his week, we're taking a look at a change in character creation that's fairly easy to implement but has a real impact on how players—especially new players—approach D&D.
In earlier editions, you purchased gear as part of character creation. You rolled dice or took a set amount of cash and spent it on armor, weapons, adventuring gear, and other stuff. Shopping for equipment is fun, but it can take a while. Some editions provided starting packages to speed up this process, but those packages often limited your options and made characters feel the same.
As part of the design of D&D Next, we took a long look at every part of the character creation process. I've talked before about how we moved several choices out of 1st level to make creating a character faster and easier. For many classes, your biggest choices don't come into play until 2nd or 3rd level, giving you a chance to play your character a bit before committing to one path or another.
Despite these changes, purchasing equipment loomed large as one of the most time-consuming parts of the character creation process. Even worse, new players often have a lot of trouble figuring out where to start. Though armor and weapon choices are usually straightforward, the rest of the equipment list is filled with potentially useful items that new players can easily get lost in.
To streamline things, we've made purchasing gear with a starting budget an optional rule. The default method delivers equipment to a new character in two ways.
First, your background provides you with the basic tools of your trade, a few interesting trinkets, and your starting cash. You typically start with enough money to cover your living expenses for up to a week.
Second, your class provides you with your weapons, armor, and your choice of a "character pack" that includes a range of equipment useful for adventuring. Packs are designed to focus on different skill sets, and include choices for dungeoneers and wilderness explorers, diplomats and entertainers, burglars, priests, and scholars.
For weapons and armor, starting gear doesn't limit your character to a single choice by class. Rather, you select from a short list of options, choosing a combination of armor and shield, simple and martial weapons.
In addition to the adventuring gear familiar from previous editions, we've also created a giant table of random, weird trinkets. Players each roll once on the table to see what sort of bizarre items their characters might have picked up, including a diary written in a language you don't know, a candle that can't be lit, and other oddities. The trinket might be a flavorful but ultimately mundane addition to your equipment list. Alternatively, you and your DM might decide to attach more importance to a trinket and the roleplaying opportunities it creates.
These overall changes represent our fundamental philosophy in designing D&D Next. We want to make sure that the fastest, easiest method of character creation is as fast and easy as possible. You can still buy gear if you want. But if you just want to roll some dice and play a pick-up game of D&D, you can create characters with pencil and paper in only a few minutes.
Gaming has changed tremendously in the past ten years. Long setup times are no longer the norm, and gamers want to get into actual play as quickly as possible. It's easy to write off that trend as purely a digital thing, but it extends to tabletop play as well. From the process of designing board games like Lords of Waterdeep and Castle Ravenloft, we've learned that if a game is easy to set up and quick to start, people will play it more often.
With D&D, we've always had the option for long, intricate, character creation sessions. However, the game hasn't supported truly quick character generation in many years. This change is part of our overall philosophy of making the game more accessible, easier to play, and quick to dive into.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.