dungeons & dragons for absolute beginners
Part 4: Finishing your character

Character Sheet

The character sheet is the repository of all information about your character. Wizards of the Coast, the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, provide pdf’s of their character sheets on their website for personal use, so you can download them there as you prepare your character. Right now I will go through the character creation process with you, so you can understand what is happening. First though, I will show you the finished first sheet of my new character so you can refer to it as we work our way through the character creation process.

Balin character sheet

Ability scores

There are a number of different ways to get your ability scores. Your DM will decide which way your campaign will deal with that. My preferred way is to roll 4d6, drop the lowest number, and add the other numbers together, so that’s what we’ll do now.

My first roll gave me 5, 3, 3, & 1. Drop the 1 and add the others to get 11

My next roll gave me 5, 4, 2, & 1. Dropping the 1 gives us 11

My next roll gave me 6, 4, 3, & 3. Dropping a 3 gives us 13

My next roll gave me 5, 4, 3, & 2. Dropping the 2 gives us 12

My next roll gave me 6, 6, 3, & 2. Dropping the 2 gives us 15

My last roll gave me 4, 1, 1, & 1. Dropping a 1 gives us 6

OK, so we’ve got 6 numbers for our ability scores. Next, we need to decide where to put them. I have decided that I like the sound of playing a male mountain dwarf fighter named Balin, rushing into battle with a mighty battleaxe. If I want to be a fighter wielding a strength based weapon like a battleaxe, I will want to be really strong, so I’ll likely want to put one of my higher stats into STR. If I wanted to use a dexterity based weapon like a longbow, I would want a high DEX score, but I imagine this character wants to be on the front lines of the battle smashing his foes, so we’ll go with a higher STR instead. I’ll also want a higher CON, since that determines how many hit points you get. So let’s put the 15 in STR and the 13 in CON.  That leaves us with 12, 11, 11, & 6. They are all pretty similar except for the 6, which is pretty low. I now have to decide which attribute our character will be really bad at. I think I will put the 6 in CHA, and our dwarf can be a bit rude, not very attractive, and perhaps is missing most of the social graces. 6 is quite low, so he likely farts loudly in public as well. If we put the 12 in DEX, that leaves INT & WIS for the two 11s. Now we have STR 15, DEX 12, CON 13, INT 11, WIS 11, & CHA 6. If you remember though, being a mountain dwarf gives you an additional +2 to your CON score and +2 to your STR score. That brings those to STR 17 and CON 15.


Now that you have the base scores for all of your ability scores, you can now determine the modifiers. The modifiers are what end up actually being used for nearly everything in the game, instead of the base scores for each ability. Basically, the lower your score is, the worse you are at that, and really low scores give you penalties when you try to do something with that ability. The higher the score, the better you are at it, so the higher the bonuses when you use that ability. There is a table in the Player’s handbook which will show what your modifier is based on your ability score. Balin’s modifiers end up being STR +3, DEX +1, CON +2, INT +0, WIS +0, & CHA -2.

Saving throws

Saving throws are used when a bad thing is about to happen to your character but you have a chance to escape all or some of the bad effects if you are able to roll high enough. For example, if a roof is collapsing, you may be asked by the DM to roll a DEX saving throw to see if you are agile enough to dodge out of the way of the falling rubble. Your save is your roll with the modifier added (or subtracted, if your score is low) to it. Your saving throw modifiers are simply your ability score modifiers, with your proficiency bonus added to it if you are proficient in that saving throw. Your proficiency bonus slowly increases as your levels rise. Everyone starts with a proficiency bonus of +2 at 1st level. All fighters are proficient in STR & CON saving throws, so +2 is added to those scores (you will note that I have filled in the bubble before those 2 saving throws; that is what we do for things we are proficient in, so we will easily remember what we are proficient in and we won’t forget to change those scores when our proficiency bonus increases later). Balin’s saving throw modifiers therefore are: STR +5 (3+2), DEX +1, CON +4 (2+2), INT 0, WIS 0, & CHA -2.


