5e Basics – First Five – Level 1
Especially when thinking about gimmick builds, one thing to always keep in mind are “splashes.” Meaning taking just a few levels of a class to get some really good abilities quickly. Taking a splash of a class gets you access to some class features, some weapon, armor and tool proficiencies, and sometimes, spellcasting. In this first blog, I’ll rank the classes in terms of first level splashes in order to explore what a single splash would get you.
Requirements: 13 STR
Gets you: Medium armor, shields, martial weapons, rage, unarmored defense
Barbarian has the best first level in the game. It’s really easy to qualify for, rage is pretty fantastic, giving you resistance to weapon damage and extra damage, and between that and medium armor and unarmored defense, it gives you some solid defensive options. A great splash for any STR-based melee class that doesn’t need heavy armor.
Requirements: 13 STR or 13 DEX
Gets you: Heavy armor, shields, martial weapons, fighting style, second wind
A single level of fighter gets you a lot. Access to all types of armor and weapons is nice, but not exclusive. The lower barrier to entry is pretty nice as well, as you can qualify for it with either STR or DEX. Nearly every fighting style you can choose has merit and would fit nearly any splash. Second wind is also great, giving you basically a free d10+1 healing. Unless you are using your bonus action every single turn, you have a chance to do free healing, which comes back after a short rest. Really strong start to a really strong class.
3. Cleric (Life, Light, Tempest, War)
Requirements: 13 WIS (13-15 STR)
Gets you: Medium armor, shields(Light), heavy armor(Life, Tempest, War), martial weapons(Tempest, War), simple weapons, domain abilities, spellcasting
Clerics are always welcome in pretty much any campaign, but in particular, these domains are really great at level 1. Life gets you heavy armor as well as boosting your healing spells by a minimum of 3. War gives you extra attacks as well as heavy armor and martial weapons. Tempest gives you damage if you’re hit, heavy armor and access to thunderwave. Light gets you burning hands, faerie fire and warding flare. Meanwhile, every cleric has access to healing spells. Clerics tend to be classes you’d want to go heavier into, but single splashes, especially in these 4 domains, go a long way. A wizard who is able to heal and wear heavy armor is one hell of a wizard. Same with any other class you might splash cleric onto.
Requirements: 13 DEX
Gets you: Light armor, some weapon proficiencies, thieves’ tools, expertise, sneak attack
Rogue is a pretty fantastic splash. Depending on your build and proficiency level, expertise can be a godsend. Most commonly, of course, you’d put expertise on your stealth or perception skills, but there are plenty of other great choices. Unlike the bard’s expertise, you can take expertise in thieves’ tools as well, which can be very useful indeed. And of course, you get to add a d6 of sneak attack damage to any finesse or ranged weapon, which can be pretty reliably gotten in this edition. All that and a low barrier of entry makes a splash in rogue quite a good one.
Requirements: 13 CHA
Gets you: Some weapon proficiencies, sorcerous origin features, spellcasting
Actually, sorcerers are quite varied at level 1 as well. However, all the level 1 origin features are quite good. Draconic sorcerers get extra HP as well as starting with 13+DEX AC. Wild sorcerers can give themselves advantage on rolls, though they also have to abide by the rules of wild magic. Storm sorcerers can move themselves about the battlefield with ease. Aside from that, you get 4 cantrips and 2 sorcerer spells, which is definitely worth looking into.
Requirements: 13 CHA
Gets you: Light armor, simple weapons, patron feature, pact magic
Warlock is quite a unique class in that instead of getting regular spellcasting, you have pact magic. Pact magic, in this case, gives you a replenishing 1st level slot, which comes back every short rest. Unfortunately, warlocks don’t get a lot of spells at level 1, nor do they get a lot of cantrips. You do, however, have access to the SCAG cantrips for a splash to a melee build, and have access to the best cantrip, eldritch blast. Even with only a single level of warlock, it’s a good spell, though it is at its best after 2 levels of warlock. But that’s a subject for another post. Aside from that, you have your level 1 patron features. None of them are particularly impressive, though for a splash the fiend patron or undying patron level 1 features are both pretty solid.
Requirements: 13 CHA
Gets you: Light armor, some weapon proficiencies, musical instrument proficiencies, bardic inspiration, spellcasting
You get 2 cantrips and 4 spells, which isn’t so bad. Bards also can heal, so that’s a plus. Bardic inspiration gives out a d6 die to add to a roll, which you should be able to do at least 2 or 3 times as a bonus action, which is nice. In all, a solid choice.
