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I'm a newbie GM and I have a new player at the table. He wants to play and I'm letting him (despite his loud, overly energetic behavior, and has a short attention span). Whats a good 3.5 class for beginners that he could play?

I don't think he would be able to handle heavy magic based classes, like wizards and specialist wizards. And I am pretty sure he wouldn't be able to get into the mindset of a rogue-like.

I guess I should also mention what I have at the table. We have a Elven Knight, Elven Duskblade, Half-Orc Barbarian (NPC), Human Cleric, Halfling Rogue, Human Sorcerer, Half-Elf Dragon Shaman.

It may look like I have too many players but 3 of them aren't always around. And the Barbarian is only being played when we don't have four or more players.

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Purged comments. Please conduct discussion elsewhere, comments are not a forum thread. –  mxyzplk Apr 2 '13 at 1:00

10 Answers 10

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Races

  • Human is always a good choice. We are humans, of course, so it's easy to understand the racial mindset, and the extra feat and skill points are always, always handy to have. Human is a solid race for any class and should always be considered.

  • Warforged (Monster Manual III or Eberron Campaign Setting) can be a little fiddly, but if you understand them they can be really feel-good for a new player because they're immune to a lot of tactics that feel really un-fun to face up against. Plus, y'know, who doesn't like being a giant robot?

  • Dwarf is always nice for melee concepts if he's into dwarves, and should be considered for such.

  • The "Lesser Planetouched" variant on the Planetouched races (see Player's Guide to Faerun) are acceptable and relatively simple to understand, if a bit underwhelming.

Classes

There's some controversy on this subject. Some folks will tell you that you want to go with something that doesn't involve fiddly subsystems like spells, maneuvers, or vestiges. I would say that it's never too early to teach a player these invaluable aspects of 3.5. With that in mind, here's my suggestions:

  • Any of the Tome of Battle classes, but especially Warblade and/or Crusader. Very feel-good melee that's difficult to build incorrectly - if you choose powers that sound cool, they are cool! Even with completely unoptimal feat choices Warblades, Swordsages and Crusaders make for dynamic and helpful contributions to any party.

  • Druid takes a bit more planning and if your player has attention-span problems it might not be the choice for him, but it's worth mentioning chiefly because, well, it's Druid. He can get familiar with spellcasting, minion-mancy, melee and stealth all at once, and there's just something about the sales pitch, "Would you like to be a T-Rex that spits fireballs?" that attracts players to the idea.

  • Duskblade blends spellcasting and melee with a very focused spell list and intuitive abilities. He can be a bit fiddly but, like Warforged, isn't hard to teach. You can find him in the Player's Handbook II.

  • Factotum (Dungeonscape). Insert high Intelligence score, pull string, instant build. Factotums do a little bit of everything and then some. Factotum might be a good fit for your player because they're changeable and don't have to stick to the same tactics or ideas in every encounter - combat, social, mental, or magical - and all of this versatility revolves around their Intelligence score, which means that they really can't be punished by low rolls or bad point buy.

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Another point in favour of humans is that you generally only have to think about their racial advantages during level up and character creation - which is easier than having to remember at all times that you're immune to the paralysing touch of ghouls, just in case it comes up. –  GMJoe Sep 3 at 3:56

Races barely matter

The racial bonuses are small and simple in the overwhelming majority of cases. I do not recommend worrying about them much. I would recommend general houserules regarding the half-elves and half-orcs (which are curiously and decidedly weaker than their full-blooded parents), but that’s not really an issue for a new player and not super important besides.

Just avoid Racial Hit Dice and Level Adjustment. Again, this is something I recommend for all players, not just new ones. They’re poorly designed and skew the game in bad ways.

In the few cases where Human is not the absolute best choice, it is always at worst the second- or third-best choice. For anything. And it has no ability score penalties, so it is a rather safe default answer. But really, any race the player likes is probably best. There are few “traps” in the racial choices.

Class is massively important

Classes form basically everything in 3.5; there is not much system left outside of classes. Unfortunately, not every class was made equal.

The organization of this post is going to be removing certain “types” of classes as unlikely to be the best choice, leaving with a smaller subset of 3.5 that consists of classes I really like for this. I’ll explain why I remove each candidate that I do. Skip to the bottom to just see recommendations.

Do note that classes and races do interact with each other. The most important thing is that you should not choose a class that relies primarily on a score you have a racial penalty to; having a bonus to that score isn’t so important, but not having a penalty is fairly important. Choosing a similar class that uses a different score, or choosing a similar race that doesn’t have that penalty, are frequently both options.

