Character Development & Personality Type: Part II
One of my amazing aunts introduced me to this system a couple years ago, explaining it as a way of thinking through how people make decisions. This of course also makes it rather perfect for D&D!
Though there are similarities between the Personality Compass and the Four Temperaments, the Compass is more focused on problem-solving and interaction with others and less on tendencies like introversion and extroversion. This emphasis shift also mixes around the qualities of several of the temperaments, so the types don’t line up as analogs from one system to another.
How it Works
Each of the cardinal directions represents one personality type: North, East, South, and West.
For the most part, everyone has a dominant type, though it will likely lean in one direction or another, creating eight sub-types: North-East, East-North, East-South, South-East, South-West, West-South, West-North, North-West.
In some cases, a North-West might have more in common with a West-North than a North-East, even though they have the same dominant type.
I haven’t yet seen a visual representation or explanation of a North-South, South-North, West-East, East-West. The way the compass is designed with the poles as rather opposite from one another, those wouldn’t tend to be the case, but I don’t want to limit anyone!
Imagine there’s a horse standing in the middle of a crowded bar.
North is going to grab the horse’s bridle and start pulling, dragging it out of where it’s not supposed to be come hell or high water. The horse’s cooperation hardly matters, even if it remains still. Under duress, they may move behind and push.
West will clap their hands and exclaim, “Ooh! A horse! What can we do with horse? Course, force…or we could scramble the letters! Sore, rose, hose…ser if we can use Spanish!” Of the four, they are the most likely to ride the horse for fun, especially if it fits with however they’ve imagined the situation going that would be the most interesting.
East, meanwhile, will have pulled out the bar’s policy book, turned to page 33, and begun reading that, first, quadrupeds are not permitted on pub property without officially written permission granted at least a week in advance. Then, following the notes to page 54, they will begin making sure everyone is aware of the “Emergency Procedure for Horse Invasion” and raise their voice over the exclaiming West to explain the step-by-step instructions for solving the problem.
South, taking stock of the situation, is going to politely listen to East and help them get onto the same proactive page as North. They’ll calm West down, while respecting their enthusiasm, and try to involve them in the resolution as well. South will probably also calm the horse, grab an apple from the kitchen, and, together with their friends, guide the horse out of the bar.
There’s a wonderful PDF that’s been adapted from The Personality Compass: A New Way to Understand People by Diane Turner and Thelma Greco that has a quiz to help you determine your own personality and look at the nuances and tendencies of the others. I’d highly recommend checking it out!
They break down each type as follows:
- North—natural leader
- East—natural planner
- South—natural team player
- West—natural risk taker
They also have a really helpful explanation of each type’s general approach:
- Norths call a spade a spade
- Easts call a spade by its precise scientific name
- Souths call a spade whatever it wants to be called
- Wests don’t want to limit a spade by assigning a name to it
Note: remember that the four primary types break down further when you add in the subdominant types.
Personality Compass and D&D
Applying this to characters in D&D, in some ways the alignment system and different classes already carve out space for characters to lean in these directions. They wouldn’t necessarily need to do that, but I doubt we would be surprised by the following party breakdown:
Paladin: north, likely north-east—a structured leader
Cleric: south, perhaps south-west—compassionate and caring healer
Bard: west, let’s say west-north—creative and assertive entertainer
Wizard: east, for balance we can do east-south—systematic, detailed, and slow-paced planner
There’s nothing wrong with this breakdown, and I think it would actually play out quite well in a game. But if we’re trying to delve greater character depth, working outside of, even against, class and alignment can be really interesting.
When furthering character development, find ways to ask characters to lean into their sub-type. You can do this as part of their backstory or in-game. This is also going to be extremely situational, so the characters have space to learn and adapt.
Our very sweet bard, for example, has moved from being west-north to north-west as he’s gotten older. He’s had to take on more responsibility, and the pressures of the world haven’t been kind to him. As a result, some of his natural creativity and playfulness has given way to him being a more assertive and commanding leader as well as more adventurous.
Maybe your Wests and Norths have learned to be more methodical, or better listeners, because charging ahead or taking a risk hasn’t worked out the way they thought it would.
Perhaps the South has become a bit more assertive after seeing others get hurt, so they have to lean away from their natural tendencies in order to support and protect their larger value system.
Easts won’t always be able to operate with all the facts in front of them, or have a perfect plan, and may have to move forward before they’re ready.
Ideally, your characters have one another to lean on and can support each other both in what comes most naturally and in adapting to different situations that arise along their journey.
The Rest of the Series
I hope these posts have been helpful to you thus far! If you’d like to go back and check out the introduction, you can follow this link.
The third post in the series, on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, looks at sixteen different personality types and how they divide across internal or external worlds, take in information, make decisions, and handle structure.
Finally, we’d love for you to see our ideas about creating a central party, taking into account both character class and alignment!
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