Character class (Dungeons & Dragons)

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A character class is a fundamental part of the identity and nature of characters in the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. A character's capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses are largely defined by his or her chosen class; choosing a class is one of the first steps a player takes in order to create a Dungeons & Dragons player character.[1] A character's class affects a character's available skills and abilities. A well-rounded party of characters requires a variety of abilities offered by the diverse classes in the game.

Dungeons & Dragons was the first game to introduce the usage of character classes to role-playing.[1] Many other traditional role-playing games and massively multiplayer online role-playing games have since adopted the concept as well. Dungeons & Dragons classes have generally been defined in the Player's Handbook, one of the three core rulebooks; a variety of alternate classes have also been defined in supplemental sourcebooks.

Classes by type[edit]

Principal base classes[edit]

These classes have appeared as character classes in the core books of multiple published editions:

Alternative base classes[edit]

While the main character classes available have been fairly stable since the 1st edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, a variety of alternate base classes have been offered in supplemental books. The release of Unearthed Arcana in 1985, for instance, introduced the new (at the time) base class of Barbarian and reworked Paladins to be a type of the new base class Cavalier; Oriental Adventures also introduced a number of alternate classes more appropriate for an Eastern setting. 2nd edition added several completely new base classes (e.g. Runecaster, and Shaman); in addition, supplemental handbooks offered a variety of "kits" to customize each base class, and the Dungeon Master's Guide offered a guide of suggestions on how to balance custom new classes created by individual players. 3rd edition introduced five NPC classes not intended for player use in its Dungeon Master's Guide.

Non-core base classes are considered optional and do not always exist in all settings. For example, the alternate Samurai class introduced in the Oriental Adventures book may not make sense in a game set in a standard European-style realm. Similarly, classes associated with psionics such as the Psychic Warrior don't apply to worlds without psionics.


Most editions of Dungeons & Dragons have allowed for the possibility to either advance in more than one class simultaneously, alternately taking levels in more than one class, or branching out in a second (third etc.) class at a specific point defined by the first class, a concept generally called multi-classing.

In 1st and 2nd editions, changing a character's class was difficult. Only humans could do it, and they had to meet some rather steep requirements to do so. This was called "dual-classing". Non-humans, on the other hand, could "multi-class" where they effectively learned two (or rarely even three) classes at the same time at the cost of a slower character level progression.

3rd Edition allowed players to mix and match levels from any number of classes, though certain combinations were more effective than others. In addition, Prestige classes added yet more options for multi-classing. This edition offers the most freedom regarding multi-classing. There are, however, penalties to the rate of experience point gained if classes are added haphazardly. The 3rd edition version of Unearthed Arcana includes rules for gestalt characters which combine the advantages of two classes.

4th Edition allows characters to take a feat that gives a character access to specific facets of another class. The class-specific multiclass feats are also prerequisites for the power-swap feats, each of which allows the character to swap out a daily, encounter, or utility power from their first class for one from their second class. Also, at 11th level, a character with a multiclass feat and all of the power-swap feats is eligible for paragon multiclassing, which allows a character to gain additional powers from their second class in lieu of taking a Paragon Path. Some classes are only available through multiclassing, the first such class was Spellscarred, introduced in the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide.[2] In 4th edition, each character can only multiclass into a single class, unless otherwise stated by their primary class (such as the Bard). The Player's Handbook III introduced "hybrid" classes, a deeper form of multiclassing in which elements of two classes are combined each level.

In 5th Edition, multi-classing requires a certain level of ability scores before a player can choose to do it. Much simpler than 2nd Edition's dual-classing mechanic, as all of the core classes only require a 13 in the necessary stat, and apart from the Monk, Paladin and Ranger (who need 13s in two stats) and the Fighter (requires either Strength or Dex), the classes only need one sufficiently high stat.[3]

Classes by editions[edit]

In the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, there were only three main classes: the Cleric, the Fighting man, and the Magic-User. The first supplement, Greyhawk, added the Thief as a fourth main class, as well as the Paladin as a fighter subclass. These four fantasy gaming archetypes represent four major tactical roles in play: the Fighter offers direct combat strength and durability; the Thief offers cunning and stealth; the Cleric provides support in both combat and magic; and the Magic-User has a variety of magical powers. In many ways, other classes are thought of as alternatives that refine or combine these functions. Dwarves and Halflings were restricted to the Fighting Man class, and Elves were restricted to the Fighting Man and Magic-User classes; all three non-human races had limited level advancement.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition[edit]

Player's Handbook classes[4]
Base class Sub-classes
Bard n/a
Cleric Druid
Monk n/a
Thief Assassin
Fighter Paladin, Ranger
Magic-User Illusionist

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons loosened the restrictions on race and class combinations, although non-human races often had restricted choices among classes and maximum levels they could reach in a class. The five standard base classes, five sub-classes in the Player's Handbook are listed in the table to the right.

