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
Constancy Arbitrary Just
Diligence Slothful Energetic
Generosity Selfish Generous
Honesty Deceitful Honest
Magnanimity Vengeful Forgiving
Mercy Cruel Merciful
Modesty Proud Modest
Piety Worldly Pious
Prudence Reckless Prudent
Temperance Indulgent Temperate
Trust Suspicious Trusting
Valor Cowardly Valorous

berserker sword



My absolute favorite aspect of the Pendragon rules is its use of traits and passions to flesh out characters, define their motivations, and, at times, compel them to take actions that are in keeping with those traits and passion.

With WotC’s Unearthed Arcana with variant alignment system in mind, I thought I’d see if I could effectively shoehorn my favorite bit from Pendragon into my new favorite RPG.



Roll 3d6 to determine each of the 13 traits listed in the left-hand column below.  These traits are also called virtues.

Add any cultural and racial modifiers to the relevant traits, to a maximum of 20 and minimum of 1. No starting trait may exceed 20, even after initial modifiers.  If no virtues are notable (14 or higher), you may raise one virtue of your choice to 14.

  • Values of 8-13 indicate no strong leanings with regards to that trait.
  • Values of 7 or lower show that you exhibit the vice listed in the column to the immediate right of the listed trait.
  • Values of 14 or higher show that you are virtuous, and strongly exhibit the virtue listed in the far right column.
Traits 7 or lower 14 or higher
Chastity Lustful Chaste
Constancy Arbitrary Just
Diligence Slothful Energetic
Generosity Selfish Generous
Honesty Deceitful Honest
Magnanimity Vengeful Forgiving
Mercy Cruel Merciful
Modesty Proud Modest
Piety Worldly Pious
Prudence Reckless Prudent
Temperance Indulgent Temperate
Trust Suspicious Trusting
Valor Cowardly Valorous


These should be left to individual DMs and be heavily dependent on the campaign world and tone that they are aiming for.  I’ve provided some quick examples that I’d use in my classic Greyhawk campaign.

Dwarf, Mountain or Hill:  +2 to Constancy, Diligence, and Valor/-2 to Generosity, Magnanimity, and Trust

Elf, High, Grey, or Valley: +2 to Diligence, Mercy, and Temperance/-2 to Constancy, Modesty, and Trust

Elf, Wood or Wild:  +2 to Diligence, Mercy, and Valor/-2 to Constancy, Magnanimity, and Trust*

* Wild elves suffer a -4 penalty to Trust

Gnomes, Deep:  +2 to Constancy, Diligence, and Prudence/-2 to Generosity,  Magnanimity, and Trust

Gnomes, Surface:  +2 to Mercy and Prudence/-2 to Magnanimity and Temperance

Halflings, All:  +2 to Generosity, Magnanimity, and Mercy/-2 to Diligence, Temperance, and Valor

Half-Orc:  +2 to Diligence and Valor/-2 to Magnanimity, Mercy, and Trust

Humans: While cultural modifiers could be used, I’d simply allow humans to add 2 to up to three traits and subtract 3 from an equal number of traits.



When making a trait  test (which will be explained in an upcoming post) to resist giving into a particular trait’s, the trait score assigns a modifier which works just like ability score modifiers.

Score             Modifier

1                       -5

2-3                    -4

4-5                    -3

6-7                   -2

8-9                   -1

10-11                +0

12-13                 +1

14-15                 +2

16-17                +3

18-19                +4

20-21                +5

22-23                +6

24-25                +7

26-27                +8

28-29                +9

30                    +10


Law/Chaos Axis


Lawful:  Trait modifiers for these traits total +8 or more.

Neutral:  Trait modifiers for these traits total -7 through +7.

Chaotic:  Traits modifiers total -8 or less.

Good/Evil Axis


Good:  Trait modifiers for these traits total +18 or more.

Neutral: Trait modifiers for these traits total -17 through +17.

Evil:  Traits modifiers total -18 or less.

dragon with hoard

Mad Max Fury Road has got me thinking…

Not that I’ll get a game up and running (I get to run my D&D game all too rarely as it is), but I enjoyed Fury Road and it got me thinking about post-apocalyptic RPGs.  In thinking of which are best suited to a Mad Max theme, the top contenders (in no particular order) are:

Barbarians of the Aftermath which is a Barbarians of Lemuria expansion.  I’m about to start playing in a BoL game and, when I’ve played it in the past, I really dug its rules-lite approach and flexibility.

Atomic Highway is probably the best fit for a Road Warrior themed-game.  In fact I seems like the game was built with the Mad Max movies in mind.  A few years ago I toyed with starting up a AH game but, as things often do, the game didn’t come to fruition.  Even better, the PDF is free!

Gamma World is a little too gonzo for a Mad Max-themed game but I had to include it out of nostalgia.  Sadly my favorite version of Gamma World, the 1992 version penned by Bruce Nesmith and James Ward, is hard to come by for a reasonable price.  Mutant Future, on the other hand, is available for free… though it’s closer to earlier iterations of GW (which isn’t a terrible thing!).

