Following a detailed D&D 5E character creation walkthrough is like reading a simple meal recipe. There are lots of terms and steps involved, but the aspect of math is minimal. You might end up with a botched character, but you can always backtrack and try again.
To make sure that your character creation process is nearly flawless, you need to begin on the right footing and finish with a strong presentation. In 5E, numbers are not enough to represent the usefulness of a character. You must work with a concept and analyze it accordingly.
This article will help you build an effective character from the ground up.
D&D Character Creation – A Comprehensive Walkthrough
Begin With A Concept
Making your character starts with a simple concept. Perhaps you want to channel a deep desire to stop tyranny or you want to feel the pure excitement of adventure. It’s important to write down the core concept of your dream character. This core concept shouldn’t be longer than two sentences.
Here are some examples:
- A farmer laying down his tools to go adventuring
- A filthy rich adventurer
- A warrior determined to kill Dragons
- A young spellcaster working on his Magnum Opus
- A funny character build to share laughs with real-life friends
- A Kratos look-alike
Don’t worry about your character’s backstory at this early stage. Just focus on the character concept and head straight to ability score generation right away. This process is important because ability scores will shape your character’s foundations. You can even use ability scores as guides for your character’s backstory.
D&D’s personalization tools (ideals, bonds, and flaws) are optional factors that can improve your character concept. These tools might feel limiting, so you must avoid vague statements. If you want to make a roleplay-focused build, you must find a balance between ideals and flaws. Bonds, on the other hand, are solid statements that will improve your character’s connection with party members and NPCs.
Generate Ability Scores
Ability scores determine the overall competence of your character. A low score simply means that the character is not well-versed in activities related to that ability. One of the best ways to play in a D&D session is to have a balanced, well-rounded character. Overpowered characters will ruin the gameplay experience for other people.
Take note of your character’s key abilities:
Strength governs your character’s physique. With a high Strength score, your character can overcome many physical challenges and hurdles. The primary skill related to Strength is Athletics. If you want to accomplish something related to Strength, you should roll for Athletics to include your Proficiency modifier. Direct Strength checks are usually meant for trivial activities with a high passing rate (i.e. Carrying a Halfling with just one hand).
Dexterity is a measurement of your character’s speed and reflexes. This ability affects three important skills: Acrobatics (leaping high, evasion), Sleight of Hand (theft or tricks), and Stealth (concealment). Among such skills, you’ll probably use Acrobatics often.
Constitution determines your character’s health and inner vital force. If your character’s constitution is high, he/she will win drinking sprees easily. A high Constitution score also affects your character’s Hit Points and defense against poison.
Intelligence is an important ability that measures your character’s mental acumen. A high Intelligence score is the benchmark of geniuses while a low score is the mark of a buffoon. The fun skills related to Intelligence are Arcana (magical lore), History (recalling events), Investigation (finding clues like Sherlock), Nature (flora and fauna), and Religion (recalling details about deities and faith).
Wisdom affects your character’s innate perceptiveness and sense of survival. A high Wisdom score is the bread and butter of political play, and it separates the oppressor from the oppressed. The skills related to Wisdom are Animal Handling (taming animals), Insight (learning the truth), Medicine (stabilization or diagnosis), Survival (tracking and identifying danger), and Perception (general awareness). You shouldn’t put a ‘below average’ score to Wisdom if you want to survive a campaign for a long time.
Charisma is the ability that governs your character’s social prowess and personality. A high Charisma score will help your character make lasting impressions. It’s normal for high-charisma characters to bluff their way to riches or victory. The skills affected by Charisma are Deception (lying or bluffing), Intimidation (threats), Performance (dancing or acting), and Persuasion (changing someone’s view or negotiating).
Now that you know the full gist of ability scores, you can start generating them. It takes only a few minutes to come up of excellent (or not-so-excellent) ability scores.
These are the common methods of generating ability scores:
- Roll 4d6s and drop the lowest number
- Standard array (a general set of pre-rolled scores)
- Point Buy (get low or high scores based on some predetermined points)
- Plain d20s (leads to powerful or weak builds with limitations set by DM)
Races and Racial Options
The Race is the most important mold where your character will take shape. Picking a race is like choosing your character’s ideology and uniqueness. Some racial options are cosmetic, while the majority of them provide small mechanical advantages.
