Eclipse Character Traits Explained

Fortitudo, by Sandro Botticelli

Well, nobody's perfect

There have been a couple of questions about the Character Traits option in Eclipse.

Now, that particular section assigns scores to pairs of personal qualities – such as Valor and Caution, or Patience and Restlessness. Those scores are linked; each pair always totals twenty-one – and no score ever goes below one.

Some of the common misconceptions popping up in questions about the character traits include the idea that some of those traits are virtues, while others are vices, that they force you to play your character in a particular way, and that giving up a point from one quality (and thus automatically gaining a point in its opposite) is somehow a penalty.

Is valor a virtue? Yes, it often is! Is caution a virtue? Yes, indeed it is! Too much valor can lead to suicidal idiocy, while too much caution may lead to getting nothing done. Patience is good sometimes – but you can also have too much patience. Some of those traits are less admired than others, but all of them have their places – especially when you want to survive.

If, in the face of a horrible monster, you roll Valorous/Cautious and wind up with a “Cautious” result – yet you go ahead and nobly defy it anyway – you’ll lose a point from “Cautious” and gain one on “Valorous”. That’s not a penalty; it’s just a reflection of how you’re developing your character. He or she is defying his or her cautious nature.

If a character is played as being Valorous 90% of the time, his or her Valor score will soon be hanging around 18. By design, the Traits may wander up and down by a point or two on a regular basis – but they’ll wind up in accord with the way that the character is actually being played, rather than the way in which he or she is described. In that way Character Traits are simply a tracking system – and quick-reference way of judging a character on their prior actions and stands in which there isn’t much room for argument.

Really extreme scores in character traits represent a major behavioral commitment – which is why the Character Traits come with the “Granted Powers” section on the next page; with that system in play characters who are actually played in particular ways, and dedicate themselves to particular ideals, can get rewards for it.

Play your character as an treacherous schemer, and you may get bonuses to your treacherous scheming. Play as a noble warrior of the light, and you can get bonuses to those activities as well. That encourages grand passions – and those are always a bonus in a role-playing game. Blandly expedient uncommitted characters tend to be dull.

As far as the mechanics go…

  • The usual trait roll is simply  (1d20 + Trait) +/- (Wis Mod +1) at the option of the character. Since the base DC is 21, if you have a trait of 19+, you’ll always succeed if you want to – but if you don’t keep living up to that trait, it’s value will soon start decreasing in accordingly.
  • If you’re torn as to what your character would do – will he wait out the long boring lecture in hopes of some useful bit of information, or will he go for a meal? – go ahead; roll for “Patient / Restless”. It comes up under “Patient”? Wait. Over that? Now you’re in “Restless” territory; leave. You feel you know what the character would do?  Then you have no need to roll – but the Game Master is free to note it, and shift the relevant trait a point, if you happen to have claimed to have “Restless 19” and yet are hanging around the lecture without checking. In that case, you’re simply announcing that your character doesn’t really have “Restless 19”.
  • Now, if the granted powers rules are in play, high-value traits do provide the character with bonus abilities – at the cost of having to live up to those traits to keep them high. You don’t want to bother? You can pretty much ignore the traits, and they’ll all wind up at about ten. Dull, but functional.
  • Now, the game master may sometimes require trait checks. Where those relate to an active character decision, the player is always entitled to override the results – and thus change his or her traits to reflect the way the character is actually being played.
  • You, were offered a bribe, rolled Principled-Expedient, and it came up Expedient? Well, you can take the bribe (although whether or not you honor the deal later is another matter) – or the player can override that check and shift the trait pair one point in favor of Principled.
  • All that roll is telling you is that – given how you’ve described your character, and his or her past behavior – he or she would be likely to take that bribe. If you decide that’s not how your character really is, then you’re just putting it on the record that your character is more principled than he or she has claimed to be – or is developing in that direction.

Sometimes a character is not entitled to override a check, since it’s not representing their decision. Most often that’s because it’s representing how something else responds to them. Occasionally it’s when they’re trying to use the trait to accomplish a task – in which case the player can’t “override it to stay in character” for the same reason that they can’t override a failed strength check to stay “in character” as a brawny barbarian. The most common such checks:

  • Relate to artifacts, entities, and effects that only respond to particular personality traits – in which case the game master is effectively checking the characters history, but actually has a value he can check in a moment rather than a vague recall of past sessions and a set of logs and notes it will take hours to review. If only a character with Valor, Leader, and Honesty all at 18+ can draw the sword from the stone than that’s the way it is.
  • Relate to a situation where one action is clearly correct but where the character might do otherwise thanks to forces with the player is not experiencing. This can’t be overridden for the same reason that you can’t simply opt to ignore a “Charm” effect because it’s not in character; those undesired actions are a result of the fact that the character is experiencing something that the player is not. The classic example (as used in Eclipse) is the Test of Orpheus; asking a player to decide if their character is nervous enough to fail a major quest doesn’t usually work out well. A will check doesn’t always work either. Should a Will check determine whether or not you can impress the king with your raw enthusiasm when he can easily see through your diplomacy skill? In this case, the player doesn’t get to override the die roll because it’s not really dictating his characters actions, all it’s measuring is whether or not his character succeeds in a task.
  • Relate to an opposed check. If one character has decided to remain in his stronghold until he’s sure it’s safe to leave, and the other has decided to remain lurking outside until the the other emerges, and both state that they’re not changing that decision for ANYTHING – you have a problem. I can pretty well guarantee that simply announcing that both die of old age will not be appreciated by the players. The warrior may want a fortitude save to decide the issue, to see who can tough it out longer. The mage will want to turn it into a contest of wills – or decide the issue with opposed concentration checks. There will be good arguments for each position. It will also be a colossal waste of time. Traits will let you just roll opposed “Patience” checks, and see who gives up first.

Thus, as noted in Eclipse:

Character traits are for games where the game-master wants psychological tests and temptations to actually mean something. They describe a character’s personality and act as a set of general guidelines for roleplaying, a way to measure a character’s level of attunement to whatever higher or lower powers a world may boast, a way to tell if a character is “worthy” of wielding particular items, and provide something to roll against when a player is in doubt or when a character is faced with a psychological test. For example, taking a blow unflinchingly requires a Valorous check, using a Healing Cup requires Merciful 15+, and resisting the temptation of Orpheus requires a Steadfast check. In general, the player may apply the character’s (Wis Mod + 1, 1 minimum) to such checks to modify them up or down as desired. The GM may also modify the basic 21 DC based on circumstances; it’s easier to resist a small bribe than a massive fortune. Player characters may, of course, defy the results of a trait roll, but this will cost them one action point or the loss of a point from the trait in question. Traits come in linked pairs; if the value of opposed trait is desired it can be calculated at (21-Value, one minimum). Traits may either be selected by the player, or rolled like the other attributes – in which case the trait rolled for in each pair is up to the player. Any trait at 15+ is quite noticeable… Magic affects traits roughly twice as strongly as it affects the more definite attributes. This is best used with caution; a ”Ring of +8 Valor” could be a boon or a deadly curse depending on the circumstances.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.


3 Responses

  1. “It will also be a colossal waste of time. Traits will let you just roll opposed “Patience” checks, and see who gives up first.”

    I think this should go up under the previous bullet-point segment. The three bullet-points as a whole are not a waste of time. Only trying to argue over who wins the contest of wills.

  2. […] Character Traits Explained. How to play effectively with the Character Trait system. […]

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