Trinkets: Their Usefulness in Dungeons & Dragons
Trinkets are a frequently unappreciated tool in a character’s toolbox, largely because they don’t have the mechanical benefits that standard or magical equipment do.
However, they have the potential to bring enormous value to role-playing situations, as well as helping to build up a unique character with a rich backstory. Instead of discarding or disregarding you trinkets, try indulging in them and building your trinkets into your character description and actions.
Trinkets are first acquired by characters in their backstories. These trinkets may range from simple objects that help characters remember their past, such as a locket with a picture of their little sister inside, to objects characters would never leave home without, such as a book of wisdom from their monk master.
Background trinkets can also be ways for Dungeon Masters (we call them Quest Masters) to hook a character’s past into the current story. For instance, a character may carry around a pin of a bronze crane, the only evidence that was found at their parents’ unsolved murder.
To the character, this may function as a reminder of their past, the family lost, and the crime unsolved. To the Quest Master (QM), this is a great opportunity to create a villain or organization with information about the pin, and potentially create story hooks or a story arc that will tie that character more strongly to the plot.
When the game is tailored to players in this way, it creates a unique and engaging story that is truly unparalleled, and the best QMs will look for opportunities to do this whenever possible. By including trinkets in your character’s inventory that tie into their background, you open up a realm of opportunity for your players.
When first introducing your character to a new table, trinkets have a great opportunity to shine. Small, unique trinkets are more likely to stand out during a character description than non-descriptive weapons and armor.
For instance, describing a barbarian half-elf adorned with exotic furs and looping grey coils draping off her shoulders, and a small handmade drum and stitched waterskin at her hip, creates a much more vivid picture than describing the character as wearing plain clothes.
The only difference between the two descriptions is flavor-text added to these trinkets. Inherently, these descriptions create an impression of your character that is seen by PCs and NPCs, and this impression impacts all of their future interactions with you. Accumulating a series of unique trinkets that visually describe your character allows role-playing to occur more easily and naturally.
Trinkets can be used to express your character’s personality, and frequently characters are built entirely around their acquisition of trinkets. Barbarians are known to take trophies from their kills and wear them as necklaces, belts, and earrings. Monstrous races, such as harpies and orcs, are also famous for taking body parts from their kills, with elf ears being a prized trophy. The acquisition of monster-kills and trophies thereof can be a way to project power to those around you and assist your character in intimidation checks.
Remembering Your Narrative
There are many opportunities throughout the game to pick up or purchase trinkets that you can integrate into your character’s life and story, building a physical narrative of objects within the game.
The most common, and epic, use of this is collecting trophies from a kill. After taking out an ancient red dragon, keeping individual scales to make into armor or a shield, or saving a tooth to wear as a necklace, is common for many adventurers. Though these items may be worth nothing, they are an integral part of the character’s narrative, and their presence gives the character an opportunity to bring up past accomplishments during character introductions or boast to NPCs about their big kills.
Other trinkets can be collected through exploration, such as a tea set salvaged from a shipwreck or by purchasing it at a general store. Unique items, such as the tea set, can lead to unique role-playing opportunities. For instance, the tea set may be used to entertain a noble with an aquatic background, winning their interest or favor. It could be given as a gift to an NPC looking for the perfect present for her sea elf boyfriend, in exchange for information or a later favor.
If you need to acquire an item, ask your QM if you are able to find the item with any unique properties. For example, when trading goods with tortles on an outskirt island, you may find that all of their nets are made of seaweed. When you use this net in the future, it may be a fun quirk to bring up. Perhaps you will be traveling with a sea elf companion who can tell you stories about the origin of this type of seaweed, or you may come across a monster who loves seaweed and will trade safe passage for a few bites of your net.
By incorporating the use of trinkets, you have the opportunity to make your character’s narrative both unique and memorable.
Have you used any trinkets to enhance the role-playing for one of your characters? Tell us about it in the comments below!