EGD Adventures: Character Creation Guide (D&D 5E)
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
Written by Nicholas Uster
Creating a character is the first step of your Dungeons & Dragons adventure. This guide will provide an introduction to basic character creation. I will be referring to the rules in the Player’s Handbook, an essential reference for Dungeons & Dragons character creation.
This is a character sheet. It allows you to fill out and track information about your character as you adventure throughout your games. Click the links below for official D&D resources that you can print and photocopy for your own personal use.
As I guide you through character creation, I will build a character of my own: Grim, a Half-Orc barbarian.
Step 1: Character Race and Backstory
Choosing A Race
Racial choices can be found starting on page 17 of the Player’s Handbook. You can also click here to check out D&D Beyond’s digital list. Each racial description will include age, size, language, and culture. It will also determine your character’s movement speed and ability score increases.
Building Your Story
Whenever you are creating a character, you are really creating a story. Bring the character to life by asking yourself some of these questions:
- Why is your character adventuring? Why join a party to delve through a dungeon or venture into the unknown?
- What are your character’s short-term goals? Are they looking for their stolen spellbook? Do they seek acceptance into a guild?
Morality and Alignment
- Is your character a hero? Why or why not?
- Who are your character’s parents? How did they influence your character? How/where was your character raised?
- Is your character religious? Why or why not? If so, what kind of god or gods do they worship? How does their worship affect their actions?
- Is your character merciful? Will they spare the life of a beast that threatens them, or will they slaughter it out of pride? Would they ever torture someone for information? Would they ever kill?
- What does your character fear?
- How old is your character?
- What is your character’s social class?
- Does your character have any enemies?
- Does your character have family, like a wife or children or siblings?
I imagine Grim being raised within a nomadic lifestyle. His family was part of a small band of Half-Orcs that roamed the land to hunt. He was raised to be a fierce hunter for the tribe. He returned to camp from a hunt, discovering a tragedy took place in his absence. His tribe was nowhere to be found. Their tents and supplies were burned, and a strange insignia was scorched onto a tree within the campsite. On the ground was his mother’s bear-tooth necklace, which he took with him for good luck. He adventures in hopes that his family is still alive somewhere, and strives to uncover what happened on that fateful day. The adventuring party he travels with is his only family now.
I now record the Half-Orc racial information/traits onto my character sheet, which can be found on page 40 of the Player’s Handbook, or on D&D Beyond if you click here. Half-Orcs get an ability score increase of +2 to their overall strength score and a +1 to their overall constitution score (more will be explained in step 2). A Half-Orc has a speed of 30 feet. Their racial abilities include Darkvision, Menacing, Relentless Endurance, and Savage Attacks. For languages, they can speak, read, and write Common and Orc.
Step 2: Designating Ability Scores and Modifiers
Your character has six abilities:
Strength - measures physical power.
Dexterity - measures agility.
Constitution - measures endurance.
Intelligence - measures reasoning and memory.
Wisdom - measures perception and insight.
Charisma - measures the force of a character’s personality.
Each ability will be assigned an ability score, a number that generally ranges from about 3-18. As you play through your Dungeons & Dragons adventure you will have to roll a D20 for ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls. All of these rely on your character’s ability scores.
How To Roll Ability Scores
Your character’s ability scores are decided by rolling four six-sided dice and dropping the lowest roll. For example: You roll a 2, 3, 4, and 1. Drop the 1 and add up the 3 higher numbers, resulting in a 9. Do this process five more times to have an ability score for each of your six abilities. Hold onto those numbers on a scrap piece of paper until step 3. If you don’t have a pair of dice handy, click here for an online dice roller.
Derived from each ability score is a modifier, which will be added to dice rolls you make throughout the game. To find these modifiers, please consult the chart below, which can also be found in the Player’s Handbook on page 13. To determine an ability modifier without the table, subtract 10 from the ability score and then divide the result by 2 (round down).
Your character would like to sneak past a castle’s guards. The person running the game (a dungeon/game master) would make you roll a stealth check, which relies on your character's dexterity ability score. Your character’s dexterity score is 14, so the modifier is a +2. You roll the die and get a 10, and then add your modifier of +2, making the roll a 12. The Dungeon master then decides if this roll was high enough to sneak past the guards.
I now roll to determine Grim’s ability scores, and record the numbers on a scrap piece of paper. After consulting the chart, I found my ability modifiers, which I put in parentheses.
A table that appears in each class description (more will be explained in step 3) shows your character’s proficiency bonus. This bonus will be applied to multiple rolls you will make for your character, including:
- Attack rolls using weapons your character is proficient with.
- Attack rolls with spells your character casts.
- Ability checks using skills your character is proficient in.
- Ability checks using tools your character is proficient with.
- Saving throws your character is proficient in.
- Saving throw DCs for spells your character casts (more info about spellcasting is detailed in each spellcasting class).
When you create a character, they usually start at level 1. The proficiency bonus for a 1st-level character is +2. I will explain how to record these bonuses to your character sheet in step 3.
Each class description will detail the weapons, armor, tools, saving throws, and skills your character will be proficient in. Each background description will also add to these proficiencies (more in step 3).
Step 3: Choosing A Class and Background
The next step to building your character is deciding what your character can do. Your character’s class will shape how they interact with the world they are in by awarding them specific abilities, features, equipment, or even magic. Class details can be found starting on page 45 of the Player’s Handbook. You can also click here to check out a digital list on D&D Beyond. If you are new to the game or need help making a decision, click here to check out a great flowchart from Lucidchart.
