I've encountered a problem in Burning Wheel in the past, and I'm looking for a better way to address it in the future. The default Traits List in the Burning Wheel Gold rulebook (p310-355) contains, by my count, 628 traits. I've probably miscounted, but the point is, it's a lot, and it's very difficult to find anything in a list that massive.

During character creation, we have wasted a lot of time actually looking for traits instead of writing them down and moving on. Once characters have something they'd like to express, we have to search through the entire Traits section to find an appropriate trait. I find myself coming up with synonyms for words the game designers might have used in order to locate the traits I'd like.

The other option is just to pass the book to the players, and let them look through for traits which seem interesting. This seems a bit disingenuous to me, though; instead of coming up with something which is an accurate representation of the character, the players are looking for things which might fit and going with those.

The third option is to just create every (good) trait people want on the spot. While occasionally something a player requests will match the book perfectly, more often than not, their request doesn't.

In order to compensate for this, I ask the players to come up with fundamental descriptions or unique aspects of their characters. From that, I search for and/or create a new trait. This process, however, is still time-consuming.

What I guess this question comes down to is: Finding and/or making traits in the BWG rulebook is too difficult and time-consuming. How do I make it easier? (And, if this is the case: Am I just bad at this/need more experience with it?)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this primarily about picking traits as part of character burning, or do you mean in general? \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Nov 21, 2013 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @okeefe Well, both, but primarily during burning. It's still hard to find traits during both phases, but there's more time between sessions, so it's not as much of a problem \$\endgroup\$
    – user8248
    Nov 21, 2013 at 20:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ How many LPs do these characters have? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2013 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Probably three to four. \$\endgroup\$
    – user8248
    Nov 21, 2013 at 22:51

3 Answers 3


Character Creation as a Whole

It's useful to consider the role of traits in character creation as a whole.

  • Building a typical starting character isn't super-demanding in terms of reading traits:

    1. Look up all of your lifepath traits — both to understand what the mandatory traits are and because the optional lifepath traits are much cheaper to pick up than general traits. This (Revised) lifepath browser might save you some page-flipping.

    2. If you have a few trait points left over, you can avoid having to go trait-shopping out of the book by assigning them to Character traits and Call-Ons you create on the spot (see "Traits Off the Cuff" below).

  • If you want to create a character that makes use of one one of the magical subsystems, you'll want to read the appropriate section to understand the mechanics. The beginning of each special subsystem chapter will explain which skills, stats, and traits (like Gifted and Faithful) are required to use the abilities.

  • Finally, some types of characters are really defined by a special ability represented by a big meaty Die trait. There's really not much of a shortcut here: someone at the table is going to need to understand the options available, or how to create new traits (see Monster Burner).

    Here are some particularly common trait-based concepts to be aware of:

    • "I want to play a character with a special heritage" — see Fey Blood (also some suggestions on BWG pg. 160) and Tainted Legacy.

    • "I want a single cool magical ability" — see Dreamer and Second Sight (among others).

    • "I want a uniquely talented young character" — see Child Prodigy.

Traits Off the Cuff

Here's a quick guide to making up your own traits in five minutes or less.

  • Character traits are trivial: name the trait, spend the trait point, and you're done.

  • Call-On traits all operate the same mechanically, but there's some subtlety to controlling their breadth. The general idea is that a Call-On ought to apply in most sessions, but not all sessions unless a player really works for it. And, ideally, it should be applicable multiple times in a session — that way, a player gets to make decisions about when to use the trait.

    • Most of the Call-Ons in the book apply to two related skills. Consider a Call-On for Hunting and Tracking. It's likely to be of some use almost any time the action is happening in the wilderness.
    • If a skill is central to how the character approaches danger and conflict, or something that will be used all the time in play, just write a call-on for that one skill. For example, a Call-On like "Nimble Swordsman" is likely to be plenty strong by itself.
    • A Call-On for an exceedingly broad and powerful skill (like Sorcery) should be limited to a specific subset of situations. In most cases, the "Driven" trait from the book is perfect for this, since it focuses the specific circumstances on pursuing your beliefs. Alternatively, consider a trait that emphasizes mastery of a particular aspect of the skill, such as a Sorcery Call-On exclusively for casting curses.
  • I don't recommend inventing your own Die traits quick and dirty. Die traits take time to build, and are difficult to eyeball without a thorough understanding of the system. This'll take you more than just a minute. The Monster Burner has some detailed guidance.

The First Trait Vote

It's tough to really get traits perfect from the get-go, especially if you're using some of the "quick-and-dirty" tricks I've outlined here. That's not a problem. You'll have plenty of opportunity to refine traits in play.

