As someone who has played tabletop for a little over 15 years now, I always love indoctrinating someone new to the hobby. So…why not make a guide series for the newest iteration of D&D?
If you own the 5.0 PHB, I have included page numbers for reference. If you are without a PHB, Wizards has the basic rules for 5th edition here. (Unfortunately, these do not cover all sections talked about in this guide, and the PHB may be needed for best results.)
To follow along, you can pick up a character sheet here.
Basic Character Information
In order to fill out this section, you will need to have decided on the character’s name, their level, their class, their race, their alignment, and what background you’ve chosen for them. A place for the person playing the character is also available, for a GM to quickly reference which sheet belongs to who (this is for parties who leave their character sheet with their GM – I am usually not such a person).
- Class: All players choose a class to play. Classes represent a person’s vocation within an archetype. Are they good with knives? How fast are they on their feet? Depending on your GM, classes can be malleable, especially in 5.0 homebrew.
- Level: All players (usually) start at level 1. If you feel your character has enough experience under their belt to be a higher level, the GM may have your character start at level two or higher.
- Background: This describes where your character comes from, their original occupation, and their place within the world. (Pg. 125 of the PHB) Backgrounds can give Skill Proficiencies, Tool Proficiencies, extra equipment and Features. (Ex: Rose is an Entertainer. She gains Proficiency in the Acrobatics and Performance Skills, and becomes proficient with a Disguise Kit and one type of musical instrument – the violin.)
- Race: Every character belongs to a race of beings. The most common fantasy races are Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Humans. Some races have ‘subraces’, such as ‘Lightfoot Halfling’. A race can affect a character’s ability scores and known Languages.
- Alignment: This is a rough moral compass. This compass can change direction over time, depending on character reactions or difficult situations. (Ex: Rose is Neutral Good, which means she will try to help others when she can. This does not indicate she cannot be mean, however. If a character acts outside of their alignment, the GM can force an alignment shift.)
- Experience: You will gain experience for encounters, whether they are role-playing conversations, dungeon delvings, or bar brawls. Experience will increase your level. (Pg. 15 of the PHB.)
While this may seem like the simple part of the character creation process, it is actually your foundation. This will affect how they fight, where they come from, what their job is, what their morals are, and how experienced they are. Veterans of tabletop roleplay will understand just how important these building blocks can be – they pave the way toward your character’s story, whether that be their downfall or ascension.
Your Ability Scores are your statistic building blocks. You roll your abilities first when creating a character.
I employ the four-dice-drop method: roll four dice (re-rolling any ones) and dropping the lowest number. The three dice left are added up for one ability score. (Ex: if four dice are rolled and it’s two fives, a three and a two, discard the two. You are left with an ability of 13.) 10 is average, so being above 10 is above normal. 18 is an almost unnatural ability (as in very-well trained), a 20 in Charisma would either be someone with unearthly beauty or an almost magically charming/convincing character. This method allows for a chance at higher scores – and allows my players to feel stronger. Ask your GM what their preferred method is!
Abilities can be changed by racial modifiers. (Ex: Halflings receive +2 to Dexterity.) Racial traits are included in the Races section of the PHB (Pgs. 16-43), with each race listing its own ability modifiers. Characters receive Ability Score Improvements (+1 to any ability score) as they level their character (Ex: The rogue receives an ability score improvement at level 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, and 19). If you applied these improvements to Constitution, this would change anything that uses Constitution modifiers (Skills/Hit Points/Constitution Saves.) Ability Modifiers apply to die rolls for character actions.
Because the modifiers are based off every two ability points starting at above/below 10, you receive one modifier point at 12, 14, 16, 18, etc. A 12 in Strength is a modifier of 1. A 17 in Dexterity is a modifier of 3. So, too, would you receive a negative modifier every two points at 8, 6, 4 and 2. If any character reaches 0 in an ability, they are considered dead.
(Ex: Rose abilities of 13, 11, 18, 15, 16, and 15. She decides to distrubte her points this way: STR 11, DEX 18, CON 13, INT 15, WIS 15, CHA 16. This gives her a 0 modifier in STR, a 1 modifier in CON, a 2 modifier in INT & WIS, a 3 modifier in CHA, and a 4 modifier in DEX.)
