Five tips for creating an interesting D&D character

Role-playingI’ve been playing D&D for a long time, both as a player and as a Dungeon Master. I’ve found that creating a character that works well is harder than you might think. The game aids you with its rules, but most of the work is still up to you. Creating a good character makes the game more enjoyable for you, the other players, and the dungeon master. So, five tips for that.

…But first

If you don’t know what roleplaying games are, go read this first.

Then, before we continue, a small disclaimer: these are my tips, based on what I like in a roleplaying game. And, like everything I do, my love of stories seeps into this too. I like the roleplaying side of D&D more than its mechanics. Which means, I focus on character personality, not stats. That said, without further ado, my five tips for creating good characters.

#1 Start with a cool personality concept

Most roleplaying systems, including D&D, already have some interesting base concepts. These concepts are usually centered around the mechanics of the game. A wizard is good with magic spells, while a fighter can handle weapons like no other. Then there are the fantasy races, ranging from dwarves to dragons.

However, the professions of your character is not who they are, and neither is their race, just like in real life. Your character needs something more: a personality. Are they nice, mean, flaky, or just weird? Do they fear social interaction, or do they hate spiders? Building a character is more than just writing down stats, you need a concept.

The concept you create should be something you can bring across when speaking. Being a hulking brute of a man is a nice concept, but how are you going to play that while sitting at somebody’s dinner table with a can of coke? Think not just about a cool concept, but also how you are going to play it out.

#2 Add something unique to the mix

A good Dungeon Master — and this is actually a tip for you dungeon masters out there — will place the characters in moral quandaries, which allow the characters to bring out their differences. For that to work, your character needs to be unique.

They shouldn’t be ‘just another fighter’ or another ‘bookish wizard’. How about a charming wizard who likes to go clubbing? Or a fighter who spends his spare time knitting and sewing?

Now the previous examples were somewhat extreme and superficial, but you can go deeper and make your character hate a certain kind of person, for example merchants, because they were severely mistreated by one of them. This can provide a nice tie-in to a background story (more on that later).

#3 Build your stats around your concept

When you have your concept, the next step is to start putting together the statistics of your character. Depending on your exact rule system, the mechanics will differ. What stays the same, is that you have a choice in setting up your character.

You can use Google to find the best stats for your type of character, which might give you an edge, but it will also potentially make the game less entertaining. This depends a bit on the system (D&D is reasonably well balanced), the dungeon master, and other players. If you have a group of people who know the game inside-out, or who also Google for the best setup, then you’re in the clear. Otherwise, you’ll just unbalance the game. I’ve seen situations where one player did more damage in combat than the rest of the players combined. That quickly takes the fun out of the game. As a dungeon master you can — of course — take steps against this, but that requires some skill and extra work. So, my advice: don’t go for the best character build.

Instead, build your character around your concept. Make them unique and interesting instead of ‘that power build from the internet’.

#4 Create an open-ended background

Next up, your D&D character’s background. I know players whose backgrounds are usually two or three sentences, and some who produce pages of backstory. The latter is not necessarily better than the first. The question is: how much do you leave open-ended?

As a dungeon master, I need to create a story. However, that story is only interesting to the players if I can engage them. Being able to play into the character’s background helps tremendously with that. Yes, you can create a story where the players’ characters are just asked to do some good, or are paid for their services. But, if you use the background they supplied, and add some moral quandaries, the players will be forced to give their character’s depth.

As a player, you want a background that helps you make choices in game. And, also, if there is a slump in the campaign, you want something to do.

#5 Don’t overdo that background

I’ve already mentioned multi-page backgrounds. Heck, I’m game. However, when you go all out on making your D&D character that special snowflake that completely unhinges the story, then that’s not a good thing. It’s fun that you want to play a female orc chieftain descended from dragons with powerful magic, but that might not work so well in a campaign set in the heart of a dwarven kingdom.

Don’t overdo it. You need some background to allow play, and have some skeletons in your closet for the dungeon master to use. You don’t need a whole separate campaign as your background. Aside from the problem of integrating such backgrounds in a campaign, it can be annoying when the background is so specific that the dungeon master has no leeway. You see, without leeway, there’s no way to surprise you, and that’s an essential part of storytelling.

In closing

I hope these tips provide you with some help; as a player, but also as a dungeon master. Happy roleplaying.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands