D&D 5e Custom Class Template

Posted by Andrew E. on

Table of Contents:

For When the Official Classes Just Aren’t Cutting It

The Dungeon Master’s Guide offers a few tidbits about making your own subclasses, but what about making entirely new classes for the game? I’ve written a few published 5e classes (namely the Monster Hunter and the Fatebender and Lodestar you may have seen roll through En5ider) and let me tell you it’s not as simple as swapping out a few features from the default settings. Making a class represents some real game design work but it’s intensely rewarding to see players doing character sheet creation and roleplaying using the class you made for them. So, get comfy, get creative, and grab a character sheet as we go through everything you need to know.

Why a Whole Class?

Before we chat about building your new class, you need to figure out if your idea should be a class in the first place. The 5e class list has already filled out most of the design space but left the door open with subclasses. If your idea falls anywhere close to “a version of fighter but also X” you should really consider making it a subclass instead. If you were to set up a roster of all the classes available in your campaign, does your new idea overlap the design of any of the other classes? Ideally, your class shouldn’t be trying to fill a role already filled, instead it should be forging into new territory either thematically or mechanically. Subclasses are ten times easier to make as well, so ask yourself if making an entire class is worth the design work.     

Don’t Class Upgrade

I’ve gone through a lot of new class submissions, and a whole compendium of them can be described as “X class, but a better version”. We don't need additional classes just to use as an opportunity to do bonus damage as a spellcaster, or to get one more hit in as a martial class. Your new class should be able to easily coexist with the existing classes without causing a power imbalance. Additional classes should feel and play differently but shouldn’t be a strictly better default selection than other options. Fun to play, unique, and not stronger or weaker than other classes, that’s the balance you should be shooting for.

Class Creation

Now that we’ve gotten past the pitfalls let’s dive into actually putting a compatible version of your new class together.

To start, you’ll need to think long and hard about the thematic identity and the mechanical identity of your new class.

Thematic Identity

Think of this as the theme and flavor of your class. And if you think of the character race as what you are and your background as what you were, the class is the how of your adventuring life. Your class defines how a character fights, a lot of how they act, and it carries with it all the ribbon abilities and flavorful choices that define it as a concept. 

Ask yourself how a person would start out in your class. Is it something they’re born with? Is it something they need to be trained in? How do these techniques get passed on to the next generation? 

What is the source of these powers? Is it just a skill that can be learned? Is it some sort of magical power that has to be earned or taken? Try to come up with some sort of uniform origin for your class powers rather than just loosely assembling features.

Mechanical Identity

You can come up with the best lore, but it won’t make for a good class if it’s basically just a wizard with all the ability names changed around. Classes have a mechanical identity that shapes their play style and ultimately makes them fun and interesting to play. You want to create something that not only has distinct functions but feels distinct. A wizard by any other name is still casting magic missile. 

This is a hard part, because you’ll need to create features that are each useful individually but come together mechanically to support some sort of playstyle, AND make that playstyle distinct from existing classes. Usually, this works best when you develop outward from one or two core features.

Core Features - During class level 1 and 2, your class should get features that really define it as a class. These should be features that are relevant from the beginning all the way up through 20th level and should ideally be built upon as a foundation for other features. For example, the barbarian has the rage feature, and the monk gets their martial arts feature. For primary spellcasters, their spellcasting feature can also fill this role. Whatever you come up with, give these core features the most scrutiny and thought out of anything else you work on.

Class Fundamentals

Beyond your unique features, you’ll still have to figure out the fundamentals of what makes your class function.

Primary Ability Score

Every 5e character can make at least some use of all 6 ability scores, but the features of each class utilize them differently and typically focus on a single ability. Classes that focus on melee combat will usually focus on either Strength or Dexterity, while spellcasting classes usually use Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma as their primary ability score. You’ll need to figure out what ability score your new class will focus on.

SAD Vs MAD Classes

Classes may focus on a single score, or multiple scores, making them SAD (Single Ability Dependent) or MAD (Multiple Ability Dependent) which will affect your design decisions regarding that attribute modifier later on. 