Avoid classes that have no special subsystems

Classes like Fighter, Monk, and so on, tend to be A. low in power, which gives a new player less margin for error, and B. their options are few, far between, and critical. While at first glance, it appears that having few options is good for a new player, these classes tend to make each decision that does come up incredibly important – and difficult to answer.

These classes are almost universally unforgiving, too: once a choice is made, it cannot be unmade.

The obvious example of this is the Fighter with his Bonus Feats. There are a lot of feats; even in Core, there's quite a few. Most of these feats are traps: options that are decidedly weaker than others, to the point of being almost useless. Every +2-to-two-skills feat ever written is in this category, for example. The +2-to-a-save feats are largely in this category as well. Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, Whirlwind Attack: all awful. These feats encourage players to make mistakes, because the book does not give any indication that they are weak.

Indeed, it seems likely that Wizards did not recognize this imbalance – but at least one of them claimed that “that was the plan all along!” that Wizards intentionally wanted to reward “system mastery” because it had worked so well in Magic: The Gathering. I find this claim dubious and likely just a (really weak) attempt to save face, but the claim was made.

Finally, subsystems are simply too important to 3.5 to ignore. They’re an aspect of the game that a new player should be comfortable with: it is a bad idea to hand-hold a player into a class without one, and then leave them there. Many players wind up with the idea that classes with subsystems are much more complicated and difficult to play than they are, and it limits them in what they are willing to play.

Avoid classes with too many options

This kind of goes without saying: sorting through the entire sorcerer/wizard spell list is just a lot of work. Finding appropriate wild shape choices, and statting all of them out, is also a lot of work. Playing a competent Artificer apparently requires a degree in accounting.

This is probably obvious to everyone who has considered the problem, though.

Avoid classes with rules that are complicated, counter-intuitive, or fiddly.

Basically, anything that’s difficult to explain or to remember. Ideally, you want something that is pretty close to: here are some powers. Pick a few, and then you can use them.

Incarnum is the worst offender here; even experienced players often get confused on some of the details of that subsystem. Much of the problem has to do with Magic of Incarnum’s incredibly poor layout and organization.

The Artificer comes up again here, since the item-crafting rules are a mess.

Don’t want the player paralyzed with super-critical resource choices

Resource management is an important part of 3.5’s system, but a new player is not going to be able to judge well when a resource is worth using. This can lead either to “nova’ing” and the player being out of resources in later fights, and therefore struggling to contribute, or refusing to use resources even when appropriate. Or someone else from the group telling them every time they are supposed to do so, which isn’t any better.

Tight limits on per-day abilities are bad here. We’ve already removed both Monks and Wizards, but both would also fail here. If the psionic classes were not “too many options,” they might have issues with this section simply because knowing how many Power Points to spend (particularly with Augmentation) is very difficult for a new player.

Being able to continue to function despite being out of resources, though, can go a long way towards saving a class here.

My suggestions

Tome of Battle initiating classes, particularly Crusader

These classes have small lists of available maneuvers, and best of all, almost zero traps: a new player can just pick what sounds cool, and it will be. This is almost unique in 3.5. Rather than comments that have been made about requiring too much system mastery, initiators require very little system mastery. They require that you learn their own subsystem (which is nice and simple), but unlike many other classes, you don’t have to learn much about the rest of the system as a whole. Feat choices are less crucial, because you have maneuvers. Magic items dependency is less dire. The classes just function rather well straight out of the box, so to speak.

Initiators involve some resource management, but it’s inherently forgiving: everything is per-encounter, and you can get your spent abilities back through recovery. This is good, because resource management is important, but initiators keep it simple.

I like Crusader best of all here. Not only does he have all the benefits of Tome of Battle classes in general, he also has the benefit of limiting the player’s round-to-round choices as well: only a few of his maneuvers are Granted at any time. His recovery method is automatic, too, which is great. Just print out a deck of cards (Wizards actually offers their own set, which is pretty good), and the Crusader works by drawing several cards at the beginning of the fight, drawing after each turn, and then reshuffling and redrawing if the deck runs out.

The maneuver cards are very useful regardless of which class is used, for that matter. They give the player tangible and easy-to-remember markers of their available options, they can be flipped over to show they’ve been used, etc.

Of the remaining two classes, I prefer Warblade over Swordsage for new players. This is simply because the Swordsage’s recovery method is much less forgiving than the other two.

