DnD Classes: Character Optimization Handbooks for DnD 5e

DnD Classes are the mechanical heart of characters in Dungeons and Dragons. While your race and background carry equal weight in who your character is, your class defines what your character does. Understanding how to build and play a class effectively is the most important part of building an effective DnD character.

Listed below are Handbooks on each of DnD’s classes, exploring the nuances and tricks to get the most out of each. To that end we not only go over the features and options of each class, but put those ideas into practice with subclass handbooks and example builds.

We try to keep multiclassing to a minimum in these basic examples, but if those advanced options interest you don’t miss the Practical Guide to Multiclassing and our Build Guide Showcase, both of which go into multiclassing.

Table of Contents

Choosing a Class

Choosing your character’s class is arguably the most important decision when building a new character, as it determines their biggest capabilities and their role within the party.

DnD 5e is resilient enough as a system that a party doesn’t need to adhere to the classic cleric/fighter/rogue/wizard party makeup, though covering all of those core capabilities can make your party more successful. For a quick, capable party, ensure that someone in the party is filling each of those four roles.

Cleric EquivalentFighter EquivalentRogue EquivalentWizard Equivalent
Sorcerer (Divine Soul)FighterRangerWarlock

If your character’s build won’t neatly fit into those boxes, it may be helpful to consider party roles in more depth. Specific roles can be split between the party, and so long as every role is represented, your party has everything that it needs to succeed regardless of specific classes.

DnD Classes


Built primarily around their ability to create temporary magic items, the Artificer is a fantastic option for players who enjoy deep customization and the ability to equip a huge number of magic items. In addition to crafting their own temporary items, artificers are half casters with access to most of the Wizard’s spell list with the addition of crucial healing options like Lesser Restoration and powerful support options like Faerie Fire.

Artificer Subclasses Breakdown


With a huge pile of hit points, access to damage resistance to common damage types, and a general preference for large weapons, the Barbarian is a capable melee warrior who typically thrives using simple, repeatable tactics. Rage allows the Barbarian to be exceptionally durable during a few fights per day, allowing you to act aggressively while shrugging off blows that would quickly drop other characters.

Barbarian Subclasses Breakdown

Multiclass Build Showcase


A jack of all trades, the bard falls somewhere between the rogue’s capability with skills and the sorcerer’s capabilities with magic. If you want to do a little bit of everything, the Bard is a great choice. With more skills than most characters, Expertise, and full spellcasting, you can build a bard to fill nearly any roll in your party.

Bard Subclasses Breakdown

  • College of Creation Bard Handbook: Use the song of creation to sing objects to life or create them out of thing air, and add powerful additional benefits to Bardic Inspiration.
  • College of Eloquence Bard Handbook: The best bard that ever did bard, College of Eloquence reinforces and expands upon the Bard’s core class features. While it doesn’t add anything truly new to the class, it does make the Bard’s core features considerably better.
  • College of Glamour Bard Handbook: A combination of support and Charm effects, College of Glamour makes a great support caster but doesn’t add any directly offensive capabilities.
  • College of Lore Bard Handbook: Double down on the Bard’s core features, adding more Expertise, more Magical Secrets, and new support options.
  • College of Spirits Bard Handbook: Commune with the spirits of the dead to empower yourself and your allies and to defeat your enemies.
  • College of Swords Bard Handbook: Not just a martial bard, but a flashy martial bard.
  • College of Valor Bard Handbook: Add some martial capabilities to the Bard, including medium armor, shields, martial weapons, and Extra Attack.
  • College of Whispers Bard: Masters of deceit, infiltration, subterfuge, and psychological warfare.

Multiclass Build Showcase


While novice players overlook the Cleric for fear of becoming a “healbot”, the Cleric is a much more interesting class than that. Diverse, powerful, and backed up by an amazing spell list, clerics can fill a variety of roles in the party and support many play styles. They do still have the best healing options in the game, but most clerics spend more time smashing through fights with Spirit Guardians than they do spamming Cure Wounds.

Cleric Subclasses Breakdown

Multiclass Build Showcase


Divine spellcasters with a close bond to nature, druids are primarily spellcasters and thrive when controlling their environment with area control spells. They match the Cleric’s healing capabilities, but present a very different playstyle otherwise. Among their most iconic options is Wild Shape, allowing you temporarily adopt the form of an animal.

Druid Subclasses Breakdown


Diverse, capable, and effective, the Fighter is an iconic warrior. Fighters have many excellent options, and get more Ability Score Increases than any other class, allowing them to further customize by choosing collecting feats. Because their complexity grows slowly as you level and you can add complexity as desired by adding feats, the Fighter is both an easy class to play and an exciting class to optimize.

