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Role-Playing Games: Creating a Character, Part I

In the previous article, I talked about the history of role-playing games. In this article, I will talk about character creation and how the roles fill the team.

A typical role-playing game will have one Game Master (GM) who prepares the scenario or story. The GM can either write their own story for the players to play in, or use a published story, called a module. The GM is the facilitator for the group (known as a party). Typically, the party consists of 5-7 players who take on different roles (such as “fighter,” “bard,” “wizard,” etc) and they set out with a common goal, even if they do not have common ethics or morals.  

In Dungeons & Dragons, there are twelve (12) basic classes to choose from. The classes are as follows:

  • Barbarian (Tank)
  • Bard (Buff/Damage Per Second [DPS])
  • Cleric (DPS/Healer)
  • Druid (DPS/Magic/Animals)
  • Fighter (DPS)
  • Monk (Unarmored DPS)
  • Paladin (Tank)
  • Ranger (DPS)
  • Rogue (DPS/Stealth)
  • Sorcerer (Magic)
  • Warlock (Magic)
  • Wizard (Magic)

The roles listed are the primary functions of the roles. A bard and a ranger both can have stealth abilities; a druid, bard, and paladin can also heal. The knowledge/skills/abilities that a player chooses for the character further define their specific role on the team.

How do the players know who they are playing and what they are able to do, I hear you ask. I’m so very glad you asked! I will show parts of a character sheet for a character I am playing in an upcoming scenario. Let’s start with the very basic information that is at the top of the sheet:

Pathfinder Character Sheet

As you can see in this image, the basic information about my character is all here–her name, her race, her homeland, even a picture of what she looks like and what languages she speaks. Everything in this section is fairly self-explanatory.

This information is important to know because it is the information a player or GM uses in describing the character to the rest of the party. It also provides information such as the role in the party. In this case, Suviel is a 6th-level Barbarian. Her primary role, as the Tank, is to capture the attention of the enemies and keep it on her so her party members can stay alive.

Each character has a set of six “Stats” that determine how good they are in certain areas. The stats are Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Constitution (CON), Intelligence (INT), Wisdom (WIS), and Charisma (CHA). Here are Suviel’s stats and further explanation of how they work:

Pathfinder Character Sheet

When creating a character, the GM will either have each player roll 4 to 6, 6-sided dice and drop the lowest number, if using 4; or drop the two lowest numbers if using 6. The GM can also use what is called a point-buy system in which the players are given a total number of points with which to buy their stats. This information is usually listed in the Player’s Handbook for the game being played. Typically, a level 1 character will have stats that range between 10 and 18.

What do the numbers mean? I’m so very glad you asked! When assigning the numbers to the categories, 10 and 11 are considered average; 12 to 13 are slightly better than average; 14 to 15 are quite a bit above average; 16 to 18 are considered superior; and anything 19+ is considered “god-like.” By looking at the stats above, we can see that, at level 6, Suviel is extremely strong (20); she is, however, of average intelligence (11) and slightly above average in common sense (12 wisdom). She has a good personality and is quite striking with her 15 charisma; and she can survive bad food and most poisons with a constitution of 15. She’s also quite nimble and can move out of the way rather well (dexterity of 15).

So, how do these stats work together? Say the party is adventuring through the desert. The desert is very hot and arid and can cause less sturdy characters to suffer. Suviel has a 15 constitution and is from the desert. She has a natural immunity to its effects. But, if she did not, she would roll what we call a “Saving Throw” against her constitution. What this means is I, the player, would roll a 20-sided die and look for a 15 or less to succeed. If I succeed, I take 0 damage (or half-damage, depending on what, specifically, the GM is using against my character). If I roll a 16 to 20, however, I fail and I take an amount of damage as determined by a dice roll, per the GM (or another effect, depending on what the con save is against). I will provide an example of how the stats factor into gameplay.

Note: In the following paragraph, I will use terms that we haven’t discussed yet. They will be covered in subsequent articles, and this scene will be repeated for your benefit of understanding:

SCENE: Suviel is walking ahead of her party, focusing on the long, desert pathway ahead. The GM says, “Roll Perception.” She rolls a 2 and adds whatever bonuses she has. She sees nothing. Despite having a dex of 15, she is surprised to have Sandmander stab her with a trident! Because she did not see them, she cannot move out of their way; however, she now has the next move and kicks the Sandmander with her hoof! The Sandmander goes flying. Using her dex of 15, she rears back on her hind legs and miraculously tumbles forward, thrusting her halberd at the Sandmander. The dice are kind and she rolls a 17 to hit (AC 10). The dice are kind yet again and she rolls a 10 on her 1d10. She adds her strength bonus (+5) and does 15 points of damage to the Sandmander, dropping the creature to 0 hit points. Suviel and her party continue through the desert.

The different classes perform different roles on the team. Each character is defined by their basic information and their stats. In the next article, we will discuss the stats and what “modifiers” are in more detail, then move on to how those modifiers affect the character. For an experiment, begin to create a character sheet of you! You can find a standard character sheet here or here. Start by filling out the items we have discussed thus far. If you would like, roll 4 six-sided dice and drop your lowest number; add the rest together. Do this 7 times and drop the lowest of the scores. Assign the rest of the numbers to your stats, based on how you think you are in each of the categories–or how you wish you were in each of the categories! If you would rather do a point-buy, then start with 27 points and use the following chart from Dungeons & Dragons 5e to select your ability scores (or stats):

Dungeons & Dragons 5e Player’s Handbook

Have fun, and happy character creating!!

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