Our DM decided to run a game for just 2 of us. We each get a second character in combat, with the caveat that the second character can't have a subclass (no Ranger Archetype/Convocations or Wizard Arcane Traditions, etc.).

This is probably to make the second character a weaker "shadow" of the primary PC. The race of the secondary character must be the same as the race of the primary character they are shadowing, but the classes can be different. The "shadows" will mainly be used in combat.

My question is: What class would still be good (i.e not extremely under powered) even without subclassing? Preferably by role:

  • the best at melee (tanking)
  • the best at ranged (magic or otherwise)
  • the best at support.

Our primary PCs and the secondary characters will be starting at level 3.

For PCs, I'm considering some kind of polearm build (probably a fighter) or a Battle Smith artificer (possibly with guns, because the DM agreed to let me count them as martial weapon for the purpose of effects). The other player chose sorcerer as main, and paladin as secondary.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a good question in here, I think, but we really need more specificity. Determining what class is "good" by a standard of not being "extremely underpowered" is impossibly vague-- subclasses give extra bonuses, combat options, and potential synergies. All non-subclassed characters will lag behind one that does have a subclass, and all of these 2nd characters will be helpful to the party in combat but never as much so as if they had the extra subclass features. Even if that inhibits a warlock more than a fighter, it's not clear that the warlock wouldn't be worth having. \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you say first, what is a good class if we don't remove subclasses? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Until you solidify what race and class your PCs are going to be, being able to address that criterion - The race of the secondary character must be the same as the race of the primary character they are shadowing, but the classes can be different - is not achievable if you want a "best value" answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 20:04

5 Answers 5


There are numerous good classes: it depends on your chosen class

The following "three best" of each category - which you can choose two of - consider both class features and ease of play in combat with some out-of-combat considerations added. The in combat criterion is the key. It removes Skills and features for the social and exploration features (i.e. favored terrain with Rangers).

  1. For PCs, I'm considering some kind of polearm build (probably a fighter) or a Battle Smith artificer (possibly with guns, because the DM agreed to let me count them as martial weapon for the purpose of effects). The other player chose sorcerer as main, and paladin as secondary. {See my comment under Paladin. KS}

  2. We each get a second character in combat...

The best ranged attack choices at third level:

  1. Warlock: Level 3. Eldritch Blast, Repelling Blast, and Agonizing blast

    Why? Force damage is resisted by very few creatures. 120' range, no "short range" limitations, 1d10 +3 damage (assumes Charisma of 16) and the chance to push enemies away (and occasionally over the edge ..) That latter feature also allows your party to withdraw from close combat with reduced chances for OA by the enemy. Breaking contact at lower levels is often a "best practice" tactically when the dice go cold or you get into a sticky situation.

    • You could alternatively select the Grasp of Hadar invocation (XGtE) that pulls enemmies closer to you. You have two invocations - combat utility is the only consideration. While I recommend repelling blast, I have seen the other one's usefulness. (Thanks to @MikeQ's demonstration during a play test).

    The added damage from Hex (1d6 per hit for a hexed target) is icing on the cake. The Warlock gives you access to two second level spell slots per rest. There's a lot of utility there that can be used in combat, and/or out of combat. Warlock is a hard choice not to make. The d8 hit dice are good in terms of survivability. Tasha's Hideous Laughter? Hold Person? There are a lot of good spells to complement the simple ranged attack of eldritch blast. (At level 5, level 3 spells, two per rest ...)
    Warlock is my recommendation for first choice.

    But if you want higher AC and a larger HP pool for your ranged attacker ...

  2. Ranger: with Archery Fighting Style and spells.

    Why? The +2 to hit (Total +7 with 16 Dex) is a significant boost to combat effectiveness - you can only damage what you can hit. The Ranger has more HP and usually better AC than either Warlock or Rogue. Ranger has Hunter's Mark (a damage booster, 3 times per adventure day at level 3 due to 3 first level spell slots). You can have the Ranger keep a healing spell to get one of your party off the ground during a fight. Primeval Awareness (@3) rarely or never will help here. At level 5, the second attack is sweet.

  3. Rogue: armed with a light crossbow

    Why? The 1d8 + 3 + 2d6 sneak attack damage (if your other characters are engaged) is a damage spike not to be sniffed at. Still has to hit (assume Dex of 16). The ability to hide as a bonus action makes it tougher for foes to hit this ally, and give more chances for the sneak attack damage bonus. Disengage and dash helpful to keep this ally upright/hard to hit. (Cunning Action) The Hide + sneak attack bonus is not guaranteed for every fight, but with that said expertise in Stealth is mandatory for this choice. The Rogue can pick locks for you outside of combat.

