1. Choose what you want to play
Your first step is to imagine and create a character of your own. Think about the kind of adventurer you want to play. You might be courageous, deviant, compassionate, fervent, selfish, or flamboyant. Do you like fantasy fiction featuring dwarves or elves? Try building a character of one of those species. Do you want your character to be the toughest adventurer at the table? Consider a class like warrior. If you don’t know where else to begin, take a look at illustrations to see what catches your interest.
Once you have a character in mind, follow these steps in order, making decisions that reflect the character you want. Your conception of your character might evolve with each choice you make. What’s important is that you come to the table with a character you’re excited to play. Throughout this section, the term character sheet is used to mean whatever you use to track your character, whether it’s a formal character sheet, some form of digital record, or a piece of notebook paper.
2. Choose a species
Every character belongs to a species, one of the many intelligent humanoid species in the world. Dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, and humans are the most common species.
The species you choose contributes to your character’s identity in an important way, by establishing a general appearance and the natural talents gained from culture and species. Your character’s species grants particular traits, such as special senses, capability with certain skills, weapons, or the ability to use minor spells. These traits sometimes dovetail with the capabilities of certain classes (see step 3). For example, the traits of lightfoot halflings make them exceptional rogues, and high elves tend to be powerful wizards. Sometimes playing against type can be fun, too. A mountain dwarf mage, for example, can be an unusual but memorable character. Your species also increases your health. Note this increase and remember to apply it later. Record the traits granted by your species on your character sheet. Be sure to note your starting languages and your base speed as well.
3. Choose a background
Your character’s background describes where they came from, their original livelihood, and the character’s place in the world. Your GM might offer additional backgrounds beyond the ones included in the Backgrounds section, and might be willing to work with you to craft a background that’s a more precise fit for your character concept. A background gives your character a background feature (a general benefit) and capability with two skills, and it might also give you additional languages or capability with certain kinds of tools. Record this information, along with the personality information you develop, on your character sheet.
4. Choose a class
Every adventurer is a member of a class. Class broadly describes a character’s vocation, what special talents they possesses, and the tactics they are most likely to employ when exploring a dungeon, fighting monsters, or engaging in a tense negotiation.
Your character receives a number of benefits from your choice of class. Many of these benefits are class features–capabilities (including spellcasting) that set your character apart from members of other classes. Your class also increases your hit points, your abilities (which you determine in step 5), and your proficiencies: armor, weapons, skills, and saving throws. Your proficiencies define many of the things your character can do particularly well, from using certain weapons to telling a convincing lie. On your character sheet, record all the features that your class gives you at 1st level.
Typically, a character starts at 1st level and advances in level by adventuring and gaining experience points (XP). A 1st-level character is inexperienced in the adventuring world, although they might have been a soldier or a pirate and done dangerous things before.
Starting off at 1st level marks your character’s entry into the adventuring life. If you’re already familiar with the game, or if you are joining an existing campaign, your GM might decide to have you begin at a higher level, on the assumption that your character has already survived a few harrowing adventures.
Record your level on your character sheet. If you’re starting at a higher level, record the additional elements your class gives you for your levels past 1st. Also record your experience points. A 1st-level character has 0 XP. A higher-level character typically begins with the minimum amount of XP required to reach that level (see “Beyond 1st Level” later in this section).
Health and health dice
Your character’s health define how tough your character is in combat and other dangerous situations. Your health is determined by your Health Dice.
At 1st level, your character has 1 Health Die, and the die type is determined by your class. You start with health from your species and an amount based on your class die, as indicated in your class description. (You also add your Constitution, which you’ll determine in step 5.) This is also your maximum health.
Record your character’s health on your character sheet. Also record the type of Health Die your character uses and the number of Health Dice you have. After you rest, you can spend Health Dice to regain health (see “Resting” in the Adventuring section).
The table that appears in your class description shows your proficiency bonus, which is +2 for a 1st-level character. Your proficiency bonus applies in different ways to many of the numbers you’ll be recording on your character sheet:
- Attack rolls using weapons you’re proficient with
- Attack rolls with spells you cast
- Ability checks using skills you’re capable or proficient with
- Ability checks using tools you’re capable or proficient with
- Saving throws you’re proficient with
- Saving throw DCs for maneuvers you use or spells you cast (explained in each spellcasting class)
Your class determines your weapon proficiencies, your saving throwproficiencies, and some of your skill proficiencies. Your background gives you additional skill proficiencies, and some species give you more proficiencies. Be sure to note all of these proficiencies, as well as your proficiency bonus, on your character sheet.
Your proficiency bonus can’t be added to a single die roll or other number more than once. Occasionally, your proficiency bonus might be modified (halved, for example) before you apply it. If a circumstance suggests that your proficiency bonus applies more than once to the same roll or that it should be divided more than once, you nevertheless add it only once and halve it only once.
5. Determine abilities
Much of what your character does in the game depends on their six abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
Use one of the following arrays distributed to your abilities as you choose.
- 2, 2, 2, 0, -1, -1
- 2, 2, 1, 1, 0, -1
- 2, 2, 1, 0, 0, 0
- 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, -1
- 2, 1, 1, 1, 0, 0
- 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
Ability Point Cost
You have 24 points to spend on your abilities. The cost of each value is shown on the Ability Point Cost table. For example, an ability of 2 costs 7 points. Using this method, 2 is the highest ability you can end up with, before applying class increases. You can’t have an ability lower than −1. This method produces the same results as the Standard abilities above.
Roll (not recommended)
For nostalgia, you can generate your character’s six abilities randomly. Roll four 6-sided dice and record the total of the highest three dice on a piece of scratch paper. Do this five more times, so that you have six numbers. Subtract 10 from each number and then divide the result by 2 (round down) to determine the numbers you will assign to abilities.
