What D&D can teach you about character building

I have been playing Dungeons & Dungeons (D&D) for about two years now – not that long compared to some players, but long enough to know the ins and outs (and get the jokes).

I love it. I love spending hours in a character’s head, deeply engaged in strategy and gameplay. I love the camaraderie and the banter. A campaign can take hours, but it’s so much fun, you hardly even notice the sky outside change colour.

Before each new campaign, players have to select a character and fill out their character sheet. Those characters become the campaign party that plays out the game set out by the dungeon master (DM).

Decisions and outcomes of battles are made through the medium of dice, but ultimately, it’s the DM who has the final say.

I have created my own campaign, which I look forward to testing out on my group, but for the purpose of this blog, I want to talk about character building.

There is a lot that writers can learn about character building from D&D and adapt to their own character sketches.

Personally, I prefer not to start a new book until I have a fairly good idea of who my characters are. I keep notebooks full of information, including their appearance, likes, dislikes, worldviews, etc. The D&D character sheet is a perfect cheat sheet to adapt for this purpose.

D&D

Basic information

On top of the character sheet, you will see entries for name, class, level, race, background, experience points and alignment. If you’re not writing an epic fantasy about a wood elf, simply swop these out for contemporary fields like age, personality type, rank at school, etc. I think the alignment field is the perfect fit for young adults. (Chaotic evil – yass!)

Stats

The stats column on the left-hand side is a fun way to determine how your character’s mind works. Fill out the figures to assign intelligence, strength, wisdom, charisma, etc. This works especially well for books with multiple characters, as it can help you frame their interactions with each other.

Proficiencies and languages

What is your character good at? What languages do they speak? You can even add their hobbies, after-school activities, favourite foods and shows to help you create a well-rounded human being (or vampire if that’s your genre).

Armor class and hit points

The middle column on the character sheet helps players calculate attack and damage scores in-game, so unless you’re writing about a Viking horde or a friendly neighbourhood superhero, I wouldn’t worry too much about these fields. But if they do apply to your story – great!

Equipment

Here you can note down anything your character tends to carry with them. So while your protagonist might not carry a longbow at all times, they might have a backpack, handbag, lucky pen, or even a utility knife.

You can also use this slot to describe their home, their room, the type of clothes they like to wear. This sort of detail translates super well when building your character on the page.

Personality traits

What type of person are they? Brave, always up for a fight, argumentative, easily-spooked, easily embarrassed? A character’s personality determines how they engage with other characters and influences their decisions. By knowing your character’s mind, you will know how they react, feel, and ultimately change.

Ideals, bonds and flaws

What does your character really care about? What are they passionate about? Who or what are they fiercely protective of? What is it they want and what is the one flaw that stands in their way of achieving it?

Features and traits

Here is where you can go into detail about their appearance and mannerisms. Every YA character ever written has bitten their lip or rolled their eyes at least once. Here is your opportunity to list the distinct ways your character reacts to things. How do they speak? Loud, rushed, in a whisper? How tall are they in relation to their friends? Every detail contributes to the bigger picture.

Background

Every character has a backstory. Where did their family originate from? What tragedy happened in the past that changed their circumstances? Who are their parents, friends, teachers? Where do they go to school? What is happening in their world that frames their day-to-day life? Not every detail will make it into your book, but it helps you get to know your character and understand their world better. Knowing every aspect of your character’s world makes mapping it out for your reader so much easier.

Levelling up

In D&D, when your character gains a level, they unlock new abilities and achievements. While the same might not be true in your contemporary young adult novel, your character will have at least undergone some sort of change by the end of it. What did they learn? How did they grow? What fundamental part of their personality changed between the first and last page?

The D&D character sheet is designed to help players put together a well-rounded character quickly, but it can be a wonderful tool for writers too. There is so much information you can include on this single piece of paper!

You can download your free D&D character sheet here. Try it!

dice and pizza

Sadly, this blog was not sponsored by Pizza Hut.

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