Candlekeep Mysteries - Personality Development

Developing Character Personalities in TTRPGs

The featured art for this article can be found in Candlekeep Mysteries, published by Wizards of the Coast.

For many players, one of the most difficult aspects of playing Dungeons & Dragons or similar tabletop roleplaying games is getting into—and staying true to—character. This includes finding a character voice, cementing a personality, developing a thorough backstory, and so much more. While many players may agree that they eventually settle into a character as they play, I would argue that a character that evolves over time is likely lacking in deliberate character traits, which are important for making consistent character choices.

I’ve already written extensively about developing character backgrounds, and DragnaCarta has shared ten questions for developing a great character backstory. In this article, I’m going to provide advice on electing intentional character traits so that a player may make sincere character choices in-game that are true to their character’s personality.

The Complexity of Personality

It’s a given that all human beings are complex in nature. We make good decisions, selfish choices, or sometimes refrain from judgment at all. We evolve over time as our internal mechanisms continually process new and existing information. In story-writing, character development moves a plot along while emphasizing key themes of the story. This should also be the case in a game like Dungeons & Dragons: a character is not a static choice, and the personality of a character should be multiplex and intricate.

This description does not necessitate a manic character fit for random decision-making, though that is one way to play a character. Rather, a player would be wise to focus on a set of traits and background events that have and continue to shape the overall personality of a character. Even still, a player may remember that their character can express any emotion within the range of their personality when it makes sense.

For any given character trait selected for a character, there is a positive and a negative aspect. For instance, a person one might describe as “restrained” may never explode with regretful emotion, but they may also be too timid to stand up for themselves. Someone who is described as always “happy” may be very likable and see the silver lining at all times, but they may also be bottling stressors up inside or shrug off difficult-to-process emotions necessary to find peace. There is always another side of any coin, and a character that is in the midst of their development may oscillate between the two sides until they find balance at the story’s resolution.

Along those same lines, characters may possess multiple and sometimes contradicting character traits that always keep them in a state of emotional unrest. This idea makes for a more intriguing character and can be a bit difficult to play as a player decides which traits manifest at any given time. My advice for this is to remember that dichotomous characters are often “acted upon” and responsive to the situation around them. Some situations sire understanding, like comforting a child, and some may engender cruelty, like acting in rage.

I’ve compiled three tables below. Each has a myriad of character traits, separated by “positive,” “neutral,” and “negative.” Within each of these three character trait tables, a player can find a strength and a weakness in the character trait. Choose a few traits from any list and discover how they work together.

