The time has come, Nooblets, to dive into the more technical aspects of D&D – we’re setting up your character sheet! Are you excited? No? Don’t panic too much, Friend. We’re going to run through it step-by-step and you’ll have a playable character in no time. Time to get psyched!

For the purpose of this article, I’ll be focusing mostly on the 5e version found on page 317 of  the Player’s Handbookas this is the version the average starter player will be most familiar with. There are many different variations available and some are even beautifully illustrated, but the base information will stay largely the same. Remember to check in with your DM on what version they’re running and which character sheet they recommend.

From the top...

The top section of the 5e character sheet
The top section of the 5e character sheet

The first section is pretty basic stuff. If you haven’t decided on a name for your character yet, and you have no ideas about names, there are some nifty name generators online, I like this one. You will also need to fill out the race, class and background you decided on. We discussed these in previous articles – if you missed that, you can find it here.

Your DM will probably start you out at level 1 and you can amend that as you level up based on the experience you gain. Experience can be calculated in 2 ways: You can track your own experience by gaining experience points, for every encounter, to reach a benchmark number of points to level. Alternatively, your DM will decide when you level by taking into account the difficulty level and number of encounters needed to do so. It will be the DM’s decision which method they prefer to use.

Alignment...

Alignment isn’t something we’ve discussed previously, but if you’ve gone through the steps of your character creation, you should have a sense of your character’s morals and ethics (or lack thereof). Alignment consists of good and evil as well as lawful or chaotic. Where good and evil are pretty self explanatory, law and chaos refer to a characters tendency to obey or rebel against the legal constructs of society.

Sta(r)t-ing out...

The left section of the 5e character sheet
The left (stats) section of the 5e character sheet

Stats pertain to both the mental and physical capabilities as well as the trained abilities of your character, based on their race and class. The left column is where the core of your physical and mental abilities lie. 

First, the far left column – ask your DM if you’re using dice rolls, point buy, or arrays method to calculate these scores. The Player’s Handbook explains how to do this on page 12-13, but your DM will most likely assist you in calculating this. Here’s how it works: Once your base scores are calculated you will assign each number in your array to each ability. To calculate your modifier, you simply minus each number by ten and then halve it, rounding down. Your modifier is the core prowess of that stat which is also the bonus you add to rolls regarding that ability. For example, if your barbarian has a modifier of +3 to strength, all strength rolls will have a +3.

Your skills and saves work as follows: When you start out you will choose your proficient skills based on that class. You will start out with 2 skill proficiencies to distribute, rogues will get 4.  Your bonus to proficient skills starts at +2  and increases as you level up. Depending on what your class is (and what talents and training you have based on that class), you will mark certain saving throws and skills as proficient. These are the skills you have training in – and the methods of defense (your saving throws) that you’ve been taught. Everything else uses your raw ability modifier, while these special skills take your training and experience to channel those raw abilities into useful talents. 

All of these skills also have passive scores, but your character’s passive perception comes into play most often – your DM uses this to decide whether or not to tell you certain things without asking you to roll. Your character’s passive perception is calculated by whatever your perception score is +10. 

The last section is to mark tool kits – which are determined the same way as skills, and languages – which you simply either know, or don’t. Your class, race, background and intelligence will determine how many languages you can speak and what those languages are.

Items and combat....

This section is mostly about how squishy your character is and which items they use to fix that. We start off with Armor class – whether it be by what armor your character is wearing or by how swiftly they dodge attacks, this number signifies how hard they are to hit. It is calculated as follows: score of armor + dex mod (up to armor’s max dex allowance). Without armor, your character has a score of 10, and monks and barbarians add their wis or con mods. Eventually your magic items will have an effect here, but let’s not get into that right now. 

Your initiative is just the bonus you add to your roll, when you’re in danger, and your DM famously announces “Roll initiative” with that maniacal smile on their face. This is just your dex mod.

Speed pertains to the regular movement distance you have per round, calculated in feet. This is normally 30 feet, but some races or classes can be faster or slower.

