D&D: On Character Creation

Having mentioned that I enjoy character creation previously, I thought I would take a moment to elaborate on character creation. In particular, how to get the most out of your character. Now to qualify this vague statement, it probably isn’t what you think it means. To me, you get the most out of a character when you can relate to them in some way, understand and act. D&D afterall is a role playing game.

To do this, let’s first take out the assumption that any new character must be progress. It is simply different. You may get to keep most of the experience gained through a campaign, but you should not think of it as standing on your former character’s shoulders. Instead, like meeting new people in the same place, characters should each be different and may not at all reflect each other. Second, the goal should be to RP and not just combat. Again, D&D is an RPG and not the best combat simulator. At level one, don’t try to be a demi-god. At level 5 as a fighter, you can be sure of your abilities but you are not invulnerable. At level 10 as a fighter you are powerful but should be even more aware of your limitations and that you are not the end-all, be-all of combat. I urge you not to try to roll to be overpowered, perhaps it is a goal your character has but this is something that is not very dynamic to play. Third, let’s take away the good or bad judgements. All too often players roll stats and just are not happy stating that it is just bad. Bad for rolls, but perhaps very good for role playing.

As said in my last D&D post, I prefer to let 3d6 instead of 4d6 determine my characters stats. I usually even go as far as rolling my stats in order too. Why? Because for me, it is constraints that make an interesting character. Sure if you roll a 3 in a stat, then it may be too limiting in so far as making a character truly interesting. But that being said, 5’s to 9’s I would be fine with. Those stats are interesting to me. Let me go into a bit more detail. Say I 3d6 roll a character with the following stats: STR15, AGL10, CON12, INT8, WIS10, CHA6.

Well, STR15 tells me that physically this character is gifted, not exceptional. AGL10 is not really remarkable on it’s own but may give some insight to how the character trains, was brought up, or views other’s’ abilities. CON12 again is not really remarkable, but paired with STR15 may be an indication that perhaps this is a character that was brought up in an environment like a modern gym where lifting is done for strength training, but toughness really wasn’t a sought after trait. INT8, just below average with no notable difficulties but say perhaps this character doesn’t enjoy reading or getting lectured. WIS10 maybe this character hasn’t had a tough life of hard learning but has played it straight-and-narrow based off what he has seen in others. CHA6, nearly the level that we have coin ‘charism-of-an-ugly-rock’. Some ugly personality traits could range from narcissism and self-absorption to being so socially withdrawn out of the previous gym element that he just rubs everyone the wrong way.

I could play this character as the stereotypical hero as a fighter with decent stats where they count for combat. But by looking at the rolls and letting those help shape the presentation of the character in role playing is where I think you can get the most out of your character. If I had the above stats, I may choose to play the fighter as the obvious trope of jock. Alternatively, I could also play the fighter as perhaps someone from a fallen noble family that even though he is now a common folk with an ingrained superiority complex that gets in the way of most personal interactions. Your job as the player of this character to be is now to flesh out general details. A great way to do this is by writing a backstory.

But before that, let’s talk quickly about alignments. I roll a d10 and use a number pad system. Just my personal preference. While yes, alignments are probably the most ignored ‘feature’ in D&D, they can be used to greatly characterise actions, words and RP. Referencing tropes is usually the easiest way to accomplish a personality type outside of reading into the stats. After all, a lawful good will say and do things much differently from a true neutral thief and very differently from a chaotic evil doom-sayer. Playing a character that is convincing leads to sticking to semi-predictable choices, or at least consistent choices. I think it is the problem with consistency where most role players fail their characters. In choosing to live, I don’t fault players. But in choosing to perhaps trick even a bad guy as a lawful good character is uncharacteristic and should be avoided. Even if it is a hard, correct choice as the role player.

Back to the backstory part. It doesn’t have to be detailed or all encompassing. In fact, I will say that a lot of it should be blank. But it should form the character’s decisions going forward. Stating things like, ‘He remembered his mother’s old stories and parables about heroes from his youth, the wealth of wisdom still guiding him today’ is very general. But it gives some kind of role playing constraint, a left-and-right limit if you will, when viewed with say the chaotic good alignment and previous stats. From almost anecdotal collection of characterizations in a backstory, you can lay the foundation of who your character is, how they act, with whom they associate, what they like, and most importantly still have the freedom to color in the blank spaces without changing the entire end result.

Well, if you take nothing away, then think of D&D character creation like this: in a conversation you and others will take turns inputting words to make it coherent–you are not there to win or lose but to contribute. If everyone has the most overpowered characters, then what is there to do besides play against the DM? Isn’t D&D a role playing game in the vein of players against the situation, environment and world? Sure, a DM is behind the plot, action and monsters, but a campaign shouldn’t be an antagonistic game of characters against the actual god of the world they are attempting to live within, right? And I feel strongly that this goes hand-in-hand. Characters with character and flaws accompanying their considerable strength are much easier to create the experience of achievement as your party does defeat that big-bad monster, escape the labyrinth, and survive to face a new day.

Long live role playing in role playing games; Let’s not make D&D into a roll playing game that may as well be Diablo 3 or Path of Exile or whatever action RPG you choose to play.