If you have the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, you can just jump into the first adventure by using the pre-generated characters that came with the set. They’ve got some classic character types in there, and it’ll save you at least and hour or two of prep work.
But… It’s SO MUCH FUN to create characters in D&D!
You can use wonderful sites like D&D Beyond to create characters, but for your first few sets of characters, I personally think you should use the Player’s Handbook (aka the PHB), a paper character sheet, a pencil, and your dice.
Why? Because you’ll see how the sausage is made for characters. In other words, you’ll see how a series of dice rolls and stats can fill out a character in a short period of time. And in the process of completing your character sheet, all of those +2s and -1s and other numbers will start to make sense. And that’s worth a little extra effort at first.
TIP: If you don’t want to shell out the $50 or so for the hard-cover PHB, you can use the free PDF or web pages from the Basic Rules page of the D&D site. Just be warned, you only get the four “classic” classes (I’ll explain these in a second): Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard. To get all the details, you’ll need the PHB. So try out the free versions and make sure you enjoy the game before sinking too much cash into the books.
Creating a character, pencil-and-paper style
Now there’s a reason why the smart game designers at Wizards of the Coast did NOT include a chapter on creating characters in the slim Starter Set Rulebook. There’s a lot involved in creating a really good character.
But like most things in life, you get out of character-creation what you put into it.
TIP: In most cases, when you create a character, you start him or her at Level 1. The levels in D&D go from 1-20, and you “level up” based on experience points (XP) and gain more powers and abilities the more you go on adventures. So your new character is going to be a bit of a “newbie” without a lot of skills and health. Be warned!
When creating a new character, I suggest you focus on the following four areas to create a well-rounded, interesting character:
These six numbers represent your character’s main strengths and weaknesses. They include Strength (muscles), Dexterity (agility), Constitution (healthiness), Wisdom (real-world knowledge), Intelligence (book knowledge), and Charisma (personality).
These abilities are represented by numbers from 3-18, with the higher the better. I like rolling a six-side dice four times (4d6), tossing out the lowest roll, and adding the three best rolls to determine each of the six abilities.
UPDATE! There’s a nifty new video from the Critical Role folks as part of their Handbooker Helper series, and it talks all about Abilities — enjoy!
This is your character’s “job” or specialty. You can be a Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, or Rogue (the “classic” four classes), or Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, Warlock.
As you play more, you can add all sorts of variations to these classes to keep them fresh and exciting. I’m slowly working my way through playing each class, and it’s a great learning experience, though I’m still partial to my dragonborn wizard Zaxbanaxby…
TIP: Make a copy of the 3-5 pages in the PHB for each of the character classes, from Barbarian to Wizard, and give those pages to each person based on their character class choice.
I love that you have a variety of races to choose from for your character in D&D. Sure, you can be a human, but that’s kinda boring. Everyone seems to really like being a half-elf in my family, but you can also choose from halfling (think hobbit), dwarf, elf, as well as fascinating “new” races like half-orc, half-elf, gnome, and tiefling. And there are even more variant races coming out all the time.
Each race gives you one or two improved abilities and bonuses to your dice rolls, as well as one or two additional languages in addition to the “Common” language spoken most places in D&D.
This character feature is kind of new to me, and I really like how it’s handled. You select a history for your character, like a gladiator or a charlatan or a sailor or a number of other options, and then you get certain “proficiencies” that improve your dice rolls.
You also get to dream up some special personality traits, like “ideals” and “bonds” and “flaws” to make your character more three-dimensional. These traits can also help you decide how your character might act in any given situation. And a good background combined with a good DM can really make a character’s story really shine as part of the bigger adventure. The character becomes more like a real person as a result.
And there’s more…
There’s a lot more when it comes to creating and fleshing out a character, including learning the tons of spells and magical items and the occasionally obscure weapon. The more you play, the more nifty tricks you’ll learn for your character (and there are a LOT!).
But if you focus on those four aspects, you’ll have a character that will become as real to you as Daenerys Targaryen, Frodo Baggins, or Harry Potter.
And you get to be that character whenever you play!
Creating a character, high-tech style
After you’ve created a few characters using the PHB and you feel comfortable with all the main features, you might want to add those characters to the D&D Beyond site. You can create and maintain up to six characters there for free, or get a subscription for a small fee that lets you create unlimited characters.
Hmmm… we really need to play some more and level up these folks… Happy gaming!
Thanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this blog, feel free to take a look at my books at UnWrecked Press and Amazon. If something I wrote here improved your gaming experience or you just want to say thanks, buy a book or two!