Chapter 1: Step-By-Step Guide To Dungeons & Dragons Character Creation

An essential yet comprehensive guide to the new version of the game's character creation mode

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The first thing to be made clear is the fact that this is no substitution for the actual, official Player’s Handbook for the game, nor does this claim superiority over the latter, as the game’s developers have come up with an extremely thorough guidebook spanning no less than 320 pages. In fact, three more official guidebooks exist. Welp! It seems like the game’s developers are leaving no quarter – either for the potential and hesitating beginner, or to the poor blogger or journalist who wanted to put something together regarding the rules of the game.

Uh-uh. It’s not so easy to steal an independent writer’s job like that, for while the comprehensive official guides are… comprehensive, they do not contain every trick up every wizard’s long sleeves. Moreover, there is just too much in those sources, overwhelming for sure for the beginner. How many passionate beginners can you think of who are interested enough to read through all 320 pages, which is just the length of one book, mind you?!

What this chapter aims, therefore, is to only provide the most fundamental of rules for the character creation mode of the game. Of course, tricks and hacks will be there which also escape formal guides. So, strap up tight, hold on to your dragon, let the gnomes moon over you, as we take you by the hand through the entire process of creating your character, the essential first step of your adventure!  

D&D 5E Character Sheet

Race and Class

Basically every RPG has close combat specialists (swordsman, spearman, barbarian, giant) and also long-range combatants (archers, wizards). Similarly, The D&D world features a myriad of races or characters and classes they belong to. In real life, as we all know, race literally means the ethnicity of a group of people, the color of their skin, their culture. Yet, in RPG like D&D, race is more equivalent to species, as in – Humans, Elves, Halflings, Dwarves. These races also have sub-categories, the likes of Cloud Dwarf, Deep Dwarf, Dragon Elf, Lord Elf. As for your character’s class, think of it as your character’s career in the game. It’s his/her/its calling, profession for the game. 

Both race and class, in addition to identifying your character (basically, your character is referred to by “Dwarf Cleric,” “Elf Wizard,” “Gnome Druid”), also sets the general appearance of the character and endows him/her/it with cultural and heritable traits unique to them. The character also receives a variety of class benefits upon leveling up. These include both ability scores – which will be detailed upon later – and also proficiencies. One’s proficiency (regarding weapons, armor, tools, saving throws) determines the activities the character can do particularly well, and this ranges from branding specific weapons to even convincingly lying.

The race and class of a character are contingent, in that one facilitates or is a poor match of the other. For instance, a Bugbear race would find it in its best interests to choose its career path as a Fighter. A Barbarian Orc is another nice combination. A Barbarian pursuing the craft of black magic, though, isn’t such a good idea…

Record the class traits on your character sheet (be it the official form to fill in, a digital copy, or a rough note via pen and paper) before moving on to the next phase. 

Leveling Up

This is probably the most beloved and prolific mechanism in any RPG. Indeed, there is nothing more satisfying than to see your hard work pay off as you see the damage infliction score rise steadily from your attacks, take less and less damage on your own part, and develop your skill set as new abilities are learned. D&D characters start out at level 1 and the maximum level is level 20. Like other games, XP (Experience Points) increase leads to leveling up, and the amount of XP required to level up raises each level. 

Already an experienced D&D’er and don’t feel like starting all the way from level 1? The game offers a way out of that as well! Simply talk and negotiate with your DM – the Dungeon Master who officiates and also serves the role of the antagonist of the adventure.

Again, record your progress in the creation mechanism up to now. If started from a higher level, record the additional ability scores gained through levels 1 to whatever-level-you-are-starting-out-with. At level 1, by the way, your XP is 0. 

HP and HPD

Every gamer in the world knows that HP stands for Hit Points. HP is the amount (a score is given for the attribute) of life. The higher the HP for a character, the more he/she/it can withstand blows before being defeated (although the defense statistic obviously plays a role). The Constitution modifier determines one’s latent HP in the game. For some classes, every increase in level awards you two ability scores. You can either add one to two of your character’s abilities, or you can choose one ability to get a two point increase. You also witness increase in proficiency bonus for your characters at particular levels. 

That’s all well and good, but what exactly is HPD? The abbreviation stands for Hit Point Dice, also called Hit Dice for short. As we all (ought to) know, the dice system plays a huge role in D&D. All throughout the game, we have to roll dice to determine basically everything, though a caveat exists as an option to let players choose a relatively standard outcome instead of vying with Lady Luck. 

Anyway, before digressing further, let’s stick to the point at hand. Each you’re your character levels up, a Hit Dice is rewarded. There are various types of Hit Dice: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20. The number you draw by rolling a die is added to your character’s Constitution modifier to get the increase in HP. For example, you possess a d12. A roll gets a 9. Now plus 9 with the Constitution modifier, which is, say, +2. The net value is 11, which is the increase in HP for your character.

