Jul 3, 2016

BCG Retrospective X: General Traits

If Attributes are the skeleton of a character build and Skills the flesh and muscle, then Traits represent the finishing touches like clothes, hair colors and the specific kind of impractical anime sword they wield. To put it another way, Traits are what people remember PCs by most. For example: One PC is an inspiring leader type, another is a combat cyborg, and the third is hard-boiled detective. All those descriptors stem from Traits, because they distinguish characters from each other the most.

There's four categories of traits (General, Equipment, Deathblows and Anomalies), but even within General Traits we can separate them into three categories:

  • Traits that are like Skills, but too narrow to merit making them cost 10 Character Points. Example: Intimidating is a Trait that complements Diplomacy and Deception, because if it was its own skill then it would be inferior to the other two.
  • Traits that grant bonus Advantages (or another similar mechanic) for PCs who want to roleplay a master specialist in a Skill or, in rare cases, an Attribute specialist. Example: Weapon Expertise and Attractive grant Advantages to a Test for which you already have Skill training.
  • Traits that exist to represent unique abilities that can't be represented in terms of pure Attributes or Skills. Example: Psychic Power does something no other ability in the game does.

Many of them are a combination of two types, most often a combination of the first and second.

General Traits Review

Individual Traits aren't as ubiquitous as Skills and some of them can't be compared directly against each other. With Skills, I judged them all based on the same criteria, but Traits are ill-suited to that, so I'll just do a round of individual commentary for each Trait.

Animal Person
One of the most powerful Traits for its cost, granting two Advantages for just 5 CP. The caveat is, of course, that it is extremely narrow. Most people will take this for flavor reasons to solidify a PC concept, so the two Advantages help to make up for how rarely this will come into play. I think this is okay for what it does, which is provide a cheap and powerful way to represent a very niche character trait.

Common Sense
A lot of games feature abilities for new (or just forgetful) Players that outright tell them (and the GM) to ask for advice. Generally speaking, this isn't worth 5 CP, because experienced Players and GMs will do this anyway. But having this in a character sheet reminds everybody that this is a thing they can do and encourages it to happen more often. It serves its function.

Danger Instinct
There are many ways to get Advantages to Stealth and Deception, this Trait exists to keep up with the specialist rogues who might stay unnoticed otherwise. The only reason this doesn't cost 10 CP is that it is hard to justify paying that much when you can easily buy 1-2 points of Awareness for that cost. It is worth more than 5 CP, but not quite 10, so this sits at an odd spot in terms of power level. Perhaps this should have been more like Jaded and less like a Specialization.

Another one that is mostly flavor. If it didn't boost Presence Tests, it'd give two Advantages instead of one, because it is about as narrow as Animal Person. Why was I so worried about Presence? Presence is tied to Leadership, which is is a very strong Trait. In hindsight, I should have made this give two Advantages to make going through the trouble of assembling the build more rewarding.

This is an oddball quirky Trait. Depending on the specialization and the kind of story you're roleplaying, it could do anything between everything and nothing. It will probably be too narrow to apply often though, hence it costs only five Character Points.

The Trait for people who don't want to miss plot clues EVER. Considering how useful that is, perhaps this should cost 10. This is one of those Traits that require Skill Training to function, to encourage picking up Skills (especially Intellect Skills, of which there are a lot) instead of always boosting Attributes.

This is the only mechanical support in the rules for doing things not actually mechanically supported by them. Meaning, this is a Trait that encourages breaking the rules. Because it is probably going to be something that you will suffer Disadvantages and/or low Attribute bonuses to doing, it grants two Advantages instead of one. The rules exist for a reason though, so Ingenious isn't something we want to happen too often, thus it is restricted to one use per Episode.

This is too narrow and underpowered compared to Diplomacy and Deception to be worth making a Skill. But it is a relatively common roleplaying niche (the 'if I cannot inspire love then I will cause fear' kind of social character) that it deserves having at least a Trait. One Advantage that stacks with other dialogue skills encourages making use of it whenever possible, despite the risks of acting like a big bully.

Willpower lacks Skills, making it difficult to stay competitive with Intimidate users in terms of Advantages. So instead of granting one or two Advantages, this lets the user autosucceed a failed Test once per Episode, which is considerably better. The flavor of being able to shrug off anything once per Episode is also very cool, as only sustained attacks will break through it, making the character seem that much more badass.

Make Do
This is a very narrow Trait for builds going all-in on Attributes, who won't have appropriate equipment on hand a lot of the time. Not all that good for most other builds, other than to remind them that they need training in Skills to avoid Disadvantages in many situations.