Now we have the bare bones of Balin, let’s fill in his life a bit more. Dungeons & Dragons has backgrounds, which tell us a bit about what they were doing before they became adventurers. Was Balin an orphan living on the streets, a noble, an entertainer, or a hermit? You can decide on the backstory for your character depending on whatever you want. When you decide on your character’s story, choose a D&D background which fits it most closely and add that in- backstories typically give your character some extra benefits to start, like skill proficiencies, languages, money, and/or equipment.
For Balin, I think he joined the military after his village was attacked by a band of orcs, so I’ll give him the soldier background. That explains how he became so good at fighting as well. The soldier background gives Balin proficiency in Athletics & Intimidation (I’ll check those off now, and add up their scores shortly), as well as in a gaming set and land vehicles. I’ll choose dice as his proficiency (since it fits the wandering lifestyle I envision for Balin; I will write that down in the other proficiencies section).

He also gets an insignia of rank (I’ll choose a medal signifying I was a captain), some kind of trophy taken from a fallen enemy (I’ll choose a dagger), a set of dice, a set of common clothes, and a pouch with 10 gold pieces in it. That all will go nicely with the items which Balin gets as a fighter. He gets to choose between either chain mail or a set of leather armor, a longbow & 20 arrows to start. Since Balin plans to be in the middle of combat, I will choose the chain mail for him. Next he can choose between either a martial weapon and a shield, or two martial weapons. Balin definitely wants a battleaxe. Battleaxes can be used with one hand to do 1d8 damage, or can be used with two hands to cause more damage (1d10 damage). I think Balin will not be one to worry about a shield, since he already has decent armor and he wants to really make a difference when he hits someone. He will instead grab both a battleaxe as well as a battlehammer. They both do similar damage amounts, but the battleaxe deals slashing damage while the battlehammer deals bludgeoning damage. Sometimes one type of damage is more effective than another type, so Balin is hedging his bets. Plus, he likes big weapons that do loads of damage. Now he has to choose a ranged weapon; either a light crossbow with 20 bolts or 2 handaxes (which can also be used in hand to hand fighting, but Balin has better weapons already for that). Balin likes the sound of a crossbow, so he chooses that. Finally, he can choose between a dungeoneer’s pack or an explorer’s pack. He likes the sound of the dungeoneer’s pack (which has a backpack with a crowbar, hammer, 10 pitons, 10 torches, a tinderbox, 10 days of rations, a waterskin, & 50 feet of hemp rope) so he adds that as well.

In addition, I need to choose a specialty which I had during my military career (I’ll choose officer), 2 personality traits, an ideal, a bond, and a flaw. We’ll get back to those later, after we fill in our character more.

These choices all will help to flesh out Balin so that I understand what drives him and can role-play him better.


Now let’s go to the skills list. We already have proficiency checked off for Athletics & Intimidation from our soldier background- that means we will be able to add our proficiency bonus to our ability score modifiers when we roll for those two skills. We can further add 2 more skills as a result of being a fighter; it lets us choose 2 skills from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival. We already have proficiency in 2 of those skills, so we will choose from the remaining 6. Insight reflects how good you are at telling what a person is feeling or whether they are hiding something from you or lying to you. That seems like a good skill to have, so I’ll choose that as well as Perception for Balin. I like to think that he notices things, both in his surroundings as well as with what is going on with other people.

Now that I have chosen the skills that Balin is proficient in, it’s time to add the modifiers to each skill. For most of the skills I will simply add the modifier for the ability score listed after the skill (sorry, the ability score listed after the sheet is too faint to read on the image above, but you will be able to see them on your copy of the sheet which you have downloaded from Wizards of the Coast). For the skills which I am proficient in, I will add the ability modifier, plus my proficiency modifier on top of that. Now when the DM asks me to roll an Insight check when I ask if a shopkeeper is lying, I will roll 1d20 and add 2 to the roll.

While we are here, let’s fill in the box below the skill checks for passive perception. Passive perception is used by the DM to decide if you notice something if you don’t actively say that you are looking for something. For example, if someone rolls a 13 for stealth to hide behind a bed in a room, and the other character has a passive perception of 12 and they walk through the room without actively looking for anything, they won’t see the hidden character. If their passive perception is 14 however, they immediately notice them without even needing to roll. We determine passive perception by adding your Perception modifier (2, in Balin’s case) to 10. Balin’s passive perception is 12.

