This post will simplify the character creation process by boiling it down to a few decisions. This will be the first of two posts. This post is for new players to the game who just want to get started! The next post will be for experienced players or “min-maxers” looking to ensure they are optimally built before they sit down at the table.
Some history…It took me 2 hours at a table with an experienced DM to go through and create my first character. This was after a failed attempt to do it by myself with the players handbook and a blank character sheet. I knew there would be dice involved at some point and that there were races and classes to choose, but I was not prepared for all the options or the implications of my choices. I then went and did the same thing to my wife and other players before we ran our first campaign together.
I wish someone would have sat me down, and I them, to give a reality check, and make the process fun! That is exactly what I hope this post is for those of you who want to get into this game, (great decision by the way) but saw a character sheet and said, “no way” (understandable).
This post IS NOT intended to help you crunch numbers, IT IS intended to help everyone end up with the character they want to play. This post will tend to stick to fantasy stereotypes for easy visualization and understanding, but know that I highly recommend going against the grain in character creation. Remember that the interesting lives with the unexpected. Here we go…
Decision 1: What do you want to look like? (Race)
This is a fantasy game after-all. When you think of yourself as a heroic figure (or villain) how do you see yourself? You can be as far away from how you currently look as you like. Change your height, build, skin color, eye color, gender anything. The way you appear to others is up to you in this game.
Beefy, intimidating, bruiser? Look at:
- Dwarf – Short, heavy, stubborn and bearded
- Half-Orc – Large, tusks, green skin, heavy brow – spooky
- DragonBorn – exactly what you think – 250 pound dragon person.
Small, mousy, trickster? Look at:
- Gnome – Tiny, pointy eared, high pitched voices, easily overlooked
- Halfling – Slightly bigger than Gnomes – Frodo!
- Human – All ethnicities are an option, the literal world is your oyster
Lithe, elegant, mysterious? Look at:
- Elf – Tall, elegant, fluid movement and of course, pointy ears
- Half-Elf – Dial all that down a bit
- Tiefling – Demonic blood grants them colored skin, horns, and a tail – awesome!
Once you know this much you might have an idea of the next decision you have to make.
Decision 2: How do you want to fight? (Class)
The rules will differentiate between all the classes and how they fight or impact a battle, but the main thing to determine is whether or not you want to get up close and personal (MELEE) or keep your distance (RANGED). You can worry about the variance later, for now – just figure this out…
Melee characters are traditional combatants like Knights, and Viking Berserkers from history. Look at:
- Fighter – Master of arms, ability comes from training and experience
- Barbarian – Rage monster, total brute force and intimidation
- Paladin – Holy warrior, powers gifted by a deity for extreme devotion
- Rogue – Strike from the shadows, enemy is dead before they knew you were there
- Monk – Stoic warriors, who’s mastery of themselves grants power over others
Ranged characters are traditionally your archers and spell casters. Look at:
- Ranger – Skilled archers who send bolts and arrows from a safe distance
- Wizard – Trained in the arcane arts through study and learning
- Bard – Their overwhelming charisma allows them to use music to influence all
- Sorcerer – Innate arcane ability grants them great, but chaotic power
- Warlock – They and their deity value power above all, regardless of it’s source
Still can’t decide? Do both! Look at:
- Cleric – Warriors like the paladin who focus more on healing others
- Druid – Masters of nature who can become the animals around them and control the elements
Decision 3: How do you want to behave?
This decision covers everything outside of combat, which is actually a majority of the time spent at the table depending on your DM and other players (I would guess my games are about 60/40? – but I’ve never timed it)
It’s weird to think about, but your character had a life before they started out on this adventure, and it’s your job to determine what that life was! There is certainly a whole skill to creating a backstory and I just linked to a whole post dedicated to that, but that’s not what this is. This is determining your characters “Background” Or better yet, how were they spending their time before we all met them?
The best thing to keep in mind here is that the background is 95% flavor to your character. There are backgrounds that will make way more sense depending on your first two decisions, but it’s really just a portal into the role play. Very little of this impacts your character sheet in a meaningful way. With that in mind, You choose from:
- Acolyte – “Yes. Right away master. The ritual must not be interrupted!”
- Charlatan – “Ma’am, would I ever sell you a faulty medallion? Now if you look over here…”
- Criminal – “No one has to get hurt here, but I’m ok if they do”
- Entertainer – “Step right up! The show is about to begin!”
- Folk Hero – “People know me”
- Gladiator – “Who’s next!”
- Guild Artisan or Guild Merchant – “I can make that, for a price”
- Hermit – “Just, leave me alone!”
- Noble – “Oh I’m sorry, you said you’re from…where again exactly?”
- Outlander – “Shhhhh…….do you smell that?”
- Sage – “Oo Oo Oo, I know I know! Over here!”
- Sailor – “I love the smell of the salt water on the air and the taste of rum in my mouth”
- Soldier – “Yes sir!”
- Urchin – “Anywhere I guess, I’m not picky”
And that’s it really! Honestly, the rest is dice and writing things down on the character sheet which the DM will walk you through. I’ll cover rolling for stats and more rules in the next post. If I had walked into that session with the DM with these three decisions made, it would have been 20 minutes, not 2+ hours.
This is my opinion of course but the rest of it will get in the way of playing the character you want to create. Quick tips:
- Don’t worry about bonuses, stat increases, proficiencies, saving throws or anything, until you’ve decided on these three things.
- If something turns out to be “sub-optimal” who cares! Embrace it. The flaws of a character is the best stuff. No one remembers the fighter who’s perfect, but no one will forget the wizard who’s terrible at everything.
- Break the mold – go against what I wrote up there – it’s your world after all
Look out for post two in this series where we get…serious…about the numbers (read what I did there?)