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D&D - A beginners guide to character creation

Updated: Feb 15

A new hero emerges
D&D- A Beginner's Guide to Character Creation

In the world of Dungeons & Dragons, the importance of creating multifaceted characters cannot be overstated. A well-rounded character with varied abilities not only enriches the gameplay experience for both the player and their companions but also adds depth and excitement to the story. This guide aims to provide essential guidelines for developing versatile DnD characters that are adaptable, unique, and engaging, ultimately enhancing the enjoyment of the game for everyone involved. By following these tips and embracing creativity, players can create unforgettable characters that truly come to life in the world of D&D.



II. Facilitate Character Integration


A. Harmonize with group narrative and mechanics:


When designing your character, carefully consider how they will fit into the group's narrative and mechanics. Make sure your character has a reason to join the party and can contribute meaningfully to the group's goals. Think about their motivations, their background, and how they might interact with the other characters in the group. This will make it easier for your character to integrate into the existing story and create a sense of unity within the party. Additionally, consider your character's abilities and how they will complement or contrast with those of the other party members. Strive to create a character that brings a unique set of skills to the table, ensuring that every member of the group has a distinct role to play.


B. Concise, adjustable backstory:


A well-crafted backstory adds depth to your character but should be kept concise and flexible. By limiting your backstory to a few key points, you allow room for growth and adaptability, making it easier to weave your character's story into the broader narrative. This also encourages collaboration with other players and the Dungeon Master (DM) to build a more cohesive and engaging world. While developing your character's backstory, consider leaving some elements open-ended or vague, allowing for potential plot hooks and future developments. This will not only make your character more adaptable but also provide the DM with opportunities to incorporate your character's history into the campaign in exciting and unexpected ways.


C. Progressively build background:


Your character's background doesn't have to be fully fleshed out from the start. Instead, allow your character's history to evolve and develop as the campaign progresses. This approach encourages dynamic storytelling and provides opportunities to incorporate your character's past into the game in a meaningful and engaging way. As your character experiences new challenges and encounters, use these events to expand upon and refine their background, creating a richer and more complex history that grows alongside the character. This will help your character feel more organic and true to life, adding depth and immersion to the gaming experience.


Example 1: Harmonizing with Group Narrative


In a campaign where the party consists of a lawful good Paladin, a neutral good Cleric, and a chaotic good Rogue, you decide to create a character that can fit into the group's dynamic. Considering the current makeup, you opt for a Ranger with a focus on archery, providing ranged support and tracking skills that complement the existing abilities within the group.


Your character, a lawful neutral Wood Elf Ranger, is a member of an elite elven guard tasked with protecting an ancient artifact. After the artifact is stolen by a powerful enemy, your character is honor-bound to retrieve it. The party encounters your character while on a quest to defeat the same enemy, and their goals align, making it a natural fit for your character to join the party. This shared goal strengthens the group's unity, and your character's tracking skills prove invaluable in navigating the treacherous terrain to the enemy's lair.


Example 2: Progressively Building Background


You create a Tiefling Warlock who has made a pact with an enigmatic archfey patron. Initially, your character's background is vague, with only a few key details: they were abandoned as a child, discovered their innate magical abilities early on, and their archfey patron approached them with a tempting offer.


As the campaign unfolds, your character encounters a mysterious figure who seems to be watching them from the shadows. With each encounter, your character learns more about their past and the true nature of their archfey patron. These revelations prompt you to gradually expand your character's background, incorporating new plot elements and twists that add depth to their story.


For example, the mysterious figure could be a long-lost sibling or a rival from your character's past, setting up an intriguing subplot that connects to the main story. The archfey patron's true motivations may be revealed, pushing your character to make difficult choices about their allegiance and the nature of their pact. This progressive approach to building your character's background keeps the story fresh and engaging while allowing for organic character development throughout the campaign.


III. Draw from Beloved Characters


A. Recognize favourite fictional features:

As you create your DnD character, consider drawing inspiration from your favourite characters in books, movies, TV shows, or even video games. Identify the traits, abilities, or characteristics that make these characters appealing to you. Are they cunning strategists, valiant warriors, or compassionate healers? Perhaps they have a captivating sense of humour or an air of mystery. Reflect on these qualities and think about how they might translate into a DnD character.


B. Adjust features within game rules:

Once you've identified the traits you'd like to borrow from your favourite characters, adapt these features to suit your character within the game mechanics. For example, if you admire the stealthy and cunning nature of a character like Arya Stark from Game of Thrones, you might create a Rogue with an emphasis on stealth and deception. Alternatively, if you're drawn to the wise and strategic mind of Tyrion Lannister, you could create a Bard with a focus on intelligence and persuasion. The key is to find a balance between drawing inspiration from existing characters while ensuring your own character remains unique within the DnD universe.


