Choosing a Race and Class - How to Play DnD 5e

Choosing a Race and Class Introduction

You character’s race and class are the most mechanically defining parts of your character. Your class defines your capabilities and your role in the party, and your race provides traits and ability score increases which will greatly affect which classes make sense for you.

You can choose your race or your class in any order. The official rule suggest selecting your race first, but there’s no logical reason why you need to do that. I generally prefer to pick a class first, but a lot of people start from a race and a character concept and look for a way to implement it mechanically. Do whatever makes sense to you.

The section below will touch very very briefly on the race and class options in the core rulebook to offer basic suggestions for race/class combinations which work especially well. Feel free to deviate from these combinations if you found a combination that you find appealing, and if you want more detailed information visit the Character Optimization section of this site.


When selecting your race, some races also have subraces. If a race has subraces, you must pick a subrace. The subrace traits and the core racial traits all apply to your character.

For example: Elves have three subraces (drow, high elves, and wood elves); any elf character must select from among those options. If a character were a wood elf, they would get the +2 Dexterity increase and all of the other elf racial traits and would add the +1 Wisdom increase and the other wood elf traits.

The race options below only cover the Player’s Handbook. Additional rules supplements have introduced many additional options.

  • Dwarf: Dwarfs are durable, have darkvision, and get some martial weapon proficiencies, so they’re tempting for a lot of classes. However, their subraces truly define their best class options.
    • Hill: Hill dwarfs get a Wisdom increase, which makes them ideal clerics and druids, but not much else. You could also try hill dwarf monks and rangers, but without a Dexterity increase you’ll fall behind other characters offensively.
    • Mountain: Mountain dwarfs get a Strength increase, which makes them good barbarians, fighters, and paladins. You could try mountain dwarf clerics, but hill dwarfs do better.
  • Elf: Elves are nimble and get proficiency in Perception, so they’re good options for class like fighter, monk, ranger, and rogue.
    • Drow: Drow add a Charisma increase and double the Elf’s normal Darkvision range. However, they suffer from Sunlight Sensitivity, which can make it difficult to adventure above ground. Drow make good bards, rogues, sorcerers, and warlocks, but they can also work as fighters and rangers.
    • High Elf: High elves get an extremely rare Intelligence increase and an extra cantrip from the Wizard spell list. Most wizards never get more than 4 cantrips, so an extra is a really big deal. They also get some martial weapon proficiencies, which is helpful for wizards and rogues. Because of their ability increase, high elves make good fighters (especially eldritch knights), rogues (especially arcane tricksters), and wizards.
    • Wood Elf: Dexterity and Wisdom are a powerful combination] that work swell for a number of classes: druid, fighter, monk, ranger, and rogue all work very well. Wood elves also get proficiency in some useful weapon options which can improve your weapon options for the Druid and the Rogue.
  • Halfling: Halflings are nimble, brave, and more importantly lucky. If you’re the sort of person who seems to always roll badly, halflings are a great option.
    • Lightfoot Halfling: Charming and able to hide behind their taller allies, lightfoot halflings make natural rogues. Their charisma also helps them succeed as bards, sorcerers, warlocks, and if you can get Stealth proficiency from your background you can continue to hide behind your allies.
    • Stout Halfling: Stout halflings gain a constitution increase and poison resistance, making them somewhat similar to smaller, more nimble dwarfs. Stout halflings make good fighters, monks, rangers, and rogues.
  • Human: Humans don’t have a subrace: they have “variant”. The variant version is considerably more interesting, but the regular version is much easier to play.
    • Standard Human: The absolute simplest race to play, standard humans gain +1 to every ability score and almost nothing else. Since all of their ability scores are good, standard humans work in any class, but in almost every case another race will be better.
    • Variant Human: Variant humans are popular among character optimization enthusiasts because they get a free Feat at 1st level. If you’re ready to explore feats, variant human is a great way to do it. Variant humans also get a skill proficiency of their choice and +1 to any two ability scores, allowing them to be effective in any class.
  • Dragonborn: Dragonborn are really cool, but they only work in a handful of classes. Paladin is perfect for dragonborn, but bard, sorcerer, and warlock also work.
  • Gnome: Gnomes get an Intelligence increase, which predisposes them to being wizards. They also get Advantage on saving throws against spells which require mental saving throws, which is a significant and powerful defense when fighting other spellcasters.
    • Forest Gnome: Forest gnomes closely resemble high elves, but they’re given the minor illusion cantrip rather than a choice of cantrips. Forest gnomes make good fighters (especially eldritch knights), rogues (especially arcane tricksters), and wizards.
    • Rock Gnome: Rock gnomes add a Constitution increase and some other fun racial traits. Unfortunately, the only class where they really shine is wizard.
  • Half-Elf: Half-elves get a lot. +2 Charisma and +1 in any two other ability scores is a lot, and they still get Darkvision, two free skill proficiencies, and some other stuff. Half-elves work in most classes because they’re so flexible, but they work best as bards rogues, sorcerers, and warlocks.
  • Half-Orc: Strength and Constitution increases make half-orcs natural barbarians, fighters, and paladins. Savage Attacks is a useful racial trait that makes critical hits very satisfying, especially with weapons like a greataxe which use a large damage die.
  • Tiefling: Intelligent and charming, tieflings excel in spellcasting classes like bard, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard. Thematically they make good rogues, too, but their lack of a Dexterity increase is a problem.


