Character traits are abilities that are not tied to your character's race or class. They represent an accomplishment or life-learning based on your character's actual lived experience. A trait isn't just another kind of power you can add on to your character — it's a way to quantify (and encourage) building a character background that fits into the campaign world. Think of character traits as “story seeds” for your background; after you pick your first trait, you'll have a point of inspiration from which to build your character's personality and history. Alternatively, if you've already got a background in your head or written down for your character, you can view picking your trait as a way to quantify that background, just as picking race and class and ability scores quantifies your character's other strengths and weaknesses.
Many traits grant a type of bonus called a “trait” bonus. Trait bonuses do not stack — they're intended to give player characters a slight edge, not a secret backdoor way to focus all of a character's traits on one type of bonus and thus gain an unseemly advantage.
Character traits are only for player characters. If you want an NPC to have traits, that NPC must "buy" them with the Additional Traits feat. Player characters are special; they're the stars of the game, after all, and it makes sense that they have an advantage over the NPCs of the world in this way.
When you create your character for a campaign, you select one trait from the Tyro Tier list of traits available. If none of these fit yoru character concept, you can create a new one in partnership with the game master. This trait, gained at first level, is directly linked to your character background as you describe it before play begins. Check with your game master to make sure that your background fits his or her vision for the campaign.
Thereafter, you gain a new trait as you enter a new tier, that is, at levels 6, 11, and 16. For these later tiers, your selection must reflect the actual experience of your character. For example, if you have not fought the undead at any point in your play, you cannot choose a trait that gives you advantages over the undead.
Your higher level trait selection is an acknowledgement and a celebration of what your character has accomplished. Since it is impossible to account for all the possible experiences, this set of rules cannot exhaustively list all possible traits. You may choose to work with your game master to tailor a trait to your character's experiences. Some of the traits below offer ideas for this. See also the section below on Creating Traits.
It is also possible to obtain a new trait or two with the Additional Traits feat.
There are four groups of character traits, one each for tier. Keep in mind that the Tyro tier traits represent lived experiences before play begins (your background), while higher-tier traits are based on actual gameplay and adventures in which your character participated; your DM should deny you the use of higher-tier traits that do not fit your "lived experience" in the game, and may work with you to create a comparable trait that does, if none fit.
Acolyte: You studied at a temple or religious school, or apprenticed to a priest or loremaster. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Knowledge (Religion) and Perform (Oratory) checks, and one of those skills (your choice) is a proficient skill for you.
Anatomist: You have studied the workings of anatomy, either as a student at university or as an apprentice mortician or necromancer. You know where to aim your blows to strike vital organs, and you gain a +1 trait bonus on all rolls made to confirm critical hits.
Birthmark: You were born with a strange birthmark that looks very similar to the holy symbol of the god you chose to worship later in life. This birthmark can serve you as a divine focus for casting spells, and as a physical manifestation of your faith, it increases your devotion to your god — you gain a +2 trait bonus on all saving throws against charm and compulsion effects as a result.
Caretaker: As the child of an herbalist or an assistant in a temple infirmary, you often had to assist in tending to the sick and wounded. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Heal checks, and Heal is a proficient skill for you.
Child of the Streets: You grew up on the streets of a large city, and as a result you have developed a knack for picking pockets and hiding small objects on your person. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Sleight of Hand checks, and Sleight of Hand is a proficient skill for you.
Dangerously Curious: You have always been intrigued by magic, possibly because you were raised near a friendly magician or priest. You often snuck into the laboratory or shrine to tinker with spell components and magic devices, and frequently caused quite a bit of damage and agita for adults around you as a result. You gain a +1 bonus on Use Magic Device checks, and Use Magic Device is a proficient skill for you.
Hard Worker: Your work as a teamster or hauler has taught you the value of hard labor. You gain a +1 bonus to any Strength- or Dexterity-based skill checks made while you are carrying a medium or heavy load.
