Decades ago a gaming group in the wintery lands of Minnesota and Wisconsin, came to the sad realization that they lived in the wintery lands of Minnesota and Wisconsin. In order to escape their reality, they invented incredible worlds of magic and adventure being led by the great hero, Gary Gygax. The creation birthed of this small gaming group can’t be underestimated, as they ushered in a gaming age of creation, imagination, and collaboration.
Nearly every modern game, whether it be analog or digital, owes a nod to Dungeons and Dragons.
With the newest version of Dungeons and Dragons hot off the presses, I had an itch that hadn’t been scratched for 20 years. I was ready to roll for initiative, so I sat down to create a brand new D&D character using the freely downloadable Basic Rules. Below is my experience creating a level 1 cleric, having not played D&D for almost 20 years.
1st, CHOOSE RACE AND CLASS
I’ve already spoiled the ending, sharing that the character I created was a cleric. The free D&D Basic Rules allow you to choose from 4 classes: a fighter, rogue, wizard, or cleric.
I was leaning toward a wizard, but then I glanced more thoroughly at the races that are available in the Basic Rules. You can choose between a dwarf, elf, halfling, or human, and each race has a balanced set of strengths and weaknesses that affect your ability scores and traits in a way that goes far beyond mere physical characteristics.
Your choice of race affects several aspects of your character, but it also provides the cues for building your character’s story. As I was reading through the widely varying ethnicities that are available to human characters I paused on the Turami, the humans who are native to to the southern shore of the Inner Sea of the Forgotten Realms, the fictional geographic setting of Dungeons and Dragons. The Turami people are generally tall and muscular, with dark mahogany skin, curly black hair, and dark eyes. In other words, the ethnicity that we’d typically associate with real-life Africa.
Having traveled to Africa, and having friends there who are pastors and priests, I chose to create a Turami cleric who was a defender of the weak and powerless. In fact, I chose to name him after a gentleman I know in Burundi, Africa, whose name is Didier, then I gave him the surname of Hutu, as a nod of respect to the Hutus of Burundi. I got excited about this real life connection to my fictional character, thinking it would add to more interesting and engaging role play.
NEXT, DETERMINE ABILITIES
A human gets a flat +1 to each of their abilities – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma – but the Basic Rules said you could optionally use ‘feat rules’ and add +1 to two abilities, plus gain an additional feat. Having no idea what that was, I opted to take the +1 across the board and was happy to have it.
In order to be equitable, each character uses the same 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8 scores, but you match them to the ability you wish. Clerics use wisdom primarily, so I put my highest score there, then put my next highest in constitution, since the constitution ability adds a plus to hit points and I didn’t want a squishy cleric.
Next, I chose Insight, Perception, Persuasion, and Religion from a list of skills available to me. Religion seemed on target because my character is, you know, a cleric. The others I felt might make for good role play as I imagined my character as young, but with natural skill at reading people and situations.
Spells are fun. It’s always satisfying to pursue through the spell list and imagine the interesting things your character will be able to do.
1st level clerics get 3 cantrips, a term that was new to me, but are simply spells that you can cast once per turn without limit. I chose Light [my version of a magic glow stick], Spare the Dying [allows me to stabilize companions near to death], and Sacred Flame [RAINS DOWN THE FIERY WRATH OF THE GODS!].
Unlike cantrips, level 1 spells can only be cast once, then your character needs a rest to replenish them. For those, I loaded up on healing spells, hoping to be able to replenish my companions’ hit points, keeping us fighting longer.
NOW CHOOSE SOME GEAR
I wanted to give my character a native, tribal, witch-doctor(y) vibe that I’ve seen with my eyes during my travels to both Africa and Haiti. Mainly, I just wanted him to look bada@@.
I addition to a backpack full of gear like a bedroll and rations, I equipped him with the tools of a cleric – a holy symbol, holy water, incense, vestments, etc. This left me with more than enough gold (each starting character gets an allowance, which is nice) to price out some killer gear, pun intended.
It’s a little on the nose, but I equipped him with two chucking spears, each of which can do 1d6 piercing damage. I also gave him two machetes, which could be throw or used in close combat.
His primary weapon was a greatclub, however, and I imagined it being intricately crafted and carved with maybe a big, skull-like bludgeon at the end that would look like it would come straight from those incredible pictures you see of the native African tribesmen. With 1d8+2 damage, I dug it.
I could’ve chose a predetermined gear pack as the Basic Rules listed those for players who wanted to make a character quick and easy, but where’s the fun in that? Halfway through I kind of wished I would’ve gone the predetermined route because the level of options is overwhelming. In the end, I was really stoked about the look and feel of my character though, and was thankful for the customization.
FINALLY, CREATE A BACKSTORY
What feels new and fresh in the new version of D&D is the Backgrounds section. This adds to a depth of role play.
Each character chooses a background archetype, something I don’t remember from the last time I created a character. But, again, that was 20 years ago, so don’t fault me as my memory hasn’t gotten that bad.
What was I talking about again?
Oh, yeah, a background archetype. I chose acolyte because, you know, cleric and stuff. This was really cool as it gave you some tables where you could randomly role for personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, or use it as a guide in formulating your own backstory for your character.
I used this as a starting point to imagine my character – Didier Hutu – as being the acolyte of a heroic mentor who was martyred at the hands of a group of evil clerics intent on exploiting the weak for profit.
Didier and his follow acolytes fought valiantly to drive back the evil clerics, but were ultimate driven into exile. Didier has an intense bond to his fellow exiles and adventures in the hopes of ultimately being reunited with them.
Didier’s respect for his martyred master strengthens his resolved to protect the weak, but witnessing his death has shook his faith and he secretly wonders how Ilmater – the god he worships – could have allowed such an injustice. Therefore, he adventures amidst a crisis of faith.
Wow, I simply loved the process of creating a character and letting your imagination run wild, even as you are given some guardrails to direct your creation. Loved it.
The process is mostly straight-forward and the Basic Rules (again, FREE!) do a good job of guiding you through the process, even if a little bit of flipping back and forth for clarification or exposition is unavoidable.
To combat that, I opened the Basic Rules PDF in application on my Mac so I could use the search function and hasten the ‘flipping’ back and forth. While the rules are laid out excellently, it doesn’t mean that you can completely avoid scrolling (or thumbing) through to hunt for the clarification you are looking for, but a quick search via a digital copy lessens that frustration.
Lastly, I later found out that there are character sheets for free online. These character sheets through Wizardry! are fillable, allowing you to modify the PDF. I plan to take the time to transfer my character sheet over to this form. I like having a paper character sheet, but to fill it electronically via the PDF, then printing it allows for a cleaner look you simply can’t get by trying to print super tiny.
Once again, the Basic Rules are free and the new edition of D&D is a wonderful throwback that also feels completely modern and fresh. What are you waiting for? There is no reason for you not to create a brand new D&D character.