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Which D&D Class Can Do The Most Damage at Level 1?

UPDATE 23/10/2019: There have been a couple of updates to this article since it went live. Firstly, the original article included proficiency in damage which, after pointed out by Kegatron in the comments was quickly corrected. This was a human error on my behalf. Seondly, I’ve finally got around to updating this article after other ways of dealing damage were pointed out by Torad in the comments. For the updates, I have kept in the original logic as well as put the update. Full credit to Torad for those comments – thanks!

Dungeons and Dragons is the ultimate game, but sometimes it can be hard to choose which character to create. You’ve rolled your abilities, you have one 18, but you just don’t know where to put it. All you know is that you want a kick ass Level 1 character, something that is really difficult to do seeing most get interesting around Level 3. You want to be the hero of your own campaign, and that includes Level 1, but the question is – how have the most impact?

Well, worry not dear reader. If you have ever wondered which D&D 5E class can do the most damage at Level 1 then you have come to the right place. This article is going to not just tell you what does the damage, but how.

We’ve spent a few hours going through the Player’s Handbook, working out what each class starts with, and we have theorised the most damage possible for each class at Level 1. To do this however, and before we begin, a few assumptions have had to be made.

  1. Races aren’t taken into account and characters get the same bonus as we are only looking at classes. We’re looking at Level 1, and are assuming one ability of 18. This gives a unified +4 modifier as base. This assumes some pretty muscular or dexterous characters.
  2. All dice are maxed out, as we are looking at the maximum possible damage.
  3. Each class has a starting equipment list that we are abiding to. These are level one, completely out of the box – so no specialist or modified equipment lists.
  4. We are assuming no buffs from other players. No adding +6 to everything as a potential Bardic Inspiration.
  5. [Update] A character can only start with the base equipment. No equipment buying!

That’s about it – so with that in mind, let’s look at which class does the most damage at Level 1 in D&D 5E.

Which Class does the most damage in D&D 5E at Level 1?

Let’s just jump in with the graph. After a few hours of work, these are the results for maximum damage at Level 1. It should be fairly easy to understand, but there is a quirk where we’ll be looking at sorcerers twice. Once, weirdly, for magic going wrong.

Below is the revised graph taking the new suggests into account.

Max Damage For Level 1 Characters in D&D

As you can see by the above graph there is definitely a hierarchy based on the maximum damage a Level 1 character can deal out. This, if all my mathematics are correct, is the following – in ascending order –

  1. Druid are least damaging.
  2. Paladins and Rangers are next.
  3. We then get the Rogue, Bard, Warlock, Wizard, and Sorcerer.
  4. Next we have the Barbarian, Fighter, and Monk.
  5. The Cleric is next.
  6. Finally, we have the Sorcerer again. More on this in a bit.

“So, how was this achieved?” I hear you ask.

Well, dear reader, in order to answer that question we are going to need to look at each class one by one. Once again, I have included the original logic and the revised version so you can see what the original thought process was.

How Each Class Can Do The Most Damage in D&D (Level 1)

Okay, so keep in mind we are making the assumption that this isn’t based on average rolls, but rather maximum rolls, so the answers are more theoretical, that being said – it is still interesting to look at. Keep in mind though, that to get a higher average a few classes may need to change what they do. For instance, Wizards and base Sorcerers get a higher average through using a staff than they do with magic at low levels. They can reach a higher max damage with magic however. The averages will have to be an article for another time, using this as a base.

Anyway, I digress. Here is how we believe you can get the most damage with each class in D&D 5E at Level 1.

Barbarian

The Barbarian is fairly simple. Get a +4 for strength, and arm him/her/it with two hand axes. The hand axes will be dual wielded, even if it won’t be efficient. This means that the Barbarian will get a 1D6+4 for the first handaxe. That’s already a maximum of 10 with one axe. Then add on the second axe as an additional 1D6 (or +6 in this case), making it 16. There is no ability bonus on the second hand. The final 4 points of damage come from Raging with each weapon. At first level, rage adds in +2 damage per attack. That’s 20 points damage.

Bard

Original Thought: The Bard is the easiest of all the classes to work out, as you simply give them a rapier and all the bonuses necessary to use it well. That’s 1D8+4 all-in-all, or 12 damage. I was wondering if Bardic Inspiration could be of some use, but it states in the rules it needs to be used on other people, and not the Bard themselves. It makes sense, I suppose, when you think about it.

