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Dream Factory

Selecting Traits Part Three: Generic versus Brand Name

We have come far, grasshopper, in studying the Trait-fu.  We know to pick Traits essential to the core truth of the character – because that’s how we’re going to shine.  We’ve learned to be careful that the scope of the chosen Traits isn’t so narrow as to be seldom usable, but also isn’t so wide as to be abusable, usable almost always.  Now we focus in on the gravy – picking Traits that enhance the flavor and savoriness of each selected Trait, bringing the overall character to a tasty fruition.

Why am I suddenly hungry?

Pushing on, this aspect of Trait selection is all about texture.  And successful texturing will help determine if your character pops three-dimensionally, firing on all cylinders – or if instead the character has as much vivacity as a dead mackerel, lying inert on the deck.

Your character’s traits are the main way that the audience sees them try to surmount the obstacles in their path.  Not only do the Traits represent what we see the character doing the most often, the Traits are what we see the character doing when things are at the most dramatic, as the audience waits with baited breath to see what happens next.  Put another way, whenever the character is in the spotlight, odds are that the character’s Traits are front and center.

This is why it is such a terrible mistake to choose bland and generic Traits.  Let’s illustrate the points by coming up with two sets of Traits covering the same ground for a superhero named Dichotomy.  First, the bland and generic “gets it done with minimal flair” version:

  • Perceptive  (because having at least one perception Trait is usually a good idea)
  • Dichotomy Powers (because we want to leverage our super powers for extra dice.)
  • Clever (we want this character to be able to figure out puzzles and stuff.)
  • Handsome (so that we can use our charm and hotness to succeed where useful.)

Perceptive, Dichotomy Powers, Clever, Handsome.  Those Traits certainly function well enough.  They do represent the core of what we want to see the character do, and they aren’t too narrow or too wide.  But they’re so meh.  So forgettable.  Invoking these Traits just might put us to sleep!

Now let’s try the same basic character, but choosing more punchy and flavorful Traits:

  • Doesn’t Miss Much
  • Soulbound to the Principle of Contradiction
  • Sharper Than He Looks
  • Built Like a Greek Statue

Bam!  Each of the above pretty much accomplishes the same coverage as the first bland set, but the difference should be obvious.  Which is going to make you feel it more, invoking “Handsome” or “Built Like a Greek Statue”, to charm the coed?  Which is going to push shaping the narrative more, “Clever” or “Sharper Than He Looks”, when trying to solve the puzzle in front of those who don’t see him that way?  Which gives us a more meaty sense of the character, “Perceptive” or “Doesn’t Miss Much”, when checking to see if the character spots a clue in the undergrowth?

It is tempting to choose the bland Trait and have done with it – these generic concept labels come so easily to mind – Strong, Rich, Shy, Athletic – and let’s face it, everyone wants to get the character creation part over so that they can starting gaming.

But take a few more moments.  Your whole game experience will center on your character’s four Traits.  Make sure to choose the right ones, full of flavor, and you will not be sorry.  Choose the easy and bland ones instead, and you may well wonder why the game falls so flat for you.  So take the time to pick “Nervous Around Others” or “Socially Awkward” instead of just “Shy”.  It will help bring your character to life.

That’s it.  The keys to picking good character Traits are three:

  1. Choose your character’s core truths – the main things we the audience love about the character, or what fascinates us.
  2. Make sure your selections aren’t so narrow that they are rarely able to be used, nor so wide in scope that they can be invoked practically anytime.
  3. Finally, choose carefully, avoiding bland “concept-words” selecting instead Traits that are filled to the brim with attitude, life, and flavor.

Your gaming experience will thank you for it.