Here’s the deal; in every Dungeons & Dragons campaign, your character fills some role.
Now, what role you fill depends on a variety of factors. Your class, your Ability Scores, your background, your skills, your character concept, and on and on and on.
But, what are D&D 5e party roles? And, how do you know which one your character fills?
Personally, I think there are seven roles in a classic D&D party:
And, we’re going to cover each of these roles. We’ll go over what they are, how to play them, and which character classes fit them best (limited to just the Player’s Handbook).
First things first; The Tank.
The Tank (or Frontline) draws the attention, sometimes called aggro, of enemy combatants and stands as a bulwark to prevent damage to their teammates. They’re the big, strong, sometimes well-armored characters you see wading sword (or axe, or spear, or hammer, or fist) first into battle. The goal of a Tank in D&D is to keep their party members from taking damage.
Now, it’s actually a little difficult to play a true Tank in D&D 5e. Part of the role is keeping enemy attention on them. But, there aren’t many features that let you do that.
But, don’t despair.
There are still ways to draw aggro. The Battle Master Fighter and certain spells attract or impose penalties on enemies if they don’t attack you. Unfortunately, this means making an actual Tank more difficult. And, it limits your choices for a character.
So, how do you play a Tank in D&D?
Well, it is a bit tricky. You need to play a martial character of some sort as you’re supposed to be in the faces of your enemies. As such, you’ll want to play a character that’s either a) hard to hit (ie, have a high Armor Class), or b) difficult to kill (ie, soak up damage like a dry sponge in water).
Some control features are helpful too. Anything that directs enemies away from your allies and to your character is a huge bonus. Things like the Battle Master’s Goading Attack maneuver and the Command spell make your life as a Tank easier.
Now, let’s break down some of the best Tank classes:
- The Barbarian is your quintessential Tank character. They prioritize the Strength and Constitution ability scores (usually). And, their Rage means they take half damage from bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, magical or not. So, they’re perfect for getting in-between enemies and the rest of the party.
- A bit of an odd one, I know. But, hear me out.
Clerics in D&D 5e are really versatile. So much so that certain Domains (the Life, Nature, Tempest, and War) make great Tank characters. These Domains give them class features that improve their survivability in melee such as proficiency in heavy armor and better healing. And, at the end of the day, survivability is the name of the game for Tanks.
- Again, kind of a weird one. But, one thing to keep in mind is the Druid’s Wild Shape class feature. This basically gives them another set of hit points while in their animal form.
What does this mean?
It means Druids (especially Circle of the Moon) can take damage without actually affecting their hit points. At least, up until their animal form drops to zero. Even then, they still have their base HP after that.
- Like Barbarians, Fighters are classic Tanks. They get access to heavy armor, shields, and all weapons. They also get a bunch of cool class features that let help them harder to hit, control the battlefield, and protect their teammates.
- Paladins are a nice blend of Clerics and Fighters. They gain access to spells and the weapons and armors of other martial classes. But, really, the thing that sets Paladins apart is their available spells that let them attempt to direct enemies. And, their built-in healing with their Lay on Hands class feature.
Next up; let’s deal some damage.
Here’s the deal; this is the easiest role to play.
Characters filling the Damage role in their D&D 5e party prioritize dealing as much damage as possible. Your character needs to optimize their damage output and focus on whittling down your enemies before they can return the favor.
In a nutshell, you hit things and you hit them hard.
Now, how you hit things varies. To play a Damage dealer (sometimes called DPS for Damage Per Second or DPR for Damage Per Round), you need to build your character to ensure you deal more damage and faster than your enemies. The whole point is to defeat or kill your enemies before they can do the same to you.
So, when building a Damage character, prioritize your ability scores, subclasses, and spells to focus solely on doing damage.
The good news? Pretty much any class can fill the Damage party role.
D&D 5e’s design actually prioritizes damage in combat over anything else. As such, each character class reflects this. Now, certain classes are better. But, any class is viable as in the Damage role.
Here are a few suggestions for subclasses best suited for the Damage party role in D&D 5e.
- Any Barbarian Path fills the Damage role well. The class itself uses a philosophy of "kill or be killed." So, feel free to pick your favorite.