Record your progress of… you know the rest. Oh, and by the way, you only get to use HDP during resting in an adventure. More about that in a later chapter.

Proficiency Bonus

Assuming you have the official character sheet printed or displayed on your screen, look at your class description section. There exists a table displaying your proficiency bonus. At level 1, it is +2. The following is a list of traits to which your proficiency bonus will apply:

  • Attack rolls using weapons
  • Ability checks using skills
  • Ability checks using tools 
  • Attack rolls with spells 
  • Saving throws
  • Saving throw DCs for spells cast

Your weapon, saving throw and some of your skill and tool proficiencies depend on your class. Some additional tool and skill proficiencies are related to your background (to be discussed later). Supplementary proficiencies are given by some races.

The proficiency bonus may be added to increase the score of your die roll. However, it can only be used once per roll. Often will be the case when the proficiency bonus will be halved or doubled, and here too can the division or multiplication apply only twice (in other words, the procedure cannot be stacked). 

Again, don’t forget to note down your progress by jotting down the essential statistics on the character sheet.

Ability Scores

Ability points or scores in an RPG account for the strength, defense, agility and other parameters they possess. In D&D, there are the following six abilities:

  • Strength measures physical prowess
  • Dexterity measures agility
  • Constitution measures endurance
  • Intelligence measures memory and common sense
  • Wisdom measures awareness and judgment capabilities
  • Charisma measures the It Factor, or the intangible impact of personality

The Ability Score Summary table is always there in the character sheet to be used as reference. Still, take a look at the ability scores of a random character below:

Now, on to generating ability scores for a character. Roll a six sided traditional die six times, and jot down the sum of the highest three draws. For example, if you had drawn 

4, 6, 2, 1, 5, 2

then, you eliminate the lowest two scores – those being 1 and two 2’s – and add the remaining: 

4 + 6 + 5 = 15

There you go, you have drawn a mighty good score to be used as your character’s ability score. Don’t apply this score to your character sheet yet. Repeat the rolling of the dice five more times, selecting the best three scores and adding them up each time. This gives you six scores, say the following six:

15, 13, 10, 11, 13, 16

These are pretty good numbers for sure, but if you still don’t want to risk getting low scores, you may sidestep Lady Luck again by choosing a predetermined default set of scores. These fixed scores are as follows:

15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8

Is this array of scores better than what we got? Why or why not? Let us go into some detail about what these scores signify.

Ability Modifiers

Remember we talked about Constitution modifier? Constitution is just one out of six abilities. Therefore, we have to calculate the modifiers for the other abilities too. 

10 is the neutral base point. An ability score of 10 has a modifier of +0. Scores above 10 will increase the modifier, like a 12 will get the modifier to +1 and a score of 16 will get it to +3. Conversely, scores below 10 will elicit a minus modifier. For instance, the Constitution score of a Gnome may be +8, which would give it a -1 Constitution modifier. This would mean that the Gnome will have 1 less Constitution point than the average Joe. 

Below is the list of ability scores in correspondence to their respective ability modifiers:

Wait, isn’t the maximum draw for a dice roll 18? How come scores can get to 30 as shown here? For the proficiency bonus, of course. Reminder this equation:

Ability score = Dice roll score + Proficiency bonus 

Customizing Ability Scores

Upon consultation with your DM, it is possible to choose a set of ability scores for your character and endow those scores as you may. You get 27 points to “buy” ability scores. You don’t need to spend points on an ability score of 8, and so you cannot get an ability score of 8 for your character for any of his/her/its parameters. 1 point is needed for an ability score of 9, 

2 for 10
3 for 11
4 for 12
5 for 13
6 for 14
7 for 15
8 for 16
9 for 17

Thus, the lowest is an 8 while the highest is 17. Assigning scores with a variant like this can make for a very balanced character with above average stats (12, 12, 12, 13, 13, 13). On the contrary, you might also opt for a very disproportionate and specialist character with stats like 15, 15, 8, 15, 8, 8. These are the two extreme ends. Of course, you may assign ability scores to your characters any way you see fit along the spectrum, giving you more flexibility than the standard array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. 

Character Description

A name. A history. A personality.

Yes, you get to play God in D&D as you have the supreme authority to mold your character any way you want. There is a Personality and Background section which has a variety of choices, but you are not limited to the default appearance skins and personality traits for your character. As always, you can negotiate with your DM and hash out the finer details of how your character looks and behaves. Unf 

It’s all good and well, right? Making your character seem so human, giving him/her/it a background and endowing them with particular bonds and flaws. Besides making the game very realistic and making you empathize with your character, do these background details actually make for any significant and concrete difference in the gameplay?