In most RPGs the ability to speak more than one language requires a considerable investment for something that may or may not be actually useful. With this Trait you're not guaranteed to know any one language, but you have very good chances of being fluent in it - along with many others. This implies that speaking only one additional language isn't worth making PCs spend CP on, which is most likely the case when you consider translation software has to be everywhere in most sci fi settings.

Sphere of Influence
Sphere of Influence works pretty much like you would expect a Resources Skill to work. Which, thinking about it, is because it should have been a Resources Skill.

Superior Immune System
See above, except with Willpower. I think this and Jaded are better off working this way rather than giving Advantages, because their reactive nature makes the autosuccess aspect harder to exploit.

Weapon Expertise
This might just be the platonic example of a Trait that exists to give specialists an extra edge and let them differentiate themselves from generalists. Much like with Intimidate, you could forego the Combat skill entirely and just use this, but your'e better off combining it with its proper Skill.

This might just be the strongest of all the Traits that give specialists an extra Advantage, therefore it costs ten Character Points instead of five.

"You have an NPC friend". That is pretty much the whole of the rules text for this Trait. This is one of those abilities for which I just can't think of a better way to execute them in rules terms, otherwise I would.  The question is, how else to do them while keeping them simple? Maybe they should be assigned CP, like the optional rules for allied Grunts, or perhaps they should be a singular boost to Resources once per Episode. The rules for NPC Themes in the expansion are, I think, the best execution of this concept - but that's not a Trait.

The talent of applying judicious amounts of technobabble to any problem until it is solved is one of the coolest and most powerful Traits in the book. Intellect is already very strong as an Attribute and, frankly, doesn't really need the boost from this Trait. But it is so fun that it just had to be in the game.

Hard Work and Guts
Probably the weakest of the Traits with a cost of 10. It lets you push through super difficult DNs that would usually be impossible, but that's probably too conditional for the cost. This would have been more useful if Disadvantages were more common, and is one of the factors that make me think I could have applied them more liberal as drawbacks in the rules.

Living Database
It is a Trait for beginners just like Common Sense, but slightly stronger because it is a passive 'always on' effect. Take both Traits for maximum handholding power and never miss anything you should have noticed!

I was Here all Along
This might just be most hilarious (and awesome) Trait in the entire game. It is awesome and I wish all Traits costing 10 could be this cool. 11/10 would design again.

Jack of all Trades
A very elegant execution to allow a neat character concept. Unfortunately, it also makes builds that spend most of their points on Attributes being a little too good in the base game. As you may have already noticed, I care a lot about game balance, so I'd be a lot more negative about this Trait if the expansion hadn't taken the necessary steps to rebalance things.

This is the mechanical reward for training yourself in Presence. Granting one or two Advantages to ALL TESTS for multiple allies is stronger than it seems at first glance. I recommend using it during downtime to buff Extended Tests (such as those from, say, Craftsmanship... Or the Rituals from BCZ), and suddenly DNs over 20 aren't very difficult for your teammates anymore. You have to jump some hoops and take some choices that seem suboptimal but the payoff is exceedingly powerful when you can start taking advantage of it.

Psychic Power
Psychic Power is necessary for some builds that can't spare points on Willpower but want to use Miracles anyway. It is also what allows builds that do have Willpower to spam Miracles every Scene. Originally this simply reduced all Damage to just one point, but that was a little too powerful for just 10 points. Even post nerf, this is one of the best Traits in the game.

Spirit of Steel
Take what I said about Genius except with a stat that needs some help instead of having already too much going on. Honestly, this could have been slightly stronger and given some sort of secondary benefit, if only to encourage more Willpower-centric builds.

A handful of General Traits could be tweaked to be slightly more or less powerful, but for the most part they're where they need to be. There's also a lot of flavor in there and they can enable some really cool scenes. They're not quite Genre Powers, but they are pretty good and I'm quite happy with how they turned out.

Next: Equipment

Gimmick Out.


  1. It's interesting to see the positive take on Common Sense, as my usual interpretation is that having it in the system implies that as a paid-for advantage (in the general sense, not the Advantage sense) it shouldn't be available to just anyone anymore. Not sure why, as this doesn't happen in practice.

    I Was Here All Along only came into play effectively once during the other-system mecha game I was in with similar option (the Operations Director in Adeptus Evangelion v2) but it was extremely awesome when it worked.

    1. I used to be down on Common Sense-esque mechanics until, many years ago, I was running a series of one-shot games for newish players (using a different system) with pregen characters. The more one-shot sessions I ran, the more I would add Common Sense to their sheets as a crutch for them, because they needed to be reminded this is something they can do. I'm not 100% sure this mechanic is the right one, but I'd rather have this Trait than not have the mechanic at all.

      Trivia Time: The "teleport into a scene" ability is also present in FATE and Maid (which I'm pretty sure is the originator). It is so charming that I'm surprised its taken this long for it to catch on more.