Last Updated on June 21, 2023
When your character is almost finished — when you’ve rolled up your stats; picked a class, a race, and a background; and spent your starting gold — you know what they can do, but you don’t yet know who they are.
Figuring out what kind of person your Dungeons & Dragons character is can be a long and involved process for some players. Some people don’t know — not really — who their character is until the end of a campaign. Sometimes it takes an impossible decision, a tragedy, or even the prospect of death to really bring out the essence of a character. Other players just shrug and say, “Uh, they’re me,” and move on.
Both of these approaches (not to mention everything in between) are absolutely fine. D&D is different things to different people, after all.
Whether you are a casual beer-and-pretzels gamer whose interest in nuanced character studies goes about as deep as “punch or not punch,” are a budding drama student who showed up in elf ears and a corset for the sake of “immersion,” or just want some guidance bringing your character to life at the table, picking your new character’s Personality Traits, Bond, Flaw, and Ideal can be a huge help.
Today, we’re going to be taking a look at Ideals and how they can inform your character’s actions and give you a whole heap of options to choose from or inspire you to come up with your own. Remember: Ideals are a roleplaying prompt, not a mechanical decision, so you should feel free to improvise, adjust, and make up something that works for you.
You can scroll down for a list of pregenerated ideals that can give any character a purpose, but first…
What Is an Ideal in DnD 5e?
Your character’s ideals are the things that drive them. They’re the moral or metaphysical truths and principles at the core of their beings that they believe in most strongly and compel them to behave as they do.
Essentially, they’re a guiding star that you can refer back to in any situation where you find yourself wondering, “What would my character do?”
Character Ideal Generator
Hit the button to generate your character’s ideal.
|Honesty. I always tell the truth, even when it gets my friends and me in trouble.
|Respect. I always try to treat people with respect and expect that they do the same to me.
|Lawfulness. Laws and rules are all that separate us from the animals. They exist to be followed, and those who break them should be held accountable.
|Integrity. Never make a promise you can’t keep. Never make a decision you wouldn’t stand by. Your word is your bond.
|Trust. Once your trust has been earned, it becomes unshakable.
|Dignity. Other people deserve to have access to the things they need to live a dignified life. To take away someone’s ability to live with dignity is as good as killing them. Your own dignity is something you guard as closely as your life.
|Creativity. Acts of creation are what makes life worth living, and you prize originality above all else. You rarely do, think, or say the same thing twice.
|Responsibility. A commitment must be honored, whether to our friends, our family, a creed, a kingdom, or a god.
|Power. One day, you will attain mastery over others.
|Greed. Everything you do is in service of accumulation — money, knowledge, rare antiquities, it doesn’t matter. You want more, more, more.
|Family. Blood runs thicker than water, and our duty to our family is the most important one we have.
|Redemption. No sin or mistake leaves a stain dark enough that true redemption can’t wash it away. The road is long and hard, but at the end there is a light.
|Honor. I have a code that I live by and must never break.
|Dogmatism. Exact obeyance of the letter of the law (whether it be holy texts or bureaucratic rules and regulations) is the foundation of all moral and proper behavior.
|Faith. The light of the divine is the only one that can pierce the blackness of indecision and reveal the true path. All else is but the whispering of false prophets.
|Beauty. Goodness lies in beautiful things, places, and people. Only something truly evil could be truly ugly.
|Might. The ones with the right to rule and to decide what is good or bad are the ones with the strength to do it — to impose their will upon the world.
|Fairness. Evenhandedness and treating each matter so that all parties benefit equally is the essence of morality.
|Equality. I treat everyone the same, whether they are a prince or pauper, god or goblin.
|Freedom. Rules, kings, kingdoms, gods — they’re all just a different form of chain around our necks.
|Loyalty. My friends, family, comrades — it doesn’t matter whether what they’re doing is good or bad; I’m on their side.
|Community. The bonds we forge with those around us must be strengthened for mutual benefit.
|People. Lofty ideals, laws, gods, and tradition — it all comes down to the people you care about and what you’d do for them. If I care about someone enough, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, and right or wrong doesn’t even come into it.
|Aspiration. Wealth, status, knowledge — these are all things to be collected through hard work and natural talent.
|Society. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. We must always do what is best for the greater number of people, even if such acts of dispassionate ethical calculus leave a bad taste in the mouth at the time.