These are the popular races of D&D:
- Human – Persistent Fantasy Survivors
- Elf – Magical and Long-Lived
- Dwarf – Strong and Stocky
- Half-Elf – Best of Two Worlds
- Halfling – Small Yet Lucky
- Gnome – Small Yet Tough As Nails
- Half-Orc – Strong, Savage, and Intelligent
- Tiefling – Sinfully Strange
- Dragonborn – Be Like the Dragon
- Aasimar – Touched By An Angel
- Genasi – Channel the Elements
- Warforged – Animatronic with A Mission
Among all races of D&D, humanity is the largest and most widely recognizable. Humans can adapt to most situations, allowing them to progress in many ways. It’s common to see humans as politicians, seasoned adventurers, zealous preachers, and even dark-hearted crime lords. If you’re planning to build a well-balanced character, you can never go wrong with the Human race.
Elves are beautiful and magical people that can live for 700 years or more. Such a long life allowed Elves to understand the mysteries of the world, and they reaped the benefits of learning advanced magic and superb meditation. Elf is an excellent choice if you’re planning to build a spellcaster.
Commonly allied to Elves and Humans, the Dwarves are firm believers of hard labor and kinship. Dwarves are proud of their accomplishments, especially the ones achieved by their ancestors. A Dwarven society is separated into various clans such as Mountain Dwarves, Hill Dwarves, and the Duergar or Gray Dwarves. Even though dwarves are short, their strength and discipline are undeniable. Pick the Dwarf race if you want to build an optimized martial character.
Half-Elves are the best of two worlds: human and Elven cultures. A Half-Elf exudes grace and cheerfulness, paving the way to political or artistic careers. You can engage in fantastic roleplaying scenarios by playing a Half-Elf race. Additionally, Half-Elf racial bonuses are great for sneaky builds and spellcasters.
For a Halfling, the world is a big place full of adventures, treasures, and delicious food. Halflings can become champion explorers and cunning agents working for powerful organizations despite being small and happy-go-lucky. If you want to be fast and sneaky, you should pick the Halfling race. Plus, the Halfling has the Lucky trait, which allows a reroll on a Nat 1. Such a trait is useful for passing save throws and difficult checks!
Gnomes are the serious counterparts of Halflings. They still understand the importance of having fun, but they are more driven to pursue great things such as the wonders of the invention and deep arcane mysteries. The Gnome race has many useful traits that offer mechanical advantages – perfect for experimentation!
Combining the savagery of Orcs and the intellect of Humans, the Half-Orc is a proud warrior at heart. Usually, a Half-Orc must prove himself worthy to his tribe by accomplishing impressive combat feats. Due to the Half-Orc’s combat-focused traits, it is often the best choice for martial classes.
The Tiefling bears the fiendish mark of Asmodeus, resulting into a multi-generational curse that mixes the blood of devils and humans. While the Tiefling race can access strong fiendish spells, it will face the brunt of insults, disdain, and – if the DM is merciless – consistent bounties. If you’re looking for a strong narrative challenge, just pick the Tiefling race.
The Dragonborn is a proud race that bears the traits of their Dragon progenitors. Even though a Dragonborn is not as big or powerful as a Dragon, it’s still competent because of exclusive damage resistance. The Breath Weapon is also a useful ancestral trait that depends on the player’s chosen Draconic Ancestry.
Commonly dubbed as fallen angels, the Aasimar are somehow close to Celestials and duty-bound Planetars. It’s uncommon to see the Aasimar in D&D worlds because they prefer to blend with bustling societies and strange settlements. If you’re looking for a unique race that guarantees early-level mobility, the Aasimar is a solid bet.
Known as the descendants of Djinns, the Genasi always belong to many tales of adventuring and heroism. The Genasi can channel the power of elements, depending on their elemental bloodline. Due to Genasi’s elemental affinity, it is often paired with classes like Sorcerers and Warlocks.
The Warforged is the magic-punk android of D&D. This race doesn’t share the biological needs of other races like sleep or food. Warforged characters also have numerous utility advantages as well as combat bonuses.
