D&D 5e Alternative Character Creation

This document provides an alternative to the character creation process found in the Player’s Handbook (PHB) for Dungeons and Dragons, 5th Edition. The rules found here are directly inspired by Pathfinder, 2nd Edition as I personally feel like it provides players with more agency in creating their unique characters while still preserving some pre-made choices depending on the character’s race/ancestry and class. 

An ability boost or free boost listed below is +2 bonus to your base ability score. All six ability scores begin at 10 — there’s no need to use the PHB’s standard array or to roll for your ability scores (if you would still like to roll for your ability scores, check out the “Final Thoughts” section at the end of this document). A free boost cannot be used on an ability score that already received a boost during that step. For example, because an Elf gets a boost to their Dexterity and Wisdom, the free boost from its ancestry must be in an ability other than those two. 

However, when choosing a class, you can apply your free boost to an ability score that received a boost from your ancestry as long as it also didn’t receive a boost from its class. For example, your Elf is a Ranger, which gives them a boost to their Dexterity. So their free boost during the Class step can be used to boost their Wisdom score, but not their Dexterity.


STEP 1 – CHOOSE AN ANCESTRY

When you choose an ancestry for your character, instead of the ability bonuses found in the PHB (or other supplements with playable races) use the boosts found below. All other racial traits, like a Dragonborn’s Breath Weapon, are all still used. 

Dragonborn: Strength, Charisma, Free

Dwarf: Constitution, Wisdom, Free

Elf: Dexterity, Wisdom, Free

Gnome: Intelligence, Dexterity, Free

Half-Elf: Wisdom, Free, Free

Halfling: Dexterity, Charisma, Free

Half-Orc: Strength, Constitution, Free

Human: Free, Free, Free

Tiefling: Charisma, Intelligence, Free

Aaraokra: Dexterity, Wisdom, Free

Genasi: Constitution, [Subclass], Free

Goliath: Strength, Constitution, Free

Tortle: Strength, Wisdom, Free

Changeling: Charisma, Free, Free

Kalashtar: Wisdom, Charisma, Free

Warforged: Constitution, Free, Free

Gith: Intelligence, [Subclass], Free

OPTIONAL: ABILITY FLAWS

Do you miss having a negative stat like the one provided by the standard array? Why not take an ability flaw? An ability flaw is an optional -2 to a single ability score. In return, you get two half-boosts (+1) that you have to use on two separate abilities. On the plus side, you get to use those half-boosts on abilities that have already received a boost this step. So if you’re playing a tiefling that opts in to a Strength ability flaw you can use your two half-boosts on Charisma and Intelligence, even though they already received a boost! 

STEP 2 – CHOOSE YOUR CLASS

When you choose your class, you also gain some ability boosts: one specifically representing training in your chosen profession and another free boost.

Artificer: Intelligence or Dexterity, Free

Barbarian: Strength or Constitution, Free

Bard: Charisma or Dexterity, Free

Cleric: Wisdom or Constitution, Free

Druid: Wisdom or Dexterity, Free

Fighter: Strength or Dexterity, Free

Monk: Dexterity or Wisdom, Free

Paladin: Strength or Charisma, Free

Ranger: Dexterity or Wisdom, Free

Rogue: Dexterity or Intelligence, Free

Sorcerer: Charisma or Constitution, Free

Warlock: Charisma or Wisdom, Free

Wizard: Intelligence or Wisdom, Free


STEP 3 – CHOOSE A BACKGROUND

Backgrounds, rules as written, don’t provide much mechanical benefit to your character besides some flavor, some equipment you might not ever use, and a small ability that might never come into play. While all of those things are still present, to make your character’s background become more representative of their upbringing, each background provides two ability boosts: one representing the skill you developed while living your life and another free boost. 

Backgrounds in D&D 5e are numerous and come from varied sources. This document will provide some examples from the Basic Rules, but players and DMs should work together to pick the best ability boost representative of your background if you choose one from a different source. A good template to use is a background provides one boost that is a choice between two abilities and one free boost. 

Acolyte: Wisdom or Intelligence, Free

Criminal/Spy: Dexterity, Free

Folk Hero: Charisma or Wisdom, Free

Noble: Intelligence or Charisma, Free

Sage: Intelligence, Free

Soldier: Strength or Dexterity, Free

STEP 4 – FINAL FREE BOOSTS

To further represent the specialized training it takes to become the adventurer your player character is, you get four more free boosts. The only restrictions on these boosts is that they cannot be used on the same ability score and that none of your ability scores should be over 18. 

VARIANT: TOO STRONG FOR YOUR TABLE?

As written, this system ends with an ability score total of 82 versus a potential total of 75 from the standard array and racial bonuses. If you’d like to bring your totals closer to that 75 number, make the four (4) free boosts from this step half-boosts that only provide a +1 bonus to an ability score. This brings your total to 78, a touch higher than RAW, but maybe more palatable for the discerning DM.

With this optional change, consider removing the restriction on using a half-boost on the same ability score. 

EXAMPLE

Avery is building his first D&D character using these alternative rules, so he writes down six 10s to represent the six ability scores.

Strength

Dexterity

Constitution

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

10

10

10

10

10

10

They’re a big fan of Grog from Critical Role, so they decide to choose a Goliath as their character’s ancestry. They aren’t sure what class they want yet, so they’re going to hang on to their ancestry’s free boost for now. 

