The final touches for creating a character in the PHB are Chapter 4: Personality and Background, and Chapter 5: Equipment. The rest of the PHB discusses variant customization options (multiclassing, feats), play rules, and spell lists.
My focus for this final part in the series on chapter 4, where we flesh out the specific role playing aspects of the character. This chapter includes discussion on the basics, like Name, Gender, physical characteristics, alignment, etc.
Personal Characteristics and Backgrounds
5th Edition D&D adds a detailed set of rules for "Personal Characteristics," broken down into four parts.
- Personality Traits
The PHB discusses each characteristic in detail, so a player can design his own. It then discusses Backgrounds, which give additional proficiency, languages and equipment. The chapter closes with a series of example Backgrounds you can choose from with tables of examples of the four personal characteristics that would fit the background.
Work With Your DM!
As a side note, do not do this part of character creation in a vacuum. This should happen with the input of your Dungeon Master and even fellow players.
Perhaps you are like RedRaggedFiend, and your character is of some noble background. If that piece of information is important and you want it to come up in game, your DM should know about it and can even help you with possible details based on the setting of the coming adventure. Perhaps you have a bond to another player in the group.
In one game we had a human bard and her adopted dwarven sister out adventuring in the world together. The time spent putting that relationship together during character creation and ahead of starting the game paid many dividends throughout that party's adventures. As the DM, I was able to help fill in why that dwarf would be outcast and adopted by a human family.
Syris has no game waiting for him, so I put him into the world of Ryndaria.
The Handbook provided a "Hermit" background that fit the needs of Syris' monastic life. A player can roll d8 die in order to randomly select characteristics from these tables, but I decided to select them myself based on the vision I had for Syris.
A hermit is proficient in Medicine, Religion and the Herbalism Kit, has studied an additional language of the player's choice, and gets a small set of additional gear: a scroll case of random notes, a blanket, common clothes, an herbalism kit, and 5 gold pieces.
Personality trait: "I connect everything that happens to me to a grand, cosmic plan." This just fits Syris. He left his home after seeing visions of a coming calamity. He believes a greater power calls him to save his people. Everything that happens to him must be related to this call and his cause.
Ideal: "My gifts are meant to be shared with all, not used for my own benefit." Syris believes he is called to save his people. He must be here for a reason, and he does everything in order to help others.
Bond: "My isolation gave me great insight into a great evil that only I can destroy." There is a person or power behind the coming destruction. Syris sees himself as the avatar of the One who called him and he must find and defeat the evil he is now bound to.
Flaws: "I'd risk too much to uncover a lost bit of knowledge." Any clues that lead him closer to his fate take precedence over all else. His zeal has caused him to sacrifice relationships and hurt others. He sees this as a necessary consequence of saving everyone.
Backgrounds and personal characteristics help me flesh out Syris in more concrete ways. I started with a vague idea of who Syris is, but specific traits, bonds and flaws force me to create Syris' personality and style before I play him. In the past, when my ideas stayed vague, the first few sessions of play could be awkward as I tried to find a character's voice. Here, I put the effort in ahead of time, so I have a starting point for Syris. I have plenty of room for him to evolve and grow as we play, but his background is a solid start.
With this complete, Syris is ready to adventure. Will he find what he seeks? Will he stop the coming storm? Is he just delusional? I can see myself having a lot of fun playing this character (or at least writing about him in the future).
I hope you found this series on creating characters useful. While the focus is on 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, the basic approaches RedRaggedFiend and I outlined can be used in any role playing game.
Are you usually a by the numbers player, or do you care about role playing first? Let me know in the comments, and I encourage you to try a different approach in the future. It will stretch you as a player and you might even enjoy it.
Thanks, as always, for reading!