Each class will include a quick build section, just above the class features. This will guide you on actually assigning the ability score numbers we rolled in step 2 to your abilities. It will also give you a suggestion for a background.
Choosing a Background
As I mentioned in step 2, each background description will provide your character with additional proficiencies and equipment. Background details can be found starting on page 125 of the Player’s Handbook. Background options include criminal, sailor, outlander, etc.
Record Your Proficiencies
Now that you have decided on a class and a background, record your proficiencies from each to your character sheet. Fill in the small bubbles next to each skill that you are proficient with. In the proficiencies section of your character sheet, jot down the armor, weapons, tools, etc that you are proficient with. Write down your proficiency modifier in the proficiency bonus circle.
Now record the modifiers for all of your individual checks (like stealth, athletics, etc.) to your character sheet. Make sure to add your proficiency bonus to skills that you are proficient with.
Grim was a nomad and a hunter, and he has a short temper due to his trauma. I think he would be a great barbarian. I head to the barbarian class details on page 46 of the Player’s Handbook, or on D&D Beyond if you click here.
As the quick build suggests, I chose my highest rolled score (16) as Grim’s strength score. I then add a +2 to Grim’s strength score, which is granted by Grim’s Half-Orc race, making his overall strength score an 18. I chose my next highest rolled score (also 16) as Grim’s constitution score. I then add a +1 to his constitution score, which is granted by his Half-Orc race, making Grim’s overall constitution score a 17. Grim did not receive much of an education, so I chose the 9 as his intelligence score. Since Grim is a hunter, I feel he would be decently perceptive, so I chose the 12 as his wisdom score. I then chose the two remaining 11’s as his dexterity and charisma scores.
I chose the outlander background, which can be found on page 136 of the Player’s Handbook. I filled in the bubbles for the skill proficiencies that Grim was granted by his class and background. Then I jotted down the equipment proficiencies that Grim’s class and background awarded him.
Step 4: Hit Points, Armor Class, Weapons, and Equipment
A character’s initiative is used during combat to decide the order in which each player/creature will take their action. Your character’s initiative modifier is equal to their dexterity modifier. When you roll for initiative, you would add the number you rolled on the dice + your character’s dexterity modifier. Record your initiative modifier in the initiative box on your character sheet.
Hit Dice and Hit Points
Each character in D&D has a number of hit points. Think of hit points like a health bar in a video game, they represent how tough your character is within combat or other dangerous situations. Your character’s hit points are determined by hit dice, which are detailed in each class description. A level one character would have hit points equal to the maximum number on their hit dice + their constitution modifier. For example, a barbarian’s hit dice is a d12, so their starting hit points would be 12 + their constitution modifier. Once you determine your character’s starting hit points, record them on your character sheet on the line next to “hit point maximum.”
Your character’s class and background determine their starting equipment including:
- Musical instruments
- Arcane focuses or spellbooks
- Holy symbols
- Gold (in-game currency)
- Other adventuring equipment like rope, bedrolls, etc.
Record the equipment your character is granted by their class and background in the “equipment” section on your character sheet.
The weapons your character will have at 1st-level are detailed in the equipment section of each class description. You will be able to choose which weapons you would like your character to have if your class grants you something like “any martial melee weapon.” Take a look at the weapons chart on page 149 of the Player’s Handbook, or click here for a digital list on Roll20. Record the weapons you have under “name” in the attacks and spellcasting section of your character sheet.
Once you decide on your character’s weapons, it is important to fill in the attack bonus your character will be granted with the weapon, and the damage and type of damage their weapon will deal. On the page just before the weapons chart, the Player’s handbook details different weapon properties. For most melee weapons, the ability modifier that will be used when attacking will be strength. For ranged weapons like a longbow, you would use your character’s dexterity modifier. Some weapons have the finesse property, allowing you to use your character’s strength or dexterity modifier for attacks and damage rolls. To calculate the attack bonus your character will have with a weapon, add together their strength/dexterity modifier + their proficiency bonus (if they are proficient with the weapon). The number that results will contest the victim’s armor class score to see if they are hit. To calculate the damage your character deals on a hit, you would roll the damage dice used for the weapon (shown on the chart) and add your strength/dexterity modifier.
Armor and Armor Class
Your Armor Class (AC) represents how well your character avoids being wounded in battle. Things that contribute to your character’s AC include the armor they wear, the shield they carry, and their dexterity modifier. Not all characters wear armor or carry shields, some classes grant other avenues of protection.
Without armor or a shield, a character’s AC equals 10 + their dexterity modifier. If your character wears armor, carries a shield, or both, calculate their AC using the armor table on page 145 in the Player’s Handbook, or click here for a digital chart on Roll20. Record your character’s AC on your character sheet.
I now record grim’s initiative, hit points, equipment, weapons, and armor to my character sheet. I’m all done, I have completed filling in my character sheet, and Grim is ready for adventure!
As explained in the Player’s Handbook, a feat represents a talent or an area of expertise that gives a character special abilities. As your character advances in levels, your DM may grant you the option to take a feat rather than an ability score improvement. Some races (like variant human) also grant a feat at 1st-level. Check out page 165 in the Player’s Handbook for more information about feats. They can be a great way to customize your character’s abilities and spice up gameplay.
Some classes, like Wizard or Cleric, are able to utilize spells. Some races grant spellcasting abilities as well. Specific details differ by class, and are explained in each class description. You will be able to find more info regarding spellcasting on page 201 of the Player’s Handbook. The full list of spells starts on page 207 in the Player’s Handbook. Also, check out other D&D materials like Tasha's Cauldron of Everything and Xanathar's Guide to Everything for more spells.