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A few friends of mine are interested in RPGs after hearing me talk about them, so I've offered to run a single-session game for them. These people are entirely new to TTRPGs (although one has done LARP before) and are familiar with LOTR-style fantasy settings, so I asked if they wanted me to make characters for them or if they wanted to make characters themselves, and they all said they'd like to make them themselves. That said, I don't want to overwhelm them with the (roughly) 160 pages on character creation in the PHB.
Are there any simplified methods for creating a character?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The PHB does offer "quick build" suggestions for each class. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Aug 2 '15 at 16:38
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The simplified versions of character creation are:

  1. player uses a pre-generated character--either from "out there" or that you've built,

  2. someone builds the player's character for him or her, or

  3. player builds side-by-side with experienced person.

Your players have ruled out number 1, but I don't think there's anything disingenuous abut presenting both options 2 & 3 as "player creation" options. It's just a matter of who's holding the pencil, doing all the little maths, and making decisions when the player doesn't yet have a preference.

During the last few months I've had seven or eight opportunities--some in my own campaign, some in Adventurers' League--to walk new and new-ish players through character creation. With some I've just had the discussion, absent any rulebooks, of what the possibilities are and what they might like to play. With others it's been sitting and flipping PHB pages with them, line-iteming the character sheet. In the first instance I'd estimate about a five-minute conversation followed by 10min. busywork; the second instance I find it likely to run a good half-hour. (It did on Wednesday, even with a guy who'd been playing for a few months and I was helping make his second character.)

Remember, the list of decisions to make isn't just race/class/background: it's:

  1. Name (people find this one of the hardest)

  2. Race, perhaps sub-race

  3. Class

  4. Ability score disbursement (go back and find those racial modifiers, too)

  5. Choose some skill proficiencies, languages

  6. Starting equipment: weapon, armor, perhaps another weapon, which pack to take, sometimes a fifth bullet-point which is mostly flavor and thus is second to "Name" in how much time it'll take

  7. Archetype (Domain/Oath/School/Tradition/Circle/&c.)

  8. Background--and now I've picked up different skill proficiencies and perhaps a language slot, so perhaps need to change original choices. I've also picked up different equipment, so perhaps need to change those original choices.

  9. Let's fill in the weapon attack table

  10. Magic: If you've got a spellcaster, "choose four from this list of twenty--they're all in the following eighty pages."

And there are many more pair-interactions than just the Background ones I explicitly pointed out!

So I'd say you should talk to these players about at what level of detail they want to be involved in character creation. If it's acceptable to have a five minute conversation with each, you spend a day filling out some character sheets, then another five-minute conversation discussing how you implemented their intent that'll speed things along a lot. You go away with notes on their interests, send them away with the basic rules pdf. Those what come back knowing all the rules--encourage them to re-tool their characters on their own time. And be ready to make small in-game tweaks to characters in recognition of the fact that it was you that wrote up the character rather than the player.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I ended up taking option 3 with all four players. They were all happy with it and felt completely involved in creating their characters. The only thing to add is that with each of them, it took between half an hour and 90 minutes to get everything on the sheets filled in - which was fine. \$\endgroup\$ – RichardJ Feb 4 '16 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RichardJ I'm glad it worked and thank you for the feedback. (I tend to think that people who think character creation's easy (a) are right, and (b) are completely forgetting what it's like to look at one of these books for the first time.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 4 '16 at 19:17
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There are really only four pages (11-15) of character creation rules that matter.

Everything else comes down to the choices you have for Race / Class / Background. You can't really simplify that without taking away choices from the players.

That said, the PHB does a very good job of putting enough information at the front of each section to let players skip reading it if it doesn't appeal to them. The first paragraph (after the flavour text) for each Race is a summary of what the race is about. The first page of the Classes chapter has a table explaining what each class is good at and what attributes are important for it.

Large chunks of each class section can be ignored entirely (because they only matter once you start gaining levels) and each class has a quick build section which players can use to avoid having to read through the options for the class if they want to.

If you really want to simply things then you either have to make choices for the players or limit the choices they have. One way to do the latter is to use the Basic Rules instead of the PHB.

That said, I'd use the full PHB version and help the players through it. The page count is intimidating, but the content is well presented so it isn't the problem it seems to be.

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A similar question arose a while back addressing how to help players not focus on the rules.

In an answer entitled "Shock Treatment" an expert (@ExTSR) provided a stripped down, action packed introduction to D&D style adventure template.

It works.

How do I know that this works?

  1. Even though I'd never seen that idea before, what exTSR described in 2011 is almost exactly how I introduced the game (1e D&D) to my kids when they were 10 and 7 years old ... in 1999.
  2. It's almost exactly how I got four of my Navy friends, and their wives, to join me once a week for D&D in the mid-1980's. (That game lasted just under two years, as we all got orders elsewhere).

In summary, paraphrased from the original ("rules based player" issue edited out for brevity) ...

  • Each player chooses a class, race, and name.
  • DM provides stats.
  • DM provides "all standard equipment" to include armor and weapons.
    • (my note: The D&D 5e Quick Build is good tool for this, simplified choices)
  • Give them 5-10 gp
  • Provide spells for spell casters (my note this saves a LOT of time).

  • Provide max HP.

  • All info fits on a 3x5 card, one side.

  • Run an adventure.

(Quoted from exTSR'spost).

Run a typical dungeon crawl, with evocative descriptions and fast combats. If possible use figures but no squares, and readjust the figures during combats (primarily to help visualize) to show how to move liberally, less rigidly [...] Make decisions quickly, and err in favor of the party.
Best of all, this whole process isn't just educational, it's wild & crazy & FUN.

My added caveats:

  1. Ensure that on each PC's 3"x5" card, the dice used for attacks, damages, checks, and saves are clearly identified. (d4, d6 etc). You can call them out during play, of course, but having those on the cards help some people get familiar with "weird shaped dice."

    The tools D&D 5e provide makes this easier. The combat is lean enough (particularly at low levels).

  2. On choosing skills and class archetypes:

    Decide which classes and archetypes you want to do this with, and only offer those to your new players. If they like the game, then broadening the choices is part of the fun in subsequent sessions, or in a campaign if they are up for that.

  3. So they want to make their own characters from the get go?

    They can choose a character class, and they can roll (4d6drop 1, choose where each ability goes) or point buy, but the above remains as the best way to get into playing.

The character creation can add a lot of time to the to the initial session.

  • If you have some premade 3x5 cards for each class and each archetype, then they just fill in the blanks for abilities and off you go.
  • You can "retcon" as necessary after the first session if some players want to adjust or tailor the PC ... or if someone wants to change class.
  • If you have time before the first session, you can do a lot of character creation via email. It's easier with point buy, but you can leave scores blank and roll as a last step when the first session starts.

Then get that adventure started!

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  1. There's a free web-based character generator for Basic Rules characters, which builds on character generators for other game systems such as 3.5 and Pathfinder. The author's original version for 5e/Next was more comprehensive, but he was asked by Wizards of the Coast to remove many capabilities; you can see the controls for those features have ben grayed out. Ain't nuthin' simpler than this.
  2. Once you transcend what that can do, then there are autocalculating character sheets, some of which are spreadsheet based, such as this web-based Google Sheet you can access from your smartphone, once copied to your Google Drive and modified as you see fit. Like the first suggestion, the Google Sheet lets a player fine-tune their character without spending a lot of time in study and calculation.
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