Welcome, this is a quick guide that I hope you will find useful with my most earnest attempt at keeping it as straightforward as possible with all of the pertinent information you will need so that you will know reflexively in the future how to create a character from scratch with confidence and on your own.
Let us do this in steps for your bookmarks:
1. Intro, choosing your Race, Class and Background.
2. Rolling your stats.
3. Updating your sheet with the Race info.
4. Updating your sheet with the Class info.
5. Updating your modifiers, skills, equipment, and gold using your Background.
6. Choosing other equipment and totaling your gold.
7. Choosing your 1st level spells and cantrips.
8. Filling out AC stats, save throws, and anything we missed.
9. Other helpful tips and things to consider.
STEP 1: INTRO (page 11)
There are many races, classes and backgrounds you can choose from with the number of books that are out there. HOWEVER, for the sake of brevity we will ONLY be using the regular “Player’s Handbook” for D&D 5th Edition as our guide. It has everything we need to create your first character, and good for practice if you just have time to kill.
Today we are going to create a spellcaster, perhaps a Cleric, if you understand how to create a spellcaster then the non-spell users are even easier to understand, such as the fighter. We are going to pick an exotic race, let us go with a Dwarf. We will also need a background, let us be a Guild Artisan.
WE ARE GOING TO NEED a bigger boat and I mean a blank piece of paper, sharpened pencil, character sheets, and preferably at most x4 sets of polyhedral dice.
STEP 2: ROLLING STATS (page 12)
The first thing you are going to need is to set up the stats, so let us go ahead and look to our Character Sheets. You can find FREE sheets to download to either print or keep digitally at https://dnd.wizards.com/charactersheets.
There is the 1st sheet with the character stats, 2nd sheet has extra info (honestly, just don’t print this off, you are going to be writing down NOTEBOOKS worth of info while you are questing), 3rd sheet is your spells (only need this if you are a spellcaster).
Now take a BLANK piece of paper and a pencil (do NOT use an ink pen, unless you like to live dangerously), create x3 columns, this is where your stats are going to be placed and you will choose which column you prefer. You are going to ROLL four d6’s (regular six-sided dice). You will take the lowest numbered dice, and discard that one. The other three you rolled you shall total.
You will place these stats in the x3 columns you create going from the top to the bottom in each independent column. Each column should have a total of 6 numbers in each of them. This gives you THREE SETS of numbers you can choose from for your stats.
The idea behind this is to provide you a VARIETY to choose from; you can choose from lower numbers for a real torturous experience, high numbers because your character is experienced, or a column with a nice even spread to make your character just sort of normal at everything. I will go ahead an choose one of these columns for the purposes of demonstration.
Next. we will PLUG these numbers into one of the six boxes on our character sheet, which will determine our modifiers. Modifiers are numbers that are added to dice rolls during the game that help adjust the outcome of a situation/event either up (favorable) or down (unfavorable).
Keep in mind this does not always have to be negative in experience, but it impacts the outcome on things, and given you class you should choose where you want to plug these numbers. Please reference your Class in the book to understand which values are best.
I am going with a Cleric, so therefore I am going to be putting my highest numbers into Wisdom and then Charisma. Everything else is sort of secondary priority. Your character will have a proficiencies section to tell you what they are most proficient at and thus should most likely choose (though you could do something different). Cleric is on page 57, if you wish to see where I ascertained that information.
You will find the MODIFIERS that go in the BIG boxes above your BASE STATS (the dice rolls you made), and that will play a factor in your skills later. Modifiers are found on page 13.
INSERT PICTURE OF MODS CHART
STEP 3: Race stats (Dwarf is page 19)
There is a lot of FLUFF text in the book that disgruntles people. Here is a protip: JUST LOOK FOR THE BIG BOLD TEXT in each section, and that will cut down the amount of time you need to look through it. Keep in mind that there is a lot of stuff in the base book to help you promote the creative process of making your character into an individual, as you become a more seasoned player, this concept will seem quaint.