Good examples of existing SAD classes include rogues, who really only care about Dexterity, and Wizards who rely fully on Intelligence. When you design a SAD class, you can reasonably expect players to fully maximize that one ability modifier and should plan accordingly as if they always have the largest attribute modifier they could potentially get for that ability. Usually when a class is focusing on only martial combat or spellcasting, they should end up as a SAD class.

Good examples of existing MAD classes include paladins, who rely on both Strength and Charisma, and Monks who need both Wisdom and Dexterity. When you design a MAD class, you should not expect players to be capable of maximizing all their needed ability scores and should plan as if they have a slightly lower attribute score than they could potentially have. Usually when a class is utilizing both spellcasting and martial combat, they should end up as a MAD class.

Constitution Based Classes

In general, you shouldn’t use Constitution as your class’s primary ability score because your players are already gaining significant hit points from their Constitution bonuses. If you took the wizard class and based all of their features on Constitution, the constitution wizard would be significantly stronger than the Intelligence wizard.

That’s not to say you can’t do this, but in general it would cause a lot of problems. If you do want to play in this design space, I recommend taking a page from Matt Mercer’s Blood Hunter class and create features that sacrifice hit points or hit dice instead of using a Con bonus directly.

Ability Score Improvements

Every class has ability score improvement features or “ASIs”. When a player gains a class level with an ASI they get to improve their ability scores or select a feat. Every class should get 5 ASIs at levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 19. Some classes get even more ASIs instead of other class features to a maximum of 7. These additional ASIs replace features gained at levels 6, 10 or 14. Generally, only non-casters should be getting access to these additional ASIs, but potentially Third-Casters (more on that in a bit) could get them too.

Spellcasting Progression

If your class is going to cast spells or something like them, you’ll have a much better time balancing them with the existing basic classes if you follow 1 of 5 types of spellcasting progression. Every class can be sorted into 5 different progression types, non-casters, third-casters, half-casters, full-casters, and pact-casters.

Non-casters are classes that don't have spell slots. They can sometimes do magical things or effects that look a lot like class spells, but they don’t use spell slots as a repeating resource or learn spells like other classes do. This category includes Barbarians, Fighters, Monks and Rogues.

Third-Casters gain the spellcasting feature at level 3, and can only reach up to fourth level spell slots. These are usually archetypes of other martial classes using the spell lists of other classes, and if used for a full class they will be using magic as a minor augment to some other set of features. This category includes the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster archetypes.

Half-Casters gain the spellcasting feature at level 2 and can only reach up to fifth level spell slots. Notably this style of spell progression doesn’t include cantrips, but it gets its own unique class spell list usually tailored to a limited number of spell slots. These classes can usually do average damage with their spellcasting, but it usually plays a secondary role to their class features. This category includes Paladins and Rangers.

Full-Casters start with spellcasting and have the maximum amount of spell slots possible. And it’s here that power-balancing will tend to have more to do with the class spell list than it does with the class itself. Any features you give a full-caster should assume that they’ll primarily be casting spells every round of combat, the notable exception being full-casters with almost entirely concentration-based spells like druids. This category includes Bards and Sorcerers, Druids, Clerics, and Wizards.

Pact-Casters have a special type of spellcasting called pact magic (though your class can call it something else entirely). Progression-wise pact-casters have very limited spell slots but they are always cast at the maximum possible level. They regain these slots on short rests and while they only reach 5th level spells normally but gain special features allowing access to higher spells. They also have a resource block that can be spent on other things. This is obviously the warlock-specific progression, and it’s honestly a Frankenstein's monster from a design standpoint. However, it is a viable spell progression if you’re looking to build a class that “nova blasts” its resources and actions.

Features

Now obviously I can’t go through every feature and all the attribute names you might come up with, but I can tell you in broad terms the sort of features your class is going to need. In 5e, all class features can be sorted into core features, rock features, upgrade features, ribbon features, and finally capstones

Core Features are always gained in the 1st or 2nd level of the class (2nd if it’d make a powerful feature for multiclassing) and it defines the class. I discussed these up with your mechanical identity, they’re the things that will be relevant in every combat, all the way through every tier of play. 

Core Feature Examples: Wild Shape (Druid), Rage (Barbarian), Martial Arts (Monk), Font of Magic (Sorcerer) Action Surge (Fighter).

