How To Create Characters Step-by-step In Dungeons & Dragons 5E

Image via Wizards of the Coast

One of the best parts of playing Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) fifth edition (5E) is creating a unique and powerful character that you’ll roleplay during your new adventure in the Forgotten Realms. This guide will teach how to create your character by filling your character sheet and help you write a background.

In Dungeons & Dragons, your character’s characteristics and abilities are written in your character sheet. You can download a blank one on the DnD official website to create your own, or if you’re just starting out, you can download a pre-generated one to get used to it.

You can also create your character using DnD websites such as Roll20, D&D Beyond, Dungeon Master’s Vault, and other DnD character builders online. But you’ll still need to understand every part of creation, otherwise nothing will make sense after the character sheet is done.

Here’s how to create a character in Dungeons and Dragons 5E step-by-step:

  1. Choose a Race
  2. Choose a Class
  3. Determine the ability scores and modifiers
  4. Create your character’s personality
  5. Choose your equipment
  6. Understanding the character sheet

1. Choose a Race

The race will determine your general appearance and racial traits. Race traits include their ability score increase, age, alignment, size, speed, languages, and subraces.

  • Ability Score Increase: Each race has a different set of abilities, so depending on the race you choose, your character will receive a bonus for some abilites.
  • Age: The age marks the character’s stage of life and helps determine their objectives, way of thinking, and behaving.
  • Aligment: Races have tendency towards an aligment, but of course you can choose one based on the story you created for your character.
  • Size: Most characters are medium-sized (around 4 to 8 feet tall), but a few races are small (from 2 to 4 feet tall) so the rules such as movement speed and handling heavy objects might be affected by their size
  • Speed: The speed determines how much a character can move each turn.
  • Languages: Each race has their own language, but there are common ones used throughout the Forgotten Realms.
  • Subraces: Some races have subraces. Members of a subrace have the traits of the parent race in addition to the traits specified for their subrace.

Each race has its own culture, historical past, and relationships with other races and subraces. So players can choose a race not only by its gameplay characteristics but also because of its appearance and culture. You can see more about each race in the Player’s Handbook (PHB).

Dwarves, for example, are under 5 feet tall but are strong with high endurance. They can live for more than 400 years and have a great memory, which can make them attached to tradition and behold grudges for ages.

There are a few mainstream races you can choose from, but you’ll see several races from different DnD books and homebrew campaigns, which are original campaigns created by fans where players can create their own race, class, and rules, based on DnD.

Here are some of the races you can choose from and their racial traits according to the Player’s Handbook (all images via Wizards of the Coast):

Dwarf

  • Ability Score Increase: +2 Constitution.
  • Age: They live about 350 years on average and are considered adults after the age of 50.
  • Alignment: Most dwarves are lawful, believing firmly in the benefits of a well-ordered society and tend toward good as well, with a strong sense of fair play.
  • Size: Medium size between 4 and 5 feet tall and average about 150 pounds.
  • Speed: Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor.
  • Languages: Can speak, read, and write Common and Dwarvish.
  • Subraces: Hill Dwarf and Mountain Dwarf.

Elf

  • Ability Score Increase: +2 Dexterity.
  • Age: They live about 750 years on average and are considered adults after the age of 100.
  • Alignment: Elves tend to be chaotic good, since they love freedom, variety, and self-expression
  • Size: A slim medium size, standing between 5 and 6 feet tall.
  • Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Languages: Can speak, read, and write Common and Elvish.
  • Subraces: High Elf and Wood Elf.

Halfling

  • Ability Score Increase: +2 Dexterity.
  • Age: They live about 150 years on average and are considered adults after the age of 20.
  • Alignment: Haflings tend to be kind, empathetic, and have no tolerance for opression, so they are usually lawful good.
  • Size: Small size around 3 feet tall and average about 40 pounds.
  • Speed: Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
  • Languages: Can speak, read, and write Common and Halfling.
  • Subraces: Lightfoot Halfling and Stout Halfling.

Human

  • Ability Score Increase: +1 to all ablilities.
  • Age: They live less than 100 years on average and are considered adults after the age of 18.
  • Alignment: Humans have no particular aligment.
  • Size: Medium size between 5 and 6 feet tall.
  • Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Languages: Can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice.
  • Subraces: There are no subraces.

2. Choose a Class

After you decided what your race will be, it’s time to choose what your “career” will be, aka your class. Classes give your character special features such as mastery of weapons, armor, and spells. A character can have more than one class, but we recommend you start with just one.

Each class specializes in a type of weapon, armor, and set of abilities. Different classes can also use different types of dice to use in attacks and have specific saving throw proficiencies, which reflect their best abilities.