Revised Version: The Bard is a magic using class and, although 12 damage at Level 1 is fairly respectable, there is actually more that they can do. At Level 1, the Bard gets Dissonant Whispers as a spell. What Dissonant Whispers does as a spell is is play a discordant melody that can cause 3D6 psychic damage on a failed Wisdom throw.

Cleric

Original Thought: Clerics are unique in D&D as they actually choose their domain at first level. If the Cleric chooses the Domain of War then, as a bonus action, they can attack again a set number of times per day. If you arm a Cleric with a Warhammer then they will get 1D8 plus the ability modifier of +4, giving 1D8+4. They then get that twice however, so 2x(1D8+4). This results in a max damage of 24.

Revised Version: At Level 1, Clerics get the spell Inflict Wounds which can do 3D10  necrotic damage. I believe this makes Inflict Wounds one of the most damaging early level spells in the game.

Druid

Druids have a major downside in D&D 5E and that is that they don’t really get interesting until they can shape shift into their Wild Form at Level 2. Until then they are a bit of a stick in the mud, with only proficiencies in simple weapons. This means the most damaging weapon they can get their hands on is a great club, and that works out about the same as the rapier for the Bard – 1D8+4 or 12 max. It’s pretty sucky, and I basically just envisage a Druid running around with a log.

“Yay, I can use a great club!” – No character, ever.

Fighter

Ahh the bread and butter of D&D. Well, it may be of no surprise that the Fighter is pretty good at…well…fighting.

One of the big bonuses of a Fighter is that they get to choose their fighting style at Level 1. This means that a Fighter can specialise in dual wielding pretty early, and doing so allows them to attack twice in a turn (once with each arm) and keep the ability modifier for both.

This means, a fighter with two scimitars (for example) would get 1D6+4+1D6+4, or 20 damage.

Monk

The key to combat and the Monk is that they get better with their hands as time goes on. For Level 1 however, they are better off using a (and know it hurts me to say this because monks are so much cooler than this) great club, getting an additional unarmed strike afterwards.

What this means is that the monk gets 1D8+4 for a great club, followed by 1D4+4 for the unarmed strike. That is 20 damage max.

Paladin

Paladins are pretty awesome fighters, and have the option to start with two martial weapons in the game. This means that, for instance, a Paladin can start with 2x scimitars as an example, or 2x short swords, or any kind of martial weapon you want really. Since 1D6 is the best you can get out of a light martial weapon, it doesn’t really matter which one you take. Either way it totals 16.

Note that you can take a Maul for 2D6+4 for the same effect.

Ranger

The ranger is very similar to the Paladin. They can start with two short swords, with the calculations working out the same. They can attack twice, once with all bonuses, and one with only the ability modifier. That also comes to 20.

Rogue

Rogues are great fun in D&D and they come with some pretty decent abilities. Most notably, and something they are renowned for, is their Sneak Attack ability, which adds 1D6 to any attack where they have the advantage. Since they can start with a rapier, that’s pretty good.

What that means is that a rogue can have 1D8 for the rapier, +4 for the ability modifier, +1D6 for the sneak attack. This comes to 18 damage maximum.

Sorcerer (1&2)

Ahh, and so now we exit the non-magical classes and into the hardcore magic users – the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard.

Sorcerers are interesting in D&D as there are a couple of ways they can do maximum damage. The first is due to a spell that goes right. At Level 1, the spell with the most damage potential is Burning Hands for 3D6 damage. That is a maximum of 18.

However, and this is a big however, Sorcerers get a “Sorcerous Origin” – allowing them to choose between Draconic and Wild Magic. If a Sorcerer chooses Wild Magic, then they get the Wild Magic Surge ability – or, in other words, if they roll a 1 on a D20 (also known as a critical fail) they get a random effect happen, rolling 2D10 and associating the results on a chart of 50 possibilities.

Now, some of those possibilities are ridiculous such as gaining height or casting Grease on yourself. Nothing too useful.

Options 65-66 however, are interesting. If those come out (of which there is 1/50 chance) then three creatures within 30 ft get 4D10 damage each, for a maximum of 40 points.