Hit points are just that. It’s your character’s health in a number. You hit 0, you go down and start making a death saving throw every round. Death saves are just that – rolling to save your character from death. 3 failures = death. Roll a D20: a “natural 1” means two failures, 2-9 is one failure, 10-19 is one success and a “natural 20” is 3 successes and your character is now stable.

The attacks and spell-casting section is for you to list which spells or weapon attacks you have available. Your DM will help you with the weapons you have, but this section just makes it easier for you to know exactly which bonuses you have to your rolls. In order to attack, first pick a target and identify them to your DM. They will then tell you to roll to attack, you roll a D20 to see if your attack hits or misses. Add your proficiency modifier if you are using a weapon your character is trained (proficient) in. Some weapons will give you extra bonuses, so if you’re using one, also add either your str or dex mod. A “nat 1” is always a miss, a “nat 20” is a critical hit and lets you roll your damage dice twice. Any other number you roll will have to match or beat the target’s armor class in order to hit. Your DM will tell you if it hits, or not, as you will not know what the AC of your opponent is.  If you hit, you roll your damage dice, this will be the dice noted in your weapon’s description. You also add the str or dex mod to that roll depending, again, on the weapon.

The last section is just a list of the items in your possession as well as the money you have… Stock-take, if you will.

The center part of the 5e character sheet
The center (combat) part of the 5e character sheet
Things to say that will always start a fight. Roll initiative

Last but not least...

The right section of the 5e character sheet
The right (misc.) section of the 5e character sheet
Zuko wants his honour

Personality traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws are often overlooked, or just straight-up ignored, by veteran players. This is mostly due to their playing style being already defined and therefore they automatically take these things into account when role-playing their character. You get used to it and it becomes an automatic response. For the starter player, this section is valuable tool to assist in your role-play, as these are the things that influence your character’s every decision.

Personality traits can be anything from being flirty to being completely humorless. These traits dictate your character’s behavior and responses in certain situations.

Ideals are the things your character value most regarding their outlook on life and how they choose to live it. For your character this can be faith, power, tradition, honor (think Zuko) or destiny, etc. It’s the thing that drives them to do what they do and how they do it. 

Bonds can be a tricky one. It is the life goal your character is willing to sacrifice everything to achieve. For your character it can be to find a long lost relic, to avenge the death of a loved one or the search for fame and riches. This is also a handy tool for your DM as it can be incorporated in the story telling. In our current campaign, my character used to be a tavern owner who helped women and children in need find a better lives for themselves. Our brilliant DM incorporated this ideal into the story by having the current enemy toy with my character, by appearing to her in dreams, and showing her the murders of the girls she cared for in the past. It deepens your connection to your character and gets you more personally invested in the game.

Flaws are there to add some spice to your role-play. It can be anything from having a debilitating fear of fire or spiders (or fire-spiders!), or being a sorcerer who doesn’t believe in magic. Have some fun with it, some unexpected stuff can happen.

Your race, class, background and feats all grant you certain abilities. These are what the features and traits section is for. It’s a quick lookup for abilities your character has that you may be able to draw from in game. Your DM can help you with these but most of them are set as per your class and race. 

Phew! That was a mouth full...

I know that was a lot to take in, but it seems a lot more difficult than it actually is. The good news is your DM and fellow party members are generally happy to help and you’ll pick it up quite fast once you start playing. Don’t be scared to ask questions or ask for help, Iv’e been playing for a few years and I still do. In fact, I did just that during the writing of this article, and would therefore like to thank our resident DM, Dylan Beckbessinger, with his help in conveying technical details in a simple manner – Dylan, you rock! Check out his latest article here.

I highly recommend checking out this episode of Handbooker Helper, brought to us by the brilliant minds of Critical Role. Check out the entire series, I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to a beginner. 

We’re always so excited to hear your thoughts or experiences so please do share them with us in the comments below. Any questions, suggestions or advise is also welcome, we’re all learning together after all.

Until next time, be safe and take care of yourselves and each other… from a distance of course 😉


Lize Eloff

The resident goth-geek with a gaming problem. Loves D&D so much, she decided to marry a DM. Avid reader, writer and lover of words.

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