So you want to kill a dragon. Good, I like your enthusiasm. But hold you fantasy horses. Before you go delving into dungeons, rescuing townsfolk, and looting shiny trinkets, you’re going to have to figure out who you are first. How do you fight? What do you look like? Why do you do the things that do you? These questions and more are all answered during the first and most essential step to any Dungeons and Dragons campaign: character creation. While a seemingly daunting task to newcomers, character creation is actually fairly straightforward, and can be broken down into several easy-to-follow steps. Before long you’ll be casting or slashing with the best of them. So grab a sword, strap on your plate armor, and let’s roll some dice!
Note: this guide focuses on the actual character creation process itself, and assumes that you have the tools necessary at your disposal—a set of polyhedral dice, a character sheet (three pages in total), and a copy of the Player’s Handbook (PHB). Also, this guide will look at creating a character for the 5th Edition (5e) of Dungeons and Dragons, and will not use any materials found outside of the PHB. Lastly, while thorough, this guide will be by no mean exhaustive. Ask your Dungeon Master (DM) if you have any specific questions.
Step 1: Choosing a Class and Assigning Ability Scores
Of all of the steps involved in character creation, this is perhaps the most integral, and also the trickiest. Your class will determine how you play the game itself, and will inform most of your other creation choices. There are twelve base classes in 5e, each with their own unique play styles. You could be a brilliant spell-slinging Wizard, a swift and sneaky Rogue, or a fierce and intimidating Barbarian; for the purposes of this guide, I am going to build a Fighter (PHB, pg. 70): a front-line warrior that uses armor and martial weapons to dominate the battlefield. The entry for every class gives a breakdown of what features you unlock as you level up—that is, become stronger throughout your campaign. Given that this is a character creation guide, however, I will be focusing solely on the first level of the Fighter class.
Now that we know what class we’re going to build, let’s assign Ability Scores. Your Ability Scores are numerical representations, from 1 to 20, of your physical attributes, and are listed on the left side of the character sheet. A character with a 1 in any given attribute will be severely deficient at that given faculty, whereas a character with a 20 will be renowned for their prowess. The higher the score, the bigger the number that it will allow you to add to die rolls involving that attribute. For reference, a generic commoner has a score of 10 in each category, representing the baseline average. From top to bottom on the sheet, the attributes are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
While there are several methods for figuring out Ability Scores, we’re going to use the Standard Array method, which is an easy way to produce a balanced character. The Standard Array of scores is 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, to be assigned in any way to the six attributes. We’re building a Fighter, so we want to be strong and have a sturdy constitution. In that case, let’s give our character 15 Strength, 14 Constitution, 13 Dexterity, 12 Wisdom, 10 Charisma, and 8 Intelligence; our character is bulky, but not the brightest bulb—maybe as a result of one too many blows to the head.
Now that we have our Ability Scores laid out, let’s look back to the Fighter section of the PHB. While each class description has tips on coming up with a motivation for your character, we’re going to skip right to the “Class Features” section. First up are Hit Points: how much damage your character can take before going unconscious. As a Fighter, our “Hit Die” is a 10-sided die (a d10). A Hit Die determines how much your maximum health increases each level, and allows you to heal between battles. As it notes, we start with one Hit Die (which we’ll mark down in the middle of the first page of our character sheet). We also begin with 10 + our Constitution Modifier health (to be marked just above that). Given our starting Constitution of 16 (14, plus 2 from our Race, which I will explain in just a bit), our modifier is +3, and so our health is set at 13. A list of Ability Score/Modifier relationships can be found on page 13 of the PHB.
Next, let’s look at proficiencies. Your Proficiency Bonus (which begins as a +2 and increases as you level up) represents your character’s specific aptitude when performing certain actions or using particular tools or weapons. As a Fighter, we are proficient with all armor and shields, simple and martial weapons, Strength and Constitution Saving Throws, and two Skills of our choice (let’s go with Athletics and Perception). Any rolls involving any of those things will gain a +2. Write down weapon and armor proficiencies in the bottom left box, and put a check mark next to the Skills and Saving Throws in which we’re proficient. For equipment, we’ll choose chain mail, a sword and shield, a crossbow, and a dungeoneer’s pack (the contents of which are on page 151 of the PHB). Equipment should be written down in the bottom-middle box; ask your DM for the specifics on the stats of your equipment.
Lastly, we have the class-specific Class Features. These are what truly differentiate between the various classes. At level 1, the Fighter gets two of these: “Fighting Style” and “Second Wind.” Class features are, for the most part, self-explanatory. For the Fighting Style, let’s go with “Defense”; we want to make it harder for people to hit us, so we want more Armor Class (AC). These features should be recorded in the bottom right of your character sheet.
And just like that, the hard part is out of the way! We’ve picked a class, assigned Ability Scores, and recorded all of our class features. Tune in for part 2, in which we’ll choose a Race, pick a Background, and think a bit about our character’s backstory.