Anyone who’s played a tabletop role-playing game knows that the class system is the backbone of any fantasy game. A fighter-class character has a distinct feel from a barbarian or a wizard, and this allows each player to live out their own fantasy story.
If you want to wield the arcane power of the elements, you’ll pick a class like a sorcerer or a warlock. If you’d rather battle monsters hand-to-hand, you’ll make your character a paladin or a ranger. You can go the extra mile and paint up a miniature to represent your fantasy avatar, too!
However, as some players might have noticed, the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons isn’t the most balanced game. These character imbalances can prove troublesome for inexperienced players or groups that are hesitant to implement their own balance chances. Today, we’re counting down the thirteen D&D classes to see how they stack up in 5e. Where does your main class fall?
13. Ranger (Player’s Handbook)
The original Player’s Handbook version of the Ranger is easily the worst class. It’s a complicated mish-mash of character concepts that consistently misses the mark. Fighters make better archers, druids are better nature-based spellcasters, and paladins are far superior as half-casters.
It’s possible for a ranger’s most powerful abilities to simply never come up in a campaign. They can lead their party through any rough terrain at full speed, which is nice on paper, but rarely translates to anything of consequence in-game. Most groups just hand-wave overland travel anyway!
Likewise, if a campaign never takes a ranger into their preferred terrain or pits them against their preferred enemy, they’ll never gain their bonuses. Use the rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything for Rangers if you want to keep up with other characters.
The Artificer is the only post-release class in 5e, and you can tell that Wizards of the Coast played it safe with the unusual class. Artificers have fantastic flavor–they allow players to live out the “mad scientist” fantasy in a magical setting. Characters who want to roleplay as Medieval Iron Man love the Armorer subclass, while the Alchemist is a potion-slinger who can cook up experimental elixirs.
However, like Ranger, Artificer struggles to keep up with the rest of the pack. The class’s hodgepodge spells and strange split between utility and damage give it an unusual role in battle. In some groups, the Artificer is relegated to dispensing magic items to the rest of the party. This is hardly what most players had in mind when they rolled up a high-fantasy tinkerer.
The Monk, like the Artificer, wins a lot of goodwill from players because of its excellent flavor. The rules for Monks found in the Player’s Handbook are fantastic for translating a martial arts movie into a dungeon crawl. However, when you compare Monks to the other martial character classes, you see they come up a bit short. They’re surprisingly vulnerable, sporting low hit point totals and a strong dependence on several ability scores. A good monk needs to have high dexterity, wisdom, and constitution. To make matters worse, few magic items allow them to increase the accuracy or damage of their unarmed strikes.
Monks are incredible for the first four levels of any campaign. They’re the only character in the game that gets two fully modified attacks before the fifth level, but this scaling falls off swiftly when fighters and paladins get access to multi-attack. Monks get a lot of thematic abilities at later levels, but none of them make up for the class’s limited resource pool or overriding difficulty in playing their role as a mobile crowd-control striker.
Barbarians are straightforward, and that’s as much their strength as their weakness. They gain a significant amount of durability from their greatly improved version of Unarmored Defense, which is inexplicably stronger than the identically-named Monk ability. Their Rage ability allows them to resist most forms of damage, and they can unleash a ton of punishment.
As the game progresses, though, Barbarians fall behind. After the sixth level, Barbarians don’t get much in terms of power spikes. They’re stuck with the same tools they started with for most games. This is fine if your campaigns end around the eighth or ninth level, but for longer adventures, it becomes evident that the Barbarian is behind their allies.
Rogues can struggle to stay relevant in combat if they can’t consistently beat enemies’ armor classes. After all, their lack of multi-attack and dependence on the sneak attack features means that they can spend some turns rolling low on their one hit and then twiddling their thumbs. Ideally, the class could offset that by using its out-of-combat skill-check proficiencies to feel like a cat burglar or skilled assassin.
Sadly, it gets one-upped by Bards in almost every way. What’s worse, the Bard can even play similar character concepts and still keep ahead. For instance, Swashbuckler Rogues don’t hold a candle to College of Swords Bards, who fill the “finesse duelist” role just as well as Rogues and also supplement their skills with Bardic Inspiration and a stacked spell list.