The Best Tank:

  1. Paladin in heavy armor with Defensive or Protection fighting style.

    Why? If you want the paladin to be harder to hit, AC of 19 with Defensive fighting style is solid at this level. If you want him to protect your caster, Protection fighting style can prevent hits, but

    • (a) the lower the AC of the caster the less effective this is in terms of what disadvantage and the target number to hit does to a die roll for the enemy and

    • (b) that reaction can't be used for an OA on that turn.

      Spells for Divine Smite, healing spells, Shield of faith to protect another character, able to cure disease/remove poison, immune to disease ... the combination of features here is pretty solid.

      I recommend Paladin for your tank, but, if you want something less fiddly.

  2. Fighter in heavy armor with Defensive or Protection fighting style

    Why? The ability to use action surge and second wind after a rest gives the fighter sustained tanking ability over an adventure day. The ability to dodge, make a second attack, shove, etc at a critical point in the fight with action surge is hard to quantify, but it's tactically very useful. Defensive / Protection style as with Paladin. Can use any weapon, to include thrown or long bows/heavy cross bows when those "we all need ranged attacks" situations crop up. HP pool is solid, and unlike a Paladin it is somewhat rechargeable using second wind as a bonus action during a fight. But if you want a stripped down, low maintenance front liner...

  3. Weapon + shield Barbarian: Rage and Dex saving throw bonuses

    Why? For the three uses of Rage per adventure day, the HP pool effectively doubles during combat. Sword and board fighting is required to ensure that the AC is high enough to prevent a lot of hits. (The HP pool is not infinite). With a Con of 16, HP at level 3 is average of 32. Danger Sense gives advantages on Dex saving throws and against the effects of such traps as you encounter - this increases survivability. If you min / max this ally - 16 dex, 16 Con, and 16 str (standard Human) - the barbarian has AC of 18 and a boosted HP pool thanks to damage resistance from piercing, slashing, and bludgeoning. At level 4 a boost in Con ramps the AC up to 19. At 5 two attacks arrive.

    I note that your fellow PC already chose a Paladin, so this answer fit their needs. (You'll want a ranged or a Support).

The Best Support:

Well, what are you looking for in a support?

  1. Bard: inspiration + vicious mockery + spells
    Why? Bardic Inspiration can help out either offensively or defensively. While Vicious Mockery does little damage, when it hits that enemy has disadvantage on an attack - this is good for whomever is fighting it. Healing spells? Check. Control spells? Check. Tasha's Hideous Laugther takes an enemy out of the fight. Song of Rest helps the whole party recover HP. All of the above considered, the AC is not as good as ...

  2. Cleric. All around support class is a good support
    Why? Bless. To Hit and To save bonuses are all around good tools during combat. Healing? Keep the fighters and casters fighting and casting. Spiritual Weapon? Additional attack requires no concentration. Decent combat ability. Healthy AC (17-18, depending on stats). Cantrips of Guidance and Sacred Flame can help Grapples and defeating undead respectively. Turning undead (recharge on a short rest) can break up enemy concentrations. Hold Person? Check. Lesser Restoration? Check. There are no weaknesses.

    I recommend cleric as your support: they are quite simply built for it, regardless of the domain (that you won't have anyway). But I don't think you'll go wrong with bard.

So what do I choose?

Until you pick a race and a class/sub class, if you want to optimize (or get best value) from one of the recommendations here, that is unclear.

The race of the secondary character must be the same as the race of the primary character they are shadowing, but the classes can be different. The "shadows" will mainly be used in combat.

Ranger / ranged / Archery fighting style fits both of your other needs.

Depending on your chosen class and race, the advantage of choosing the Ranger - since your sorcerer PC friend chose a paladin - is that Ranger can fulfill the ranged role very well (the +2 to hit for Archery fighting style is a significant benefit). Having some spells can fill in some support via healing, or battle field shaping spells like fog cloud / spike growth. For a full up support you are better off with a cleric, but the already chosen Paladin provides some support that Ranger adds to. If you go with the polearm Fighter, I still recommend the Warlock though Ranger be fine. If you go with the Artificer I'd recommend the Ranger (for ranged) due to better (a) survivability and (b) how it complements the tank / support Paladin chosen by your Sorcerer.