More proficiencies

Let’s go back to the fighter description now and see what else we get as a result of being a fighter. Fighters are all proficient when using simple & martial weapons, so that’s good. They are also proficient when using all armor & shields; that’s also good. Many classes can only use certain weapons or armor, but we can use whatever we want. We’ll write that on the character sheet under other proficiencies.

Going back to the mountain dwarf description, we can see that mountain dwarves are proficient in the battleaxe, handaxe, light hammer, & warhammer, along with light & medium armor. This doesn’t affect us, since the fighter class gives us these weapon & armor proficiencies already. More interestingly, it provides us with proficiency with either smith’s  tools, brewer’s supplies, or mason’s tools. I think Balin will be a stonemason as well, so I’ll add that to the other proficiencies section. In addition, when dwarves make a History check concerning the origin of stonework, they are considered proficient in it and add double their proficiency bonus. This means that if Balin tries to identify some stonework, he gets to add 4 to his History rolls instead 0 as with most of his History rolls- that might come in handy. Reading through the dwarf description, it says that dwarves are also resistant to poison damage (which means they take 1/2 the poison damage that others would take) and have advantage on saving throws against poison, which is excellent news for Balin. We’ll put that in the other proficiencies section also. In addition, dwarves are fluent in 2 languages: Common & Dwarvish. Common is a language that everyone starts with and which most people speak (hence the name). We’ll put those in the other proficiencies section as well.

Hit points

Hit points tell us how much life you have left. When you get hit, you lose hit points equal to the damage you take. Each character class has a certain die which they use to roll their hit points. Fighters use 1d10. Each time you go up a level (except when you start initially) you roll your hit die and add that number plus your CON modifier to your maximum hit point total. When you first create a character, you take the maximum possible you can roll on your hit die (for a fighter, 10 is the highest you can roll on 1d10) and add your CON modifier to make your starting maximum hit points. For Balin this is 10+2=12.

Features & traits

This is a catch-all section for “other stuff”. For Balin we will fill this in with things like his dwarven darkvision out to 60 feet, his background feature which allows soldiers loyal to his former organization to still recognize his authority, and they will defer to Balin due to his old rank as captain. This will allow him to requisition horses or simple equipment for temporary use. It also allows him to gain access to friendly military encampments where his rank is recognized. That seems like it could come in handy. Finally, we will place his fighting style which he gets to choose as a fighter in here. Balin will choose Great Weapon Fighting as his style, since he plans on being known for doing large amounts of damage. With this fighting style, if he rolls a 1 or a 2 on the damage die while attacking with two hands on his weapon, he can reroll that die to try for higher damage. That will definitely come in handy for 20% of the damage rolls, so this is a good choice for Balin.


This section is easy to fill out. Add your battleaxe, battlehammer, and light crossbow to the list. in the next column, add your modifier to the attack. For melee (hand to hand) weapons, this is STR (with exceptions for finesse weapons, which are DEX), while for ranged weapons this is DEX for fired weapons or STR for thrown weapons. In addition, if you are proficient with the weapon, you add your proficiency bonus. Balin is proficient with all of his weapons, so he adds 2 to each modifier. For his two melee weapons, he adds +3 STR to +2 proficiency to get a +5 modifier to his attack roll. For the crossbow he adds +1 DEX and +2 proficiency to get +3 to his attack roll. He clearly wants to get into melee as quickly as possible to take advantage of his higher modifier while in melee.

Next we determine how much damage each weapon will do if they hit Balin’s foes. Both melee weapons deal 1d10 damage, but we will also add the appropriate ability (STR +3) modifier to that. The light crossbow deals 1d8 piercing damage, but we also add the relevant modifier to that damage (DEX +1)

Armor class, Initiative, & Speed

This is the number which describes how hard it is to strike your character. Balin has chain mail on, so his armor class (AC) is 16. Chain mail require a minimum STR of 13 to wear, which Balin easily has, but it is noisy, so it gives the wearer disadvantage on Stealth rolls.

