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Friday, September 19, 2014

DnD Character Creation - Syris the Halfling Monk - Part 2

Welcome back to the ongoing series of posts on making a character based on the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Player's Handbook.

My friend RedRaggedFiend, one of the members of our group that plays Friday nights, has a parallel series over at his blog:  If you have not checked his first two posts out, please do.

In part one, I took a look at the motivations behind how I create characters for table top role playing games, picking a race and class, and took a brief look at ability scores in fleshing out who Syris, the halfling monk is.

If you read RedRaggedFiend's first post, you saw that we approach character generation from different points on the spectrum.  Red concerns himself with mechanics first and fleshes out a character around those mechanics once the bones are there.  I come to character creation with a role playing vision of who I expect the character to be and work the numbers to fit that character.

As you read our posts, I look forward to your comments on character creation.  Do you start with RP or the numbers?  Which works best for you?  Is there another approach we left out?

This week, I will continue into the mechanics of creating Syris and how I made him fit into the confines of a 5e character that I expect will still be fun to play.

Ability Scores Revisited

Last week, I mentioned Syris' ability scores:
  • 12 Strength
  • 17 Dexterity
  • 14 Constitution
  • 8 Intelligence
  • 14 Wisdom
  • 10 Charisma
When creating a character in DnD, it is important to build them consistent with the expectations of their class.  If a class is meant to be intelligent, like wizards, it does not make much sense to put a low score into intelligence.  There are times one might want to try and play a character with this sort of handicap to their rolls, but I find it makes the game less fun when the odds are stacked so heavily against you.

Monks are agile fighters that draw from their will power to channel "Ki magic."  They use smaller weapons (or no weapons at all!), but can spend a lot of their time up close and personal in combat.  For this reason, Dexterity should be the highest score, followed by Wisdom.  Dexterity helps the offensive and defensive capabilities of the monk, and wisdom helps the defenses and Ki of the monk.

I also worked to get my Constitution a little higher, as Con. is used in determining hit points.  At 14, Syris will gain an extra two hit points every level.  Since Syris spends a lot of time fighting up close, and he is a "sturdy" halfling, I imagine his Constitution is the next best ability score to focus on.  

Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma are not core stats for a monk, so they get the final three scores.  Here is where I like to put a little role play in.  I put my 12 into Strength, as Syris is already physically fit and active.  It made sense he would be somewhat strong.  I then chose the 8 for Intelligence.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I see Syris too focused on his physical nature and seeking enlightenment through his perception of the world to worry about book smarts.  That leaves 10 (an average score) for Charisma.  Syris won't persuade many to join his cause, but he won't turn them off too often either.

The Monk

I started creating Syris by picking the halfling race and monk class.  Why the monk?  What is it about this class that made me want to play one?

Before I do that, I want to take a moment to point out something many other reviewers point out about the Player's Handbook: most of the art is amazing.  You can see here the picture of the monk in the PHB.  I think it is wonderfully drawn, and fits the image of the monk, channeling her Ki through her hands.  I believe Wizards of the Coast commissioned art from many new artists.  I found the artist of this picture online, and think you should check out Craig Elliot's site.

Back to the monk.  The opening sentence in the PHB pulled me right in:

Her fists a blur as they deflect an incoming hail of arrows, a half-elf springs over a barricade and throws herself into the massed ranks of hobgoblins on the other side.  She whirls among them, knocking their blows aside and sending them reeling, until at last she stands alone.  (pg. 76)

The monk uses his quickness and keen perception to wade into battle.  Even with no weapons nor armor, the monk is a physical force to be reckoned with.  The monk is a fearless warrior in tune with his body and the energy of the world around him.  He wills his fists and feet to strike as hard as steel, and can dodge and deflect incoming attacks.

Many of the monk's powers come out as he adventures and gains experience.  At 1st level, a monk really only has two features available to him, but they set him up for the rest of his career: 
  • Unarmored Defense: a monk's AC rivals that of heavily armored knights as long as he is lightly clothed.  
    • His Dexterity and Wisdom bonuses both apply to AC
  • Martial Arts: Monks are able to master unique combat styles.  
    • Monks rely on Dexterity for combat rolls (instead of Strength).
    • Monks get extra unarmed attacks as long as they use weapons they are trained with.
    • Unarmed attacks do more damage than normal
As the monk gains levels, he gains all new powers that I think will help him shine.  By 2nd level, monks begin to use Ki magic.  At level three, a monk can deflect and catch missiles fired at him from afar.  In some cases, he can even throw the missile back at his assailant.  

Later, monks learn to fall without hurting themselves, power their fists with Ki magic, and even live without food and water!

As I read through all the features of the monk class for the first time, this epic, ageless monk began to form in my mind.  But why a halfling?

The Halfling

As I talked about in my last post, I needed a halfling ancestor for a story I am writing with my daughter.  That, coupled with the monk class described in the PHB worked.  A halfling monk is a unique combination.  It makes sense this many-great grandfather's story would stand out in the history of the family.  

Mechanically, it works as well.  Halflings get a dexterity bonus, which fits right in with the monk.  Some of their other traits also work well with the monk:
  • Lucky: reroll a 1 on any attack, ability, or saving throw roll.  This is useful for anyone, and a very powerful trait for halflings
  • Brave: advantage when saving against fear.  Monks don't run away. 
  • Halfling Nimbleness: halflings can move through the spaces of creatures larger than them.  For a monk, who wades into the thick of battle, I can see Syris taking advantage of this often.
Halflings are generally good-natured and lawful folk.  They don't typically leave home to devote themselves to a cause the way Syris did, which makes for an interesting story hook, that I hope to connect up with his character background, which I will discuss next week.

