A Guide to Martial Classes in 5e, Swordwoman Holding Her Sword Down

A Complete Beginner’s Guide to the Martial Classes in D&D 5e

If you’re new to Dungeons & Dragons, you may have heard the term "martial classes" tossed around. To put it in the simplest of terms; a martial character primarily uses weapons in combat. But, of course there’s a bit more nuance to it in 5th Edition.
 
What is the difference between a martial and spellcasting class? What are the martial classes in 5e? and, can a martial character use spells?
 
This article covers everything you need to know about the martial classes in D&D 5e.

Let’s start off by defining what a martial class is.

What is a Martial Class in D&D?

Martial Classes 5e, Ancient Spartan Warrior

The martial classes in D&D 5e are those classes which primarily focus on the use of weapons during combat and wield little to no magic. Martial characters generally are not full casters as casters with martial capabilities fall under their own unofficial designation. It’s important to note; there is not official distinction for martial classes in 5e, it’s a legacy term players use for describing those characters who focus on martial combat.

While not necessarily integral to playing D&D, it’s important for players and Game Masters to understand; "martial" isn’t an official categorization of a given character in 5e. This is a term the community uses to describe characters and classes which focus on the use of weapons, magical or mundane, during combat instead of relying on spellcasting.

That said, previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons did classify classes as Martial or otherwise. So, that carried over into 5e and is also a generally accepted way of differentiating between characters who use weapons and spellcasters when entering discussions concerning either group.

Now, despite it not being an official designation; the easiest way to group the martial classes in 5e together is simply by the fact they use weapons as their primary method of dealing damage to other creatures.

Generally speaking, martial characters have little to now spellcasting capabilities. However, 2 of these classes also count as half casters and 2 more have subclasses which make them one-third casters. But, since their magical capabilities usually support their martial prowess, they still fall into the martial category.

Spellcasting vs Martial Classes

Silhouette of a Man Practicing Martial Arts

The main differences between spellcasting and martial classes is how they usually attack during combats. Spellcasters rely on the casting or spells while martial characters rely on weapon attacks.

Spellcasters can have martial capabilities as much as martial characters may have the ability to cast spells. The difference lies in which a character prioritizes.

Typically, even the more magically-inclined martial characters only have spells which support their use of weapons. This may be in aiding or hindering movement to make it easier to strike an enemy, augmenting their attack rolls, or adding extra damage to a hit. That said, these characters may get access to useful utility spells for social encounters and exploration. But, the martial distinction comes from their focus during combat.

Likewise, certain spellcasters may have subclasses which place more of a focus on weapon combat. Some of the base classes even come with martial capabilities without requiring a specific subclass pick. These cases get a little muddy in the distinction between their classifications, but again, the categorization as a spellcaster means they usually rely on magic during combat.

For example, the Sorcerer class pretty much only has spellcasting as their most reliable method of dealing damage during combat. They do have a few weapon proficiencies, but the class doesn’t get any features which make them better in weapon-based combat.

On the other hand, the Cleric has a lot of options for martial combat and some of their subclasses specifically focus on it. They still have access to the full breadth of their spellcasting, but can be effective in martial combat thanks to certain class features.

Overall, the distinction between spellcasting and martial classes in 5e is whether a character’s class relies on magic or weapon combat to be effective in battle.

List of Martial Classes in 5e

Orc Warrior Pushing Daggers into the Ground

The generally accepted martial classes in 5e are Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, and Rogue. Each of these classes generally rely on weapon attacks to deal damage during combat with minimal magic as Paladins and Rangers are also one-third casters.

Now, many classes in 5e may have martial capabilities despite that not being their focus. That said, roughly half of the playable classes count as "martial" when it comes to their unofficial categorization.

Here are the 6 generally accepted martial classes in D&D 5e:

  • Barbarian
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rogue

Now, certain subclasses of certain base classes could also qualify as martial characters. What’s more, some classes may even be considered as martial classes despite their status as full spellcasters.

That said, these 6 are generally considered the main martial options for players to choose from.

Barbarian

Playing a Barbarian gives you access to one of the more durable martial classes in 5e. They are almost exclusively a martial class with no access to magic but may have supernatural abilities through your choice of subclass’ features.