In addition to picking your class, you’ll pick a subclass. Some classes do this at 1st level, while other classes do it at 3rd level. Knowing which subclass you want to explore is helpful, but not always necessary when you pick your class.

The “quick build” sections of each class’s description is usually a good starting point. It will recommend a race, how to arrange your ability scores, and some other options like your skills and your background.

The class and subclass options below only cover the Player’s Handbook. Additional rules supplements have introduced many additional options.

  • Barbarian: Barbarians are fierce martial warriors who can fly into a violent rage, making them both more lethal and harder to kill. They can fight totally unarmored, and notably have the largest hit die of any class, typically giving them more hit points than any other character. Barbarians need Strength and Constitution, so races like Mountain Dwarf and Half-Orc work well.
    • Path of the Berserker: Do you like getting angry and hitting stuff? Well how about get furious and hitting stuff? Path of the berserker doubles down on the barbarian’s rage mechanics, adding a “frenzy” option which makes your rages even more terrifying at the expense of making you fatigued.
    • Path of the Totem Warrior: Take on some beast-themed special abilities, allowing you to customize your barbarian every several levels by selecting an aspect from one of several beasts.
  • Bard: Magic users who collect stories and ancient lore, bards are jacks of all trades, capable of using weapons, casting spells, and using a wide variety of skills. Bards’ magic is closely tied to music, and they can use musical instruments as magic foci. They can even learn spells from other classes thanks to their Magical Secrets feature. Bards depend heavily on Charisma, but if you want to use weapons effectively Dexterity is also helpful. Drow, lightfoot halflings, dragonborn, half-elves, and tieflings all make good bards.
    • College of Lore: By focusing on gathering knowledge, college of lore bards improve their skills, and gain access to the bard’s potent Magical Secrets feature several levels early.
    • College of Valor: College of valor grants the bard proficiency in shields, medium armor, and martial weapons, allowing them to perform better in a martial capacity, and they even get Extra Attack, which is typically reserved for martial class like the Fighter. If you go this route, I strongly recommend a race with a Dexterity increase.
  • Cleric: Divine champions who wield the power of the gods, clerics are the best healers in the game, but their capabilities extend far beyond restoring hit points. Many are capable with weapons, some can wear heavy armor, and all clerics have access to plenty of offensive spells. No other class has as much access to necrotic or radiant damage. Because Wisdom is so important for clerics, hill dwarfs and wood elves make good clerics.
    • Knowledge Domain: Clerics of gods of knowledge gain access to additional divination spells, knowledge skills, and the ability to read the thoughts of other creatures.
    • Life Domain: Life domain clerics worship deities of life, healing, and protection, and are among the best healers in the game, gaining features which allow them to restore huge quantitites of hit points in a hurry. In addition, they gain proficiency in heavy armor, allowing them to stand on the front lines with a high enough AC to withstand most enemies.
    • Light Domain: Clerics of gods of the sunm fire, and light gain access to spells that blast their foes with magical fire, and to emit an aura of sunlight.
    • Nature Domain: Nature deities grant their clerics proficiency in heavy armor, and access to spells taken from the Druid spell list. Nature clerics also gain the ability to magically charm beasts and plant creatures, and to deal elemental damage with their weapon attacks.
    • Tempest Domain: Gods of storms grant their clerics access to both heavy armor and martial weapons, sending them forth to crush their foes. Tempest clerics gain access to spells which deal sonic and lightning damage, and which control weather, and they gain the ability to deal sonic damage with their weapon attacks.
    • Trickery Domain: Deities of lies, deciet, and mischief grant their clerics abilities which aid them in stealth, subterfuge, and misdirection. These clerics learn enchantment and illusion spells, and can grant their allies Advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
    • War Domain: War gods send their clerics into battle with heavy armor and martial weapons, armed with powerful offensive and defensive spells, and abilities that boost the attack rolls of both the cleric and their allies.