The Sorcerer class is strong thanks to its metamagic feature, but it experiences a rough bottleneck that the other casting classes don’t have to worry about. Sorcerors learn precious few spells at each level, so they have to carefully weigh their options. This can lead to the class playing roughly the same way in every group, as players flock to the most universally solid spells to make the most of their limited chances to learn new tricks.
Recent supplements like Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything have introduced spells tied to Sorceror subclass options, greatly expanding the class’s ability to sling a wide variety of magic. If Wizards of the Coast keeps this approach up, the Sorcerer will likely enjoy a big boost in overall power.
The Warlock class is hard to rank in terms of raw power. In some groups, the Warlock is a force of nature, slinging spells throughout each adventuring day and remaining relevant at all levels of play. In others, where DMs forget to give the party short rests, the Warlock has less access to magic than the Ranger or Artificer.
When the conditions are right, however, Pact Magic is a mighty ability that allows the Warlock to always have a few tricks up their sleeves. When augmented by the right assortment of Eldritch Invocations, a Warlock can be a mighty arcanist on the same level as a Cleric or Wizard.
The Fighter class is steadfast and reliable. No matter what happens, the fighter always has more gas in the tank. Even when the Wizard and Cleric are out of spells and short on hit points, the Fighter is still able to kick down doors and bash monsters to a pulp.
Battle Master Fighters get to embrace a wide variety of martial builds that help them dominate the flow of combat. Meanwhile, Eldritch Knights can act as unbreakable frontline fighters, tanking hits and keeping their fragile allies safe.
Clerics have a powerful ability built right into their class: They prepare spells from their entire class list. A Cleric can always have the right tool for a job if they’re allowed to sneak in a long rest. Additionally, they’re the rare full-casting class with access to all weapon and armor proficiencies, making them extremely versatile party members.
If your party needs a frontline fighter who can mix it up in a melee, blast enemies from a distance, and heal everyone when the boss shows up, try a Cleric. You can work in nearly any battlefield role.
Bards are full-casters who also excel at skills in every aspect of exploration. Their Jack of All Trades feature lets them add half their proficiency bonus to any checks they make, and they can also gain expertise in their preferred skill. This makes them generalists and specialists at once and is unique to their playstyle.
Bards can also dabble in the same “martial spellcaster” niche as Clerics, with subclasses like College of Valor and College of Swords offering the Bard ways to enter melee combat and still leverage their powerful Bardic Inspiration ability.
If you want to play a character who can do anything, play a Wizard. These unparalleled arcanists sport the widest variety of spells in the game, and their ability to transcribe any magic they find into their spellbook makes them the class with the deepest utility. Notably, playing a Wizard isn’t easy–you almost need to go to school just to learn how to play them well.
The Evocation and Divination schools deserve special attention when you’re talking about class strength. Evocation mages can deal some of the most consistent long-range damage in the game, while Divination Wizards can manipulate dice rolls in ways no other class could dream of. If you play a wizard, you’re likely to be the core of your party’s combat strategy.
Paladins are strong because they have everything they need to succeed without relying on any other characters. Their Lay on Hands feature allows them to keep their party members alive, while their Divine Smites give them incomparable single-target damage output. Additionally, Paladins are half-casters, which means they get utility spells to augment their martial capabilities.
Paladins are self-sufficient, durable, and hard to hit, thanks to their strength-based scaling and full armor proficiencies. If you want to play an all-around powerful character with useful abilities in all tiers of play, pick a Paladin.
Anyone who has played high-level Fifth Edition D&D saw this one coming. Druids are full-casters who gain access to a powerful list of nature-based spells. Like Clerics, they simply prepare whichever spells they need from a massive list each morning, so Druids can swap out their entire list each day to fit changing situations.
The strongest aspect of the class comes out when you play a Circle of the Moon shapeshifter. Since Circle of the Moon Druids can Wild Shape as a bonus action and gain access to much higher Challenge Rating monsters when they change forms, they can summon hundreds of hit points to protect themselves. The power difference between Moon Druids and the other Druids is so vast that some Dungeon Masters address it by altering the subclass’s scaling, or simply banning it from their tables outright.