Monday 31 December 2018

Creating 5e characters for a medieval setting

After all the background info for my Belswick campaign, here, finally, is an overview for players in the shape of character generation.

There are house rules on the game in general and on 5th Edition spellcasting, class archetypes and feats. (tl;dr: you'll all need a book except for the nature types, cantrips cost spell slots, and you'll need to do quests or look for the secrets of spells and archetype powers. Warlocks get all that power gratis. Well, in exchange for minor favors.)


Roll or choose for each of the following:
  1. Ability scores
    --> either arrange {15,14,13,12,10,8}, OR roll for your scores and get a contact, mentor or patron
  2. Race
    Includes humans, the usual half-fey and a boatload of animal folk
    --> write down special powers and skill proficiencies, reroll any favored Abilities
  3. Estate
    Arguably the most important thing to decide. This will determine your status in society. Options are commoner, clergy, noble and outlaw.
    --> write down your income / upkeep, tax and tithe rates
    --> ask about your Liege or Master in the feudal system
  4. Background
    What you learned while growing up
    --> write down your proficiencies and equipment
  5. Classes and feats
    Your special skills and training
    --> note hit dice and hit points, class abilities, proficiencies and equipment
    --> also, info on how you learn feats

  6. Finishing details
    Your character's Name and notes on personality
    do your class and background fit your Estate? If not, do you keep them a secret, or are you a scandal?


To quickly build a character, arrange these scores: {15,14,13,12,10,8}

Or roll up your stats:
  • roll 4d6, drop lowest and assign values to stats as you like.
  • roll 4d6, drop lowest, assign in order (str-dex-con-int-wis-cha) AND gain a relationship (contact)
  • roll 3d6 and assign AND gain two relationships, one of which must be a contact
  • roll 3d6 in order AND gain three relationships, one of which must be a contact

Hopefully these friendly NPCs will kick-start the game. We'll create them as a group; the player who earned a contact and the DM have final say, but everyone can pitch in to create a fun NPC for the group. Use the as information sources or as mentors who can teach you advanced class abilities and feats.
  • contact - someone who can get you information from within their organization or social circle. Detail their name and a short description. They know you professionally and will do you favors or give information in return for favors or payment. Can also teach you feats relevant to their profession. A barkeep, a bard, a fence, a soldier, a novice, a scribe.
  • patron - someone who can get you plum jobs and business opportunities in return for a cut or for shared glory. Can get you access to organizations or people. A guild sponsor, a knight or courtier, a spy master.
  • mentor - someone who can introduce you to the higher mysteries in your chosen class. Detail their name and a short description. Explain why they're not adventuring (anymore) themselves. They will advance you within their class if you do them favors. Can also teach you feats or get you access within their organization. A drill sergeant, a monster hunter, a church hierophant, a master wizard.


Check out these medieval illuminations! I want walking the world to feel like walking those pages. Expect spiderling moneylenders, hawkling sentries and rabbitling knights. And skating owllings, for some reason. With slight tweaks to abilities, these races are originally Skerples'.

Foxling accosted by Gooselings

Common races:
  • Human: the most common race, present in all Estates.
  • Animal Folk: animal-featured variant on Humans. Or tweak a Halfling if you want a smaller sized character.
Uncommon races:
  • Dwarf: exiled craftsmen / soldiers, financially support the Deep Crusades.
  • Elf: isolate themselves in beautiful remote sites. They do not join the First Estate.
  • Halfling: tend to sheltered rural communities and low-level positions. Avoid outlawry.

Only unlocked after discovery during play:
  • Gnome, Dragonborn, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Tiefling


  • Subrace: can play these for flavor, but they give no mechanical benefit on top of the base race.
  • Ability bonus: replaced by a number of rerolls equal to the bonus. Take the highest value.
  • Darkvision: only works in dim light, not in pitch darkness. Mere mortals need light.
  • Cantrips: these work once per day until you perform a special blood rite at level 3+.

Rabbitling bandits adventurers
Serious man, Rabbitlings.
Birdling returning from the hunt
Snailling beating up a human knight with lion's shield.
I got nothing.

