Beginner's Guide to Dungeons & Dragons

The Basic Set: Character Classes and Alignment

Maybe you've always wanted to be a Half-Elf Paladin? D&D gives you the chance (though not in the Red Box rules).
Maybe you've always wanted to be a Half-Elf Paladin? D&D gives you the chance (though not in the Red Box rules).
TM and © Wizards of the LLC. Images used with permission.

D&D has used scores of character types over the years, and later editions separate the idea of a character's race (human, elf, dwarf and the like) from his or her class (fighter, thief, and so on). But in the Red Box rules, there are seven playable character classes:

  • Fighter – a human of above-average strength who is skilled in combat. Fighters are typically responsible for taking on threats to protect the rest of the group.
  • Cleric – a cross between a fighter and a wizard. These humans are usually high in strength, dexterity and wisdom, so they can both fight and cast spells. Their spells come through meditation (accounting for the need for a high wisdom ability score).
  • Magic-user – a human with a high intelligence score. The magic-user is high in dexterity, for throwing balls of lighting accurately, and in intelligence, which is required for learning new spells from books.
  • Thief – a dexterous human who can pick locked doors and detect traps, making them invaluable. They tend to hang back during combat, not having much strength.
  • Dwarf – a 4-foot-tall nonhuman with a beard (both males and females alike), whose abilities are based on strength, constitution and their special ability to deflect magic. Dwarves are good fighters.
  • Halfling – a tiny, 3-foot, 60-pound demihuman character who is high in both dexterity and constitution. These abilities make halflings difficult to hit in combat, which makes them excellent fighters. They are also, like dwarves, capable of sustaining magic attacks better than human characters.
  • Elf – another smallish demihuman character, elves are kind of a cross between fighters and magic users, so they require high levels of both strength and intelligence. Elves also have infravision and can see 60 feet in the dark and can detect things like hidden doors.

Combine ability scores with a class, and you have the basic skeleton of a character. Next comes a very basic aspect of the character's personality: his or her alignment. Your character's alignment sets the stage for interactions with others – and plays a part in what actions the character might or might not do. In the Red Box rules, there are three alignments:

  • Lawful – Law is the equivalent of good. In any given situation, a character with a lawful alignment will predictably put the safety and goals of the group first, ahead of his or her desires or safety.
  • Chaotic – Chaos is the opposite of law and is the equivalent of evil. A chaotically-aligned character will make choices based on furthering his or her own goals, without any regard for the group's wishes or wellbeing.
  • Neutral – This alignment is the most animalistic of the three; where law and chaos require higher-order considerations like self-sacrifice or manipulation, neutral alignments are based on the survival of the organism. Neither really "good" or "bad," the neutral character will fight with the group if that will help him survive or take off in retreat if need be.

Interestingly, only some playable characters are adept at speaking languages, but using Red Box rules, everyone can speak at least their alignment tongue. This allows characters of the same alignment to speak to each other without characters of other alignments understanding what is being said.

In other editions, you'll flesh all this out with a set of additional skills as well. Regardless of edition, it may help you to write out a backstory that gives your character some more personality and depth. This could even be something your DM asks you to do ahead of time, to help guide your game play and influence the overall story.

Next, we'll look at what happens once you're in that story – and what dice have to do with it.