Greetings and welcome to Ash’s Guide
to RPG Personality & Background
In my experience, what makes role playing games so fun is the role playing! Yes, high pitched battles are a blast, but can get stale when that’s the meat of the experience. Developing and running a character that, over time, really comes to life makes gaming rewarding because eventually you get to know and care about this creation that is, ultimately, an extension of yourself. And so, this guide was developed for gamers like myself who enjoy playing complex characters with a unique personality and background.
Let me repeat: The Guide does not require that every variable be assigned. You can start off with only one or two variables in the beginning and add more as you get to know your character or as questions arise. Of course, you are welcome to start off with a complete personality and background profile…it’s entirely up to you. Either way, I hope you find The Guide useful for enriching your gaming experience.
Personality (part 1)
When we talk about personality in a gaming context, what we want to know are things like a character’s motivations, emotional states, worldview, and how s/he behaves in various situations. Alignment often doesn’t go far enough in answering these questions. Richness in a campaign often comes in the form of small details, quirky events, and surprising action, all of which are more possible when the characters (including the NPCs) have personality elements that make for non-general play.
For instance, a thief can certainly be played to pickpocket everyone indiscriminately, but it is more interesting if she, say, also loves to read and goes out of her way to steal books. It is this kind of insight about what makes a character tick that allows for really fun and engaging adventures.
Step 1: Primary Motivators
In the broadest sense, the Primary Motivator is the underlying goal of your character’s life. It is the foundational theme of his worldview and, at a deep level, is what ultimately what drives him to action. While any given act might be tactically pragmatic in service to short-term goals, the PM is there in the background influencing his aims and behaviors.
A single Primary Motivator is entirely sufficient and even if you want more, it is recommended to begin only with one. If you are inspired to have multiple Motivators, I suggest you still choose one that is primary with others that are secondary. This isn’t presented as a rule, it’s just experience—the more PMs you have, the less meaningful they become in your gaming. In general, I’ve found it more interesting and playable to go deeper with one motivator rather than broader with more PMs.
|1-4%||Achievement||To overcome obstacles and succeed; to become the best|
|5-8%||Acquisition||To obtain possessions/wealth|
|9-12%||Balance/Peace||To bring all things into harmony and equilibrium|
|13-16%||Beneficence||To protect the helpless, heal the sick, feed the hungry, etc.|
|17-20%||Chaos||To disrupt, to cause confusion and discord|
|21-24%||Competition||To seek out or create rule-based win/lose scenarios; to defeat others in contests|
|25-28%||Creation||To build or make new, such as art, culture, invention, design,etc.|
|29-32%||Destruction||To annihilate, exterminate, unmake, and bring to ruin|
|33-36%||Discovery/Adventure||To explore, uncover mysteries, and pioneer|
|37-40%||Domesticity||To get married, have children, and live a family life|
|41-44%||Education||To provide information, teach, enlighten, or train|
|45-48%||Enslavement||To force others into servitude|
|49-52%||Hedonism||To enjoy all things sensuous|
|53-56%||Liberation||To free the self and/or others from perceived captivity or enslavement|
|57-60%||Love||To experience/share affection and emotional commitment, whether romantic or platonic|
|61-64%||Nobility/Honor||To exalt ideals such as generosity, honesty, bravery, and courtliness|
|65-68%||Order||To arrange, organize, and reduce chaos|
|69-72%||Play||To have fun, to enjoy life|
|73-76%||Power||To control and lead others|
|77-80%||Proselytization||To spread a belief system; indoctrinate others|
|81-84%||Rebellion||To fight against power structures; to undermine authority|
|85-88%||Recognition||To gain approval, social status, or fame|
|89-92%||Service||To follow a person, government, order, religion, etc.|
|93-96%||Torment||To inflict pain and suffering, on others and/or the self|
|97-100||Understanding||To seek knowledge or wisdom (spiritual, scientific, magical,etc)|
You are certainly not limited to the choices above—but if you create your own Motivator, be sure to make it generalizable and thematic. You don’t want a PM that is actually a Quest or a Hobby. For instance, Competition is something that can motivate a character in many situations and across the lifetime, but Revenge doesn’t work well because it’s more of a Quest. But if one does want revenge, the flavor of it will be influenced by the PM—you can imagine how it might manifest differently if the character’s PM is Beneficence, Destruction, Liberation, or Torment.