Barbarians are one of the hardiest martial classes in 5e. They have the biggest hit die, and are the only class which gets it, and their Rage feature effectively doubles their hit points against certain damage types. This feature also gives them a bonus to the melee weapon attacks which aligns perfectly for playing a martial character.

Now, this class gets access to pretty much not magic, making them one of the most martial or the martial classes. Barbarians can get supernatural abilities or even access to spells through some of their features. But, they don’t really use magic in a combat setting.

Basically, Barbarians are heavy hitters in melee combat, making them one of the most iconic martial classes in 5e.

Fighter

Fighters in 5e are possibly the most easily identifiable and classic examples of martial characters. They have the ability to use almost any weapon in the game short of firearms and have features which improve their combat with said weapons.

Essentially, the Fighter is the baseline for all martial characters in 5e. For the most part, their class and subclass features emphasize their martial prowess through engaging in combat with a variety of weapons.

Now, Fighters do have the option of choosing a magic-based subclass through the Eldritch Knight. But, often the best way of playing this subclass is to choose magic to augment their martial capabilities, not actually engage in combat through spellcasting.

Fighters are a classic example of a martial class in 5e due to their versatility in weapon-based combat.

Monk

Monks in 5e count as one of the martial classes as they focus primarily on fighting both with weapons and unarmed strikes. They get a few supernatural abilities depending on the subclass you choose, but their primary focus during battle is on martial combat.

Once you start a combat encounter, the Monk usually dashes forward and engages in melee combat. Of course, that may change slightly depending on the character build, but the basic combat strategy for Monks still relies on their martial prowess, usually through punching and / or kicking.

I mean, Monks get a feature called Martial Arts. If that doesn’t indicate they’re primarily a martial class, I don’t know what does.

This class may get some alternate, supernatural combat tactics through the Way of the Four Elements and its use of ki to cast spells or the Way of the Sun Soul and its radiant energy blasts. But, overall, a Monk plays best in martial combat, engaging their enemies in melee with weapon and unarmed attacks.

So, Monks count as a martial class in 5e thanks to their focus on melee combat and their features which support this style of fighting.

Paladin

Paladins count as one of 5e’s martial classes as, despite their spellcasting capabilities, they usually rely on melee attacks during combat encounters. Their core feature, Smite, in fact relies on melee weapon attacks to work and their spellcasting primarily supports their martial prowess.

The classic Paladin is the holy warrior in heavy, plate mail armor wielding a shield and warhammer. Right away, the typical idea of the Paladin infers a martial character as they stride into battle to whack people with said big hammer.

Even looking into the mechanics of the Paladin’s core feature, Smite, lends into their martial capabilities. This feature deals extra damage when you use it, but only when you hit with a melee weapon attack. So, to even use their core feature, Paladins need to have halfway decent in martial combat.

Now, Paladins do get limited spellcasting capabilities. They’re technically classified as a one-third caster, basically meaning they get one-third the maximum spell slots as full casters. While being a martial class generally means having access to no spells, the spells Paladins do get usually support their weapon attacks. So, their magic plays more of a support roll for their martial prowess.

Despite their spellcasting, Paladins count themselves amongst the martial classes in 5e due to their features prioritizing melee combat.

Ranger

Rangers count as a martial class in 5e even though they get access to some spellcasting. They put a major focus on using weapons in combat while using magic to supplement their attacks.

Like many other martial classes, Rangers get access to Fighting Styles which enforces their place as other weapon-based fighters. Even the more supernaturally-themed subclasses rely on these choices and martial prowess to navigate combat.

The magic Rangers do get often doesn’t do much on its own. Yes, they get damaging spells, but most of their magic supports their mundane melee and ranged fighting capabilities.

Even looking at each of the Ranger’s subclasses, they all rely on weapon combat supplemented by their supernatural features or spells. None of them really put more than a passing emphasis on magic despite the later subclasses started getting more spells thanks to a shift in design philosophy. For example, the Horizon Walker Ranger Archetype from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything gets features allowing them to teleport around the battlefield but only when they take the Attack action. Their magical ability supports their martial prowess.

Overall, Rangers can actually make for pretty decent martial characters depending on how you play them. Don’t expect much in party utility, but they can actually deal a fair amount of damage.

