So. You’ve decided you want to play Dungeons & Dragons. You’ve found a group and have scheduled time next week to start kicking some goblin butt, but there’s one problem. You don’t have a character yet. If you’re getting overwhelmed trying to decide if you should play a half-orc warrior with daddy issues or a gnome rogue with a soft spot for butterflies, never fear! Geek & Sundry is here to walk you through the steps of building your perfect character! Because a role-playing game (RPG) isn’t really until you’ve got a killer backstory.
Step 1: Determining Your Stats
Stats determine a lot of what you can do in a game. The most important stats are your Ability Scores. These are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. There are 3 ways to determine what your ability scores will be: rolling for stats, a standard spread, or point cost. Which method you use will be determined by your GM.
Rolling for stats is very simple. Rolling a d20, you get 6 numbers that you will either assign to your abilities in order or based on your preference. This method can yield some very high or very low starting stats. Alternatively, and perhaps more popularly, you can roll 4 d6, dropping the lowest number for a stat. This can yield stats between 3 and 18.
The standard spread is 6 predetermined numbers (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) which you then assign to the ability. It is one of the quickest ways to have a new player figure out their ability scores.
Finally, there is the point cost system. In this system, you have 27 points to spend on scores for all 6 abilities. The highest score you can have is 15 and the lowest is 8. So, you can have an average spread (13, 13, 13, 12, 12, 12), or a wide spread (15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8), and anything in between.
Normally, stats like ability scores won’t be determined until after you’ve at least decided on a race and class, but it’s important to understand them before diving in as your stats will determine what you can do in a game.
Step 2: Choosing a Race
There are many different races in the universe of tabletop RPGs, ranging from the Scanlan-esque gnomes to the Grog goliaths. In DnD 5e there are dwarves, elves, halflings, humans, dragonborn, gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs, and tieflings mentioned in the Player’s Handbook.
Each race has special characteristics. Dwarves are resilient creatures who dislike boats and often desire treasure. Elves are graceful beings with long lives that can be relentless in the pursuit of their goals. Halflings are small, cheerful humanoids that can blend into a crowd. Humans are often dismissed as boring, but are actually the most adaptable of the races (and get some nice stat bonuses). Dragonborn are the proud descendents of dragons. Gnomes are small, but embrace life to the fullest. Half-elves are also half-human, but belong to neither world. Half-orcs are strong, enjoy eating and drinking, but also tend to be short-tempered. Tieflings are the descendents of humans that have made pacts with Asmodeus—overlord of the Nine Hells—and are often mistrusted by the other races due to their heritage.
If you still aren’t sure which race you should play, try starting with step 3 before coming back to step 2.
Step 3: Choose a Class
There are 12 classes in DnD 5e. Your character’s class is your character’s calling: it is what they were born to do, not just what they do to get by.
Barbarians are fierce warriors who like to rage. Bards are musical magicians. Clerics use magic to serve a higher power. Druids wield the powers of nature. Fighters are masters of combat. Monks are masters of martial arts. Paladins are holy warriors. Rangers combine nature magic and martial knowledge. Rogues are masters of stealth and trickery. Sorcerers draw their magic from a bloodline or gift. Warlocks were granted magic through a bargain with an extraplanar entity. Wizards are magical scholars.
Choose the character class that is the most appealing to you. Once you’ve got that down and have also chosen your race, you can move on to Step 4!
Step 4: Personality and Background
The character’s background determines where they come from, their personality traits, ideals, bonds, flaws, and additional equipment and proficiencies. Character backgrounds include Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Folk Hero, Guild Artisan, Hermit, Noble, Outlander, Sage, Sailor, Soldier, and Urchin. It’s important you research each one before you decide what you want to do.
These backgrounds can be personalized to fit the story you have in mind for your character. Perhaps you want to play a lawful evil human rogue who has spent time at sea. A sailor in itself wouldn’t be the perfect background, but a pirate would fit nicely. Ultimately, you can figure out the story of your character first and then see what background best fits that narrative.
Step 5: Multiclassing and Homebrews
Multiclassing means that your character gains proficiencies in more than one class. For example, if your druid is about to become a 6th level character, you can choose to keep them at a level 5 druid and add another class at a level 1. So, your druid could become a level 5 druid, level 1 ranger. This can be done starting at level 2 (if your GM allows it).
If you’re still not satisfied with the character options and want something truly unique, talk to your GM about a homebrew. Grog’s Goliath and Percy’s Gunslinger were both homebrew adaptations when the Critical Role crew switched to DnD 5e from Pathfinder.
Step 6: Free Resources
If you are trying out tabletop RPGs for the first time—but aren’t so sure you want to fully commit yet—there are free resources out there so you don’t have to buy a player’s handbook you may never use again. Go here for free resources and the basic rules to help you get started. These PDFs do not contain all the information in the player’s handbook, but they are useful for new players trying to figure out if they like DnD.
Similar resources exist online for other tabletop RPGs so it is possible to build a character and start playing almost any tabletop RPG without spending money first. Take your time, try things out, and don’t be afraid to change it up if it’s not working for you. The point is to have fun so make your character one you want to play!
Image Credits: Critical Role/Kit Buss