Before you embark on your next epic Dungeons and Dragons adventure, you’re going to need to create your very own character. With the basic options presented to you in the Player’s Handbook, there are already hundreds of unique D&D character creation options and combinations available to you right from the start. As you progress through the game, the options for customization grow ever more numerous.

For new players, it can get a bit overwhelming so in this guide, we will break down exactly what you need and show you step by step how to go about creating your next epic D&D 5e character.

What You Will Need

Player’s Handbook

This tome contains all the information you as a player need to play the game. There are myriad supplements that add on to the wealth of D&D character creation options that you will no doubt run into during your adventures, but for a beginner player, this one book is everything you need to get started.

Character Sheet

Players use Character Sheets to note various aspects of their characters including abilities, skills, items and background traits.

Official blank and pre-generated character sheets are available to download and print for free from Wizards of the Coast. Many players use digital character sheets from D&D Beyond or various phone apps.

If you’re going with a paper character sheet, you’re going to need a pencil and an eraser. Using a pen on your character sheet is a cardinal sin of Dungeons and Dragons. If you play your character well and succeed in your quests, you’re going to level up. Doing so means you need to increase and amplify your abilities, and this is going to take a lot of erasing.

Dice

You’re going to need a trusty set of dice. The basic set consists of seven pieces. A d4, a d6, a d8, d10, d12, d20, and d100. You’re going to use the d6 to roll your character’s ability scores, and the d20 for all your basic rolls.

The rest of the dice are situational, depending on which character class you choose, what weapons you use, and what spells you learn.

Once you have assembled all the supplies you need to get started, you’re ready to build your adventurer. Put on your creative thinking cap and get ready to customize a character. Remember, the suggestions presented in this guide and in the instructions in the Player’s Handbook are just suggestions.

As you build your character, use your imagination and improvise as much as you want to. This character is a creation of your own imagination to be used as you see fit. Don’t hold yourself hostage to what’s been done before, and likewise don’t feel like you can’t take inspiration from existing characters you know and love.

Creating a Character Concept

Before you start rolling dice and writing down stats, come up with an idea of who your character really is. Where are they from? What was their childhood like? What are their desires?

Coming up with a compelling backstory for your character can help you paint a portrait of an adventurer before you even put pencil to paper to start writing down stats. Having an objective personality and skillset makes it easier to decide on which character options from the Player’s Handbook you’re going to use.

As we work through this guide and build your character, the idea you have in your head for your character is going to be translated into concrete rules- racial and class abilities, background features, weapon proficiencies, and spells. If something you want to start out with isn’t available or explicitly covered in the books, it might exist in another supplement. Talk to your dungeon master about expectations for your character, and their goals. This will help them plan the game session more easily and bring you greater satisfaction in the long run.

Feel free to draw inspiration from your favorite movie, TV or comic book characters.

If you find yourself suffering from lack of inspiration when creating a character, think of your favorite heroes and villains from movies, books, and TV shows you love.

Pull characteristics from several heroes or villains and create a hodgepodge character made up of all your favorite parts of those stories you know well. Sticking with something familiar will help you really get into the game.

Breaking Down the Character Sheet

The character sheet is divided into several sections. Don’t be intimidated. Once it’s all filled in, you’re going to have a trove of information to use as inspiration for yourself when role-playing as your new character. We will tackle each of these in sequence as we build your character.

Don’t be afraid to go back and change something if you come up with a better idea or see something more compelling later on.

Character Description

When beginning the character creation process, it often helps to come up with a brief character sketch. What is your name? How old are you? How tall are you?

Creating a character sketch of your physical description is a great jumping off point; it provides you an initial look at the flavor of your adventurer and solidifies a basic image in your head of who you are going to become.

This includes choosing your race, class, background, and alignment.

Imagining your character’s physical features can often inspire their personality, traits and abilities.

Race

Standard character race options are presented in the Player’s Handbook with additional races available in other official supplements to the game. Whether you want to play a Tolkien-esque Elf, Dwarf, or Human, or try something a little more far out like an anthropomorphized crow that can only speak in snippets it’s previously heard spoken by other creatures, there is an option available for you.

Each character race has several characteristics which will be entered on your character sheet. For example, Dwarves have Darkvision which allows them to see in the dark. Elves have natural proficiency with some martial weapons. Humans gain +1 to all ability scores.

