Fantasy Character Classes
The oldest type of Game System
was mostly used in Speculative Fiction Medieval European Fantasy
settings that were heavily based on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien
, Jack Vance
, and the 1930s Conan the Barbarian
pulps. Dungeons & Dragons
, easily the most successful early RPG, is the Trope Codifier
. A class is one of the most important choices a player can make, although many game systems allow players to dual-class in some way, or may have a more flexible class system. A class determines the character's available pool of abilities, statistical skills, and possibly even their origin, education, and home area. Sometimes, a player will be able to start as a more general class ("My character is a wizard.") and specialize into a more specific class ("My character is a fire
wizard."). The opposite may also happen if a character is multiclass.
This page aims to highlight the most common character combat classes in a medieval fantasy setting - both electronic and pen and paper.
Many of these may be Prestige Classes
See also Common Character Classes
, An Adventurer Is You
, Class and Level System
, Square Race, Round Class
, Standard Royal Court
, and Modern Day/Sci-Fi RPG Class Equivalents
- The Fighter Classes: Other Names: Warrior, Soldier. In any game with classes, one of them will always map to the Fighter. The Fighter is the tank of a group and the most basic and broad class, usually recommended for beginners. The fighter is basically, the strong guy with heavy armor, a large melee weapon, and possibly a shield or second melee weapon. Compared to the other classes, Fighters tend to be powerful but slow. Variations include:
- The Barbarian: Other Names: Berserker. The Barbarian is a breed of Fighter focused more on damage than defense. Note that in systems where Barbarians have normal or greater than normal physical defense compared to other warriors, such as D&D, they will usually have no defense whatsoever against magic. Often characterized by wearing less armor, being less civilized, and being able to fly into a berserker rage that increases damage output or allow them to do more damage based on how hurt they are.
- The Knight: Other Names: Cavalier. The Knight is often depicted as a more experienced Fighter. He typically wears better armor, and may be more defensive, as well as being able to employ mounted combat on a steed. In a Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My! setting, he may be a horse himself.
- The Swashbuckler: A fighter who tends toward light or no armor and prefers agility, cunning, daring and technical skill to sheer force. Tends to be rogue-like in his or her trappings (though usually more flamboyant than subtle) and is often used to evoke the Rogue archetype in games where skills and stealth play a small or no role. A likely default class for The Hero, especially in JRPGs and adventure novels after Alexandre Dumas.
- The Paladin: Other Names: Crusader, Templar, Inquisitornote . The Paladin is a Fighter with a side of Healer, using White Magic to be more defensive; their devotion to their God or Deity gives them various prayers, healing abilities and spells that protect themselves and others. Naturally, they tend to fall under Magic Knight. They are also quite good at laying the smite down on undead, demons and other evil supernatural creatures. However, they may have behavioral limits: some rulesets impose varying penalties on taking actions that stray too far from Lawful Good, which can lead to weakening of abilities, loss of abilities or sometimes even being kicked out of the "Paladin" class entirely.
- The Dark Knight: Other Names: Blackguard, Antipaladin, Death Knight. The Death Knight class is the opposite number of the Paladin, possessing offensive and often necromantic or dark-magic oriented abilities that deal large amounts of damage to enemies, although often with a price. They generally do not suffer the behavioral limitations of Paladins. Does not, usually, have the ability to breathe in space.
- The Dragon Knight: Other Names: Dragoon (though that term originally meant a mounted infantryman). A Fighter who either is in the employ of, powered by, owns, or who specializes in hunting, dragons. A Dragon Knight usually has a variety of extra abilities that mimic or relate to dragons in some way — flight or high jumping ability, fire breath, and dealing extra damage to dragons are all common. In many lucky circumstances, they may own a dragon as a pet (either a big one large enough to ride on, or a smaller one). They seems to be associated with spears for some reason.
- The Samurai: Other Names: Yojimbo, Kensai, Weapon Master, Blademaster, Axemaster, Macemaster, Flailmaster Spearmas- you get the idea. Samurai wear less armor than regular Fighters, which leads them with less defensive abilities. In general, they commonly have access to Ki Attacks, higher damage, and higher speed and mobility. Generally restricted to Asian settings. Because Yojimbo are mercenaries, they may be literally able to spend money to deal more damage.
- Warlord: Other Names: General, Tactician, Marshal, Commander. The Warlord is a tactical master. He can hold his own in frontline combat as well as giving out buffs to his underlings and allies, usually by commanding them to superior positions than the ones they would have thought of on their own, and he may have protective auras made of his own charisma to increase a team's effectiveness in battle.
- Hero: This is the class generally used by RPG protagonists. Although they are definitely a physical class, and sometimes referred to by one of the names of the classes above, they aren't a Mighty Glacier or Stone Wall; in fact, they're much closer to being the Jack of All Stats. They may gain some magic, and will almost certainly have unique skills. Almost always uses a sword, and possibly a shield.
