Talents and Traits

Explanation of Traits | Explanation of Talents
Heroic Traits | Paragon Traits | Epic Traits | Talent Reference

Explanation of Traits

Large portions of this are taken from the free online magazine Combat Advantage, available here, rewritten, extended and generally toyed with for possible use in my campaign. Thanks go to the author, Carl Cramer for his original work on bringing these skills into the 4e framework.


Traits are non-combat versions of feats. They give special abilities that are used to define a character’s background and are used to represent a character’s livelihood outside of adventuring. This includes role-playing gimmicks and background options. They are also used to purchase talents (non-combat skills).

All characters start with three traits at level 1. After that, you gain traits at the same rate as you get new feats; at level 11, 21, and every even level. You can retrain one talent at each new level, in addition to normal retraining limits.

There are three types of traits. Like so much else about traits, these classifications are a general guide and not hard and fast rules.

Personal traits are innate abilities, similar to feats. Almost all campaigns can use these. Perks are social advantages or privileges. Subplots are recurring events that comes up again and again in your character’s life and are often a hindrance; the advantage with them is that you get more screen time.

Some DMs might ban some or all perks and subplots as too invasive, or just say that a particular plot or perk does not fit the situation in the game. You should ask each time you want to take one. This also serves to inform the DM that you have such a trait, allowing him to use it in the game.

How to Use Traits

Traits are a way to flesh out character without adding substantial benefits. They help define a role, background, and interests outside adventuring. Unlike feats, there are few perquisites to fulfill and little need to plan ahead.

You generally don’t chose traits in advance; instead you let circumstances in the campaign dictate how your character develops. Contacts, Romances, and Nemesis are good examples of this - traits you choose after encountering a situation or person in-game that is interesting enough to associate your character with in the long term.

Traits are used to learn Talents, non-combat skills that define your interests and give you an occupation outside your life as an adventurer.

Some traits naturally evolve into others and should be retained to reflect this. An Hier that comes into his inheritance might retrain as a Baron, an Influential Friend might become a Contact as you catch up to them socially. But these are exceptions; generally you are not expected to retrain old traits as you achieve new ones that are similar but more powerful, as explained in the introduction to Paragon Traits.

Likewise, you have great freedom to assign traits as you please, but you should strive to pick ones that make sense; for certain rogues it might make sense to be the Sheriff, but if you want to play a freewheeling thief, another perk might be a more reasonable option.

Many campaigns have a theme, and include ways for characters to interact with this theme. For example, a police story might track contacts, ranks in the police, and your reputation on the street. Players choosing police work as their focus have opportunities to shine. Traits give the DM a way to handle such themes, and also provide an equal opportunity for characters to shine in other fields, outside the main scope of the story. In the police campaign mentioned above, one player character might be a cleric assigned to aid the police force. Besides being a cop, he is also an Ordained Priest and might advance to become a High Priest. The character’s dealings with his church might never be the focus of the campaign or be played out in detail, yet the character has a career, builds his own clout, and develops socially just as those who focus their lives on the main theme. In fact, it is often easier to advance in a hierarchy that is not in the limelight; the DM might make the position of Lord Justice something the players have to work hard to earn but which also has a direct impact on the game. In comparison, the role of High Priest is easier to get because you do not have to achieve in-game goals to earn it, but it naturally has much less effect on the game.

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