Under DWARF TRAITS is what I need. I need the SPEED that goes onto my sheet, and that is 25 feet (that is useful for combat in-game). I also need to make note of Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience, Dwarven Combat Training, Tool Proficiency, Stonecutting, and Languages. Each of those areas has useful information, some will tell you what you are better at because of your race, and others might impact your modifiers.
With the Dwarves the subrace is also important, we are going to be a Hill Dwarf to demonstrate this. With them my BASE STAT in wisdom goes up by 1, and my hit points when I level up also have an additional modifier of 1. The wisdom part is important, because that MAY alter my modifier in wisdom.
This is why it is IMPORTANT to look at this stuff before choosing your skills, which will change as you go through the details.
STEP 4: Class stats (Cleric is page 57)
REMEMBER, just skip to the areas with BOLD TEXT, which should be your class features. That is where the juice of the information you need is located.
We see here that we have hit points, which we shall add to the sheet, and this is to determine when you level up later what you need to roll and what modifiers to add when you upgrade your health points.
The proficiencies are an interesting thing to note, so write them down. The other BIG thing is to note the SAVING THROWS and then you can start CHOOSING YOUR SKILLS. Make a mental note about skills, because your BACKGROUND later will also have skills to choose from, so if you have ANY OVERLAP, you can always come back to your class and choose new skills.
I am going to choose Medicine and Religion for my skills from my class section. The little grey text on the sheet tells you which modifier goes into that field.
Make note of the spells sheet on the class page. This will come handy later for the spells, which you can do not, but we will save this for later. Mostly because we are not done filling out our skills, but that will go by quickly, and we discuss choosing spells in section 7.
We will also save the equipment stuff for later in section 6.
STEP 5: Background stats (Guild Artisan is page 132)
I typically do this before doing spells and equipment so that the skills/proficiencies are nice and filled out. REMEMBER THE BOLD TEXT, everything else in the backgrounds section is fluff and can be ignored, unless you need help imagining a character.
Here is an image from DND Beyond's website, but you can find it on page 132 of the Player's Handbook.
We have gained the skills Insight and Persuasion, so I add them to my sheet. The tool’s part is interesting, but a minor note. The language part is interesting as you gain 1 additional language on top of the 2 you already get from your RACE. Your background may also give you additional gold to start with, depending on what you choose. The equipment we now add to our sheet. I will add these notes at the bottom of my sheet, and now we can roll over into the equipment section.
STEP 6: Equipment (page 57 for Cleric equipment, page 143 for general equipment)
We saved this step for later, because you also get your money here and we wanted to factor in already what you get from your class/background. Now you can sort of spend your money a little bit wiser.
On page 143 is where we find our money. As a Cleric I can roll 5d4 x 10 to get my start money. So, in theory at maximum, I could get 200 gold (then add anything my background gives you). Now you can choose equipment to your hearts content, until you become broke, or you can just save your money for questing expenses.
REMEMBER, go back to your CLASS page to see what FREE EQUIPMENT you get BEFORE going wild on the equipment sheets in the book. On your class page you will get on each line both an “a” and “b”, so you have to choose either/or between them.
STEP 7: Spells (page 207)
The spells section can seem tedious, so we will focus just on the Cleric stuff. Go to page 207 and you will see the early Cleric spells. Cantrips are spells that can be cast WITHOUT USING a precious spell slot.
Please note again the Clerics page 57, and skip back to it if you need to. There it tells me how many cantrips I know, can use, and how many spell slots I have for leveled spells. We are starting at level 1, so we only really need to worry about level 1 spells for now.
On our class page, we have at the 1st level a proficiency bonus of +2 (write that down). We have Spell Casting and Divine Domain (make note of features as you level up), we have 3 Cantrips right out the gate (HECK YEAH), and we can get 2 spell slots that are LEVEL 1 SPELLS.
