Which D&D Class Can Do The Most Damage at Level 1?
UPDATE 21/02/2020: There have been three sets 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! Finally, most recently, Ann shared comments helping refine some of the original ideas, as well as clarifying some of the weapon proficiencies, and offering solutions. Those have now been updated. Thanks Ann! I encourage everyone to read their comments below – they’re awesome!
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.
- 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.
- All dice are maxed out, as we are looking at the maximum possible damage.
- 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.
- We are assuming no buffs from other players. No adding +6 to everything as a potential Bardic Inspiration.
- [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.
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 –
- The Paladin, Ranger, and Druid are bottom.
- We then get the Bard, Warlock, Wizard, and Sorcerer.
- Next we have the Barbarian, Fighter, and Monk.
- We then have the Rogue, with 22 damage.
- The Cleric is next.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Original thought: 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 some simple weapons. This means the most damaging weapon they can get their hands on is a quarterstaff (this is an update from the original thought of a great club, since druids don’t get proficiency with 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 stick.
The most damage you can actually do with a Druid is by dual wielding two weapons. This includes the Scimitar, which is 1D6+4 (using the pre-defined specs), and then something like a Handaxe. This will add an additional 1D6, giving us a maximum of 16. It’s better than 12, but it is still pretty low. Also, Druids don’t get proficiency in handaxes so it’ll be really hard to hit on the offhand, but that doesn’t matter when we are looking at max damage.
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.
Original Thought: 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.
The original thought behind the Monk was to use the Great Club, doing 1D8 damage as base, with the additional unarmed strike – however, this isn’t possible due to the Great Club having the two-handed attribute. This means the best we are looking at is a Quarterstaff, which has the versatile attribute and not the two handed attribute.
Interestingly, this means the Monk can do the same amount of damage, just with a different means. It is 1D8 plus the additional unarmed strike, for a maximum of 20 damage.
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.
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 16.
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.
Original Thought: 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.
It is possible to give Rogues two short swords at Level 1, and have the wield both at the same time. This means they will get 1D6+4 for their first short sword and ability modifier (as specified for maxing out the damage), plus 1D6 for the second short sword, plus 1D6 for the sneak attack. This is a maximum of 22!
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)
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.
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. Leaving aside the Sorcerer, 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, Torad and Ann for their useful comments.