Dungeons & Dragons lets players create unique characters, with 64 combinations of different races and classes from the Player’s Handbook alone. However, about 13.7 million people play D&D worldwide. So how do you distinguish your tiefling warlock from approximately 214,000 other tiefling warlocks? Here’s a helpful guide to making a unique D&D character.
Most players just write down a height and weight in the blanks on the character sheet then forget about it, if they even write it down at all. But things like height and weight affect how people move around in everyday life. If you play as a seven foot tall dragonborn, you might have to stoop when visiting a dwarvish village. Your character’s physicality can change everything about how they move about the world.
Think about how your character takes a fighting stance; a wiry character would take up arms very differently than a squat one. What about your character’s gait? How do they walk? How do they climb? If your character’s physical appearance differs from what their stats would suggest, do people notice this? Others might be surprised if a scrawny halfling has a +5 score to strength.
Physicality might even change how characters act in social situations. When they sit down for a meal, are they a big eater or do they just pick at their food? Are other characters attracted to them? Do they look up or down when they speak to people? Take a moment to think about how your character fits into the world around them.
What Hurts Your Character?
In any D&D campaign, your goals and motivations are important, and usually one of the first things players write for their character. But just as important as what drives your character forward is what drives them back. Think about what bad experiences they have had in the past – trauma, heartbreak, personal grudges. Then apply that to how they interact with others.
If your character has a grudge against a specific person from their past, that might never come up in a campaign. However, if the grudge is against a group of people, like soldiers of the empire or bandits, it could affect how your character behaves when interacting with these groups. Traumas can be associated with more than people. If your wizard had a traumatic experience with fire in the past, how does casting fire spells affect his mental state? Incorporating fears, grudges, and other bad experiences can help you determine how your character interacts with the world.
The life of an adventurer doesn’t leave a lot of free time for leisure, but a character who lives and breathes for killing monsters and looting treasure is honestly pretty boring. A lot of backgrounds provide some insight into what your character’s life was like before they started adventuring, but it can also inform what they do on their off time. If your background is that of a hermit, you might have passed the time making crafts or woodworking. If your background was a charlatan, you might have been a card shark that still enjoys a game of three dragon ante from time to time.
Even if your hobby has nothing to do with your background, it can still add flavor to your character. How do you find time in your schedule to fit in your hobby? Maybe you play the lute while travelling on the road, maybe you try to strike up gambling games when staying in taverns. Either way, make sure that your character has something else to do with their life than dungeon delving.
Friends & Family
It might be tempting to write a backstory where your character’s entire family was murdered by goblins. After all, it’s free angst and saves you from having to think of any relationship dynamics. Still, no PC is an island, and it might be better to write your character a family back home. What is their relationship with them? Are they still in contact? How do they feel about your character’s adventuring?
It’s important to think of non-familial relationships as well. Think of friends that you might have made during your travels, or enemies that you might have in your past. Your background can be useful here as well. If you were once a criminal, you might have contacts that you left behind when you abandoned your underhanded lifestyle. If you were once a sailor, you might have had a loyal captain or a cruel quartermaster in a former crew.
These details not only bring your character to life, but they also provide material for a good DM to weave into the campaign. The more a DM knows about social ties, the more they can work meaningful interactions into your campaign.
Things like skills and proficiencies are important mechanically, but they can also be used to round out your character. Some proficiencies come from fairly obvious sources, such as a former criminal having a proficiency in thieves’ tools, but others can lead to interesting backstories. How did your fighter get a proficiency in land vehicles? Why does your Cleric need a proficiency in medicine if they can heal with magic?
Think about how your character learned their skills. Think about whether they mean something to them. Did they have a mentor that they think of whenever they use a skill, or did they learn it themselves?
This is especially useful for languages. Almost every character will know at least two languages, possibly more. If it isn’t a language that they grew up with, think about how they learned it. An elf that can speak dwarvish is much more interesting if they have a fun backstory for how they learned it.
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