Pick Your Character Class
In D&D, your class represents the destined lifetime profession of your character. The class is more than just a font of identity or a set of numbers in a character sheet. You should think of character classes as in-game tools designed to measure progression.
These are the character classes discussed in D&D 5E Player’s Handbook:
- Fighter – Versatile Damage-dealer
- Monk – Master of Action Economy
- Barbarian – Deadly Rage and Primal Survivor
- Rogue – Sneaky Ambusher
- Cleric – The Classic Healer
- Paladin – Healer and Punisher
- Wizard – Master of the Arcane
- Bard – The Party Buff-giver
- Warlock – The DM’s Conduit
- Sorcerer – The Magic Manipulator
- Ranger – Ambusher in the Wilds
- Druid – Nature’s Representative
The Fighter is a well-rounded combatant that can learn numerous deadly maneuvers and combat strategies. This class is nearly unmatched in drawn-out battles, albeit lacking in utility options and quick exit strategies.
The Monk is the best option for players who want crunchy and explosive unarmed strikes. Most Monk class features rely on Ki – a form of spiritual energy harnessed by disciplined warriors. Monks are great for ambushing unsuspecting targets, and they have excellent survivability. However, nearly all classes outshine the Monk when it comes to delivering sustained damage at higher levels.
Considered the classic tank of most parties, the Barbarian is always a necessity in any party. Barbarians are tough, frenzied tribal warriors that can survive intense battles and deliver huge damage over time. The Barbarian utilizes the Rage – a terrifying scream that can provide damage resistance, damage bonuses, and a plethora of other special effects.
The Rogue is the top choice of neutral or evil-aligned characters. You can do many things with the Rogue class, such as thievery, deception, lockpicking, assassination, impersonation, and general nuisance. Many players consider the Rogue as the best ‘utility class’ because it can save the party from sticky situations. In combat, the Rogue utilizes stealth and sneak attacks to resolve danger. The Rogue cannot ‘tank’ damage because of its squishy HP pool.
A herald of faith, the Cleric demonstrates the power of healing and the opportunity to punish heathens. Once you’ve chosen the Cleric class, you’d become the party’s official healer or dedicated savior. The Cleric doesn’t have glaring weaknesses because of the synergy between Domain features and powerful restoration spells. But once the Cleric has run out of options in combat because of attrition, everyone should be on full retreat!
If the Cleric is a bastion of healing and protection, the Paladin is the invoker of divine justice. Paladins support their comrades through healing and boosts, but they can also hold the line against waves of enemies. Aside from their combat prowess, Paladins are driven by their Oaths. Breaking an Oath can lead to dramatic situations and a significant power loss!
A well-thrown projectile can knock the Wizard unconscious. Well, it’d be wise to bring down a Wizard fast before he gets the chance to cast a powerful spell! The Wizard is a master of spells and rituals. Even at Level 1, the Wizard can access a selection of useful and dangerous cantrips that can change the tide of battle. At higher levels, the Wizard is unstoppable, omniscient, and a real force of nature.
Relying on performance and the empowering effects of music, the Bard can guarantee fun and solid roleplay for hours. The Bard can do many things such as healing, inspirational buffs, warding magic, spellcasting, and even animating objects. In combat, it’s always wise to keep a Bard away from the frontlines because of low survivability.
The Warlock is a versatile spellcasting class supported by an otherworldly force known as the Patron. The Warlock can gain specific class features and additional spells through the Patron. As a Warlock, you may need to coordinate with your DM often, especially if you want to maximize the benefits given by your Patron. It’s also rare for a Warlock to reach the spellcasting prowess of a Wizard without relying on exclusive DM fiat. In a way, a Warlock’s progress depends on two entities: the Patron and the DM.
The Sorcerer is a master arcane manipulator. This flexible spellcasting class allows spell modification, spell enhancement, and other damaging or intimidating options. You can even pick a different Sorcerous Origin if you don’t like the Draconic Bloodline in the Handbook. If you’re going to play a Sorcerer, always keep your most powerful spells in reserve. Your improved spellcasting abilities can possibly bring down the wounded enemy in just a few shots.
