D&D characters are often described by their race, class and weapon selection. This is certainly a good start but without further details it paints a very bland picture. Throw in a theme and a background and now your character is really starting to separate himself from the pack. But is this enough?
In my experience the only reason player choose a background and theme for their character is to gain the mechanical benefits they provide. The fact that they’ve chosen to be from a certain place in the campaign world or that they had a previous occupation before becoming an adventurer rarely come into the role playing. These details that could make the character more interesting only serve to make them better when it comes to rolling the dice.
Rather than choose a background that won’t make a difference to the way the character is played, why not look for a simpler way to make your character unique and memorable. I’m referring to character quirks. These are little details that help your character stand out at the gaming table. They provide absolutely no mechanical benefits or penalties; they’re merely flavour for your character.
Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. Today the “Q” is for Quirk as we look at ways to make characters more memorable and interesting.
The DMG suggests that DMs give each NPC some kind of quirk; a personality trait or something visually unique that will make them more memorable. Some suggested ideas include things like a limp, a funny hat, a tattoo, or bad breath. This is not necessarily something that defines the character in the way that their race and occupation (or class) might, it’s just a detail to make them different from the next NPC you’ll meet. It’s good advice for the DM and it’s good advice for players.
Visual quirks are the easiest to come up with. Examples include battle wounds (battle scars or missing digits, limbs, eyes, ears), distinctive clothing (lavish style, unorthodox colours, inappropriate attire for the situation), extreme beauty or ugliness, or unusual physical features (skin colour, hair colour, large nose, long hair, bald).
Personality quirks or an unusual attitude can also be memorable but may not be readily apparent, especially if you only have a brief interaction with an NPC. Examples include arrogant, lazy, suspicious, brave, liar, pessimist, or curious.
The quirks that I like to have fun with are mannerisms. These are the things that people do; their habits or compulsions. Unusually they have no conscious realization that they’re even doing it which makes it even more memorable. Examples include pacing, nail biting, chews tobacco, taps fingers, hums, whistles, speaking really loudly or softly, nervous twitch, or stuttering.
By giving your character a quirk it gives you a starting point during non-combat situations. It also gives the other players and the DM something to latch on to if they need a way to start a conversation or shift a troublesome conversation towards a new subject. Character quirks like a fear or hatred of something can make for some very interesting role-playing and can spur on in-party teasing and rivalries.
For example, in a recent adventure one of the PCs hated Halflings. It took a few sessions before we learned that his hatred sprouted from an incident in his past where he was swindled by some mischievous little people. He didn’t have a bloodthirsty rage towards them, he just didn’t like them. The DM knew he could make an otherwise straight forward encounter a lot more interesting by making an NPC a Halfling. Likewise if the Halfling in the party could easily manipulate this PC by taking the opposite stand on any issue knowing the hater would automatically disagree.
When giving your character a quirk be mindful of how annoying it might be to the other players. After all, if it’s something the PCs is doing subconsciously he should be doing it regularly. One that is overused and often done poorly is to give the PC a strange accent. When the DM does it to make an NPC memorable or funny, it works mainly because in five minutes you’ll never see or hear from that NPC again. When you do it the group has to listen to your awful attempt at an accent for hours on end.
Others can be annoying if overused, but appropriate if done with moderation. Thinks like a character catchphrase or a stutter when the PC is talking to women he finds attractive certainly have their place. Just don’t overdo it.
If you’re looking for some ideas the 4e DMG has a list of 20 mannerisms and 20 quirks on page 186. The 3.5e DMG has 100 traits on page 128. A great online resource is the thread on the Wizards Forums called 1001 Character Quirks. At last check there were over 1,700 listed.
What are some memorable quirks you’ve give your characters? What are some of the worst you’ve seen or heard?
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