Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits

Going forward, each character should have 3 Beliefs, 3 Instincts, and 3 Traits that define them and guide how they are roleplayed. Consistently roleplaying these facets of your character will earn you Artha Points, which are explained on the Wiki page.

These points may be used to purchase mechanical boons and benefits to help your character accomplish heroic deeds or to add drama to a scene; these boons are also detailed on the Wiki page.

When a player brings to life a new character, he furnishes that character with three Beliefs. In essence, these are the top three priorities for the character in play. These are not general beliefs, like “God” or “Country.” They are explicitly stated drives that tie directly into the world and setting. Examples of Beliefs are “I must serve the Etharch so that I might be redeemed for my crime,” or “I will protect my friend’s sister at any cost.” When sculpting your character’s Beliefs, think: What do I want out of this character and this situation? How can my character’s Beliefs reflect that? Then shape your character’s Beliefs to reflect those priorities.

Beliefs are not arbitrarily chosen. You relate each one to what is going on in the game. They bind your character into the world. As they are challenged, they give you the chance to express what your character is about.

A player may change his character’s Beliefs as he sees fit. Characters are meant to grow and change through play. Changing Beliefs is a vital part of that growth. However, the GM has final say over when a Belief may be changed.

Instincts are also player priorities for a character, but they have a different mechanical application than Beliefs. Rather than reflect who or what the character is, Instincts help define how the character acts. What’s been drilled into the character’s head? What life lessons has he been forced to learn? What has he taught himself in order to survive? These are Instincts in Burning Wheel. Players choose three for their characters.

The best Instincts are defined as clear statements—either “Always do X,” or “Never do Y,” or as “If this condition arises, then take this action.” What an Instinct does is set a condition and a reaction to that condition for the character. And this reaction/behavior of the character is sacrosanct: So long as the conditions are met, the action is done. The player doesn’t even have to announce it. It either happens behind the scenes or instantly, without hesitation.

A player may change his character’s Instincts as he sees fit—as the character’s experience in play changes him. However, the GM has final say over when an Instinct may be changed.

Beliefs and Instincts are personality and behavior priorities for characters. Traits are also a kind of priority. By choosing traits, a player is stating to the world, “This is what’s most important to me about my character; these are his most prominent aspects.” A character trait illustrates a prominent aspect of a character’s psychological or physiological make-up— something that affects how the character will be roleplayed at the table, something that says, “You’re not just someone, you’re it.”

These are guide posts that help the player navigate play with the character. By choosing these traits, the player is stating that he is going to do one of two things: Either he’s going to play those traits to the hilt—he’s going to exemplify them—or he’s saying that his character is starting with these traits, but he’s about to change. In the second case, character traits are used as the crux for creating all sorts of problems for his character in game. He’s going to use his traits to get his character into situations where he has to make hard decisions. Do I go with my nature, or do I fight against it?

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits

Shattered Star Campaign NickGuidotti NickGuidotti