Fighter Subclasses Breakdown

  • Arcane Archer Fighter: No handbook yet. See our Fighter Subclasses Breakdown.
  • Battle Master Fighter Handbook: Master of combat maneuvers, the Battle Master uses a unique Maneuvers mechanic which allows you add additional effects to your attacks to harm and hinder your foes.
  • Cavalier Fighter Handbook: Known for their exceptional abilities to fight while mounted, but the Cavalier is also a capable bodyguard and Defender.
  • Champion Fighter Handbook: Simple and straightforward, but unquestionably effective, the Champion thrives on the Fighter’s central features.
  • Echo Knight Fighter Handbook: Summon an echo of yourself from alternate time streams to fight alongside you in combat.
  • Eldritch Knight Fighter Handbook: Complement your phenomenal martial prowess with magic to defend yourself and to strike at your foes.
  • Psi Warrior Fighter Handbook: Use the power of psionics to boost your attacks, defend yourself and your allies, and mess with your enemies.
  • Purple Dragon Knight Fighter Handbook: An inspirational leader and diplomat, the Purple Dragon Knight is a capable leader and good Face despite the stereotypically non-charismatic nature of fighters.
  • Rune Knight Fighter Handbook: Empower yourself with the magic power of giants, using runes to create fantastic magical effects and enlarging yourself in combat.
  • Samurai Fighter Handbook: Capable and resilient, the Samurai is capable of sudden bursts of incredible prowess and adds some proficiencies to aid them in social situations.

Multiclass Build Showcase


The iconic unarmed combatant, monks are capable of many superheroic physical feats without the use of spells. They’re a comlex class to build and play successfully, but their niche between the fighter and the rogue can make them a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the mechanical requirements of the class mean that monk builds are extremely homogenous and there is very little room to deviate without feeling like your character is underperforming the rest of your party.

Monk Subclasses Breakdown


Warriors powered by their commitent to a cause, the Paladin is nearly always a heavily-armored melee character, equally capable of smiting their enemies and healing their allies. Their dependence on Charisma also makes them capable in social situations where similar classes like the barbarian and the Fighter often struggle. Because the Paladin’s capabilities touch on so many mechanics, paladins are very mechanically satisfying to play and can be a great way to quickly master 5e’s mechanics.

Paladin Subclasses Breakdown

Multiclass Build Showcase


Capable explorers and warriors, the Ranger falls somewhere between the Fighter’s martial capabilities, the Rogue’s skills, and the Druid’s spellcasting. While early versions of the Ranger struggled somewhat due to highly situational class features, Optional Class Features and exciting new subclass options have made the ranger both effective and exciting to play.

Ranger Subclasses Breakdown

Multiclass Build Showcase


More than just the orphaned thief stereotype, rogues are cunning, highly-skilled characters capable of solving many problems and filling many roles within a party. The Rogue’s signature combat ability is Sneak Attack, which encourages you to use positioning, stealth, and clever tactics to deliver powerful single hits.

Rogue Subclasses Breakdown

Multiclass Build Showcase


Spellcasters that draw their power from something innate about themselves, such as draconic ancestry. Sorcerers rely on a small number of spells known compared to other spellcasters, but their Metamagic feature allows them to customize those spells to suit the needs of their situation. Players who enjoy the power of the Wizard but don’t want the complexity of managing a spellbook will find the Sorcerer very satisfying.

Sorcerer Subclasses Breakdown

  • Aberrant Mind Sorcerer Handbook: Combine the power of psionics with the power of arcane magic to create a spellcaster with the sorcerer’s deep well of spellcasting and some of the warlock’s spooky, occult magic.
  • Clockwork Soul Sorcerer Handbook: An avatar of order, the Clockwork Soul rounds the edges off of probability and wards their allies against harm and entropy.
  • Divine Soul Sorcerer Handbook: Descended from a divine bloodline, add the ability to learn and cast cleric spells in addition to sorcerer spells.
  • Draconic Bloodline Sorcerer: Extra durable and extra excited about dragons and elemental damage.
  • Lunar Sorcery Sorcerer: Change your subclass spells by changing phases of the moon, and also get discounts on Sorcery Points.
  • Shadow Magic Sorcerer Handbook: Masters of magical darkness, gain the ability to see in darkness and summon a powerful shadow hound to weaken and attack your foes.
  • Storm Sorcery Sorcerer Handbook: Adept at flight and casting spells in close quarters, storm sorcerers dart in and out of close range to deal bursts of sonic and lightning damage before flying back out of reach and retreating.
  • Wild Magic Sorcerer: Wacky chaos monsters but also powerful rerolls and the ability to mess with dice math.