While we are adding armor class, right next to it is a box titled “Initiative”. Initiative rolls happen at the beginning of combat, and decide who goes in which order. The initiative modifier is simply your DEX modifier.

Your speed is determined by your race. Dwarves have a speed of 25 feet per round (a round lasts 6 seconds).

Personality traits et al.

This section gives you an idea of what kind of a person your character is: what motivates them. When role-playing, it will give you ideas about what your character would do. There will be suggestions for these traits in the background which you chose for them, but they are just suggestions. If you have a better idea for what you want, feel free to run with it; this is your character. You will choose 2 personality traits, 1 ideal, 1 bond, and 1 flaw.

For personality traits, Balin is a fighter who rushes headlong into battle, so I will choose “I can stare down a hell hound without flinching” as my first one. Balin also has absolutely terrible CHA, which will impact many aspects of his life. For his second trait, I will choose “I have a crude sense of humor” since that seems to fit well with his overall unlikeableness.

For his ideal, I think Balin will choose “Our lot is to lay down our lives in defense of others.” Balin loves combat, but he’s doing it for the right reasons.

For a bond, I think Balin will choose “Someone saved my life on the battlefield. To this day, I will never leave a friend behind.” This will impact his behaviour in combat; Balin is a good friend.

For Balin’s flaw, I am again looking at his woefully low CHA score. I will choose “I’d rather eat my armor than admit when I’m wrong.” This annoying argumentative behaviour will fit in well with his CHA score.


Alignment is an interesting concept. It is very important for clerics & paladins (their gods may revoke their powers if their alignment changes), but it is less important for most others. there are 9 alignments, based on two axes; the combination of good, neutral, and evil cross-referenced with the combination of lawful, neutral, and chaotic.

Lawful good characters always try to do good, while also trying to follow the letter of the law. This could be priests who strictly follow their religious texts, or a fighter who hunts down vampires in a city, but is always careful to follow the letter of the law while doing so.

Neutral good characters will often follow the law, usually because it’s inconvenient to them not to. That same vampire hunter might now not break the law while chasing the vampires, unless they thought they wouldn’t get caught and they really needed to do it to catch the vampire.

Chaotic good characters don’t care much for the law, and sometimes will flaunt it directly just to do it. They do what they feel they need to do for the sake of being good, and if the law is in the way of that then the law is obviously a bad law and was meant to be broken.

Lawful neutral characters always follow the law. If they do something morally ambiguous sometimes, it will still be legal- that you can count on.

True neutral characters don’t worry too much about good or evil, nor about the laws. They look out for themselves. If they can benefit from something without risk of being punished, they will likely be up for it.

Chaotic neutral characters do whatever they feel like doing.

Lawful evil characters always do whatever is best for themselves, within the structure of the law. Bilking money from the poor to make themselves richer would be normal for these characters.

Neutral evil characters are similar to lawful evil ones, but they get up to their mischief if they think they can get away with it even if it’s unlawful

Chaotic evil characters are truly horrible and don’t care about the law at all either. Nasty pieces of work, these are. Most of the really bad cartoon villains fall under this category.

Balin is a good person at heart. He also has some respect for the law, but if he feels the law is unjust, he may well fight against it. Let’s give Balin an alignment of neutral good.

Excellent- now we have finished the first page of Balin’s character sheet! He has no experience points, since he has done nothing yet. As he battles foes and solves problems the DM will appoint him experience points, and after reaching set goals in experience points he will level up. But that is a ways off for now.  At this point, we can just fill out the second page of the character sheet and then start adventuring. We need his age (dwarves mature at 50, so let’s make Balin 55), height (dwarves run from 4-5 feet tall, so let’s make Balin a taller dwarf at 5 foot tall), weight (dwarves average 150 pounds, so let’s make Balin 170 since he is strong and tall), eye color (brown- why not?), skin color (tan- he hikes around outside a lot), and hair color (brown- again, why not?), and we’re pretty well done. The rest of the second page involves his backstory. Work with your DM to come up with a backstory which fits the campaign that the DM is using. And now Balin is finished! Good job! Now it’s time to start playing!

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