In this article, I will discuss the full walk-through of creating a character from our mind or imagination onto the character sheet. For example, I will be using one of my characters from an Adventures League game for the published adventure, Storm Kings Thunder.
The very first thing I need to make clear is the possibility that the story does not end in one arc, or even one campaign. It is entirely possible to continue any story from adventure paths or also known as published adventures. Most if not all the 5th edition adventure paths end with characters being about 15th level; when the typical level cap is level 20. Keep this in mind as you begin that this character maybe becomes your most beloved one to play and does not have an end game plan. Granted he or she may end their story or plot hook, but is that the end? To me, that’s just one arc of a story, and the next step of character growth.
To create your image of your character onto a character sheet, you need to think of a few important things related to this character:
- What Race should this character be? With 5th edition, there’s a variety of options that a lot of DMs allow. Please remember to ask your DM if the race is applicable choice for their game and story. For example, a Drow might be difficult for the DM to integrate into their concept and to have it make sense in the adventuring party.
- What Class is this character in your head? When you picture your character, do you see certain weapons and armor on them? Do you see a magical aura around them with a bit of arcane or bright divine magic? Are they in the shadows waiting for their enemy, or are they among the palace guard waiting for his / her majesty to begin court? That is when the most customization begins with your character and abilities that make your character essential to the party in many ways.
- What is their background? Have they come from a land far from where the story takes place or are they local to the area? Were they a solider in the setting’s current kingdom that may or may not have seen war? Or have they always been alone, abandoned by their family and friends and raised themselves to survive by any means? The background can be a fantastic way to better help with your character’s personality and morals. Please make sure to run the background with your DM before fully involving your characters story thus far.
- The Ability scores. They are the ruling stats of your character, and within the player’s handbook, it will show you what your class typically needs higher than the rest for best usage of their abilities. Just as a reference there are six stats for characters. (From the Players Handbook Pg. 12 for 5th edition)
- Strength: Natural athleticism, bodily power. Which is important for Barbarian, Fighter, and Paladin.
- Dexterity: Physical agility, reflexes, balance, poise. Which is important for Monk, Ranger, and Rogue.
- Constitution: Health, stamina, vital force. Which is important for: Everyone.
- Intelligence: Mental acuity, information recall, analytical skill. Which is important for the Wizard.
- Wisdom: Awareness, intuition, insight. Which is important for: Cleric, and Druid.
- Charisma: Confidence, eloquence, and leadership. Which is important for: Bard, Sorcerer, and Warlock.
With these in mind, the 5th edition Player’s Handbook starts us off by picking a Race for our character. Most if not all players tend to pick a race that helps with the needed Ability Scores for the class that they have in mind. But I would like to point out how fun it is to be a race that most will not be to fit the criteria of the class. I mean, after all, the races of the world or not all in the same class. Granted they may have a stronger presence within the class among their society, but this shouldn’t divert you to picking and becoming a class that is unusual for them. Now for the Races, there are nine races, to begin with. Some of the races have subraces within them that further depict your abilities and background. I will give my example with Dart Leingod, from Storm King’s Thunder.
With my small lore and geography knowledge of Faerun and the Sword Coast, I decided to base a character off that trait and somewhat weakness of mine compared to some of the veterans of the game that know the lore way more. So, with the help of the Sword Coast Adventure’s Guide, (Which I strongly recommend getting for anyone wanting to learn more of the places, deities, and more background help and class options.) This is what I have come up with:
- Birth Place: Halruaan, a far southern place past the sword coast, towards or in Amn. I have chosen this for a lot of reasons. The most important one being I am a foreigner of the sword coast, so I made a character the same as myself. It is also the origin of the “Spell Plague” for it is the spot where the Goddess of magic was murdered while in the time where the Gods walked among their creations. The city disappeared and had re-appeared recently. Not much is the Plague itself, but it follows up with it being a place of strong magic and the birthplace of airships.
- Race: I have chosen Human. Dart is a young human male, young to show better that my knowledge of the lore and he has spent more time in prayer and fighting/training more than studies. I have chosen Human for the wide versatility effect and a strong ambition for their brief time alive compared to the other races, most if not all, live longer than Humans. I also chose the Human variant after it being allowed by my DM. Kind of like Subraces, but its specific to the ability scores and the choosing of a feat to show your characters uniqueness.
