Build Your Own Characters in Dungeons and Dragons
Check out the video associated with this post for a visual demonstration on how to build your character!
For first time players, building a character can be rather tedious. So we’ve made this breakdown to help you. Here is what we will review:
- Race, Sex, and Name
- Ability Scores
- Hit Points
- Armor Class
Race, Sex, and Name
The first thing you’ll need to decide for your character is what race and gender you would like to play as. In D&D there are a myriad of races to pick from. Basic races in D&D 5e are Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, Dragonborne, and Teiflings. Each race has its strengths and weaknesses, so choose wisely. When choosing your race, it’s a good idea to keep in mind what class you are going to play as per the different advantages each race provides.
For example, let’s say I want to play a Halfling. Halflings get a +2 bonus to their Dexterity Ability Score. So, it would be best if I chose a class that relies on dexterity, like a rogue or ranger. However, this doesn’t mean I have to pick either of those classes. I could very well be a Halfling Wizard if I wanted. All that means is that I will have to be careful with how I roll my ability scores.
After you’ve picked your race, simply choose what sex you wish to play as and pick a name. If you’re not good at coming up with names for your character, don’t stress out. There are plenty of fantasy name generators out there. Even your Player Handbook provides some basic names for you under the race descriptions.
Next, you must choose your class. A class is your character’s profession, their role within the party. The basic classes in D&D 5e are Barbarians, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Fighters, Monks, Paladins, Rangers, Rogues, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards. Just like the races, each class has its strengths and weaknesses. You need to choose a class based on the role you would like to perform within the campaign. To simplify this process, here is a list of which classes can fit what roles:
- Damage Dealer
- Support/ Healer
- Tank/ Meat Shield
** Note that these are just for the basic classes in 5e, not prestige classes or special/ custom ones. These are simply generalizations to ease the selection process. **
This is the part that gets many new players confused. So, we’ll start with answering this question. What is Alignment?
Alignment is essentially a character’s disposition in Order vs. Chaos, and Good vs. Evil. The available alignments in D&D 5e are Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, Neutral Good, Lawful Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Neutral, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Evil, and Neutral Evil.
Lawful Alignments tend to follow a strict set of rules and regulations, often set by societal standards. They obey they laws laid forth, and tend to look down upon those who stray from the beaten path. While Chaotic alignments focus more on the individual freedom of a person. They act as they see fit, regardless of what the law of civilization says or what others may think of them. In the case of Order vs. Chaos, Neutral refers to an individual who believes in their freedom of choice, but conforms themselves to a personal code of conduct.
Good vs. Evil is pretty self-explanatory. Someone who is neutral is obviously teeter-tottering between acts of both good and evil. If I really need to elaborate more on this part…maybe you should see a counselor…just kidding…kind of…
Anyway, moving on.
Next up is your character background. In D&D 5e character backgrounds provide a bit of flavor to your character. Things like additional languages, skills, feats, and equipment are included with almost every single background. The backgrounds described in the Player’s Handbook are generic, so you can write your own backstory that matches the description of the background.
For example, let’s say that my background is a Sailor. I can then come up with the name of the ship I was on. Was I the captain, or a crew member? How long did I spend at sea? What adventures did I have before joining my current party? How did I come to meet my party members? The Sailor backgroundn will provide what extra feats and proficiencies I get, while I add my own creative flavor to the story.
What are ability scores? Easy, they are basically your character’s base attributes. These include Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These scores have an important part to play in the game and understanding them is vital. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Strength: This is the score you will use for most melee combat, as well as any action that is based on how strong your character is. Like moving heavy objects, leaping, climbing, grappling, holding, etc.
- Dexterity: You will use this core for most ranged combat as well as some melee combat. Dexterity also helps to determine initiative and armor class. This is also used for rolls that are based on how fast and flexible your character is. Such as landing on your feet, throwing an object over a distance, acrobatic stunts, etc.
- Constitution: This score represents how hearty your character is. How much punishment their body can take. It helps determine how many hit points you get, as well as how well you can stomach things like poison, acid, disease, overeating, and overdrinking (personally one of my favorite things to roll for).
