What Is a D&D Character? (Best Guide for Beginners)

Most Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) games include both a Dungeon Master (DM) and one or more D&D characters.

What is a D&D character?

In the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy role-playing game, a character is a fictional person created by the player to interact with the game world. The character represents the player in the game and is controlled by the player. A character can be of any race, class, or moral alignment.

In this article, you’ll learn the 15 most important elements that make up a D&D character.

What Is a D&D Character? (15 Must-Know Traits)

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Bearded man holding a torch—What Is a D&D Character
Image by the author via Canva—What Is a D&D Character?

When you create a character in Dungeons and Dragons, you’ll make many choices about who they are, where they come from, what they do, and what they look like.

Many of these traits will also show up on your D&D character sheet.

Here are the 15 main D&D character traits:

  1. D&D Character Name
  2. D&D Character Race
  3. D&D Character Class
  4. D&D Character Sub-Class
  5. D&D Character Appearance
  6. D&D Character Personality
  7. D&D Character Backstory
  8. D&D Character Level
  9. D&D Character Experience Points (XP)
  10. D&D Character Main Statistics
  11. D&D Character Equipment & Gear
  12. D&D Character Ability Scores
  13. D&D Character Special Abilities
  14. D&D Character Feats
  15. D&D Character Spells

D&D Character Name

Every D&D character has a name that identifies them in the game.

The name is usually chosen by the player when creating a character, and it can be based on any number of things, from the appearance of the character to their personality.

In some cases, a character’s name may also be inspired by their race or class.

For example, many elves have names that sound like they come from nature, while many dwarves have names that are based on their profession.

A character name in Dungeons and Dragons is more than just an identifier, though.

It’s a big part of your character’s persona. Names can help set the tone for your whole campaign. When coming up with a name for your character, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

First, think about what kind of person your character portrays—Is he or she heroic or villainous? Funny or serious?

The name you choose should reflect your character’s personality.

Second, consider the role your character plays in the game. Are they the leader of the party or the comic relief? The name you choose should give your fellow players a window into your character.

Finally, when choosing a name for your character, it’s important to pick something that you think sounds cool and that you’ll be able to remember easily. 

After all, your character’s name is what other players will call you.

D&D Character Race

In Dungeons and Dragons, a player’s character race refers to the species they choose to play.

In general, a race is a collection of individuals that share common traits. This can include physical characteristics, such as height or skin color, as well as cultural traits, like language or religion.

The most popular races in D&D are humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings.

However, there are many others to choose from, including Dragonborn, gnomes, and Half-Orcs.

In fact, we wrote two good articles about playing unusual races/beings:

Each race has its own set of abilities and traits that give it an edge in certain situations.

For example, elves are known for their keen eyesight and agility, while dwarves are known for their strength and resilience.

Players should carefully consider their choices when selecting a race for their character.

The race you choose will have a major impact on how your character relates to the world around them.

D&D Character Class

A character class is a fundamental part of the identity of a Dungeons and Dragons character.

It is both a role that the character occupies in the game and a set of mechanical rules that govern how that character can interact with the game world.

A character’s class represents their training, skills, and abilities.

You can also consider a class as a profession.

It’s one of the primary ways that players customize their characters to fit their individual playstyle. There are a wide variety of classes to choose from in D&D, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Here are some of the most popular classes:

  • Mages—These are your classic wizards, capable of aiding allies and tearing apart enemies with powerful spells.
  • Fighters—These are warriors who specialize in melee combat, using their strength and skill to defeat opponents in one-on-one battles.
  • Clerics—These characters are religious followers who use the power of their deity to heal the party and smite evil foes.
  • Rouges—These characters are experts at sneaking and trickery, using their agility and cunning to get the upper hand on opponents.
  • Druids—These nature-loving spellcasters use the power of the natural world to defend their allies and vanquish their enemies.
  • Paladins—These holy warriors combine the strength of a fighter with the divine power of a cleric, using both to defend the innocent and smite evil.
  • Rangers—These nature-focused warriors are skilled at both ranged and melee combat, making them versatile adversaries.
  • Barbarians—These brutish warriors rely on their fury and strength to see them through battle, smashing opponents with their bare hands or massive weapons.
  • Bards—These musical magicians use the power of their songs to inspire allies and hinder enemies.

D&D Character Sub-Class

In Dungeons and Dragons, a character sub-class is a specific set of abilities, skills, and perks that are available to a player character in addition to their chosen class.

A subclass can be a secondary class, such as a fighter subclassing as a sorcerer.

This is also called dual classing or multiclassing.

Sub-classes can also be very specific, such as the monk’s Way of the Open Hand, or more general, like the ranger’s Hunter archetype.