Personality Trait Tables

Positive Personality Traits

Trait Strength Weakness
Approachable easy to relate to tries too hard to see the good in people
Accurate puts great value on being correct justifies things to make themselves right
Active ready to move in a heartbeat has difficulty sitting still
Adaptable quick to change plans if needed may not always stick to the plan
Admirable garners respect easily too eager to people-please
Adventurous eager to take hard jobs seeks trouble and danger
Agreeable pleasant to be around non-confrontational
Alert watchful for possible danger paranoid
Ambitious determined to succeed takes on too much
Amusing quick with a quip or joke is uncomfortable with deeper conversations
Appreciative easily attributes credit and expresses thanks overly expressive to a fault
Articulate well-spoken and says what they mean expected to rouse the troops
Artistic expresses themselves creatively discontent to follow norms
Assertive doesn’t allow themselves to get pushed over unwilling to compromise
Athletic picks up physical activities quickly too competitive at times
Attentive pays attention to what’s going on unintentionally nosey
Attractive good looking and charismatic expects others to like them without exception
Balanced temperate in their emotions doesn’t understand people unlike themselves
Benevolent charitable and kind gets taken advantage of easily
Big-thinking understands how things work in the macro doesn’t formulate the details
Brilliant exceptionally smart and talented aloof to the feelings of others
Calm does not allow themselves to get taken by emotion lacks passion
Capable picks up talents quickly doesn’t ask for help
Captivating excels at holding others’ interest often seeks the spotlight
Cautious careful of danger, traps, and bad intentions slow to act in stressful situations
Charming likable and turns people to their side always catering or entertaining to others
Cheerful never gets down or disappointed disingenuous to people’s suffering
Clever quick to come up with unique solutions doesn’t value hard work
Complex has multiple sides to their personality looks down on people who have things more figured out
Confident Self-assured in their decisions and personality sometimes makes the wrong decisions and leads others astray
Conscientious determined to do what’s right burdened by moral quandaries and ethics
Conservative holds to traditional value not always tolerant to unique persons and cultures
Consistent unchanging in nature resistant to change
Constructive helps others see their weaknesses known to be too blunt
Contemplative thoughtful and intentional prone to higher anxiety
Convincing capable of causing others to believe them manipulative tendencies
Cooperative works well with others doesn’t always assert their needs or wants
Courageous faces difficulties head-on prone to take risks alone
Cultured interested in, knowledgeable about, and appreciative of other customs comes off as a know-it-all and pretentious who doesn’t have their own identity
Curious eager to learn and understand nosey and won’t let things brush under the rug
Cute endearing, underestimated, protected underestimated and not given responsibility
Deep naturally mature, thoughtful, and understands multiple sides of a problem not easily understood or appreciated
Dignified displays composure and is worthy of respect will not do hard and dirty work sometimes required
Disciplined controlled in behavior and skills obeys authority and rules to a fault
Discreet careful not to cause offense won’t give someone a straight answer if offensive
Dutiful motivated by responsibility focused on task assigned and will not deviate easily
Earnest sincere and authentic in their convictions trusted with too much to bear
Easygoing relaxed and tolerant difficult to initiate into action
Educated knowledgeable and literate cannot relate to uneducated beings and societies
Efficient gets the job done with no waste is not always the most effective with solutions
Elegant graceful and refined comes off as pretentious and intolerant
Empathetic understands and shares the feelings of others burdened by the weight of the world
Ethical incorruptible and driven by what’s right has false or high expectations of others
Faithful loyal to their side ignores defects of those they are loyal to
Feminine nurturing and supportive protects the weak while putting themselves in danger
Fiery passionate and quick to act prone to explosive anger
Flamboyant attracts attention and is gaudy hides true feelings behind this mask
Folksy down to earth, hard working, belongs to the people distrusts those who are well-off or educated
Fun-loving light-hearted and lively expected to put on a show at all times
Generous willing to give away material possessions and time often is in need of charity themselves
Helpful quick to lend a hand spends too much time helping others instead of doing that task at hand
Heroic saves the weak courageously puts themselves in danger and is expected to be a hero
Humble modest and unassuming does not take credit for their good deeds
Idealistic pursues high purposes and goals aims for perfection unrealistically
Intuitive acts based on instinct can be irrational at times
Knowledgeable well-informed in most things disappointed in others’ choices
Leaderly great at taking charge doesn’t allow others to shine
Liberal believes in individuals’ freedoms will not intervene
Logical Capable of clear and sound reasoning does not think emotionally
Lovable inspires love and affection abuses and manipulates others
Lyrical poetically expressive difficult to understand at times
Masculine assertive and protective doesn’t fully express themselves emotionally
Methodical systematic and orderly in their procedure anxious about incorporating others’ advice and help
Open candid about their problems and concerns judged for their problems and deeds
Optimistic confident in the future attributes all things to fate or destiny
Passionate holds strong feelings and beliefs disregards others differing beliefs as wrong
Patient tolerant without becoming annoyed gives people too much time to follow through
Patriotic inspired by and loyal to the faction they serve blindly follows laws, commands, and customs of faction
Persuasive convincing others to take action seen as annoying and disrespectful
Playful jovial and amusing in a physical manner invades people’s personal spaces
Polished portrays a put-together image can’t show the raw and damaging sides of themselves
Popular admired and loved by many people not seen as an individual with human traits
Principled follows the set of rules they subscribe to doesn’t accommodate others’ opinions well
Protective wishes to keep others from harm makes compromising decisions to hurt the least people
Purposeful shows determination and resolve lost when purpose is completed
Realistic sensible and practical about what’s possible doesn’t dream big
Respectful considerate of others has a difficult time turning down people
Responsible dedicated to their obligations adverse to taking risks
Romantic prone to idealizing situations and people is easily disappointed or deceived
Secure well off and prudent with finances penny-pinching at times
Self-sufficient provides for their needs without help has little sense of community
Selfless concerned with the needs of others over themselves neglects themselves
Sensitive feels deeply and is quick to understand others’ feelings easily hurt
Sociable willing to associate with all manners of people pushes unwilling people to participate
Spontaneous acts in an open and uninhibited manner often too impulsive
Strong physically capable of many feats unintentionally hurts others with their strength
Thorough regards every detail in a task takes a long time to complete something
Trusting tending to believe in another’s honesty and sincerity easily duped
Vivacious highly animated and lively hardly ever subtle
Wise has good judgment apprehensive to participate in reckless team decisions