That is my example so far of his build. But let me list out the races with their subraces so that you have a better picture of what is available to you from the PHB. Beside each, I will list out in parenthesis what each does to an ability score. These are added to the total score, not the modifier:
- Dwarf: CON +2
- Hill Dwarf: WIS +1
- Mountain Dwarf: STR +2
- Elf: DEX +2
- High Elf: INT +1
- Wood Elf: WIS +1
- Dark Elf (Drow): CHA +1
- Halfling: DEX +2
- Lightfoot: CHA +1
- Stout: CON +1
- Human: +1 to all ability scores. Humans do not have a list of subraces. Instead, they have a list of Ethnic Groups to better assist in character creation. Dart’s is from the SAG (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)
- Human Variant: +1 to two ability scores, a skill proficiency, and a feat (if allowed by the DM)
- Dragonborn: STR. +2, CHA. +1. Instead of subraces have a scale / ancestry color which depicts their heritage. They are available for both Metallic and Chromatic colors from the Dragon color list. That may also tell how they act and react within the world, if you choose to do so.
- Gnome: INT +2
- Forest Gnome: DEX +1
- Rock Gnome: CON +1
- Half-Elf: (CHA. +2, +1 to two more of your choosing.) Half-Elves do not have a sub race since they are almost considered to be one already of both human and elf. There are some other sources to instead of using the one from the PHB, which is a make of half-human and half-elf, to make it half-human and half-dark elf, etc. There are examples and build differences listed in the SAG.
- Half-Orc: (STR. +2, CON. +1) Same as the half-elf but of a human and an orc. I have seen any variant builds like the one I told for the Half-Elf but talk with your DM/GM for they may have a few ideas or their builds that they may want to test.
- Tiefling: (INT. +1, CHA. +2) Tiefling’s are that made from a human template but with infernal somewhere in their bloodline. Meaning they have a Devil linage that some act upon or do not entirely. They have no subraces for they are already a unique race and mostly rare to see.
Those are the races listed from the PHB. And are also Adventure League legal to use. Each race has descriptions of how they and others have seen them within Faerun and more. The PHB also was generous to give us example names to use or go off that represents how their race has used and structured. I highly advise reading into which ever race you decide to go with for it can help better role-play your character for both world and personal view.
For the 2nd step, is picking a class. The class is what role you will be playing in within the party. Each of these is specific with how they obtain and use abilities and fit with certain races as well. But always remember this is your character, it is easier to see Tiefling Warlocks since their natural ability bonus goes for the warlock’s main ability it uses for casting which is CHA or charisma, and they have a finish look so it fits the criteria. Some of the best characters I have seen are the ones not fitting what would be the norm for their race or culture.
There are 12 classes you can choose from the PHB. Keep in mind you can multiclass with these. The PHB has a section to what it required to each class and always remember to ask your DM/GM if it is ok for their game to do it. Each class has a specific hit die, which determines your hit points with your CON, what their primary abilities is, saving throw proficiencies, armor and weapon proficiencies. I will list out the classes and a summary of what they do also use typical MMO types.
- Barbarian: A Warrior, who can enter rage to defeat his foes. Also known as a Tank (Can absorb damage for the party) of the party or DPS. (Damage per second)
- Bard: A magician who can inspire, and whose power comes from music. Also known as DPS or Glass Cannon (low armor rating and not a lot of hit points, but can deal massive damage to areas). They are what I prefer as dabblers in magic. They have access to a wide range of magic, including arcane, nature, and divine. Known mostly for supporting the party.
- Cleric: A caster who is powered by divine magic that can fight as well. Also known as the healer of the party, tank, DPS. They can be very versatile in their fighting capabilities.
- Druid: A caster of nature magic that can change into animal forms. A glass cannon that can also be versatile with the usage of spells and animal forms to fill in party roles. Such as Tank, DPS, and healer too.
- Fighter: A master of weapons and armor, that can command the battlefield or be the anchor in the front line. Mostly a Tank but can also fit into DPS.
- Monk: A master of martial arts, that is usually after the perfection of harmony within its self or spiritually. Fits as mostly DPS, but can be a tank of the party as well. Very quick in battle.
- Paladin: A holy warrior that has taken a sacred oath for his deity. They can be a Tank with the ability to heal in the front line.