You can also choose a narrower version of the listed options. For example, Invention rather than the more general Creation, or try Popularity rather than Recognition. Just be careful not to make it too narrow. And if you do pick a narrow Motivator, you are encouraged to pick at least one other PM, just to keep your character from a too-restricted range of action.
Step 2: Emotion and Core Traits
Now we start to fill in some details about what your character is like. We want to know how she feels and thinks, ultimately so we can determine how she will behave.
Emotional Disposition and Moodiness
We begin with the Emotional Disposition and Moodiness. The ED describes the general emotional set or “resting state” of the character. This doesn’t mean that the character is limited to the ED, it just informs you of the emotion the character is most likely to be experiencing at any given time. This trait can be used to help you determine how your character is likely to emotionally respond to a situation, as well as how she appears to others. For instance, a primarily joyous person will act and speak differently than one who tends towards anxiety or contempt. Finally, don’t make the mistake of correlating the ED with alignment—it is possible to be joyously evil and angrily good.
Moodiness describes how easily one feels strong emotion. It’s basically the level of emotional stability. Labile describes being quick to experience strong emotions and Phlegmatic describes being emotionally steady and low-key.
|1-33% Labile; 34-66 Even-tempered; 67-100 Phlegmatic|
Where the Primary Motivator describes the global drive of your character, the Core Traits inform how a character is likely to act in any given situation. They help define how a character sees the world and how they move within it. For players who don’t need much personality detail, picking out a Primary Motivator, the key Emotional Disposition, and even one or two Core Traits should be enough to give any character a distinct flavor.
While all such traits in reality have a wide spectrum of expression, for the sake of gaming simplicity, they have been divided into black and white categories. Even so, this should not stop you from finding the shades of grey during gameplay.
|Outlook is one’s basic worldview, interpreting the world as being essentially good or bad.|
Idealistic, confident, trusting, hopeful, upbeat
Cynical, bleak, distrustful, foreboding, resigned
|Basic values regarding work and social interactions.|
Industrious, honest, responsible, meticulous, pragmatic
Lazy, deceitful, unreliable, manipulative, slipshod, impractical
|The ability to regulate one’s thoughts and actions.|
Deliberate, focused, steady, thoughtful
Capricious, flighty, hyperactive, rash
|Willingness to face danger and enter into battle.|
Daring, reckless, valorous, dauntless, audacious, confident
Timid, paranoid, vigilant, nervous, tentative
|General attitude towards people and the ability to handle new situations, tough choices, and interpersonal conflicts.|
Warm, empathic, tolerant, forgiving, open-minded, adaptable, altruistic
Cold, rigid, tense, intractable, narrow-minded, cantankerous, stingy
|Style and degree to which your character interacts with others.|
Talkative, candid, entertaining, touchy
Shy, loner, taciturn, evasive, cryptic
|Basic relationship with cultural norms.|
Orthodox, formal, down-to-earth, mainstream, traditional
Rebellious, arty, shocking, freethinking, exotic
The Basic Profile
Determining the Primary Motivator, Emotional Disposition, Moodiness, and Core Traits will give you a solid personality profile for your character, covering almost any situation she might get into. Let’s look at an example:
|Primary Motivator: Liberation||Impulsiveness: Controlled|
|Emotional Disposition: Melancholy||Boldness: Intrepid|
|Moodiness: Phlegmatic||Agreeableness: Disagreeable|
|Outlook: Pessimistic||Interactivity: Reserved|
|Integrity: Conscientious||Conformity: Heterodox|
As you can see, just these ten items are able to generate a detailed and playable profile. But perhaps you want more? Well, then, let’s move on to Personality Part 2…!