If you choose to play a dwarf(for race) as the pole arm fighter, a dwarf cleric (hill dwarf, +1 wisdom gets Wis to 16 (+3)) will suffice but you lose some effectiveness of a ranged choice.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how the first line (the header) relates to the content. It makes sense, but then it seems you give absolute analysis... \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm The problem I am dealing with is that since OP has not decided, I have to cover more than one best fit. Otherwise, I'd only have picked on for each, and likely have recommended a final two. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I honestly like the answer that suggests the UA/sidekicks, but the OP is not the DM and has advised us that the PC/no sub class is the way they are going. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 2:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes I like that one too :) but I also appreciate what you're doing here. However, I still can't see how "Best Fit" depends on your two PCs: the ones with sub classes applied to the lists you give. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 6:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm OK, what title would you suggest to make a better fit for the content? This may be a case where as I developed the answer, I wandered from my topic statement a little bit. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 14:06

I'd like to propose a different approach. Rather than modifying an existing class to remove features (that is, the "subclasses"), take a look at the "Sidekicks" rules presented as "Unearthed Arcana" (playtest rules).

I think this provides exactly what you're looking for — there are specialized warrior, expert, and spellcaster classes for sidekicks which are simple to run and meant to not overpower the main characters, but which still grow and scale with levels.

These do not have subclasses, and, unlike NPCs (for example, the Druid from Monster Manual appendix), these are designed to be player companions:

In these rules, a sidekick is a creature who is your friend and who accompanies you on adventures. It’s essentially a second character you play. (The DM might decide to play it instead, or you could co-play it with other players at the table.)

(Emphasis added.)

Note that there's no reason the sidekick can't describe themselves as "sorcerer" or a "ranger" in the game — the class is something the player knows and isn't necessarily something in the game world.

Subclasses are a primarily design element for the player classes. That is, the class design and balance takes them into account. It is not like 3.0/3.5 where there is a base class and then the idea of "prestige classes" which add additional options. So, I don't think just dropping subclasses is likely to be very fulfilling. You'll lose both flavor and flexibility, and power will decrease in uneven and unpredictable ways. It's not like the base classes are always simple and unique subclass features add all complexity. At best, you're left with "which classes happen to have most of their power and utility outside of subclass features?", which doesn't even seem like the spirit of what your DM wants.

The sidekick classes, on the other hand, are made for this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I brought sidekicks to my DMs attention but he wants to try subclass-less characters first, so unfortunately this Isn't quite what I require at the moment \$\endgroup\$
    – Nullman
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nullman so we fully understand the nature of your needs, what is the key difference (s) that you see between sidekicks and subclasses characters that is the sticking point here? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 13:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ no idea, he(the DM) just wants to try this way first \$\endgroup\$
    – Nullman
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 16:25

Well, keeping in mind that the classes are balanced around you gaining subclass features at target levels, it is relevant to look at how many subclass features each class gets. In light of the above, it is safe to reason that the class losing the least features is likely to be the most powerful if everyone's features are taken away.

The easiest way to quantify this is to look at the number of subclass features on offer in an individual class:

  1. Barbarian: 4
  2. Bard: 3
  3. Cleric: 5
  4. Druid: 4
  5. Fighter: 5
  6. Monk: 4
  7. Paladin: 4
  8. Ranger: 4
  9. Rogue: 4
  10. Sorcerer: 4
  11. Warlock: 4
  12. Wizard: 4

So, without taking into account the impact of this subclass features, it seems that the best choice would actually be Bard because it offers the lowest number of subclass features. This would also be a good choice because i) you still get access to all of their inspiration dice, ii) they can easily be played as a support character and run a lower chance of outshining your PCs, and iii) provide good reason to travel with your party (they're your Herald).

Subjectively, I would also consider Wizard as a good choice, since their versatility does not come from their subclass features and they will become more powerful as you find spell scrolls (meaning, if there are spell scrolls in the module you are playing, these won't be wasted). They are very squishy, however, and many of the subclass features help them survive better.

Also subjectively, I think that the Rogue's subclass features aren't all that great overall, and they might be a good pick if you don't get your subclass features. Most of their features are situational and won't really impact much on your Rogue.

Fighter is also fairly easy to manage and serves as a good meat shield, though I quite like their subclasses.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think number of features is ultimately a useful guide, because some of them are a much bigger deal than others. You note that at the end, but really I think that overwhelms the beginning. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 9:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I agree, but it is one objective factor that applies regardless of the situation. There is just too much variation between the power of subclass features at various levels (i.e. - Divination Wizard's level 2 feature is clearly better than an Illusionist's) to broadly assess the impact of losing subclass features for a class. \$\endgroup\$
    – James
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 14:00

I definitely agree that Warrior, Expert, and Spellcaster are the top 3 choices, since they're explicitly designed for this exact purpose.

