The speed at which characters can be created in Old-School Essentials is one of the great advantages of the system. Instead of needing to spend a whole "session 0" creating characters, a party can be created in a short time and be ready to dive into their first adventure right away.
Creating a character for Old-School Essentials is a fairly simple procedure, taking experienced players around 10 minutes. As an instructional aid to players who are new to the game, this blog post goes through an example of creating a character in Old-School Essentials.
Pick up the free Old-School Essentials Basic Rules and follow along!
Step 1. Roll Ability Scores
The player grabs 3 six-sided dice (3d6) and commences to roll their character's ability scores. Each of the character's six ability scores (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma) will be rolled on 3d6, giving a range from 3 (a very poor score) to 18 (an amazing score). Scores of 9 to 12 are average.
For each ability score, the player rolls all 3 dice, sums the results, and records the score on the character sheet. The following ability scores emerge:
- Strength: 10. (An average score.)
- Intelligence: 12. (On the high end of average.)
- Wisdom: 17. (A lucky roll—a very high score!)
- Dexterity: 13. (Slightly above average.)
- Constitution: 8. (Slightly below average.)
- Charisma: 8. (Slightly below average.)
A picture of the character is already forming in the player's imagination. Their high Wisdom and fair Intelligence suggest someone with a decent education and a powerful connection with the spiritual. Perhaps the character lived for some years in a cloistered religious order, praying and studying manuscripts. Their above average Dexterity suggests someone with precision and good reflexes—perhaps honed by religious martial practices. The character's low Constitution, however, suggests someone of subpar health, perhaps due to age. The low Charisma score suggests that the character has little time for social mores, having spent many years in silent contemplation.
Step 2. Choose a Class
Old-School Essentials has 7 basic classes to choose from (or more, if supplements are in use). Each class has one or more ability scores (called prime requisites) which are especially important to characters of that class.
- Cleric: Holy warriors who can channel the power of their deity. Prime requisite: Wisdom.
- Dwarf: Stocky, gold-loving miners. Prime requisite: Strength.
- Elf: Fey warriors with the ability to cast spells. Prime requisites: Strength and Intelligence.
- Fighter: Experts in combat and war. Prime requisite: Strength.
- Halfling: Rotund, hairy-footed folk who love the comforts of home. Prime requisites: Strength and Dexterity.
- Magic-User: Students of deep arcane lore. Prime requisite: Intelligence.
- Thief: Sneaky tomb-robbers and cutpurses. Prime requisite: Dexterity.
Two main factors inform choice of class:
- Player preference: The player may have a preconceived idea about which class they wish to play. As long as the rolled ability scores meet any required minimums specified by the class, the player may choose as they wish.
- Prime requisites: An especially good roll in one ability score indicates the character's suitability for any classes with that score as a prime requisite.
With an extremely high roll for Wisdom, the player chooses the cleric class, whose prime requisite is Wisdom. The cleric class has no minimum ability score requirements. The player records the chosen class on the character sheet.
Looking at the description of the cleric class, the player notes their role as holy warriors, trained for battle and able to channel the power of their deity. Combined with the previously imagined details about the character, this suggests a member of a monastic order who, in later life, was required to leave the confines of the monastery and go out into the world to do battle. (The details of the character's religion, their reason for leaving the monastery, and the potential enemies their faith requires them to battle may be developed further in consultation with the referee.)
Step 3. Adjust Ability Scores
The player has the option of lowering the rolled Strength, Intelligence, or Wisdom scores in order to raise their prime requisites, on a two-for-one basis. As Wisdom is the character's prime requisite (as a cleric), they may only lower Strength and Intelligence to raise Wisdom. There are two main reasons for raising the character's prime requisite, if possible:
- To get a bonus to earned Experience Points (XP). (A prime requisite of 13 to 15 grants a 5% bonus, and a score of 16 to 18 grants a 10% bonus.)
- To get any other bonuses associated with the prime requisite ability score. (Higher Wisdom grants bonuses to resisting magical effects, for example.)
With a Wisdom of 17, the character already gets a 10% XP bonus, so that is of no concern. However, the player notes that Wisdom 18 grants a +3 bonus to resisting magic, whereas Wisdom 17 grants a +2 bonus. The player feels this additional protection against baneful magic would be worthwhile, so considers which ability score to lower in order to gain that extra point of Wisdom.
An ability score cannot be lowered below 9, so with Strength 10 and Intelligence 12, the only option available is to lower Intelligence. (Lowering Strength by 2 points would put the score at 8, which is disallowed.)
After making these adjustments, the character now has the following ability scores:
- Strength: 10
- Intelligence: 10
- Wisdom: 18
- Dexterity: 13
- Constitution: 8
- Charisma: 8
Step 4. Note Ability Score Modifiers
Now that the character's ability scores are established, the player consults the Ability Scores section of the rules and records all relevant modifiers on the character sheet, as follows:
- Strength: 10. Average; no modifiers.
- Intelligence: 10. Average; no modifiers.
- Wisdom: 18. Grants a +3 bonus to saving throws against magical effects. As this is the character's prime requisite (due to the choice of class: cleric), 18 Wisdom also grants a +10% bonus to earned Experience Points.
- Dexterity: 13. Grants a +1 bonus to Armour Class and missile attack rolls.
- Constitution: 8. Incurs a -1 penalty to rolls for hit points.
- Charisma: 8. Incurs a -1 penalty to NPC reaction rolls.
Step 5. Note Attack Values
This step of character creation varies depending on whether the optional rule for Ascending Armour Class is being used.
Using Ascending Armour Class
The player consults the cleric class advancement table and notes the character's attack bonus (the number listed in square brackets in the THAC0 column): +0 for a 1st level cleric. (This bonus is applied when making attack rolls, in addition to any modifiers due to Strength or Dexterity.)