Racial abilities are gained on character creation and do not change over the lifetime of your character. As you level up you won’t gain any new abilities from your race with few exceptions, like the Tiefling’s innate spellcasting, for example.

Each race excels at a particular suite of skills, which lends itself to playing a particular class more than others. The ability score increases afforded to your character based on their race will make them naturally good choices for particular classes. Don’t let this pigeon-hole you into only playing a particular class only with a certain race though. If you want to play a 7 ft tall hulking orc bard that only wants to sing love ballards, by all means go ahead.

It’s your character so don’t let anyone tell you what they are meant to be.

Class

Your character class gives you a bulk of your character’s abilities and is often the primary characteristic your character will be identified as throughout your game. Character classes range from the martial fighter, to the arcane wizard, and everything in between. You can take your pick of martial prowess, skill proficiencies, and magical power.

Characters typically start at level 1. When you choose a class, you will be granted a hit die particular to that class, save proficiencies, weapon, armor, and tool proficiencies, and some abilities. As you level up, your class will provide you with more abilities similar to those gained at first level.

Unlike racial abilities, characters can gain abilities from different classes by cross-classing. This is when a character decides to take levels in multiple classes as they level up. For example, a character may choose to begin with three levels in the Fighter class. However, jealous of the Wizard’s spellcasting abilities, the Fighter may choose to take a level in Warlock, for a quick fix in magic while still progressing in Fighter afterwards.

Class levels are acquired by spending experience points, which are obtained from completing quests. The dungeon master hands out experience point bonuses as you defeat enemies, complete missions, or reach plot milestones in the campaign. The amount of experience points required to reach subsequent levels increases after the first level. As such, you will need to seek out tougher foes and more difficult missions to continue to level up at a significant pace.

Whatever class you choose, you will gain fantastic abilities that will make you a hero of legend!

For more information about each of the D&D 5E character classes check out our in-depth guide and to find out which class is best for you!

Background

When building your character, it’s important to not only write down stats, but to develop a personality. A good starting place is with your character’s background. Who were you before you met your adventuring companions? Figuring out where you came from before you joined the adventuring party will give you a feel for how your character would react to certain situations. Are you brave? Daring? Cautious?

Perhaps you were a nobleman trained in the sword and saddle on your parents’ estate, and the craving for real danger and the chance to make a name for yourself was too good to pass up. Maybe you are a sailor who has seen the shored of hundreds of nations, and only now have come ashore permanently to see what lies beyond the coastline.

You’re free to write a flavorful backstory for your character which has little gameplay impact on your character, but choosing a background can provide you with additional skill proficiencies, and possibly languages and tool proficiencies.

Alignment

Alignment is a broad description of a character’s morals and beliefs. It is the core of how a character will operate, and the choices they will make. In D&D, alignment is especially important as it gives players more general structure to role-play their characters with true depth and thoughtfulness.

Are you lawful to the letter, or are you ruled by whims and moods? Likewise, are you an agent of good in the world, or do you partake in evil deeds for personal gain?

D&D dnd alignment chart

Your alignment sits on a spectrum between Good/Evil and Lawful/Chaotic.

For more information about alignment in D&D check out our in-depth guide where we breakdown every possible combination.

Further Customization

Each character background provides suggestions for four description characteristics: Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws. These will help you really get into your character’s headspace. Finding a unique personality you can bring to the table helps you role play your character and immerse yourself in the fantasy world the game creates.

Characters that reach 4th level are awarded an ability score increase. If you choose, you can instead take a feat. Feats are abilities that grant you extra in-game options for attacking, skill use, and spellcasting. You can also use feats to gain proficiencies with different weapons and armor. Characters who take the right feats can become very powerful combatants, or extremely versatile in non-combat scenarios.

Ability Scores

Characters are given six ability scores. Three physical ability scores- Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, and three mental ability scores- Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These govern your ability to perform basic tasks, and your relative proficiency with skills, tools, weapons, and magic. The use of each ability score is described below:

  • Strength (STR) – your physical strength. How much you can lift, how hard you can hit, and how physically powerful you are. Strength is directly proportionate to your ability with melee weapons.
  • Dexterity – (DEX) how nimble you are. Dexterity is a measure of agility, sneakiness, and proficiency with delicate tasks such as picking locks or hiding from enemies. It also governs your ability with ranged weapons.
  • Constitution – (CON) your resilience to disease, poison, and fatigue. The more Constitution you have, the more hit points you have.
  • Intelligence – (INT) the measure of exactly how much information your character has in that noggin. This is book smarts, that which comes from study and repetitive learning.
  • Wisdom – (WIS) experience and street smarts. Wisdom is a combination of awareness and deduction wrapped around perception.
  • Charisma – (CHA) your personability and physical beauty. Charisma is both a measure of how well you effectively you interact with others as well as your persuasiveness in certain situations.

