Switching Up Character Building

When I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, I was taught to build a character in the order of selecting Race, then Class, then fill in the stat block, and finally select the background. I think that I am in no small company when I say I love character creation. So I have dreamed up many characters that will never ever get played solely on the fact of sheer numbers and that I start to build favorites. After creating so many of these characters, I started to run out of ideas. I started to get bored with this process.

As of lately I have been trying a new process out. By switching up the order in which I flesh out certain parts of my character sheet, I have found that I not only get more unique characters, but I also build a stronger bond with them. What I propose is to select your character’s Race, Class, than the background, followed up by the stat block. While you are going through this process I want you to ask yourself “Why” and “How” and let those answers fuel how you assigned your attributes and build your character’s backstory and starting gear. Let’s walk through my most recent character build, and I can demonstrate what it is I am talking about.

My good friend Dan, who plays Kinien in Role with Advantage, decided he wanted to try on the Dungeon Master’s hat and wanted to run some games for some work friends and myself at lunch. Being that we only have an hour to play, he settled on running adventures from Adventurers League, and so I have a few rules I needed to work around. The first rule being that my stats could only be developed via a point buy or the standard ability array. This isn’t too much a problem for me as I don’t favor using straight dice rolls, point buy, or standard array more over the others. Second rule is that I would be locked to the Player’s Handbook and one other auxiliary book.

With all these factors in mind, I flipped through all the auxilary books at the time and settled on a race, Triton. The Triton was introduced to fifth edition in Volo’s Guide to Monsters and they have something interesting about them. Tritons are like merpeople and they are described as protectors of the oceans and are completely disconnected from the surface world. They have taken it upon themselves as a race to protect the material plane from the entrance of monsters trying to come over from other planes of existence through the deep rifts in the oceans. With this description, I decided that my character is going to be a Paladin.

Now, let’s take a quick break to look as what I did. This isn’t something new by any means but it is something to note. After selecting the race, I looked at the race’s history and ideals, and asked myself “If these are protectors of the depths how would my character protect?” This is how I came upon the Paladin. Then I had to start digging a little deeper. I asked “Why is he a Paladin?” Answering this question would determine my character’s oath. I decided that my character would not be very religious but would hold an oath to his dead family, all killed in a war with a Kraken. This gave my character a drive to adventure and set him on the Oath of Vengeance.

With race and class selected, it was time to move on to my background. When selecting my race, I had the option to select a quirk, mine being that I expect all to know of the sacrifices my race has given and I expect to be respected for these sacrifices. With this quirk I started to ask “How did my character come about this quirk, especially one assuming entitlement?” I saw then and there the power of these “How” and “Why” questions. I realized that by asking these questions I was uncovering a character that had always existed and just needed to be found. I naturally gravitated to nobel background and started to flesh the story out from there.

At this point, I had grown very attached to this character. Corel Reefsguard was born and had his own personality and traits that shapes his outlook on life as well how he views others. It was time to assigned attributes. I beefed up my main attributes but then had to figure out my throwaway stats. It was a choice between intelligence and dexterity, the common thing would have been to just make the character dumb and get the boost in AC and Initiative, but I asked “Why would a nobel be dumb or at least below average.” That question sealed the fate on Corel making him slow in speed but average in wit.

Here is where the "How" come in. Stepping through attributes, you want to ask not only "Why", but "How" your character can do what they do. Justifying why your character has the stats they do by explaining some details on how they got to where they are now. For example,

Corel is very strong, in his backstory he trained for months with his brother to build an army strong enough to kill the kraken. The amount of swimming and training to fight developed his strength and his unbending will made him strive to be the strongest in the army.

Small stories like these can help explain attributes that are very good or very poor, this gives that character depth. Using this exact same concept can help decide what materials your character will travel with, and what they would favor to purchase in the future. Having these rich backstories makes it easy for you as a player to know what to do in situations, all you need to do is make sure you know who your character is, and that will determine what they will do in tough situations or what choices they will make.

That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading.

― The DM