- Ranger: A warrior that has nature magic to keep watch over vast areas far from cities and civilization. They are known as DPS but can be helpful for healing and keep the party safe during times of travel, or disasters.
- Rogue: A agile, hidden fighter that uses stealth to deal massive damage from the sneak attack and is the most familiar to any criminal society. Is known as mostly DPS.
- Sorcerer: A caster whose power comes from their ancestors. They are users of raw magic and power. They are mostly glass cannons.
- Warlock: A caster whose power comes from a bargain from an extraplanar entity. They are versatile to party roles but mostly fit in glass cannons.
- Wizard: A caster whose power comes from study. They are the best at support and tinkerers for enchantments. Also glass cannons.
The classes are at first generic representation of your character, but soon into the levels, you adapt archetypes or subclasses that is within each class to better define your character and its role in play with the party. Giving you, even more, customization to fit your minds character onto the sheet. If you aren’t certain of some classes are want other options, converse with your DM/GM if that will be allowed and there are more options in the books, and websites that have a lot of homebrew content. For an example of the class and then sub class, I will again use Dart Leingod.
Dart is a paladin, the holy warrior of the party whose job is in the front of the line to gain the enemies attention. To keep his party from harm and to keep their morals high in battle. Now I like uniqueness in the party, and I made Dart a paladin of vengeance; A vengeful path is what most paladins condemn to be lost for to most is a path of darkness, compared to the other oaths, Devotion, and Ancients it is the oath that has a fine line.
The classes are very helpful to flesh out what you have an idea for your character in your head. Not only are they your fighting style in battles, but each has many other benefits among the world and should be used to every advantage to make sure your party can win the day, and may one day be heroes.
Now, the third step in creating your character from the PHB is to determine your ability scores. This is done by many methods. The mostly used for balance, is the point buy system or the standard array. Both are legal for Adventures League and are mostly used for other games as well. Other ways to determine the scores is by methods of rolling D6’s. One of the most common is to roll four D6, drop lowest, Ex. Let’s say I rolled 6,4,5,2. I would drop off the number 2 and add the rest to make 15. Now the number 15 can be used for an ability score. You would roll six times and place where you wish for them to be. Many DM/GM’s will only allow this if you roll in front of them because it is easy to mistake or add wrong, and easy to lie with. I prefer the standard array for the best balance of the party, and then they truly grasp at their character’s class’s specialty.
For example, let me show you Dart’s Scores:
Strength: 16 (+3), Dexterity: 11 (+0), Constitution: 14 (+2), Intelligence: 8 (-1), Wisdom: 13 (+1), Charisma: 15 (+2).
These scores represent your characters measured abilities, which is also followed by the ability modifiers (The numbers in parentheses), which are used for everything within the game. The MODS, for short, go with your skills, ability checks, saving throws, attacks, defense, etc. These can also be used to show off how your character is naturally as it is what it represents. An example would be with Dart’s INT (Intelligence) it has a MOD of negative 1. Now since it is only one step from 0, it does not represent he is mentally challenged or anything of the like. Now he may be slow to a lot of other things such as understanding how the magical weave works and its functions with casters of both Arcane and Nature. He may not know much if at all the history of specifics and may have a challenging time recalling information given to him and the party.
For the next step, describing your character. Now, this is broad but I highly suggest taking your time with and filling in. On most character sheets, it will list out traits of your characters, Personality, Ideals, Bonds (for the adventure or for your characters own within the story) and Flaws. This also includes your alignment, and your characters background, which also gives you skills to be proficient in and other entities for your character. Along with how your character looks, dresses, if they have enemies, a faction, etc.
All of this is the what gives your character flesh within the game to say. It shows off his or her personality and helps your roleplay. This is where your mind should be much at work at. Creating your character from your mind’s image to the sheet highly involves this step. Remember the DM/GM and other players can be very helpful with what to do and how to better fit in your DM/GM’s world that you are about to experience and grow more into. Please also remember, nothing is exactly permanent. What I mean by that is, it is very possible for your character to grow or stray from his/her alignment and morals. Now, this should never be an immediate switch or turn. This is a slow and long change unless it is effected by a powerful item in the game or something happens with the extreme outcome.
As an example, Dart’s background I have used the Noble background from the PHB. Now the backgrounds all give you two specific skills you can add your proficiency mod too, which comes from your character’s class level. Keep this in mind if you have a class already selected. The class you ick gives you a list of skills to choose from but are limited, but the background only gives you specific ones you gain, so you do not want to overlap the skills you are proficient in.