A tour-de-force in the savage wilds, the Ranger can shoot enemies with deadly precision or lure them with creative traps. The Ranger can also call a beast companion to help the party in numerous ways. Ranger is a great choice if you like roleplaying while exploring the great outdoors. Just keep in mind that progressing with the Ranger class might feel like a slog during the early tiers of play (Level 1-6).
Last but definitely not the least, you can try the Druid. The Druid class is like a hippie spellcaster attuned to the raw forces of nature. As a Druid, you can summon spiritual weaponry, huge beasts, and even powerful elementals. The Druid also has one of the coolest class features in D&D: Wild Shape. This feature allows you to transform into a wild animal limited by your current level. Playing a Druid requires patience because the class can’t match the martial output of a Barbarian and the casting capabilities of a Wizard in the early levels.
Equipment, Spells, and Other Options
Once you’re done analyzing and taking note of class features, you can now prepare your character’s equipment. Practically, you can just follow the equipment guide in the Player’s Handbook for easy planning.
But if you want to delve deeper in terms of customization, you should discuss equipment ideas with the DM. Perhaps you want to turn your character’s regular short bow into an artisanal piece or an heirloom. Just clarify to your DM that any changes are purely cosmetic.
One third-party book that can expand your cosmetic equipment ideas is the Lost Artifacts of Greyghast. This book contains dozens of magic items and origin stories. Don’t focus on the magic items. Rather, observe the descriptive style of each item and apply it to any of the PHB’s generic equipment pieces. At least, your short bow will become more interesting.
Spellbook planning is also an important step that requires the DM’s insight. The PHB’s written process is okay, but it can still confuse beginners. Consult your DM for additional spell guidelines such as homebrew scribing, free custom spells, spell slot adjustments, component management, and spellcasting training. If your DM has no homebrew spell options, just check your character’s advancement table to keep track of spell slots and current spells known.
Instead of flipping or scrolling through many pages, simply browse the spell lists from these helpful sites:
- 5ESRD Hypertext
Miscellaneous character options are some of the true desires of many players. While the options presented by the PHB are great for beginners, they tend to lack flavor or aesthetics. To enhance PHB’s options, the DM must do extra work or – at the very least – bend some rules.
The miscellaneous options that you might encounter are limitless. Some popular choices are magic tattoos, fantastic mounts, dirigibles, unique familiars, sentient weapons and instruments, gunpowder weaponry, and eccentric supplies. Feel free to discuss these options with your DM, but always prepare for balance adjustments.
Head Over to Session Zero
The Session Zero is the phase where you discuss campaign-related things with your DM. You can ask about the DM’s custom table rules and other limitations that he might have set. Session Zero is also the ‘moment of truth’ for your character.
It’s perfectly normal for a DM to reject a character build. The DM might feel that your character is overpowered or mismatched for the campaign. In this case, you should work with the DM to apply the necessary adjustments.
Character Builds – Some Important Things You Need to Know
Discussing all potential character builds in one sitting is virtually impossible. Instead of nitpicking D&D character builds, you should just watch out for some pitfalls and reminders.
Be Careful Around Exploits
Exploits are a part of any game. As long as there’s a way to manipulate data points, anyone can build a system to gain the upper hand. In D&D, exploits are often demonstrated by character class builds. Such builds have different goals like fast encounter sweeps, mechanical bypass, and even roleplay advantage.
One popular exploit is the Warlock’s Eldritch Blast spell. Known as one of the most useful cantrips (spells that can be cast easily), the Eldritch Blast can kill a small monster in just two blasts. If the Warlock player is lucky, he or she can blast a monster in one blow. Later, through the use of invocations, Eldritch Blast can turn into a deadly nuke spell that can finish encounters swiftly.
The Cleric class is also an easy base template for exploits. Some players can create a strong build that boosts turns allies into warmongering aspects of goodness. Other Cleric builds utilize the power of deities, and the DM can only do little to mitigate the effects.
If you’re eager to make a character build for exploits, always consider everyone’s reaction. Do the players feel fair about the exploit? Will the DM allow it to ensure table fairness and game balance? Think things over because a powerful exploit can break a campaign!