- The Magician Classes: Other Names: Mage, Wizard, Sorcerer, Witch, Warlock, Magi, Magus, Sage, Magician. By whatever name you know this class by, you know this class. In any game with classes, there will always be one that maps to the Magician. These have the widest variety of any set of role-playing classes simply because there are so many varieties of Functional Magic. In a Fantasy Kitchen Sink setting, there can potentially be an infinite number of magic users, so long as there is justification for considering them each their own type. A Magician is usually a Glass Cannon, blasting away at long range, but easily taken down at close range. Variations include:
- The Inherent Gift Magician: Other Names: Sorcerer. This magic-user was born with abilities they don't need to study, and can use more readily than other magicians. This is sometimes explained as being descended from a magical creature, other times as being part of a Witch Species. However, they are often much less versatile than other magic-users, being limited to a smaller or much more tightly-themed pool of spells. Commonly, their powers manifest at adolescence.
- The Theurgist Magician: Other Names: Warlock. The Magician makes a pact with a higher spirit (although not usually a god since those tend to be distinct in fantasy settings), who supplies him with magical powers. This is usually flavored with a Deal with the Devil. While healing class pacts are seen as good, a magician that makes a pact with an entity that gives them the power to harm or destroy is usually flavored in a darker light - and it may turn out to be with demons or Eldritch Abominations. Thus, this type of magic is usually heavily offensive and nasty.
- The Vancian Magician: Other Names: Wizard, among many others. These casters rely on Rule Magic and study to learn and wield magic, usually taking years, leaving their bodies squishy and out of shape... most of the time. Dusty tomes and candlelit towers are what you should associate with these guys. If there's a distinction between this and the Inherent Gift Magician, it will be that these ones have some kind of limitation — like needing to prepare which spells they'll use ahead of time — in exchange for more versatility if prepared.
- The Red Mage: A magician who does not specialize in one school or tradition and studies the magic of various types. They tend to be rare, and depending on which limitations they have, may be very powerful thanks to their versatility or very weak thanks to their lack of focus. Of all the kinds of magician, they tend to be the most open minded and least prone to think there are Un Equal Rites.
- The Blue Mage: Other Names: Mime, Mimic. A magician who does not usually rely on standard spells, but instead learns various spells and special abilities from monsters encountered in travel. Often they will need to see the spell or special ability in action, or cast their own unique spell to 'absorb' the ability. Traditionally will develop to be as diverse as the Red Mage, except with unique monster-like abilities to supplement them.
- The Necromantic Magician: A magic-user who wields power over the dead, blood, and "death energy". They're usually antagonists, but if Dark Is Not Evil, may be a playable class. Often they employ a Zerg Rush - creating hordes of weak undead and sending them after a problem till it dies. Any other abilities will likely be curses that weaken or sap away strength.
- The Illusionist Magician: A magic-user who casts illusions. Generally considered weak, with no real damage output, and has been phased out of most settings - their abilities are generally given to characters with Psychic powers and Bards.
- The Nature Magician: Wields power over the natural world, often including elements, animals, and plants.
- The Elemental Magician: A specialized Magician who can only use Elemental Powers in some way. They may be able to use all the elements, or may specialize in one or two. Often, they are the key to winning Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors in their setting.
- The Druid Magician: A jack of all trades nature magician. They often have a mix of elemental offense, healing, and the ability to morph into animals or elemental spirits to become melee fighters. To further the overlap with the Cleric classes, is often a worshiper of nature.
- The Shamanic Magician: A nature magician with a Summoner twist. This class generally revolves around bargaining with spirits and building a Place of Power for yourself. (Although since a story about someone who stays in the same place is likely to get boring, this place may become more or less mobile in practice.)
- The Elemental Magician: Usually a subtype of the above, This class(variant) is characterized by an almost exclusive focus on a particular Classical Element. Air, Earth, Fire, or Water, and/or derivatives thereof (Lightning, Plants, Ice, etc...). This can be inborn, a pact/link with an Elemental Embodiment as opposed to a demon, or simply their personal preference.
- The Rogue Classes: Other Names: See below. Rogues are usually dexterous thieves or treasure-hunters who are experts in stealth, infiltration, lockpicking, traps and the disarming thereof, sneak attacks, and attacking from the rear. In almost any game with classes, there will be at least one that maps to the Rogue. They are often lumped in with Ranger-type characters, but more commonly specialize in melee - particularly with light blades and daggers. They tend to be quick but fragile, limited to light armor, but deal a lot of damage when allowed to do so. See also The Sneaky Guy. Variations include:
- The Thief: The Thief, when it is a separate class, is a version of the Rogue with lower damage, but the ability to steal items from enemies. Sometimes, this can extend even to intangible items, such as experience points, but more commonly includes rare items that cannot be obtained in any other way.
