Characters are integral to everything in Dungeons and Dragons and every other tabletop roleplaying game. It would be like a body with no organs and no blood pumping through its veins. It’d be like trying to drive a car without petrol.
Character creation can be as simple or as complicated as someone wants it to be, the entire process is entirely personal. When you sit down to create your first ever character, it can be daunting. The fear of breaking unknown rules and the apprehension to allow your imagination to roam free can stagger the creation of a character and drastically limit it.
Do not fret, though, as character creation can not only be easy, but it can be – at times – the most exciting part of Dungeons and Dragons.
Before the character is thought about and before you even touch a die – the type of game you are playing and the character you are creating must be established. Would you rather a character that is created to be the most efficient and powerful character it can be – based off the mechanics and the rules of the game? Or are you trying to make a character that is a flawed, natural, and realistic individual? For the sake of ease, the former will be called a “Competitive” character, whilst the latter will be “Descriptive”. These tips will stand as advice, but won’t go about the ins and outs of the definitive rules of character creation – there are several resources that will help you with that: The Player’s Handbook is a good start.
- The smallest details can be the most significant.
The problem that new players of Dungeons and Dragons regularly face is that they must abide by what is said in the book and are strictly forbidden from venturing elsewhere. If the book does not provide the detail, then the detail simply does not exist. As long as you regularly check with the Game Master, you’ll start to realise that the detail is usually preferred to come from you. For example, a half-elf, simply put, is the product of a Human and an Elven parent, but consider unwrapping that further. How is the relationship of your Human and your Elven parents, are they from two different cultures? Is it a complicated relationship? Do you know them both?
The same can be said for a half-orc; orcs are a typically primitive and tribal race. How did your Orc parent meet your Human parent? These simple questions slowly help the tiny sapling that is the basis of your character start to grow.
This advice is typically geared towards someone who wants a descriptive character, but this can be applied to someone who’s wanting a competitive character. The skills you pick and how you distribute ability scores can be seen as so insignificant or simple that you may not realise that with careful thought about what your character can do at its core is in fact the best way to ensure your character is the best at what it wants to be. A magic user that’s capable in every area of its trade? Ensure your intelligence is high and you have skills in areas such as Arcana, History, or Religion.
Further expanding upon these simple questions should help inform you of every decision and which is the next route to take. When you decide that your character is estranged from their Elven parent, begin to consider why that is the case. It is all well and good to create a fact about your character, but to add greater depth and paint a bigger picture, thinking about why that came to be is a good place to start.
Your Halfling character may have an extreme prejudice towards Dwarves and their culture but that doesn’t act as a cohesive character trait until you try to figure out why you behave in that way. Maybe Dwarven bandits killed your parents – parents dying is a typical trope, but it isn’t a bad character choice – so your character has sworn to get their vengeance upon every dwarf they meet. It might be fairly radical, but at least it’s a justified behaviour.
Every trait you develop about your character can be given justification. Your character’s awfully charismatic, and has proficiencies in skills such as Persuasion and Deception. Why is this? Do they have to talk their way out of situations more often than not? What types of situations and why are they constantly getting into them?
Competitive characters can follow a similar vein – consider why certain abilities provide you with advantages and why others don’t. Why should you prioritise Strength instead of Dexterity? It is probably simpler than that of why your character when roleplayed behaves in a certain way, but it still gives you the foundations to understand what needs to go into this character to make them the strongest they can be.
This is an odd one, but I can honestly empathise with people making their first characters who might be intimidated by what they are getting themselves into. Dungeons & Dragons as a game is frightening, because there’s a lot of rules that are hard to get a hang of and it is unlike most games you will come across. But the only advice I can give that applies to every part of this fantastic game is to just dive straight in. Don’t worry about getting stuff wrong, do not worry about barraging your DM/GM (Dungeon Master or Game Master) with thousands of questions about whether you can do this or you can do that, because they want you to help them create this world.
Typically, DMs and GMs use your characters to help create their stories, and considering they are the protagonists of the story, they will actively want to ensure they are characters that are fun to watch, and most importantly fun for you to play. No question should be a stupid question, or a question that wastes their time: they want to help you make this character be incredible and you should absolutely let them.
Do you want a weapon that isn’t necessarily in the Handbook but would make a lot of sense with your character? Ask your Dungeon Master. They could say yes, and they are competent enough with the rules to figure out how to implement your chosen weapon into the game. The rules are guidelines that can be bended in whatever way you and your party please, as long as you are all enjoying yourselves. If you do not want a character that’s plagued with flaws and imperfections? You don’t have to, you can disregard every bit of advice I have thrown your way if you think you would enjoy the game without it. There is no right way to play Dungeons and Dragons, but there is a way to play it wrong – and that is if no one is having fun.