The Beginner’s Guide to Making a DnD Character

So you want to get into DnD, hmmmmmmmm?

Great!

Of course, you know as well as I do that the world of DnD is vast, complicated, and full of fiddly bits that can confuse even veterans of the game. When one misplaced pencil stroke can mean the difference between a kickass Tiefling spellcaster with a love of knives and a completely bitchin’ Dwarven archer whose bow is bigger than they are, what’s a potential player to do?

Well, I suppose you could muddle through the bog of ability scores, backgrounds, and starting gear, but that’s no fun. DnD is, at its very core, something to enjoy, and that includes the character creation stage!

So how to go about this?

1) Friendly Faces

If you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, then why not have no idea what you’re doing with a whole gang of other people who also have no idea what they’re doing? A game of DnD needs at least three people to be anything close to fun anyways, so roll initiative and get some friends together to help you out.

Not only will you have people to bounce ideas and options off of, you’ll also be able to balance out your party so that you don’t die in your first encounter. Imagine you take the time to put together the perfect character, a character you love, and then find out you have to scrap them because literally everyone chose cleric.

Not fun.

Of course, you do have to be a bit careful with what you reveal here. Some of the character options come with an optional Mysterious Past™ that will be expanded on during the game, and if you spoil some of it before your party even gets together, that severely limits what your DM can do with said Past™.

Just…be discrete.

2) The Basics

After you’ve gathered your group, you’ll need to supply each with a few items. You are going to ABSOLUTELY need a copy of the player’s handbook and the 5e (5th edition) character sheet. The player’s handbook and character sheet is available to download for free on the DnD website.

You can try to print out the player’s handbook, but get ready to wait awhile.

It’s 114 pages long.

It’s not recommended.

What is recommended is printing out a character sheet for each person. I suppose you could just fill in the blanks in a PDF editor, but it’s recommended that you print it out and use pencil.

PENCIL, PEOPLE! NOT PEN!

3) Race and Class

Anyways, the first thing you’re going to want to do is choose a race and class for your character. Each comes with its own stat bonuses and perks, so they will play off of each other to create your perfect character build. For instance, some races come with a Wisdom bonus, making them more proficient at spellcasting.

Read through the entire list of playable races and classes before making your decision, unless you’re completely sure in your choice. It wouldn’t do to get halfway through a character and then think, “Oh, wait, I want them to be this race instead!”

A list of all races viable for 5e can be found here, and a list of the basic classes can be found here. For a list of every class ever, which you can absolutely adapt for your adventure, see here. Just be sure to confer with your DM before you do so.

Once this is done, fill out the race’s name and speed on your sheet. Speed is how many feet your character can move in a turn. You’ll also want to write down your class’s hit die and Proficiency Bonus, which will both be found on your class page.

Finally, your class and race may come with a few Features. Write those down as well.

4) Backgrounds

Next, you’ll need to choose a background. This is basically the history of your character: before they started down the path of an adventurer, they were somebody else. A scholar, a fighter, maybe even a criminal. No matter what, these backstories are important, because they give your character even more bonuses and proficiencies.

Oh, and role-playing potential, I guess.

The 5e player’s guide has a list of backgrounds, but there’s an infinitely bigger list here. As well, you can even try your hand at writing a completely new background, with your own set of proficiencies and bonuses. Just be sure to clear it with your DM; if it doesn’t make sense, it won’t make for good storytelling.

Write down any Features, proficiencies, languages, and other bonuses it gives you and move on.

5) Ability Score

Yes, you finally get to add together all those finicky numbers you’ve been collecting.

Once you’ve chosen a class, race, and background, you can fill in your ability scores. These six scores (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intellect, Wisdom, and Charisma) will form the basis of your skill in the world of DnD. For everything you do, you will need to roll a dice and add your ability score to see how well you do it. As well, every time someone does something against you, you’ll need to roll to see how well you resist.

There are a few ways to find out your ability scores. You can roll 4d6 (roll a six-sided die four times) and add together the top three numbers, or you can take the default set of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 and assign them to whichever abilities you want.

Make sure to assign the highest number to your class’s primary stat. Each class has one stat it uses more than any other, and this will need to be your highest. You won’t get anything done otherwise.

After you roll these, it’s time to add your modifiers. Your class, race, background, and other traits will give you a plus or minus in regards to certain stats. For instance, if you have a Wisdom score of 15 and your class gives you +1 Wisdom, your new Wisdom score is 16. Do this for all your stats.

Underneath your stats, you’ll see a little bubble. These bubbles are for your modifiers – they’re added onto certain spells and skills. To find these, take your ability score, subtract 10, divide by 2, and round down. Put the answer in those bubbles.

6) Modifiers

Saving Throws, Skills, and Initiative

When someone tries to poison you or bewitch your mind, your saving throws are what save you. When you try to do some sick flips on a tightrope, your Acrobatics skill is what lets you do that.

They are very important, obviously.