|Rationality. Reason and logic are the only real way to make decisions; emotion must be removed from the equation.
|Emotion. You can rationalize atrocities, murder, and greed, but your gut always knows when something’s wrong. Trust your heart, not your head.
|Independence. Organizations, governments, even friendships — they only hold me back.
|Power. The more powerful you are, the more good you can do. Therefore, the pursuit of power is an axiomatic good.
|Obligation. I swore a vow long ago, and keeping it drives everything I do.
|Glory. I must prove myself worthy through mighty deeds. Only then will I bring glory to my name and my people.
|Civilization. Safety, security, abundance — only by extending the borders of the civilized world can we overcome the barbarous horrors of nature.
|Progress. Slowly, little by little but inexorably nonetheless, we can expand our understanding of magic, medicine, science, art, and philosophy to be better than those who came before us.
|Tradition. The rites, stories, and songs of days long gone remind us of who we are and teach us what we must do. The wisdom of the ancients must be preserved, honored, and upheld.
|Artistic Endeavor. Artistry – be it story, song, clay, paint, or movement — is how we tell stories, and the stories we tell define who we are.
|Discovery. What strange new worlds might be out there beyond the horizon? What might we learn from them?
|Hierarchy. Strict social castes in which everyone knows their place are the only barrier between order and chaos, prosperity and anarchic chaos.
|Charity. I would sacrifice my own happiness and comfort to help those in need.
|Innovation. New ideas and new creations fascinate me, and there is no higher calling than the search for new inventions in service to the people.
|Kindness. I treat everyone I meet with the same kindness and hospitality I’d like to be shown to me. If more people were like this, we might have a better world to share.
|Altruism. It is better to give than to receive or to keep. I believe that helping others is the highest possible calling one can answer.
|Duty. Whether to the crown, the state, the people, a god, or a code — honorable service to something greater than yourself is what matters most.
|Curiosity. So much has been lost, and so much more has yet to be discovered. Surely, the answers are out there, and there’s little I wouldn’t do to learn something new.
|Knowledge. Knowledge is power, understanding, and wisdom. Gathered, preserved, hoarded, or passed on — knowledge is worth more than all the gold in a dragon’s hoard.
|Asceticism. Only by casting aside those things that bind us and blind us — material wealth, attachments, power and status — can we truly know ourselves.
|Professionalism. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and I don’t take jobs that aren’t worth doing.
|Mettle. We don’t truly know who we are until we’ve faced fear and stared into the slavering mouth of death and come out the other side.
|Dependability. It is important that one can be relied upon by the people who matter most.
|Friendship. True family are those bonds we choose to forge, and I would die for my friends in a heartbeat.
|Destiny. I have a higher calling, and no one and nothing can stand in the way of it.
|Indulgence. We only have one life, so why not use it to sample everything: pleasure, pain, love, sorrow, hate, and every conceivable fetish and vice. The more curiosity, urges, and wants I indulge, the more I live.
|Simplicity. A life lived simply, all needs met and no more, without frills or indulgences, is the only kind of life that’s free from temptation, vice, and sin.
|Prudence. Moderation in all things and a careful, considered approach are the signs of a wise (and long-lived) adventurer.
|Optimism. Things will probably work out for the best, and even if they don’t, there’s probably a silver lining hiding among all those clouds.
|Pacifism. I abhor violence and would always prefer to seek a resolution to conflict that doesn’t involve bloodshed.
|Selfishness. If it’s not good for me and my goals, I don’t see its value. I don’t mind if others go without if I’m taken care of, but it’s because I deserve it, and they’d probably do the same to me.
|Competition. Only through the constant testing of our mettle against the strongest, most talented opponents can we know our own worth and improve.
|Pessimism. If something can go wrong, it will. If you think the worst has happened, you’re wrong; it can always get worse than this.
|Vengeance. An injustice can only be set right through revenge, bloody or otherwise, and there’s nothing that can persuade me to turn the other cheek.
|Justice. Wrongs must be righted. The scales must be balanced. The guilty must pay for their crimes.
|Order. Right and wrong are petty concerns beside the need for stability. An ordered society must be preserved, for order is better in the long run than justice.