Invokers

The Warlock (Complete Arcane) and Dragonfire Adept (Dragon Magic) are solid, simple classes. They get a few invocations, which they can use at-will: doesn’t get any simpler than that. The Dragonfire Adept strikes me as the better of the two: it focuses on Constitution, which is good because it encourages the player to avoid being squishy, and the breath weapon is a bit better than eldritch blast.

Beguiler from Player’s Handbook II

The Beguiler is a really great class: the spells are mostly pre-chosen, but it’s a solid list, and you can use them spontaneously, which is nice and simple. The problem with them, of course, is that they are per-day limited, but the Beguiler has pretty solid skills to use when out of spells, and their number of spells per day tends to be fairly large.

The Dread Necromancer (Heroes of Horror) is also good, but minion-mastery, particularly managing an undead army, is probably too much of a headache – for player and DM. The Warmage (Complete Arcane) tends to be weak, and Warmage’s Edge is a trap, so I don’t recommend that either.

Half-casters (that are actually good)

I don’t recommend Ranger or Paladin; they are quite weak and aren’t really good at very much unless you really dig for the best ACFs and spells for them. Not what a new player wants to do.

But Bard, Duskblade, or Psychic Warrior have merit. These are all classes that do have some problems with the above factors I recommended removing: they have per-day limitations, the Psychic Warrior has Fighter Bonus Feats, and so on. But, they go a long way to remedy these situations by being good at a wide array of things and not being too useless once they are out of spells.

Tome of Magic’s Binder

This class can be difficult to get a handle on because of the poor layout of the book: it’s difficult to see all of your options at once and what they are. But particularly at low levels, the Binder is a pretty simple class, and particularly awesome and fun to roleplay. For a new player, I’d probably try to print out each Vestige separately, and only give them the Vestiges that they currently have access to. At levels less than 7, they simply pick one of those and go to town.

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Elven Cleric, level 1

  1. You cannot go wrong with the build. Whatever you do, you'll end up mechanically solid.
  2. You cannot go wrong with spell choices - they are fail-safe and reversible. For the first session the spells can be chosen arbitrarily and they will still be useful (as healing between combats). This is an area where the player can improve as much and as fast as desired.
  3. You cannot go wrong with combat tactics. If you have the right spell - you cast it, if not - you shoot arrows. You're not in the front line, so you are not going to die because of some random falchion blow from some random orc.
  4. The deity should be the player's choice, which is an important RP choice, but again - the player can pick anything that seems fun, and it will be fun, no traps in here.

Most of this is because a cleric is Tier 1, with a solid chassis and an "unlimited" list of convertible spells. It's complexity is not up-front and will increase with levels attained, so the character grows with the player.

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Human fighter.

Feats are a complicated facet of 3.5 because they're finite and generally irreversible. As a human they get a bonus feat and fighters are more about feats than other classes. This runs with a 'baptism by fire' mentality. They'll get plenty of feats so they can focus on that aspect of the 3.5 system more than the rest - next time they make a character they'll (hopefully) have a solid understanding of at least this.

Skill points are another facet in 3.5 which can be overwhelming and a normal fighter won't have many of those to start. A human gets an extra but ultimately they'll be looking at less than five skill points at each level after first, more likely than not.

This route will cause them to familiarize themselves with feats, how attacks work and how defense works. Through watching the other players they might learn how they other class abilities work. After getting a firm grasp on the game then they'll have a better idea of what class they would really like to play.

Alternatively you could just ask them to RTFM. Reading The Flippin' Manual was plenty for many gamers I know. When I first gamed the druid was more prepared than everyone else simply because he bothered to read it twice.

(Edit)

Beyond any of the requested information, however, my strongest recommendation is to initiate the new gamer in a small one-on-one or mini session with a (or a few different) test characters. This would help them learn at least enough of the mechanics of the game, as well as tentative feats they would like to train in, so they can make an informed decision when they play with the (what level?) group. System mastery won't come through one character but at the very least a fighting chance would be afforded to the person to know what they're getting themselves into. Even vaguely.

This is how I learned the GURPS system and my fun during actual game-play was greatly intensified as a result.

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I came upon this question in a google search for something unrelated and I was disappointed by the existing answers. I feel that I need to express a bit of my own opinion in the event that someone else has this question in the future.

I strongly disagree with the assessment that the other answers made. Many of their suggestions are classes that have a lot more complexity than they realize and if not played properly, will result in that player not being able to enjoy the game or quickly getting bored.