  • Druid: Similar to clerics, but druids keep the Old Faith, drawing their magic powers from the raw power of nature. They are capable of transforming into beasts, and their spells heavily emphasize elemental power like lightning and fire, as well as controlling plants and animals. Like clerics, druids depend on Wisdom, so hill dwarfs and wood elves both make good druids.
    • Circle of the Land: Emphasize your druid’s spellcasting and expand it with some spells themed to your native biome.
    • Circle of the Moon: Turn into beasts and fight things.
  • Fighter: Fighters are masters of martial combat, possessing little beyond finely-honed skill with arms and armor. Fighters can succeed in armor of any kind and with weapons of any kind, and which options work best depend on your ability scores. Either Strength or Dexterity is crucial for fighters, so elves, mountain dwarfs, halflings, dragonborn, forest gnomes, and half-orcs all make great fighters.
    • Battlemaster: Battlemasters use a pool of “superiority dice” which allow them to perform special combat maneuvers that add extra effects to your attacks, allowing you to do things like tripping and disarming your targets.
    • Champion: Easily the simplest subclass to play across every class, the champion’s mechanics are easy to learn but still very effective. Champions get several notable abilities like a second Combat Style and the ability to score critical hits on a 19 or 20, and at high levels the ability to score critical hits on an 18, 19, or 20. If you really like critical hits, try a half-orc fighter (champion) with a greataxe.
    • Eldritch Knight: Eldritch Knights supplement their martial prowess with the ability to cast abjuration and evocation spells, allowing them to defend themselves and their allies, and to blast their enemies with spells like fireball. Eldritch Knights use Intelligence for their spellcasting, so high elves and forest gnomes make great eldritch knights.
  • Monk: Monks are master of martial arts, training their minds and bodies to perfection. Monks need Dexterity most, but also need Wisdom, so stout halflings and wood elves make fantastic monks.
    • Way of the Four Winds: An elementally-themed monk, fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender will find a lot to love in the Way of Four Winds. These monks gain the ability to learn and cast spells by expending Ki.
    • Way of the Open Hand: Way of the open hand emphasizes the Monk’s martial artistry, allowing you to hamper your foes with your unarmed strikes, and eventually learn the deadly Quivering Palm.
    • Way of Shadow: A stealthy take on the Monk, way of shadow allows the monk to take advantage of shadows, hiding more effectively and even using shadows to teleport and ambush their foes.
  • Paladin: Holy warriors granted divine power by taking a sacred oath, paladins share some of the fighter’s martial capabilities and some of the cleric’s divine power. Paladins don’t function well at range, but any race with a Strength or Dexterity increase works well for the paladin. Charisma increases are also helpful, but not strictly necessary. Dragonborn and half-elves make fantastic paladins.
    • Oath of the Ancients: By swearing an oath to the ancient powers to bring joy and kindness to the world, you gain abilities that hinder your foes and guard your allies, and you gain access to some spells from the druid and ranger spell lists.
    • Oath of Devotion: The most lawful-good of paladin oath, oath of devotion paladins swear to honest, brave, and honorable, upholding justice and righteousness wherever they go. You gain spells and abilities which allow you to combat the evils of multiverse both great and small.
    • Oath of Vengeange: You swear an oath to seek out and destroy evil, you gain abilities that allow you forcibly engage and quickly defeat your enemies.
  • Ranger: Rangers are martial warriors with a splash of divine magic drawn from the natural world. They combine the martial capabilities of the ranger, the stealthiness of the rogue, and the magic of the druid into a potent and unique package. Rangers can be built on strength, but it’s extremely rare to do so. Dexterity is the ranger’s most important ability score, and their spells are based on Wisdom, so wood elves make natural rangers. Halflings also make good rangers.
    • Beastmaster: You form a bond with a beast, teaching them to aid you in combat. This option is fun but has some design issues and is frustrating to play. If you’re excited about this option, talk to your DM about using the Revised Ranger for beastmaster rangers.
    • Hunter: Hunters learn to hunt and slay their foes, allowing you to choose from sets of options every few levels to cater your abilities to the types of foes that you hunt.
  • Rogue: Scoundrels, tricksters, and sometimes assassins, rogues survive on trickery, surprise, and occasionally fighting dirty. Rogues get more skill proficiencies at first level than any other class, and their Expertise feature allows them to add double their proficiency bonus to some of their skills. Rogues need Dexterity, so elves and halflings make great rogues.