In some cases, a sub-class may even replace a character’s original class entirely, as is sometimes the case with the paladin’s Oath of Vengeance. While not all characters need to have a sub-class, they can be a great way to further customize.

D&D Character Appearance

D&D characters can be of any appearance, as long as it is approved by the Dungeon Master.

This is true whether they are human, elf, dwarf, Dragonborn, goliath, or halfling.

Characters can have any skin color, hair color, and eye color.

They can be short or tall, skinny or muscular. Basically, the sky is the limit when it comes to character appearance in D&D.

However, there are two main things to keep in mind when designing a character’s appearance.

First and foremost, the appearance should be practical. Are you playing a stealthy character who needs to blend in with their surroundings? Or a heavily armored warrior who needs to look intimidating?

Secondly, your character’s appearance should usually reflect their race.

For example, an orc might have green skin, tusks, and feral eyes, while a goblin might be small and ratlike with sharp teeth.

Each race has certain traits that are typical of its members.

Elves are often tall and slender with pointed ears, while dwarves are short and stocky with long beards. By contrast, humans are one of the most versatile races when it comes to appearance, as they come in all shapes and sizes.

D&D Character Personality

A D&D character’s personality is the set of traits and characteristics that define how that character behaves.

While some aspects of personality are determined by a character’s race or class, there is a great deal of room for customization.

Players can use the various elements of their character’s personality to create a unique and interesting persona.

For example, a shy halfling might possess an outgoing personality among her close friends to offset her natural timidness. Or a gruff dwarf could have a compassionate side, showing kindness to those in need.

By carefully selecting and combining different personality traits, players can create rich and complex characters that are deep and rewarding to play.

Character alignment also impacts personality.

When I say “alignment,” I mean a character’s moral compass and worldview.

There are several different alignments from which to choose:

  • Lawful good—Characters of this alignment believe in the power of law and good to overcome evil. They behave honorably, and they follow the law even when it is not in their best interests.
  • Neutral good—Characters of this alignment believe in the ultimate goodness of people, and they work to help others achieve it. They are altruistic, and they are never truly self-serving.
  • Chaotic good—Characters of this alignment follow their own hearts, and they believe in the goodness of people. They are independent, and they do not bow to the will of others.
  • Lawful evil—Characters of this alignment believe in the power of evil to overcome good. They are willing to work within the law to achieve their goals, but they are not bound by it.
  • Neutral evil—Characters of this alignment believe in the ultimate evil of people, and they work to further their own goals at the expense of others. They are selfish, and they are never truly altruistic.
  • Chaotic evil—Characters of this alignment follow their own dark desires, and they believe in the ultimate evil of people. They are chaotic and unpredictable, and they do not care for the law or the well-being of others.

There are no right or wrong choices when creating a character’s personality, so have fun and be creative.

D&D Character Backstory

A character’s backstory is the history and events that led to the character’s current situation.

This can include:

  • Family history
  • Hometown
  • Education or training
  • Motivation for adventuring

A character’s backstory can be as long or as short as the player wants, but it should be detailed enough to give the DM an idea of who the character is and where they come from.

A well-crafted backstory can help make a character feel more real and three-dimensional.

Additionally, a well-crafted backstory can provide inspiration for roleplaying opportunities and help the DM to create challenges and missions tailored to the character.

Here is a great article about How To Write a D&D Backstory (With Examples & Template).

D&D Character Level

What is a D&D character level?

A character’s level is a benchmark of their power and experience.

In D&D, characters start at the first level and work their way up as they gain experience points (XP) from defeating monsters, completing quests, and performing other heroic deeds.

As a character goes up in level, they become better at fighting, casting spells, and performing other tasks.

The highest level that a character can reach is typically the 20th level.

A first-level character is relatively weak and inexperienced, while a 20th-level character is extremely powerful and has mastered many difficult challenges.

D&D Character Experience Points (XP)

Experience points (XP) in Dungeons & Dragons are a measure of a character’s progress and development.

They are awarded for achieving success in the game.

As characters accumulate XP, they advance in levels, which gives them access to new abilities and rewards.

The amount of XP required to reach each level increases as characters advance, so it becomes progressively more difficult to gain levels. However, this also means that each new level provides greater rewards and benefits.

Some Dungeon Masters may award bonus XP for particularly clever or creative actions taken by players during the game.

D&D Character Main Gameplay Statistics

The main statistics for a D&D character are their Hit Points (HP), Armor Class (AC), Attack Modifier, Damage Modifier, Saving Throw, Speed, and Initiative Modifier.

These stats are what you will refer to most often during a campaign.