Magic Items Can Screw Balance
A character build will function even better with the right magic item. While D&D magic items are hard to procure, they’re still dependent on the DM’s tolerance level. Some DMs give wondrous items right away but others are comfortable doling out common or uncommon items.
DMs are hesitant to give magic items easily because of balance issues. Any magic item can screw a campaign’s balance, especially if the item is entirely dependent on a player’s output.
Don’t focus on hoarding magic items for your character build to avoid unnecessary arguments with your DM. Focus on the narrative, and you will soon realize that the magic items will appear if you’re not actively looking for them.
Weak Builds Encourage Better RP
D&D is a flexible narrative game that rarely punishes weak character builds. A weak, low-damage character can still redeem itself through narrative opportunities, heroic acts, and charismatic appeal.
Nowadays, players dislike overpowered characters that have no weaknesses. If an overpowered character also has an evil alignment, it can make situations more difficult. The DM will probably build encounters to keep the evil character at bay – even at the expense of other decent players.
A weak character build can create touching moments as well. Perhaps your weak character will always have the support of the party’s Barbarian. Later, the Barbarian might sacrifice himself to save the character. This act of heroism can inspire the character and turn it into a valiant warrior. But at the end of the day, the weak character’s actions depend on your game goals and aspirations.
The type of campaign is another factor that affects a weak or underpowered character build. Chaotic campaigns are great for weak characters because of unlimited possibilities like easy resurrection, form malleability, and a great chance to find magic items. However, combat-focused campaigns (or meat grinders) might be detrimental for a weak character right from the very beginning.
Builds and Party Synergy
A character build must empower the party’s synergy. If a build is not beneficial to the party synergy in any way whatsoever, it will just impede the story’s progress. You should coordinate with your party before trying an experimental character build.
Some character builds can synergize easily with any party or group. Take a spellcasting build as an example. Spellcasters are versatile because of their well-varied spellbooks. A Wizard can change his prepared spells without repercussions by spending a few hours in-game (barely 10 minutes in real-time). Martial classes can’t do the same because class features limit them.
You should make a character that maximizes action economy per turn to play it safe. Having multiple actions per turn is almost always useful for the party. Monks, Rogues, and Clerics are the best templates for builds focused on action economy.
Best Ways to Make Your New Character Extra Special
Do you want to learn how to play your D&D character better? In this article section, we’ve compiled some tried-and-tested methods of making your character awesome.
Get A Mini to Represent Your Character
Playing D&D is more fun if you can see a visual representation of your character. The best visual representation that you should get is a plastic miniature.
Plastic minis are affordable and can be ordered in bulk. Some minis will resemble your character slightly, while others won’t have the visual appeal that you’d expect. Still, having any miniature is better than none.
You should get a custom miniature from artisanal providers if you have money to spare. One website that you can visit for ordering miniatures is Heroforge. This site has a handy tool that lets you design your character’s miniature from scratch. After designing the miniature, you have the option to order the miniature or leave it in your account temporarily. If you don’t have the budget to order the mini yet, just take a screenshot and use the image in your character sheet.
Cardboard minis are also getting popular nowadays. A hand-drawn cardboard mini is more affordable than custom-printed options, but they are less durable.
Make Additional Literary Options for Your Character
After creating your character, you can make it more valuable by adding extra-literary options. The character’s backstory is enough, but you can always add customized journal entries, monologues, and hand-drawn comics. Having these literary options is like celebrating your new character’s existence.
With the help of digital tools, you can create interesting literary pieces for your character. Free blog sites like WordPress and Blogspot have tons of options and presentation styles. You can make a detailed blog about your character and his adventures. Maybe someday, you’d have the opportunity to turn the blog into an exciting fantasy novel!
If you have extra time, try to make video narrations in Youtube. These narrations are always appreciated by D&D nerds who have a deep passion for adventuring.
Avail A Drawing Commission
Minis and literary pieces are great things, but custom artwork can speak volumes about your character. A talented artist can draw spectacular moments such as the first time your character slew a Beholder. Or perhaps the artist can make a full sketch of your party, solidifying the essence of the campaign.
