Alternative Traits, Advantage, Disadvantage, and Another Inspiration Solution (5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons)
On this very blog I’ve posted repeatedly about multiple ways to address my favorite least favorite entangled mechanics, traits and inspiration. After looking a few more games (such as the Storypathsystem and the ability to invoke story paths), I’ve got yet another take on how one might address the fact that it’s just kind of awkward to stop a game of D&D and adjudicate if someone has actually been roleplaying their traits.
For this particular alternate set of rules, we’re going to skip Inspiration completely. Instead, whenever one of your character’s traits is relevant to a roll, you can invoke that trait, and make you check with advantage. You can only invoke each trait once per session. You have to justify that the trait in question is relevant to the roll you are making.
To facilitate this, you may want to draw a box next to each trait, which you can put a checkmark in when it has been invoked. At the end of the session, you can erase all of the checkmarks, and start fresh next session.
While it’s not required, I would suggest that, instead of using the traits as presented in the various backgrounds, that player’s write traits based on the general definitions of each type of trait as they will be explained below. Your background still provides you with skills, starting equipment, tool proficiencies, languages, and special abilities as normal.
For each trait, write a trait description that matches the definition for this trait. The trait should be summarized in a single sentence. For more guidelines on writing succinct and meaningful traits, it might be worth it to read through Fate Core for some ideas on how to write aspects.
Under this system, alignment is a trait. Alignment is what your character aspires to be, not a summary of what they are. They may be really good at living up to this ideal, or they might fail constantly, but when an action is emblematic of the alignment that the player character aspires to follow, they can invoke their alignment trait for advantage.
Alignment traits do not need to be written as a sentence. Just noting the alignment will do.
This is a trait that summarizes the most common aspect of who your character is. It is essentially a thesis statement on the character. If they are grim and humorless, that’s the personality trait. If they never take anything seriously, then write a sentence that summarizes that.
This is something long term that the character strives to do. If they think the greatest threat to the world is the undead, then their ideal may be to always oppose the works of the unliving. If their ideal is to always make sure they remain free of entanglements, that guiding principle would be something you would write out to summarize the character’s views. This trait is probably a good one to look at in light of the character’s alignment trait.
Bonds are something that the character cares for to a greater degree than other aspects of their life. It may be an organization, a person, or a possession, but a bond serves as a tie to a specific thing, and it makes sense to invoke this trait whenever that thing can be protected, bolstered, or advanced.
At this point, you may be wondering, hey, where did flaws go? Well, we will be getting to that. The next step in this journey is to look at something I’m calling Negative Traits.
Every character will have one negative trait, and that trait is their Flaw. In addition to their Flaw, they may pick up other negative traits. Negative traits can be invoked once per session by the GM to cause the player to roll a check with disadvantage. If a character can justify why one of their other traits is also at play, the player can invoke that trait to cancel out the disadvantage on the roll.
Other negative traits that characters can accumulate are include short-term, Lingering, or indefinite madness, divine displeasure, sundered pacts, or lasting injuries.
Every character has a flaw, so a Dungeon Master, under this system, will have the opportunity to invoke a flaw to impose disadvantage once per session. This still follows the rules for other traits, so if a flaw doesn’t seem relevant to a particular roll, the Dungeon Master can’t invoke that flaw to impose disadvantage.
Short-term, Lingering, or Indefinite Madness (Mental Trauma)
First, my recommendation is to would be to change the name of these negative traits to Short-Term, Lingering, and Indefinite Mental Trauma. Whenever one of these would normally be incurred by the player character, instead of the normal rules, use the following rules.
Write a sentence summarizing how the character deals with the mental trauma they have just suffered. A short-term mental trauma can be invoked once by the Dungeon Master, and then it is removed from the character. A Lingering mental trauma can be invoked until the character takes a long rest. Indefinite mental trauma can be invoked once per session until the character does something to remove the condition from the character.
Divine Displeasure and Sundered Pacts
Each time a cleric, paladin, druid, or ranger does something that goes against the tenants of their faith or belief system, write a sentence that describes the transgression. Unlike other traits, the Dungeon Master can invoke this negative trait whenever they feel it is appropriate, rather than waiting for narratively appropriate time (it is a sign of the gods, spirits of nature, or karma turning against the character for their transgression). Upon atoning, this trait goes away. A character can have multiple divine displeasure traits, one for each time they transgress the teachings of their faith or the morays of the belief system from which they derive power.
Sundered pacts are similar to divine displeasure, but they represent a warlock that has not fulfilled their end of a pact. In this case, the warlock does not receive a Sundered Pact trait because they have violated an established tenant of behavior, but because their patron has expressed a desire for the warlock to perform an act that they have failed to perform. A warlock can have a sundered pact for each time they refuse to perform an action on behalf of the patron, and it is only removed when the warlock performs the deed, or does another deed that the patron wishes to be accomplished. Like the divine displeasure trait, this can be invoked once per session, whenever the Dungeon Master deems it to make sense to remind the warlock of their patron’s displeasure.
If the group decides to play with the Lingering injuries rule, this is a means of implementing those injuries without using the specific effects noted on the optional chart in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The first step is to decide if you are using Lingering injuries, and when they are triggered. The potential triggers are listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but can include the following:
- When a character takes a critical hit
- When a character drops to 0 hit points but isn’t killed outright
- When a character fails a death save by 5 or more
In this case, each time a character receives a lingering injury, write a description of the injury that makes sense for how the character trigged one of the above conditions. Once per session, after that injury is incurred, the Dungeon Master can invoke that lingering injury trait to impose disadvantage on the character. The character can have as many lingering injuries as have been triggered by the agreed upon source of lingering injuries, and the character removes a lingering injury trait when they receive a lesser restoration spell to remove the trait.
That all sounds very heroic, but what about the villains?
While the Dungeon Master should not go out of their way to assign traits to every character the players might meet, any important NPCs that have been assigned traits should also be able to invoke those traits to gain advantage on an appropriate roll.
If a villain has negative traits, player character should be able to discern those negative traits with appropriate rolls, and can trigger disadvantage at an appropriate time once the negative trait is discerned. This should normally require a skill check and spending an action doing something appropriate to discern the negative trait.