This post is written from the point of view of a DM helping their players learn the game but may still be helpful for players! I’m not teaching the rules, just tips on HOW to teach the rules…
Character building is character building
Before you can begin any campaign your players are going to need characters! If you use the Starter Set this does come with pre-built characters so you can skip this step, but I have found that building characters really helps to engage new players and it helps inform good role-playing!
Before the character building session I make sure my players have decided on a Race and Class and ask them to write a couple of paragraphs for their backstory. For some the backstory comes easily for others they may need a little coaxing, try sending them a list of questions such as these to help guide players backstories. They can answer as many or as few questions as they like but it’s usually enough to get the creative juices flowing! One of my players had a few basic ideas for their backstory but wasn’t really sure how to flesh it out so with her permission I wrote one for her. This was actually pretty helpful for me as it made integrating her story into my campaign all that much easier!
Once a player has their backstory together I usually help them determine the best background for their character, but I mostly use backgrounds for the extra equipment and stats rather than ideals, flaws etc. as these are often naturally derived from the unique backstory written by the players. But if your players backstories aren’t that in depth just yet, then by all means have them choose traits from those available in the Players Handbook. Whatever works for you and your players and gets everyone to the table is absolutely the best way to do things!
Secrets are a DM’s best friend
While working with my players to develop their backstories I always encourage them to come up with a secret or two that can be revealed mid-campaign or tie into the story some way. This helps to create a more engaging story with multi dimensional characters and everyone feels like they have a part to play in the story you’re creating together.
Make sure your players tell you their secrets and how they would like them handled. Will you be the one to force a situation in which the secret is revealed? Or will they confess their darkest secrets to the other characters once they have built up trust?
Pencils at the Ready
So you’ve gathered all your players and they know who they want to be, now it’s time for the nitty gritty: rolling those stats and filling in the character sheets! I like to do this with all my players at once, (although I have had to do it in smaller sessions of just one or two players too) at the start of session zero (More on session zero in the next instalment)! The players handbook (or basic rules) will take you through how to fill out your character sheets, I tend to guide my players through it section by section.
Before we start I provide each player with a pack, this consists of blank character sheets including spell sheets and background sheets as well as print outs of their race and class information. But to be honest a character sheet and class table would be sufficient. You could leave all this to the players to organise but I enjoy organising that sort of thing so I’m happy to do it!
Here’s some of the resources I use to compile my packs:
- I use the official 5th Edition character sheets which you can download here
- I created my own printable class tables using the information supplied by DnD Beyond, you can view and print these for your own use if you’d like!
- I created an ability score worksheet to easily calculate ability scores and modifiers, which you can view and print if you find it helpful!
- A simple combat encounter guide like a this one
- A help sheet I created on actions available outside of combat. Pleas feel free to use if it’s helpful!
- I also include some scrap paper or a small notebook and a pencil. I even made my own D&D pencils!
Roll with it
Believe it or not there’s more than one way to roll for stats so it’s important to find a method that works for your group. There are two official ways to do this in the Players Handbook: put your fate in the hands of the dice gods, rolling for each stat and taking what you get, or using the pregenerated ability scores in the combinations of your choice.
Personally I find the fun of D&D is in the roll of the dice so I go with the first method but with a caveat… I use a modification inspired by Matthew Colville. If you haven’t seen any of Matthew Colville’s series on Running the Game, I highly recommend it, the man knows his stuff and I could listen to him talk about D&D all day! This is the video where he discusses rolling for stats and his personal take on it.
In this modification I have all players roll for their six stats as usual (roll 4 d6, add the 3 highest dice together), but at least two of the six stats need to be 15 or higher. If they are not, then we start all over again! This method ensures your characters aren’t complete duds, whilst also leaving your stats to fate, more so than the pre-generated ability scores do at least. Your characters are meant to be heroes or at least have the potential to be heroes, so ensuring they are competent in at least two of the stats, helps to set them apart from the average townsfolk. It also helps even the playing field between characters in the case of one player rolling super high stats and another rolling super low!
If you choose to use the rolled method to determine ability scores, I’ve created a handy dandy worksheet you can print out for each player!
In the next instalment of D&D 101 we’ll be discussing Session Zero! The session you should run before diving straight into a campaign!
If there’s anything you’d like me to cover in this series please let me know in the comments!