Feature: Personality Styles (Subversive, Sneaky, Noble, Charming, and Diplomatic)


July 5, 2010 by Jeff

In the first installment of this feature series I told you about Personality Styles. In short, they work like backgrounds mechanically, but instead of telling us who your character was in the past they tell us a bit about who your character is now. Its all about what sort of choices he makes and to give you a source of inspiration when you just aren’t sure what he would do.

When using Personality Styles you should replace one of your background selections with a Personality Style. It is not recommended to choose three or more Personality Styles for risk of developing multiple personalities. You only gain the benefit from one personality style OR background. No trying to double up benefits by using these rules. So you can be an Aristocrat from the Desert who’s Sneaky and that’s great for informing your role-playing choices…but you only get the benefit from one of those.

For this installment I will be detailing five Personality Styles: Subversive, Sneaky, Noble, Charming, and Diplomatic. So let’s dive into it…


A character with this style tries to manipulate people and situations to suit their own causes. It could be entirely self-serving or it could be for the greater good.

Benefit: Once per day a Bluff check may be re-rolled, you must take the new roll.

Role-Playing: You try to avoid a conflict that puts you in danger by playing as many sides of a situation as possible. This could include your own party. After all, if you can tell the fighter to go attack the guy coming from you, he does, and you turn out the better for it, who does that hurt? When in doubt get others to do the fighting for you.


A character with this style is always looking for a way to strike from the shadows and disappear back into them. They are adept at finding ways to not be seen.

Benefit: Once per day when you make a Stealth check opposed by enemies Perception checks you may force enemies who beat your Stealth to re-roll their Perception rolls and take the new roll.

Role-Playing: If there is a task to be done it is always better to not be seen doing it. When faced with a tactical choice, go with the option that surprises everyone. Use your superior stealth to scout an area and attack with superior knowledge. If you can end a combat by sticking to the shadows and closing the portal rather than fight the guards do that, let the rest of the party keep the bad guys busy.


A character with this style is here to serve. For whatever reason they think of themselves as superior to most people and are, as such, duty-bound to use your superiority to help those less fortunate.

Benefit: Once per day you gain a bonus to a Diplomacy or an Intimidate check equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Role-Playing: You’re better than everyone else, it’s just a fact of life. Maybe you were born into it or perhaps you earned it, maybe your lord it over others or maybe you are humbled by their circumstances. Everyone should be listening to you and agreeing with you. They may not like the choices you make, but it’s for their own good.


A character with this style is happiest when others like him. They always look to make others happy and find that people like being around them as a result. Usually all it takes is a few well picked words.

Benefit: Once per day a Diplomacy check may be re-rolled, you must take the new roll.

Role-Playing: When faced with a conflict, try to talk your way out of it. Even if a situation seems hopeless, walk right up to the hideous monster and strike up a conversation. It can’t hurt and it will often help. And if that doesn’t work you can at least make fun of it while you and your party beat the snot out of it.


A character with this style tries to solve problems through a mutual give and take so that both sides can walk away without being the loser.

Benefit: Once per day an Insight check may be re-rolled, you must take the new roll.

Role-Playing: The key to getting what you want is knowing what your enemy wants and using that. Sometimes it means doing some research ahead of time. Sometimes it means letting the enemies win if they agree to let you have what you want. Shades of grey cover most of the world and many small victories add up to big success in the end.

So there’s the first bunch. As the series continues I will keep giving you more Personality Styles. What do you think about these? Any that you might have done differently? My goal was to do something more interesting than a simple +2 to a skill (which is what most backgrounds give you) but not be unbalanced. How did I do at meeting that goal?