Let’s go through and explain what each stat means:

  • Hit Points—Your Hit Points represent how much damage you can take before you are knocked unconscious or killed.
  • Armor Class—Your Armor Class represents how difficult it is for your opponents to hit you with an attack.
  • Attack Modifier—Your Attack Modifier is used to determine if you hit your target when you make an attack.
  • Damage Modifier—Your Damage Modifier is used to determine how much damage you deal when you hit your target.
  • Initiative Modifier—Your Initiative Modifier is used to determine the order in which you and your opponents take turns in combat.
  • Saving Throw—Your Saving Throw is used to resist harmful effects such as spells and traps.
  • Character Speed—Your Speed is how fast you can move in a turn.

D&D Character Equipment & Gear

As any adventurer knows, having the right equipment can mean the difference between success and failure.

In Dungeons & Dragons, characters gear up for their quests by outfitting themselves with a variety of weapons, armor, and other items.

The specifics of what gear a character carries will vary depending on their class and playing style.

However, there are some common items that are essential for any would-be hero.

Essential items:

  • Clothing
  • Weapons (Like a Scythe)
  • Armor
  • Carrying bags/pouches
  • Specialized equipment

Warriors might prefer a sword and shield, while rogues might prefer daggers.

In addition to weapons and armor, characters also might need adventuring gear such as pitons for climbing, tents, torches, and rations.

Gear is essential for survival in the wild.

D&D Character Ability Scores

D&D Character ability scores represent a character’s raw talent, along with their physical and mental endurance.

The scores are important for determining a character’s capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

According to the Player’s Handbook, there are six official Ability Scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

  • Strength—Represents a character’s raw physical power.
  • Dexterity—Measures a character’s agility, reflexes, and balance.
  • Constitution—Determines a character’s health and stamina.
  • Intelligence—Gauges a character’s reasoning and memory.
  • Wisdom—Signifies a character’s perception and insight.
  • Charisma—Indicates a character’s force of personality, persuasiveness, and ability to lead.

Each ability score is represented by a die roll (3-18). The higher the score, the better. For example, a character with a Strength score of 3 is very weak, while one with a Strength score of 18 is incredibly strong.

Ability Scores are important for two reasons.

First, they help determine what a character is capable of doing. For example, a character with a high Strength score will be better at physical tasks like lifting heavy objects or wrestling than one with a low Strength score.

Second, ability scores are used to calculate a variety of important game statistics, called “mods” or “modifiers.”

Modifiers are added to or subtracted from a variety of die rolls made during the game, including saving throws, attack rolls, damage rolls, and skill checks.

D&D Character Special Abilities

D&D characters have a wide range of special abilities that set them apart from other characters.

These abilities can be divided into four categories:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Social
  • Magical

Physical abilities include things like increased strength or agility, while mental abilities might allow a character to process information more quickly or remember long-forgotten facts.

Social abilities might give a character the skills to charm or manipulate others, while magical abilities might allow a character to cast spells or use psionic powers.

In addition to these basic categories, there are also a number of hybrid abilities that combine two or more of these types.

For example, a character with the ability to shape-shift might have both physical and magical abilities.

D&D Character Feats

D&D character feats are special abilities that can give your character an edge in combat or other situations.

Feats can be general, like the Alertness feat, which gives you a +2 bonus to Perception checks, or specific to a particular class or race, like the Toughness feat, which gives you an extra hit point per level.

There are literally dozens of official feats available in the Player’s Handbook (and other D&D books).

Here are just a few:

  • Alchemist
  • Blade Mastery
  • Chef
  • Grappler
  • Great Weapon Master
  • Heavy Armor Master
  • Keen Mind
  • Lucky
  • Master of Disguise (UA)
  • Sharpshooter
  • Tavern Brawler (one of my favorites)

It’s important to choose feats that will complement your character’s strengths and weaknesses.

In addition, some feats have prerequisites—certain level, ability scores, etc.

You’ll need to plan ahead to make sure you meet the requirements.

Some feats are also better suited for certain playstyles than others. For example, the Two-Weapon Fighting feat is great for combat characters like fighters or barbarians.

On the other hand, the Magic Initiate feat might work better for a Wizard or Cleric in a magical campaign.

D&D Character Spells

In D&D, characters can use spells to achieve a variety of effects.

Some spells are used to deal damage to enemies, while others are used to heal allies or create advantageous conditions.

For example, a Shield spell can be used to create a barrier of magical energy that will absorb some of the damage dealt to the caster, while a Fireball spell can be used to deal massive damage to a group of enemies.

There are two main types of spells in D&D: arcane and divine.

Arcane Spells—such as those used by wizards—are typically more flashy and destructive, while divine spells—used by clerics and paladins—tend to be more subtle and supportive.

Characters must select their spells carefully, as they can only cast so many spells per day.

However, with dozens of spells available to choose from, there is a spell for nearly every situation.

What Is a Good D&D Character?

A good D&D character is a combination of creative character building, how fun they are to play, and how well they fit into the overall gaming group.