- Strength (STR) measures natural athleticism and bodily power. It is important for the Barbarian, the Fighter and the Paladin. Races that increase this stat are the Mountain Dwarf (+2), the Dragonborn (+2), the Half-orc (+2), and the Human (+1).
- Dexterity (DEX) measures physical agility, reflexes, balance and poise. It is important for the Monk, the Ranger, and the Rogue. Races that increase this stat are the Elf (+2), Halfling (+2), Forest Gnome (+1), and Human (+1).
- Constitution (CON) measures health, stamina and vital force. It is important for everyone. Races that increase this stat are the Dwarf (+2), the Stout Halfling (+1), the Rock Gnome (+1), the Half-orc (+1), and the Human (+1).
- Intelligence (INT) measures mental acuity, information recall and analytical skill. It is important for Wizards. Races that increase this stat are the High Elf (+1), the Tiefling (+1), the Gnome (+2), and the Human (+1).
- Wisdom (WIS) measures awareness, intuition and insight. It is important for the Cleric and the Druid. Races that increase this stat are the Hill Dwarf (+1), the Wood Elf (+1), and the Human (+1).
- Charisma (CHA) measures confidence, eloquence and leadership, which is important for the Bard, the Sorcerer, and the Warlock. Races that increase this stat are the Half-elf (+2), the Drow (+1), the Lightfoot Halfling (+1), the Dragonborn (+1), the Human (+1), and the Tiefling (+2).
AC, initiative, Speed, HP, Hit Dice and Death Saves
Armor Class represents how well your character is protected from being wounded in a fight. Many different things will add to your AC: armor, if you are carrying a shield, your dexterity modifier, and any magical items that give you armor bonuses. Without armor, your character’s AC will be equal to 10 + your Dexterity modifier. [Ex: Rose is wearing a small set of studded leather armor, which gives her a +2 to her AC. 10 (Base) + 4 (Dexterity modifier) + 2 (studded leather) = 16 AC. Armor is listed in the Equipment section of the PHB (Pgs. 144-146).]
Initiative is based directly off of your dexterity modifier. It represents how quickly your character will react in any combat situation. (Ex: Rose has a Dexterity modifier of 4, so her initiative is 4.) When a fight starts, the GM will ask players to roll for initiative. The player (or monster!) with the highest roll will go first, and then pass to the person with the next-highest roll.
Speed shows how quickly your character can move within one full combat round (6 seconds). This is based off of your size. (Ex: Because Haflings are a smaller humanoid species, they can only move up to 25 feet within a round – 5 feet less than a standard-sized humanoid.)
Hit Dice are determined by your class and level. At level one, you will have one hit die. (Ex: If you have rolled up a Rogue, she will have 1d8.) You will start with the highest roll of that die plus your Constitution score. [This means your rogue would have an HP of 9 (8HP max + 1 Constitution modifier)]. As you level, your hit die will increase but you will be forced to roll for each level above one. (Your rogue could receive a minimum of 2HP next level – or a maximum of 9 again.) This will equal your Hit Point Maximum.
When you start your turn with 0 hit points, you must make a Death Save. These will determine if you move closer to death or hang onto life. This is not tied to any ability scores. Only spells and features that improve chances of succeeding on a saving throw will help you. Roll a d20. If you roll a 10 or higher, you succeed. You must roll three successes to become stable. If you roll three failures, you will die. These rolls do not need to be consecutive. (Ex: Your character has been knocked down to 0 hitpoints. Each round, you make a Death Save. In five rounds, you roll a 10, an 8, a 12, a 9 and a 4. This is two successes and three failures. Because you get to three failures first, your characters dies.)
- PHB: Player’s Handbook, one of the three Core Set books (the other two being Dungeon Master’s Guide & the Monster Manual).
- GM: Game Master, the person who will be/is running the campaign. This title can change depending on the game system being run. (D&D, for example, has the Dungeon Master.)
- Homebrew: Homebrew can mean an entire game with rules you’ve created yourself, or altering a ruleset to fit your ideal game. My 5.0 homebrew does away with ‘affinities’ for certain things (like dwarves are good with metalworking).
- 1d8, 8d6, 10d4, etc: This stands for the amount and type of dice being roll. 1d8 is one eight-sided die. 8d6 would be eight six-sided die. A range of dice is used in tabletop. (Warning, once you start buying sets, it can be hard to stop!)
See more on Character Creation in Part 2!