Heck yeah. A background provides a background feature or a general benefit for the character, in addition to proficiency in two skills. Some background features also provide proficiency with particular types of tools and even endow the gift of supplementary languages. 

Record. Record. Record.

Point to note: Your character’s physical appearance should reflect his/her/its ability scores. For instance, high Dexterity ought to correspond to a lean and nimble body. For a character prioritizing more on Strength, however, an agile physical frame may not be as suitable to a burly and robust physique. 

Not only physical traits, but also mental features should be taken into account in accordance with the character’s abilities. A character with low Intelligence, for example, should be given an absent and forgetful mind, while one not endowed with charisma may stutter and face social anxiety. 

Sometimes, however, intentionally giving a character some specific character flaws can make for extremely amusing gameplay. Imagine a strong as an ox Barbarian with little to no Intelligence. Deliberately don’t increase its Intelligence scores and keep it as low as possible. Also bestow it a very forgetful nature and laugh while it struggles to remember common sense details! Indeed, more so than a very balanced and optimum character, perhaps it is better and of course more interesting to allow for some character flaws.

Equipment Selection

Equipment! By far my favorite part of RPG besides leveling up. Grinding hours beating upon monsters, obtaining XP and gold from felling them, visiting the nearby armory when I’m able to afford the best of weapons – nothing beats this cycle of role playing games. You train hard, level up and obtain money for equipment: a win-win situation if I ever did see one. 

In D&D, you don’t wait for battling and training to obtain enough resources to buy equipment. Your class and background give you a default set of weapons, armor and adventuring gear for you to get started feeling like a real Paladin with a grand shield and sword, a Ranger with bows and arrows, or a Wizard with a magician’s garb. 

In fact, there are some purchasable equipment gear outside of the free starting ones. For those, you have to spend gold pieces (gp). A free trinket is also available. What, free?! More on trinkets and equipment as a whole in a separate chapter. 

Point to note: The total weight of equipment you can carry depends on your Strength. I would advise you not to carry so heavy gear that amounts to 15 times your Strength score. 

Good equipment gives you a boost in your attack and defense parameters, of course. Think of Armor Class (AC) as representing how well your character can avoid being inflicted damage. The armor worn and the shield carried by your character are obvious determiners of increasing defense. Another feature that plays a factor to Armor Class is Dexterity. Some characters do not wear armor nor do they carry shields. For such vulnerable characters (*ehem ehem wizards ehem ehem*), the Dexterity score is one to watch out for in bestowing ability scores. 

Thus, not all characters have the proficiency to don armor and raise shield. For those unfortunate characters, it is better not to equip them with such gear, as there are side effects to giving characters equipment for which they do not possess the proficiency. On the other hand, characters with armor and shield proficiency will use those gear much more efficiently. Reminder: proficiency bonus can be used on characters after leveling up.

Characters not wearing armor will have an Armor Class of 10 plus his/her/its Dexterity modifier. Get to recording what your character’s Armor Class is. 

As for the weapon you choose for your character, you need to get to work by calculating the damage it inflicts upon strike. Take into account the modifier you use for the attack as well. Attacking, by the way, uses the d20 mechanism. You roll a 20 sided dice and add your proficiency bonus for the weapon if you have any, in addition also to the ability modifier. 

There are essentially two kinds of weapons:

Melee weapons take into account the character’s Strength modifier in case of attack and damage rolls. An exception is a weapon making use of the finesse property, like the rapier, which bases Dexterity instead of Strength for damage inflicted.

Ranged weapons are the opposite: they normally consider the Dexterity modifier but an exception such as the hand-axe uses the Strength modifier for measuring damage. 

Teamwork Is Key To Enjoyment

Sure, D&D offers a lot of entertainment potential from aesthetic gameplay to realistic character traits. Still, the fact remains the same that the game is multiplayer oriented. At the end of the day, you have to collaborate with your team members and play together. Lack of communication would not only prove as problematic for success but also, and more importantly, sour your spirits. 

Thus are the perils of online gaming. Real human interaction may and often does lead to bullying and depression. Instead of having in the game a platform to relax and chill, many people get hyper and put undue pressure on their bodies and minds. This fact holds true for every social media platform – from Facebook and WhatsApp to online games. 

Being playable nowadays as a multiplayer online RPG, D&D risks bringing these stressful internet collateral impacts to yourself. It always pays to be aware of such negative internet effects. It is thus of supreme importance to form good relationships with your team members, as it will be with them that you go to adventure. In the character creation section does your chance begin to begin things off with them on the right foot. Discuss with them your choices and try to reach an anonymous agreement. Further, discuss if the characters you create are acquainted to each other, and also about what quests to start out with.

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