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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 or other asynchronous types of play. It accentuates narrative play publicly, but still relies on the robust Hero System game engine for resolution privately, handled out-of-band by the GM.


Have the players describe their characters via numerically expressed Traits, adding up to some GM determined number of total Trait Points. A good rule of thumb is to divide the total Character Points of the characters in the campaign by 10 to determine the Trait total; thus if the GM wanted to run with 150 point Hero System characters they could tell the players they have 15 Trait Points to spread around (an extended example is provided below to illustrate this in practice).

However, this is just a numbers game and any ratio or scheme can work as long as the GM is consistent.

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 keeps the Hero System write-ups private (at least until the campaign is over), to avoid arguments and encourage the narrative aspect of this method. In fact, a GM might choose to never reveal that they used the Hero System under the hood to help them run the game as it is largely irrelevant to the players. But ultimately, it is up the GM whether to reveal their Hero System wizardry or keep such sordid details behind the curtain.


During play, the GM and players narratively describe their characters' intentions for the next Turn and work out any necessary clarification. Then, after the appropriate window of time has passed, the GM accumulates all the declared intents and resolves the outcomes off-screen using the Hero System mechanics. They synthesize / summarize that resolution into the next chunk of narrative text (eliding the intermediary mechanical cruft) for the next GM post to move the adventure along. Rinse and repeat as necessary to completion.

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.


  • Abstraction
    • This method adds an abstraction layer between mechanics and concepts. In an asynchronous format such as play-by-post, it dramatically reduces the friction caused by highly granular mechanical resolutions, helps avoid taking too long to move the game forward in real time, and puts the focus on the emerging narrative. Notably, it allows the GM to not have to do highly interactive segment oriented combat, which is time consuming and tedious in such formats.
    • Assuming the GM keeps the Hero System write-ups private, players will focus on the shared understanding of the characters based upon their deeds and affect on the emerging narrative, and never get dragged down into petty point grubbing ("Hey! Andronicus has 7 more character points than Uaga now!") or distracted by crunch at the expense of story.
    • Assuming the GM keeps the Hero System write-ups private, they can draw on a wider selection of non-Hero System seeking potential players to join their play-by-post or equivalent game.
  • 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 the changes match the narrative it will feel natural to the players.


  • Player Preference
    • Some players want mechanical grit. Why they don't seek out a face to face campaign wherein they can engage with glorious real time / synchronous resolutions rather than attempt to get their gaming fix on via an asynchronous format such as play-by-post is an interesting conundrum.
  • Trust
    • Some players may not trust you as the GM to properly interpret their characters, or to arbitrate the outcomes. Why a player would join the game of a GM they weren't willing to extend a bit of trust to is yet another interesting conundrum.


In this example Bob the GM is about to run a standard 150 Character Point (75+75) Fantasy Hero campaign via play-by-post and has decided to try this format. Bob uses the recommended "divide by 10" method to determine Trait Points, and thus tells each prospective player for his campaign that they have 15 Trait Points with which to define their characters via labeled Traits, and each Trait must include a concise description.

Bob doesn't want the PC's to be entirely one-trick, so he further requires that each PC must have at least three Traits, and no Trait can start with a rating higher than 6 (i.e. approximately 40% of a character's total capability). Bob also doesn't want the PC's to be spread too thin, so he further states that starting characters can't have more than ten Traits.

Bob's setting has a handful of playable fantasy Races, and under the hood these map to Race Packages. Bob indicates to potential players which Races are allowed in his setting, and that some require allocation of Trait Points to opt into.

For instance, Bob's Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling Packages all cost approximately 20 Character Points, so he indicates they each require 2 Trait Points for a character who wants to be of that Race. Bob's setting also features an exotic Giant-kin Race with a more expensive Race Package costing approximately 40 Character Points, so Bob indicates that it requires 4 Trait Points for a character to be of that Race. And so on.

All of these decisions are arbitrary and campaign specific; for a different campaign Bob might make different choices.

Four players resond to the campaign announcement: Joe, Fred, Mike, and Amy. They defined 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, Bob 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, Bob spends 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 looking good 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 Trait 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 it is hopefully pretty clear that Bob would translate this 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 is hopefully evident at this point how Bob might go about spending points to make this character. (Example: Vailia)

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