Rogue

Rogues are the stealth-based martial characters which prioritize attacking from the shadows and out of hiding. Their core feature relies on certain weapon attacks despite some of their subclasses getting more magical features.

On a whole, Rogues rely on weapons during combat. Their core feature, Sneak Attack, only works on attacks made with ranged weapons or those with the Finesse property. Since this feature is where a bulk of the Rogue class’ damage comes from, it should be easy to see why they’re considered one of the martial classes in the game.

Of course, the Rogue has some more magically-inclined subclasses. The Arcane Trickster gets access to spellcasting, after all. But, much like the Fighter’s Eldritch Knight, the Arcane Trickster’s magic should take a supporting role to the Rogue’s martial capabilities. Now, that doesn’t mean directly supporting, but helping them sneak around with the use of magic to better set up their Sneak Attacks should be the main focus here or maybe some light exploration utility.

This all means the Rogue counts as a martial class in 5e due to their focus on weapon attacks despite not being an "in-your-face" kind of fighter. They rely on stealth and ambush-like tactics, but still rely on weapons during combat.

Partial Martial Classes & Subclasses

Woman in a Mask Crouching and Wielding a Dagger in Each Hand

Full spellcasters with martial capabilities are not technically martial characters as they typically rely on casting of spells as their main method of attacking in combat. However, certain classes and subclasses could get classified as "partial" martial characters as they do place more emphasis on weapon attacks than others.

The community typically divides D&D characters into 2 groups; spellcasters and martials. However, there’s a 3rd group which combines the two called "gishes" or "gish" for singular reference. Basically, any character which wield both magic and martial prowess is a gish.

So technically, any spellcaster with a focus on martial combat qualifies as a gish. But, it honestly doesn’t matter how you qualify them. These are all community classifications for 5e. They don’t have any sort of mechanical implications beyond having an easy category to refer to when addressing their general characteristics.

As such, when I refer to martial spellcasters, I’m talking about casting classes which have some martial capabilities.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the spellcasting classes and subclasses which may count as sort of partial martial characters.

Artificer

Playing an Artificer in 5e means playing one of the least magically-inclined spellcasting classes in the game. Despite their fewer spell slots, they don’t have a lot of options as a martial character with the exception of the Battle Smith and maybe the Armorer Specialists.

Technically, the Artificer is a half caster. They get access to spells starting at 1st-level, but they only get half of the maximum possible spell slots. This makes them similar to Rangers and Paladins.

The difference is, Artificers don’t make up for their lack of spells with martial prowess. This class tends to rely more on their features which grant them other options for acting during combat. That said, the Armorer and Battle Smith Artificer Specialists are a bit more martially-focused.

First off, the Armorer subclass gives a character the option to choose the Guardian Armor Model. This option gives a character a simple melee weapon in the form of Thunder Gauntlets. Also, this Armor Model puts more of a focus on engaging in melee combat through the use of the character’s magically enhanced armor.

The Battle Smith Artificer Specialist gets features which improve their magic weapon attacks along with gaining proficiency in martial weapons. They’re able to deal extra damage with the magic weapon attacks and even get the Extra Attack feature.

This means players have the option of playing a martial Artificer.

Bard

Bards in 5e has a few options for playing as a martial characters but the base class itself doesn’t usually count as one. The College of Valor and College of Swords are the more martially-focused Bard subclasses.

On its own, the Bard is a spellcasting class. They get a few proficiencies in weapons, but most of their class features don’t improve their martial prowess.

That said, the Bard does have two subclasses which do place more of an emphasis on martial combat; the College of Valor and the College of Swords.

The College of Valor gets bonus armor and weapon proficiencies which improve their capabilities in mundane combat. Also, this subclass eventually grants a character the Extra Attack feature. And, to top it all off, the College of Valor subclass eventually gains the ability to make a weapon attack after casting a Bard spell.

Next, the College of Swords gives a character an option in Fighting Style which improves their capabilities in melee combat. This also get the Blade Flourish feature which gives them extra effects on their weapon attacks. This subclass also grants Extra Attack.

So, players have a couple options for playing a Bard as a more martial character but they’re still primarily spellcasters.