The noble background gives you a description of how your character can be considered a noble. Be sure to flesh out how that has come to be with your character and talk with your DM / GM to see how to fit it into either the adventure path (or published campaigns) or their homebrew world. To further show what I have done with Dart, I chosen the Noble variant, Knight. This was to limit his noble birth, being the youngest of five, and able to leave his family’s estate and city to explore, adventure and follow his Deity’s call. This can also help you in the campaign for each background has a feature that is special with the background.
An example is the noble gives you access to the position of privilege which as a summary lets you have access to high society in most if not all places, common folk try to accommodate you for your wellbeing, etc. But remember this will only work in areas that even acknowledge your nobility. If your name carries weight within a certain city, it may work but always be ready for a hidden dagger. With the Knight variant, I have chosen for Dart it took away this and replaced it with gaining a squire and two retainers for your journey. He has also gained a Banner from his Deity’s cathedral that he has sworn loyalty and allegiance to if ever needed. It is Dart’s most memorable, sentiment valued piece of his past.
This background gave me History and Persuasion as skill proficiencies, one type of gaming set to add my proficiency to when used, one more language of my chose, and a set of fine clothes, signet ring, scroll of pedigree and a pouch containing 25 extra gold pieces. Each background will give you extra starting equipment mainly of clothing, a little extra gold or raw materials, a few additional languages you can add from your race chooses, etc.
All the backgrounds are different from one another, but some are similar in certain ways. But that is for you to say, just because you choose criminal does not mean you can’t act as an urchin or a courtesan. A paladin can have a criminal past giving him an edge when it comes down to seeking help in the criminal underbelly of most major cities. One last thing, backgrounds can even help your DM/GM make the game even more intriguing with how your background is set up. The more filling there is within it, the better the DM/GM may use it to have a story arc in your game for your character that may affect your party as well. It’s also a fantastic way to have your character better understood and see possible growth.
Now for step 5. Equipment for your character. Each class and background gives you a list to choose from for starting equipment, and in chapter 5 of the PHB, there is starting wealth that you can either acquire more items or get only what the class and background say. That depends on your DM/GM on what they wish for you to start with. When you are at this point think of what your character maybe interested in, or what is relevant to their background or class. Armor is split into three categories and weapons are split into two. Armor, also known as AC (Armor class) has, light, medium, and heavy armor. Light is mostly for staying quick and quiet on your feet but also the less pricey. Medium is in between providing protection and quietness just not as much as the other two, which are strongly built for. Then there’s heavy armor meant to take a beaten and keep pushing forward.
For weapons, there are simple and martial, and both have melee and ranged weapon types. Each weapon has a damage die that you roll for damage from your weapon when you hit another creature.
Each of the AC and weapon items can even further describe your characters background and story. Keep this in mind when making your decisions and make sure the AC and weapon items are usable with your characters proficiency. You don’t have to do this necessary, but if you want a good chance to hit enemies, it’ll be best to use something your character is proficient with.
Equipment is the tools, goods, and materials you may need on your adventures that may prove very useful while in a dungeon or the belly of a city. Some smart usage of such things will help your character survive. It is also the area to think of making items and potions etc. When it comes down to magic items, its most likely you will not be allowed to have them unless its specific from your background that won’t have a legendary effect, etc. Most campaigns start off at levels 1 through 3 depending on your DM/GM and story. But don’t threat, the DM/GM’s know how much players love magic items, they are coming just remember to save some gold.
That’s it for a full character walkt-hrough on Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. I will like to use this time to recap on character uniqueness. The usual character can work and are still enjoyable, but do not be afraid to get loose with your creation and always remember this is your character. If there’s already a wizard in the party and that’s what you wanted to make? Do it. There are many other ways to go about building every one of these 12 classes, and all of them have archetypes, so your character is that much more unique. If your DM/GM does not wish for there to be two wizards in the same party, that’s ok too still other caster classes that work just as well.
This has been Coffee and Dice at Boggsimus Games; I’m Joshua Graham I will see you at the gaming table!
- Player’s Handbook, 5th Dungeons and Dragons ©2014 by Wizards of the Coast
- Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide ©2015 by Wizards of the Coast
- Storm King’s Thunder ©2016 by Wizards of the Coast