Logger: The time you spent leaping between slippery logs as they whirled down the river to market taught you how to keep your footing. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Tumble checks and a +1 trait bonus to your CMB when attempting to resist trip attacks.
Magical Schooling: Your apprenticeship to a caster or time at a magical academy was particularly focused on the direct application of magic. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Spellcraft checks, and Spellcraft is a proficient skill for you.
Merchant: You were raised in a merchant clan, or apprenticed with a trader, and you learned how to make friends and influence people. You gain a +1 bonus on Diplomacy checks, and Diplomacy is a proficient skill for you.
Militia Veteran: You have served in a civilian militia in your home town. Skills learned through daily drilling and protecting your fellow townsfolk gave you special insight into military life. Select one of the following skills: Profession (soldier), Ride, or Survival. You gain a +1 trait bonus on that skill, and it is a proficient skill for you.
Poverty-Stricken: Your childhood was tough, and your parents had to make every copper piece count. Hunger was your constant companion, and you often had to live off the land or sleep in the wild. You gain a +1 bonus on Survival checks, and Survival is a proficient skill for you.
Resilient: Growing up in a poor neighborhood or in the unforgiving wilds often forced you to subsist on food and water from doubtful sources. You've built up your mettle as a result, and gain a +1 trait bonus on Fortitude saves.
Rich Parents: You were born into a rich family, perhaps even the nobility, and even though you turned to a life of adventure anyway, you enjoy a one-time benefit to your initial finances—your starting cash increases to 900 gp.
River Rat: You learned to swim right after you learned to walk. As a youth, a gang of river pirates put you to work swimming in nighttime rivers and canals with a dagger in your teeth so you could sever the anchor ropes of merchant vessels. You gain a +1 trait bonus on damage dealt with a dagger and a +1 trait bonus on Swim checks.
Sailor: You've worked boats and ships on rivers, lakes, or seas. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Profession (sailor) checks. You also gain a +1 trait bonus on Swim checks, and Swim is a proficient skill for you.
Savanna Child: You were born and raised among rolling plains or savannas. You spent much of your youth as a herder or hunter. Pick one of the following skills: Handle Animal, Knowledge (nature), or Ride. You gain a +1 trait bonus on that skill, and it is a proficient skill for you.
Street Smarts: Your experience with the criminal underworld has taught you a few tricks of the trade. You are fluent in Thieves' Cant, a secret language, and you can teach it to others.
Suspicious: You discovered at an early age that someone you trusted, perhaps an older sibling or a parent, had lied to you, and lied often, about something you had taken for granted, leaving you quick to question the claims of others. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Sense Motive checks, and Sense Motive is a proficient skill for you.
Tactician: You have served as an adjunct to a general or strategist, and you have learned about great battles, sieges, and war-engines of the past. You receive a +1 trait bonus on Knowledge (engineering) and Knowledge (history) checks. One of these skills (your choice) is a proficient skill for you.
Urban: You are a native of a great city, and you have seen it all. You gain a bonus language and a +2 trait bonus on Search and Spot checks to see through disguises. You also gain a +1 trait bonus on Knowledge (local) checks in cities.
Vagabond: You grew up among the outcasts and outlaws of your society, learning to forage and survive in an urban environment. Select one of the following skills: Disable Device, Escape Artist, or Sleight of Hand. You gain a +1 trait bonus on that skill, and it is a proficient skill for you.
Armor Expert: You have worn armor for most of your adventuring life, and you've grown used to moving in it with relative grace. When you wear armor of any sort, reduce that suit's armor check penalty by 1, to a minimum check penalty of 0.
Clean: You have always been careful with your appearance, and now you have gained the extraordinary ability of somehow always ending up tidy, neat, and clean, even after a fight or being tripped in mud. You gain a +2 trait bonus to saves against disease.
Consummate Professional: You have remain devoted while adventuring to the career or livelihood you practiced before you became an adventurer. Pick a Craft or Profession skill into which you have put max ranks. You gain a +3 trait bonus with that skill.
