No One is Perfect: Why Flaws Improve Your D&D Character
Flaws are one of the most valuable assets your character can have, while also easily lending themselves to intuitive background and character creation. Utilizing your character’s flaws during role-playing situations can lead to unique and enjoyable game-play experiences which are memorable for everyone at the table.
When creating a character, the most common things to focus on are race, class, stat distribution, and background. While these traits define the mechanical traits of a character and suggest their personality, it is the bonds, flaws, personality traits, and ideals that truly define a character’s personality.
Bonds, personality traits, and ideals are all positive connections and traits that define your character, but the flaws are what make them truly human (or elvish, half-orcish, etc…). Flaws make a character real, relatable, and personal. They make the character more than just an idealized hero (or villain) from fables and lore. It is the flaws that ground the character in reality and make them tangible, and it is these traits that the other players bond so strongly to.
A great example of a flawed yet lovable character is Strix from Dice, Camera, Action, a stream led by Chris Perkins. Strix is a “trash witch” who struggles to interact with people and is known to stash large volumes of trash inside of her witch’s hat. Because of these flaws, fans are more able to relate to her as a real character. This causes the moments in which she deeply connects with other characters, or when other characters show her great kindness, to be especially treasured.
One such moment is when Viari, a character played by Patrick Rothfuss in Acquisitions Incorporated, gifts her a specially-made witch’s hat with hand-stitched pockets on the inside to store her trash, showing a deep insight into her character and choosing to care for her despite her flaws. This is a heartfelt moment that is not only facilitated by Strix’s flaws, but is created because of them.
Think about your favorite character, whether it’s one of your own, a character from a stream, or even a character from other media. Consider the hardships they’ve endured, the heartbreak, the pain, and the emotional and physical struggles. These are the moments that define a character’s journey, making their setbacks relatable and their achievements glorious.
Flaws go hand in hand with the character’s background; Imagining what a character has been through in their past easily conjures ides of what their flaws may be. Including flaws in your character’s personality ensures that they have a compelling background as well, since those flaws generally originate from traumatizing or troublesome occurrences in their past.
These rich background components can easily be tied into campaigns by astute Dungeon Masters (we call them Quest Masters), resulting in a more unique and immersive experience for everyone at the table, especially your character.
Flaw: Distrustful of strangers
In her childhood, Lysa’s village was plagued with disappearances. After several local children had vanished, village elders enforced a curfew and Lysa’s parents locked her and her sister inside their house and preached stranger-danger. Despite the elder’s warnings, Lysa’s sister convinced her to sneak out one night and go for a walk in the seemingly abandoned town. After they had been walking for some time, a frail old woman stopped them to ask for directions. Lysa’s sister walked over, eager to help, and began directing the woman. In the blink of an eye, Lysa watched as the old woman transformed into a hideous beast, baring its fangs and letting out an otherworldly howl. As she opened her mouth to let out a scream, the creature engulfed her sister, grabbing at her form and fleeing into the night.
This flaw leads into a compelling backstory that allows several opportunities for a Quest Master (QM) to tie into a campaign: someone claiming to be Lysa’s sister suddenly reappears, strange occurrences begin after a stranger appears in town, or a series of disappearances in a local village compel the party to investigate. The distrust of strangers can also lead to role-playing opportunities, affecting how Lysa treats NPCs and leading to different alliances and rivalries.
Developing a rich background is important for defining who your character is and where they come from, and can help you role-play them as well. However, defining their personality is what allows you to seamlessly slip into their shoes and imagine how they react in different scenarios. Flaws are the easiest thing to define, from which you can easily imagine the character that possesses them.
Flaw: Everyone is beneath me You can quickly imagine a noble, or perhaps a drow warrior, possessing this trait. Imagining how they would interact with a stable hand or barkeep is very intuitive, and the role-playing can easily flow from this flaw, with an uppity, better-than-thou character who demands their every need be met immediately, and accepts no excuses from “peasants”.
Imagine a goblin adventurer, such as Nott from Critical Role, unable to escape their greedy nature, compelled to steal or otherwise acquire any shiny bauble they come across. It is easy to imagine this character’s interactions with nobles or other characters with wealth or station, and how this could color their relationships going forward.
Not only do flaws make role-playing more intuitive, they create memorable opportunities which place parties in unique situations.
A goblin adventurer compulsively steals a jewel-encrusted helm from a dragon’s hoard during party negotiations. If they succeed, it is an epic conquest, resulting in a possibly magical and definitely expensive item and the ultimate bragging rights. If they fail to escape unnoticed, the party has an epic battle with an enraged dragon. Certainly either is a better story to tell than simply having a negotiation with a powerful dragon.
Think outside of the box, push the limits of the ordinary, and embrace your flaws to create a truly imperfect, but memorable character.
Play an aarakocra who’s afraid of heights;
A dwarf who fears being buried alive;
A drow who’s afraid of the dark.