D&D for Young Players and New Dungeon Masters: 3 — Complete Characters

Gaming Tabletop Games
Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Welcome back to Dungeons and Dragons for Young Players and DMs. Last time, we covered using storytelling to bring a character to life. To be able to play, though, players need to understand the in-game details of their character. After an unexpected break due to conflicting school schedules, we’ve resumed our games. What familiarity the kids had with the system has faded, so we picked back up there.

To simplify things, we started with the Player’s Handbook, setting the character sheets aside. The numbers a player needs are scattered throughout the book, so using the character sheet as your guide is a good way to get lost. We just went through the book, and extracted the information we needed from each chapter in order to play the characters.

Below is a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the information a player needs to know. I start my players in Chapter 3, then return to Chapter 1, but they are listed in numeric order below for simplicity. Be forewarned: It’s thorough!

Breakdown By Chapters

Chapter 1:
Begin with Ability Scores, pages 12-13. This section describes three ways to determine base ability scores: rolling dice, standard array, point-based scores. The default method is for a player to roll four dice, remove the lowest number, and add the other three dice together to get a score. By repeating this five more times, a player ends up with six random scores to use for their character. This can end with great numbers, or miserable ones. With new players, I insist on using the standard array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. The challenges in the D&D world are based around this balance, and it starts all of your players from the same place, preventing jealousy based on luck.

Touch lightly on proficiency bonuses, armor, and weapon attacks, but don’t worry about recording numbers just yet. Just make a note for your players so they know to come back to this section later.

Don’t have players allocate their Ability Scores unless you’ve already finished reviewing Chapters 2 and 3

Chapter 2:
Each character will be of a specific race. Have the player choose from the nine races, encouraging them to consider their class. Making a character with compatible race/class combos can make a player’s first games easier.

After they’ve chosen their race, refer them to the Traits section. This is the information that’s critical for mechanics. Each bolded point in this section alters how the game is played. Record each of these characteristics, even if it’s just a note to review this section while filling out the character sheet. Take particular note of Ability Score Increase(s).

Chapter 3:
Page 45 has a quick description of each of the 12 classes. Have a player review this before moving on, then let them make their choice based on their own criteria. Once they’ve chosen a class, have them check out the first two chapters before moving on. Most players will want to choose their race based on what will help them adventure in their own way.

Now a player should have their race and its details, and six numbers to assign to their Ability Scores. Each class will have a short snippet for “Quick Build” which will give players tips on which scores help them most. For example, Barbarians need Strength and Constitution to do their job well. Have your player assign their Ability Scores.

Ignore the backgrounds for now.

Have your player record the following information:

From the chart:

  • Proficiency Bonus
  • Features
  • Special Abilities (spells, rages, bonus damage, etc.)
  • Hit Dice
  • Hit Points


  • Armor
  • Weapons
  • Tools
  • Saving Throws
  • Skills
  • Basic Equipment

For spellcasters:

  • Spellcasting Ability
  • Spell Save DC formula
  • Spell Attack Modifier formula
  • Spellcasting Focus

Note: Players don’t need to know everything about their character up to level 20. Have them stop at the features and such for level one. The book will be there for the rest later.

Chapter 4:
This is where a player can flesh out their character’s story. At a minimum, players need the following information.

  • Name
  • Sex and/or Gender
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Alignment
  • Languages
  • Background

From Background:

  • Specialty, if relevant
  • Personality Trait(s)
  • Ideal
  • Bond
  • Flaw

A quick aside for alignments:

There are two scales to weigh a character’s personality by.

First is their position on Lawfulness. A character is either Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic. Chaotic characters break laws at every turn, while a Neutral character uses laws when it’s convenient, ignoring them when they like.

The second scale is morality. A character is Good, Neutral, or Evil. Good characters act in the best interest of all, while Evil characters act in their own interest, sometimes going out of their way to hurt others. In a later post, I’ll cover the many nuances of alignments. For now, have the player read over the descriptions on page 122.

Chapter 5: Equipment
A chart on page 143 shows players how much money they have, based on their class. Players don’t need to know everything about selling items, magic items, or services. They will need to keep in mind that they can only use armor and weapons they are proficient in, and the items they gained from their class. For now, focus on buying equipment, and recording the following details.


  • Cost
  • Armor Class
  • Stealth Disadvantage (if applicable)
  • Weight


  • Class (Simple, Ranged, Martial)
  • Cost
  • Damage (and type)
  • Weight
  • Properties


Each player should have at least one trinket. They can find 100 examples on the table on pages 160-161.

Other Equipment:

Players don’t need to stock up on everything. Have your players peruse the rest of the chapter, but they only need to buy the equipment they need to do their job. Spellbooks, instruments, and thieves’ tools are common needs. I discourage new players from buying mounts and lots of equipment. It is usually just inconvenient, rather than useful.

Chapter 11: Spells
Have your spellcasting players visit this chapter to choose their spells.

Now that you’ve identified the relevant information for your player, translate it to the character sheet. To set up their character sheets, players use their now-gathered details. Ignore any areas marked out when filling out the character sheet.

Character sheet original by Wizards of the Coast, marked for educational purposes
Character sheet original by Wizards of the Coast, marked for educational purposes
  1. Players can put in details here without calculations.
  2. Ability Scores – See Chapter 1, and the notes above from Chapters 2 and 3. The small circles are where you record the modifiers, see page 173 for more details.
  3. Proficiency Bonus, Saving Throws, and Skills all come from Chapter 3. To calculate saving throw and Skill modifiers, put in the ability modifier, and add your Proficiency Bonus if you’re proficient in that skill. Note, this may sometimes be a negative number! This number is what is added to a roll when that sill or ability is used.
  4. Passive Perception – Add 10 and your total Perception modifier.
  5. Armor Class – See the chart on 145 to calculate armor class. This is 10+DEX modifier if unarmored.
  6. Initiative – This is your DEX modifier + any bonuses you might get from spells, abilities, etc.
  7. Speed – Determined by Race.
  8. Unless you’ve taken damage, your Current Hit Points is the same as your Hit Point Maximum. Hit Dice are determined by class. For example, a Level 1 Barbarian as 1D12 Hit Dice.
  9. For weapon attacks, see page 194. For spells, see your class description.
  10. Players can fill these areas in using details from the chapters identified above.

Now that your player has their character sheet filled out, they can start playing the game. In the next article, I’ll cover the mechanics of play, and making those mechanics easy for kids and new players. If all you’ve done in this play session is get your players set up with character sheets, that’s fine. I often set aside a game night just to get everyone set up the first time. If you want to play through a couple of short scenarios, crack open the Starter Set and use some of the early encounters to whet your players’ appetites.

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