Daily D&D Ramble 4: Why everyone should make characters in their spare time

Daily articles? Who’s bright idea was this? Whatever. Let’s talk about building characters for a bit.

I really enjoy making characters. I find it fun. And the crazy thing about making characters is the more you do it, the more you understand the rules of the game.

There’s a few reasons for this. The first is that as you go through each class, again and again at different levels, you learn the phrasing of certain abilities: Exactly what conditions you can activate uncanny dodge or shield, when fast hands or second story work comes into effect, exactly what you can do while raging… there are a lot of abilities in 5e (and in all versions of whatever game you’re playing) and the more you know what they are and what they can do, the broader your horizon.

Second, as you learn character creation, you also can see the patterns in the game. Spell casters that prep spells (wizard, cleric, druid, bard) have a number of prepared spells equal to class level plus stat, with a few extra from Domains and Circles (and maybe schools? I don’t do bards much). You can also see that Sorcery Points and Ki Points are Sorcerer level and Monk level, respectively. Yes, on paper, its something that you should know when making the character, but sometimes that falls between the cracks of leveling up. Nothing is quite as rewarding as seeing the monk sucking in battle, glancing at his sheet, and saying “Hey, you should have 7 Ki points, not 4.” And all of a sudden the Monk gets to over drive a few more times.

Third, it makes you more aware of group dynamic. (Hey, I just realized these have all been player reasons. We’ll talk about DM reasons in a bit, although the DM is a fellow player and can adapt this party assistance advice to the table. If he wants to be nice…) The group dynamic is kind of important, if you want to maximize your effectiveness and cut down the crappy combats. And its not a simple recipe. Melee and Ranged have their own goals in combat, as well as skirmishers and tanks, controllers and leaders. And due to the wonkiness of 5th edition, the clearly defined roles of 4e are available to pretty much any class. (okay, there are a lot less leader options, and control is a bit tricky, but tank verses striker is a choice most classes have.) I can’t give advice, except make sure your DPR characters meet their requirements and have Advantage whenever possible. Knock people prone if you’re DPR is melee. Keep them standing if your DPR is ranged. Rogues should be dealing Sneak Attack every round at least once. Meat walls should stand between the foe and the squishies. Remember, if your turn makes someone else’s twice as effective, it was not wasted.

Fourth, the more you make characters, the faster you are at it. Sure, picking spells is never quick, but a practiced hand can flesh out a playable character in minutes. (legible takes a different hand practice. And probably more minutes…) And being able to stat out a quick Rogue or Fighter makes it much easier for you to sit down and join someone’s game on the fly. Or, make someone else a character and let them play on the fly!

Fifth, you can learn the rules better by building kitchy characters. I once played a Druid that was another character’s mount. While making that idea a reality, I scoured the PHB for all the mounted combat rules and made sure I knew exactly what benefits me and my rider got.

Sixth, the more you think about the game, the more dedicated you are, the more the game will mean to you. You’ll be more involved in the sessions and be more reactive to the story. If the only time you think about D&D is at the game table, you’re not going to be bring much, will ya?

And for DMs, learning the rules, the character abilities and such by build characters functions pretty much as above. I would hate to see a game run by a DM who only thought about the game at the table. I wonder if that could even work…

So, DMs, why should you build characters?

First, it lets you know what the party can do. Things like Divine Sense and Primeval Awareness are not simple abilities and should be read a few times when you’re making stuff, just to make sure you got it. Other things, like, what, exactly, can be done with sorcery points or ki points, let you keep an eye on characters who might be (accidentally?) pulling a fast one. And spells. Oh, man, and spells. DMs should be reading those lists, late at night with the covers pulled over our heads, shaking against the darkness. Some of that is scary stuff we should be prepared for.

Second, some of the character bits and bobs can be DM fuel. Where did the fighter pick up his fighting style? Where did the wizard get that spell? Or, going forward, what will the fighter get next level? is there a dramatic way you can bring that out in game? Can you find ways to let the party use their new tools right away? (Or, if you want, hit the party with something, let them level to counter, then let them mop the floor with their new abilities. Very situation, so I can’t advise without hearing specifics.)

Third, mayhap there is a way to boost your monsters. What if your Kenku all picked up the archery fighting style? or the Shieldmaster feat? Or two levels of warlock? The DMG(maybe its in MM?) mentions that you can add some class levels to make more challenging foes, but doesn’t give much recommendation on specifics. You have to take a look at it and play around. And maybe if you cross the idea of Kenku with, say, Circle of Land druids, you’ll find this cool forest order of bird people, who speak in the language of the beasts of the forest and cast druidic magic on those who enter their home. Many ideas await.

Fourth, you can also learn where your players weaknesses lie and capitalize on that VERY RARELY!!!!! Over doing it will make it not fun for the players, but some classes have abilities that trigger in different circumstances. Examining the characters you make can suggest tactics. A paladin-hunting gnoll pack, for example is going to avoid melee at all cost, as paladins can’t use Smite, their trump card, at range. But they also want to stay out of clear areas, so the steeds can’t be effective. And saving throws are ineffective, as the paladin’s aura is strong. So your gnolls stay on broken ground and in impassible terrain, hunt at a distance, with buff spells instead of damage or control. Go get those Lawful Jerks!

Gosh, that looks like a lot of good advice. Go build characters. ItsĀ  good for everyone!


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1 Comment

  1. Terrain hazards are something that I’d like to see more DMs do. Too often combat starts with an infinite featureless plane that allows the archers to run thirty feet away every turn (assuming they using the longbow with its ridiculous range). This might be mitigated by the DM have four walls wherein everyone then proceeds to stand around hitting each other until one team is dead.

    Obviously that is a slight exaggeration, but it isn’t too far off the mark. I bring this up because in the combat encounters you mention being tailored to the players, movement abilities and restrictions seem to be a thing you include. I just want to say that is awesome.

    Finally, I think that making characters is the best way to learn the rules for a lot of people. I know that picturing how these characters interact with their different abilities has helped me in progressing my understanding of mechanics. At the same time, building a character can be great for getting into their headspace. Their ideas, plans, training, and flaws. I find how mechanics translate to roleplay fascinating.

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