Requirements: 13 INT
Gets you: Some weapon proficiencies, arcane recovery, spellcasting
The first wizard level is not the most impactful splash there is. Aside from getting no significant proficiencies, you only get one class feature aside from spellcasting. And that single feature is just more spellcasting. Aside from warlocks, who theoretically could have many more, wizards have the most spell slots at level 1 of any spellcasting class. Wizards do easily outpace warlocks at higher levels, but at the first level, what you get is just spellcasting. Fortunately, to make up for that, you get a lot of spells. Not only do you get more spells learned than any other class that has to learn their spells, you get to prepare at minimum 2, which is about as many as sorcerers and warlocks would get. To top it all off, you get access to a bunch of good spells, some of which other classes would really like, but don’t have access to, like find familiar, shield and absorb elements. Basically, it’s good for the access to specific spells, but not the most impressive for the cost of a single level.
Requirements: 13 STR, 13 CHA
Gets you: Heavy armor, shields, martial weapons, divine sense, lay on hands
Paladin is actually one of my favorite classes in 5e. However, you get most of your really worthwhile stuff at level 2, which I’ll explore at a later post. At 1st level, you don’t get any spellcasting, but instead divine sense and lay on hands. Divine sense is not that useful in practice and while being able to heal up to 5 points is fine, in terms of a splash, it’s not changing the world, either. You do get heavy armor and shields, which is quite nice, but the requirement conditions are higher. If you really want heavy and shields for a single level splash, fighter is just better.
10. Cleric (Arcana, Knowledge, Nature, Trickery)
Requirements: 13 WIS
Gets you: Medium armor, shields(Arcana, Knowledge, Trickery), heavy armor(Nature), domain abilities, spellcasting
Clerics vary a lot depending on the domain and the reason why these ended up lower on this list is because their domain abilities aren’t quite up to the same level. Nature and knowledge just give you skill proficiencies, though knowledge does give you double your proficiency bonus. Nature is the only among these that does provide heavy armor, however. Arcana gives you wizard cantrips, proficiency with arcana and access to magic missile. Not too impressive, but solid. Trickery gives you the ability to give someone advantage on stealth, which you can use to either negate a heavy armor wearer’s disadvantage or to give a rogue without a cloak advantage, and that ability doesn’t even use concentration. None of these abilities are very impressive, but of course these do come with that nice medium armor proficiency as well as a caster level in a healing class, which is always welcome.
Requirements: 13 WIS
Gets you: Medium armor*, shields*, some weapon proficiencies, herbalism kit, spellcasting
While not the worst, as you still get access to spellcasting, druid is, among spellcasting classes, one of the worst at level 1. All you get is 1 spellcasting level, and while the druid spell list is nice(other than wizard, the only spellcasting class able to get absorb elements, access to more exclusive healing spells like goodberry), it’s still all you get. In return, you get a flaw that makes you unable to wear metal armor. Yikes.
Requirements: 13 DEX, 13 WIS
Gets you: Simple weapons, an artisan’s tool or musical instrument, unarmored defense, martial arts
A single level of monk is not a great splash. The features it gets you are actually pretty decent, though plagued with built in weaknesses. Monks can’t really use their class features if they’re armored or using any martial weapons. However, to make up for these heavy restrictions, they have a version of the unarmored defense feature which is worse than the barbarian’s(relying on WIS instead of CON and not being to wear a shield is rough) and martial arts, which is pretty good. Being able to use DEX instead of STR for unarmed strikes and simple weapons is good, and getting free unarmed attacks as bonus actions is not too bad, either. However, between the heavy requirements and armor restrictions, it just doesn’t seem worth it for the most part.
Requirements: 13 DEX, 13 WIS
Gets you: Medium armor, shields, martial weapons, favored enemy, natural explorer
Welcome to the bottom of the barrel. Well, arguably. It’s completely arguable that 1 level of monk is just as bad or worse, but at least there are times when a splash in monk is what you might ever want. A splash in ranger gets you access to medium armor, shields, weapons… and nothing else. Favored enemy and natural explorer basically do nothing. You don’t even get a fighting style or spellcasting. Taking a level of ranger means you can talk to stuff and find stuff. I don’t even know what else to say. If you ever feel like taking one level of ranger, go take a level of cleric or fighter instead. Please.