Rock Features have a lot of variety but generally these are features that sit a step below your core features but provide abilities or solid enhancements to a character that are relevant at least in the tier they are gained. These are the rocks that can tip the scales one way or the other on how powerful a class is. They can be combat features, an additional die roll, condition or damage resistances, strong roleplay or exploration abilities, or anything else that provides an option or capability in play. Generally, by the time a class reaches 7th level, it should have at least one offensive rock feature, a defensive rock feature, and a utility rock feature (for full spellcasters this can all just be spellcasting or features that grant additional spells).

Also, just because I've seen some designers make this mistake, don't give classes resistances to bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing damage, (barbarians already have that niche) and it can throw off a lot of math.

Rock Feature Examples: Feral Instinct (Barbarian), Indomitable (Fighter), Stunning Strike (Monk), Aura of Protection (Paladin), Arcane Recovery (Wizard).

Upgrade Features improve a previous core or rock feature to make it more relevant in later tiers of play. This can sometimes be flat modifiers, a source of bonus damage to attack rolls, a bonus to the number of uses of a feature, or an enhanced attribute of a previous feature. Usually, you’ll see these at tier thresholds like levels 5-6, 10-11, and 16-17. It's good to use these as an opportunity to counter threats players are likely to encounter at the next tier, such as turning martial character's attacks magical to overcome resistances to non-magical weapons.

Upgrade Feature Examples: Extra Attack (Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger), Uncanny Dodge (Rogue), Improved Divine Smite (Paladin).

Ribbon Features are the minor features that usually provide some minor ability, roleplay features, or bonuses to rarer situations or ability checks. They may not even come up once in an adventure. Think of these as the colorful decorations for your class that round it out stylistically and thematically.

Ribbon Examples: Timeless Body (A Druid and Monk Ability), Countercharm (Bard), Divine Health (Paladin), Destroy Undead (Cleric).

Capstone Features come in at 20th level as a sort of reward for playing a class to the end. Sadly, very few games ever actually play to 20th level so they’re really more of a carrot on the end of a stick. They usually integrate the core features and should be VERY strong. Just don’t go too game breaking as there will be the odd few games that actually hit level 20 and keep going. 

Hit Dice

Every class gains a die per level of the class gained, which ranges from a d6 to a d12. The difference in health between a d6 class and a d12 class is HUGE and it’ll be a big factor when you start balancing out your class. For the basic classes most spellcasting classes tend to fit at d8, and martial classes at d10, with d6 and d12 as extreme cases for super squishy and super tough respectively.

Proficiencies

You’ll need to figure out what exactly your class is good with and how you gauge these can really skew the class’s power.

Armor, Shield, and Weapon Proficiencies will come as an afterthought for full spellcasters but will have a massive impact on any class that dips into martial combat. Don’t make a checklist of everything and only include proficiencies that you expect the class to use. Shields in particular are usually a flat +2 AC bonus for any character that doesn’t need both hands, and heavy armor should only be considered for complete martial specialists. Also consider if your class will use a missile weapon or if it's going to utilize bonus actions. If your bonus actions are unoccupied players may choose to use it for dual wielding. This is especially important if you have some feature that triggers on attack hits, as dual wielding would present an opportunity for double damage.  

Saving Throws Proficiencies come in two groups, the “Good” saves of Dexterity Constitution and Wisdom, and the “Bad” saves of Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma. The “Good” saves are far more common to roll, and therefore more valuable as proficiencies. Generally, each class should get one good save and one bad save, or rarely two bad saves with a benefit of a few more skill proficiencies or other bonuses. Also, one of the proficient saving throws should be the class’s primary ability score. 

Tools and Skill Proficiencies can be gained through other sources, so it’s important to provide a list of options for your skill and tool proficiencies rather than setting them in stone. If you want to really tie some tools or custom skills to the class, consider making them ribbon features instead of a starting proficiency. Beyond that most classes have some combination of 6 skill or tool proficiencies, and thieves’ tools usually count as 2 for that number (they’re a really useful skill check). 