The odds are; however, insanely low – hence why we are looking at Burning Hands  instead. (Note: This was revised from Thunderwave)

Warlocks

Original Thought – Warlocks actually get pretty good spells for Level 1. Hellish Rebuke is one of the best Level 1 spells in the game and can do 2D10 damage. That is a maximum of 20.

Revised Version: Warlocks, like with Sorcerers, get Burning Hands if they take the Fiend Patron, or they can get Dissonant Whispers from the Great Old One. Both of those do 3D6 damage. We are discounting Hellish Rebuke because it is a reaction. If we allow for reactions then we need to allow them for everyone and this gets a lot more complex. Hellish Rebuke is worth keeping in mind though.

Just a note on magic – Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards – get their modifier on casting the spell but not on the damage.

Wizards

Original Thought: Finally, we have Wizards as the last of the 12 Dungeons and Dragons 5E classes we will be looking at. Wizards get interesting at second level, so at first level their best spell for damage is Thunderwave at 2D8. Poison Spray at 1D12 is also pretty good, but the potential for 16 damage and minimum of 2 outdoes Poison Spray in both categories.

Revised Version: Wizards get Burning hands for 3D6 – which is 18. That makes Burning Hands the best spell for Wizards at Level 1 for just dealing damage.

So, there we have it – a bit of a D&D analysis. It’s quite interesting to see which class actually stands the chance of doing the most damage at Level 1. Who would have guessed it would have been the Cleric? As mentioned right at the start of the article, the average may be different, so it is worth looking at that next.

This actually turned out to be a pretty long article, with a lot of revisions based on double checking all the mathematics, so I’m going to call it here. What are your thoughts though? Which classes do you like to play? Let me know in the comments below.

Once again, special thanks to Kegatron and Torad for their useful comments.

14 Comments »

  1. For Sorcerer 2 you might interpret it as a maximum of 120 damage (possibly with even lower odds of that occurring). Or at least I would.
    Here’s the text: “Up to three creatures you choose within 30 feet of you take 4d10 lightning damage.”
    It doesn’t say “…each take 4d10…” but it also doesn’t say “…4d10 lightning damage total…”
    So, 4d10 split three ways? That doesn’t seem realistic if you choose 3 creatures spread far apart. Maybe close together?
    4d10 for each creature? But then do you roll 4d10 once and that applies to each creature?
    Or do you roll 4d10 separately for each so each gets a random value? (leading to the very low possibility that each would get 40 damage)
    I’d have to say this is one of those rules where “DM interpretation wins” and in my case that would be very much based on the circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahhh haha – a very fair point. I would personally interpret it as 4D10 rolled once and applied to all, which could be seen as 120 max damage which is a very fair point you make. But, if we do take it that way then we hit an issue with area affect spells – Poison Spray is 1D12 but can hit multiple enemies. How do we know how many to apply the 1D12 to? Any thoughts?

      I think we need to take it as the theoretical damage against one enemy to stand any chance of being able to quantify it 🙂

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  2. For Sorcerer 2 you might interpret it as a maximum of 120 damage (possibly with even lower odds of that occurring). Or at least I would.
    Here’s the text: “Up to three creatures you choose within 30 feet of you take 4d10 lightning damage.”
    It doesn’t say “…each take 4d10…” but it also doesn’t say “…4d10 lightning damage total…”
    So, 4d10 split three ways? That doesn’t seem realistic if you choose 3 creatures spread far apart. Maybe close together it does. But then how is it split?
    Is it 4d10 for each creature? But then do you roll 4d10 once and that value applies to each creature?
    Or do you roll 4d10 separately for each so each gets a random value? (leading to the very low possibility that each of them would get 40 damage)
    I’d have to say this is one of those rules where “DM interpretation wins” and in my case that would be very much based on the circumstances.