Humans and half-fey

3 ability rerolls, not 6. Can swap for a feat and skill proficiency
as published. Exiled craftsmen / soldiers; 3rd Estate or Outlaw
as published. Deep memories vague. Forest Elves wear masks.
as published. Tend heavily to 3rd Estate.

Animal folk

The Air

Advantage on Perception rolls
When afraid, Save or attack
See detail at a great distance
Must eat uncooked food
Knows value of mundane items
Save or pick up shiny objects
Can rotate head 180 degrees
Cough up disgusting pellets
Can impose disadvantage 1/d
Must eat carrion
Shout and sing incredibly well
Cursed: -2 to Saves vs magic

The Hunt

Tusk attack (as a dagger)
Constant snuffling. -2 to stealth
Antler attack (as a club)
When afraid: Freeze, not Run
Ignore broken or hilly terrain
Known to be silver tongued
Can track by smell
Disadvantage vs Commands

The Small

Can eat rotten food as rations
Save vs Fear when alone
Base AC 12
Cannot wear heavy armor
Play dead very convincingly
-2 Strength for encumbrance
Advantage to jump checks
When afraid: Freeze, not Run
Can eat rotten food as rations
Cannot tell the blunt truth

The Creeping

+2 Strength for encumbrance
Save vs Fear when alone
Cannot be pushed in combat
Salt is deadly poison to you
Can secrete 30' of rope / day
Cannot see more than 30'

The Cold

Can hold breath for 5 minutes
Drink twice as much water
Advantage to jump checks
Must eat uncooked food
Prehensile tongue (15ft whip)
Contagious warts

The Three Estates: Clergy, Nobility, Commoners
British Library, Sloane 2435 f85


Roll or pick the Estate that you belong to and find your position in it. Or pick your Estate(s) as a group and roll for your position. Classes like Wizard or Warlock (see Class section) will automatically force you to the 3rd Estate or Outlawry unless you manage to hide your skills from society. Details on wizard income are under Classes, below.

First Estate
monthly income
monthly expenses
Ordained - Deacon - rank 0
5 sp
5 sp
Ordained - Village priest - rank 1
1 gp
3 gp
Holy Orders - Initiate - rank 0
0 gp
0 gp if in cloisture
Holy Orders - Monk / Nun - rank 1
0 gp (5 if corrupt)
0 gp if in cloisture

Second Estate (see Knight)

Squire - rank 0
0 gp
1d4 gp
Squire - rank 0
6 gp
6 gp +1d4 gp
Bastard - rank 1
0 gp
12 gp +1d4 gp
Provincial Gentleman - rank 1
12 gp
12 gp +2-20 gp

Third Estate

Serf Farmer
1d10 cp

Free Farmer
1d10 cp

Free Craftsman
2d6+5 sp

Free Soldier: peacetime farmer
1gp/wk | 1d10 cp

Townsfolk - Craft or Trade
2d6+5 sp (or 2x)


Fugitive from task or oath


Foreigners, unless clearly Estate

First Estate - clergy
You are an ordained deacon or priest in a small parish, or you have taken Holy Orders as an initiate, monk or nun in a monastery. Either way, you are part of the Church of the Authority. How devoted you are is completely up to you. You have to be part of an order of the church (priestly or monastic) - Clerics have to choose from one of the Saintly Orders, others may join these too or invent minor orders with the DM. See the house rules for details on Clerics.

You pay no income tax, but you tithe 80% of your income to the Church.

In between ruling and fighting, the Second Estate gather to exchange gifts.
From Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

Second Estate - nobles
You are part of the aristocracy, with a role in the defense and protection of your Liege's domain. Your income depends on land (and taxes from its production) and/or on positions held at the local court.

Nobles pay no income tax or tithe.

You have to pay a monthly upkeep (servants, repairs, gifts, living standard, bribes) or lose your status. You then become part of the Third Estate until reinstated for a good reason. In addition to your upkeep, you have outstanding obligations from 1d4 gp (unlanded) to 2-20 gp per month (for a landholder) to pay for the King's wars, ransoms, supplies, donations and loans.