Deft Dodger: Ducking sword swings and jumping away from fireballs has honed your senses. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Reflex saves.
Ear for Music: You have performed for others and made music a part of your soul. You gain a +1 trait bonus on one category of Perform checks and a +2 trait bonus on any Knowledge (local) checks that deal with the local art or music scene.
Fast-Talker: You have used words rather than weapons to resolve a conflict. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Bluff or Diplomacy checks (pick the most relevant to your experience), and that skill is a proficient skill for you.
Fencer: You have trained with blades for long hours and fought for your life with only hard steel between you and death. You gain a +1 trait bonus on attacks of opportunity made with daggers, swords, and similar bladed weapons.
Giant Killer: You have battled giants, ogres, trolls, or their kin, and your success has taught you their Achilles heel. You gain a +1 trait bonus on weapon damage against creatures of the giant type.
Gifted Adept: Your adventuring career has taught you the value of one spell in particular, one you cast most frequently. Pick one spell when you choose this trait — from this point on, whenever you cast that spell, increase your caster level by one for the purpose of determining variable effects such as range and duration; also, increase the save DC for that spell, if it has one, by +1.
Highlander: You have hid from danger in rugged badlands or hunted prey through hill and dale, and you've become something of an expert at evading the predators, monsters, and worse that haunt the highlands. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Stealth checks, and Stealth is a proficient skill for you. This trait bonus increases to +2 in hilly or rocky areas.
Metamagic Expert: You have used metamagic to the full, cleverly applying it spells you cast on a regular basis. Once per day, when you apply at least one metamagic feat to a spell, treat its actual level as 1 lower for determining the spell's final adjusted level.
Natural Leader: You have been chosen to lead your group, or you have sent cohorts, followers, familiars, or companion creatures under your direction into harm's way. Your allies (but not you) gain a +1 morale bonus on Will saves to avoid mind-affecting effects. If you ever take the Leadership feat, you gain a +1 trait bonus to your Leadership score.
Naturalist You have spent most of your adventuring career in the wilderness, where you have learned to thrive. You gain a +2 trait bonus on Survival checks to find food and water, and a +1 trait bonus on Knowledge (nature) checks. One of these skills (your choice) is a proficient skill for you.
Punchy: You have fought with your fists in your life as an adventurer, and you are now constantly ready to defend yourself with your hands when an enemy comes near. You gain a +1 trait bonus on attacks of opportunity attack rolls made with unarmed strikes. Note that this trait does not grant the ability to make attacks of opportunity with your unarmed strikes — you must have the Improved Unarmed Strike feat, or some other similar power to gain the use of this character trait. However, that doesn't prevent you from selecting this trait. You simply cannot make use of it until a later point if you do.
Reactionary: You have been surprised, maybe ambushed, or even bushwhacked in combat — and lived to tell the tale. You became adept at anticipating sudden attacks and reacting to danger quickly. You gain a +2 trait bonus on Initiative checks.
Sacred Touch: You have labored to save those who were dying on the battlefield, inspiring an upwelling of positive energy from deep reserves in your soul. As a standard action, you may automatically stabilize a dying creature merely by touching it.
Tropical Traveler: You have traveled through rocky deserts or humid jungles. You are accustomed to high temperatures, and gain a +4 trait bonus on any saving throws made to resist the effects of being in hot conditions and a +1 trait bonus on all saving throws against fire effects.
Undead Slayer: You have battled undead enemies and learned the hard way how to defeat them in combat. You gain a +1 trait bonus on weapon damage against undead.
Veteran of Battle: You have fought in several battles, and you have learned to be ready at a moment’s notice. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Initiative checks, and if you are able to act during a surprise round, you may a draw a weapon (but not a potion or magic item) as a free action during that round.
Animal Lover: You have saved innocent animals from danger (your fellow adventurers may have been the danger). You gain a +4 trait bonus on Handle Animal and Wild Empathy checks.