Illustration by Max Marcil

There are three traditional ways to determine ability scores- standard array, point-buy, and dice roll. Depending on the style of play, you will use one of these methods to determine your character’s ability scores. Consult your dungeon master for which style you should use when building your character.

A standard array gives each player the same group of numbers to allocate into their ability scores as they choose, depending on the race and class options they have selected. This is a very fair system, which gives each player the same starting scores to choose from. It prevents cheating on character creation, and also equalizes all players on power level. The suggested “standard array” is 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, but this can be modified by your dungeon master is they are looking for a particular power level.

Point-buy likewise gives each player a similar starting point, however, it gives some additional flexibility in the player’s ability to min-max their character. Ability scores are purchased for each attribute like choosing items on a budget. If you overspend on your Strength, you’re going to look at several other ability scores with low numbers, and potentially negative modifiers.

The dice-roll method is the most variable. Dice are rolled to determine the value of each ability score and the result is almost left completely to chance. It ranges in power level from the restrictive and difficult “roll 3d6 for each stat, in order” to the heroic “roll 4d6, reroll 1’s, keep the highest three, allocate at will.”

In any case, your character will be granted a series of six numbers which will become your ability scores. Given an ability score, you will have a corresponding ability modifier, which will be added to your rolls when conducting an action based in that ability score. Once you determine the values available for your ability scores, allocate them to your Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

You will want to make sure to put higher values into ability scores that are relevant for your class, and save the lower values for those stats which matter less for the class you chose. For example, a Barbarian should have the highest score in Strength to ensure that they are physically powerful, whereas a Wizard would want to make sure they have a very high Intelligence score to aid in their spellcasting.

Saves

Each Ability Score has a save associated with it. Your class will dictate whether or not you are proficient with a save. Whenever you are subject to an effect, such as a trap or a spell, you might need to make a saving throw. For example, if debris falls on you in a dungeon, your character would be required to make a Strength saving throw to push it off. If you spring a trap, a Dexterity save would represent your character’s quick reflexes to dodge the poison needle or swinging axe blade. Resisting a mind-affecting spell would require a Wisdom save in order to overcome the controlling effects.

Saves can often mean the difference between life and death for adventurers. Each class provides proficiency in two saves. There are opportunities to gain proficiency in additional saves by taking levels in multiple classes or taking feats which grant proficiency in saves. These two options will be covered in a later section.

Skills

Skills are your character’s primary non-combat tools to accomplish goals in the game. There are a handful of skills tied to each ability score. Your ability modifier for a given ability score and your proficiency combine to give you your skill modifier. For example, a character with high Dexterity and proficiency in Stealth will be very good at hiding when compared to a character with low Dexterity and lacking in the specific skill proficiency.

Each character has a skill proficiency bonus which is added to certain rolls that character makes. Proficiency represents your innate skill and training with a particular skill or tool. Your proficiency starts at +2 and increases every four levels.

Skill proficiencies are granted by your class and background, In some cases, character races grant additional proficiencies. If you want more skill proficiencies, you can take levels in some classes or take the Skilled feat.

Do not test the DM’s HP with your dice. | Image from thehardtimes.net

Hit Points

Hit Points are a measure of how much heath your character has. Your maximum hit points are determined by your Constitution Modifier and your hit dice, which you roll to increase your total hit points each time you level up. Hit dice are determined by your class.

Damage causes you to lose hit points, and curative (healing) potions can restore them. You can also regain hit points by taking a short rest (an hour of non-strenuous activity) and using your hit dice to recover. Taking a long rest (sleeping overnight, or a day of down-time) restores all of your hit dice.

Armor Class

You’re going to want to wear some protective clothing to prevent you from being bitten, stung, stabbed, bludgeoned, slashed….and a thousand other ways to die. Wearing armor or taking levels in a class that gives you an alternate ability for protection is a must for the would-be adventurer. Your armor class is a number that represents how accurate an opponent’s attack needs to be in order to hit you for damage.