Neutral Personality Traits

Trait Strength Weakness
Absentminded carefree about responsibilities forgetful and inattentive
Aggressive confrontational when protecting or defending ready to attack
Authoritarian rule-abiding according to allegiance blindly follows chosen authority
Boisterous energetic and cheerful rowdy and noisy
Businesslike efficient when carrying out tasks doesn’t make good connections to others
Busy gets things done continually occupied
Calculating methodical and successful with planning has a hard time making decisions on the fly
Cerebral makes decisions based on facts cold and uncaring
Competitive does things really well and quickly values things they can win
Confidential keeps secrets and does not gossip has trust issues
Contradictory has an interesting complex nature that can’t be figured out is unpredictable
Deceptive great at manipulating or misleading can’t be trusted completely
Dominating has a commanding influence requires things go their way
Driven goal-driven and ambitious relentlessly compelled to accomplish goals at the detriment of themselves and others
Dry has control over emotions is boring and impassionate
Earthy open and direct and unashamed oversteps boundaries and dense
Experimental eager to try new things gets into bad situations
Frugal resourceful and not wasteful stingy with resources and funds
Impersonal don’t let relationships cloud their judgment don’t make many close connections
Impressionable maintains enviable virtues of youth easily influenced by rhetoric and sentiment
Intense passionate opinionated to a fault
Invisible unperceivable and blends in with a crowd hardly ever given attention
Irreverent i soften the life of the party lacks respect for people or things
Mystical illusive and intriguing persecuted for potential powers
Neutral good at conflict resolutions often on the fence about things
Noncommittal not burdened by commitment cannot be relied on
Old-fashioned has a strong sense of tradition and self biased and persecutory
Physical has a strong body and security lacks mental acuity
Plucky courageous against their weaknesses often looked down upon or pitied
Political knowledgeable about the games of state and status questions everyone’s intentions
Proud satisfied by their own achievements and character arrogant and self-important
Questioning is thorough before accepting ideas as fact doubts others’ words and judgements
Quiet observant and not seen as foolish lets their ideas get overshadowed
Religious devout to their ideals and ethics not always open to ideals beyond the scope of their faith
Reserved safe and cautious hesitant to act
Retiring finds peace in almost being done with adventuring hesitant to get too involved
Sarcastic relatable and able to shake things off finds contempt with regards to others
Self-conscious existentially aware of their flaws uncomfortable doing things beyond their boundaries
Solemn sincere, formal, and dignified not cheerful or seen as too serious
Solitary self-reliant doesn’t work well in a team
Stern gives tough love with the best interest of the recipient in mind often offends the ones they care about
Stubborn has a strong sense of purpose and confidence butts heads with others
Unceremonious comfortable when things are informal inelegant and disrespectful
Unchanging solid and reliable stagnant and unchanging
Undemanding easy-going and self-sufficient doesn’t always get what they want
Unfathomable fascinating and seemingly wise not easily understood in word or purpose
Uninhibited has no reservations to do things careless in their reckless acts
Unpatriotic an agent unto themselves often thrown out of towns and persecuted by the law
Unsentimental is not held back by people or things has little to no sense of home or family
Weird attracts attention easily is alienated often

Negative Personality Traits

Trait Strength Weakness
Amoral unburdened by societal conventions lacks a sense of morals
Arrogant feels important and worthy of attention unlikeable and sometimes overconfident
Barbaric strong fighter in battle may resort to savagery and brutality
Cowardly has a solid sense of self-preservation lets others down when needed
Crazy fully immersed in what they do explosive and unreliable
Cruel unafraid to do the dirty work required willfully hurts others
Desperate empathetic with despair and suffering might sacrifice others for their own gain
Diseased avoided and left alone stigmatized and prejudiced against
Disloyal willing to abandon bad traditions and authority might change on a whim
Fatalistic faces situations with acceptance not prone to changing what they see as fate
Greedy has a mind for acquiring money and precious items might be dishonest and selfish in what they acquire
Ignorant unaware of the worst parts of society lacks general awareness and knowledge
Meddlesome good at getting information intrusive and nosy
Miserly not likely to foolishly part with goods stingy with spending and exploits others
Narcissistic unintentionally charismatic self-interested and conceited
Obsessive task-oriented and focused unreasonable about reaching their goals
Paranoid careful not to be duped unlikely to trust others or situations
Predatory spots weaknesses in others and situations easily exploits others
Reckless quick to jump into things puts others in danger with their behavior
Vindictive driven by their need to seek justice holds major grudges and acts on them

Example Character Trait Builds

I’m going to give a few example builds of character traits and explain how they work together.

