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I DM for some players who aren’t that into the game. My question is this: can I somehow make Character creation less writing heavy, and quicker and simpler for my beginning players? Each player has had to make at least three different characters, due to a new game being started or character deaths. They are getting kind of sick of it. I want to make it more enjoyable, short of making FastCharacters.

Any advice?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 13 at 0:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How to make character creation quick, interactive, and fun?, Simplified character creation for D&D 5e, How can I help my players to create their characters?. (If any of these answer your question for you, do please let us know) \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 13 at 1:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is D&D5e character creation considered particularly difficult? I could put a character together in 15 minutes, as opposed to how long it would have taken in 3.5 or mutants and masterminds. How long is it currently taking your players and why? Because that is a huge part of what the correct answer would be. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Mar 13 at 9:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you already using the "quick creation guidelines" that come with each class? Does it need to be even simpler? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Mar 13 at 10:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ You mention writing as a problem. Are you talking about backstory? \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae Mar 16 at 2:49

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One option I have tried with success is to leave as many choices as possible out of initial character creation, only making them when they become relevant in the game. This gets you into the action much quicker, the delay of which is likely a major reason your players are sick of character creation.

For example, I never ask players to decide in advance what bonus languages their characters speak. Instead, when they encounter a language for the first time, I ask if anyone with a free language choice speaks it, and to tell us where and how they learned it. This gives them a chance to pick something that’s definitely plot relevant, and also helps them contextualise what speaking that language means, since they’re encountering it as part of the story.

This technique can also be extended to starting skill proficiencies (“you’ll need to roll a Perception check - is that something you think your character is particularly good at?”), choice of primary weapon (“it’s your turn to attack - what weapon do you pull out of your pack?”), and spells (“on your turn, you can cast a spell if you want - which one do you know?”), so long as you’re okay with pausing the game to explain and assist with these choices at the time.

I recommend prepping a shortlist of good options with brief descriptions, drawn from the choices available during character creation, rather than giving them the full list of options from the books; you can revisit and change afterwards if they’re not happy. It also works best if you choose one thing at a time - i.e. let them choose and cast just that first spell, then when it’s time to cast again, see if they want to choose another different one.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is so obvious now that you mention it, and yet I have never thought of it—brilliant! Definitely stealing this for the next time I’m introducing a group to the game. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 13 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ That sounds really nice. Coming from a programming context this sounds a lot like a lazy implementation. I think I'll be calling it lazy character creation 😂 \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Mar 13 at 16:59
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I’m going to focus not on how to create characters more quickly, but rather on how to avoid having to do so often.

Reduce the lethality of the game

D&D characters shouldn’t die that often; character death is supposed to be a fairly-rare occurrence. If characters are dying a lot, try to ease up on the difficulty. This is certainly easier to do if you are familiar with the game and its math, but even if you are not, fudging a few dice rolls, knocking some points off of damage and/or hp, can help. Leave out some of the minions, perhaps.

Buff player-character hit points

Particularly at 1st level, characters get very limited hp, and can easily die to one or two unlucky blows—the kind of thing that can all-too-easily happen too fast for them to get a turn to do something about it. Padding out their hp some can make them more likely to survive long enough to consider retreat.

The question then becomes, how much? I would say that you probably want some static number, not a level-scaling one—the idea here is to take some of the swinginess out of 1st level, not really to pump hp across the board. Instead of their 1st-level hp being just as if they had all rolled the maximum number on their hit dice (e.g. 12 for barbarian, 10 for fighter, 8 for cleric, etc.), make it that number plus actually rolling that hit die (or, better, taking the average), so barbarians start with 12+1d12+Con (or 12+7+Con) instead of just 12+Con, and so on. This gives them something approaching 2nd-level hp at 1st level, but as they gain levels the extra 4, 5, 6, or 7 hp will get washed out by the hp increases they gain.

But if 2nd-level hp sounds good...

Counter-intuitively, consider starting at a slightly-higher level

Higher levels present more to read and learn, and more choices to make. On the other hand, as discussed above, 1st-level characters are really prone to sudden and random death. You could fudge things to pump their hp, but really there’s more that 2nd-level characters have than just some more hp. Making a true higher-level character might take more work, but it should also make the character considerably more durable. And you don’t have to worry about whether or not your health buff is going to mess up other aspects of the game.

For this purpose, I usually recommend, and personally use, 3rd level, rather than 2nd. But for players really leery of getting into characters, though, 2nd probably makes more sense—not only does that simply less stuff, it also means that at least a few classes don’t have subclasses to pick (read: major decisions to make) yet, and spellcasters are still restricted to 1st-level spells (so they don’t have to consider another list).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! The death rate is not that high, though it may have seemed so in my question. I ran a short game from levels 1-4, and then started a new game with different characters, and somewhere in there, characters have died \$\endgroup\$ – TheDragonOfFlame Mar 13 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LaecLorentzen It might just be a short-term effect from starting over like that, but really, I tend to find that especially players who aren’t that into the game, who don’t want to create characters, really prefer a low-lethality game, so these suggestions could still be useful. I’m only in one game at the moment, and we all optimize our characters pretty well, but we’re all level 13 and no one’s died. Come really close a few times, and there was one death in a magic arena that prevented actual death, but no one had to remake a character—though several have for fun. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 13 at 2:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the recommendations to get them off of 1st level. That might be the hardest level to DM for due to how fragile characters are. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Mar 13 at 13:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan One thing you can do as GM is to just say a character is lethally wounded, but not dead. With prompt treatment after the game, they can survive. Does it break the rules? Yeah, but if all your players enjoy it more that way, it's good to do it. Character death is only exciting if for your players, a dead character is an important story element, not a failed dice roll. \$\endgroup\$ – MechMK1 Mar 13 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since you propose buffing the hp, what about making them start with lvl2 or lvl3 hp. And not upgrading hp until that lvl \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 13 at 15:21
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Make pregenerated characters yourself