In particular, the first trait vote is a great time to reevaluate the choices made in character creation with the help of some actual experience with this character under your belt. If a Call-On's too broad or too narrow, redefine it a bit. If a character doesn't live up to a Character trait at all, talk about an alternative that'll fit better. Et cetera.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, this is a lot more than I thought I'd see from this question. This is a fantastic answer! Thanks for taking the time to write it. Just a quick question, though: For new players, how do I/should I make them aware of what die traits are and how they work when they're selecting their remaining traits? \$\endgroup\$
    – user8248
    Nov 22, 2013 at 2:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Emracool Can you clarify a bit? Basically my opinion is "If most of the group is unfamiliar with the game, generally don't sweat Die traits beyond the ones in the LPs." \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Nov 26, 2013 at 0:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, okay, that makes sense. There's not really a reason to introduce the complexity of the system when there's already so much to get used to. That makes a lot of sense, thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – user8248
    Nov 26, 2013 at 2:44

Experience with the system makes this quicker, sure, but it's not too bad in practice.

Have at least one of you skim the traits chapter before character burning. (At the very least, you can get some character ideas via some of the odder traits!) The traits list is kind of deceptive in that there are a decent number of Character traits. You can easily just make those up as needed.

I deal with traits using a couple passes.

  1. Is there a trait I need for my concept? For example, casting spells with Sorcery requires Gifted. Make sure to get a lifepath with that trait (so that the cost will be 1).
  2. Collect the traits on the lifepaths I'm considering, which gives me a list of required traits, a list of cheap traits, and a budget. Look them all up. Pick out the ones I want. Most of your traits will come from the lifepath lists.
  3. Figure out surplus trait points. Character traits you can just make up and cost a point. Skim the traits chapter while discussing with the group your character concept. Looking at the traits you can afford, find things that look interesting and fit your concept. If more than one of you has skimmed the traits, then suggest possible traits as a group and look them up to see if they fit.

For your first game, if you stick with 3-4 LP human stock, you're not going to have a whole lot of trait points to work with. Other stocks tend to have even fewer general trait points left over.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Here's to wishing I could accept both answers. They are both helpful for very different reasons, but they do fundamentally come down to the same things. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – user8248
    Nov 22, 2013 at 2:13

Unfortunately, traits is probably the most effort for least payoff in the character generation process, so I have guidelines but mostly it comes down to familiarity with the traits in general.

  1. Realize that most of the traits you get via Lifepaths are character traits, and usually don't need looking up because they exist mostly as descriptors for the players to use and to get Fate Artha with. Let the players know this so they don't get obsessive either.

  2. Traits usually aren't mechanically interesting until they're 3 points or more. So players with 2 or less Trait points available generally should just consider making up some Character or cultural traits and buying them at 1 point each.

  3. The really mechanically powerful traits are usually 4 or more points each. If you have optimizer type players, you should just let them know this straight out so they don't spend a bunch of time reading about colorful, but not powerful traits.

The usual go-to traits for extra oomph are:

  • Affinity - grants +1D to a skill
  • Artful Dodger - lets you switch actions for a dodge in combat
  • Aura traits - range from 3-7 pts, often character-definining w/large effects
  • Deadly Precision - use skill as Power for one type of weapon
  • Gifted/Faithful - opens up magic/miracles for use
  • Family Heirloom - access to powerful items
  • Fey Blood - get a non-human trait
  • Muse - bonuses to a skill involving an inspirational thing. Greater Muse causes a shade shift
  • Manhunter - read people's emotions like reading auras
  • Numb - ignore Superficial wounds
  • Second Sight - see magical auras, ghosts, etc.
  • Tough as Nails - ignore steel tests from pain/wounds
  • Vigor of Youth - keep decent stat scores even into old age

To be sure, there's a few Traits that are good if you're going to build a character focused around ranged combat, or social interaction, but those above are the biggies (at least for human characters). There's a couple that also reduce Hesitation, but those are usually situational and sometimes it's only by 1...

  1. If you just have players who are slow to pick things, because they're that kind of person, I would probably just start them off with the required traits, and either suggest some myself or tell the player "We'll start playing, and you should take time with the book between sessions and pick out the rest. You've got until the end of the 3rd session to figure it out, ok?"

  2. Have the players mark down if a trait is a Character Trait (C), Call-On Trait (CO), or a Die Trait (And what mechanical bits come from it, or at least the page number) - so when you're in play, you don't have to look these things up as often.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Speaking from experience: Manhunter is the best thing ever. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Dec 2, 2013 at 20:28

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