need to think and strategize. How much homework you’re going to need to do before you start playing. Think about what fits you best.
When new players sit down at my table and start building their stats, I break down the classes into these categories. I want them to feel prepared when they pick their class. They could be playing this character for a very long time, and I want them to have a sense of what it’s going to be like. At the end of the day, however, it’s up to you. Choose the class that fits your energy and style; the class that’s going to be the most fun.
I hope this helps you new adventurers. If you disagree or agree with any part of my assessment, I’d love to talk to you about it. Leave a comment.
Until next time, good luck on your journey and your adventure.