Now take your six numbers and write each number beside one of your character’s six abilities to assign values to Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Afterward, make any changes to your abilities as a result of your class choice.
6. Describe your character
Once you know the basic game aspects of your character, it’s time to flesh them out as a person. Your character needs a name. Spend a few minutes thinking about what your character looks like and how your character behaves in general terms.
The Background section helps you identify the things your character holds most dear, called bonds, and the flaws that could one day undermine them.
Your character’s abilities
Take your character’s abilities, species, background, and class into account as you flesh out their appearance and personality. A very strong character with low Intelligence might think and behave very differently from a very smart character with low Strength.
For example, high Strength usually corresponds with a burly or athletic body, while a character with low Strength might be scrawny or plump.
A character with high Dexterity is probably lithe and slim, while a character with low Dexterity might be either gangly and awkward or heavy and thick-fingered.
A character with high Constitution usually looks healthy, with bright eyes and abundant energy. A character with low Constitution might be sickly or frail.
A character with high Intelligence might be highly inquisitive and studious, while a character with low Intelligence might speak simply or easily forget details.
A character with high Wisdom has good judgment, empathy, and a general awareness of what’s going on. A character with low Wisdom might be absent-minded, foolhardy, or oblivious.
A character with high Charisma exudes confidence, which is usually mixed with a graceful or intimidating presence. A character with a low Charisma might come across as abrasive, inarticulate, or timid.
7. Choose equipment
Instead of taking the gear given to you by your class and background, you can purchase your starting equipment. You have a number of silver pieces (sp) to spend based on your class, as shown in the Equipment section. Extensive lists of equipment, with prices, also appear in that section. If you wish, you can also have one trinket at no cost (see the trinket table at the end of the Equipment section).
Your Strength limits the amount of gear you can carry. Try not to purchase equipment with a total weight (in kilos) exceeding 20 + your Strength × 5. The Abilities section has more information on carrying capacity.
Your Defense represents how well your character avoids being wounded in battle. Things that contribute to your Defense include the armor you wear, the shield you carry, and your Dexterity. Not all characters wear armor or carry shields, however.
Without armor or a shield, your character’s Defense equals 10 + half their proficiency bonus + their Dexterity. If your character wears armor, carries a shield, or both, calculate your Defense using the rules in the Armor section. Record your Defense on your character sheet.
Your character needs to be proficient with armor and shields to wear and use them effectively, and your armor and shield proficiencies are determined by your class. There are drawbacks to wearing armor or carrying a shield if you lack the required proficiency, as explained in the Armor section.
Some spells and class features give you a different way to calculate your Defense. If you have multiple features that give you different ways to calculate your Defense, you choose which one to use.
For each weapon your character wields, calculate the modifier you use when you attack with the weapon and the damage you deal when you hit.
When you make an attack with a weapon, you roll 2d10 and add your proficiency bonus (but only if you are proficient with the weapon) and the appropriate ability.
- For attacks with melee weapons, use your Strength for attack and damage rolls. A weapon that has the finesse property, such as a rapier, can use your Dexterity instead.
- For attacks with ranged weapons, use your Dexterity for attack and damage rolls. A weapon that has the thrown property, such as a hatchet, can use your Strength instead.
8. Come together
Most characters don’t work alone. Each character plays a role within a party, a group of adventurers working together for a common purpose. Teamwork and cooperation greatly improve your party’s chances to survive the many perils of the world. Talk to your fellow players and your GM to decide whether your characters know one another, how they met, and what sorts of quests the group might undertake.
Beyond 1st level
As your character goes on adventures and overcomes challenges, it gains experience, represented by experience points. A character who reaches a specified experience point total advances in capability. This advancement is called gaining a level.
When your character gains a level, their class often grants additional features, as detailed in the class description. In addition, every character’s proficiency bonus increases at certain levels.
Each time you gain a level, you gain 1 additional Health Die. Roll that Health Die, add your Constitution to the roll, and add the total to your maximum health. Alternatively, you can use the fixed value shown in your class entry, which is the average result of the die roll (rounded up).
When your Constitution increases by 1, your maximum health increases by 1 for each level you have attained.
The tiers of play
There are five tiers of play. The tiers don’t have any rules associated with them; they are a general description of how the play experience changes as characters gain levels.
In the first tier (levels 1–4), characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. They are learning the features that define them as members of particular classes, including the major choices that flavor their class features as they advance (such as a mage’s Arcane Tradition or a warrior’s Martial Subclass). The threats they face are relatively minor, usually posing a danger to local farmsteads or villages.
In the second tier (levels 5–8), characters come into their own. Many spellcasters gain access to spells that cost 2 mana at the start of this tier, crossing a new threshold of magical power. At this tier, many weapon–using classes gain the ability to make multiple attacks in one round. These characters have become important, facing dangers that threaten cities.
In the third tier (levels 9–12), characters have continued to develop themselves. Many spellcasters gain access to spells that cost 3 mana at the start of this tier, crossing a new threshold of magical power. At this tier, many weapon–using classes gain features that allow them to make more attacks or do more impressive things with those attacks. These characters have become important, facing dangers that threaten kingdoms.
In the fourth tier (levels 13–16), characters have reached a level of power that sets them high above the ordinary populace and makes them special even among adventurers. At 13th level, many spellcasters gain access to spells that cost 4 mana, some of which create effects previously impossible for player characters to achieve. Other characters gain features that allow them to make more attacks or do more impressive things with those attacks. These mighty adventurers often confront threats to whole regions and continents.
In the fifth tier (levels 17–20), characters achieve the pinnacle of their class features, becoming heroic (or villainous) archetypes in their own right. The fate of the world or even the fundamental order of the multiverse might hang in the balance during their adventures.