Greatest Hits 2013: Your Character’s Psychological Profile

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 29, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Some would argue that personality is not something you can stat out on a character sheet; each character’s personality derives from the player running that character. I’d agree, but I’d also add that if you can quantify certain elements of a character personality that may help some players develop a unique personality for each character they play.

In D&D the only real measuring stick for personality seems to be alignment. Yet so few players and DM care about playing to a PCs alignment that it becomes an irrelevant statistic and is often left blank (in my experience).

In the article I talk about how most of my characters end up having a personality that’s an awful lot like mine. It’s easy to make new characters, but it’s a lot more difficult to create new personalities with each. If you participate in public play you might have a whole stable of character by the end of just one year. When 4e first came out I had at last a dozen LFR character and three or four PCs for my various home campaigns. Mechanically each was a different race and class, but as I played them the majority of these PCs behaved, acted and spoke just like me.

Creating a psychological profile for a character can give players that quantifiable measure they need to “get into character.” Knowing how cruel or loyal or selfish your PC is compared to other PCs can really help you develop a frame of reference by which to play your character.

From February 6, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Your Character’s Psychological Profile.

The character creation process, be it for D&D or any other role-playing game, usually starts with filling in all the boxes and fields on the character sheet. In D&D the areas that usually get the most attention are the class, race, ability scores, skills and weapons. Once these are filled in you’re well on your way. For many this is where the creative process ends. They have all the hard facts they need to begin play. From a mechanics point-of-view they’re ready to explore dungeons and slay monsters.

For the number crunchers and power gamers this is all they’re interested in. They’ve filled in all the blanks on their character sheet so they must be done, right? I suppose, but what about the character’s personality? After all, this is a living being. Shouldn’t you spend at least a few minutes figuring out this character’s personality? It may not factor into their attack scores or skill checks, but it can help guide your role-playing and give you (and the rest of the players at your table) a better idea of who the character is and not just what kind of sword he wields.

Unfortunately the only area of the character sheet that even comes close to defining the character’s personality is alignment. However, in my experience alignment is one of the most overlooked or outright ignored parts of the character sheet. Even when it is completed it rarely carries any weight in how the PC is run. In previous editions of D&D there were nine alignments, in 4e we’re down to five. As new players come to D&D, alignment seems to be less important and plays a much smaller role in the character development.

So how do we encourage players to better develop their character’s personality? The answer might be as simple as adding more boxes to the character sheet; new boxes that place more emphasis into defining your characters’ initial psychological profile. Alignment is a good start, but why not delve deeper? In the old TSR spy RPG Top Secret S.I. there was an area on the character sheet (or character dossier as they’re called in that game) called psychological profile. It helped players really get inside the head of their character and breathe personality into their PC from the very first outing.

Gamers tend to be meticulous when it comes to making characters. They want to complete all the boxes and all the fields on their character sheet. If a new section was added to the D&D character sheet, a section dedicated to defining the PC’s psychological profile, I believe that a) most players would complete it, and b) it would provide the players with a better idea of who their PC is from the very beginning.

In Top Secret S.I. the psychological profile is broken into six categories, each of which represents an emotion, attribute, or personality trait.

  • Cruelty
  • Loyalty
  • Passion
  • Piety
  • Sanity
  • Selfishness

Beside each category the player indicates the PC’s level of interest or devotion by writing one of five responses.

  • No
  • Low
  • Some
  • High
  • Total

The idea is that your character is more than numbers on a page. The psychological profile helps you understand and define the PC’s attitudes towards other people and life in general. The psychological profile isn’t set in stone. As you play the character you may find that his views or outlook changes. When that happens, you make the necessary adjustments. The key is to try and follow the map you’ve created for reading this characters psyche.

Let’s look at the psychological profile a stereotypical Human Paladin as an example.

  • Cruelty = None
  • Loyalty = Total
  • Passion = High
  • Piety = High
  • Sanity = High
  • Selfishness = Some

This is what you’d expect from a holier-than-thou knight in shinning armor. Absolutely loyal, extremely high dedication to his religious beliefs, passionate in his convictions, a fairly good head on his shoulders, and not a cruel bone in his body. But as no one’s perfect this knight is sometimes selfish as long as it doesn’t conflict with his loyalty to his deity or liege.

Now what if we tweaked this profile in order to make the character more interesting? His abilities, skills, and class remain unchanged (the numbers on the page) but we tweaked his psychological profile.

  • Cruelty = Some
  • Loyalty = Total
  • Passion = Total
  • Piety = Total
  • Sanity = Some
  • Selfishness = None

Seeing this revised profile I’d think the Paladin is now a fanatical religious zealot. He’s motivated by the words of his church and likely believes it’s his mission to repeat the doctrine to anyone and everyone he encounters. His low sanity could represent poor judgment and his wavering cruelty could indicate that he may actually harm those who disagree with his beliefs. It’s important to note that this psychological profile doesn’t necessarily indicate that the PC has an evil alignment.

It’s up to you to decide how to play your character. You choose his alignment and his personality. But if you’ve played as many characters as I have over the years it can be difficult to make each one seem like an individual. By adding a few extra lines to the D&D character sheet we can ask players to define their PC’s psychological profile in just a few quick steps. With so many similar characters out there this is an easy and subtle way to help your character find his voice at the gaming table.

How much effort do you usually put in to defining your characters’ personality and psychological profile? Do you think that adding a few more lines to the character sheet would help? Do you think the Top Secret S.I. model is detailed enough or would you add additional categories?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jim Alcala Sales December 30, 2013 at 9:21 am

Very nice article.

BareBones Fantasy and Covert Ops by DWD Studios does just this.

You have a Moral Code with the following: Kind or Cruel, Focused or Unfocused, Selfish or Unselfish, Honoarable or Deceitful, Brave or Cowaredly. Choose one of each set, then label it Somewhat, Very or Totally. Very useful for helping players role play.

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