Battlemage: You have successfully cast spells on the defensive, in storms, while grappled, while riding a mount, or in other dangerous and wild situations. You gain a +2 trait bonus on concentration checks when spellcasting, on the defensive, a +3 trait bonus on concentration checks due to wind and weather weather, and a +5 trait bonus on concentration checks due to vigorous or violent motion.
Blessed: You have been blessed by a high priest (one of a higher tier than you), or by a good-aligned outsider. You can speak Celestial as a free bonus language and you gain an extra 1d3 hp when you are healed by positive energy.
Friendly Flanker: You wouldn't have lived through your many adventures without the aid of the friends in your party, on whom you could always count to distract your enemies long enough for you to do a little bit more damage than normal. When you hit a foe you are flanking, you deal an additional 2 points of damage (this damage is added to your base damage, and is multiplied on a critical hit). This additional damage is a trait bonus.
Courageous: You have faced eldritch horrors or the devastation of brutal combat without flinching or fleeing, and you persevered primarily through force of will and faith that no matter how hard things might get, as long as you kept a level head you'd make it through. You gain a +4 trait bonus on saving throws against fear effects.
Ice Tempered: You have survived travel in arctic conditions, and have spent the night outside when it was snowing. Now you are used to the biting cold, and you gain a +4 trait bonus on any saving throws and skill checks made to resist the effects of being in natural cold conditions as well as a +2 trait bonus on all saving throws against effects with the cold descriptor.
Indomitable: You have been the target of mental attacks that you have resisted; you gain a +2 trait bonus on mind-affecting saves as a result.
Local Hero: Your adventuring work has benefited many people in a particular area (determined with help from your game master based on your adventures) The locals admire and look up to you. You gain a +3 trait bonus on Diplomacy checks and Gather Info checks in the area in which you are known.
Magical Knack: You have depended on magic to stay alive, through spells you cast or even by constant proximity to essential magic items. Now the mysteries of magic have become easy for you to understand, even when you turn your mind to other devotions and tasks. Increase your caster level by one for the purpose of determining variable effects such as range and duration as long as this bonus doesn't raise your caster level above your character level.
Never Lost: You have found the way to your destination under the night sky and navigated through trackless wild places without a map. You can automatically determine where true north is. You gain a +8 trait bonus on Survival checks to avoid becoming lost.
Relentless Hunter: You have tracked down and defeated a foe. You gain a +4 trait bonus on Survival checks to track, and your penalty to track at higher speeds is reduced by 4.
Skeptic: You have seen through hostile illusion magic by making a saving throw against illusion. Now that you know better, you gain a +4 trait bonus on all saving throws against illusions.
Slippery: You have evaded entrapment or escaped from an entangling attack. You gain a +4 trait bonus on all saving throws to resist or escape the entangled condition.
Vaccinated: You have failed a save against magical disease, but you have turned that experience to your advantage. Now you are immune to all magical diseases.
Careful Touch: You have made a career of frequent touch attacks, but you still have a healthy aversion to close combat. When you seek to deliver a touch attack, your reach increases by 5 ft.
Combat Veteran: You have trained in the many ways of combat, and you know at least four combat feats. Once per day as a move action, you can gain the benefit of a combat feat that you do not possess for one minute. You must otherwise meet all of the feat's requirements.
Demon Hunter: You have battled demons and sought out demon lore, the better to fight them. You gain a +6 trait bonus on Knowledge (planes) checks about demons and a +4 trait bonus on saves and armor class against attacks from demons.
Devil May Care: You have struck a bargain with a devil, but so what? You have seen the way out. You may now ignore the consequence of breaking any deal or pact you have made or will make with a devil.
Dragon Bane: You have defeated a dragon and have learned where to strike for maximal effect. You automatically confirm critical hit threats against dragons, and your damage multiplier is increased by one category, from x2 to x3, x3 to x4, or x4 to x5.