The Player's Handbook also introduced the Bard as a sixth base class; however, its usage in 1st edition was more akin to what would be called a prestige class in later editions, as it was not a legal choice for a starting character. Instead, a character had to start as a Fighter, change classes to a Thief, and finally switch classes once more to become a Bard.

A character's ability scores directly tied into what class choices were legal for them. For instance, a character wishing to be a Fighter required at least 9 Strength; the more discriminating Monk required 15 Strength, 15 Wisdom, 15 Dexterity, and 11 Constitution.[5] Additionally, certain unusually high or low ability scores could proscribe class choice further; "too high" an Intelligence could disallow being a Fighter, while a Charisma of 5 or less would require the character to become an Assassin. High ability scores in statistics considered pertinent to the class would grant an experience bonus.

The Player's Handbook brought about other changes in the game and its character classes.[6] Fighters, clerics and thieves have improved hit-dice (D10, D8 and D6 respectively) over the previous edition. The effects of a character's strength score on hit probability, damage, weight allowed, and open doors rolls were changed. High intelligence conferred an increased chance for both spell knowledge and ability to learn languages. The wisdom score now gave clerics a spell bonus, while low wisdom gave a chance of spell failure. New charts delineated the effects of constitution, dexterity and charisma. Each of the five main character classes and five sub-classes had its own experience table; for most classes it was now harder to gain promotion above third or fourth levels. Multi-classed characters were also introduced.[6]

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set[edit]

"Basic" Dungeons & Dragons classes
Human classes Cleric, Druid, Fighter,
Magic User, Mystic, Thief
Demi-human classes Dwarf, Elf, Halfling

The second version of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set combined the idea of race and class; non-human races did not have classes. Hence, a character might be a (human) Cleric or else simply an "Elf" or "Dwarf". The Basic Set presented four human classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic User and Thief, and three demi-human classes: Dwarf, Elf and Halfling. The Expert Set introduced two optional classes: the Druid and the Mystic. The Gazzetteer series included many optional classes for humans and non-humans, including the shaman (GAZ12) and shamani (GAZ14). Additional human and race classes were also presented in other supplements.

2nd edition[edit]

Group Class
Warrior Fighter
Wizard Mage
Specialist wizard
Priest Cleric
Priest of specific mythos
Rogue Thief

The 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons attempted to streamline what had become an increasing hodgepodge of rules that only applied in specific cases in 1st edition. As such, it sought to simplify the rules and straighten out contradictions. Character classes were divided into four groups or "metaclasses": Warrior, Wizard, Priest, and Rogue. Each of these groups had a "base" class which only required at least a 9 in the "prime requisite" statistic in Fighter, Mage, Cleric, and Thief; these were intended to be playable in any setting. The Player's Handbook went on to say that "all of the other classes are optional."[7] Each group of classes had the same Hit dice (determining hit point growth), THAC0 progression, and saving throw table.[7] 2nd edition maintained minimums in certain statistics to qualify for some classes, but removed many of the other restrictions such as one extremely low statistic forcing a character into a specific class.


The Illusionist and Druid character classes were redesigned to work as variant classes in this new framework. Rather than specific spell lists for each class, 2nd edition had two unified lists: one for wizard spells and another for priest spells. These lists were then further subdivided by school of magic and sphere of influence. Classes still had distinct spells; in order to accomplish this, different classes had access to different spheres of magic. Thus the Illusionist class from 1st edition became a type of specialist wizard; specialists gained the ability to cast extra spells of their chosen school of magic in exchange for the inability to cast spells of "opposed" schools. A Transmuter, for example, would gain extra spells per day in the school of Alteration, but would be denied access to the schools of Abjuration and Necromancy. A similar distinction was made for priests. 2nd edition introduced priests of a specific mythology who would gain their own specific abilities, restrictions, and sphere of influence selection. The druid was provided as an example; the specification of other specialty priests was left to dungeon masters and setting books. As an example, a specialty priest of Tempus, the god of war in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, can incite a berserker rage in allies and lacks the "only blunt weapons" restriction of normal clerics. The selection of spheres of influence worked similarly to the allowed and forbidden schools of magic.

