Dungeons and Dragons has been enjoying a renaissance for several years now, thanks to actual plays and podcasts such as Critical Role and The Adventure Zone, and the game’s prominence in popular shows like Stranger Things. I’m one of the influx of relatively new D&D players; I started as a player in 2017, and have recently begun dipping my toes into running my own campaigns as a Dungeon Master. There’s a lot to love about D&D: the gaming system that balances skill and luck, the settings and stories, the scope to use your own imagination, and the chance to hang out and create a fantastic (and often ridiculous) scenario with your friends.
As a writer, I feel that playing D&D can be kind of a fiction skills workout for authors. You’re thrown into a scenario with several other characters, and have to ensure that your character makes decisions that make sense, advance the plot, and are entertaining. It’s like a writing warm-up exercise, and it’s definitely helped me develop how I think about D&D character ideas in the stories I’m working on.
But how do you create your Dungeons and Dragons character in the first place? There’s so much lore to the game now that it can be a little intimidating. When I started setting up my character on D&D Beyond (a very useful platform for anyone who wants to start with the game), I was slightly overwhelmed by the huge number of races, classes and backgrounds I could choose while building my character. There are so many options and D&D character ideas, and I didn’t have the knowledge to narrow it down easily.
Getting Started: D&D Character Ideas
Many campaigns and resources have pre-generated characters that you can use, such as these official character sheets provided by Dungeons and Dragons. However, if you want to build your own unique character but don’t quite know where to start, there are some steps you can take to fight your way through this particular challenge.
You can choose to go the pragmatic route, creating an all-rounder character who has a mix of useful traits. For example, my very first character was a Dwarf Bard, which meant that she had Dwarven toughness (very useful if your DM throws challenging random encounters at you), a decent mix of magical and non-magical fighting ability, and some healing skills that proved very useful. You can also liaise with the other people you’re going to play with; if you find out that they’re all playing squishy, low-hit-point magical types, you can redress the balance by playing a sturdy Fighter or Barbarian.
Alternatively, you can put “planning for all eventualities” on the backburner, and take my favourite approach to character creation: thinking about the kind of story you want your character to tell. For all that she was useful, my Dwarf Bard came out of this approach. I had an idea for a hipster musician who was travelling the world to find inspiration for her next album, and I built the rest of the character around this idea. In one of my current campaigns, I’m playing a water genasi Fighter — who is also a 100 year old adventurer who took an arrow to the knee and didn’t let it slow her down. In another, I’m playing an Aarakocra Cleric/Rogue, a bird-man who looks like a duck and sells patent medicines to unsuspecting rubes — yes, he’s literally a quack doctor. Personally, I prefer Rule of Funny to a perfectly-balanced party, because it makes for a more interesting game — and you can defeat the Big Bad with a Whoops All Bards party, if you think outside the box a little.
So if you have an idea for a cool or funny character you’d like to play, but don’t think it’s feasible, I’d strongly recommend asking your DM about giving it a go — the beauty of D&D is that it’s so broad that you can fit nearly every kind of character into the world. Want to play an aspiring contemporary dancer whose parents never supported their dreams? Well, you could make them a Bard (performances don’t have to include singing), and give them the Noble background, or, alternatively, make them an Orc or a Tortle (neither group being particularly known for light-footed grace). Shaking up genres and subverting expectations can be great fun — and remember, you can shape your character as you go. If there’s something that’s not working, chat with your party and your DM, and they’ll probably be able to help you come up with a story-related reason to change it.
D&D Character-Building Resources
There are plenty of resources out there for budding dungeoneers who want to build a character who will be entertaining both to develop and to play. Books like Live to Tell the Tale give you plenty of ideas for characters, and, if you’ve gone the Rule of Funny route over creating a perfectly-balanced party, how to keep your hilarious bumbling character alive. If you’re still searching for initial prompts, you can try books like The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide — or you can head online.
Reddit is a rich resource for all things TTRPG; there are dedicated threads on all aspects of character creation in the D&D-specific or broader RPGing forums, and if you’re really struggling, you can kickstart the process using a generator like Fast Character. If you want to go a bit more irreverent, try Who The F*ck Is My D&D Character, a website that generates profanity-laden, very funny prompts for you to build a character around.
Podcasts are largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in D&D, and while the majority out there are actual play, there are also some that get down to the nuts and bolts of playing the game — including building characters. Shows like Three Black Halflings, Character Creation Cast and Dungeon Casters discuss various aspects of playing D&D, including building the most fun-to-play characters you can. However you decide to approach character creation, as long as you’re enjoying yourself, you can’t go wrong.
If you want to learn more about starting with D&D, check out our article on How To Play Dungeons & Dragons. For people who want to start writing their own campaigns, try 10 Invented Worlds to Set Your Next D&D Campaign In.