- Either subclass for Bards is a good choice for dealing damage. Valor Bards focus primarily on melee combat and buffing their combat prowess. And, Lore Bards can use their expanded magical range to use different damaging spells.
- Personally, your best Domains for dealing damage as a Cleric are; Light, Tempest, and War. These Domains either prioritize the martial prowess of your character or grant more damaging spells you otherwise don’t have access to. That being said, any Cleric Domain, with the base spell list, is great at dealing damage.
- Druids might be one of the weaker Damage characters. But, they’re still valid. Circle of the Land Druids are a little weaker, but their expanded spell lists give you a few good options. And, Moon Druids get access to stronger beasts (and eventually elementals) earlier. Giving them access to features and abilities not normally available.
- With proficiency in every simple and martial weapon, Fighters are great for melee and ranged combat. Even better, if you want a little bit a magic for your Fighter, the Eldritch Knight has you covered.
- Monks are another great martial class for dealing damage. Now, I’d recommend staying away from the Way of the Four Elements subclass, but Shadow and Open Hand Monks are great for outputting lots of damage. Plus, their mobility means the whole battlefield is often available to them.
- And Paladin Oath is great for filling the Damage party role. The secret lies in their base class feature; Divine Smite. Basically, when you hit, you can choose to use a spell slot to deal even more damage. And, that’s what the role’s all about.
- Here’s the thing; I can only recommend using the Hunter Archetype for Rangers. The Beast Master has…a lot of issues. But, Hunters are great and customizable with the variety of class feature options available.
- Rogues are probably one of the more obvious choices for the Damage role. Their Sneak Attack feature means they deal even more damage when you meet the right conditions.
- Wild Magic Sorcerers might not be an optimal choice. The appeal to them is the randomness of their Wild Magic Surge features (and that’s more for fun and anything). But, Draconic Bloodline Sorcerers are great because they deal extra damage based on the dragon type they choose.
- It’s a bit harder to deal damage as a Warlock. Being a full caster with only two spell slots makes it difficult to optimize your damage output. But, the number of Eldritch Invocations that improve the Eldritch Blast cantrip. So, you’ll rely on that a lot.
- With the most diverse range of spells available, Wizards make fantastic damage dealers. Your spellbook can cover many aspect of combat to ensure your character comes to battle prepared for anything.
Now, with damage comes a way to make things better. So, let’s move on to The Healer.
Now, this role probably works different than what you’re thinking.
The Healer’s job in a D&D party is to keep everyone alive through replenishing lost hit points. Usually, this happens through the use of magic. But, the Healer feat along with the Healer’s Kit equipment is great for letting martial characters fill the role too.
Now, here’s the catch; D&D 5e isn’t really build around healing.
The amount your characters and the monsters do heavily outweighs any healing. Meaning, you’ll have a hard time trying to keep up with the amount of damage you and your party take. This doesn’t mean healing is useless. In fact, it’s still one of the most important (if not the most important) D&D 5e party roles.
Here’s the thing; once a player character reaches zero hit points, they fall unconscious, become incapacitated, and start making death saves. And, one of the ways to recover from this is to recover hit points. Healing (in one way or another) is how you do this.
So, your role as The Healer is less about recovering hit points during combat and more about reviving your party members if they drop. You’ll also be responsible for resurrecting your poor, dear, sweet, precious teammates should they die. Which, given how D&D 5e combat works, might be quite often.
This is a key difference from your typical healing role in video and role-playing games.
What does this mean for you?
To play a Healer, you need to build your character either around your spells or the Healer feat. Prioritize your spellcasting ability score if you choose a caster. Or, make sure your character can survive getting close enough to your friends to use a Healer’s Kit.
Here’s a quick list of good options for playing a healer, but for a full list, check out my other article on the 10 best healer classes in D&D 5e.
- Bards make pretty good healers, actually. They get a few healing spells, and Lore Bards gain access to other spell lists. This means you can grab up some spells that increase how much you’re able to heal.
- The Cleric is the quintessential Healer. They’re probably the most common class to use for this role. And, for good reason. Many of their class features and spells focus on reviving fallen teammates. Your go-to subclass should be the Life Domain for the extra healing.
- The Druid spell list gives you a few options for healing. And, their cushion of extra hit points while Wild Shaped means they’re able to get around the battlefield with less fear. Making them good, mobile Healers.
