Friday 12 December 2014

D&D 5: Simpler Character Creation For Beginners

Last night, I had a character creation session for D&D 5 with a bunch of six largely inexperienced players. We had two players who'd "played AD&D 2nd edition a couple of times in the 90s", one who'd "played Das Schwarze Auge and Shadowrun", and three who'd never played any kind of traditional RPG.

How did D&D 5 stand up to this challenge?

In summary: mediocre / mixed.

The Good
The players responded really well to the choices of race / class / background. A lot of interesting, creative ideas emerged from this triple choice combo (plus the alternative racial backgrounds I'd prepared for the game setting).

The Bad
It's complicated. Way too complicated for beginners, in my opinion. This is coming from the perspective of someone who usually introduces new players to B/X (Labyrinth Lord). B/X character creation is super minimal, so even though the mechanical parts are a bit on the random / incohesive side, there are so few choices to make that even beginners are done with it fairly quickly. Choosing equipment is the only bit that tends to be very time consuming. Not so D&D 5. The choice of race / class / background is simple enough -- players can just go with what they think sounds cool -- but each choice brings with it a ream of traits to read and note, proficiencies and saving throws to mark, equipment to record. Admittedly, the equipment choice is simpler as it's done for you (no more shopping from lists), but overall it was a long and arduous process, compounded, unfortunately, by the fact that we only had a single PHB and no "cheat sheets" (not sure if such a thing exists for D&D 5?).

An Idea
The players were fine with making the basic choice of race, class, and background but balked at the amount of information each choice entailed they read and record. How about cutting out that second part of the equation? Something like this:
  1. Character creation session: choose race, class, and background. Do not read the sections on your selected race or background, just go from the DM's verbal description of them / your imagination. Do not record any mechanical information related to them. Just focus on understanding your class for now. Note down the equipment (and only the equipment) provided by your background.
  2. First session: play your first adventure.
  3. Second session: before the next session, read the section on your race and record any additional mechanical bits on your character sheet. Play the second session.
  4. Third session: before the next session, read the section on your background and record any additional mechanical bits on your character sheet. Congratulations, you now have a fully fledged character! Go forth and play your third session and onwards.
  5. Fourth session onwards: note to DMs: you should not allow characters to progress beyond 1st level until at least the fourth session -- with level advancement comes further choices (for some classes) and rules.
Sure, this means that, during the first couple of sessions, characters would not be at their optimal in terms of mechanics. They'd be missing things like racial stats bonuses, proficiencies from backgrounds, and so on. I don't think this would be a problem though, especially if the DM is running them through a relatively easy / forgiving introductory scenario.

ps. this is my 400th post on this blog!


  1. Congratulations on 400 posts. It's a great achievement to keep a blog like this going.
    I agree with 5E character creation being a lot more complicated than B/X.With B/X each demihuman had about 3 or 4 noteworthy abilities while humans had none (just no level limit). Classes were just as simple - clerics and magic users had spells, thieves had thief abilities and backstabbing, clerics also had turning undead. Fighters didn't have any abilities - just no restrictions on armor or weapons.
    5E isn't as tough for beginners as 3E (I hated the 3E point-buy skill system) but it could be simplified.

    1. Thanks! Yes I'm proud to have kept the blog going for four and a half years! (I think my trick has been only writing when I feel inspired to share something... not feeling the need to update just for the sake of it.)

      About B/X: yes, when you put it like that it really does show there's a huge difference in complexity!

  2. Here's a one page summary of 5e character generation done with by a known graphic talent. Of course, it's lacking your own stuffs, but it shows that helpful aids can be made.
    I think that link will work - it's at

    1. Thanks! That's a pretty nice sheet. Personally, I'd include the equipment granted by the class & background combo as well, rather than going for the (time consuming) starting gold + shopping process, but it shows that a lot of the essential info can be packed onto a single page.

  3. Good post Gavin! And congrats to the 400th of them :)


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