Cleric

Playing a Cleric in 5e means playing a character which toes the line between martial fighter and spellcaster. They get all the spellcasting capabilities of a full caster but often rely on weapon attacks during combat. That said, they are usually not counted among the actual martial classes because of their spellcasting.

Clerics are…tricky when it comes to classifying them as a martial character or spellcaster.

Technically speaking, they’re full spellcasters. They get access to the maximum possible number of spell slots and often rely on their spells to deal damage, hinder enemies, and help allies.

That said, many Clerics, even the more Healer-focused ones, often come with decent martial prowess as well. Even better, a good number of their subclasses put an emphasis on martial combat. The Tempest, War, Grave, Forge, and Order Domains, for example, all rely on entering martial combat to work to the fullest of their ability.

So, are Clerics martial characters or spellcasters?

The answer is, yes.

Clerics have some light-martial prowess built into the class and a good number of its subclasses deliberately focus on it.

Look, this is about the categorization of classes as martial or not. But, as mentioned at the start of this post, that’s an artificial classification used by the community, not an official rule system. So, at the end of the day, if it doesn’t completely apply to Clerics, it doesn’t matter.

Clerics work both as martial characters supported by their magic or as full spellcasters who only enter martial combat when they need to.

Druid

Druids in 5e are generally considered spellcasters. However, the Circle of the Moon could be argued as a martial subclass as their enhanced version of the Wild Shape feature improves a character’s martial prowess thanks to their wider selection of Beast and other forms.

Most Druids are spellcasters with little to no martial focus. Yes, they get weapon proficiencies like every other class, but they rarely get features which improve their abilities in martial combat.

Even considering a Moon Druid as a martial subclass is a bit of a stretch. Technically, a Druid of this Circle doesn’t get abilities which improve their partial prowess in the strictest sense. But, they do gain access to a wider variety of 5e’s Beasts (and eventually Elementals) to turn into and better usability of their Wild Shape feature, meaning they perform better in non-magical combat.

It could be argued the Circle of Spores subclass works as a martial Druid subclass. Their Symbiotic Entity feature augments their melee weapon attacks, but that’s about it.

Warlock

Warlocks had the ability to play as a martial character since the start of D&D 5e with the Pact of the Blade option through the Pact Boon feature. Additionally, with the release of the Hexblade Otherworldly Patron released in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Warlocks now have an almost explicitly tailored martial build available to them.

From the start, Warlocks in 5e had a martial build available to them with the Pact of the Blade. This basically gives the Warlock a special melee weapon which they can pretty much never be disarmed of.

With the release of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Warlocks got a new Otherworldly Patron called the Hexblade. This subclass put a heavy emphasis on martial combat aided by an entity which channels power through a weapon.

This all said, Warlocks are still a pretty fragile class which makes playing a martially-focused character difficult in terms of survivability.

Wizard

Wizards in 5e are pretty much the basis of the spellcasting classes. That said, the Bladesinging Arcane Tradition is a martial-focused subclass available to Wizards.

If you’re playing a Wizard in 5e, you’re probably okay with wanting to rely on your spells during combat. They’re the classic caster class with the widest variety of spells available to them. But, if you want to weave martial combat in with your spellcasting, the Bladesinging subclass gives Wizard characters the ability to hold their own without the use of magic.

Basically, the Bladesinging subclass gives a character the ability to augment their martial prowess with the full power of the Wizard class. It’s the only Wizard subclass which focuses specifically on martial combat. Even better, they tend to hold their own because of their blend of martial and magical proficiencies.

That said, Bladesingers are still Wizards. Which means they have the smallest possible hit die which makes them pretty weak in terms of survivability.

Luckily, the Wizard has a few options in their spell selection for covering their more "squishy" nature. Unfortunately, this means you generally need to take these options to stay alive.

Overall, if you want to play a martial Wizard, you will want to go with the Bladesinging Arcane Tradition.

 

Summary of Martial Classes in 5e

That should cover everything you need to know about martial classes in D&D.

Essentially, the martial classes are those which rely primarily on dealing damage through weapon attacks during combat. That said, a couple of the core martial classes also wield magic to augment their capabilities in battle. Some of 5e’s spellcasting classes also have martial capabilities, giving players the option to build a character around both methods of fighting.

What’s your favorite martial class to play as? Do you count partial martial classes as martial characters? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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