There are a few known ones presented in the PHB such as cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard. Here’s a quick description and specifications of these classes:

Cleric

Clerics are intermediaries between the mortal world and the distant planes of the gods. As varied as the gods they serve, clerics strive to embody the handiwork of their deities. No ordinary priest, a cleric is imbued with divine magic.

  • Hit Die: eight-sided die (d8)
  • Primary ability: Wisdom
  • Saving throw proficiency: Wisdom and Charisma
  • Armor and weapon proficiency: Light and medium armor, shields, and simple weapons

Fighter

As the name suggests, a fighter is a master of martial combat and is skilled with a variety of weapons and armor.

  • Hit Die: ten-sided die (d10)
  • Primary ability: Strength or Dexterity
  • Saving throw proficiency: Strength and Constitution
  • Armor and weapon proficiency: All armor, shields, simple and martial weapons

Rogue

Rogues rely on skill, stealth, and their foes’ vulnerabilities to get the upper hand in any situation. Most of them live up to the worst stereotypes of the class, making a living as burglars, assassins, cutpurses, and con artists.

  • Hit Die: eight-sided die (d8)
  • Primary ability: Dexterity
  • Saving throw proficiency: Dexterity and Intelligence
  • Armor and weapon proficiency: Light armor, simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, and shortswords

Wizard

Creating a wizard character demands a backstory dominated by at least one extraordinary event. As a student of arcane magic, you have a spellbook containing spells that show the first glimmerings of your true power.

  • Hit Die: six-sided die (d6)
  • Primary ability: Intelligence
  • Saving throw proficiency: Intelligence and Wisdom
  • Armor and weapon proficiency: Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, and light crossbows

3. Determine the ability scores and modifiers

Now that you have an idea of who your character is, it’s time to decide about your skills. In DnD, there are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

These skills work as a skill umbrella for more specific abilities, such as acrobatics (under dexterity), arcana (under intelligence), deception (under charisma), and medicine (under intelligence). For example, if you want your character to be really good at stealth, for example, you have to put more points on Dexterity. Here are all the abilities your character can have and the Dungeon Master (DM) will ask for an ability check:

  • Strength: Involves physical and bodily power. The DM will ask for an abillity check using any athletic activity that uses raw strength. Fighter characters usually have more points on this skill.
  • Dexterity: This skill measures actions that demand agility.
    • Acrobatics: Used when a character attempts to stay on their feet in a tricky situation.
    • Sleight of Hand: How well the character can use their hands. For example, for pickpocketing, lockpicking, or for using knives.
    • Stealth: How well a character can stay unnoticed.
  • Constitution: This one covers any ability that requires endurance.
  • Intelligence: Is related to actions that involves knowledge, memory, and, magic.
    • Arcana: Knowledge about magic.
    • History: Knowledge about the historical past.
    • Investigation: Search for clues and investigate.
    • Nature: Knowledge about plants and animals, but not how to handle them.
    • Religion: Knowledge about a specific religion, gods, and religious events.
  • Wisdom: This one seems similar to intelligence, but is more correlated to knowing how to live, things you can’t properly learn by just reading a book.
    • Animal Handling: How to handle animals in general.
    • Insight: Determines the true intentions of a person/creature, detecting a lie.
    • Medicine: Knows how to stabilize a dying companion or diagnose an illness.
    • Perception: Notices the presence of something, generally used to know how much of the ambient the character sees, hears, smells, and so on.
    • Survival: Related to how to survive in the wild, how to hunt, follow tracks, etc.
  • Charisma: Involves actions where you have to interact with other people.
    • Deception: How well a character can lie.
    • Intimidation: How well a character can intimidate.
    • Performance: How well a character can delight an audience with music, dance, acting, storytelling, or some other form of entertainment.
    • Persuasion: How well a character can persuade others.

Every player chooses what will be their best ability by distributing points to each one. There are three ways of deciding your ability score: with a die, using a buy system, and by using the average numbers.

You write the numbers on the little circle of each ability and put the corresponding modifier above it.

You can leave your character to fate and roll a die to determine randomly what are your character’s ability scores. Roll four d6 dice and record the total of the highest three dice on a piece of paper. Do this five more times, so that you have six numbers to distribute between your abilities.

You can also give all your abilities eight points as a base and have 27 points to distribute among Strenght, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma at a maximum of 15 as an ability score. Or you can use the following numbers: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.

You then add to the number the ability score a bonus of your race and check what your modifier will be. Modifiers are the number you add to your dice after you roll them. For example, you’re trying to approach some without being seen, so you roll a d20 and get a 13 for Stealth, it would require more for it to be successful, but you have a +2 modifier, so you actually get 15, passing the ability check. You can see what are the modifiers for each ability score on the PHB.

4. Create your character’s personality

From now on, you’ll have most of your character ready. You’ll have to choose between some predetermined qualities (or write your own) as alignment, background, personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.