This is a technicque that I use when playing one-shots, or when players want to have a quick start (just come, sit and play) or when introducing players to a new game and players haven't the time to read the rules: I write a handful of characters and give it to them to select. It also has the benefit that you can add some background history for them that fits your campaign (so if you are making a pirates themed campaign then you do some of the character to be the lost son of some pirate NPC). You can also take into account your players preferences (so if a player wants to play a paladin then make one of the pre generated characters to be a paladin).

Alternatively, look for pregenerated characters in online resources.


Old memories momment: I remember to have several pregenerated characters in a folder in the old days of AD&D. When a few friends came to my house I just had to say "Let's explore Undermountain!" and give them the characters' sheets. They pick one and we were ready to enter the dungeon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I prefer to have my players make their own characters, and not use pregens. \$\endgroup\$ – TheDragonOfFlame Mar 15 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LaecLorentzen Why? \$\endgroup\$ – Logan Pickup Mar 16 at 7:11
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For me its all about limiting the number of choices that have to be made.

I've found Standard Array makes stat generation a lot easier. Its super quick because there are simply far less decisions to make. Also, since its not random at all, nobody has to worry that they got permanently screwed over by a bad dice roll.

Similarly, setting reasonable limits on things like alignment (I have a no evil rule), classes (eg: no homebrew or UA), and not allowing optional character creation rules like feats. Anything you can reasonably do to reduce the number of decisions that have to be made.

Now this all being said, I've frankly never heard of having multiple pregenerated characters at a time. If you've got newbie players...yeah don't bother with that. Perhaps ask for 2 backup character concepts, but frankly they are much more likely to come up with character concepts they'd like to play after they've played a few sessions, so its probably silly to ask for those up-front.

An easier step for everyone would just be to tone down the danger in their low-level encounters. If a level 1 party wipes, likely their attackers should have been simply trying to knock them out (because really, how much of a threat are level 1 charaters?) They should come to an hour later without their gold and with lewd things written in goblin on their foreheads or something.

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A summary answer.

Make Build Time character decisions later, during play

Decision fatigue and scale of effort can be blunted by spreading the work out. Skills, spells, and many other troublesome details can be filled in at the table in the moment they are first needed.

Per the answer here https://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/166316/21719

Use online tools to streamline the process

Character generating tools are abundant on the internet, and often make the process much easier and for those with limited rules mastery more fun. Find and share some with your players.

Per the answer here https://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/166323/21719

Make pregenerated characters yourself

If you happen to find the process of character creation recreational yourself (as myself and many others do) you can enjoy that and allow your players to enjoy the fruits of it. If not you can practice some google foo to track down example characters that others, including the game developers, have made for you.

Per the answer here https://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/166325/21719

Reduce the amount of character creation

Total burden of character creation is effort per creation times number of creations. By reducing the number of times someone goes through the process you can reduce the total burden. Many techniques, like reduced lethality and higher starting level, can address this.

Per the answer here https://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/166308/21719

Side Note: I checked the status of summary answers here before posting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great summary, thanks Suni! \$\endgroup\$ – Guybrush McKenzie Mar 14 at 21:32
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Use the quick build in the PHB for starters

It allows you to stand up a character from any of the classes in very little time. The player(s) can pick or roll randomly for background traits, ideals, bonds, flows. Point buy, roll, or standard array: whatever your table prefers. That part hardly takes any time.

I DM for some players who aren’t that into the game.

Using the quick build provides for a significant time saver, particularly spell selection for spell casters, and does not require investment in a new character. That can come later if the player begins to like the character during subsequent sessions/adventures.

Pregens: while others have already said this, I'll repeat it.

A real time saver is to use the free pregens from the WoTC web site. The player can pick one and run with it. The player will either like it, or not, over subsequent play sessions. But the chargen is already done.

Allow retcons at subsequent sessions/2d level as needed.

Some skill and language proficiencies may seem good at first but during play turn out to not enchant the player. Allow an adjustment, and where it feels right, discuss with the player whatever narrative justification makes sense to you both. Work together.

Allow complete rebuilds up to level 4 or 5.

Adventurers League provision for rebuilding is a very good idea for people who just want to play. You say your players are "not that into the game." OK, the PC is more "a playing piece" than "a character with depth" as they start out. The player will either, through play, become attached to the character (more or less emergent character development like we did in Old Days D&D) or they'll want to change. This method allows for that.