Noble, most backgrounds (d12)

Rank 0 (Squire) - no formal upkeep, bribes/gifts/loans/expenses of 1d4 gp/month
You are the child of a Provincial Gentleman with their own large farm. At court, you'll be lucky to be recognized or gain recognition; you're about as low a noble as possible. Your children will not inherit your title unless you inherit your parents' first. You have 1d3-1 older and 1d3-1 younger siblings.
Rank 0 (Squire) - upkeep 6 gp/month, other expenses 1d4 gp/month
You are the child of a noble family (see below) and are being instructed at the court of another. You are technically attached to a Knight as servant and shieldbearer, but can be their roving agent as well. Your knight will cover your upkeep while you act in good faith to uphold their honour.
Rank 1 (Bastard) - upkeep 12 gp/month, other expenses 1d4 gp/month
20% chance of being acknowledged.
d4-1 older legitimate children, 1d4-1 younger legitimate children, 1d6-1 other bastards in the family. You cannot inherit unless your Liege's Overlord wills it.
Rank 1 (Provincial Gentleman) - upkeep 12 gp/month, other expenses 2-20 gp/month
You own a large farm with 1d6 tenants: earn 12/6/0 gp/month in a good/bad/terrible year

Noble with the Knight background (d4)

Rank 1 (Provincial Gentlemen) - upkeep 12 gp/month
You own a large farm with 1d4+2 tenants: earn 12/6/0 gp/month in a good/bad/terrible year
Rank 1 (Forgotten Son) - upkeep 12 gp/month
Courtier without position, dubious lineage. Stipend 1d10: 1-9 covers upkeep; 10 ends.
Rank 1 (Bastard) - upkeep 12 gp/month
20% chance of being acknowledged.
d4-1 older legitimate children, 1d4-1 younger legitimate children, 1d6-1 other bastards in the family. You cannot inherit unless the Overlord wills it.
Rank 2 (Gentleman) - upkeep 24 gp/month
no support. You are a courtier without position and little recognition. Earn money fast.

Your noble family
Highest possible rank in your line of descent: 1d6+2 (Household Knight to Count).
People before you in the line of succession: 1d20+3

(For Knights and for other backgrounds with a Squire result of 4-6)

Commoners at work
- Building of the Tower of Bable, Bedford book of hours, folio17

Third Estate - commoners
Includes peasants or village craftsmen, townsfolk, guild members, merchants and wizards. If you are a freeman or live in a town, you have some rights and may move about as you please. Serfs are bound to work a specific plot of land at their Lord's command. Wizards are bound by debt and allegiance to a wizard order.

Commoners' work pays for everything. Taxes and tithes have already been taken into account on your earnings (see table above).

You pay 75% taxes on any extra income (adventuring) to the Noble lord of your domain.
You tithe 10% of the remaining income to the Church.

See here for more info on commoners. Summary:

Countryside poor (d4):
  1. Small farmer - Work hard and you'll raise enough food to not starve and earn 1d10 cp per month after taxes and tithes. Own 1 sp in emergency cash.
  2. Small farmer - as (1)
  3. Crafts- or Tradesman. Roll 1d100 on Skerples' Medieval Professions table, reroll any result over 81. Income 2d6+5 sp per month.
  4. Soldier. Either an armed peasant or a trained soldier, trained poorly as a farmer or craftsman (roll 1d3 above). Payed extra in war time, but pay is always in arrears.
Townsfolk (d100):

Again, use this table of medieval professions. Ordinary craftsmen (1-81) average 2d6+5 sp per month. High status crafts (82-100) earn twice that. You may be a member of a guild - see the table.

(summary of jobs here, and overview of the Wizardly Orders here)

Two more wizardly traditions exist, but you're well advised not to advertise your membership:

Chartered wizards were trained in a respectable college at ruinous expense. You owe a debt of 1d10 x 5000 gp, with a monthly payment of 1/500th that sum (10-100 gp) that can be paid in gold, spells or items. Wizards in the service of a noble will have their monthly payment taken care of by their Liege. Missing six payments invites professional breakers of legs and fingers.