Strength

Dexterity

Constitution

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

10

10

10

10

10

10

12

12

They’re also a big fan of Keyleth’s Druid abilities like Treestriding and Speak with Animals, so Avery decides to make their character a Goliath Druid. They decide to not have Charisma as a dump stat for their Druid, so they’re going to use their free boost from their ancestry to boost their Wisdom score and the free boost from their class to boost their Charisma.

Strength

Dexterity

Constitution

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

10

10

10

10

10

10

12

12

12

12

14

For their Druid’s background, they think Outlander from the PHB makes a lot of sense. Avery and their DM talk about what ability boosts make sense for Outlander and decide it should be a choice between Dexterity and Wisdom. Avery wants to boost their Wisdom since it's the main stat for their class abilities, but will use the free boost from her background to also boost their Dexterity since it’ll come in handy.

Strength

Dexterity

Constitution

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

10

10

10

10

10

10

12

12

12

12

12

14

16

To finish making their Goliath Druid, Avery has to pick their final two free boosts. They know they want to take their main stat, Wisdom, to the maximum allowed 18, so one will go there. They decide that they would rather have a quick and nimble character than a hardy or a strong one so their second boost will go to Dexterity. They then decide they need some extra HP, so they’ll boost their Constitution third. Lastly, they love the idea of having a smooth talker even if they would rather talk to trees than people, so Avery will put their last boost in Charisma.

After all their decisions have been made, Avery’s Goliath Druid has the following ability scores:

Strength

Dexterity

Constitution

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

12

14

14

10

18

14


FINAL THOUGHTS

Gaming tables that use these alternative rules will end up having starting characters with a smidge more power than those that don’t, chiefly because a character’s main class ability will often end up being the max allowed 18, giving a bonus of +4 to those abilities. Most characters out of the PHB will have their max be 17 (+3), so it’s worth keeping this in mind DMs. I personally don’t see this as an actual issue, as I actually prefer to have strong PCs when I run games. 

Another inadvertent consequence of these rules is making the choice between an ASI or feat at Level 4 a little more difficult. In this alternative ruleset, no ability score is an odd number only one way from an ability score modifier increase, so you would have to use the ASI to get a modifier increase. Some feats allow a +1 bonus to one ability score and a mechanical ability, like the Weapon Master feat from the PHB. I again don’t recommend changing anything for a few reasons: one, feats are technically an optional rule though I think many tables do use it, and two I believe this isn’t necessarily a bad thing  — if anything, it gives even more agency to the player because taking an ASI instead of a feat doesn’t “feel bad” if one of their abilities doesn’t actually get a modifier increase. 

VARIANT: ROLLING ATTRIBUTE SCORES

Love the thrill of rolling for ability scores but still want some of the extra agency these rules provide? Here’s my recommend adjustments:

  • Ancestry: You still get two boosts, but you lose one free boost

  • Class: No free boost from your class

  • Background: No free boost from your background

  • Final Free Boosts: You don’t get any of the four additional free boosts

The trade off here is you are giving some of your agency in character creation to the dice, but that’s part of the fun! 

You still cannot have any ability score greater than 18 at the end of character creation, so if you’re a lucky duck and roll an 18, you cannot use any ability boosts on that ability. If your class or background would’ve given you a boost to that maxed out ability, you simply lose that boost. However, if you have a very giving DM, they might allow you to use that boost on another ability score. 

CHANGELOG

Alterations I’m Considering:

Perceived problem – this system doesn’t allow for any negative ability scores/modifiers since the base score built on top of is 10 while the standard array has one ability score assigned an 8. 

Potential fixes:

  • Making the base ability score set to 9 instead of 10.

    • I’m a fan of this adjustment especially used in conjunction with the option to use half-boosts in Step 4 rather than full boosts because the +1 boosts means some ability scores can still end up even which is nice for my brain. 

  • Implemented: Adding the ability to take an ability flaw, which gives one attribute a -2 penalty in exchange for two half-boosts that must be used on different ability scores. 


Perceived problem – as written, characters are two powerful compared to PHB characters.

Potential fixes:

  • Convert all free boosts from +2 to +1, calling them half-boosts. 

    • Does not include free boosts from ancestries that provide more than one free boost. I.e. humans would still have two (2) full boosts that provide a +2 bonus to an ability score, but their third full boost would become a free half-boost. 

    • This brings the total ability score down by 7 (1 from each Step 1-3, 4 from Step 4) to 75, the same as the potential max from the PHB + racial bonuses. 

8-24-20

  • Changed the Half-Elf’s Charisma bonus to a second free boost 

  • Added optional change that brings the four (4) free boosts down to half-boosts that only provide +1 bonus, making the ability score total a 77 instead of 82.

  • Added optional ability flaw rules in Step 1 

  • Added a second option to all classes in Step 2, using the classes saving throw or suggested secondary ability

  • Added “Step #:” to headers for added clarity

  • Changed some formatting for flow and visual clarity

  • Made the updated ability score in the “Example” section bold for added visual clarity

  • Reworded the second paragraph in the “Final Thoughts” section for clarity and to remove some unnecessary opinion. Use the Activity Dashboard to see these changes.

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