Coin Sizes in D&D

I saw this post by a poster named 77IM on ENWorld and thought I’d repost it here because it’s the kind of thing I like to consider in my games:

Do you wonder what size coins are? I sure do! Keeps me up at night.

So let’s math this out a bit.

50 coins weigh 1 lb. so that means 1 coin is 0.32 oz., or 9 g if we are being metric, which we are, because that is how Wikipedia lists coin weights. So, looking to see if any US coins weigh 9 g, it looks like the closest is the dollar coin, at 8.1 g.

The dollar coin is comprised primarily of copper, so BAM, that’s about how big a copper coin is. Actually it will be slightly bigger, about 12% bigger by volume, which is pretty negligible. For those of you unfamiliar with the dollar coin, it is is about an inch across (26.5 mm) and 2 mm thick, so it’s not that much bigger than a quarter.

Now let’s look up metal density. Copper is about 9 g/cm^3, and silver is 10.5 g/cm^3, so pretty close. This means a silver coin is slightly smaller than a copper coin. Since the copper coin is slightly bigger than the dollar coin, this means that the silver coin will be about the size of a dollar coin, or maybe a bit smaller. I’m to lazy to bust out pi*r^2 and figure out exact sizes for these coins so I’m satisfied saying “both silver and copper coins are about the size of a US dollar coin.”

Also, this assumes the metal is pure, and it’s usually not. Silver usually has some copper in it, and copper coins (in the US) often have substantial nickel in them, and once you start putting zinc in there things lighten up considerably. So all these sizes are going to be approximate anyway.

Looking at the density of gold (19.3) and platinum (21.5) it looks like they are pretty similar and both nearly double the density of copper and silver! Well that’s handy. It means that gold and platinum coins should be half the volume of the copper/silver coins.

Since most US coins are copper, a gold or platinum coin of the same dimensions would weigh twice as much. So to get the dimensions of a 9 g coin (50 coins weigh 1 lb. in D&D), we need to find a 4.5 g coin. Crawling around Wikipedia, it looks like the closest is the familar US nickel coin, at 5 g. That’s actually OK, because our D&D fantasy coins are probably not pure gold or platinum, which means they will be less dense and therefore slightly larger than a pure coin.

So there you have it:
A copper or silver piece is about the size of a US dollar coin (or a UK 20p piece).
A gold or platinum piece is about the size of a US nickel (or a UK 10p piece).

I’d add that electrum pieces would roughly be the size of a US quarter.


Tool Proficiencies in 5th Edition

According to the DMG (239) the proficiency bonus for tool proficiencies don’t apply when making ability checks to ascertain the quality, or to discern the origin, of a crafted items, since these checks do not require tool use.

I strongly disagree with this because no one should be more qualified to appraise and examine an item or structure than someone skilled in its creation.

In the PHB, tool proficiency affords the following:

A tool helps you to do something you couldn’t otherwise do, such as craft or repair an item, forge a document, or pick a lock. Your race, class, background, or feats give you proficiency with certain tools. Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool. Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since  proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge o f its use. For example, the DM might ask you to make a Dexterity check to carve a fine detail with your woodcarver’s tools, or a Strength check to make something out o f particularly hard wood.

I’d expand this slightly, by allowing tool proficiency bonuses on both investigation and appraisal checks made to examine items that would be made with those tools.  If the character is proficient in the investigation skill, he does not gain any additional bonus (as he already has a proficiency bonus to such checks).

Furthermore I’d allow characters with a tool proficiency to more capably run a business related to that craft.  In the DMG, on page 129, there is a chart that determines how successful a character is in the running of a business enterprise.  I’d allow characters with a tool proficiency bonus to multiply that bonus by 5 and add it to the percentile die result.  I wouldn’t add any ability score modifier to this bonus because, when running a business, various ability scores would come into play (CHA to deal with suppliers, debtors, and customers, INT to balance the books and deal with the minutia of running a business, WIS to know how to deal with the unexpected, to apply common-sense when tackling problems, and to have the strength of will to weather rough patches, STR and/DEX to work at creating goods for sale, etc.)

Fleshing Out Language Proficiencies in 5th Edition D&D

I recently wrote up my houserules for giving the Medicine skill a little more depth and utility.  When push came to shove, I scaled back some of the “crunchy” benefits I had incorporated because the changes didn’t feel right to me in light of 5th edition’s streamlined rules.   At the same time I wanted to stress the use of Medicine in diagnosing and treating long-term illnesses and poisoned creatures without adding unneeded complexity.

