Five Parts Of Your First Dungeons and Dragons Character
If you have played Dungeons and Dragons before, this won’t be that helpful, but for a new player, there are five main parts that you need to think about when creating your character. Four of them are laid out very clearly in the players handbook, and the fifth one is less important than the other ones, but will enhance your game play. The five key elements making up your character are your race, class, stats, background, and backstory.
People do those five things in different orders, but I tend to like them in the order listed above. Some people pick class before race, but for me, the race plays a more important part in who your character is. Everything I want to lay out should enhance both your roll playing and your role playing.
So why is race the first thing? Why not class? I think that race will give you a better idea of your character for both roll and role play. And elf might not be as likely to be a barbarian but if they are, you now have a story surrounding that. But for first time players, race can be easier to pick than a class. Picking that you want to be an elf then leads you in certain directions for your class choices. Granted, picking human leaves everything open.
So from the roll play side, like I said, picking your race helps you nail down your class. And I think that the class for a lot of players is a little bit more flexible and most races can play most classes well. Going back to the elf example, you can pick to be an elf and be a fighter, a ranger, a rogue, a druid, or a wizard very easily. And I think that a number of the other classes work as well. Picking your race will give you a narrower target for classes, but a wider target than picking a class and then going back to race.
From the role play side, you now get to create a character with more of the flavor that you might want. When you look at the classes, you have a variety open to you still, both fighters and casters. The race give you a better picture for role playing than class does. How do you want them to interact, do you want a haughty or nature focused character, an elf, a gruff drinking and brawling character, why not a dwarf. The race helps set more of that personality than anything else would.
Class helps focus the character. This really covers both roll and role play again as you can use the class to focus more of the story. But you also get a lot of mechanics out of this. You are going to get your first skills, if you pick a spell casting class your first spells, and you really get to see where you are going to be rolling the dice. Take this time to when looking at the class to find those skills that are going to be your characters standard. What attack is your signature, so when it comes time to combat you are ready to go.
But there is also role play elements to think about. When you pick your class you start to add in other questions. If you are a wizard, what wizarding school did you go to. What connections do you still maintain there? If you are a fighter, where did you learn to fight? Who is your mentor or trainer, and are they still a friend or a foe? Were you in the military or town guard or why did you pick up the skills?
Now we move into an area that seems more like it is roll playing and role playing. But in reality, it is both. The roll playing part is obvious. You roll your dice and you use the stats to modify them. So with your race and class, you now know what stats you need to be good at. If you are a wizard, intelligence, a fighter, strength, that sort of thing.
But putting down your stats also gives you a ton of opportunity to create more role playing as well. It is tempting to try and be at least okay at everything. Using a standard array for numbers, it is going to give you one thing you are below average at. And that is where you get your role playing. What does it look like to be worse than average at intelligence or to be missing subtly because of lacking common sense from wisdom? What is it like to be a character who isn’t strong? There is a lot of story that starts to develop from your weaknesses, as well as your strengths.
This is the last part of what you need to be thinking about from the book. The background helps flesh out your characters backstory and who you were at some point in time in your life before you decided to go adventuring. This one is much more focused on the role playing side of things, versus the roll playing. In fact, you are unlikely to get any dice improvements out of this beside getting some more skills and maybe some tools to help improve your modifiers.
This is about picking a background and getting four areas in this. You get personality traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws. Check out them more in details in my Building a D&D Character 201 article. But these add in story elements naturally to a character by giving them connections and little ticks and more. These are not hard and fast things your character will always adhere to, but they help create touch points when you aren’t sure how you character would react. It also gives them some skills to fall back on.
We are finally to backstory. This one is the easiest to talk about. This one is only role playing focused. This is what helps your dungeon master know how to bring your character into the story. It is also the only part not in the book. However, I put it last because if you don’t know what backstory you want, the other things will help. In fact, they can do most of the writing for you.
If you are an elf, you will see things more one way. If you are an elf fighter, it focused more. An elf fighter who is great with a bow because you have high dexterity but bad charisma, more focused. An elf fighter with low charisma and a military background, you now have a lot of your backstory written for you. You just need to flesh out the details.
Now You Have Your Character!
If you go through those steps, you’ll have a character that is ready to be played. Work with your Dungeon Master through this whole process, because you want your character to fit the story being told. As a dungeon master, I recommend a session 0, a chance to sit around, talk about your story idea and setting and then build characters together. That will create a group more cohesive characters for the players and the world being played in.
What type of character do you want to play next?