2017-01-20 Traits

Sometimes I think I don’t actually want to bring skills to the table but I want to bring those King Arthur Pendragon traits to the character, using a d20 or 2d6 or something.

Assume we wanted to see whether a character would watch over a city gate for two days. Instead of making a focus skill check, you make a trait check to see whether your character is energetic or lazy.

If you don’t know: King Arthur Pendragon 1st ed. is free on RPGNow until the end of the month, apparently. Each character has a variety of opposing traits such as chaste vs. lustful, energetic vs. lazy, forgiving vs. vengeful, etc. The point is that your character might not act the way you want them to and I like that. The two opposing traits always add up to 20.

chaste ↔ lustful
energetic ↔ lazy
forgiving ↔ vengeful
generous ↔ selfish
honest ↔ deceitful
just ↔ arbitrary
merciful ↔ cruel
modest ↔ proud
pious ↔ worldly
prudent ↔ reckless
temperate ↔ indulgent
trusting ↔ suspicious
valorous ↔ cowardly

So say we have energetic 13 and lazy 7. You want the character to stand guard for two days. Let’s have an energetic test: If you roll 1–12, you succeed. If you roll 13, you have a critical success. If you roll higher, you fail. Failing this check might mean that the characters started nodding off, or got distracted. They weren’t energetic enough.

In some cases, you might want to determine whether the character does the exact opposite of what the player wants. In these situations, make an involuntary check of the opposite trait. In this case, a lazy check: if you roll 1–6, the character is lazy. On a 7, critically so. If the characters were actively lazy, they probably retired to a nearby tavern and decided to keep an eye on the gate by peeping out the window every now and then. On a critical lazy result, they’re probably drunk and crawling around on the tavern floor.

If characters fail both checks, the player gets to decide. Since players get to decide if they succeed the first check (since this is what they wanted the character to do) and if they fail the second check, characters actively disobeying players doesn’t happen too often.

On important occasions, the referee might decide that an action was worth a “check”. A check means that at the end of the session, players roll a d20 and if they beat the existing score, it goes up (with 19 being the upper limit). In a D&D game, you might want to do this immediately, but at most once per session, or upon gaining a level (but that might be very long off).

If all players start with traits around 7–13, a trait of 16 or higher would mean that they are famous for being generous, lazy, lustful, or whatever.


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This adapts well to the basic Dungeons and Dragons method of rolling 3d6 to determine the attribute. I now have this nagging desire to come up with an excuse to have players “save versus laziness”.

This is a nice way to handle the case where a player is recklessly running down a slick stone stair with bow drawn, where you perhaps don’t want to hand wave away the danger entirely, but a simple test with terrible consequences for failure is certain to inspire player resentment as excessively harsh. Having once had such a case and the argument that followed it, how nice to think I might have handled it more Pendragonishly:

  1. Roll dexterity check to make it down stairs without incident, on critical success maybe the closed door at the foot of the stair pops open, surprising the monster a round earlier
  2. If the dexterity check fails, I think it might have been a 16, the player then rolls a clumsiness test against their derived clumsiness score of 4, with 1-3 indicating fall prone and 4 indicating the player takes 1d6 damage from a sprain or minor self-inflicted wound.

Thank you for the inspiration!

– Kit 2017-01-20 12:36 UTC

Hm, it’s tricky. Roger GS writes in one of the G+ comments: “The difference between knowing your character died because you pushed your luck, and that he died because a die roll caused him to push his luck, is pretty strong.” I think one would have to watch out for this. I wouldn’t want these traits to play as strong a role as a saving throw. I like the surprise of a character doing this or that but I wouldn’t want the character to make life or death decisions based on these traits.

– Alex Schroeder 2017-01-21 12:46 UTC

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