If you require a PC class, let's focus on levels 1-10, because most games don't go much higher than that. Which lines on the class feature tables lose value? (Levels count as half if they still have significant base class features remaining.)

Least Impact:

  • Bard: half of levels 3, 6.
  • Monk: half of levels 3, 6.
  • Paladin: half of level 3; most of level 7.
  • Ranger: half of level 3; most of level 7.

Moderate Impact:

  • Druid: half of levels 2, 6; most of level 10.
  • Rogue: most of levels 3, 9.
  • Sorcerer: starting features; most of level 6.

Great Impact:

  • Cleric: starting features; half of levels 2, 6, 8.
  • Barbarian: most of levels 3, 6, 10.
  • Fighter: most of levels 3, 7, 10.
  • Wizard: most of levels 2, 6, 10.

Worst Impact:

  • Warlock: starting features; half of level 3; most of levels 6, 10; invocation options.

The question specifically asks for a pair of characters to support (probably) a polearm fighter and a sorcerer. The fighter should cover the tank role, while the sorcerer should provide ranged blasting and probably social. I'd want to add scout, melee striker, and support caster roles to the party.

  • Bard: strong support, maybe scout, maybe social. (no melee)
  • Monk: melee, scout.
  • Paladin: melee, support, maybe social.
  • Ranger: scout, support, maybe melee.

Depending on the sorcerer's build, I recommend either

  1. polearm fighter + ranged ranger.
  2. social sorcerer + monk or paladin.


  1. polearm fighter + social bard.
  2. other sorcerer + monk or melee ranger.

Barbarian is the best class for a supporting character without a subclass.

  1. Most hit points (1d12 hit die).
  2. Unarmored defence (Start lvl 1 with 18 AC, 16 Dex[+3], 16 Con[+3] and a shield[+2].
  3. Extra attack at level 5
  4. Fast movement (10 foot speed increase at level 5).
  5. Rage - you still get this classes defining feature at level 1 without a subclass.

Compare Ranger, faring much worse without it’s subclass/archetypes; Barring hunter’s colossus slayer or beast master’s animal companion and you have arguably lost Ranger’s most essential features.

Hot take: The most important aspect of a supporting character is their staying alive. Because the most annoying would be having to constantly revive a nerfed PC. So Wizards are out, rangers and warlocks and sorcerers are out, your left with cleric, paladin, fighter, druid.

Fighter is also a good choice with second wind and action surge but its a debatable second fiddle to Barbarian hit die and fast movement.

Losing a druidic circle is harsh but workable. Cleric is fine, but it maybe less exciting to play a party healer. Paladin flavour-wise could be problematic if you have trouble maintaining their oath. Barbarian won’t die, is easy to RP and doesn’t-really lose anything of import when compared to other classes.

To make the decision easier, consider if your secondary character were a spell-caster, you will spend time choosing spells and accounting for area effects and concentration. Some people enjoy this aspect of the game and would then be wise to pick a Druid, Cleric or Paladin. By contrast the Barbarian is low maintenance and could still pick up a cure wounds spell and spare the dying cantrip with the magic initiate feat.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While I won't generally champion the Ranger as a paragon of utility, the Ranger with the archery fighting style has the best "out of the box" to hit in the game at 2d level for a ranged character. Flat bonuses (+2 in t his case) are a big deal in the bounded accuracy model. All rangers get Hunter's Mark at level2. (Hence what is in my answer for the "ranged" choice). Rather than trashing the Ranger in General (which is a cliche at this point in D&D 5e for a variety of reasons) I'd consider just focusing on the advantages of the class that you advocate. (And Barbarian isn't a bad choice) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 14:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Side note: That isn't how subjective support works. Backing it up works by explaining how you (or someone else) did something and what the result was and then applying that to the situation at hand. That kind of support is not even necessary here. But just so you know, attempting to use "I have played D&D, read PHB" as actual support for an answer requiring subjective support will not be sufficient. Generally, I think the support for this answer is fine already. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's the basic gist of subjective support: we want to have confidence that when we do the thing you're saying, it will work out in a way we want it to work. We get that confidence by seeing that you did it, and seeing how that worked out, and seeing if that is how we want the solution to work out for us as well. E.g.: "You can resolve this problem by kicking your friend out of the group. I did that, it stopped the problem, though we have never talked again since." Ok, I might want a different solution that works differently. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 18:36

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