|Ambition. The world is a ladder made of people, and I’m going to climb to the top, either by being the best or by any means necessary.
|Anarchy. Gods, kings, masters — all tyrants of a different stripe and all enemies of freedom and the people. Their time will come.
|Flexibility. Survivors aren’t the strongest or the fastest; they’re the ones most able to adapt to a new world.
|Tolerance. As long as you don’t interfere with me and mine, I don’t care what you do.
|Phlegmatism. Loud, uncontrolled emotion is so unseemly. Calm stoicism is a demeanor worth cultivating.
|Propriety. Manners and social morals are all that separate us from the beasts. Proper observation of convention is most important.
|Perseverance. I know that if I just keep going and don’t give up, there’s nothing I can’t do.
|Sensuality. Passion, emotion, and pleasure are what drive me in everything.
|Fame. The world will know my name before I’m done.
|Stability. I pride myself on being the one who holds it together when everything else is falling down and on fire.
|Sensitivity. It’s more important to be kind than to be right, so I learned to read a room.
|Patience. All good things come to those who wait for the right moment to strike.
|Wisdom. Whether from dusty tomes and scrolls or the harsh realities of life on the streets, cultivating wisdom (and listening when wise folk have something to say) is the most important thing to me.
|Popularity. I just want everyone to like me. You’d be surprised what you can get away with when people like you.
|Patriotism. I owe my life and my service to my country, and I will fight to give a better future to all those who call it home.
|Money. The world revolves like a great wheel, and gold and silver are the fuels that drive it. Accumulate enough money, and you’re untouchable — a king, a god of sorts.
|Hospitality. The ancient rites of host and guest are immensely important, and I would rather die than attack a stranger in my home who had not raised their blade against me or insulted my host’s cooking.
|Revolution. The world is rotten and cruel, divided into those who have and those who have a boot upon their necks. To build a better future, we must tear the present down.
|Courage. Bravery in the face of danger and fear is the mark of a true hero.
|Resilience. Strength and endurance in the face of adversity and hardship is the most important virtue you can cultivate in this life.
|Sacrifice. Sometimes we must give things up for the sake of a greater good to please the gods and to get what we want.
|Boldness. I live fearlessly, acting first and deliberating second. Only the bold get ahead in this world.
How To Use Ideals in DnD
Ideals can encompass a character’s life goals to their core beliefs about everything ranging from politics and religion to the nature of the universe. They help answer the questions…
- Who are the people or principles I would never betray?
- What would I make sacrifices for?
- What goal or ambition drives what I do?
- What would I consider an unforgivable act?
- What would make me commit an unforgivable act?
- What would my perfect world look like?
You can choose or invent any ideal that you find compelling. There are options available in your character’s Background, organized by alignment. Each ideal is either good, evil, neutral, lawful, or chaotic — although some can fit with any alignment.
People are complicated, and there’s nothing to say that a complex, nuanced character doesn’t have two or more ideals that they hold at once. These can make for interesting sources of personal conflict — especially when each one is tied to a different half of your alignment.
You can choose any ideals you like, but your character’s alignment is a good place to start defining them. Each background in this chapter includes six suggested ideals. Five of them are linked to aspects of alignment: law, chaos, good, evil, and neutrality. The last one has more to do with the particular background than with moral or ethical perspectives.
For example, a lawful good paladin who comes across the town guard about to execute a man for stealing bread to feed his starving family might find themselves torn between their ideal of order (Lawful) and their belief that they must protect the weak from injustice (Good).
Just be careful, as not every character ideal will gel with every other one — whether that’s a character with two conflicting moral drives or a party with a selfish murderer and a righteous altruist. The classic problem is how to make that lawful-good paladin from the previous paragraph coexist with a chaotic-neutral rogue who believes they should be able to steal whatever isn’t nailed down.
The answer is for those players to communicate and either adapt their ideals sufficiently to make them more compatible or work with the DM to find a reason these two wildly incompatible people would have a shared goal. Remember: character conflict can be interesting in extreme moderation, but everyone showed up tonight to play D&D, not watch the paladin try to set the rogue on fire.
Whether you’re looking for a way to add nuance and depth to your next character or just in search of a little cheat sheet to answer the question, “What would my character do?” an Ideal is a great way to find the moral core of your next adventurer.
- About Author
- Latest Posts
I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.