- The Assassin: A more offensive-rogue, who sacrifices technical expertise for better stealth and killing abilities. Often have a variety of weakening and poisoning abilities and are able to cripple a foe to leave him open for allies or to let him die from damage over time.
- The Gambler: The Gambler is a fairly rare variation more often seen in video games than in pen and paper settings. The Gambler is a rogue who has a set of magical powers that rely more on chance than usual. They may have to draw a card, spin a roulette, roll magical dice, or activate a magical slot machine to get a desired effect which may be positive or negative depending on their luck. Very likely to attack with playing cards in lieu of throwing knives.
- The Ninja: Generally, the highest tier of Rogue-type classes. The Ninja is a rogue who may have a long list of useful skills. Stealth and backstabbing are universal, but beyond that, it gets hazy. Invisibility, smoke techniques that increases evasion, long-range elemental powers, and sometimes special bonuses to combat like dual-wielding. They also tend to excel at throwing items like shurikens, daggers, and kunai. Often a Game Breaker. May be combined with the Assassin or distinct.
- The Shadow: Occasionally, Rogue-types will specialize in magic or powers that augment their stealth, and when they do, those powers generally feature darkness, shadows or the occult as themes. May be distinct or combined with the Ninja or Assassin.
- The Pirate: Other Names: Corsair, Privateer, Swashbuckler. Currently a rare variation of the Rogue, but gaining popularity thanks to memetic mutation. The archetype for pirate hasn't really yet set that hard in stone, but in general, a Pirate will use a combination of weaponry instead of specializing - usually being able to switch freely between pistols and swords.
- The Scout: Other Names: The Operative. Another rare variation on the Rogue, the Scout combines high movement rate with superior sensory and information-gathering skills, and often emphasizes stealth as well. Not guaranteed to be as good at combat as other Rogues; may overlap with the Ranger archetype if they are.
- The Cleric Classes: A Cleric is usually The Medic — some variation on dedicated healers. Unlike Magician-classes, the Clerics usually draw their powers from either Faith, a god, or some variation of the two. Their magic generally requires them to stick to a certain doctrine to access it, but usually comes with less of a price or chance of backfiring like some Magician classes might experience. Clerics often focus on healing and party buffs, but sometimes they are offensively useful against "unholy" enemies such as demons and undead. Often draw their powers from Crystal Dragon Jesus and may be suspiciously Catholic for a fantasy setting. Cleric-type classes generally have the least amount of variation, simply because healing is so vital and important that distracting a healer generally isn't seen as a good idea. Variations include:
- The Priest: Other Names: Healer, White Mage. A squishy dedicated healer with little abilities at offense aside from specific types of enemies, most commonly demonic entities and the undead.
- The Battle Priest: A badass, tough warrior, carrying blessed weapons. This version of the Cleric can dish out melee damage and heal. They tend to be closer to Clerics than Paladins, who tend to be closer to Fighters.
- The Witch Doctor: A version of the cleric flavored for a more shamanic, nature-worshiping culture as opposed to the generally Monotheistic religion most Cleric-using settings use. May be slightly more magically offensive and overlap with the Shaman (see above).
- The Templar: Other Names: Inquisitor. Named after the Knights Templar, the Templar is more of an assassin mixed with a Cleric. The chief role in the story is generally to do the church's dirty work, ferreting out heretics and covering up the great conspiracy. In battle, they may be anything, but tend to be a jack of all trades, weaker than a Paladin, Cleric, or Rogue in their specialties, but able to handle all of their roles to one extent or another.
- The Caster: In some settings, the Cleric will be combined with the Magician to create the Caster. The Caster isn't so much The Red Mage as they are the Squishy Wizard; the physically weak magic user. This character is usually female. Story-wise, they will be in the party because no-one else can use magic. This is more common in modern settings, but some medieval works will still use this class for the heroine.
- The Ranger Classes: Other Names: Hunter. Rangers are woodsman skilled at surviving in the wild. They may be lumped in with Fighters or Rogues (above) but more often than not are a separate tree of classes all their own. Archery is generally their favored skill, although most can fall back on swordplay if necessary. Rangers may also be skilled in some form of wilderness or nature magic. They may be very good at fighting a specific type of enemy, and often take on the role of The Hunter against such foes. Rarely, a Ranger may have access to guns as well as bows.
- The Sniper Ranger: This version is totally reliant on archery, but usually does higher damage because of it. May have a variety of status-inflicting arrows to slow or otherwise annoy enemies. Keeps to the back of a battle.