Not Using Ascending Armour Class
The player consults the class advancement table and notes the character's THAC0 score: 19 for a 1st level cleric. This value indicates the row in the attack matrix that the character uses when attacking. The player looks up the row for THAC0 19 in the attack matrix (under Combat Tables in the rules) and records the row values on the character sheet.
Step 6. Note Saving Throws and Class Abilities
Still consulting the cleric class description, the player notes down the character's saving throw values on the character sheet:
- Death / poison: 11
- Wands: 12
- Paralysis / petrify: 14
- Breath attacks: 16
- Spells / rods / staves: 15
The player also notes down the main abilities of the cleric class:
- Divine magic: The player notices that clerics are unable to cast spells until reaching 2nd level of experience—something to look forward to! However, the ability to use scrolls of cleric spells is available from 1st level. The player notes this on the character sheet.
- Turning the undead: The defining feature of 1st level clerics is their ability to repel undead monsters encountered. The player notes this on the character sheet.
Step 7. Roll Hit Points
The cleric class description notes that clerics have 1d6 Hit Dice, meaning that they roll 1d6 for hit points each level (up to 9th level). Grabbing a d6, the player is horrified to roll a 1!
Quickly spotting the optional rule for re-rolling hit point rolls of 1 or 2, the player asks the referee if this rule is in use. The referee says that it is, so the player rolls the d6 again. It comes up 3 this time. Not great, but a lot better than 1.
Applying the -1 hit point penalty due to the character's low Constitution, the player notes a paltry 2 hit points on the character sheet. The player will have to use all their wits and cunning to keep this character alive long enough to reach 2nd level, when their hit points will increase.
Step 8. Choose Alignment
The player considers which of the three alignments (Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic) best suit the character, deciding on Lawful, due to the character's years spent in the orderly environment of a monastery. The player notes this down on the character sheet.
Step 9. Note Known Languages
The character knows all languages listed in the class description: Common and their alignment language (Lawful), in the case of clerics.
Step 10. Buy Equipment
Picking up 3d6 again, the player rolls for starting gold. The roll comes up 13, which means the character has 130gp to spend on equipment. This is a decent amount, and means the character should be well equipped for their first adventure.
First up, the player looks at the available types of armour, checking which can be used by the chosen class. Clerics can use all armour, including shields, so the player is free to choose whatever they can afford here. Plate mail (the best form of armour) costs 60gp, while a shield costs 10gp, for a total of 70gp. Given the character's decent starting funds and low hit points, the player decides that they'll need the best armour possible. They note down plate mail + shield on the character sheet and now have 60gp left to spend.
Next, the player looks at the list of weapons, checking which can be used by the chosen class. Clerics can only use blunt weapons (those without a cutting edge or stabbing point), so the player's choice here is quite limited. The player decides to go for a mace, costing 5gp, as the character's main weapon. Considering the potential for ranged attacks, the player also chooses a sling, costing 2gp. They note these items on the character sheet and now have 53gp left to spend.
Finally, the player consults the list of adventuring gear to look for other useful items. They choose the following items: a holy symbol (25gp—required for turning the undead), 12 iron spikes (1gp—may be useful for wedging doors shut), a small hammer (2gp—for pounding in the spikes), a 50' long rope (1gp), and a backpack (5gp—for storing all the other items in). These items come to a total of 34gp. The player notes everything on the character sheet, along with the remaining 19gp, which they decide to save in case it is needed during adventuring. (Bribing monsters? Staying at an inn along the road? Purchasing food and ale?)
Step 11. Note Armour Class
Now that the player knows what armour the character has, they can determine their Armour Class value. This varies depending on whether the optional rule for Ascending Armour Class is being used.
Using Ascending Armour Class
Plate mail grants AC 16, a shield grants a +1 bonus, and the character's high Dexterity grants a +1 bonus, for a total AC of 18. This is an excellent level of protection for a 1st level character, making it difficult for enemies to harm them in combat.
Not Using Ascending Armour Class
Plate mail grants AC 3, a shield grants a +1 bonus, and the character's high Dexterity grants a +1 bonus (both bonuses are subtracted from the AC value, as lower values are better), for a total of AC 1.
Step 12. Note Level and XP
The player notes that the character is 1st level and has 0 XP as they begin their adventuring career.
Step 13. Name Character
Finally, the player thinks up a name for the character, asking the referee if they have a list of names suited to the campaign setting. The referee provides some suggestions and the player decides to name the character Zhandka—a 1st level cleric making their first steps into the wilds after years of training and study in a monastery. Zhandka is ready for adventure!
Ability scores on Step 4 for Str and Int are messed up from an earlier change. SHould be 10 and 10 rather than 9 and 11.
>Have I been getting step 3 wrong all this time? RAW “For every 2 points by which an ability score is lowered, etc…” An ability score. Is it allowed to split the 2 points between 2 different ability scores? My reading of it says no. I feel like kind of an ass for even pointing this out because it can just be adjudicated at table, but I also am afflicted with a compulsion for consistency.
Thanks for spotting this! You’re right in interpreting the rules as written this way. I personally allow players to subtract 1 point from 2 ability scores, but that’s not strictly RAW so shouldn’t be mentioned in this example. Updated.
Have I been getting step 3 wrong all this time? RAW “For every 2 points by which an ability score is lowered, etc…” An ability score. Is it allowed to split the 2 points between 2 different ability scores? My reading of it says no. I feel like kind of an ass for even pointing this out because it can just be adjudicated at table, but I also am afflicted with a compulsion for consistency.
>You forgot the Dexterity modifier to AC on step 11.
Well spotted, thanks! Will update.
You forgot the Dexterity modifier to AC on step 11.