Top Five Most Powerful DnD 3.5 Classes
Edit: I’ll just add in a little disclaimer as this post tends to get some rambunctious commenting down below. This post is mostly aimed at normal play with not a huge effort put into making amazing builds. Out of the box, some of these guys can be pretty fun to play! If you’re the only one in your group who is into heavily optimizing your characters, the balance can get pretty off. I tried to give some good starting classes where you’re likely to get a pretty powerful dude with a couple of tweaks here and there. If you check out some of my other DnD posts, you’ll see that they’re extremely basic introductions, so maybe that indicates the level I’m sorta targetting.
Edit 2: Some great discussion has been happening in the comments – check out Rejakor’s comment for a very in-depth (and significantly more expert) synthesis of the more powerful DnD builds. See also the comments belonging to Deadman and Tab for some extra suggestions. As always, when min/maxing to this level, playability comes into question, as put forward by Brendon Mize (in a slightly colourful, but insightful comment).
Dungeons and Dragons is one of my “nerdier” hobbies, but I really enjoy it and spend a decent amount of time over at the Character Optimization Forums. These forums can be extremely useful, so I’ll try to include a “handbook” for each class, made by its hard-working members. Now, I haven’t actually played all of these classes, but I’ve made characters for almost all of them, and I’ve seen others have fun playing a couple of these classes.
The Scout – This class (from Complete Adventurer) is one of the few I have actually played, it can be pretty fun. Here’s one of the only classes that encourages you to move around the battlefield, and rewards you for doing so. The extra skirmish damage and defense can be a real help when moving from enemy to enemy, or when fleeing battle. I would say that for this character, the dodge>mobility feat path is a must, dodge giving you +1 to armour class against one enemy, and mobility giving you +4 AC against attacks of opportunity (you’re sure to trigger quite a few, moving around so much). The Scout’s trapfinding ability makes them a great substitute for having a rogue in the party. Scouts get +10ft. to movement at third level, and continue to get handy movement-related abilities as they level up.
The Warblade – From the Tome of Battle, this is one of my favorite martial classes. The Warblade is like a better, more versatile and intelligent barbarian. It gets the full base attack bonus, d12 Hit dice, and up to medium armour proficiency, but it has a substitute for (in my opinion) the useless Rage. In exchange for Rage, damage resistance, fast movement and the rest, you get a new ability that involves using “maneuvers” and “stances”. Maneuvers are new, introduced for the first time in the Tome of Battle, and are sort of like spells that the Warblade can refresh when he needs to. This means that he will never run out, but they usually have to do with attacking with a weapon – you won’t find your average spells here. One of the most useful maneuvers lets you make a concentration check instead of a Will save – which can be incredibly helpful. Stances are also new, but they are like permanent buffs that you choose to complement your personal play style. This class has some great potential if you like to play a melee attacker, especially coupled with a level of Fighter for the extra feat and heavy armour proficiency.
The Cleric – Here’s a class that can cast great spells and still hold it’s own in melee battle, at least at first. The Cleric gets a medium base attack bonus and proficiency with all types of armour and shields (except tower shields). Only being proficient with simple weapons hurts them a bit, but they can be fairly effective with a heavy mace or morningstar (especially with Improved Trip). This makes them an effective back-up melee fighter, or even the designated attacker in an undersized party. Clerics also get some pretty nice spells, mostly a lot of buffs, cure and utility spells. The Divine Metamagic feat (Complete Divine) can be a good one to pick up, letting you spend those unused turn attempts to enhance your spells. The Touch of Healing reserve feat from Complete Champion also isn’t a terrible idea, letting you heal 3 hp per level of the highest healing spell you have prepared (which, for a Cleric, is basically just the highest spell they have prepared, because they cast healing spells spontaneously) as a standard action.
The Sorcerer (Wizard) – Great mid-high level class, somewhat difficult to play at lower levels - it’s hard to survive on four hitpoints. Nice number of spells per day, with some quite nice ones on the list. Greater Invisibility is always nice – enemies can’t hurt you if they can’t see you. If you run into trouble, just Teleport a couple hundred metres away. I prefer Sorcerer for their flexibility – having to prepare spells in advance can be dangerous when you realize you prepared the wrong ones. It’s not a bad idea to grab a reserve feat (Complete Mage) like Fiery Burst that lets use a mini-fireball as a standard action as many times as you want, as long as you keep one of your more powerful fire spells “in reserve”.
The Druid – My favourite spell-casting class, probably because such a small part of what they can do is casting actual spells. Wild Shape alone would probably make the Druid equivalent to other classes, but you also get an Animal Companion, not to mention all of their handy summoning spells. They have the same base attack bonus and hit dice as the cleric, making them quite effective in melee (for a spellcaster), but not in their normal form. Druids can’t use metal armour, aren’t proficient with many weapons, so battle at early levels isn’t the best choice. However, by around sixth level, the Druid is able to spend most of the day as almost any small or medium animal it wants. This obviously can lead to quite a powerful character if one spends enough time leafing through the various Monster Manuals. And then we have the animal companion, which in some cases can be just as effective a fighter as the Druid itself, gaining extra stats, abilities and hit dice as you level up. See if you can get your Dungeon Master to let you have a Magebred (Eberron Campaign Setting) or Warbeast (Monster Manual II) animal companion for extra bonuses. Don’t forget your spells either. The Druid has a nice mix, ranging from buffs and utility spells, to straight damage like Call Lightning (grab the Swift Concentration skill trick from Complete Scoundrel) and, of course, the ever useful Summon Nature’s Ally spells (that can be cast spontaneously).
The Paladin – Divine Grace is pretty amazing for boosting saves, definitely a good excuse to have a high charisma score. Lay on Hands is also pretty nice with a high Cha score. Their Special Mount is fun, but not as good as the Druid Animal Companion. If you’re a Half-Orc, be sure to pick up at least a couple of the substitution levels (Races of Destiny), for a d12 hit dice and Righteous Fury, a great substitute for Smite Evil.
The Fighter – Tons of bonus feats make for an extremely flexible class that can be very powerful at low levels. While I would normally recommend a Warblade instead, there are some situations where this class makes more sense. Optimized for use with a spiked chain or good ranged weapon (or both), their extra feats can make Fighters pretty amazing.