This answer is informed by DMing for a variety of editions, and applying what I learned to this edition for char creation for a group of friends whose interest in backstory and char depth varies widely. (Our wizard is mostly "patience my eye, I wanna kill somethng" while the bard in our original game had a backstory that had significant links to in world adventures that we had subsequently). It is also informed by learning from the various DMs I have played with (as a player) in this edition.

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If your players get bored in a group character creation session, you can create characters with your players separately, instead of in a group.

That's not to say you prevent them from organising a balanced party - by all means let them! - but there's no need for everyone to wait around while the wizard painstakingly weighs up Unseen Servant against Mage Hand and curses the layout of the PHB.

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I'm not certain about the future development and plans of your starting players - but wouldn't it be much easier for them - at least for the first game when you lay down a set of prototype characters that would form a "working" group (providing a good variety of character traits - a fighter, a rogue-type, a magic user "offense", a magic user "defense and healing" , some more useful characters ) where your players literally only have a say in "which" character, their respective name and sex - to simplify the process of getting started - and use some of the saved time to explain the much streamlined process that would involve heavy dice throwing and careful trait selection.

Most of my experience is from computer role playing - but here many games offer a working "start party" with a good selection of characters that offer mostly multiple choices for the oncoming tasks (a thief / rogue to unlock chests , lay and disarm traps, fighters break secret walls and keep enemy at bay , magic users for offense and healing and so on). The thought behind is that many players want to dive right in, before going through with character creation.

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Twin Brother/Sister of the dead character. They know all about the dead sibling's adventures from letters, and have the exact same stats, since twins. Takes almost 0 time to get up-to-speed. Re-use the same character sheet.

This isn't good for all-the-time use. Often the player takes a death as a chance to play a different character. But when the old character had lots of potential, fit really well into the group, and the death was a real freak accident, it doesn't feel as cheesy as it sounds. As a bonus, the twin can have an opposite personality in some ways, and a hidden agenda to find out which of these idiots got their sibling killed.

I suppose you could also have someone from the same Academy or whatnot. They recruit similar students and train them the same way.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Taking a page from Paranoia? \$\endgroup\$ – EvilSnack Mar 14 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ We've played that, but knowing you have clones ins't the same. In a normal game, right at the death it can be a rare "hmmm...no one wants a change. Maybe a Twin?" \$\endgroup\$ – Owen Reynolds Mar 14 at 15:32
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Use D&D Beyond's Quick Build

D&D Beyond has a quick build function that uses the recommended class options, all you have to enter is the race, class, and pick a name. It took me 15 seconds to make a character, I'm sure it would be even faster if you already had an idea of race/class/name.

Here is the link: https://www.dndbeyond.com/characters/builder#/ (select the middle option, Quick Build)

For comparison, I made the same character using the standard builder and it took 2 minutes. I wasn't clicking particularly fast, and I had to stop and think about expertise and proficiency and I read through a few backgrounds too.

Alternately, don't require 3 characters to be premade, or reduce the lethality of the campaign.

A common mistake that many DMs make is thinking that combat is the only challenge in the game, increasing lethality of combat is the only way to make combat harder, and that dying is the only way to punish failure.

It may be useful to challenge these ideas, and consider including more non-combat encounters, making combat harder without making it more lethal, and punishing failure by other means.

I'm not sure that it's useful to go into all this here, but if you open another more specific question then many others, and I, will elaborate.

One character, 3 lives

This problem was solved in old games by simply having 3 lives. When your character dies, they are revived with full hp and lose a life, when they lose all 3 lives they are dead for good. No matter your character generation scheme, this will reduce the time needed by 66%. There are all kinds of ways you can fluff this.

I, and I'm sure many others, used to play this way a long time ago, the dungeon was more of an obstacle course set up by the DM. While I think this is a quite archaic solution and not great considering we have a much better understanding of how games function today, it worked fine back then, and it can work for you too.

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You can set the ability scores at the mid-point between the minimum and maximum for the race and class. Round fractions up.

For initial HP: Roll the HP dice for the level at which the character is starting. Add the maximum possible for that same roll. Divide by two.

Have standard starting gear (with some options for weapon preferences) starting spells, languages, and skills for each combination of race and class that you allow.

The result should be a viable character, as long as you aren't putting them into situations appropriate for a higher level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried this yourself? How much have you found it sped up character creation? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 15 at 1:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly all this math seems like it would slow character creation down \$\endgroup\$ – TheDragonOfFlame Mar 15 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ You only need to do the math the first time for each class/race (and most combinations will be re-used), except for the HP roll. \$\endgroup\$ – EvilSnack Mar 15 at 17:28
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Use the "random character" option in DnD Beyond.

DnD Beyond has an option to create an entirely random character. Random race, random class, randomly assigned ability scores, randomly assigned class abilities, randomly selected spells, all available at the press of a button. It doesn't get much simpler than that!

Of course, the resulting characters tend to be rather suboptimal; while you might get the occasional character that's capable of filling their role, you're just as likely to get one like a level 17 Wizard with 10 Int whose only combat spell is Melf's Acid Arrow.

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