Multiclass Build Showcase


Warlocks draw their power from a pact made with a powerful entity of some kind. Mechanically, the Warlock is delightfully weird compared to other options, offering a huge number of customization points and entirely unique spellcasting resource that makes them feel and play very differently from other spellcasters. Building around Eldritch Blast has been simple and effective since the Player’s Handbook released in 2014, but that is certainly not the only way to build an effective warlock.

Warlock Subclasses Breakdown

  • Archfey Warlock Handbook: Fey are tricky, unpredictable creatures, and warlocks who swear pacts to The Archfey gain spells and abilities to confuse, surprise, and charm other creatures.
  • Celestial Warlock: Make a pact with a powerful creature from the upper plains and some healing and radiant damage to your capabilities.
  • Fathomless Warlock Handbook: A powerful threat in and around water, the Fathomless gives you new spells related to storms and water, and you gain the ability to conjure spectral tentacles to attack your foes and to defend you from harm.
  • Fiend Warlock Handbook: Make a pact with a powerful fiend and get all of the fire damage you could even possibly want. Other stuff, too, but Fireball is pretty great.
  • Genie Warlock Handbook: Make a pact with a genie of one of the four major elements, and gain benefits like empowered spellcasting and a magic vessel which you can use both as a spellcasting focus and as a resting place.
  • Great Old One Warlock Handbook: Spooky spells, telepathy, and tentacles.
  • Hexblade Warlock Handbook: Forge a pact with a mystical force known only as “The Hexblade”, gaining the ability to use Charisma for weapon attacks and other fantastic combat abilities.
  • Undead Warlock Handbook: Gain the ability to adopt a terrifying undead visage to buff yourself in combat.
  • Undying Warlock Handbook: Make a pact with an immortal (or at least very long-lived) creature and become very slightly less likely to die.

Multiclass Build Showcase


Among the most iconic spellcasters in DnD, the Wizard is your iconic book-bearing magical scholar. Their spell list is the largest in the game and includes many of the best spells in the game, plus their ability to collect spells and cast any ritual that they know makes the Wizard an excellent utility caster on top of their ability to hurl fireballs.

Wizard Subclasses Breakdown

  • Bladesinging Wizard Handbook: Masters of fighting with both weapons and with spells, bladesingers can perform a secret song and dance which makes them deadly in combat. Among the most caster-focused gish options.
  • Chronurgy Magic Wizard Handbook: Manipulate the flow of time, allowing you to force rerolls, to stop creatures, and even to temporarily suspend spells in a tiny bead and share it with your allies. Chronurgists also gain access to the Dunamancy spell list.
  • Graviturgy Magic Wizard Handbook: Manipulate space and gravity to move your foes about on the battlefield and crush them with powerful gravitational effects. Graviturgists also gain access to the Dunamancy spell list.
  • Order of Scribes Wizard Handbook: Awaken your spellbook, and master the central concepts of wizardly magic, allowing you to learn spells faster than other wizards and employ them in new and unusual ways.
  • School of Abjuration Wizard Handbook: Masters of protective magic, Abjurers gain a powerful magical ward which can absorb damage dealt to you or your allies and recharges when you cast abjuration spells.
  • School of Divination Wizard Handbook: Diviners gain the powerful Portent feature, allowing them to roll two to three d20’s at the beginning of the day and use them to replace rolls, as well as the ability to cast divination spells and incredible little cost.
  • School of Enchantment Wizard Handbook: Powerful and versatile spellcasters, enchanters gain abilities to charm and hypnotize foes, and to affect additional targets with single-target enchantment spells.
  • School of Evocation Wizard Handbook: Exceptional at dealing damage with spells, evokers deal more damage with cantrips than other spellcaster, and can make safe spaces in their area damage spells to avoid harming allies.
  • School of Illusion Wizard Handbook: Masters of illusion spells, illusionists gain abilities to manipulate illusion spells beyond their normal limits, including the ability to make them partially real.
  • School of Necromancy Wizard Handbook: Gain the ability to heal yourself when you kill other creatures, and to more easily create and control undead, including powerful ones far more powerful than spells alone would allow.
  • School of Transmutation Wizard Handbook: Gain abilities to turn things into other things, like wood into metal, yourself into an animal, dead things into live things, and injured or sick things into happy and healthy things.
  • War Magic Wizard Handbook: Powerful combatants, war wizards gain abilities to defend themselves against attacks and to boost their spell damage by countering or dispelling other spells.

Multiclass Build Showcase

3rd-Party Publishers

RPGBOT has covered some 3rd-party content from our favorite creators. This content is published under the Open Gaming License, under Creative Commons, or through DMsGuild, and is not considered official content. As such, it is not available in Adventurer’s League organized play, and your group may not allow it in your game. If your group wants to explore 3rd-party content, we hope that these articles will help you make them work for you.

Keith Baker

Kobold Press

Matt Mercer / Critical Role / Tal’Dorei