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8 thoughts on “Feature: Personality Styles (Subversive, Sneaky, Noble, Charming, and Diplomatic)

  1. Ken says:

    Great idea, and great mechanics. I have two serious issues with the flavor:
    1) These are too negative. D&D 4E is built to offer the cool factor. Notice that even stat penalties have been removed. I’d reflavor these so that they’re at least neutral in tone, preferably positive.
    2) Encouraging party strife. Some games and gamers like party strife, but its not part of the core 4E experience (thank goodness). I’d remove anything that encourages this, and actively work to show how these personality types work WITH the group.

  2. @Ken: Hey, thanks for the comments and I honestly completely agree with your issues and I was just waiting to see if anyone else picked up on them as well. Let me run you through some thoughts on each of them:

    Most of these aren’t negative at all. Noble and Subversive, however, do give that connotation and I knew it when I published it.

    I’m not entirely sure how to do Subversive without a negative connotation, but I think it’s a legitimate personalty type that I see at the table on a pretty regular basis. I tried to give examples of how a subversive character can be subversive without conflict (which I suppose is addressing issue 2). Perhaps some more concrete examples would be in order, like demonstrating how a warlord can subvert another PC by giving them a bonus to attack the enemy that’s coming after him. I know that 4e mechanically avoids the party strife issue but I think there are ways that some PCs do manipulate other PCs at the table and that’s okay. If nothing else, not all PCs are good or unaligned. Some go evil and they need personality styles too, no?

    As for noble, well I struggled with that one because of some things coming down the pipe in future articles. How do I distinguish noble from self-sacrificing or righteous (personality styles I’ll be detailing later). I had a few options, just do away with noble or try to better understand the difference between someone who is noble and someone who is self-sacrificing or righteous. A little research led me to the idea that nobility isn’t just doing what’s right, it’s doing what’s right because you can and other can’t, because your superior. And so I build Noble from that definition.

    I know it may not be everyone favorite approach, but in a world of grays where PCs have personalities and those personalities are a coin with two sides I felt what I provided was technically proper and more neutral than it seems when reading them (especially in light of the relatively positive way that these issues are typically discussed). Hopefully the next installments which focus on personality styles with a more positive connotation will make you happy. Perhaps I should have started with those to set the precedent before delving into these more controversial personalities, but I guess I decided to jump in head first.

    • Ken says:

      Good points, and I agree with the decision to go with the “superior” angle with the noble. The flavor I’d suggest for the subversive and noble would be flavor of how those types shine when working FOR the entire group.

      Subversive: You are an expert at dealing with uncooperative figures of authority. When the direct approach doesn’t work, they look to you to shake things up. You’ll be only too happy to find a scapegoat and create conflict between other factions in order for your party to get what it needs.

      Noble: You have the rare confidence that comes only to those of the proper breeding. When the party falters, you have no problem assuring your friends that you’ve got things under control, because it’s always worked for you just fine in the past. This kind of confidence may rub some NPCs the wrong way, but for some (particularly other nobles), you will be a breath of fresh air and will garner great respect by simply standing a little bit straighter.

  3. Tom Mueller says:

    A quick thought on this article: perhaps provide some examples of characters that fit your conception of the personality? For instance, the cast of Firefly; which style fits Reynolds/ Jayne/ Shepherd Book?

  4. You’re not the first person to suggest it. Honestly, I’d have a hard time coming up with examples from movies or TV for every personality type. Books, perhaps. Games/players I’ve seen and played in, definitely. But those get progressively more obscure. What I’d be more interested in, is hearing from you guys.

    What people from TV or movies do you think of when you look at these different personality styles?

    For example, I think you could say that Raistlin, from the Dragonlance series, was Subversive.

    I also think an argument could be made that the Doctor, of Dr. Who is a workable example of Noble.

  5. [...] In article two I gave you the first set of Personality Styles (Subversive, Sneaky, Noble, Charming, … [...]

  6. [...] article two I gave you the first set of Personality Styles (Subversive, Sneaky, Noble, Charming, and [...]

  7. [...] article two I gave you the first set of Personality Styles (Subversive, Sneaky, Noble, Charming, and [...]

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