Finding an artist for a drawing commission is easy. You can visit D&D forums and check the threads where services are being offered. Artists also have portfolios with indicated rates that clients can check.
Sooner or later, you’ll have a treasure trove of wonderful D&D artworks. Compile them in your blog and share them with your friends and loved ones. Don’t forget to refer the artists to other clients – they deserve the reputation boost!
Buy or Craft Extra D&D Merch
Buying D&D products is one of the signs that you’re getting invested in the hobby. The common D&D products that you can buy are sourcebooks, miniature paints, token markers, stickers, dice, battle maps, and terrain pieces.
Do you have a talent for crafting? In this case, you can craft personalized items related to your character or playing style. D&D memes are also great starter ideas for personalized products and items.
Take Roleplaying Seriously
Roleplaying is one of the major pillars of D&D. Through roleplaying, a player can discover many cool things about his character. Having a decent amount of RP opportunities in a campaign can ensure hours of thrill and genuine enjoyment.
If you want to see your character grow every session, you must be serious about roleplaying. This doesn’t mean that you need to start dramas at every turn. Rather, you must internalize every scene and act in the way that the character will do. Always review your character’s ideals and bonds to improve your roleplaying capabilities.
Roleplaying can be divided into two categories: social RP and combat RP. You don’t need to do both parts of RP but it’s always fun to try. In social RP, you just need to determine how your character will act during social occasions or gatherings. In combat RP, you can simply describe your character’s attacks and tactical actions.
Effective roleplaying also depends on the communication level between players and the DM. Whenever the DM is describing something, you should pay attention. Understand all possible details and ask for clarifications if ever you are confused. Don’t leave everything to plain assumption or you might miss some important hints from the DM.
To make roleplaying easier, you must use index cards and markers. Jot down important details like NPC names, clues, locations, emotional triggers, and quick combat tactics. You’ll save precious time this way, and you might earn the DM’s appreciation. Make the DM proud and you’ll probably get an Inspiration to die!
Create a Vision Board for Your Character
The vision board is a useful tool designed to help people achieve their goals in life. Usually, a vision board contains images of the person’s desires and positive affirmations. If a vision board can help you in real life, then it’s beneficial in D&D as well.
A vision board for your character might contain small goals or quests that must be fulfilled. You can include magic items, mythical beasts to hunt, and specific group goals. Discuss your vision board with your DM. The DM might likely leave some suggestions that will make your vision board more exciting.
Character Creation – FAQ
What character class is the best to play?
Answer: All character classes have strengths and weaknesses. There is no such thing as the ‘best class’ because classes have numerous roles to fulfill. The best character class is what you make of your current options.
What race is the best for any character class?
Answer: There is no right answer because the best race-class combo is subjective. But if you’re looking for a versatile race, you should pick the Variant Human from the Player’s Handbook. This race will give a useful boost to your character’s primary ability score and a small situational boost to another ability score.
What level is the best starting point for characters?
Answer: The starting level is campaign-dependent. Easier campaigns start at Level 1, while difficult and longer campaigns start at higher levels. A great middle-ground option is Level 3 because it offers advanced class features without being overpowered.
How can I optimize my new character?
Answer: Optimizing a new and finished character is never easy. You need to work with your DM and seek proper approval. If you don’t want to go under the table, you just have to work hard and accomplish specific story goals.
Don’t focus too much on full optimization. Just optimize lightly and do your best to help your friends or party members.
What are the best magic items for a Level 1 character?
Answer: Some of the best RAW (Rules-As-Written) magic items for Level 1 characters are Sending Stones (fantasy walkie-talkie), Bag of Holding (infinite storage), and a Potion of Healing (restores HP). Still, the availability of magic items depends on the DM’s campaign setting.
Is it okay to make a long backstory?
Answer: It depends on what the DM wants. Practically, your backstory should be completed in less than four paragraphs. The DM won’t read a 19-page backstory with excessive details. Before making a character, you should leave room for further story development in the campaign.
There’s no wrong way to make a D&D character. Some techniques are faster because they only use the bare minimum in the Player’s Handbook. Other techniques are full of randomness, allowing the creation of funny and powerful builds. In many ways, the fun begins with character creation!
Start your D&D journey today by building your first character!