This is the eighth article in my series on personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws for the PC races of D&D 5e. Along with dragonborn, tieflings are one of the more divisive races of D&D, with plenty of grognards insisting that any races introduced after 1979 or so are right out. On the other hand, they’ve been immensely popular with the rest of the community, as they’ve gradually gone from their introduction in Planescape (in 1994) to a core “monster” and a Forgotten Realms player race in 3.0, (2001), to a core player race in 4e (2008) and 5e. They’ve always been the exotic, edgy ones, giving us a clear place (other than the half-orc) to talk (ham-handedly) about fantasy racism and whether evil is inherent or learned.
Edit: Please note that this post has been re-edited and released in Through Their Own Eyes, now available on DriveThruRPG.
I was also a fan of 4e’s Bael Turath backstory for tieflings, to the point that I was planning to adapt that into my own 4e setting… but the game ended before the campaign named “The Road to Bael Turath” quite got there. Reverting the tieflings to their Planescape-style backstory is fine too, but the sense of heritage and group identity in Bael Turath is a particularly useful source of motives for heroes and villains alike.
For these traits, I’ve emphasized their outcast status and the poverty and crime that often accompany it, as suggested in the Player’s Handbook. There are also a mix of sinister and virtuous elements, for tieflings who want to emphasize the morality play of their existences.
|1||Since I can’t fit in, I might as well enjoy making humans uncomfortable with the way I dress.|
|2||I know the common name of my fiendish progenitor, and invoke it casually in oaths.|
|3||I usually give a fake name if I don’t know someone well.|
|4||Life is short and death is around every corner. Why plan ahead?|
|5||Never back me into a corner. When I have nothing left to lose, I am at my most dangerous.|
|6||In times of stress, I curse in the tongues of fiends. This may have unintended consequences.|
|7||I don’t worry about insults, but if you break a deal with me, the gods themselves couldn’t save you.|
|8||I approach even hated enemies with honeyed words, if only to see what they’ll do.|
|1||Honor: I will get my hands dirty to protect innocents from what must be done. (Evil)|
|2||Greed: I grew up in deprivation, so now I never part with a copper piece unnecessarily. (Neutral)|
|3||Hope: By showing my valor and virtue, I will change how the world sees tieflings. (Good)|
|4||Fairness: I reserve my wrath for when wrongdoing can be conclusively proven, because I know the price of false accusation. (Lawful)|
|5||Independence: I’ve already rebelled against the will of the Nine. Why would I listen to you? (Chaotic)|
|6||Transcendence: The world’s harshest trials only strip away my impurities and bring me to greatness. (Any)|
|1||I collect bits and pieces of ancient prophecy, to learn the destiny of my people.|
|2||I will build an empire on the ashes of those who have wronged me and my people.|
|3||My people have one safe haven in all the world, and I would die to protect it.|
|4||I would do anything for the religious order that took me when I was an orphaned outcast.|
|5||I’ve been accused of a lot of things, but I actually didn’t do this one, so I must clear my name.|
|6||I pursue wealth and status to give my loved ones the comfort that I never had as a child.|
|1||I have a deep dread of the gods, because they are punishing tieflings for ancient sins.|
|2||Call me a freak one more time, and you’ll finally learn who you’re dealing with.|
|3||I’ve never met a vice I wouldn’t try at least… oh, eight or nine times.|
|4||You say “overweening ambition” like it’s a bad thing.|
|5||My mistrust for authority figures gets in the way even when they are on my side.|
|6||Wherever I go, bad luck and trouble seek me out, like a hound on a trail.|
With these personality features, I’ve tried to show a race that deals with venomous racism on a daily basis, with a more mystical bent than half-orcs. I also threw in some things that (I hope) come across as “charmingly louche,” in an Oscar Wilde sort of way. Reading quotes from Wilde, Dorothy Parker, or Ambrose Bierce should put you in the right frame of mind to play a scathing wit.
Since I invoked Braga in writing about half-orcs, it won’t surprise anyone that Hannah is an inspiration here. I’m sufficiently frustrated with how things ended in Vol 3 that I didn’t go back to re-read for quotes to use, which is a bit unfair to the awesomeness that is Hannah in Vol 1 and 2.
As a reminder, these aren’t intended to completely replace your personality features from your Background. These bayliefs are more like a seasoning, so use them gingerly and don’t get carawayed. I cayenne see how that could easily happen, of course. I’ve mustard all the puns I can think of to get my point across, and now I think I’ve run out of thyme.