    • Arcane Trickster: Arcane Tricksters learn to cast enchantment and illusion spells, allowing the rogue to complement their non-magical skills with powerful spellcasting, including access to great options like invisibility.
    • Assassin: Do you really like Sneak Attack? Do you want to surprise people and stab them for huge piles of damage? Go for assassin.
    • Thief: Often overlooked, the Thief if a powerful and versatile archetype that adds fun new options to the Rogue. Fast Fingers allows you to use items as a bonus action, allowing you to use items more effectively than any other character.
  • Sorcerer: Sorcerers cast arcane spells using power drawn from their magical ancestry. Sorcerers depend on Charisma for their spells, so drow, lightfoot halflings, dragonborn, half-elves, and tieflings all make great sorcerers.
    • Draconic Bloodline: Draw your power from your draconic ancestors, gaining dragon-themed abilities like hard scales, wings, and the ability to terrify foes with your presence.
    • Wild Magic: Wild magic sorcerers are unpredictable. They gain the ability to grant themselves Advantage and to apply bonuses and penalties to other creatures’ rolls, but when they cast leveled spells they may be forced to roll on a table of unpredictable magics which range from benign (you can see invisible creatures for one minute) to lethal (cast fireball center on yourself). If you enjoy surprises, a wild magic sorcerer can be a lot of fun.
  • Warlock: Warlocks are given fantastic magical power by making a bargain with an extraplanar being of incredible power. Warlocks use a unique spellcasting mechanic known as Pact Magic which allows them to perform small amounts of powerful magic, but to recover their spell slots on a short rest. Like sorcerers, warlocks depend on Charisma, so drow, lightfoot halflings, dragonborn, half-elves, and tieflings all make great warlocks.
    • The Archfey: You make a pact with a powerful archfey, granting you access to several enchantment and illusion spells, as well as new abilities to confound other creatures.
    • The Fiend: Your pact with a powerful fiend gives you access to a collection of offensive spells which primarily deal fire damage and a set of abilities to help you destroy your enemies.
    • The Great Old One: An elder being from beyond the stars offers you spells and abilities to invade, harm, and even dominate the minds of other creatures.
  • Wizard: Magical scholars, wizards master arcane magic through years of intense study and research. Masters choose to master a specific school of magic, gaining fantastic powers related to their school of magic without neglecting other schools. Wizards depend on Intelligence for their spells, so high elves, gnomes, and tieflings all make great wizards.
    • School of Abjuration: Masters of magical protection, abjurers gain the ability to protect themselves from damage with a magic ward, and improve their effectiveness with spells like counterspell and dispel magic.
    • School of Conjuration: Conjurers gain the ability to summon nonmagical objects, teleport themselves and their allies without casting a spell, and to enhance their summoned creatures.
    • School of Divination: Not only are diviners able to see into the future and see beyond natural senses better than other spellcasters, but their Portent ability allows them to determine the result of certain rolls.
    • School of Enchantment: The school of enchantment teaches its adherents to better hypnotize, charm, and even dominate other creatures.
    • School of Evocation: Do you like blowing stuff up? Do want to drop fireballs into the middle of a room but not kill all of your friends? No one does it better than the evoker.
    • School of Illusion: Illusionists gain the ability to alter illusion spells which would normally be static once cast, to create perfect illusory duplicates of themselves, and eventually to make their illusion spells partially real.
    • School of Necromancy: By studying the magic of life and death, you gain the ability to heal yourself by killing other creatures, to create undead thralls more powerful than other spellcasters, and to resist the attacks of undead creatures.
    • School of Transmutation: Masters of changing one thing into another, transmuters gain the ability to change materials into other materials temporarily, to create a powerful item called a Transmuter’s Stone, and to use the Polymorph spell in a limited capacity without expending a spell slot.

Further Reading

While you probably don’t need to optimize your first character, you may still enjoy our class handbooks and race handbooks if you’re struggling to pick what you want to play.

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