Next Steps

As you can see, we have the bones now for a character that should be fun to play in combat and role play.  Next week I will discuss selecting a background and putting the final touches on a character before taking him to the table.

Please leave a comment with any thoughts.  When you create characters, are you more concerned with role playing or mechanics?  Don't forget to check out RedRaggedFiend's parallel series (

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, September 12, 2014

DnD Character Creation - Syris the Halfling Monk - Part 1

This week, I will continue my look at the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  In my previous post (here), I unboxed the Starter Set for the edition.  Our group continues to enjoy our play through of the starter set adventure - The Lost Mines of Phandelver.

For the next set of posts, I will walk through character generation in 5th Edition.  I'm excited about this series of posts, as my good friend RedRaggedFiend (of is going to run a series of posts in parallel on the same topic!  Each blogger will discuss how he approaches character generation, and how he feels 5th Edition lives up to his expectations as we each create a new character.

RedRaggedFiend's post is even up already.  Go take a look:

Motivations - How I Approach the Game

When I go to play any role playing game, it's all about the story.  I love opportunity for stories, and no gaming experience is greater than spontaneously creating a story with a group of friends.  If you have not played table top RPGs (or have had a bad experience in the past), I encourage you to give it a (or another) try!

A lot of blogs I read focus on the necessary balance of a game like Dungeons and Dragons.  Players and DMs (like my friend RedRaggedFiend) will focus on the numbers, the probabilities, the ability to maximize their character's power, etc.  In gaming, we need people like this.  They make sure the game is balanced, they know the rules inside out, and they help find issues with the game that down the road can take our fun away.  I love to rely on them figuring all this out so I don't have to!

When I first read a Player's Handbook for any edition, I let myself dream.  I look for the "cool factor" in various classes and races.  I think about the types of characters that would match up with the various race/class combinations available in the game.  I think about the setting the character would play in and how he would fit into the world.

Step 1 - Race and Class

The new Player's Handbook fits well with my style of character creation.  In the PHB, step 1 is to choose a Race, and step 2 is to choose a Class.  This is different than old school editions, where you had to roll your ability scores up first.  In those days, certain classes required very high abilities to be played, and if you rolled 4d6 and kept the highest three numbers for each ability, you might not get that 17 in Charisma you needed to be a Paladin.  I'm looking at you 2nd Edition.

In later editions, this changed, and ability scores became step 3.  Class requirements were no longer as strong, and DnD introduced the idea of a "standard set" of ability scores.  With this, there is not requirement to actually roll any dice.  Instead, a player can distribute these numbers among her six ability scores:  15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.

For me, the PHB step 1 & 2 is really a combined "step 1."  The combination of these two defining traits of the character begin to automatically tell you who the character is.  Dwarf clerics make sense!  The dwarven people rely on their clerics in the worship of their Gods, and dwarf clerics are known to be battle hardened and ready for adventure.  But a half-orc bard?  This combination requires you to come up with a reason such an odd combination would exist.  

So, what did I want to play?  Why a halfling monk!

Who Is Syris?

When I read through the PHB race and class chapters, it struck me how much Wizards of the Coast added "cool factor" to everything.  From halflings' "Lucky" trait (reroll 1's) to fighters' three unique subclass builds, there are enough options and combinations in the PHB that I can see it lasting much longer than we are used to before the whole edition gets bogged down with massive amounts of new races, classes, and powers to confuse us all.

Syris came together for me in two parts.  First, as I read through the description of the monk class, I knew I would need to play a monk.  In 4th edition, I played a monk character for a time, and really enjoyed how he played.  Monks are lightning fast, able to move around as they fight, and can even stand toe to toe with a good number of monsters through their ability to dodge.

The new monk class shares some basics with his previous iteration, yet sounded fresh and different as I read through it.  (I will discuss more specifics in the next part of the series, but I'll say for now:  Deflect Missiles is going to be a fun power to play with!)

Part two of Syris came in parallel to another story I was working on.  In a previous blog post, I introduced a halfling character named Charis, based on a miniature figure I painted at the time.  I wrote a little back story, and modeled her after my daughter since the mini was for her.  More recently, my little girl and I started working on more stories about Charis, and we worked a monk ancestor into Charis' history.  The character of Syris was born.

Creating Syris - Background Basics and Ability Scores

After seeing a vision of a future calamity, Syris left his halfling homeland to join an order of hermit monks.  His mission is to find the source of his nightmares and understand his role in it all.  Perhaps he can even stop whatever is to happen.

For ability scores, I took the standard set:  15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.  I chose this route to simplify the process.  I'm not married to any one way of choosing ability scores, and believe all the options presented in the PHB (die roll, standard set, point buy) are valid and have their place.

Luckily, halflings get a +2 dexterity, which is good for monks, and "stout" halflings get an extra +1 constitution1, which will help keep him alive.  Finally, wisdom is important to monks and their "Ki Magic."

  • 15+2 = 17 dexterity
  • 13+1 = 14 constitution
  • 14 wisdom
  • 12 strength
  • 10 charisma
  • 8 intelligence.

The low intelligence made sense to me in this case, as Syris is more concerned with wisdom and purpose than he is in book learning.

Next week, I'll expand a little more on the halfling race and monk class and what about them specifically I like.  I'll also walk through backgrounds and how I selected Syris' to match the story I hope to tell with him.

Don't forget to go check out RedRaggedFiend's post as well.  I think you'll see you can approach character generation from many different angles!

Thanks for reading.


1 - stout halflings also get poison resistance while their lightfoot brothers and sisters get +1 charisma and some stealth bonuses.