First, let me address the bad choices:

Factotum

While factotum can be an exciting class, it really is not a good character for newer players. Since the class scales off of intelligence and has only light armor proficiency, it tends to be very squishy for a class that often has to get up in melee range. To increase the difficulty, their primary means of getting AC is through spending an inspiration point to gain a dodge bonus against an enemy. New players might use this ability at poor times or dodge against the wrong target, wasting their limited inspiration points. Additionally, they are miserable to play before they get brains over brawn at third level.

Additionally, new players will often burn through their inspiration points far to quickly early on and find themselves unable to do anything. Even outside of combat, keeping tract of which skills they have used cunning knowledge on and choosing the right time to use cunning knowledge will be difficult without proper experience. They will frequently wish they hadn't used it yet during the day when they find they really need that boost.

Once spells are thrown into the mix, new players will have to constantly be shifting through the wizard and sorcerer spell lists to choose the best spell. Most will end up choosing not very impact heavy spells like magic missile and wondering why magic feels so weak to them.

Lastly, seeing as how the best prestige class for factotum is chameleon, it will force players to have to learn both divine and arcane spell-casting and manage both resources independently.

Binder

Binder does tend to be simpler early game once players learn the basics about the vestiges, but its complexity grows significantly as their level increases and you have to manage all your vestiges. Additionally, there are certain core items that must be possessed by the binder and keeping track of all the different vestiges and their passive bonuses can be daunting for new players.

I also believe that most people recommending this class seem to forget that binder requires you to not only roleplay the influence of the vestiges (which new players will have a hard time doing properly as they all grant different personas), but it forces you to adhere to strict rules regarding what you are and aren't allowed to do. Watch a new player bind Savnok and be unable to take off his armor as the rest of the players encounter a water level. Also, while vestiges seem simple, your player has to have enough forethought to bind the right vestige for the situation. He won't have fun binding Nabarius when it turns out that that the rogue den you were visiting was actually supposed to be an encounter and now he has almost no combat abilities.

Finally, in almost any game I have ever played, binders have been met with a lot of negativity and it gets very taxing to explain to people why you suddenly have horns or other weird features that vestige signs show. New players frequently will get themselves killed by saying stupid things.

Druid

Despite what people say, Druid doesn't take off until 5th level when they initially get wildshape. Until then, they are just back line casters that only can use low level medium armor. Once they finally get wildshape though, new players are going to be very confused trying to keep a handle on all the abilities their new forms grant them along with the stat changes that occur. Plus, they get an animal companion that they will have to manage alongside their own character, which further complicates a druid's playstyle.

Now, lets look at some of the good choices:

Invocation Users

I do strongly recommend these characters for the same reasons the above people do. They are simple, yet very effective and fun to play. They also offer some decent build path options without being overly complex.

Scout

People seem to overlook this class when suggesting character for new players. The scout skirmish ability has less rules defined for it than sneak attack. Simply move at least 10 feet in a round and your next attack, either range or melee, will do additional bonus damage. It is very simple to just pick up and run with. They make solid archers and reach weapon fighters.

Additionally, the scout, like the rogue, makes a great skill monkey and players will have fun getting to put a lot of points into the various skills. Players won't be a powerhouse, but they will feel like they are contributing to the fights for a good portion of the game. Since they only need to worry about themselves and their own positioning, rather than an animal companion like the ranger has, they are much more new player friendly than the ranger (though the ranger can still be a decent new player class). Make sure new archer players take precise shot though.

Barbarian

I personally believe this is one of the best classes for new players to play. Everyone can roleplay a barbarian character and for a good portion of the game, they will find themselves getting to be the guy that does all the damage. You can't go wrong with a barbarian. The basic build is simple with a little bit of flexibility for customization and the rage mechanic is easy to get the hang of fairly quickly with less risk of messing you up if you use it poorly.

New players tend to like smashing things in and being the tough guy which the barbarian does better than any other class. They are tanky, so new players will find themselves able to get away with some missteps early on when lucky crits generally mean instant death for players. Additionally, combat is pretty simple. Power attack when you want to really smash the guys face in, charge, cleave, etc. It gives them a chance to learn the combat system rules without making things overly difficult.

Cleric

If they insist on being a spellcaster, the cleric is probably the best one to choose starting off. They have the highest hit dice and wear the toughest armor, so new players don't have to be nearly as cautious as they would be with other classes. Additionally, if they run out of spells or choose poor ones, they will still be able to contribute by healing their allies and fighting in combat, unlike a wizard would be able to.

They are the second most powerful class, so their power level should let even a poorly optimized one manage to hold a candle to other members of the party. Just make sure the new player takes the important feats like shield casting and put points into skills like concentration.

