How to tailor your DMing to individual D&D classes

Posted by Annabelle Collins on

One of the keys to DMing a great Dungeons and Dragons game is tailoring the game to the party navigating it.

This is as true for a Dungeon Master journeying through established sourcebooks as it is for one writing a homebrew campaign!

A fantastic starting point is to weave the strengths and abilities of each character class into your storytelling and encounters.

In this guide I'll give an overview of the 12 core D&D classes, highlighting their unique capabilities and offering tips on showcasing their strengths within your campaign.


Understanding D&D Classes - A quick primer


“Classes” is the name D&D gives to the distinct character archetypes that define the adventurers. Wizard, fighter, bard etc.

Each class has its own unique flavor and set of abilities that shape a characters role within the party.

DnD wizard fighter bard

There are 12 core classes in Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, there are even more when you look at optional extra source books. We’ll keep it as simple as possible and stick to the core 12 though.

Just to note, there are subclasses that will further blend the lines, giving martial classes magical abilities and vice versa. We’ll delve those another time though!


I’ve split the classes up into martial, magic and mixed here.


Martial Classes


Barbarian Fierce warriors with a lot of physical power, fuelled with rage.  Bonuses to melee weapon attacks like Rage and Brutal Critical  Opportunities for epic combat and resilience.  Fighter  Skilled combatants with a range of weapon expertise.  Multiple fighting styles and Action Surge.  Good at adding depth to combat through tactical prowess and battlefield dominance.  Monk  Martial artists harnessing ki and spiritual balance.  Stunning strikes and agile movement.  Good at adding depth to combat through martial arts techniques.  Rogue  Stealthy experts in deception and precision.  Sneak Attack and cunning actions.  Opportunities for stealth missions and puzzles that can be solved with finesse


Magic Classes


Bard  Charismatic performers and Spellcasters.  Versatility in magic and support abilities, plus the ability to inspire allies.  Good at elevating creative roleplay and social interactions.  Druid  Nature-focused spellcasters and shape-shifters.  Tapping into elemental powers and transforming into animals  Good at environmental exploration and adapting to various challenges.  Sorcerer  Rare innate spellcasters with magical bloodlines.  Metamagic manipulation and spell versatility.  Opportunities to shape the narrative through their sorcerous origin and unique magic.  Wizard  Scholars of arcane knowledge and spellbooks.  Spell schools and ritual casting.  Good at enabling spellcasting creativity and intellectual challenges.  Warlock  Spellcasters bound by a pact to their otherworldly patrons.  Eldritch Invocations and Pact Magic.  Opportunities to shape the narrative by weaving their pact with a powerful being into major plot points.


Mixed Classes


Cleric  Divine spellcasters devoted to a God.  Channel Divinity and healing magic.  Opportunities to shape the narrative through connections to deities.  Paladin  Holy warriors sworn to an unwavering oath.  Divine smiting and protective auras.  Opportunities to tank in battle and shape the narrative through a righteous quest.  Ranger  Skilled hunters and trackers.  Beast companions and favored enemy.  Good at navigating wilderness exploration and tracking challenges.


Understanding the broad strokes of what different class abilities are and where their strengths lie is a great way to begin thinking of ways to help them feel epic!



Making encounters tailored to class strengths


In order to make or tailor encounters to your party, it’s important to think about what each character's class excels at.


As a general rule…

Barbarians, Fighters and Monks tend to shine particularly well in combat, as you might expect.

The martial classes do tend to get overwhelmed by mobs though, but that’s where spell casters can come to the fore with their area of effect spells like fireball.

One fireball coming right up!

I tend to find that the caster classes excel at creative problem solving, especially for puzzles. Spells can be adapted for a much wider range of uses than “hitting it with my sword” can be!

Rangers and Druids thrive in natural environments during exploration. Rogues are particularly strong in stealth missions whilst Bards have a knack for social interactions and roleplay.