When you roll a saving throw for a skill or ability, you’re using the modifiers you wrote down below each main ability score. However, your class, race, or background might give you a bonus to one specific skill instead of the broader ability scores. For instance, you might have a +1 to sleight of hand and a +2 to intelligence (INT). These are the numbers you write down, next to sleight of hand and INT obviously, and check the bubble.

Then, every time your DM says you need to roll for sleight of hand, you’d roll a d20, add your DEX modifier, and then add your +1 sleight of hand bonus. You only add the +2 to INT rolls if it’s specifically an intelligence SAVING throw.

As for initiative, this  is what you roll every time you get into a fight to see who goes first, last, and in between. You’ll roll a 20-sided die (d20) and then add your initiative, which is your DEX modifier plus any bonuses you might have.

7) Perception

Perception is what you use to notice something amiss. This is different from investigation: perception is seeing something out of the corner of your eyes, while investigation is staring something down and trying to decipher its secrets. Passive perception is found by taking your Wisdom modifier and adding 10.

There are problems with the system, however.

Perception has been a hotly debated topic for quite some time now. Some people thought that passive perception was different from rolling a perception check, while others thought that passive perception was the absolute lowest you could go and rolling perception was a chance for you to score higher.

Jeremy Crawford, Lead Rules Designer for Wizards of the Coast, which produces DnD, has stated that the latter is true. The higher number will always be used, whether it’s the roll or the passive.

This is stupid.

Every surprise and trap in the game has a number assigned to it, called a DC, that players have to roll to beat in order to notice it. Since your passive perception is your Wisdom modifier + 10, a player could just dump points into Wisdom and notice everything always. This completely ruins every surprise and trap the DM puts into place, unless the DM takes out passive perception altogether, which is similarly bad.

Instead, as proposed here, I suggest the following:

  1. Convert the target DC to a bonus by subtracting 12 from it (DC 15 – 12 = +3 bonus).
  2. Roll a d20 and add the converted bonus against the passive score of the character.
  3. Determine success (If you roll less than or equal to a character’s passive score, then the character succeeds)

This system means that players don’t have to roll anything to notice (or not notice), meaning their suspension of disbelief doesn’t get interrupted. It also means that the DM only has to roll one die, and it also means that one person can’t just roll a Nat20 (rolling a 20-sided die and landing on 20 naturally, without any bonuses, which ensures success) despite their passive perception.

The only problem is that the trap is challenged against the highest passive perception score in the party, although this could be seen as a bug or a feature depending on your perspective. If you don’t like this, you could say that the party only notices the trap if half or more of them pass the check.

Of course, this requires the DM to have the passive scores of each character recorded, but since that should happen anyway it’s not a problem.

8) Hit Points

Hit points are arguably the most important stat you ever will roll. As you might already know, they dictate how much damage you can take before you’re out of the fight. If your character reaches 0 hit points, they fall unconscious and have to make some death saving throws. If they fail three death saving throws or reach -10 hit points, they’re dead, and you either need to find a way to resurrect your character or create a new one.

To find out your hit points, roll your hit die and add your constitution modifier to it. Your hit die is listed with your class.

For instance, a warrior’s hit die is a d10, so they roll a d10 and add their constitution modifier to it.

Every time you level up, you do this again and add the new number to your old hit points.

9) Languages

Every race, class, and background allows your character to learn a few languages. As well, you can learn one additional language listed on the race page for every point in your intelligence modifier.

10) It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

Every class is proficient in a few different weapons, listed on your class page. Certain races and backgrounds may also give your character proficiency in different weapons. You can choose one of these weapons to start with, and these proficiencies will be important later on when upgrading to a new weapon. Be sure to write them down.

You can also choose some armor. Every armor comes with an Armor Rating and a weight. Once you choose your armor, you will calculate your AC (Armor Class) by taking the Armor Rating and adding your DEX modifier. Light armor allows you to add your entire DEX modifier, medium armor only allows up to a +2 to be added, and heavy armor doesn’t let you add any DEX modifier.

NOTE: You only add the DEX modifier if it’s a positive number.

11) WITCHCRAFT!

Finally, fill out the Attacks and Spellcasting box. Write down the name of the weapon, the attack bonus, and the kind of damage. The attack bonus is your proficiency bonus plus your STR modifier (if it’s a melee weapon) or your DEX modifier (if it’s a ranged weapon).

The Attacks and Spellcasting box, as the name implies, has a space for writing down spells. You may want to write down a few main attack spells, but the fact is that there are simply too many spells to write them all down in that tiny little box, especially if your character is a spellcaster. You should definitely write down your attack bonus for spells though, which is your proficiency bonus plus your main stat’s modifier.

For the actual spells your character can learn, it’s recommended you go out and buy some note-cards or recipe cards and write them down there.

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Author: Christopher Smith

A 3rd year English student, I write on the side to get away from the writing for my classes. Writing isn't just a way to make money for me; it's a passion, a hobby, and a life.

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