Now, let’s move on to the Support role.
This is where things start to get a little…nebulous.
Support characters help their allies in ways that don’t involve healing. They also hinder enemies in ways opposite they help their party members. This often comes in the form of granting advantage and disadvantage or handing out buffs (improvements) and debuffs (the opposite of improvements) to ability rolls.
The Support role focuses on making a fight or exploration easier.
Now, many of these characters are spellcasters. This is because it’s hard to grant buffs or impose debuffs without magic. But, some feats and class features, such as the Battle Master Fighter’s Commander’s Strike, let you help your teammates.
In order to play a Support character, your character needs to use specific classes.
This is only because not every class can fill the Support role. How you help or hinder different characters and creatures depends on your characters skill set. And, unfortunately, this means only select classes and subclasses can really fill the role.
For the most part, you’re going to grant advantage to allies, disadvantage to enemies, give bonus dice for ability rolls, or subtract from enemy rolls. It all depends on your class.
Here are my recommended classes for Support characters in D&D:
- Bards are pretty much the perfect Support characters. With their Bardic Inspiration class feature standing out as the major player here. Giving your allies a buff to any one roll is great. Also, the Lore Bard’s Cutting Words feature means possibly stopping attacks from hitting your allies. Their spell list also has a ton of options for supporting your allies.
- Clerics have a wide range of support spells at their disposal. Many of them either increase your allies’ Armor Class, give them temporary hit points, or grant buffs or debuffs (like with the Bless and Bane spells).
- Now, the only reason I’m separating Sorcerers and Wizards is because of Metamagic. Specifically, the Twinned Spell option. This lets you target two creatures instead of one with your debuff spells. Sorcerers don’t get a lot of options in support-like spells, but this at least lets them spread them out a bit more.
- Again, because of their wide variety of spells, Wizards make great Support characters. And, it’s as easy as looking through the list and finding the spells that best help your allies or hinder your enemies.
Next, let’s move on to a more specialized form of support; The Control.
Here’s the thing; you could technically count this as a subset of The Support character. Personally, I think they’re different. So, that’s why they get their own section.
Control characters specialize in manipulating the battlefield. This usually happens either physically or mentally. Physically, they alter the environment through magical means like using wall of fire to cut off a section of the battlefield or casting fog cloud to create a heavily obscured area. Mentally, they either change the perspective of enemies through magic or by denying movement through martial abilities.
The goal of The Control character is to direct the flow of combat to their and their party’s interests.
To play a Control character you need to decide on whether you’re going to alter the battlefield or dictate enemy movements. The former means you’re going to build a spellcaster. There are spells that let your manipulate the environment (such as making movement more difficult or creating walls to section off groups of enemies). You can accomplish the latter either through magical means or through building a specialized martial character. You’re basically going to focus on denying movement in any way possible like grappling, charm spells, or other class features.
What it boils down to is your character needs either spells or abilities that control how, when, and where allies and enemies can move.
So, what classes make good Control characters? Here’s what I suggest:
- While they don’t have a lot of environment altering options (but they still have a few), Bards do get quite a few spells that let them control other characters. Spells like Tasha’s Hideous Laughter and Hold Person can remove enemies from combat to let your allies handle other threats.
- Much like Bards, Clerics tend to control the battlefield through manipulating combatants. But, they get a few more spell options for changing the battlefield depending on your domain.
- Druids get access to a lot of environment altering spells. Low level spells like Entangle and Fog Cloud are good for starting out. And, your options only expand as you level up.
- Battle Master Fighter
- Alright, so, as the only non-caster the Battle Master is at a little bit of a disadvantage. But, they’re really fun in controlling the battlefield. Specifically, you’ll want the Maneuvering Attack, Trip Attack, Pushing Attack, and/or Menacing Attack.
- Wizards have access to the widest range of spells. So, all you need to do is pick the control spells you want. Charm Person, Fog Cloud, Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, and a bunch of other spells are great choices for your control Wizard.
Let’s take a break from combat and look more at social encounters. Time for The Face.
Alright. This one focuses less on combat and exploration and helps cover interactions with NPCs.