Creating a character that is all three of these things can be difficult, but if you take the time to do it right, it’ll be worth it.

Here are some tips on how to create a good D&D character:

  • Your character should be someone you enjoy playing. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?
  • Your character should be someone that the other members of your gaming group will enjoy playing with. If your character is a joyless killing machine that doesn’t interact with the rest of the players, they’re not going to be very fun for the group.
  • Combine different races, classes, and abilities to come up with a fresh character build. There are an infinite number of character combinations in D&D, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Make sure your character’s backstory is interesting and makes sense. Don’t just go with the “dead parents” trope by default. What if they come from a happy home? What if they are starting a new religion? What if they are a fugitive on the run?

The bottom line is that a good D&D character is one that you think is good.

What Is a Face Character in D&D?

A face character is the “face” of the group.

They usually possess high Charisma ability scores and proficiency in persuasion, deception, and other social skills.

They are the voice or speaker for the group.

A face might be the party’s diplomat, con artist, or storyteller. While other members of the party might be more skilled in combat or stealth, the face’s main focus is on interacting with non-player characters (NPCs).

As such, they often have high Intelligence and Wisdom scores as well, allowing them to make quick decisions and read people accurately.

This makes NPCs more likely to trust and listen to them.

What Is a Support Character in D&D?

A support character provides backup for the other members of their adventuring party.

They might be a skilled healer, a talented diplomat, or a master of stealth and reconnaissance. Whatever their particular skill set, a supporting character is someone who can make the lives of their companions a little bit easier.

In many ways, they are the social glue that holds the group together.

Support characters are not designed to be the center of attention. Instead, they prefer to work behind the scenes, using their abilities to benefit the whole party.

This doesn’t mean that support characters are always self-effacing or shy, however. Many are quite outgoing and have no problem taking charge when necessary.

However, their primary focus is on helping others.

While all characters can provide some support, there are certain classes and builds that are particularly well-suited to the role.

Clerics, for example, have a wide variety of healing and protective spells at their disposal.

Paladins are another popular choice for support characters—thanks, in part, to their powerful defensive abilities.

Bards also make excellent support characters.

They use their magic to buff their allies and debuff their enemies.

Whatever class you choose, remember that the key to playing a successful support character is to never lose sight of the team’s goal.

Whether you’re healing wounds or laying down fire support, always keep in mind how your actions will benefit the group as a whole.

What Is a Companion Level Character in D&D?

In Dungeons and Dragons, a companion level character is usually a non-player character (NPC) who accompanies the player characters (PCs) on their adventures.

Companion-level characters can be:

  • Hired mercenaries
  • Faithful followers
  • Pets
  • Magical familiars
  • Captured monsters

They can be helpful in combat, offering an extra set of hands or claws, and can also perform useful tasks outside of combat such as scouting ahead or carrying loot.

While they are normally not as powerful as the PCs, they can still be a valuable asset to any party.

What Is a Horror Character in D&D?

A horror character in D&D is a type of character that often has dark or evil-aligned goals.

They may be motivated by revenge, power, or other dark desires.

Horror characters often have a macabre or gruesome appearance, and they may use fear and violence to achieve their goals. In some cases, horror characters may even be undead or have supernatural powers.

You could also call them the “baddie characters” of D&D.

While they can be found in any campaign setting, horror characters are most commonly found in Ravenloft or similar dark fantasy settings.

What Is a Homebrew Character in D&D?

A homebrew character in D&D is a character that has been created by a player, rather than by the game’s designers.

This can be done by using existing rules to create a new character or by making up entirely new rules.

One of the most appealing things about homebrew characters is that they can be designed to fit any play style.

You can create a powerful, 13-foot wizard named Harry who rains devastation down on your foes, or a nimble, hook-armed pirate thief who can steal anything she lays her hands on.

You can also bring in characters from other universes, like Spider-Man or the Smurfs.

What Is a D&D Character Sheet?

A D&D character sheet is a document that contains all of the information about a character in the game.

This document provides essential information about your character, including their race, class, stats, and equipment. It also includes space for you to keep track of your character’s progress, such as their level and XP.

The character sheet is also where you’ll find your hit points and spell slots.

A typical character sheet is divided into several sections.

The first section is usually devoted to the character’s basic statistics, such as their ability scores, race, and class. The second section often contains information on the character’s equipment and inventory. The third section may contain notes on the character’s background and personality.

Here is an excellent (and funny) video about D&D character sheets:

YouTube video by JoCat—What Is a D&D Character?

Final Thoughts: What Is a D&D Character?

The long and short of it is that a D&D character is your portal into gameplay.

Just like a character in a video game, a D&D character is the imaginary person through which you experience the adventure.

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Sources

Wizards of the Coast
D&D Players Handbook