Weaving Class Features into Encounters


Spend a little bit of time looking over your players character sheets, making note of what their class features and abilities are.

The two questions you want to ask yourself are “What makes their class really cool or powerful?” followed by “How can I give them an opportunity to use it?”.

Barbarian’s rage make them incredible at tanking weapon attacks, so having combat with a strong focus on melee can give them a chance to show off.

If your sorcerer has subtle spell, perhaps you can showcase it’s usefulness by having an enemy or environment cast silence on the party.

Channel Divinity, Turn Undead


A cleric’s Channel Divinity can be absolutely clutch when used to repel a vicious horde of undead.

If there are no undead in the campaign as-written, consider changing the creature type for an encounter.


Devils sight, glowing runes

Eldritch Invocations like Devils Sight or Eyes of the Rune Keeper can be crucial for a party spotting or understanding certain clues.

You get the idea ^ ^


Give them encounters that play to their strengths and offer the chance to be really epic! They're the main characters, after all.


By the way, giving players encounters that play to their characters strengths is not the same as giving them easy encounters!

An encounter can still be challenging whilst offering players the chance to shine. That’s precisely the balance we’re aiming for!


Connect character’s classes to the story line


As a DM, you’ll want to connect the characters backstories to the main storyline as much as possible. Tying a feature of their class in is a great way to go about it!


Warlock Patron

The Warlock class is especially well suited for this.

The question of who the Warlock’s patron is, their moral alignment and personal goals are really fun things to play around with.

Try get their patron to be involved in the main storyline in some way.

Perhaps their patron is the BBEG, or conversely, an enemy of the BBEG.


Here’s a few other examples.


If you are running a game where a God is featured in the storyline (for example, The Morning Lord in Curse of Strahd), make it the Cleric’s God.


Paladin’s make an oath at level 3. Tying this oath into the main storyline or themes of the campaign is a great way to get buy-in.

DnD Paladin contemplating their Oath

Rangers get a feature called “Favored Enemy”, if the campaign you’re running tends to have monsters of a certain type (say dragons, fey or undead), tie it in to that.


The more you can capitalise on the storytelling your party’s classes offers, the better!



Using classes to inspire Character Arcs


Classes are a great source of inspiration for character development and arcs.

Character transformation already happens based on class progress so why not make it part of the storyline?


Ask your players to look ahead at what the next level-ups will look like for them!


Perhaps the druid dreams of being able to wildshape into a creature that can fly and is looking for a tutor.

DnD Druid Wildshaping into a flying creature, in this case an eagle
DnD rogue uncanny dodge

Maybe the bard is constantly searching for new healing spells, hoping one day to find a way to raise a loved one from the dead.

(i.e. get access to the 7th level spell Resurrection)


Looking at future abilities they’ll one day achieve and turning them into goals for story arcs is a really good way to make your players feel connected to the game and the progress they make.


Just as story arcs can be inspired by a characters class, so too can the class be influenced by a characters story.


As time goes on characters get influenced by the story and their party around them and begin to make different choices.

Perhaps the Warlock doesn’t want to deepen their connection with their patron. Maybe the Fighter has begun to worship a diety.

These sorts of changes can be expressed through multiclassing.


DnD Warlock breaking pact


Multiclassing is what we call it when a character has levels in multiple classes. For example, said Fighter might take a level or two in Cleric as a response to their new found faith.

Multiclassing is a great way to showcase character development, with new abilities rising from their personal growth.



The Final Takeway


And that concludes our whistle-stop tour of D&D class options and how we can incorporate those into the story.

In summary,

By identifying the class features and abilities our party has, we can plan ways of bringing them to the fore. We can use these to tailor encounters to the characters abilities.

We’ve also seen that incorporating class level-up features into the narrative gives our players even more emotional investment in the game.

It's a simple enough trick but it still makes your game feel more personal and epic! Your players will thank you for it.

Plus, as a Dungeon Master, isn't it such a pleasure to see our players shine?


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