Creating a character for Dungeons & Dragons can be a daunting task. You’ve got to pick a race and class, write a backstory, deal with lots of numbers and decide if your character is basically good or basically evil (or somewhere in between). I struggled with this for a long time, wishing to come up with a compelling character that would be enjoyable for me and my fellow players. That’s why I empathized with this tweet from my internet pal Lyz*:
Now, I’ve not written this post to bestow the definitive answer upon the D&D-playing masses. Instead, I want to give a few simple tips that have made the process easier for me. If they work for you, dear reader, great. If not, please share your tips for character creation in the comments below. With that said, onward!
For me, the most confounding aspect of character creation in D&D is the backstory. For years, I would write elaborate, multi-page tales for my characters involving missing parents, burned villages, oaths of revenge, sworn allegiances and “last of my tribe” sorts of thing. All of it pre-history as far as the campaign was concerned. Jonny Ironsword would enter my DM’s campaign hell bent on avenging the death of his father or tracking down his twin brother, drafted into servitude by a nomadic tribe of marauding half-orcs when Johnny and Jimmy were only 12…
Only to have that never come up in the campaign, which is about delivering tainted mead to the Zhentarim’s block party.
Your story arc
That’s when I decided to let my character’s story arc happen in the campaign, not before. Here’s what I mean.
The character I’m playing as of this writing is Reed Greenbottle, a halfling druid botanist. He leaves his village to collect samples of plants to record in his book.
That’s it. That’s his whole story.
This is Reed’s first time “off the farm” if you will and his naivety informs his interactions with the people, beasties and situations he meets.
Is that a Kenku? Neat, let me get a close look.
In combat, Reed casts a spell in a way that endangers the attacker as well as his allies. He’s never fought anything before, you see, so he kind of sucks at it.
Eventually, young Reed’s belief that all things are inherently good will begin to erode. A few things try to kill him and his new friends. Maybe he gets robbed. Maybe he gets double crossed. After 12 weeks of play, Reed probably won’t be the same person he was at the beginning. In other words, I’m letting my DM’s plans shape who Reed is. It’s a lot less pressure on me, feels more organic, and alleviates the frustration of realizing the intricate backstory I wrote has no place in the campaign.
As for the other aspects of character creation — race, class, alignment, ability scores — just pick whatever sounds cool. As for ability scores, let the dice decide. Maybe you end up with a wizard with very low wisdom. That’s not bad, it’s a story-telling opportunity! Perhaps she flunked out of wizarding school and learned from back-alley charlatans.
Now I understand that “just pick whatever sounds cool” probably made a lot of you cringe. If you enjoy the deep dive, by all means have at it. But if the question is simplicity, this has worked for me. It’s fun discovering who Reed is as I play him week to week.
*By the way, Lyz custom-inks gaming dice and they’re beautiful.