With that in mind I got thinking about ways to expand upon the uses of other skills and proficiencies in 5th edition.  Today’s proficiency:


According to the Player’s Handbook, your character can speak, read, and write certain languages “by virtue of their race”.  In addition characters may gain languages from their class choice (i.e. bards know additional languages, druids speak Druidic, and rogues speak Thieves’ Cant) and/or from class archetypes (knowledge domain clerics are learned and, as such, gain additional languages).  Finally, both backgrounds and some feats grant added languages.

But what does knowing a language mean beyond understanding its spoken and written words?  Here are some insights from the Player’s Handbook:

  • Draconic is thought to be one of the oldest languages and is often used in the study of magic.
  • Elven literature is rich and varied, and their songs and poems are famous among other races. Many bards learn their language so they can add Elvish ballads to their repertoires.
  • Humans typically learn the languages of other peoples they deal with, including obscure dialects. They are fond of sprinkling their speech with words borrowed from other tongues: Orc curses, Elvish musical expressions, Dwarvish military phrases, and so on.
  • The Gnomish language, which uses the Dwarvish script, is renowned for its technical treatises and its catalogs of knowledge about the natural world.

As such, it’s pretty clear that knowing languages should impart a character with insights into that race’s cultural and social mores, history, idioms (phrases that have both a literal and figurative meaning), works of literature and music, and generally provide give an inkling of that race’s outlook on life.  Speaking elven, for example, should allow that speaker to know a bit of their history, to be familiar with passages from elven works of literature, to be able to know some elven poems and songs, and better understand the elven people.

Also, HOW the character came to know the language should be factored into the equation.  Did a character who speaks Elven live among the elves for years, did an elven friend or paramour teach them, was it learned in a college of magic or bardic college, or did the character pore over tomes in order to teach themselves the tongue?

When considering Intelligence-based skills, I try to consider which languages could relate to them.  For example, I try to remember which characters speak Elven and Draconic (and, sometimes, other languages… such as Gnomish) when magical texts are found because those texts will often be written, at least in part, in those tongues.  When that’s the case, the character will gain advantage on their Arcana roll.   At the same, I would grant disadvantage on a History check when the check involves a race whose language a character isn’t fluent in.

Use of Charisma-based skills would also benefit.  For example, a character who speaks Orc would know when to use Intimidation and when to use Persuasion (or Deception) when parlaying with a band of orcs.  Likewise, a character who speaks Dwarven very possibly had extensive dealing with the dwarves (who don’t just teach their language to anyone), and would know how best to address a dwarven lord or haggle with a merchant.  Not speaking a race’s language could grant disadvantage when dealing with members of that race… depending on the circumstances.  While Common would allow for communication between a human and dwarf, things would go more smoothly if the human spoke dwarven (which would impart some degree of dwarven etiquette).

Fixing the Medicine Skill, Healer’s Kit, and Healer Feat (D&D 5th Edition) – Updated on 5/29

Reading the PHB, it’s pretty clear that the Medicine skill does nothing to aid in the treatment of wounds, ailments, or diseases.  As written, it only allows for stabilizing dying creatures and for diagnosing illnesses.

Here are my slight changes to Medicine (and associated changes to the healer’s kit and Healer feat):


Medicine.  A Wisdom (Medicine) check lets you try to stabilize a dying companion, evaluate others wounds, diagnose illnesses, treat poisoned or diseased creatures, and examine corpses in order determine the cause of death.

With a successful Wisdom (Medicine) check you can stabilize a dying character at 0 hit points.

Medicine may also be used to provide long-term care to poisoned or diseased creatures.  When a poisoned or diseased creature is cared for by someone proficient in the Medicine skill, they make their recuperation saving throws (see Downtime: Recuperating on page 187 of the Player’s Handbook) with advantage.


Healer’s Kit.  This kit is a leather pouch containing bandages, salves, and splints. The kit has ten uses. As an action, you can expend one use of the kit to stabilize a creature that has 0 hit points, without needing to make a Wisdom (Medicine) check.

If you expend one use of a healer’s kit to treat a poisoned or diseased creature, they make their recuperation saving throw (see Downtime: Recuperating on page 187 of the Player’s Handbook) with advantage.


Healer.  You are an able physician, allowing you to mend wounds quickly and get your allies back in the fight. You gain the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on all Wisdom (Medicine) checks.
  • When you use a healer’s kit to stabilize a dying creature, that creature also regains 1d6+4 hit points.
  • As an action, you can spend one use of a healer’s kit to tend to a creature and restore 1d6 + 4 hit points to it, plus additional hit points equal to the creature’s maximum number of Hit Dice. The creature can’t regain hit points from this feat again until it finishes a short or long rest.


Recuperating.  You can use downtime between adventures to recover from a debilitating injury, disease, or poison.  After three days of downtime spent recuperating, you can make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw.  If you are treated by someone proficient in the Medicine skills, you have advantage on this saving throw.  On a successful save, you can choose one of the following results:

  • End one effect on you that prevents you from regaining hit points.
  • For the next 24 hours, gain advantage on saving throws against one disease or poison currently affecting you.