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Hello, Zerocaliber, and welcome to the site. This is an interesting critique and a great first answer. +1. –  Tynam Dec 8 '13 at 18:46
    
+1, I also think the lead answers are not new player friendly - a good example of how too much experience with a system makes you unable to see from the eyes of a noob. –  mxyzplk Dec 10 '13 at 13:30

He wants to play and I'm letting him (despite his loud, overly energetic behavior, and has a short attention span). Whats a good 3.5 class for beginners that he could play?

  1. You're a new GM. 2. He's got a short attention span.

Either give him the NPC Barbarian or let him make a new Barbarian. Barbarians are pretty easy! Go in, hit something. They have a solid amount of HP, and decent AC, so they can take some hits. The one strategic choice you have to figure out as a player is WHEN to rage, but it's not a very complicated power, and you only get to do it once a day (at first) anyway, so you generally operate without it most of the time.

A lot of the classes folks here are recommending are from the supplemental books (great if you have them) but given that you may not have them, and the new player is a NEW player who is a beginner, and his personality as you've described it? Barbarian is a good bet.

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Any LA+0 race is good.

All the LA+0 races, in Core at least, don't have any active abilities, so they're good. And, I feel it's important to feel that you're advancing at the same rate as your friends.

Maybe steer him/her toward Elf, as the other elves may help him get in the mindset.

Classes

First of all, please don't fall into the trap that "Fighter is the beginner class." Every time I've tried to use it to introduce someone to the game they've decried it as simplistic and boring, and you can't very well go and say, "It might seems simple to you, but I can't let you play the real classes 'til you proved yourself."

What I recommend:

  • Warlock
    Spellcaster, and you get to cast magic to your heart's content. Disregard the fluff if it's to his/her tastes.
  • Paladin
    A warrior with great fluff. Also has a bit of healing if he gets in a jam, and some very interesting abilities.
  • Cleric or Druid
    They have so much power, plus decent hitpoints, that he's bound to do something right (heal/fight/cast). Choose between them for the flavour (Nature or Holy).
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For a player new to roleplaying I'd suggest a PHB-only Rogue.

A rogue is easy to envision even if you have never heard of the particular world or setting your group plays in. A Rogue is a rogue, no matter the system or setting, almost every movie has a rogue character of sorts.

There is no fixed playstyle with a rogue. In your setting, there are already stereotypes. Paladins are always incredibly good, maybe clerics are always dead serious, mages might be always brooding... no matter what your setreotypes are, there probably are none for rogues. They don't belong to an order or have a codex, they are free to do as they please. So if he doesn't know if he wants to play a funny guy or a brooding misanthrope, with a rogue he can decide later.

Your new player might not want to be the center of attention or make important decisions in the first few sessions. With a rogue, it almost goes with the character to be laid back, lurk in the back of the group and observe.

A rogue has a high survivability. Yes, an optimized rogue is kinda squishy, a glass cannon of sorts. But that's due to playstyle and optimization. A rogue has many means to avoid danger and don't take the risks. Experienced players take those risks because they have calculated the rewards to be greater, but a new player will probably be happy to just circumvent the risk. Escape, Dodge, Save, Sneak away, hide, whatever. Picking feats that are dead easy to understand (+2 to saves for example) the rogue gets very good in getting out of harms way. When you are learning, it's not important to be perfect, it's important to be able to make mistakes and survive. That's how people learn.

Mechanically there is not much that a rogue player must know. There's no resources to manage, you can do stuff as long and as often as you like. From the point of combat tactics, give him a bow and he's good to play. He cannot do anything wrong from behind with a bow.

New players need optimized characters. Optimized for simplicity, fault tolerance and survivability.

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There is no objectively easiest race-class combination to play, it really is extremely dependent on the temperament of the player. Based on your brief (and not very complimentary) description (loud, energetic, short attention span), I would say he might have the most fun with a Half-Orc Barbarian, an Elf Warlock, or a Human Sorcerer, all aggressive choices with minimal record tracking.

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I am a brand new DnD player. I have played two days so far, so I am not overly experienced; however, I would like to say that based on my knowledge of fantasy games, and comparing my character to the others that I am playing with, I would say my Human Fighter turned out really well. I kind of modeled him off of Aragorn and Borimir from LOTR, so it made it really easy to get in to the character since I had a baseline to model it from. I would definitely recommend getting him to model his character after an established character that everyone knows. it would help with the attention span problem.

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