  • Alignment: Alignments determine your character’s ethics, how they think and how they will act in times when their morals are tested. The aligment is one of the most popular features of DnD. The first word of the aligment shows what how much they care about following the law, while the second corresponds to their moral compass and they can be combined as the player wishes.
    • Chaotic: The character follows their own morality and are willing to break the law if that’s what they desire. They normally don’t trust or respect authorities.
    • Lawful: Deeply cares about the law. Lawful characters can tend to be close-minded and feel superior to those who don’t abide by law – human or otherwise.
    • Neutral: They aren’t too worried about following the rules, but don’t feel the need to rebel against authorities as well.
    • Evil: Normally they have no compassion for others, harm and kill without remorse, or even for sport.
    • Good: They are usually altruistic, empathetic, and make sacrifices to help other people.
  • Background: Of course you can create your own background, and we will help you create your own, but you can also choose a premade one. There are several types of backgrounds you can choose from on D&D Beyond website.
  • Personality traits: You can choose two personality traits that say something interesting and fun about your character. They might describe the things your character likes, their past accomplishments, things your character dislikes or fears, your character’s self-attitude or mannerisms and more. There are plenty of personality traits lists you can find or even create your own.
  • Ideals: The same goes for ideals. They have to be what drives your character. Ideals encompass everything from your life goals to your core belief system.
  • Bonds: This represents the connections the character has to people, places, and events. For example, with their familiy, a sactuary, or a civil war.
  • Flaws: You can choose one flaw for your character, since no one is perfect, not even on a imaginary world. They can be a vice, compulsion, fear, or weakness.

5. Choose your equipment

Equipment includes your weapon, armor, tools, and adventure gear. Each background already has a pre-determined set of starting equipment the player can choose from and you can just fill in the equipment part of the sheet by writing the items you’ll have on your adventure and adding items you earn during the campaign.

You can also select individual items from the PHB list as your starting equipment. You’ll have a determined amount of gold pieces depending on your class, and you can use that money to make your own starting set.

CP stands for Copper Pieces, SP for Silver Pieces, EP is Electrum Pieces, GP is Gold Pieces, and PP is Platinum Pieces.

6. Understanding the character sheet

The character sheet layout was thought to help you quickly check anything you need to know about your character during your campaign, not only create one. Now, we’ll explain how to fill up the rest of your character sheet.

By this point, you can fill up the upper part of the character sheet. You can choose a name based on your character’s race or create your own. Write the race, background, class, level (for most campaigns you start on level one), and alignment like previously explained.

Write your name on the “player name”, and zero on experience points (XP), since your adventure hasn’t started yet. You gain XP and level up as you defeat monsters and enemies during your journey.

The middle section will mostly be used during combat. The Armor Class (AC) determines how difficult it is to hit you. The enemy rolls a number lower than your AC, they won’t hit their attack. Your AC is calculated by adding 10 to your Dexterity modifier plus any bonus from armor and shield if your character uses one.

As for Initiative, you’ll roll at the start of every combat, so it’s not necessary to fill it up now. Speed is the same one described previously when choosing a race.

Hit Points (HP) are equivalent to your character’s life. At level one, you’ll have one hit die, as determined by your class, and your HP will be equal to the maximum points of your hit die. Temporary HPs are only given during gameplay to some classes. Death saves are used when your character faints after losing all their HP in combat, so you can leave it blank.

In the attacks and spellcasting slot, you’ll write your weapon’s or spells names, followed by their accuracy, determined by the Strength modifier, except if it’s a bow, which you use the Dexterity modifier. To the side, you put the damage and type of damage a specific weapon does, which will be described in the PHB.

You can write your spells in this segment as well.

Inspiration is only used during gameplay so you can leave it blank. Proficiency Bonus is added as you level up and at level one, you begin with two Proficiency Bonuses pints, which adds to your character’s Saving Throw skills a +2 modifier.

Saving Throws are also based on your class. You can check the skills of your class saving throw and write in the blank space the corresponding modifier like you previously written in the left segment. You are basically writing the same thing twice, but it makes it easier to spot while playing.

You can do the same thing in the lower segment for the specific abilities according to their skill modifier. You’ll later alter the number as you level up and gain proficiency bonuses.

The Passive Wisdom is used by the DM to know whether the character notices something or someone hidden. It’s the same number as the Wisdom skill (without modifiers). It’s only separated to be easier to see.

The Other Proficiencies and Languages is exactly what the name suggests. You’ll write down what are your character’s known proficiencies and languages, such as common, elvish, and dwarvish.

As for the Features and Traits section, you’ll put the traits your character has because of their race, class, and background. An example of this is that all elves have the Trance trait, which says that this race doesn’t need to sleep, only meditate for four hours a day. Features are great deeds that your character has accomplished during their journey, but since you’ll be just starting out, you won’t have any.