How to Make a Dungeons and Dragons Character
One of the first things you need to do if you’re starting Dungeons & Dragons is work up a character to play as, but this is unfortunately harder than just deciding to be an elf with a funny name (though this is an undeniable part of the process). There are some slight differences in the process depending on the rules you’re using, but there are a few bits you’ll always need to have covered. This guide should help you get a grip on the more complicated parts before you dive into the rulebook (which in most cases is weighty enough to use as a murder weapon).
Talk to your group and your DM
Dungeons & Dragons works best (or at least, as intended) with a balanced party of adventurers who can cover all bases, so have a chat with everyone about what kind of character everyone wants to play. Compromises may have to be made, but it’s for the greater good. The other route is going high concept; low practicality and roleplaying the party as e.g. a travelling rock band where everyone plays the bard class, apart from one rogue with high Charisma who is, naturally, the manager.
You should also talk to your DM about your character; they can not only help you with the character build if you need it, but will be able to build parts of the adventure to work with (or against) your character’s traits and back story.
Choose a class and a race
There are a variety of both of these (depending on the edition you’re playing), and once you’ve decided which route you’re going down you can pick your favourite combination. The class you choose will affect what abilities you have access to and how you might want to distribute your core stats: rogues, for example, will rely more on Dexterity to be successfully stealthy; a druid’s ability to cast spells is based on how high their Wisdom is.
Race limits the range of your character’s appearance, but also gives different benefits depending on which you pick. Human tends to be the most versatile race, but, for example, elves and dwarves both have low light vision. Other potential changes depending on your character’s race include a higher or lower movement speed, or additional skill or stat points to spend.
Understand your core attributes
At the heart of your character are their six core attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These are your character’s natural abilities, and they determine what your character is good at. Usually, when you’re doing things in game, you’ll have to attempt it using one of these stats by rolling your 20-sided die and adding the buff from your attribute to it. Let’s use getting past a locked door as an example.
To knock it down you’d use your Strength, but picking the lock would need Dexterity. An Intelligent character would investigate the door and figure out it was actually unlocked the entire time, whilst the one with high Wisdom was searching for the key and the Charisma player was trying to persuade the person on the other side to open it. Constitution is the more passive skill and it determines, for example, how well you resist poison or take a punch. The higher your attribute score is, the better you are at tasks and skills associated with it.
Work out the scores for your attributes
You obviously can’t just put in whatever numbers you like for your attributes, because that would be cheating, so there are a few ways to work out attribute scores. First of all you have a ‘standard array’, a default setup of sorts which gives you the scores 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 to distribute between the six attributes. This makes a decently balanced character.
There’s also a technique using dice rolls, which is why creating a D&D character is sometimes called ‘rolling a character’. Take four d6 (6-sided dice) Add together the highest three and that gives you a score – so if you rolled 3 4 5 6 your score is 15. If you do this six times you then have the scores to put with your attributes. This technique can create balanced characters, or it can create ridiculous ones with wildly disparate scores as their strengths and weaknesses.
Pick your skills
If attributes are innate abilities then skills are the learned ones. There are a range of skills for more specific tasks, and each will use an attribute as it’s base factor, like, for example, deception. When you outright lie to another character (even one in your party) you will need to roll a check on your deception skill, to determine how convincing the lie is, how cherubically innocent your character’s face as they do it, and this will be affected by your Charisma.
You can, however, choose a couple of skills at character creation to be ‘proficient’ at, meaning you’re just well good at it, and that adds a bonus to the dice roll you make. You can choose skills that compliment your character’s attributes, or that fit with the backstory you’ve imagined for them – like if they grew up in a circus it’s reasonable that they would be proficient at acrobatics. That kind of kidney.
Sweep up the rest
Generally speaking those are the most important bits to get your head around, but you’ll need to round off their stats with some other stuff. In some editions, and if you want to, you can give your character a background and motivation which are written into the rules and can change your stats or personality in given situations. If you’re a spellcaster you need to pick you spells, which work in a vaguely similar way to skills, depending on which ones you choose and what class you are.
You also need to kit yourself out with weapons and armour. In a lot of cases the rulebook will list some starting equipment, but you might want to buy your own with the money provided, like giving your character the option of a ranged weapon.
Use your imagination
Generally speaking there are two good kinds of characters. There’s the well built, realistic, proper character type, with believable skills and balanced attributes.that make sense for their class.
Then there’s the other kind, the kind that make no sense at all and have nerfed their skills so they’re improbably amazing and one or two specific things, and hangdog terrible at most everything else.
Both of these are great kinds of characters, and the most important thing is to build one you’re happy with. Just remember that, while there are some rules limiting what they can do, their personality and their backstory is completely up to you, and that is limited only by what you can imagine. So go for it! Give them a harrowing past with dead relatives and betrayal, or a family with shady connections to the criminal underworld, or an annoyingly cheery disposition, or functioning alcoholism. Anything you like. Just remember you’re going to have to be them for a while.