Some people get the leveling confused. The levels on the left-hand side of this chart are your character levels, and on the right are spell levels that have their own leveling up system, as noted on the sheet. For example: when you level up to LEVEL 3 as a character you will have 3 cantrips (as before), but your slots go up to 3 LEVEL 1 SPELLS and you will have 2 LEVEL 2 SPELLS.
The Cleric’s SPELLCASTING ABILITY is explained on page 58. Take your characters sheet, and go to the spells page (sheet 3). Write down the BOLD TEXT ONTO THAT SHEET.
Now that you have that let us choose our cantrips and level 1 spells. Go to page 207 to choose these if you have not done so already. I am going to pick Guidance, Sacred Flame, and Spare the Dying (I mean I am a Cleric) as my Cantrips. I will choose Cure Wounds and Healing Word as my two 1st LEVEL SPELLS, as I wish for my Cleric to be the primary healer in my party.
This is great because they will have to worry less about being killed in combat, and can focus more on the combat. PROTIP: you can play as a Cleric that isn’t a healer, but if you are one, then it is HIGHLY ENCOURAGED for the sake of group sanity that you play that function.
If you are NOT SURE of what any of the spells mean, then the good news is that the spells are sorted ALPHABETICALLY in the last section of the book. Take your time and read what they do. Important information to note is in bold. Your imagination, your Dungeon Master’s restrictions, and the sky(?) is the limit.
STEP 8: Filling out the rest
YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY COMPLETE AT THIS POINT.
This is where you go back and double check your work, make sure you did not leave anything unwritten.
People tend to forget filling out the PROFICIENCY BONUS (at level 1 it is +2).
You might have forgotten about your AC (armor class), and you can read the armor in the equipment section to see what modifiers you need to add. Namely, a Studded Leather amore is 12 + DEX modifier. So, if you have 2 DEX modifier then that means your AC is 14.
Your INITIATIVE should be whatever your DEX modifier is in that box.
Your health points you also be filled out, and you can put your weapon rolls/stats in the section below that.
Languages I also add in sometimes at the end, because it is not really important. For my Dwarf he knows Dwarven and Common right out the gate, and I had him learn Draconic as a part of his Guild Artisan background.
Lastly, you might have seen a little box in the top left called INSPIRATION. Only Bards and the Dungeon Master really need to worry about that section. You will only ever be given ONE inspiration point at a time, which is something that can be used for re-rolls when you need them. Consult your DMs, but chances are they will not be giving these things out lightly, so don’t sweat it too much. If you do ever get these points in-game, great, and do not forget to use them!
I will include a picture of my COMPLETED SHEET so you know where these values are or should be.
STEP 9: Other tips and considerations.
REMEMBER THE BOLD TEXT: In the book and you can’t go wrong when you are rolling up a new character. It will help guide you straight to the NEED-TO-KNOW stuff, and that includes deciphering the spells.
MONEY: Keeping track of your money can be a bit tedious at first, but the best thing I can tell you is USE THE DECIMAL system. It will save you the time of constantly breaking apart golds and silvers just to scratch up a pile of coppers. This system works really well if your game is just using the basic handbook’s version of money where everything is 10 to every 1 of the next level up. This will only change if your DM decides they are using a different system. I would suggest you use this system even to break down platinum and electrum into the gold standard, all you have to do is worry about the numbers to the left of the decimal in this instance.
DM RESTRICTIONS: When you join a game you will want to consult your DM what is their expectations of you and the group. You will also want to understand any RESTRICTIONS they may have, such as different currency system, certain spells being void, certain races/classes/backgrounds being shunned, and other things you will want to consider should you have to readjust your character sheet. Most likely your DM will want to REVIEW your character sheet, this is a normal practice and nothing personal, so don’t hold it against them.
I hope you enjoyed this How To Guide for your very first character, and hope that you will use it as a resource should you feel like you missed a step when creating more characters.
If you are still not sure what to do then feel free to hit us up at the Boone Gamers Club group on Facebook or swing by the Dragon's Den store in Boone, NC and we will be glad to answer your questions in person.