- Intelligence: If you can’t guess what this represents, then your personal intelligence score must be pretty low…Just joking. But intelligence is, you guessed it, how smart your character is. It’s used to determine how much your character can recall, what your character can identify, how well they can investigate, if they can read and write, and even attributes to Wizard’s spellcasting abilities
- Wisdom: No, this doesn’t determine how much of a wisecracker your character is. Wisdom rolls are used for things like perception, insight, and resisting charm effects of hostile spellcasters. It also helps with the spell abilities of Clerics, Paladins, Rangers, and Druids.
- Charisma: Why, who is that dashing debonair? That handsome devil? That silver-tongued flatterer? It could be your character. Charisma is how well your character presents himself/ herself to other characters. You use this ability score to deceive, persuade, intimidate, barter, and perform. It is also used to help the spell abilities of Bards, Sorcerers, Clerics, Paladins, and Warlocks.
There is a number of ways to generate your ability scores. Your Player’s Handbook describes a point system you can use. However, my personal favorite method is to take 4d6 (or four, six-sided die) and roll for each stat. Sometimes you roll good and come out with an amazing score, and other times…not so much. But don’t get discouraged, giving your character weaknesses will make him/ her more memorable and the game more interesting overall.
Each Ability Score has what’s called a Modifier. This is the number you will add to your dice rolls. For example, the Dungeon Master asks you to make a Wisdom Check. Your Wisdom Ability Score is 20; which means that you have a Modifier of +5. You would then take a d20 (twenty-sided die) and roll it, then add 5 to the roll. In this case you rolled a 15 with the d20, so when you add your modifier, your total roll would be 20.
Understanding your ability modifiers and how to apply them is very important in D&D. SO be sure to study them to know your character’s strengths and weaknesses.
Now we have to generate your hit points, the life essence of your character. This number represents how much damage you can sustain before falling unconscious and/or dying. Each class has what’s called a Hit Die. These range from a d6 (six-sided die) to a d12 (twelve-sided die). At the first level, you start with the number of hit points equal to your hit die maximum, plus your constitution modifier.
In this case, we will say you are a Barbarian with a constitution modifier of +3. This means that at level 1 you would start with 15 hit points. Easy, right? But what about all the levels after level 1?
Basically, every level after level 1, you would roll your hit die and add your constitution modifier. With your Barbarian now at level two, you roll the d12 and get a 7. Now after you add your constitution modifier you would have a total roll of 10. This means your Barbarian now has a total of 25 hit points. This process is used continually as your character progresses through levels.
Armor class is the deciding factor as to whether or not a physical or magical attack hits your character amidst combat. It’s one of the most important functions when it comes to character survivability. Armor Class is determined a couple of ways.
If you’re wearing no armor, then your Armor Class (or AC) is equal to 10 + your dexterity modifier. For brevity let’s say that your character’s dexterity is +5. That would mean that with no armor equipped, his/ her AC would only be 15.
If your character is wearing armor, things change a little. All armor has a base AC that is directly applied and each type of armor is different. Remember to be sure as to whether or not you are proficient with the armor your character is donning as this may affect your experience going forward. Let’s breakdown the different armor types and how their AC is generated.
- Light Armor: Most light armor’s base AC is between 11 and 12 and then you add your dexterity modifier to calculate your character’s armor class. Using the +5 modifier we used before and wearing studded leather armor your AC would be 12+5=17.
- Medium Armor: Average base AC for medium armors is anywhere from 13 to 15. The same thing applies with the dexterity modifier; however you can only apply a maximum of 2 from it. So, with a medium armor set with a base class of 15, and a dexterity modifier of +5, your AC would still only be at 17 (15+2=17).
- Heavy Armor: Base AC for heavy armor can range from 16-20. However, because it’s heavy and weighs the user down, you cannot apply your dexterity modifier to its base AC. So, whatever the AC you see on the armor, is what you get.