C. Customise for distinctiveness:

To make your character truly distinctive, go beyond simply borrowing traits from beloved characters and add your own personal touch. Consider how your character's race, class, and background might influence their personality and abilities. Infuse your character with quirks, flaws, and aspirations that make them unique, and think about how these traits might evolve over the course of the campaign. By combining inspiration from your favourite characters with your own creativity, you can craft a memorable and engaging DnD character that stands out from the crowd



Example 3: Drawing from Beloved Characters


You're a fan of the cunning and resourceful nature of Sherlock Holmes, the legendary detective. Inspired by his keen intellect and exceptional observational skills, you decide to create an Investigator, a subclass of Rogue that specialises in solving mysteries and deciphering clues.


Your character, a Human Investigator named Arland Whitmore, possesses exceptional deductive reasoning skills and an uncanny ability to read people. Throughout the campaign, Arland's abilities come into play as the party encounters various mysteries, puzzles, and enigmatic NPCs. While maintaining his own unique personality and background, Arland channels the essence of Sherlock Holmes, making for an engaging and memorable character in the game


IV. Consider Party Composition


A. Opt for complementary mechanics:

When creating your character, take into account the existing party composition and consider how your character's abilities and skills can complement those of the other members. This not only helps ensure that your character is a valuable addition to the group, but also encourages teamwork and collaboration among party members. For example, if your party lacks a healer, you might consider creating a Cleric or Druid to provide much-needed support. Alternatively, if the party is primarily composed of melee fighters, a spellcaster like a Wizard or Sorcerer could provide valuable ranged damage and crowd control.


B. Fulfil specific party role:

As you develop your character, think about the role they will play within the party. Will they be the tank, soaking up damage and protecting the more vulnerable party members? Or perhaps they will be a skilled damage dealer, focusing on eliminating threats quickly and efficiently. Your character could also excel in a support role, providing buffs, debuffs, or crowd control to sway the tide of battle in your party's favour. By understanding your character's role and how it fits within the party, you can build a more cohesive and effective group dynamic.


C. Cooperate for a unified team:

Cooperation is key when it comes to party composition. Communicate with your fellow players during the character creation process to ensure that the group is well-rounded and has a diverse range of skills and abilities. This not only leads to a more effective adventuring party but also fosters a sense of camaraderie among players. Working together to create characters that complement one another will lead to a more enjoyable and engaging gameplay experience for everyone involved


Example 4: Considering Party Composition


In a party consisting of a Wizard, a Bard, and a Rogue, you notice the lack of a sturdy frontline combatant and a healer. To fill these gaps, you decide to create a Paladin, a versatile class capable of both dealing and taking damage while providing some healing support.


Your character, a Dwarf Paladin named Thora Ironshield, is a stalwart defender of justice and a devout follower of a deity of protection. Thora's abilities prove invaluable to the group, as she frequently stands between her companions and danger, utilising her high armour class and hit points to soak up damage. Additionally, her Lay on Hands ability and various healing spells help keep the party alive and fighting.


Through Thora's integration, the party becomes a more cohesive and effective unit, able to tackle challenges with greater confidence and versatility. By considering the party's composition and creating a character that fills crucial roles, you have not only enhanced the group's capabilities but also fostered a sense of unity among the players.



V. Adapt to Adventure or Campaign Theme


A. Comprehend environment and storyline:

Before creating your character, take the time to understand the setting, theme, and overall storyline of the campaign. Discuss with the Dungeon Master and other players to gather information about the world, its inhabitants, and the key conflicts that drive the story. By familiarizing yourself with these elements, you can create a character that feels grounded in the campaign's setting and is well-suited to navigate its challenges.


B. Adapt abilities and backstory:

Once you have a grasp of the campaign's theme, adapt your character's abilities and backstory to match. For example, if the campaign is set in a city plagued by political intrigue, you might create a character with a background in diplomacy or espionage, like a Bard with expertise in Persuasion and Insight. Alternatively, if the campaign revolves around exploring a dangerous, monster-infested wilderness, a Ranger with favored enemy and favored terrain options that match the setting would be an excellent fit.