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  3. Nice analysis. One thought. What about damage output over the course of encounters? The cleric will get pulled off damage dealing to heal people. The casters will run out of spells. However the fighter can just, well, keep in fighting. Especially if the cleric heals her or him because of having the most hit points and the best AC.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I had to think about this one a bit and work and life got in the way. I don’t have a great answer, but I think you could do it with a five room dungeon, and iterating through it with different parties that use the same results. In other words, pre determine success and failure rolls, use them for each PC and NPC (a long random result chart should be fine), and try to have the characters do the rooms in the same order with as many of the same or similar combat actions. The trick is in the branching, because you’ll come to places where a character might have an ability that will let them beat an obstacle, or get beaten by an obstacle. The less effective means I thought of, which would also require lots of data gathering, would be to get records of actual games from something like roll20.net and go through those to try to figure things out.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting ideas. It’s a lot of math, but I’m sure we can figure something out. I had the conversation with a player I know and they suggested an infinite line of goblins as an experiment. Then you can kind of see when the characters would need to heal etc. How do you propose we determine the group type?

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          • Thanks for your patience with the reply. (I was traveling on business.) The line of infinite goblins is really funny conceptually. I feel that it would not test more than the party’s ability to deal damage in a static scenario vs. a single creature at a time though. So it might be a good part of a test to assess how long each character can deal damage, how much, and how many deaths you could get if you wanted to gather those statistics. IMO you’d still want to try other scenarios to try to test the group together because there are synergies. (And frankly I’m feeling a tad out of my depth however I’m cheerfully willing to try to still figure it out.)

            So as to group composition, I’d think you run the classic party: fighter, cleric, wizard, thief
            Then you interact to: Barbarian, Druid, Ranger, Sorceror
            End with Paladin, Bard, Monk, Warlock

            If you wanted to test it further you could really go crazy. And as I eyeball the above combos, my gut tells me that they are in rough order of preference and overall traditional playability sanitized for personal preference. I offer no warranty to actual playability. 😉

            This seems like a large project, no?

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Couple of things to note after a quick glance:
    1.All classes without fighting style (in your case rogue, bard, druid) could dual wield, since the PHB allows you to shop with money instead of choosing equipment (although i assume that you don’t count that?)
    2. For the warlocks you list Hellish rebuke as a spell for 20dmg – that is a reaction. If you count reactions for damage, then should the other characters get an opportunity attack added to their dmg? Given of course, it’s easier to get hit than for an enemy to run from you. However, either way the warlock still has the option to make an attack with his action (assume hexblade patron, bonus action hexblade curse, action attack with hexweapon for another 1d8+6 or another 14 dmg, +2 from proficiency to Hellish rebuke for a 36 total. If hexblade is not allowed due to not from PHB, the warlock can still do another 10 dm by eldritch blasting, totallying at 30. If we do not allow the reaction from hellish rebuke cause of action economy fairness, the warlock maxes out at 18 dmg from a burning hands (fiend patron, 3d6)/dissonant whispers (great old one, 3d6). For all the others i will not include reactions, otherwise things like tempest cleric (another 16 dmg if hit) get way better.
    3. For the casters, thunderwave is not the highest damaging spell, at 2d8 (16). Burning hands/dissonant whispers at 3d6 maxes out at 18, Chromatic orb (3d8, 24 max) would be even better, but that one has a material component.
    4. For the wildmage sorc im pretty sure that a selfcentered fireball (8d6, 48 on multiple creatures; probably including your party and definitly you) is a way better way to deal maximum damage in a turn at lv 1 (and end your own character).
    5. Cleric can go higher, they actually have the best dmg spell at lv 1 with Inflict wounds (3d10, so 30 max). obviously same would go for divine soul sorcerer, but that’s not PHB.
    6. bard has access to dissonant whispers, so 3d6 (18)

    So in summary, if you disallow reactions (if you don’t i can do the calculations again with reactions) and disallow selfbuying more weapons to dualwield and material components for spells, the following things would change:
    Warlock down to 18, wizard up to 18, sorcerer up to 48, Cleric up to 30, bard up to 18.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow – I’m definitely going to need to update this. Yes, you are absolutely correct.

      Taking the points one at a time – you’re right on the dual wield, but I believe you are correct on why I didn’t choose it (it’s been a couple of weeks now since writing this, but I believe you’re correct).

      On spells – Chromatic Orb actually requires a trigger as well, which is why I didn’t include it originally; however, yeah, you’re right. It’s an awesome spell.

      It’s a very fair point about the Hellish Rebuke and you are absolutely correct on the rest. I can’t believe I was that far out!

      Thanks for your comment and pointers!

      Side question – can you think of any way the Druid can do more?

      Like

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