Cooperative, Popular, Impersonal (2 Positives, 1 Neutral)

Cooperative: Works well with others, but doesn’t always assert their needs or wants.
Popular: Admired and loved by many people but not seen as an individual with human traits.
Impersonal: Don’t let relationships cloud their judgment but they also don’t make many close connections.

This character is the party’s aloof pretty boy who is always willing to go along with anyone’s plans but never makes any real connections because he never lets on that there’s something deeper there to connect with. This description makes me think of Man-Dough Chad from Sabrina the Teenage Witch Season 1. Despite his enthusiasm and cute looks, Sabrina chooses Harvey because of the connection they have.

Maybe this character is afraid to let anyone down, or maybe he feels weird about connecting with other people. He just wants to be liked, so he’s willing to yes-and anyone’s bad plan while trying to make the most out of it. Nobody helps this character because he doesn’t let on that he needs anything: he’s just here to help others. But this lack of connection creates a rift between himself and others, which leads him to a lonely life.

Intuitive, Proud, Fatalistic (1 Positive, 1 Neutral, 1 Negative)

Intuitive: Acts based on instinct but can be irrational at times.
Proud: Satisfied by their own achievements and character but can be arrogant and self-important.
Fatalistic: Faces situations with acceptance but is not prone to changing what they see as fate.

This character is firm in what they believe, based on how the world has treated them. They trust their own intuition, and once they’ve made up their minds, they are hard to move in a new direction. This often means that when they think they know how something is going to go, they make decisions based on those assumptions, no matter the reality of the situation. This can mean they will not waver in their decisions, which can be a positive. However, not only can this make them just plain wrong, but it can put others in harm’s way while they stay the course.

Maybe they adhere to their beliefs in a deity and use faith, fate, and gods’ wills as reasons to do or not do something. Perhaps they were dealt a poor hand in life and now disbelieve anyone can be altruistic or caring. Ultimately, they allow themselves to self-fulfill their prophecy’s outcome, for better or for worse, as they ensure they stay on the path to where they think they’re headed.

Idealistic, Greedy (1 Positive, 1 Negative)

Idealistic: Pursues high purposes and goals but aims for perfection unrealistically.
Greedy: Has a mind for acquiring money and precious items but might be dishonest and selfish in what they acquire.

This character knows they are meant to achieve great things. They have a purpose, they have the skills to achieve this purpose, and they know it will result in the betterment of some aspect of society (or maybe for just themselves). However, the pressure of achieving the goal and the difficulties that fall before their feet drive them to dishonest means of achieving the goal. But why shouldn’t they cut a few corners, don’t they deserve the reward?

Mystical, Crazy, Paranoid (1 Neutral, 2 Negative)

Mystical: Illusive and intriguing but persecuted for potential powers.
Crazy: Fully immersed in what they do but explosive and unreliable.
Paranoid: Careful not to be duped but unlikely to trust others or situations

Perhaps driven to paranoia by their persecution, this character is powerful and capable, but not particularly stable. Where they may have accomplished attention-grabbing feats of magic, the end result was perhaps chaotic or dangerous, which has made others wary of what they may achieve. The end result is a distrust in society and lack of altruism with a total focus on their goals of power.

Character Development

With all of the examples I gave above, there is a possibility for the character to break free from the negative aspects of their personality:

  • The yes-man hottie who never connects with anyone can work on breaking down his walls and learn to divulge the difficult things in his life to others. This will result in better teamwork, learning to say no, and working through emotional trauma.
  • The character stuck in their beliefs may be shown that reality does not align with their beliefs, and it’s okay to change your mind. They will accept fate as it really is, or maybe they will learn to take control of their life and stop accepting events as a false “fate.”
  • The idealistic go-getter could recognize the consequences of cutting corners directly as people suffer from their actions. They may realize that success is not worth the pain caused if there were better, slower means.
  • The mistrusting yet powerful mage might find themselves stuck with someone who has no ill motive. They may see the good in humanity and redirect their path to better things.

Just like these examples, a player can figure out how to develop the bad out of their character over the course of the campaign. By overemphasizing both the good and the bad in the character’s personality early on in the campaign, events and internal workings can affect the character to the point of change, chiseling away the coarser aspects of their personality.


Have you used a method such as this before? Let us know in the comments how it went! Character development is often a deliberate choice by a player, and it definitely has its place in storytelling in TTRPGs. If you enjoyed this article, check out Opal’s most recent articles:

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