In roleplaying games like D&D you will find yourself looting treasure, and thus acquiring all sorts of items. If your game is very practical, this might just take the form of usable items like gold, potions, and enchanted items. However, in a more detailed and deeper game, you'll likely find all sorts of other items that may or may not be immediately useful.
D&D 5e even has a separate grouping for items of this nature, dubbed "trinkets." These items may not have a practical use in game, (or at least a very small one,) but they can be quite interesting for roleplay and character reasons. This is especially relevant since your character generally starts with at least one trinket, so it ties in to your backstory.
For example, let's say that your character has a tiny silver bell with no clapper. How did they come across this item? It could have been a gift from a friend. Perhaps the simply bought it. Or maybe find they found it at the bottom of a chest somewhere. In any of these cases, we can use this as an opportunity to say something about our character. If you were gifted the item, that means you likely have an important relationship with some person, and we could probably expand on that to know more about who the character themself is. If they bought the item, there's probably something about it that caught their eye, so we can use this chance to speak on their interests. If they found it amongst treasure, we have a tale to recount about how your character got their hands on some treasure. We have a past adventure to recollect.
We should also ask why they hang onto it. Does it have sentimental value for the character? Are they determined to find some use for it? Do they just have a habit of hoarding things? Any of these are possible explanations, but they each shape the nature of our character a little differently.
This idea applies to other systems besides D&D as well. For example, you might have a character in a modern game who keeps an empty lighter in their pocket, simply because they found it dropped on the side of the road and it looked interesting. Maybe they admire the art on it, or maybe there's a name engraved on it, and they want to find this person. There are plenty of reasons why they might carry strange items. Think about any of the junk you might keep in your pockets on a daily basis. I'm sure you have a good reason for it, and that says a little bit about you. What you value, what you attach yourself to. Using little objects to hint at our character in a roleplaying game is a very authentic way to present subtle ideas, and it's a way we often overlook.
I hope you enjoyed this post and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For more on this topic, see my post "Loot Variety" on my personal blog for a slightly different take on the ideas presented here. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.