It’s been a dragon’s age! But I’d like to revivify Tabletop Tuesday. Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is what I’m playing lately, so that’s the lens I’ll be looking through, but these ideas can be applied to any roleplaying game. Today, I’d like to talk to you about trinkets as tiny story engines. Step on in and sample the wares and oddities…
Trinkets You Say?
Trinkets are odd objects–some mundane, some slightly mystical–none of them powerful or necessarily useful, but quirky story bits. A trinket might be anything from a mummified goblin hand, to an indecipherable treasure map. There is a nifty, rollable table of trinkets on p.160 of the Player’s Handbook. They are a great way to flesh out the contents of treasure chest, desk drawer, or monster’s pockets.
Until recently, I missed the bit in the book that suggests letting a player role for a trinket during character creation. I’ve since applied this technique to games I run and games I play in. In all cases, I’ve found that adding a random, strange object to a character instantly generates fun backstory.
Let me give you some examples.
A Sampling of Trinkets
Leaf is a wood elf ranger, something of a tragic badass — last survivor of an elven tribe specialized in hunting giants. Leaf hides out in a carnival as a sharpshooter, but the performer’s life grates on him and he medicates his crippling survivor’s guilt with drugs and drink.
For a trinket, Leaf rolled: A nightcap that, when worn, gives you pleasant dreams. The player decided Leaf bought this cap from a mysterious tinker. It is the only way Leaf can sleep without waking up screaming. What’s more, the player decided it is a very pretty nightcap, with brightly-colored floral designs and lace. Many are confused when seeing this grim elf wearing it, or to what ends he’d go to protect his most prized possession.
Flash is a half-elf ranger, a bro-jock who happens to be an expert at hunting slimes and oozes. Flash is something of an exterminator of slimy monsters in the catacombs and crawlspaces of Waterdeep.
For a trinket, Flash rolled: A pyramid of sticky black incense that smells very bad. Instantly, the player imagined that Flash has an entrepreneurial soul. He thinks he can use the byproduct of the oozes he slays to make expensive incense. He boils down the goo into concentrated, reeking sludge, demonstrating his product to his poor party members.
Bleahch is a goblin sorcerer–former henchmen to a villainous wizard wannabe.
For a trinket, Bleahch rolled: A glass jar containing lard with a label that reads, “Griffon Grease”. It doesn’t get much more random than that. Without missing a beat, the player told us the story of how, nn the night his former master botched a dangerous experiment, the jar was the random thing Bleahch stole from the wizard’s shelf. To most, it’s a gross object, but to Bleahch it represents the act of defiance that allowed him to escape an abusive mentor and dare to be something more than a henchman. As another player helpfully pointed out, “Dude, that’s your Dobby sock!”
If you aren’t using trinkets in your character creation, I urge you to. If you are temped just to select one, I further urge you to try it randomly. We have many opportunities to purposefully craft the details of our characters. Let this one fly in the face of chaos! Trinkets are a lovely opportunity to add a little living backstory before your character even enters game.
Character + random object automatically prompts the mind to fill in the question marks with story (especially when said object doesn’t seem to match the character). Think of trinkets as different colored lights and your character as a prism. Shining the light through the prism creates a unique pattern. Apply the same trinket to two different characters, and two different stories are created.
Use the trinket table in the PHB. Find other tables online. Or make your own! Wizards of the Coast even has a free pdf for character options for their Curse of Strahd campaign, that includes a table for gothic horror trinkets.
A Trinket By Any Other Game…
I’ve focused on D&D, but using trinkets as a character creation tecnique easily translates to any roleplaying game. Reference the above mentioned trinket tables, adjust and/or make up your own odd objects to fit the setting and genre of your game.
There be micro-stories lurking in your pockets.