Archetypes

Every class has at least two Archetypes, which represent variations of your class and allow your players to specialize. Archetypes give your class variety and let players get more creative when designing their characters. You can technically make infinite archetypes, but 3 is a good sweet spot at least to start with. Some classes get more features from their archetype than others, and if you want your class to be particularly archetype focused it should be chosen at level 1 or 2, otherwise it should be chosen at level 3. It’s important to make your archetypes equal in power level while feeling distinct from each other. Strong and contrasting themes are also highly recommended. Also, if your class gains power from a god using divine magic, consider starting it off at 1st level so players aren't picking a god partway through. 

Balancing Your Class

This isn’t an exact science, as there are infinite possibilities when it comes to creating all these features. The best bet is to do a lot of playtesting of the actual game but barring that we can at least start you off in the right direction. And while I can’t take credit for the following formula (credit goes to the redditor u/messy6) I’ve found it makes for a solid guideline when constructing a class:

Tally up the point costs of the following features:

+3 for half-caster.

+6 for full-caster and pact-caster.

+1 for prepared spellcaster.

+1 for ritual spellcaster.

+0.5 for d8 hit dice.

+1 for d10 hit dice.

+1.5 for d12 hit dice.

+0.5 for heavy armor.

+0.5 for shields.

+0.5 for all martial weapons.

+0.5 for thieves’ tools.

+0.5 per skill proficiencies beyond two.

+1 point per Rock Feature, including ASIs, Spellcasting, Upgrade Features and Capstones.

If your end result is between 20 and 25 points (including the points gained from archetype features) then you’re in the right ballpark. When in doubt, take a look at the most similar option from the class list and see how it stacks up in things like AC, custom skills, and average damage output against the basic classes.

Class Templates

These are a simple version, but the credit for these again goes to the redditor u/messy6 and if you’re having trouble the following class table templates can give you an excellent head start on putting your new class together. If you're confident though, feel free to mix match and roll templates to your liking, just try and stick to that 20 - 25 point window when deviating from that default template. You'll also want to do some additional layout work if you plan on using your class for anything but personal use.

Non-Caster Class Template

Level

Proficiency

Bonus

Class

Resource

Features

1st

+2

1

Core Feature, Core Feature, Ribbon Feature

2nd

+2

2

Rock Feature

3rd

+2

3

Archetype Choice (One Rock Feature and One Ribbon Feature)

4th

+2

4

Ability Score Improvement

5th

+3

5

Upgrade Feature

6th

+3

6

Rock Feature

7th

+3

7

Archetype Rock Feature

8th

+3

8

Ability Score Improvement

9th

+4

9

Rock Feature

10th

+4

10

Archetype Rock Feature

11th

+4

11

Upgrade Feature

12th

+4

12

Ability Score Improvement

13th

+5

13

Rock Feature

14th

+5

14

Rock Feature

15th

+5

15

Archetype Rock Feature

16th

+5

16

Ability Score Improvement

17th

+6

17

Upgrade Feature

18th

+6

18

Archetype Rock Feature

19th

+6

19

Ability Score Improvement

20th

+6

20

Capstone 


Third-Caster Class Template                             Spell Slot Levels

Level

Proficiency Bonus

Features

Cantrips Known

Spells Known

1

2

3

4

1st

+2

Archetype Choice (One Rock Feature, One Ribbon Feature), Core Feature

2nd

+2

Core Feature, Ribbon Feature

3rd

+2

Archetype Rock Feature, Spellcasting

2

3

2

4th

+2

Ability Score Improvement

2

4

3

5th

+3

Upgrade Feature

2

4

3

6th

+3

Rock Feature

2

4

3

7th

+3

Rock Feature

2

5

4

2

8th

+3

Ability Score Improvement

2

6

4

2

9th

+4

Archetype Rock Feature

2

6

4

2

10th

+4

Rock Feature

3

7

4

3

11th

+4

Upgrade Feature

3

8

4

3

12th

+4

Ability Score Improvement

3

8

4

3

13th

+5

Rock Feature

3

9

4

3

2

14th

+5

Archetype Rock Feature

3

10

4

3

2

15th

+5

Rock Feature

3

10

4

3

2

16th

+5

Ability Score Improvement

3

11

4

3

3

17th

+6

Archetype Upgrade Feature

3

11

4

3

3

18th

+6

Rock Feature

3

11

4

3

3

19th

+6

Ability Score Improvement

3

12

4

3

3

1

20th

+6

Capstone

3

13

4

3

3

1


Half-Caster Custom Template                            Spell Slot Levels

Level

Proficiency

Bonus

Features

1

2

3

4

5

1st

+2

Core Feature, Ribbon Feature

2nd

+2

Core Feature, Core Feature, Spellcasting

2

3rd

+2

Ribbon Feature, Archetype Choice (One Rock Feature)

