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A Deep Dive Inside the Process of Creating a Character for Dungeons & Dragons

Depending on the Dungeon Master you play with, the character creation process can be one of the most important parts of participating in a long-form campaign. In those instances, character creation is the meat of Dungeons & Dragons because you are creating a character through which you are viewing a foreign and fictional world. It’s important to remember that fact when creating a character because, later down the road, you might find yourself uncomfortable with the lens you’ve chosen to see through.

Character Concepts

Many people, when they go into the process of creating a character, will start off with a character concept. A character concept is typically an idea about either a character’s looks, aesthetic, fighting style, or backstory, among many other things; however, not every player goes into the process with a character concept. Often times, a character concept is born out of the process itself, whether that be from the name or even the character’s class. For instance, one of the newest players who was just recently introduced to my campaign created a character named Dee Candy. The concept for his character is that he is an eccentric aasimar cleric from a rich family that owns an internationally recognized chain of candy stores. This concept in particular came from the party’s need of a cleric, this player’s fondness for “Aasimar” sounding like “ASMR” (much to my own chagrin), and a name generator that prompted his family’s ownership of a candy store with “Candy” being given as a last name. That, then, blew up into how we determined the character’s aesthetic and, using the details of the “Noble” background, his general demeanor. The point is, a character concept is something that is important to the core of a character, whether you start with one or not. The concept you go with could determine backstory, personality, and could inform your roleplaying.

With that in mind, as I create a character for today’s article, I’m going to be using a concept I came up with for a Drow. I thought of this concept after a potential player of mine came to me with his Drow Wizard, which got me thinking about fun ideas for Drow characters and the Drow society. This concept is based around a Drow that actually doesn’t like being underground and prefers to be in the sun, despite her people’s sensitivity to sunlight. As part of the concept, I enjoyed the idea of this character carrying around an umbrella or parasol that shades her, while being reinforced enough to act as a melee weapon during combat. Cosmetically, I wanted this character to be opposite of many of the stereotypes surrounding the Drow people, so I gave her a bright and cheery aesthetic including a lot of pinks and other brighter colors.


The Character Sheet

To start, I began by creating a “Fighter” build for this character to coincide with her unique weapon choice. After building the fighter portion of this character, it was time to add a little flavor.


The Backstory

To begin on this portion of the creation process, I took into consideration what would make a person hate the conditions that their people are most comfortable in or what would make someone separate from their own people. In my own Drow lore for my homebrew, becoming a Drider in Drow society is considered a great honor, much like it was in the 4th Edition of the game. When one becomes a Drider, they become a true servant and warrior of Lolth, marked with the appearance of the very creatures that Lolth holds agency over. This actually happens to be the opposite of how the 5th Edition has written the Drow lore, but I actually think that, for a society that worships the goddess of spiders, it makes more sense for the Drider form to be the ultimate honor. Based on this, I decided that her backstory would this:

“She spent her entire life among the clergy of Lolthian Drow, raised by a wealthy family who was ingrained in the worship of the goddess. At the age of twenty, she was chosen as one of many candidates for becoming a Drider. The candidates would each fight to the death, facing one another until one was standing. At the end, she was the last one to stand. But, at that point, she was too late to realize the price of high honor. Once she realized how horrible it all was, it was all she could do to run away from the place she called home. She escaped to the land above ground that she so wondered about from a young age in an attempt to wash herself of the past.”

Of course, I omitted the character’s inner psychology and some of the finer details for the sake of brevity, but this makes for an interesting backstory. Not only does this backstory give a Dungeon Master something to work with, it also adds a lot to the worldbuilding of whatever world the character happens to be apart of. If you’re a Dungeon Master, that kind of forethought from your players can be really helpful in the long-run as you write and expand your world.


The Personality in Roleplaying

Moving on, if you play in a campaign where roleplaying is important, it might be a good idea to have an understanding of how your character interacts or connects with the world that your Dungeon Master has created for you. Depending on your character’s backstory or background, they might have a certain way of acting or speaking that is a result of that. For instance, I decided that my Drow character that I’ve been using as an example will have a bubbly and hyperactive personality. However, this personality doesn’t just come out of nowhere. This deliberately follows the trope of a character acting cheerful to hide their past from others and to distance themselves from their own problems. This was also my partial reasoning for giving this character a brighter aesthetic.


Moral Alignment

In my article from last month, I talked extensively on my feelings on the DND Alignment system, and now it’s time to practice what I preach. For this character, I want to explain my thought process behind labeling her alignment the way that I have. This is something people should do for their character to understand the inner workings of the character’s logic, their philosophy for life, and their motivations. This Drow character has killed people, people she might have considered friends at one point, all in the name of Lolth. Her guilt has eaten and continues to eat at her, and she can’t help but feel that she needs to make up for it as much as she can. She wants to save people, to do good to try and make up for all the bad that she’s done. Naturally following this, her general course of action, I believe, will follow the path of perceived good. Generally, she will follow the “lawful” descriptor because she wants to do good the way she believes that good is expected to be done.


Supplementary Things to Consider

Whenever I sit down with one of my players to create a character just from the Player Handbook, I always make my player choose a trinket from the chart on pages 160-161. From a mummified goblin hand to a pair of old socks to a tiny mechanical crab, the trinket chart is a fantastic way to get into a character’s headspace before playing as them in a real session. Whenever I ask my players to do this, I always ask them to consider each object on the chart the way that their character would and to pick the one that their character would be most likely to find on an adventure and keep for themselves. This simple exercise allows a player the ability to think clearly about a character’s interests and personality without it being in the heat of an actual session. For our Drow, I’ve decided she would be most likely to keep a pipe that blows bubbles, something that I think she would be rather taken with based on her newfound sense of wonder and frivolity as she explores the world outside the Underdark for the first time.

(Hint: If you’re a Dungeon Master, allowing your player to put a trinket in their inventory could lead to storyhooks down the road. This could be an interesting way to tie a character’s personal sense of wonderment with the world you’ve created.)

Once you’ve considered personality, backstory, general morality, and a number of other factors, it’s time to dig really deep. For this portion, it’s a good idea to find questions that help with character creation. One of my players actually went on a quest of her own and found a fantastic set of questions that our group has turned into a requirement for long-term players. They are a series of items that encourage deep thought about your character. For all three of my long-term players, I had them fill out this series of questions as if they were their characters filling out some sort of survey or questionnaire. They’re questions about the character’s greatest fears, their life goals, their best/worst memories, their secrets, so on and so forth. You can either jump right in or you can wait until you’ve stress-tested the character. Either way, these types of questions are very important.

If you want to go extra deep into character creation, I would suggest looking into “The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide” by James D’Amato. The book, which I have just recently purchased for myself, details a number of activities that assist with character creation, from an activity that helps you create a idiom to work into character dialogue to a self-explanatory activity called “Wed, Bed, or Behead.” The book is a fantastic tool that allows you to consider your character in different or unusual situations that one normally wouldn’t consider during the process of creating your character.


Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, creating a character is all about whatever story you want to tell through the game. Create a character that is going to do that story justice. Don’t be afraid to make them comical or just flat out weird, especially since weird characters are often the most fun to play as. Also, remember that you don’t have to follow the strict guidelines that the Player Handbook or any of the other books give you. We wouldn’t have pink, blue, and green tieflings if people followed all the rules, after all.

Take it from the girl with a half-angle candy salesman cleric, a tabaxi rogue wearing DIY-ed cut-off shorts and crop-top leather armour, and a 7 ft. tall dragonborn wielding a frying pan in her DND game. Good character creation doesn’t mean boring or over done.