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Skip Navigation LinksHERO System>Meta Concepts >Trait Driven HERO

Trait Driven HERO

This is a method of character design and mechanical resolution that is abstracted away from player awareness and left entirely in the GM's hands. It is primarily intended for use in a play-by-post format. It accentuates narrative play publicly, but still relies on the robust HERO System engine for resolution privately, handled out-of-band by the GM.


Have the players describe their characters, but don't deal in game stats with them. Have them express things their character is good at and rank them with numbers, adding up to a total. Ill get to this in more detail below.

The GM then stats the player's concepts using the broad descriptions provided as their guide.

The GM may or may not allow the players to see the final writeups, as they prefer. It is recommended that the GM does not, to avoid arguments and encourage the narrative aspect of this method.


During play, have players narratively describe what they are doing, and you do the same for NPCs. However, in the background you resolve things mechanically in a controlled environment. This also allows you to not have to do segment oriented combat via play-by-post which is tedious.

Awarding XP

After play starts, rather than assigning XP to players instead have the players describe what areas they would like to see their characters show improvement in, which the GM interprets into the characters' mechanical implementations.

If the GM decides to add other abilities, the GM informs the player(s) of their character's new capabilities in similar broad terms.

As there is a certain amount of vagueness involved, there is a wider tolerance for point differences between characters as it gets interpreted via the GM's narrative layer and the players are not seeing the character mechanics directly.


  • Design Flexibility
    • If the GM decides to pad or shave a character a little bit, as seems fitting to maintain parity between characters, the players will never really know. So long as their characters seem capable during game play, it is immaterial. If during game play you tweak out a character's mechanics based upon story elements, as long as you narrate it appropriately it will feel natural to the players as they never fixate on things like "hey! Andronicus has 17 more character points than Uaga now!".
  • Abstraction
    • This method adds an abstraction layer between mechanics and concepts. In a narrative oriented venue, such as play by post, it eases the mechanical resolution burden and focuses on the story.


  • Player Preference
    • The cons are some players want the mechanics. It may not feel like the "HERO System" to some players due to its level of abstraction, even though you are using the mechanics behind the scenes to keep it all straight.
  • Trust
    • Some players may not trust you as the GM to properly define their characters. This one is pretty subjective, really. Some groups might really like it, or come to like it, some might never buy into it.


To put this into a (quick) concrete example...say you are running a standard 150 point (75+75) campaign. Dividing 150 / 10 yields 15 points, which we'll call "Fate Points" (or whatever label you like).

Tell each player they have 15 Fate Points with which to define their characters with labeled Traits. Each character must have at least three Traits, and characters can't spend more than 6 Fate Points on any give Trait. As the GM, you need to have some discussion around what each Trait means to each player to avoid confusion; alternately a brief description of the Trait can be required.

If you are using Race Packages, you can translate the cost of Race Packages into Fate Point costs. Thus if to be an Elf costs 2 Fate Points, an Elf character has 13 Fate Points to spend on other things (using our example model)

In this example, we have four players: Joe, Fred, Mike, and Amy. They define their characters as follows.


Joe is playing the Wizard Andronicus, who Joe wants to be a brainy but capable gentleman adventurer.

  • Smart: 5; Andronicus is well educated, quick thinking, and seldom at a loss for what to do. He is also multi-lingual.
  • Magic: 6; Andronicus is very dedicated to his mystical arts and should be as capable at it as is allowed for a starting character. Andronicus should have a good selection of spells, covering his bases. He's smart so he likes utility spells that give him options. For damage spells he avoids collateral damage and opts for "smart" spells that can be targeted precisely / safely over splashy spells that might have unintended side effects. He should be accurate with his spells.
  • Agile: 2; Andronicus is slim and nimble and fleet of foot
  • Rugged: 1; Andronicus is fit and tougher than he looks
  • Connected: 1; Andronicus has ties to academia and intelligentsia

When designing this character, the GM might spend approximately 50 points on things that make the character "smart" and knowledgeable, approximately 60 points on his magic, approximately 20 points on agility (DEX, SPD, Run, etc), approximately 10 points on being tougher than average (which could be CON, BODY, STUN, PD, ED, etc), and finally approximately 10 points on social connections. (Example: Andronicus)

Uaga the Bold

Fred is playing Uaga the Bold, a bold barbarian which he defines as follows:

  • Physical: 6; Uaga is a Howard-style barbarian, this dude is mighty
  • Killing Stuff: 6; Uaga is super lethal
  • Barbarian: 2; Uaga is skilled in the wilderness, can survive on wood chips and gravel, and tracks pretty good
  • Stud: 1; Uaga is well liked by the ladies

When designing this character, you spend approximately 60 points on making Uaga a beefcake, approximately 60 points on making him a killer, approximately 20 points on skills like survival, tracking, stealth, shadowing, PS: Hunting, etc, and approximately 10 points on COM and Seduction. (Example: Uaga)

Gibs Lightfinger

Mike is playing Gibs Lightfinger, a halfling pickpocket and general thief. You've defined a Halfling package that costs around 20 points, thus to be a halfling costs 2 Fate Points. Gibs is defined as:

  • Halfling: 2; being a halfling is a core part of Gibs' identity, and he has a fair number of the stereotypical traits of his people.
  • Thief: 4; Gibs is a skilled thief, specialized in picking pockets and opening locks
  • Sneaky: 3; Gibs is good at getting in and out of places unseen, even for a halfling
  • Charismatic: 2; Despite his profession, people find it hard not to like Gibs
  • Knows People: 2; Gibs knows lots of people living on the low down and often benefits from his network of peeps
  • Tumbler: 2; Gibs is a skilled tumbler / acrobat and can pull off tricks in conjunction with moving around in tight spaces

At this point its pretty clear that this translates into approximately 40 points in thiefy abilities, approximately 30 points in stealthy abilities, approximately 20 points in interaction and PRE, and so forth. (Example: Gibs)

Vailia the Pure

Finally, Amy is playing Vailia the Pure, Cleric of Dionicus the White. She defines Vailia as so:

  • Musician: 1; Vailia is a skilled singer and lutist, and also knows how to dance. She learned these skills as a child growing up in a traveling circus; the circus was waylaid by bandits when she was a teen and she was taken for sale as a slave, but was later freed by a band of warriors pledged to the service of Dionicus the White. She was taken to a Church of Dionicus and given shelter. She eventually found the faith and entered the seminary.
  • Up and Comer: 1; Vailia is considered to be an up an comer in her churches hierarchy, and has preferential status
  • Pure: 6; Vailia is divinely protected from unpleasantness, even to the point of dirt and grime finding no purchase upon her sparkling white raiment. Blades turn away from her, as do mystic assaults. The level of divine protection she benefits from is high and seen as a sign of Dionicus's favor by the Church.
  • Divine Magic: 4; Vailia is fairly good at channeling divine magics; she should be a capable healer, some light oriented abilities, and some protective magics. Any offensive magics should be specifically against evil or dark forces, rather than general purpose attacks.
  • Wise: 2; Vailia is well grounded in spiritualism and theology, and is very intuitive. She sometimes finds an answer where pure logic fails to.
  • Staff-weilder: 1; Vailia is skilled at using her staff defensively, and can use it offensively if she has to

It should be evident at this point how you would go about spending points to make this character. (Example: Vailia)

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