Defining Your Dungeons & Dragons Character
A Dungeons & Dragons player character lives in an ancient time, in a world much like ours was in medieval times, when knights and castles filled the land. Imagine this place, where magic really works and dragons roam in the dark beyond the firelight. Your character might be a strong fighter or a nimble rogue, a wise cleric or a charismatic sorcerer. Every day, your character explores the unknown places of the world, seeking monsters to slay and treasure to win. Every adventure that your character survives makes him or her a little more powerful, a little more famous, and a little richer.
D&D is a game, and so you need some way to express and describe your character in the context of the game world. Your fighter, for example, might be “extremely strong but not too bright,” and those characteristics need to be translated into game terms. The following sections provide an overview of the things you’ll find on your character sheet, a record of your character’s game statistics.
Every great character has a great name. You may have a name all picked out from the moment you conceive your character, or you may figure it out after you’ve determined all of your character’s game statistics. Great names are evocative. They fit the mood of the story and world in which the character adventures. John Savage is a great name for a character in a spy thriller set in the modern world, but it doesn’t work so well for a character in a D&D fantasy world.
In the fantasy world of D&D, humans aren’t the only intelligent race walking around. Other intelligent races share their adventures, and your character can belong to any of these. Here are a few of the possible races you could choose from. The D&D Player’s Handbook has additional races that make great player characters.
These races are drawn from myth and legend, and they are similar to the imaginary races that populate many popular fantasy worlds. For D&D, the races we begin with are humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings. Here’s a quick rundown on the benefits of each:
- Humans: These are people just like you and us. They are adaptable, flexible, and extremely ambitious. Compared to the other races, humans are relatively short-lived. In game terms, humans get an extra feat and four extra skill points to reflect their natural tendencies.
- Dwarves: The members of this race are hearty and steadfast, standing about 4-1/2 feet tall but powerfully built and extremely broad. They have a strong connection to mountains and rocky places. They can live to be more than 400 years old. In game terms, dwarves receive a +2 to Constitution and a –2 to Charisma. They also receive bonuses against poison, spells, and magical effects. Dwarves also have darkvision, the ability to see up to 60 feet in the dark.
- Elves: Elves have a strong connection to the natural world, especially woodlands. They can live to be more than 700 years old. Known for being artists of both song and magic, elves have an affinity for spellcasting and lore. They stand about 5-1/2 feet tall, appearing graceful and frail. Elves receive a +2 to Dexterity and a –2 to Constitution. They are immune to sleep effects and receive a bonus against enchantment spells. Elves have low-light vision and a racial bonus on Listen, Search, and Spot checks.
- Halflings: The members of this race are clever and capable — much more so than their small size might indicate. Standing about 3 feet tall, with slim, muscular builds, halflings are athletic and outgoing. Curious to a fault and usually with a daring to match, halflings love to explore. They tend to live well past 100. Halflings receive a +2 Dexterity and a –2 Strength to reflect their small statures. They also receive bonuses to Climb, Jump, Listen, and Move Silently checks, as well as a bonus to all saving throws due to their fearlessness and ability to avoid damage.
In addition to your character’s name and race, your character is most easily identified by his or her class. A class is kind of like a profession or vocation. It determines what role the character plays in the adventuring party. Here are four of the most popular D&D classes for your use. More can be found in the D&D Player’s Handbook:
- Fighters: These characters are warriors with exceptional combat capabilities and weapon skills. Nobody kills monsters and stands at the front of an adventuring party as well as the fighter.
- Rogues: Members of this class rely on tricks, cunning, and stealth to get through a dungeon and save the day. Rogues are great at getting past locked doors, scouting, spying, and attacking from the shadows.
- Sorcerers: These are spellcasters, calling on powerful magic spells to fight monsters and protect their teammates. Sorcerers need to stay out of direct combat, but the power they bring to the adventure makes them worthy members of any party.
- Clerics: These characters focus the might of divine magic to cast healing and protective spells. A good second-line warrior as well, a cleric might be one of the most versatile members of an adventuring party.
So, your character might be Regdar the human fighter, for example.
Level and XP
Level is a description of your character’s relative degree of power. A 10th-level character is more powerful and able to take on tougher challenges than a 5th-level character. With each new level your character attains, he or she becomes more powerful and capable. Your character begins play at 1st level.
Experience points (XP) are the numerical measure of your character’s personal achievements. Your character earns experience points by defeating opponents and overcoming challenges. When your character’s XP total reaches various milestones, he or she gains new levels. At 0 XP, for example, your character is 1st level. At 1,000 XP, your character attains 2nd level.
The primary expression of your character in game terms starts with his or her ability scores. Every D&D character is defined by six abilities — Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each ability gets a score, a number that determines how good your character will be at different tasks in the game.
The average score for everyday people in a D&D world is 10 or 11. Player characters are heroes, and so they are better than everyday folk. The average ability score for a player character is 12 or 13.
During character creation, you can generate numbers between 3 (a terrible score) and 18 (an excellent score).
If it hasn’t been made clear yet, your player character is special. He or she stands above the normal people and becomes a hero in the world. As such, your character has special abilities. These might be based on your character’s class or race, or tied to certain feats you have selected.
For example, Regdar the fighter has taken the Power Attack feat. This provides him with the special ability to reduce the effectiveness of his attack roll in order to increase the damage he deals on a successful hit. Another example of a special ability is Wellyn the sorcerer’s ability to cast arcane spells.
Your character has a number of key statistics that you’ll refer to over and over through the course of play. Here’s a quick rundown on these statistics:
- Initiative modifier: This modifier is used to determine who goes first in a combat round.
- Speed: This value shows how far your character can move (measured in feet) in a round.
- Attack and damage modifiers: These numbers are associated with your character’s weapons of choice, show what you must roll to attack opponents, and how much damage your character does if the attack succeeds.
- Armor Class (or AC): This value is what opponents need to roll to hit your character during combat.
- Hit points (or hp): This number defines how much damage your character can withstand before being defeated in combat. When your character runs out of hit points, he or she is defeated.
Feats provide special bonuses or capabilities for your character. Sometimes a feat provides a totally new power for your character. Other feats improve powers your character already has.
Skills represent the training and education your character has beyond the combat and spellcasting inherent to his or her class. Depending on your character’s class, your character will have a greater or lesser amount of skills to call upon. Rogues, for example, receive a large number of points with which to buy and improve skills. Fighters, on the other hand, just don’t go in much for studying, and therefore receive a much smaller number of skill points to use.
Every D&D player character must be well prepared for adventuring life. This is reflected not only in the class, skills, and feats the character has, but in the gear the character carries. From weapons and armor to rations, sleeping rolls and rope, torches, flint and steel, and the backpack to carry it all in, no adventurer goes naked into a dungeon.
Characters with a spellcasting class possess spells, such as the sorcerer and the cleric. The D&D Player’s Handbook presents other spellcasting class options.
A spell is a one-time magical effect. Some spells deal damage to either a single opponent or a group of opponents. Other spells heal adventuring companions who have been injured in combat. There are all kinds of spells with all kinds of different magical effects.
The sorcerer casts arcane spells. Arcane spells tend to be offensive in nature. The cleric casts divine spells. Divine spells tend to be helpful and defensive in nature, providing healing or effects that improve or otherwise benefit the party.