May be an Abjurer, Diviner or Evoker, or Transmuter without arousing much fear, or anything but an outright Necromancer if you like dark mutterings behind your back.
  1. War wizard: support the baron's troops in war time, act as a minor problem-solving personal wizard during peace. Monthly income 5 gp / week while at war, or 5 sp.
  2. Hedge wizard: assigned to a part of the lord's holdings - to assist the blacksmith, calm the waters at the mill, help the carpenter etc. Monthly income 5 sp.
  3. Graduate wizard: stayed on at the College for further and deeper studies at the peril of your soul, sanity and of course health. Monthly income 1 sp.
  4. Personal wizard: stationed at the local court and wildly, ludicrously overburdened with every stupid task and question your Liege can imagine. Calm the storm, raise the spirit of his dead advisor, turn dirt into silver, and so on. But at least you're not expected to join the troops. Monthly income 2 sp.
Wizard school.

Unchartered Wizards were taught the Arts outside of a recognized College by a hedge mage or hidden master. Such unsanctioned power upsets the powers of the feudal order - if you are found out, expect scandal and a quick rush to control you.

May be trained in any school but Necromancy. Uncovered Conjurors of Demons, Enchanters of the Will and Illusion-weavers can expect to be accused or Warlockry and treated as a vile abomination unless they submit to sanction by Church and Liege; in that case, they become disreputable hedge or personal wizards.

  1. Hedge Wizard, disreputable. Monthly income 3 sp.
  2. Personal Wizard, disreputable. Monthly income 1.5 sp.
  3. War Wizard, disreputable. Monthly income 3 sp, 3 gp/wk at war.
  4. Charter impersonator (roll there)
  5. Charter impersonater (roll there)
  6. Hidden wizard: roll Estate, position

Outlaws - outside the protection of the law
Are you a foreigner no-one can place in the feudal hierarchy, a roving hermit, a bandit or even a thrice-damned warlock? You pay no tax or tithe, but receive no protection from the Church or Law. Any crime is like to be considered a hanging offence. It also means your soul is in peril unless you have access to a priest willing to hear your confession.

Vile Outlaw wizards are trained in forbidden Necromancy or outright sold their soul to gain Warlock powers. Can expect a quick trial and execution as a Witch or Warlock when found openly practising their magic. Other wizards can of course also become outlaws if their luck sours.
  1. Outlaw, known. No regular monthly income.
  2. Third Estate hidden Warlock: roll a cover job.
  3. (Un)Chartered impersonator (roll there)
  4. Hidden Warlock: roll Estate, position


Roll or choose a Background and interpret according to your Estate. Someone from the Second Estate with an Acolyte or Outlander background probably spent a lot of time at church, and maybe a Sailor from the Second Estate spent time waging war againt sea raiders.

Guild Artisan*
Guild Merchant*
Knight *
Folk Hero
  • Acolyte: if you are not an Ordained member of the First Estate, you cannot perform Services or sell Indulgences.
  • Criminal: if you are not a known Outlaw yet, plan how to keep your cover intact.
  • Guild Artisan: use the profession table to determine your guild.
  • Guild Merchant: variant of the Guild Artisan background.
  • Knight: variant of the Noble background (itself not available). See Second Estate (above) for your position. You must be a member of the Second Estate to take this background.
  • Outlander: replace the Wanderer feature with a +2 bonus to Foraging and Navigation checks.
  • Spy: variant of the Criminal background. Work out who you work for with the DM.


Feats (see also the bottom of this post) are specialized chunks of training, either formally taught or picked up as you go along. In either case, players need to weave this training into the game one or two sessions before taking a feat. This is also how you can gain access to a minor taste of Warlock power at any time, not just when the rulebook says you can take a feat.

