Traits & Passions System in D&D (Part II)

This is a continuation of my last blog post.


Traits between 8 and 13 represent the average range of traits.  When faced with tests tied to these, the player may forego the trait check and use free will to determine a course of action.

Characters who consistently act a certain way will eventually have the appropriate trait raised due to the rules below.


Only famous traits (i.e., those with a value of 14 or higher, or of 7 or lower) are noteworthy, and such traits must be checked with a die roll whenever character behavior is challenged in a crisis.  This does not mean that trait rolls must be used whenever the character makes any decision in the game. And even characters with famous characteristics are allowed free choice of behavior except when the plot demands otherwise. The DM should request trait rolls only when a trait is tested in an important situation. In general, trait rolls simulate situations in which a crisis forces the character to act unconsciously.


When characters face moral dilemmas and/or are tempted to act in a particular manner, the DM may call for a trait check.

Since traits define character personality, they must be consulted whenever the DM feels them necessary. In crises, it is assumed, individuals act according to their character, not spontaneous and ambiguous choices. Custom and training triumph over instinct. Players may not want their characters to do something dictated by a die roll, but free choice is not always possible.

Trait checks are handled much like ability checks (PHB 172).  When a test of a particular trait is called for, the DM determines the difficulty of that check.  The player then rolls a d20, adding the modifier for the relevant trait score and their proficiency modifier…  as experience tempers judgement.

Typical Difficulty Classes
Task Difficulty                          DC
Very easy                                 5
Easy                                          10
Medium                                   15
Hard                                         20
Very hard                                 25
Nearly impossible                  30

If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the trait check is a success – the character overcomes the challenge at hand and acts in accordance with that trait. Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character may give into their vices.  A natural “20” indicates a critical success while a natural “1” indicates a fumble. See the table below for the effects of success and failure at a trait check.

Roll Result and Effect

Critical Success: The trait increases by one, and the character must act strongly in accordance with the trait unless he succeeds at a Wisdom saving throw with the same DC.  If this save succeeds, the character may act freely but reduces the trait by 1 point if he fails to act in accordance with it.

Success:  The character may act in accordance with the trait but is not required to. The player may decide precisely what action ensues within that limitation.

Failure:  Failure indicates the player fails to act in accordance with the checked trait unless he succeeds at a Wisdom saving throw with the same DC.  If this save succeeds, the character may act freely.

Fumble:  The trait is immediately reduced by one 1 point and the character immediately acts against that trait unless he succeeds at a Wisdom saving throw with the same DC.  If this save succeeds, the character may act freely and doesn’t suffer a loss to the checked trait.

Example:  Hromund Hammerhand, a level  3 dwarven paladin renowned for his purity has a Chastity score of 16 and  encounters a succubus in the form of a beautiful dwarven maiden. The DM asks the  player to make a Chasity roll with a DC of 15.   His bonus to this roll is +5 but he rolls a “4” on his trait check.  Unless he rolls a successful Wisdom save Hromund will give in to the succubus’ charms.

The following chart shows the effects of passed and failed trait rolls.  The character acts accordingly:

Trait Checked Failed Check (Vice Exhibited) Successful Check (Virtue Exhibited)
Chastity Lustful Chaste
Diligence Slothful Energetic
Equity Arbitrary Just
Forgiveness Vengeful Forgiving
Generosity Selfish Generous
Honesty Deceitful Honest
Mercy Cruel Merciful
Modesty Proud Modest
Piety Worldly Pious
Prudence Reckless Prudent
Temperance Indulgent Temperate
Trust Suspicious Trusting
Valor Cowardly Valorous

berserker sword

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