You’ve done it! You’ve gotten a group together, you have a DM, and you guys are all set for your first session next weekend! You’re finally going to be able to play some D&D! Only thing left to handle is creating your character… and now you’ve drawn a blank.
“What kind of character do I want to play?” “What are my choices?” “How do I make sure that I make an interesting character?”
Unfortunately, I can’t answer those questions for you (because your character is entirely up to you, don’t let anyone else tell you differently). What I can help you with is to think about your character in a few different ways that will help give you a better idea of what you want your next character to be.
Race and Class
Before we dive too deep into the character creation, the very first thing you probably want to ask yourself is, (1) what is my character’s race? And (2) what is my character’s class? The choice of race and class defines very loosely how your character will function in combat in D&D. So it would also help to think about that as well. Do you want to attack from range with a bow? Or sling spells? Or be up close and personal?
The question of your character’s race is important because it defines a number of different things about your character. One of which, is what your character physically looks like. Although, your race doesn’t just define your character’s physical aesthetic. They also determine what your character would be good at. Some races are stronger and heartier than others. Some are quicker. And some are more attuned to the forces of magic. Each race contributes their own different set of traits and abilities. They are all unique from one another.
Depending on your DM, race may also have an impact on your backstory. In your DM’s world, Elves may all be considered evil, or maybe there aren’t any humans in the world because they wiped themselves out. Each DM can have a unique take on the world that they have created. So it would pay to consult your DM when deciding about your character’s race. (This is actually universally true advice. Always consult your DM about your character. Not just for race, but regarding everything about your character).
Races in Dungeons and Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and it can be hard to keep track of them all. Here’s a link to DnDBeyond’s summary of the different races in D&D.
After you have identified your character’s race, it’s now time to choose your character’s class. Your choice of class determines what particular set of activities your character is good at doing. What the “class” essentially embodies, is the question of what skills your character has been honing and improving upon for the majority of their lives.
Like your choice of race, class also makes an impact on your character’s backstory and personality. Mostly because you need to be able to roughly answer the questions of why and how did your character come to be good at this particular set of skills?
The Player’s Handbook entries on the different classes give some great examples and ideas on backstory options for the different classes.
Someone made a wonderful flowchart that can help give you an idea of what type of class you ought to play. So rather than go through the minutia of talking about each class, I encourage you to just go through the flowchart.
Stats and Abilities
Typically the next step would be to start creating your character’s “character sheet“. The piece of paper that holds all the information about your character that you can reference during the game.
Creating a character sheet is an admittedly involved (and tedious) process, so we won’t be tackling that here. But the Player’s Handbook (PHB) has a great section that guides you through that aspect of character creation. It starts on page 11 of the PHB, and/or on page 8 of the free Basic Rules for D&D 5th Edition. You can also try out the free tier tools provided by DnDBeyond.com to get you started.
If you are ever confused about the rules, numbers, and terms that are involved in character creation, you can always consult your DM. We are always eager to help new players with creating their characters.
After you’ve identified your character’s race and class, you already have some idea of who they are. Crafting your character’s backstory then means taking all those different elements and weaving them into one cohesive thread that defines what happened to your character. Some questions to help you along these lines:
- What type of family was your character born into?
- What happened to your character’s family?
- Why/how did your character acquire the skills they posses?
- Is there any one particular event that “defines” your character?
- Why did your character choose to go adventuring?
After answering these questions, you should have a fairly clear idea of what your character’s backstory is all about. And ideally, you should be sharing all aspects of your backstory with your DM. This allows them to be able to craft a more immersive story, since they can take elements of your backstory into account. One very good tip that I’ve been given when it comes to crafting your character’s backstory, is to only create as much as what your character would realistically know themselves. This allows the DM sufficient leeway in order to surprise you during the campaign with their own plot twists about your character.
If you are at a loss of a character backstory, a very helpful tool is WhoTheFuckIsMyDNDCharacter.com. It’s a random character generator that gives some very interesting suggestions. Some suggestions include:
- CYNICAL HALF-ELF WIZARD FROM A POMPOUS WIZARD SCHOOL WHO WANTS TO PROVE THEY’RE NO LONGER THAT GOOFY KID
- PROUD HALF-ELF DRUID FROM THE TREELESS FOREST WHO IS WRITING AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
- UNPREDICTABLE GNOME WIZARD FROM THE QUALITY CONTROL FOR POTION BREWING ASSOCIATION WHO IS CURRENTLY ON PROBATION FOR DRUNK AND DISORDERLY BEHAVIOR
The last step (and arguably the most important) in creating a character, is going to be defining their personality. Given everything that they have experienced, through what lens do they see the world?
Do they see it with hopeful optimism that there is still light within civilization and society? Or do they see it through deep layers of cynicism and distrust? Perhaps they just don’t care, and have devoted themselves to simply “going with the flow”. Other aspects of your character can contribute to how this lens is crafted.
- What does your character ultimately want to achieve?
- What is it that drives them?
- What are they willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish their goals?
Identifying these aspects of your character can help you get to know them better. Knowing what their ultimate goals are will also illuminate how they would react in certain situations, which would be very good boons during role-play.
- What is your character afraid of?
- Why are they afraid of this particular thing/person?
- To what lengths are they willing to go to to avoid their fears
- Will they ever “face their fears”?
Similar to goals, knowing what your character fears plays a large part into how you would role-play them. Just like how they are attracted to their goals, they would understandably be repelled by what they fear. Is your character willing to face their fears? Alone? Or only with the party? What would be the pay-off or fallout of them ultimately doing so?
The final aspect of your character is figuring out, who do they care for? Who do they hate? Is there someone in your character’s life that they would be willing to sacrifice everything to save? Alternatively, is there someone that they would do the same to kill? Who the are the different friends and allies that your character could count upon? Who would they know to avoid at all costs? What is your character’s relationship with society as a whole? How does your character fit into the societal weave?
Hopefully these questions have helped give you some idea on creating your own character. And with any luck, this will be a character that will develop into one that you will enjoy role-playing as your sessions go on. Playing a D&D character gives us an amazing opportunity to try and put ourselves in the shoes of someone different from us. Marisha Ray from Critical Role has talked about how playing a character like Keyleth (whom is very different from her) had taught her so much about being empathetic and a leader. I can only hope that you will have the same experience as well.
Go forth adventurer. And good luck!
Earl is what you would call a Dungeons & Dragons addict. He watches D&D shows, prowls the D&D forums, and basically lives, breathes, and eats D&D (It’s no joke, he literally listens to the D&D Podcast while eating). He likes to be thought of as the “lead fool” as he guides us all through the silliness of D&D.
For his day-job. Earl is an ERP Consultant with the Nomura Research Institute (NRI). He is also a Shaper with the Global Shapers: Hong Kong Hub.