The Bard class, previously attainable only after switching from Fighter, to Thief, and lastly to Bard, was changed to be a normal class that could be chosen at character creation. The Assassin and Monk classes were removed from 2nd edition (though the concept of a bare-handed fighter or a killer for hire certainly remained legal, just not as a class). The Dungeon Master's Guide clarified the rationale behind the decision in a section on creating new character classes:

What is a Viking but a fighter with a certain outlook on life and warfare? A witch is really nothing but a female wizard. A vampire hunter is only a title assumed by a character of any class who is dedicated to the destruction and elimination of those loathsome creatures. The same is true of assassins. Killing for profit requires no special powers, only a specific reprehensible outlook. Choosing the title does not imply any special powers or abilities. The character just uses his current skills to fulfill a specific, personal set of goals.

— Dungeon Master's Guide, 2nd edition

Nonetheless, second edition did introduce a number of additional classes and class modifications (called kits). The shaman, runecaster, assassin, barbarian and monk each were implemented many different ways, including as their own classes, though they were not included with the initial set of classes in the Player's Handbook.

3rd edition[edit]

The 3rd edition abolished the practice of grouping classes directly, allowing hit dice, attack bonus, and saving throws to vary for each particular class again. 3rd edition also saw the return of the Monk as a base class, the creation of the new Sorcerer class, and the inclusion of Barbarian as a base Player's Handbook class, previously described in 1st edition's Unearthed Arcana rules and as an optional kit in 2nd edition. Statistical requirements on classes and experience bonuses were abolished, though a low score in an important statistic to a class would still adversely affect a character in it.

3rd edition allows for a much more fluid idea of multi-classing than earlier editions, as one unified experience-points-per-level table was made. Rather than earlier editions' rules on splitting experience, characters can simply choose which class they wish to take a new level in and add the appropriate bonus from the class.

Prestige classes were also introduced in the 3rd edition's Dungeon Master's Guide, with new classes only available at higher level and after meeting several prerequisites.

In addition to the eleven classes presented in the PHB, various alternate base classes were presented in supplements, and the Dungeon Master's Guide presented five weaker classes designed for NPCs.

Core character class[edit]

The eleven base classes presented in the 3rd edition Player's Handbook are:

Prestige classes[edit]

Prestige classes were introduced in third edition as a further means of individualizing a character.[8] They expand upon the form of multiclassing and are inaccessible at 1st level, specifically meant to be multi-classed into from the base classes. To attain a specific prestige class, a character must first meet a number of prerequisites, such as certain feats or membership in a specific organization. Prestige classes offer a focus on different abilities that may be difficult to attain otherwise; for example, the 3rd edition version of the Assassin prestige class grants minor magical powers, more sneak attack damage, and better usage of poison.

3.5 revision[edit]

Some of these classes were readjusted for balance in the 3.5 revision of the game.

4th edition[edit]

Core character classes[edit]

Classes in 4th edition
Player's Handbook
Class Power Source Role
Cleric Divine Leader
Fighter Martial Defender
Paladin Divine Defender
Ranger Martial Striker
Rogue Martial Striker
Warlock Arcane Striker
Warlord Martial Leader
Wizard Arcane Controller
Player's Handbook 2
Avenger Divine Striker
Barbarian Primal Striker
Bard Arcane Leader
Druid Primal Controller
Invoker Divine Controller
Shaman Primal Leader
Sorcerer Arcane Striker
Warden Primal Defender
Player's Handbook 3
Ardent Psionic Leader
Battlemind Psionic Defender
Monk Psionic Striker
Psion Psionic Controller
Runepriest Divine Leader
Seeker Primal Controller
Eberron Player's Guide
Artificer Arcane Leader
Forgotten Realms Player's Guide
Swordmage Arcane Defender
Dragon magazine
Assassin Shadow Striker
Heroes of Shadow
Vampire Shadow Striker

The 4th edition heavily retooled the class system in favor of a more unified set of mechanics for characters, which was in part intended to reduce some of the perceived imbalance between spellcasters and non-spellcasters in the 3rd edition. Classes can be defined as the combination of a character role with a power source and are differentiated by what active-use class features and powers they give, all of which follow the same pattern of at-will, once per encounter, once daily and utility powers.