More armor = less pain

Your armor class is determined by the strength of your armor, be it leather or heavy steel plate, plus your evasiveness, provided by your Dexterity score. A very dexterous character will usually wear light armor to prevent encumbrance during athletic or acrobatic activities. Characters with low Dexterity will oftentimes wear heavy armor that decreases movement, but in return provides a greater degree of physical protection.

Your class’ equipment starting package will provide you with basic armor. Be on the lookout for an upgrade as you progress. There will be better options available in each tier of play, and in each class of armor (light, medium, heavy). Also, if you are proficient with shields, consider keeping one available in case you need a little boost to your armor class.

Initiative

Being quick to react to danger is an important trait for a dungeon delving character. Your Dexterity determines how quickly you can react to threats, and the order in which you act in combat. Other factors may contribute to your initiative, like your class features or feats you choose to take.

Equipment

A good adventurer is always prepared for whatever challenges they find themselves presented with. Weapons, armor, and equipment should never be far from your thoughts. Depending on your class, you will be proficient with a selection of weapons and armor. For primary melee combatants, you will need to choose between using a two-handed weapon, a one-handed weapon and a shield, or using two light weapons. Ranged-attack focused characters will likely want to have archery and thrown weapon options available to deal damage at a distance and avoid direct contact with dangerous opponents.

Certain classes, such as Rangers, Fighters, and Paladins, will be proficient with all these options and may carry multiple equipment sets with them that can be swapped out depending on the situation. It’s generally a good idea to carry a backup weapon in case you are disarmed, or you encounter an opponent with a resistance against a specific type of damage.

Casters and support characters will need to make do with a smaller selection of weapons, primarily daggers, staves, and clubs. These options deal less damage overall but will still come in handy when they are low on spells or confronted with persistent enemies who chase you down into melee.

Make sure you’re well equipped before heading out on your adventure.

Along with a good equipment set, armor is important to ensure you aren’t cut down in combat. Choose an armor set you are proficient with and consider the merits of each type available. If you’re proficient with light and medium armor, but you have a very high dexterity score and will be sneaking around, you’re going to want to avoid medium armor that imposes a penalty on Stealth. Heavy armor is the best for granting a high armor class, but it is heavy and expensive compared to lighter options. At low character levels, it may be difficult to afford a heavy suit of armor in addition to your other equipment needs.

Your background will provide you with a basic adventuring pack containing supplies for the road, and some tools that can be used in combat. Additional adventuring and dungeoneering gear can be purchased with your starting gold and should be replaced and upgraded as you progress in your quest. Always be prepared, and get creative with the supplies you carry with you.

Be on the lookout for treasure! There will be valuable items in any dungeon you explore. You’ll need torches for exploring dark caves, and ropes for ascending tall mountains. In these remote locations you will inevitably find gold, art, and trinkets to reward you for your daring.

Protect your wallet from pickpockets and thieves! Your party rogue is an expert at sleight of hand and misdirection, but he’s not the only one roaming the streets of the crowded city. If you’re looking for someone to swindle for all they’re worth, make sure you don’t become the mark yourself.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Each character has a role to play in the adventuring party. It is important that you mind your role, so as to ensure victory for your group. The synergy created by many classes coming together to complete a goal is greater than the strength of one alone. A well-formed adventuring party is greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re a fighter or a paladin, protect your healer and casters. If you’re a support character, mind your battle positioning, and provide cover for your melee allies. If you’re a caster, stay out of harm’s way and cast your spells effectively.

Finally, mind your conduct at the table. Be mindful of others playing with you. Allow everyone their moment to shine. Don’t be selfish. Respect your dungeon master- they spend lots of time preparing and learning the rules to deliver a fulfilling experience to the whole group. Above all, have fun! After the work you’ve put into building your character, you deserve it.

D&D dnd Stranger Things fun

“Above, all, have fun!”

Each game of Dungeons and Dragons will be different. Depending on who wrote the game, who is running it, and who you’re playing it with, you’re going to find yourself in situations you never expected. The elements of storytelling, role playing, and combat will provide an experience you will never forget.

Conclusion

To a new player, filling out a blank character sheet can seem like a daunting task. By following the principles of D&D character creation as outlined in this guide, you too can easily create the epic adventurer of your dreams. The only limit is your imagination!

Roll well, my friends!

Want to learn more about D&D? Visit the Library to access our in-depth guides and discussion pieces, giving you the information needed to enhance your gaming experience.