Helpful: You have used the Aid Another action to protect others, to help them hit foes, and to succeed in skill checks. When you Aid Another, the bonus you grant is increased by a +4 trait bonus.
Loyal and Faithful Friend: Your familiar, animal companion, cohort, or other NPC ally has stuck with you through thick and thin. If your friend fails a will save, they may make a second one based on your own will save. Use the better result.
Minty: You have survived the breath of a dragon, gorgon, chimera, or other creature. You gain a +4 trait bonus against breath weapons.
Missionary: You have worked to spread the word of your faith, and your example has inspired many to honor your god. You gain proficiency and a +3 trait bonus on Knowledge (religion) checks. If you cast divine or natural spells, pick three spells on your spell list. You are particularly adept at casting these spells, so increase your caster level by one for the purpose of determining variable effects such as range and duration when you cast them.
Perceptive: You have found secret doors, located clues, and detected traps before they could do any harm. You gain a +4 trait bonus on all Search checks.
Planar Traveler: You have used powerful magic to wander beyond the plane of your birth, and you have found an affinity for alternate dimensions and related magics. You gain a +3 trait bonus on checks for Knowledge (planes), as well as Spellcraft and Knowledge (arcana) checks related to dimensional magic.
Punching Up: You have fought high priests, tangled with divine servants, destroyed an immortal power, or perhaps even contested with a god. You gain a +3 trait bonus on all saving throws made against divine spells and spell-like abilities identical to divine spells.
Red Tape Master: You have peacefully navigated a range of bureaucracies, from crime cartels to army lines of command to temple hierarchies. You gain a +4 trait bonus on all skill checks related to such organizations and the officers and functionaries thereof.
Unfazed: You have faced monsters that drive others mad, laughed at sights not meant for mortal eyes, or navigated non-Euclidian geometries. You gain a +4 trait bonus to armor class and saving throws from attacks launched by aberrations and oozes.
World Traveler: You have taken the love of travel to an extreme, roaming the world extensively. You've seen many cultures and have learned to appreciate the diversity of what the world has to offer. You gain a +2 trait bonus on all Diplomacy, Knowledge (geography, history, local, and nobility), and Sense Motive checks.
Following the format above, here are two easy ways to make traits. First, it is always reasonable to create a basic tyro trait granting a +1 bonus and proficiency with a skill, like the Caretaker and Merchant traits above. If a trait affects two Perform, Knowledge, Craft, or Profession skills, it is reasonable to grant a +1 trait bonus to two, and the choice of one of them as proficient, as the Acolyte trait above. For adventurer, hero, and legend traits, raise the trait bonus granted to +2, +3, or +4, respectively. For example:
Dreams of Eldritch Pipers: At a schedule incomprehensible to mortal minds, you dream of the mad pipings of eldritch abominations from beyond space and time. You gain a +1 trait bonus on all Perform (Wind Instruments) checks as well as all Knowledge (planes) checks, and you gain proficiency with one of these skills (your choice).
For a higher tier version of this trait, raise the trait bonus as above ... so long as you have visited a horror setting, or met abominations on another plane, or in some other way put your sanity to the test.
For another easy idea for traits based on experience, look to the creatures encountered or terrains traveled on your adventures. Consider that after beating a giant, you gain a trait bonus on Knowledge checks and attacks against giants. Or after surviving a jungle battle, gaining a trait bonus to AC in jungles now that you know how to use the terrain to your advantage. Make the trait bonus +1 for frequently encountered or adventurer tier challenges, to +3 for rarely encountered or legend tier challenges.
Note that there is no shame in admitting that you have created a trait that is too weak or too powerful. Revising a new trait after use in play is entirely reasonable.
Again, emphasize traits as a mechanical way to celebrate the background and in-game history of your character. They should remind players of their characters' history and past experiences. Use them for richness and depth of character, not as another opportunity for power-mongering.