C. Formulate involvement reason:

Finally, ensure that your character has a strong motivation to participate in the adventure or campaign. This might be a personal quest, a desire to protect their homeland, or a commitment to a specific cause. By giving your character a clear and compelling reason to be part of the story, you make it easier for the DM and other players to integrate your character into the campaign and create a more immersive, engaging experience for everyone involved


Example 5: Adapting to Adventure or Campaign Theme


The Dungeon Master has prepared a campaign set in a coastal city plagued by a dangerous cult that worships a kraken-like entity. The cult seeks to summon their monstrous patron, which threatens to destroy the city and plunge the region into chaos. The campaign will focus on investigating the cult's activities, navigating the city's political landscape, and ultimately confronting the cult and their monstrous patron.


Given this setting and theme, you decide to create a Water Genasi Swashbuckler Rogue named Nymira. Born and raised in the city, Nymira's unique heritage and natural affinity for water make her feel a deep connection to the sea. Her background as a sailor has given her the skills needed to navigate the city's treacherous waterfront, while her Swashbuckler abilities allow her to excel in both combat and social situations.


Nymira's motivation for joining the party is personal: her younger sister was kidnapped by the cult, and she is determined to rescue her and put an end to the cult's nefarious activities. By creating a character with a background, abilities, and motivation that align with the campaign's setting and theme, you've ensured that Nymira will be an engaging and integral part of the story, enhancing the overall experience for both you and your fellow players


Example 6: Keeping Backstory Simple and Concise


In a campaign centred around a group of adventurers seeking to recover a lost artefact, you create a Tiefling Warlock named Lysara. Instead of delving into a lengthy and complex backstory, you focus on a few key elements: Lysara was abandoned by her parents and grew up as an orphan in a rough neighbourhood. She discovered her innate magical abilities at a young age, and these powers drew the attention of a mysterious patron who offered her a pact.


With this simple yet intriguing backstory, Lysara sets out on the adventure, driven by a desire to learn more about her patron and unlock the full potential of her magical abilities. As the campaign progresses, Lysara's past experiences and relationships can come into play, providing opportunities for further character development.


For example, during the party's travels, they might encounter an individual who claims to have information about Lysara's parents, prompting her to confront her feelings of abandonment and explore her family history. Or, Lysara's patron could become a more prominent figure in the campaign, revealing hidden motives or new aspects of their relationship.


By keeping Lysara's backstory simple and concise, you've created a solid foundation for her character while allowing room for growth and adaptation throughout the campaign. This approach ensures that Lysara remains an engaging and dynamic part of the story, enhancing the overall gameplay experience for both you and your fellow players.


Example 6a: Han Solo from Star Wars


Han Solo, a beloved character from the Star Wars franchise, initially appears with a simple and straightforward backstory. He is introduced as a skilled pilot and smuggler with a mysterious past, a trusty ship (the Millennium Falcon), and a close friendship with his co-pilot, the Wookiee Chewbacca. His primary motivation seems to be earning money to pay off his debts.


As the original trilogy progresses, Han's character becomes more complex and develops over time. We learn that he has a history with the crime lord Jabba the Hutt and that he once worked for the Empire before turning his back on them. His initial self-serving attitude gradually evolves as he becomes more involved with the Rebel Alliance and forms close bonds with characters like Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. This character growth ultimately leads him to play a pivotal role in the fight against the Empire.


In the later movies and various extended universe materials, even more of Han Solo's backstory is revealed, such as his tumultuous relationship with his son, Ben Solo, who becomes the conflicted antagonist Kylo Ren. Han's character is further enriched through exploration of his past, including his origins on the planet Corellia, his time as a young smuggler, and the circumstances that led him to meet Chewbacca.


Han Solo's character arc demonstrates the power of starting with a simple, concise backstory and allowing it to develop and evolve over time. This approach not only keeps the character engaging and dynamic but also allows for richer storytelling and deeper connections with the audience.


Conclusion


In conclusion, creating a well-rounded DnD character with diverse abilities is a rewarding and essential aspect of the game. By making your character easy to integrate, drawing inspiration from popular culture, considering the party's composition, adapting to the adventure or campaign theme, and keeping the backstory simple, you can develop a character that is not only engaging and dynamic but also contributes positively to the overall gameplay experience.


Remember that experimentation, adaptation, and a focus on bringing your character to life are crucial elements of creating a memorable DnD character. As your character grows and evolves over time, so too will your understanding of the game and the connections you build with your fellow players. Embrace the journey, and enjoy the limitless potential that Dungeons & Dragons offers for immersive and collaborative storytelling




Bonus Section: Guide for DMs on Improving a Player's Weak or Not Well-Rounded Character


As a Dungeon Master, you may encounter situations where a player has created a character that lacks balance or feels underdeveloped. In these cases, it's essential to work together to help improve their character, ensuring that everyone has a fulfilling Dungeons & Dragons experience. In this section, we'll provide some tips for DMs on how to assist players in enhancing their characters.


