Hello book bees and welcome to my new D&D Thursday series! Every Thursday I will be making a post that discusses the game Dungeons and Dragons, how it ties in with writing, and other topics! These posts are not geared at people already familiar with D&D, nor are they meant to exclude those who aren’t players. That said, if any terms or points confuse you please feel free to leave a comment asking any questions you have!
To start things off, I’d like to introduce this series by telling you a bit of my background and why I decided to start writing these posts. I began playing Dungeons and Dragons in late 2016 with a few sorority sisters and made my first character with an ex boyfriend. I was unfamiliar with the rules and only really concerned with character creation and the idea of D&D for a while. I played a brief campaign with another ex in which his grasp of the rules and my desire to play differently clashed a bit. This happened a few more times before finally I mastered the rules a bit more and discovered what kind of characters, stories, and playing styles I actually enjoyed.
A big part of playing D&D is building a character that you like. The character creation process is incredible, and there’s a lot of content choices out there! I think most of my D&D friends and I tend to create a whole lot of characters that we never play, just because dreaming them up is a fun creative exercise. I have a tendency to create characters that won’t ever see a campaign and then write little short stories about them, or bring characters from things I wrote when I was younger to life in a D&D format.
How to build a character
Note: I will be discussing only the 5e character creation process to make things significantly less complicated.
In D&D your character creation process is pretty formulaic and laid out in the reference book, the Player’s Handbook. You begin with an idea of your character and what you want to play and then choose a race. The race comes first because this establishes a variety of things about your character and what they are naturally good at so that you can build on their physical skills and backgrounds. The traditional races of fantasy are present in dwarves, elves, humans, half-elves, gnomes, halflings, and half-orcs. The PH also features the dragonborn–large scaly dragon descendents in humanoid form–and tieflings–born from devils and humans–as well as a variety of subraces.
Once you’ve got a physical body for your character, you can decide all sorts of things from their appearance and build. Each race gives you access to certain skill boosts and languages, as well as ideas for what sort of a life they led before the adventure begins. You roll d6s (traditional six sided dice) to determine ability scores that indicate how strong, fast, resilient, smart, wise, and charismatic you are. You choose what sort of background you want from a variety or can invent your own with the help of your Dungeon Master, and then you choose a class such as fighter or wizard or cleric.
There’s always room for changes too, from Unearthed Arcana (testplay material produced by the same company but not considered “finished product”) to homebrew material. There are other races available, different background combinations, class modifications, and more. You can be anything you dream of in D&D if you want! I like homebrew content a lot and I work with my players when I DM to give them unique characters based on the content they want to use. Sometimes this has ridiculous results, but for the most part as long as my players are happy with the character they’ve created then I’m happy.
There’s nothing wrong with playing simple pre made characters in order to learn the mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons. But the real fun comes when you create a unique character with fun mechanics. Since I’ll be discussing backstories in next week’s installment of the series, for “creative characters” I’ll just touch on mechanically creative ideas!
Outside of pure homebrew (which is always a good time) there are lots of ways to mechanically switch up a character. For example, I recently played a Druid character. Normally a Druid is very nature based, probably with a strong connection to plants or animals and a backstory that reflects that. A lot of Druids have Hermit backgrounds or Sage backgrounds, depending on if they learned to become a Druid on their own or had a community to mentor them. My Druid was a Charlatan who wanted nothing to do with nature! She was sent to train with Druids by her mothers, who wanted to help her learn why she saw spirits (a mechanic purely to flavor her backstory). After learning just a little bit of magic she ran off and used her magic to fuel her new, fake life as a noblewoman.
Another way to make creative character mechanics is to build your character with only their personality in mind. A lot of players build characters to create maximum impact during combat, or to be extremely good at their primary function (theft, diplomacy, persuasion, healing, etc.). Personally, I prefer to do fun things with my characters. I have played a lot of magic casters and instead of picking the “best” spells for combat, I’ll select spells based on what I think would be easiest or most interesting for my character to learn. If my character doesn’t particularly care about fire, I won’t select Fireball despite it being a very powerful spell.
Another way you can build interesting and creative characters is by multiclassing. This is where you take levels in another class, giving your character more abilities as a whole but also lowering the overall strength of those abilities. For some players, multiclassing amasses more power altogether. Personally, I prefer to only multiclass when it makes sense for my character’s personality. For example, I created a Rogue character once. Though I didn’t end up playing out her full character arc, I had a plan that if her motivation for being a Rogue got resolved before the end of the campaign I would have her multiclass if it made sense. Depending on the direction the story took, I thought she would either make a positive change in her life and perhaps multiclass as a Cleric, or she might take more drastic measures to resolve her backstory and multiclass as a Warlock.
Connection to Fantasy
To me, it’s a no brainer that D&D has distinct connections for a lot of people to the fantasy books they like to read and write. Personally, I like creating D&D characters that could fit not only into the world presented by the DM, but also into various fantasy worlds I read about. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a character based on the world building of a fantasy novel due to something unique the author presents. I also find that constructing a D&D character helps me create characters for fantasy stories that I try to write, as now I have a more comprehensive understanding of the character’s skills and personality traits.
Well Book Bees I think that’s where I’ll end this post. Keep an eye out for next week’s installment of this series, which is all about backstories! Writing them, tying them into the game, and using them as inspiration!