Character Personality Traits & Behavioral Quirks

12 Mar

I saw this post on Facebook yesterday from the official Dungeons & Dragons page:

Dungeons & Dragons
knows a fighter who strings the fangs from dragons he’s slain on a necklace.
What kinds of trophies/souvenirs do your characters collect?”

I pondered that question and quickly remembered that when I was 15, I did have one character take trophies of his kills.
He was a stereotypical Dwarf Fighter who gloried in cleaving his foes with an axe; especially ORCS!!! As a low level character I had him line his belt with the heads of the orcs he had personally killed. Of course, he eventually killed too many to keep all of the heads, but I thought it was pretty cool for him to be bold enough to walk around with those intimidating trophies.

This got me thinking about character personality and behavior traits & quirks, etc.

From the earliest days, many PRG systems and homebrews have had characters take these as advantages or disadvantages at the time of character creation. Some point-based ones, like GURPS give you tradeoffs for them.

In one of the first campaigns I played in, one based on the Arduin system, we rolled on what was called a “Special Abilities” chart for our particular class. The chart had some random advantages and also some disadvantages. Here is one example:

My basic philosophy about character traits is that one should have some sort of oddity that could be either a potential weakness or strength, depending upon the circumstances. I would consider such things optional and up to the discretion of the individual Gamemaster to use or not, as they see fit, but they can help players to develop the persona of their character. In some campaigns I have asked a player to come up with both a special ability and a flaw, subject to my approval.

As RPGs  evolved, they have had many iterations of this concept of character traits, with certain character abilities that are enhanced or detracted from.
Here is an example from The Hypertext d20 SRD Character Traits page:

Uncivilized
You relate better to animals than you do to people.

Benefit
You gain a +1 bonus on Handle Animal checks and wild empathy checks.
Drawback
You take a -1 penalty on Bluff checks, Diplomacy checks, and Gather information checks.
Roleplaying Ideas
Characters with this trait are likely to feel awkward in many social situations; that might be expressed as shyness and quiet behavior, or it might be expressed through an overly exuberant need to participate in conversations.

What is interesting here, is that the Trait has both a benefit & a drawback, which is similar to my own thinking about such things.

One note of caution to the Gamemaster is to make sure that they have the final say regarding Traits, Flaws, Special Abilities, etc. in their campaign.
I have seen these work very well in games, but I have seen players try to abuse them. If such Traits are a part of my game, I make sure the Trait chosen/generated has both a potential benefit and deficit in my particular campaign or I will modify it so it does or won’t allow that one altogether. Sometimes I have just asked the player to come up with a Weakness, without a known Benefit. The Weakness may have a benefit later, but that is an opportunity for the Gamemaster and the Player to turn it into one through actual gameplay.

One of the concepts I really hold strongly regarding the Old School Renaissance is that we have the scope to reassess how we would like OUR OWN PARTICULAR game to be run. Character Traits, whether Flaws or Advantages may or may not be one of the things we wish to include – it is up to the Gamemaster to decide. However, using them even on a trial basis may be fun and add flavor to the game. If used judiciously, they could be a great help in developing a character’s persona and perhaps keep Gamers from playing their characters as if they had no flaws or weaknesses whatsoever.

I found an extensive chart of Traits, attributed to A. Wilson, that has in it the same kind of trait that my Dwarven Fighter had beginning of this post:  6. Collects teeth/hair/claws of slain opponents. While it is supposedly for NPCs, I feel it could be used for PCs, also.
Here is the link – have fun!

-Jeff

npctraits.pdf

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3 Responses to “Character Personality Traits & Behavioral Quirks”

  1. dldzioba March 12, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    I’m actually in a Pathfinder game right now and am playing a Halfling Ranger. She’s got Orcs as her favored enemy and collects a tusk from each one she kills and keep them on a belt. The world my DM is using is the orc nation is very hated so it’s pretty common. Still Oona really has a grudge, they tend to attack her family’s caravan.

    • Retro RPG March 12, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      That sounds like fun!

      I own Pathfinder and have played it a few times. WHile it isn’t strictly speaking a Classic or earlier system-based game, I suppose one could consider it a “retro clone” as it is based on 3.5e.

      I like the flavor of the Pathfinder world… a definite plus! A good GM and players could really make a great campaign just “out of the box” w/ Pathfinder 🙂
      Whatever floats your boat should be what we play. 😉

      I will probably be doing some reflections on non-D&D-like games I have played in the past, but I look forward to catching some of your own reflections on your adventures at your blog (which I linked on my Blogroll for anyone who is interested).

      • dldzioba March 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

        Thanks for the link, I added you to my blogroll as well.

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