There are some armor sets out there that say something similar to: Full Plate +3. This means that you would add 3 to whatever the base AC is. (ex. Base AC is 18. So, +3 to that makes a total AC of 21)
**Note these are the rules taken from D&D 5e and do not apply to earlier versions of the game**
Your character will have specific skills, equipment, and talents that he/she will be proficient in based on his/her class. Armor, Weapons, Languages, Tools, Musical Instruments, Gaming Sets, and certain Skills. Some of your character’s proficiencies have more functional purposes for combat and such, while others are more for flavor. Your proficiencies will be outlined by your class, race, and background. On your character sheet, there will be a space where you can jot them down.
As far as skill proficiencies go, there will be a blank dot next to each skill, all you have to do is fill in the dot next to the skills you are proficient in. Normally with a regular skill check, you would roll a d20 (twenty sided-die) and add the ability modifier that skill is associated with. For example, the Dungeon Master asks you to make Deception check. You would then roll a d20 (twenty-sided die) and add your Charisma modifier. In this case let’s say your character’s is +2. Your roll a 13 and add +2 from your modifier so your total is 15.
However, if you were proficient in deception you would also add what is called your Proficiency Modifier. Your character’s proficiency modifier is based off what his/her total character level is. In this case your character is level 10, thus his/her Proficiency Modifier is +4. So, using the same roll as before, your total roll would go from 15 to 19 (13+2+4=19). It is always important to be proficient in skills you see your character using and there is a good variety of skills to choose from. So, choose wisely.
Languages, Musical Instruments, Tools, and Gaming Sets help to bring a little flavor to your character’s repertoire. Speak, read, and write in different tongues. Play a glorious song in revelry upon your lute to inspire your comrades. Disguise yourself, create a false identity, and craft poisons as a deadly assassin. Or practice herbalism and healing, restoring the vitality or your compatriots. Sit down with your party for a pint at the local pub, and challenge them to a card game, chess, or checkers even.
Understanding what you want your character to be proficient in is paramount to finding the right playstyle for you.
Feats are special perks with both passive and active abilities. They can give your player extra functionality and flavor. Some feats are directed towards combat and spellcasting. Others are give your character…well…more character. For example, I take the Sharpshooter feat. This gives me a passive ability that ignores cover when I’m using a ranged attack, amongst other things. Or you take the Linguist feat. This allows your character to speak three more languages on top of the languages he/she knows.
There is a specific list of feats for D&D 5e and other editions of the game. If you’re running a home game, you can include feats from other editions, modified feats, or even craft your own custom feats to suit the campaign. There is also a plethora of resources out on the web for pre-created custom feats that you could use in your own game.
Next you need to do is gear up your character. D&D has a pretty wide variety of gear that is accessible to your character. Your class will typically have different proficiencies that will determine what gear you should avoid. For example, you could be a Rogue that wields a great sword. However, because your rogue isn’t proficient with great swords, he/she will have a harder time using them. This mechanic is true for all things your character is not proficient in. Including Armor, Tool Kits, etc.
Understanding your character’s proficiencies is critical when choosing your starting gear.
Last, but certainly not least, you’ll need to choose and prepare your spells. Of course, this counts only for classes where you can cast spells (i.e. Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards). You will want to cater your spells to your intended playstyle Do you want to deal loads of damage as a glass canon? Do you want to restore and revitalize your companions as a healer? Do you want to give boons to your allies, and weaken your foes with hexes? You’ll need to know how you want to play as a caster then move forward.
There is a massive library of spells within your Player’s Handbook available, as well as the unofficial resources online for your personal use. Decide how you want to play, and prepare your spells accordingly. There will also be a section on how to prepare the correct number of spells, as well as what spells are available for you to cast within your Player’s Handbook.
Check out the video associated with this post for a visual demonstration on how to build your character!
Thank you so much for reading! If you would like some pre-generated characters custom made by me, go ahead and subscribe through our email free of charge!!
To all those experienced Players and Dungeon Masters, please leave some comments of your own experiences and character building tips and ideas!
Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)
I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!