Review the character sheet:

  1. Start by examining the player's character sheet to identify areas that need improvement. Look for weak ability scores, underutilized racial traits, or gaps in class features that may be hindering the character's effectiveness.

Discuss with the player:

  1. Have an open conversation with the player about their character's strengths and weaknesses. Try to understand their goals and intentions for the character, and work together to find ways to enhance their abilities while staying true to the character's concept.

Suggest ability score adjustments:

  1. In some cases, adjusting the character's ability scores might help balance their capabilities. Discuss the possibility of reallocating ability score increases or modifiers to better align with the character's intended role in the party.

Encourage the use of racial traits and class features:

  1. Guide the player to make better use of their racial traits and class features. This might involve choosing different class options at higher levels or finding creative ways to utilize their racial abilities during gameplay.

Offer options for magic items and equipment:

  1. Help the player to select appropriate magic items or equipment that will complement their character's abilities and playstyle. Keep in mind the character's Armor Class, attack rolls, and saving throws when recommending items.

Provide opportunities for character growth:

  1. As the DM, you can create story arcs and encounters that challenge the player's character and provide opportunities for them to grow and develop. This might involve presenting moral dilemmas, incorporating elements from their backstory, or testing their unique abilities.

Encourage multi-classing or retraining:

  1. In some cases, it might be beneficial for a player to multi-class or retrain their character to better align with their desired playstyle. Discuss the possibilities with the player and review the class options in the Player's Handbook, Xanathar's Guide, and Tasha's Cauldron.

Offer support through NPCs and the adventuring party:

  1. Sometimes, a character's weaknesses can be offset by the strengths of their fellow party members. Encourage teamwork and collaboration between players to create a well-rounded adventuring party that can tackle any challenge.

By following these tips and working closely with your players, you can help them improve their characters and ensure that everyone has a fun, engaging, and well-rounded D&D experience. Remember, communication and collaboration are key to creating memorable characters and stories that will keep your players coming back for more adventures.




Case Study: Guiding a New Group Through a Session Zero Character Creation


As a Dungeon Master, you are preparing to run your first Dungeons & Dragons campaign for a group of new players. To ensure a smooth start, you decide to hold a session zero for character creation. Your goal is to help the players create unique and well-rounded characters that would be fun to play and contribute to an engaging, collaborative storytelling experience.



Step 1: Introductions and Concept Discussion

You begin the session by having everyone introduce themselves and share their favourite character from a movie, book, or TV show. This icebreaker provides the group with a starting point for discussing character ideas, drawing inspiration from existing characters they love.


Step 2: Explaining Basic Rules and Character Creation Process

Next, you give an overview of the basic rules of D&D, including ability scores, ability checks, saving throws, and how experience points work. You also introduce the concept of different races and classes, explaining the various options available to the players.


Step 3: Guiding Players Through Character Creation

You guide the players through the character creation process, using the D&D Beyond Character Builder to help streamline the process. Encourage the players to consider their character's personality traits, cultural background, and physical appearance as they make their selections. You can even try our bespoke new character races here or in Arclands: The Spellforgers Companion, downloadable when you subscribe to this site.


Step 4: Ability Scores and Modifiers

Once the players have chosen their race and class, you help them determine their ability scores using the standard array or point buy system. You explain the importance of ability score increases and how ability modifiers can impact their character's effectiveness in different situations.


Step 5: Proficiency Bonus, Hit Points, and Equipment

You explain how the proficiency bonus works and how it increases as characters level up. You also guide the players through calculating their hit points and selecting their starting equipment, ensuring they understand the importance of armour class and hit dice.


Step 6: Spells and Special Abilities

For players who have chosen spellcasting classes, you help them navigate the spell lists and choose their starting spells. You also go over any special abilities or class features their character may have.


Step 7: Finalizing Character Names and Backstories

As a final step, you encourage the players to come up with a name for their character and develop a brief backstory. Remind them that it's okay to keep it simple at first and that their character's story can evolve over time as they play through the campaign.


Step 8: Wrap Up and Session Preparation

At the end of the session zero, you congratulate the players on creating their first D&D characters and remind them of the importance of teamwork and cooperation during gameplay. You also give them a brief overview of the upcoming adventure and provide them with any additional resources they may need, such as a copy of the Player's Handbook or a link to a D&D Beyond account.


By guiding your new players through a well-structured session zero, you can help them feel more confident and excited about diving into the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Remember, the most important thing is for everyone to have fun and enjoy the collaborative storytelling experience.


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