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So mages at low levels are pretty pathetic but they grow up to be pretty dangerous. Most Fighter classes are pretty balanced from bottom to top.

So my question is what is the hardest class to play as from square one up to a high level campaign?

Edit: Due to interesting answers I will define 'Hardest' as either most complex character to play as, or hardest to keep alive (which was my original meaning.)

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closed as primarily opinion-based by doppelgreener, Miniman, Wibbs, Nigralbus, okeefe Jan 16 '15 at 19:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Which version of D&D? – Präriewolf Aug 23 '10 at 19:24
Edited the tags, 4.0 since it's the latest and what I will most likely be getting back into gaming with. – Jack C Buel Aug 23 '10 at 19:28
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Mages in 4e are actually not pathetic at low level; in general, the designers made a strong effort to keep classes balanced and effective from top to bottom. Most of the time, it worked.

However, I do think that in general some classes are harder to play than others, which I think is relevant to your question. I've bolded the classes that appear in the original Players Handbook, since I'm not sure what source you're using.

Easy: ranger, sorcerer, avenger, barbarian. These are all sort of point and shoot classes; you choose a target, you do your damage.

Simple: warlock, cleric, warlord, druid, invoker, warden, monk, psion, seeker, assassin. We see a few more damage-oriented classes here, but these have more choices to make. For example, the assassin has to decide when to use his shrouds for additional damage. I've also included a few control-oriented classes; the druid can be played as a damage-dealer with some additional control effects, and the invoker is similar in that regard. Finally, the warden is probably the easiest defender to play, because he can use his ability to mark everything around him for free. Again, fewer choices than other defenders.

The warlord and the cleric are leaders, or healers; I think to get the most out of them, it's a bit harder, but you can certainly play them simply. And minimaxing is not always the point of the game.

More complex: rogue, fighter, paladin, wizard, bard, shaman, ardent, battlemind. I consider leaders to be fairly tricky because you need to make good decisions about when to heal. The wizard has so many control effects you need to think harder about when to use them. Finally, the remaining defenders (fighter, warlord, and battlemind) have lots of decisions about who to mark and how to control marked enemies.

If I was going to call any of those really complex, it'd be the shaman, since you need to think about both the character and the location of the spirit companion you summon.

Big disclaimer: this ranking may change with the new builds available in Essentials this fall.

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Agreed for the bard. It is difficult because you need a charismatic and intrinsically funny player to properly perform the character. – Stefano Borini Aug 23 '10 at 20:00
@Stefano: seems you really like that class ;) But, by the way, the Bard could be complex because of his versatilty he usually must decide among ranged implement, melee weapon and ranged weapon spells. – Erik Burigo Nov 25 '10 at 14:09
I'd actually move most leaders into the hard category, but as you point out, they can be played simply. To make a party sing, you need a skilled leader player. And a bard ... – C. Ross Dec 4 '10 at 21:11

(By "hardest", I'm going to assume you mean "most difficult to have survive while actually participating", rather than "most difficult to role-play", which is purely subjective, or "most difficult to use well, tactics-wise", something Bryant has answered in his usual (excellent) fashion.) Hmm. I think this question may be working from a false assumption based on your experiences with earlier versions. While generic "magic users" were very weak and underpowered in early editions of D&D, they are not nearly so underwhelming in 4e. They still do not do the kinds of damage that a melee character would, but they have considerably more defensive and offensive strength than they used to, and can whack away at various enemies using spells for the entire combat (something that was difficult in some earlier D&D versions).

One of the primary considerations for D&D 4.0 was to try to balance it. I have no doubt it's not perfect, but it's a lot closer than other versions (in my opinion).

That isn't a rant or rave so much as it's a commentary about what you're getting into with this question...I don't think any character class in D&D 4e is particularily difficult or easy to level, especially if you assume that you are with a well balanced party.

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Without doubt, the Wizard is a complex class to play, due to the high amount of study you have to put into it, and important strategic decision during encounters.

In my opinion, however, the most complex class is the cleric. Similar to wizards, the cleric has to learn many spells, choose the right ones, deal with domain spells and skillset. He can be a strategic healer or a face-to-face fighter. The player has to perform some proper in-character acting because the cleric will probably have high charisma and diplomacy skills, will have to stick to a divine belief, and conform to his alignment.

I started my roleplaying with a cleric, but I would not recommend this choice to anyone recently introduced to the game and without a strong commitment upfront.

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Ahh...this is a different take on the question than I used "hardest" as "more challenging to intellegently use tactics for", while I went with "more challenging to survive, assuming good tactics." Good answer. +1. – Beska Aug 23 '10 at 19:40
Ok, wrote before you specified the version. I don't know if the cleric is still working the same in 4.0. I leave the answer here for peer evaluation just in case. – Stefano Borini Aug 23 '10 at 19:41
I think your answer still holds true, actually. The cleric interacts with the party a lot, and the wizard still has plenty of thinking to do. – Bryant Aug 23 '10 at 19:44
I meant the question to be of the kid voted most likely to die first sense but I am glad you took it the other way because I hadn't though of it from that stand point. I was looking for a challenging character to play, i suppose the challenge can be in the actual dynamics of the character itself as apposed to the strategic challenges I will face. – Jack C Buel Aug 23 '10 at 19:45
@Jack: I think that you're right: it makes sense to me to go about trying to finding the challenge for character classes in a different location...not so much in terms of survival, but in terms of tactics and fulfilling the party role well. While the characters classes are better balanced, IMHO, in terms of absolute power, they require very different tactical mindsets to use effectively. – Beska Aug 23 '10 at 19:48

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