So, you’ve finally decided to join the team and dive right into some Dungeons & Dragons, eh? You bought your Player’s Handbook, some dice (and then some more dice…) and have a blank character sheet sitting in front of you. It all looks so…complicated. Well, this is why I’m writing this guide.
The character creation process shouldn’t be rocket science and frankly, it isn’t once you know what you’re looking at. We’re going to take a closer look at each element of the character sheet and explain what information goes there and why it’s important.
Most D&D 5e character sheets have 2 pages, but if you’re playing a spellcaster, you’ll have a third sheet for your spells. This is what the first page of the character sheet looks like:
For this tutorial, we’ll start at the top and then move left to right by column. At the top of the page you have a banner to write your character’s name. The box to the left is where you write your character’s class, race, chosen background, alignment, your name (as the player), and how much experience you’ve earned.
The first column on the left has six identical boxes labeled Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These are your Ability Scores. They influence pretty much everything else on the page dealing with game mechanics, but we’ll talk about those in a later guide. You can write your base scores in the big square field or the small circle below it. I prefer to write my score modifiers in the big squares so it’s easier to read.
The next column starts with a box labeled “Inspiration.” This is a simple checkbox for when your DM decides that you have done something in the game that truly was awesome and chooses to award you with Inspiration or when your bard decides to stop running their mouth and give you a little boost to your next dice roll.
The next box is for your Proficiency Bonus. This is a number you add to ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls if you have proficiency in the ability or weapon. This number goes up as you level.
The next box is your saving throws scores. When you have to determine if you survive or dodge an effect in-game, you use these numbers to add to your rolls. You simply write your Ability modifiers here. The bubbles to the left are to be filled in if you have Proficiency in those saving throws. You add your Proficiency modifier to the Ability modifier for the value of the saving throw.
The large box directly beneath are your skills. You use your Ability modifiers to fill in the spaces next to each skill. The parentheses to the right tell you which Ability Score the skill is based on. Fill in the bubbles for Proficiency as you did with saving throws. Your race, class and background also have modifiers that you add to these.
The next little box is your passive Perception. This is a score your DM uses to determine how aware your character is of their surroundings without using a roll. It’s calculated by adding your Wisdom modifier + 10. 5 is also added if your character has advantage on Wisdom checks. 5 is subtracted if they have disadvantage.
The bottom box is for your tool, kit and instrument proficiencies and your known languages. These are usually determined by your race, class and background.
The second column starts with your Armor Class (AC), Initiative, and Speed. AC is determined by adding your Dexterity modifier + 10 + the bonus from any armor your character is wearing. Your initiative score is your Dexterity modifier added to any initiative roll. Your speed is determined by your race.
The next two boxes deal with your Hit Points (HP). Your HP is determined by your class and your Constitution modifier. The box for temporary HP is for keeping track of HP given to your character by spells and item effects.
The next two boxes are your Hit Dice and your death saving throw tracker. Hit Dice are used to heal HP during short rests and are determined by your class. Death saves are rolls you make when you have been reduced to 0 HP. Roll under a 10 on a d20 three times and your character is toast…until the cleric resurrects you, of course.
The next box is for keeping track of your weapons and attack spells. Here, you write in what weapon or spell you’re using, the die roll to determine its damage value and type and its To Hit modifier. This is added to your attack roll to determine if you hit or not. If you’re proficient with the weapon, you add your Proficiency modifier to the To Hit value.
Finally, the last box is where you keep track of your current equipment and your currency totals. List your current armor, any special magical items you’re attuned to and other trinkets you keep actively on your character. The currency boxes to the left help you keep track of your money. The order of value is platinum, gold, electrum, silver and copper.
The third column starts with four boxes for Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws. These are determined by your class and background or you can make your own up. Use these as guidelines for role-playing your character.
The last big box is your Features and Traits box. Here, write down all the features your character takes on from their race, class and background. You also write in which Feats you’ve taken once you hit Level 4 and can choose one.
Now, onto page two. It’s much less complicated. Here, you keep track of many things that pertain to your character’s social status, history and wealth.
If you’re an artist or have some art you want to use for your character’s appearance, put it in the top left box. It’s a good way to offer your other players an idea as to what your character looks like. The box below is for writing your character’s backstory. For those who are a bit more…detailed about their character’s backstory, attach a piece of paper to this sheet with your backstory on it.
The top right box is for writing down your character’s affiliations with certain groups and factions within the world you’re playing in. You can also keep track of important allies your character has made over the course of the campaign.
The next box is for writing in more traits and features you earn over time. You won’t have enough room in the box on the first page for everything you get during a campaign. Attach another sheet if you need a more detailed description of your traits and features.
The bottom box is for the all-important treasure you acquire over the course of your game. Hopefully, you’ll need another sheet of paper for this too.
The final sheet is for spellcasters only. Here’s what the spell sheet looks like:
At the top, write in what kind of spellcasting class you are. For wizards especially, it’s good to write in what school of magic you chose. The three boxes to the right are for your Spellcasting Ability, Spell Save DC, and your Spell Attack Bonus.
Your Spellcasting Ability Score is determined by which class you chose. It’ll be either your Wisdom, Intelligence, or Charisma modifier. Your Spell Save DC is what your targets must beat to resist the effects of your spell. It equals 8 + your Spellcasting modifier + your Proficiency modifier + any other modifiers accrued with magic items, features, etc. Your Spell Attack Bonus is your Spellcasting modifier + your Proficiency modifier.
The rest of the sheet consists of spaces used to write your individual spells under their respective levels. Each spell level has a certain number of spell slots (which we’ll cover another time) and using a spell under each level costs a spell slot. The banner for each level shows the spell level, the total number of slots available at that level, and a space for keeping track of how many slots you’ve used.
Under the banner, you write your individual spells down. To the left are little bubbles you fill in to denote which spells you’ve prepared for the day. Each class has a different number of spells they can prepare based on the character’s level.
So, there you have it. Now you know what everything on the D&D 5e character sheet means. Over the course of this series, we’ll dive deeper into each of these elements and explain how they all work. Until then, may the dice fall in your favor!