The Face acts as the party’s talker. They’re the go-to character when it comes to interacting with NPCs and other social encounters.
The goal of Face characters is to help the party persuade, intimidate, or deceive NPCs through words.
Playing this role is actually pretty easy. All you need to do is prioritize your Charisma ability score and you’re good to go. Now, it also depends on how active you as a player are in social situations. If you don’t like talking, The Face probably isn’t the role for you.
But, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t try it. Playing against type (even if it’s your own type) is a lot of fun.
Basically, whenever the party needs to talk with someone, The Face should step up first.
Also, your character’s probably really, really good looking.
Pretty much any Charisma-based characters fills this role well. This means any character can do it provided they have a high Charisma score. But, the Charisma spellcasters tend to make for the best options.
Their access to charm spells gives them an edge in social encounters. These classes include:
The ability to sway a conversation with magic means these casters tend to stand above non-casters…
…Well, until someone makes their saving throw. Then they know magic was used on them and it becomes a whole mess. But, they’re still handy to have around when someone needs…convincing.
Anyway. Let’s move on to the last role; The Scout
Hope you’re ready to be in imminent danger at pretty much all times.
The Scout character tends to wander in front of the party. Their sole job is to get information of what lies ahead such as environmental hazards, traps, locked doors, and enemy movements. They excel in moving quickly, quietly, and disarming traps.
Like The Face, pretty much any character can be a Scout.
To start playing a Scout, you’ll need to focus on the Wisdom and Dexterity ability scores. These are important for your Stealth, Perception, and Survival skills. Then, you’ll want to make sure your character gains proficiency with Thieves’ Tools from somewhere (like your class or background). This ensures your character can pick locks and traps.
Now, like I said, any character can fill the Scout role. But, some classes are better than others.
- This is more for outdoor scouting. With the Druid’s Wild Shape, they’re able to blend in with any local animal life. Also, the extra buffer of hit points means even if they get into trouble, they’re better capable of surviving a short scuffle. Even better, with Wisdom as their spellcasting ability score, Druids are naturally good with Perception and Survival.
- Now, I know Fighters typically aren’t the stealth types. But, if you build a Dexterity-based Fighter, they make great Scouts. Their combat prowess makes them great in a fight if it comes to that. The best part is that Fighters are versatile enough that you can make one that fills any gaps other martial classes lack.
- The two things that make Monks great as Scouts; their mobility and being Wisdom and Dexterity based. With their Ki options and Unarmored Movement feature, Monks are good at getting into and out of combat situations. Even better, their Armor Class and Ki saving throws rely on Wisdom and Dexterity. So by extension, they’re good at all the necessary skills for filling the Scout role in your party.
- I know Ranger’s get a bad reputation. But, they’re still one of the top Scout characters to have in your party. They’re spells use Wisdom, most of them use Dexterity for combat, and they get spells and features that help their survivability and tracking capabilities.
- The quintessential Scout. Rogues are infamous for straying from the party. But, this lets them get a lay of the land and find enemies, traps, and secrets the party might’ve missed. They’re also one of the best classes for sneaking around obstacles, disarming traps, and picking locks.
- Magic is the name of the game here. The amount of spells available to a Wizard means they’re actually really good as Scouts. The problem lies in if they get caught. But, outside of that, spells like Invisibility and Fly are great for moving and scouting ahead of the party. Or, using Find Familiar to see ahead without actually going anywhere is a great option.
That about wraps up this basic guide to D&D 5e party roles. Now you know seven roles your character can fill in your game:
- The Tank: Take as much focus and damage away from your allies as possible
- The Damage: Deal as much damage as possible as fast as possible
- The Healer: Heal wounds and revive unconscious/dead allies
- The Support: Buff your allies and debuff your enemies
- The Control: Manipulate the battlefield and your enemy’s movements
- The Face: Talk with NPCs to achieve your party’s goals
- The Scout: Get important information for your party before an encounter
I will say this isn’t a comprehensive list. And, your character might end up as a mix between these. Nothing is binary here. A Tank character also makes a good Damage or Scout. The Healer might be the party’s Support or Control.
Remember to play the character you want to play. Don’t feel like you’re restricted to a singular role.
What’s your favorite role to play? Personally, I’m a Tank or Damage player. Let me know in the comments.