The 4th edition Player's Handbook does not include some classes from third edition, such as the Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, and Sorcerer (though these classes returned in the second and third volumes of the Player's Handbook) but does include the new Warlock and Warlord classes. Twenty-six classes were released in total.

Power sources[edit]

Different classes draw on different power sources for their abilities. The power sources used by the Player's Handbook classes are arcane, divine, and martial. Arcane classes gain magical energy from the cosmos, divine classes receive their power from the gods, and martial classes draw power from training and willpower.[9] The Player's Handbook 2 introduces the primal power source, which draws power from the spirits of the natural world and features transformation as a theme. Dragon No. 379 included the Assassin class, introducing the shadow power source. The Player's Handbook 3 introduced the psionic power source, which draws power from the mind. Player's Option: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos introduced builds which use the elemental power source.[10]

Character roles[edit]

Characters of a given class are said to fill a particular role in the party, especially in combat. Leaders are focused on buffing and healing allies. Controllers focus on affecting multiple targets at once, either damaging or debuffing them, or altering the battlefield's terrain. Defenders focus on blocking attacking enemies or drawing their attacks to themselves and are typically focused on melee combat. Strikers are focused on mobility, dealing heavy damage to single targets and avoiding attacks. While some Leader and Striker classes and builds are focused towards either melee or ranged combat, the roles as a whole are not.

Paragon paths and epic destinies[edit]

The optional prestige classes from earlier editions have instead been replaced by paragon paths and epic destinies as methods of character customization. Each character may choose a paragon path upon reaching the paragon tier at level 11 and an epic destiny upon reaching the epic tier at level 21.

Paragon paths are often (though not always) class-specific, and some have additional prerequisites. Other paragon paths are restricted to members of a certain race or are associated with a nation or faction in a campaign setting. Paragon paths generally expand on a character's existing abilities. For example, fighter paragon paths improve a characters toughness, resilience, or damage with melee weapons.

Epic destinies generally have looser prerequisites than paragon paths; many are available to multiple classes, and some, such as Demigod and Eternal Seeker, have 21st level as their only prerequisite. Each epic destiny includes at least one way in which a character can establish a legacy and at least one way in which a character can retire. Most epic destinies provide fewer benefits than paragon paths, but the benefits that they provide are far more powerful. A common feature of an epic destiny is to allow characters to (usually once per day) return to life or otherwise continue to function after dying.

Unlike prestige classes, a character may only take a single paragon path and a single epic destiny, and path and destiny advancement is in addition to class advancement rather than being in lieu of it.[11][12]

5th edition[edit]

Classes in 5th Edition are mechanically and thematically similar to 3rd Edition's version. Classes gain new abilities as they reach each level. While characters do get more powerful as they level up, there's less artificial scaling up of power levels to match equally scaled up monster power levels.[13]

Base character classes[edit]

The four base classes presented in the 5th edition free-to-download Basic Rules are:

The base classes presented in the 5th edition Player's Handbook include the above four plus the following:


The concept of "paragon paths" or "prestige classes" has been dropped. Instead, each class has multiple subclasses, which allow players to choose which archetype of their class they want to follow (i.e. the Berserker Barbarian, the Evoker Wizard, the Wild Magic Sorcerer, the Beastmaster Ranger, etc.), usually chosen at an early level. This archetype defines a lot of the special abilities that the class gets, and usually starts making itself felt on second or third level.


  1. ^ a b Fine, Gary Alan (2002). Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. pp. 16–18. ISBN 0-226-24944-1. 
  2. ^ Bart Carroll. "Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (July and Beyond)". Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  3. ^[unreliable source?]
  4. ^ Livingstone, Ian (1982). Dicing with Dragons. Routledge. p. 74. ISBN 0-7100-9466-3. 
  5. ^ D&D Alumni: A Look Back at Player's Handbooks
  6. ^ a b Turnbull, Don (December 1978 – January 1979). "Open Box: Players Handbook". White Dwarf (review) (Games Workshop) (10): 17. 
  7. ^ a b Cook, David (1995) [1989b]. Player's Handbook (Revised ed.). TSR. ISBN 0-7869-0329-5. 
  8. ^ Tresca, Michael J. (2010), The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, McFarland, p. 64, ISBN 078645895X 
  9. ^ "4th Edition Excerpts: Powers". Wizards of the Coast. 
  10. ^ "Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Product (Heroes of the Elemental Chaos)". 2012-02-21. Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  11. ^ 4th Edition Excerpts: Paragon Paths
  12. ^ 4th Edition Excerpts: Epic Destinies
  13. ^

External links[edit]