Classes: I could go mad and write down which classes are allowed in every Estate, but frankly I have a life and we can sort most of this out at the table. Here's some notes per class:

Regular classes
  • Bard: available for any Estate, but overwhelmingly in the First Estate.
  • Barbarian: available for any Estate
  • Fighter: available for any Estate.
  • Ranger: available for any Estate
  • Rogue: available for any Estate

Special cases
  • Cleric: First Estate only: more white mage than holy warrior and are tied to an Order.
  • Druid: available for any Estate, but especially suitable for the Third or Outlawry.
  • Monk: not available at start of play. Travelers from the Far Lands.
  • Paladin: not available. The last time the one remaining Paladin got free, it wrecked a city.
  • Sorceror: not available at start of play. Eunuch servants of the Caliph in the Far Lands. Limited spell access: levels 1-6 (the Caliph strictly monitors his Sorcerors' power, as the Authority commands)
  • Warlock: if not an Outlaw already, create a cover within your starting Estate. (No limit on spell access, but the Church works furiously to ensure few Warlocks survive to this level of prowess)
  • Wizard: not suited for the 1st Estate (ungodly) or 2nd Estate (disreputable). Limited spell access: levels 1-6 (wizard orders have no access to higher level spells - the Church makes sure of this, as do the masters of the orders)
Random class
Probably best to just pick a character, but if you absolutely want to randomize every part of your character, roll d30:

1-4: Barbarian
5-6: Bard
7-8: Cleric
9-10: Druid
11-16: Fighter
17: Monk (N/A - reroll)
18: Paladin (N/A - reroll)
19-21: Ranger
22-26: Rogue
27: Sorceror (N/A - reroll)
28: Warlock
29-30: Wizard

Clerics and religion
Detailed here.

The Authority is the one and true god. He is attended in Heaven by his angels and saints and lesser gods. (Yes, that's contradictory. So?) Clerics of the Authority can choose any domain in the player handbook, but they have to join the corresponding Holy Order and honor its Saint.
Domains: all player handbook domains

Orthodox Spiderlings worship the Watcher, the Authority's estranged spouse. Her 1000 glittering eyes watch over them from above at night.
Domains: Life and Trickery.

The Exile whispers from the shadows. He was cast into Hell for a sin so vile that it was erased from the world. After escaping, he swore to make the Authority's beautiful machine break itself. Warlock patrons are his servants that tempt with fast power and release from oppression.
Domains: Knowledge, Light, Tempest, Trickery.


D&D 5e normally lets you take either +2 to an ability score or a feat when you hit level 4, 8, 12 etc. I like the idea of extra specialization outside of the normal class options, but again I want to turn getting a feat into a story.

Self-taught feats
The following feats you can take without any formal training, quest or initiation. You do have to weave these feats into the story before you take them; maybe you're always taking watch (observant), maybe you regularly flip out during combat (savage attacker), maybe you're always getting in fights without your weapons (tavern brawler).
  • alert, athlete, actor, charger, durable, grappler, great weapon master, inspiring leader, keen mind, lucky, observant, resilient, savage attacker, sharpshooter, skulker, tavern brawler, tough
Trained feats
The following feats take formal training by an expert to master. Find someone who has this feat (tell the DM in time so they can prep) and ask how to get training. I'll need to do a follow-up post about this whole training thing...
  • crossbow expert, defensive duelist, dual wielder, dungeon delver, elemental adept, healer, heavily armorered, heavy weapon master, lightly armored, linguist, mage slayer, martial adept, medium armor master, moderately armored, mounted combat, polearm master, ritual caster (any spell list but Warlock - see below), sentinel, shield master, skilled, spell sniper, war caster, weapon master

Warlockry: Ritual Caster and Magic Initiate feats
For those who want a taste of magic power without the hassle of taking Warlock levels, there is always the option of making a Minor Pact. This means performing a special rite with a warlock patron spirit and then taking the feats magic initiate or ritual caster.
  • if you choose ritual caster in this way, it gives access to spells from the bard, warlock and wizard spell lists
  • the cantrips learned from magic initiate function by-the-book: you don't have to expend spell slots on them like other classes do
  • your spellcasting ability for all these spells is Charisma

You can take these feats at any time by summoning a patron and making a Minor Pact with it. And I do mean at any time:
  • rites to summon a Warlock patron to follow in an upcoming series of posts
  • either give up an existing feat, or 2 points of ability score (can be from different abilities)
  • or give up your next feat / ability score raise, but perform a favor for your warlock patron every time you gain a level until then.