- The Bow and Blade Ranger: A version of the ranger that can handle bladed weapons as well, allowing them to defend themselves against approaching enemies or close in for the kill. The most likely Ranger to overlap with the Fighter archetype.
- The Beastmaster Ranger: This class specializes in either taking temporary or permanent control of wild animals, and then allowing their pet to rush to the front lines while they support with healing and long-range attacks.
- The Dual Wielding Ranger: The Dual Wielding Ranger most famously represented by the famed Drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden, who uses two melee weapons, though it does predate him by quite some time. Very common in Dungeons & Dragons-based material, but less so elsewhere.
- The Trapper Ranger: The Trapper is a character who can lay down various traps in an area that the enemy can walk into, making them vulnerable to ambushes or follow-up attacks.
- The Magical Ranger: A version of the ranger who can uses enchanted or Trick Arrow to take advantage of Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors, or slow down and disable enemies with "net arrows" or "freezing arrows" and the like.
- Rarer Class Archetypes: The following character classes appear often but non consistently, depending on the type of world the author is attempting to create. In general, they are often seen as clashing with science fiction or with a European medieval setting in some way (but so do the Samurai and Ninja, above).
- Magic Knight: Other Names: Spellblade, Hexblade, Eldritch Knight, Rune Knight, Red Mage. The Magic Knight is a hybrid Fighter/Magician. The key distinction between different versions of this class is how connected the Fighter and Mage parts are: there is a difference between using a sword and magic, and using your magic to improve your sword/fighting abilities. Usually, they tend to be worse at fighting than Fighters and magic than Mages, but that's the price of versatility.
- The Bard: The Bard is a class specializing in music. Perhaps understandably, they're butt of a lot of jokes in fantasy settings, however, depending on the game, they may be useful. Bardic songs are generally useful for buffing allies, weakening enemies, status effects, and occasionally damage, and of all the classes, Bards are the most likely to be good at diplomacy with [NPCs]. Sometimes they act as the Jack-of-All-Trades.
- The Dancer: A rare variation of the Bard, who tend to get the same jokes made, but for dancing instead of music. They tend to do the same things as Bards, too, so perhaps they deserve it. A variant is The Whirling Dervish, who looks to the casual observer like an ordinary dancer but is actually a spinning buzz-saw of slice-and-dice death; she'll give new meaning to Aram Khachaturian's Sabre Dance and have way too much fun doing it.
- The Monk: Other Names: Black Belt, Martial Artist, Mystic. The Monk is partway between the Fighter and the Rogue... kind of. They are usually bare-fisted warriors who either eschew weapons entirely or use only martial artsy weapons like nunchucks and staves. They are often Glass Cannons, or if the Knight is a Glass Cannon, they'll be Mighty Glaciers. They often have access to some sort of Ki Attacks and build up attacks. Self-sufficiency is what sets them apart from classes relying on fragile magics, higher powers or expensive items.
- The Engineer: Other Names: Tinker, Artificer, Machinist, Gadgeteer. This is a character class that relies on technology, often of the Steam Punk variety, to achieve ranged controlling effects similar to a wizard. They most likely have guns and bombs as primary weapons, and employ stationary and/or mobile machines on the battlefield. May be seen as "too sci-fi".
- The Alchemist: Other Names: Chemist. An Alchemist combines items, magic or otherwise, to create potions or bombs to use in battle, often mixing them together during battle. Oddly enough, of all of the classes, they're the ones most likely to be good at throwing things, partly because bombs aren't going to deliver themselves to his enemies.
- The Psychic: Other Names: Psion, Mentalist. Psychics generally employ a combination of telepathy and psychokinesis to attack the opponent's mind directly, or to deal damage to his body. Distinctions between psychic powers and magic may be difficult to make. In addition, the list of Psychic Powers potentially available is often seen as too long and generalized. Was generally restricted to science fiction settings before the popularity of X-Men prompted its controversial inclusion in Dungeons & Dragons decades ago, and has appeared only sporadically in other fantasy settings since then.
- The Gunslinger: The Gunslinger is the wielder of firearms in a fantasy setting that has them, when guns aren't common enough to be in the hands of regular people (or, if they are in the hands of regular people, the gunslinger tends to use them with much greater effectiveness and panache). Different from the Engineer in that guns are all he has, as opposed to bombs and such. Generally involves, well, guns, and all of the tropes that come with them. Often useless or weaker at close range. Sometimes given a nerf or weakness in order to keep people playing the Ranger class. (Sometimes actually merged with the Ranger class) A common example is to have guns be weak weapons but have a greater range than bows, or to also ignore or pierce armour. Another common drawback is having the gunslinger's reload time be absurdly long compared to an archer's. Gunslinger and Ranger are the only classes likely to have Wild West motifs, though even then, they don't always have them.