3

4th

+2

Ability Score Improvement

3

5th

+3

Upgrade Feature

4

2

6th

+3

Rock Feature

4

2

7th

+3

Archetype Rock Feature

4

3

8th

+3

Ability Score Improvement

4

3

9th

+4

4

3

2

10th

+4

Rock Feature

4

3

2

11th

+4

Upgrade Feature

4

3

3

12th

+4

Ability Score Improvement

4

3

3

13th

+5

4

3

3

1

14th

+5

Rock Feature

4

3

3

1

15th

+5

Archetype Rock Feature

4

3

3

2

16th

+5

Ability Score Improvement

4

3

3

2

17th

+6

4

3

3

3

1

18th

+6

Rock Feature

4

3

3

3

1

19th

+6

Ability Score Improvement

4

3

3

3

2

20th

+6

Archetype Capstone

4

3

3

3

2


Full-Caster Custom Template                        Spell Slot Levels

Level

Proficiency Bonus

Features

Cantrips Known

Spells Known

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

1st

+2

Spellcasting, Archetype Choice (One Rock Feature, One Ribbon Feature)

4

2

2

2nd

+2

Core Feature

4

3

3

3rd

+2

Rock Feature

4

4

4

2

4th

+2

Ability Score Improvement

5

5

4

3

5th

+3

5

6

4

3

2

6th

+3

Archetype Rock Feature

5

7

4

3

3

7th

+3

5

8

4

3

3

1

8th

+3

Ability Score Improvement

5

9

4

3

3

2

9th

+4

5

10

4

3

3

3

1

10th

+4

Rock Feature

6

11

4

3

3

3

2

11th

+4

6

12

4

3

3

3

2

1

12th

+4

Ability Score Improvement

6

12

4

3

3

3

2

1

13th

+5

6

13

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

14th

+5

Archetype Rock Feature

6

13

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

15th

+5

6

14

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

16th

+5

Ability Score Improvement

6

14

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

17th

+6

Rock Feature

6

15

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

1

18th

+6

Archetype Rock Feature

6

15

4

3

3

3

3

1

1

1

1

19th

+6

Ability Score Improvement

6

15

4

3

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

20th

+6

Capstone

6

15

4

3

3

3

3

2

2

1

1


Pact-Caster Custom Template                    

Level

Proficiency Bonus

Features

Cantrips Known

Spells Known

Spell Slots

Slot Level

Class Resource

1st

+2

Pact Magic, Archetype Choice (One Rock Feature, One Ribbon Feature)

2

2

1

1st

2nd

+2

Core Feature

2

3

2

1st

2

3rd

+2

Rock Feature

2

4

2

2nd

2

4th

+2

Ability Score Improvement

3

5

2

2nd

2

5th

+3

3

6

2

3rd

3

6th

+3

Archetype Rock Feature

3

7

2

3rd

3

7th

+3

3

8

2

4th

4

8th

+3

Ability Score Improvement

3

9

2

4th

4

9th

+4

3

10

2

5th

5

10th

+4

Archetype Rock Feature

4

10

2

5th

5

11th

+4

Rock Feature

4

11

3

5th

5

12th

+4

Ability Score Improvement

4

11

3

5th

6

13th

+5

Rock Feature

4

12

3

5th

6

14th

+5

Archetype Rock Feature

4

12

3

5th

6

15th

+5

Rock Feature

4

13

3

5th

7

16th

+5

Ability Score Improvement

4

13

3

5th

7

17th

+6

Rock Feature

4

14

4

5th

7

18th

+6

Archetype Rock Feature

4

14

4

5th

8

19th

+6

Ability Score Improvement

4

15

4

5th

8

20th

+6

Capstone

4

15

4

5th

8

 

 

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