The Quintessence of Quirks

Quirks are one of the most delightful parts of the GURPS system. The quirks and the Disadvantages that you can pick really transform a character from a set of applied rules into a theatrical persona. Unfortunately, the subject receives but a single page in the GURPS Basic Set. Far too little ink, I think. Herein I'll attempt some advice on picking fun and entertaining quirks for a character.

For a hugely exaustive list of quirks (500+, last I checked), head to Stan Berry's GURPS Quirks Web Page.

General Advice

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of selecting specific quirks, here are some general guidelines.

Start With the Quirks

When you sit down to draft up a new character, start with the quirks. Seriously. The SJ Games folks unfortunately organized the GURPS basic set with Quirks as the last component of your character (after Attributes, Advantages, Disadvantages, and Skills). They had to organize the book somehow, I suppose, but it's a tad unfortunate that they left quirks for last as they are arguably the most defining aspect of your character.

A quirky character is a fun character. The characters from books/movies that you remember and smile about are probably the most quirky characters. (Think of the characters in Princess Bride for just a minute.) If you have trouble coming up with quirks for the character in your head, it probably means that he isn't going to be very interesting or entertaining; throw him out. On the other hand, if you come up with so many quirks that you can't possibly fit them all into just five slots, you've got a winner.

Before you write down any attributes, advantages, disadvantages, or skills, brainstorm up a list of quirks that your character might have. Think in broad terms of his age, occupation, gender, history, and come up with a huge listing of quirks that the character might have. Don't limit yourself to just five for this exercise. Some of these are going to be pumped into disadvantages, and some of them might be thrown away in favor of more humorous quirks.

Remember, the GURPS system has rules for buying off disadvantages, but it doesn't say anything about buying off quirks. The assumption, then, is that you can't buy them off. But you shouldn't want to buy off quirks either, provided you've chosen ones that are lots of fun.

"Pumping" Quirks

When you "pump" a quirk it means you play it as though it were a five point disadvantage, or a disadvantage worth at least five points (maybe more). As you're drafting up a character, think of which quirks you would often pump. Turn these into fully-fledged disadvantages, and free up a slot that you can fill with one of the many other quirks you've come up with. Going through this exercise will also help you pick disadvantages that suit your character well.

Some examples of pumpable quirks and how you might pump them:

In order to "tailor" your character a bit more to your liking, you can take a cheaper form of a disadvantage by placing a limitation on it. Example: "Doesn't like to be alone" becomes "Autophobic - Limitation: unfamiliar rooms".

Throughout this page, frequent advice is given on how you might pump particular quirks into disadvantages. Even if you leave a quirk as a quirk (rather than turning it into a disadvantage), you can still "pump" it from time to time when you want to inject a little more humor into the game or get yourself into trouble.

Stacking Quirks

If you've come up with so many quirks that you can't possibly fit them all into five slots (you should be happy to be faced with this problem), you can consolodate some of them into a single slot. For example, instead of having three catch phrases, each taking up three slots, you simply make a quirk called "Catch Phrases" and put them all on the same line. You've now freed up two slots. Likewise, if you've got two strage pieces of attire, make a line labeled "Atire:" and put them both on one line. You get the idea.

Another way sneak in extra quirks into your character is to stack them onto an advantage or disadvantage. "Has a hairy wart at the end of his long nose" becomes the detailed description following "Unattractive Appearance". Always carrying on about how the "Fairies speak to me" gets stacked onto the "Fairie Empathy" advantage.

As an alternative, you could take the Quirky disadvantage that we came up with.

Quirks You Should Avoid

There are properties of some quirks that makes them difficult or undesirable. Here's some guidelines for quirks that you should probably stay away from.

Odious Quirks

The previous section described some guidelines that you "should avoid" due to mechanical reasons. This section is devoted to quirks that you should outright not take, full stop. The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of quirks that are not going to win you any friends.

Here's one way of looking at this: Let's say you get shot, are bleeding to death, and you're totally dependent on your fellow players saving you. As your fellow players consider this course of action, they say to themselves: "I could race through the battlefield, risk personal injury, bring this guy back from the brink of death with my med skills, and when he's fully recovered, I'll have to suffer through all of his g*dd*mn quirks. On the other hand, I could walk away safe and happy." Left as an exercise for the reader to predictt how this story will end.

Here's another way of looking at this: If you have a funny, entertaining character, the GM will want to save your sorry hide so he can be entertained some more. If your character annoys the GM, he'll sick the Hideous Hordes on you just to be rid of you.

Something else to keep in mind: Any quirk can become odious if you play it too often (see also "Cute The First Time" below). As the man once said: "Brevity is the soul of wit." If you play your character's quirks once in a while, they'll be enjoyable and appreciated. If you play them all the time, everyone will want to kill your character off.

Cute The First Time

Some "recommend-avoid" quirks are cute the first time, but only the first time. Examples of these would be "Snaps her fingers under someone's nose to punctuate her statements". Cute-the-first-time quirks should be used only once per adventure / play session, no more. And -- a little friendly advice -- snap your fingers under another player's nose, not the GM's.

Complementary Quirks

The character you've got in mind probably has some high skills / attributes, or some rare / interesting advantages / disadvantages. Take a quirk that calls attention to those extra-ordinary stats -- You could even take a set of quirks that complement each other. Caricature artists find the prominent features of a subject and draw them out of proportion, because it's funny. You can do this with your character, too.

Some examples of complementary quirks:

"Slushy" Quirks

When you sit down and draft up a character, you can have a really good vision of him in your mind and carve him out really well, but the truth is that you really can't round out every detail about him until you've played him in an adventure or two. You've got the character sheet in front of you, sure, but you haven't really gotten to know him.

With that in mind, GMs should allow a character's quirks to remain a little "slushy" for the first 2 or 3 (or 4) adventures. By "slushy", I mean that they shouldn't be set in stone. Allow the player to change them a bit here and there. I'm not talking about a major overhaul, just a few tweaks that keep within the original concept of the character and that have been discovered to be more in line with the character's personality.

The quirks that a player would most likely want to change probably meet at least some of the criteria in the 'Quirks You Should Avoid' section above. Get rid of ones that are boring or difficult to roleplay and take ones that flow better and are funnier.

Enough general advice, let's launch into some categories of quirks.

Verbal Quirks

This is an important category. It covers anything the character might say.

The reason why this category is so important is because it is so easy to roleplay. Anything non-verbal has to either be acted out, or you have to find some way to verbalize it (i.e. you talk about your clothing, you talk about your superstitions, etc.). With some kind of verbal quirk you have a built-in excuse to be verbal.

Catch Phrases

Simply put, a catch phrase is a general purpose exclamation that a character is wont to utter from time to time. These are perhaps the best choices for quirks. Consider, for example, some of these well-known catch phrases:

"Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor not a..."
"Sink me!"
"Ahoy ahoy!" (when answering the telephone)
"And you may lay to that!"
"What you talkin' about, Willis?"

Aside from the comic value, the other real virtue of catch phrases is that they are easy to roleplay. When you're in the middle of a tense scene and your wits are already taxed, it doesn't require too much brainpower to spit out your catch phrase.

If you're playing a Victorian-Era campaign centered in London (like we are) head over to Effing Pot and pick out a phrase or two from there.

I could almost end this page right here. Catch phrases are just that good. Take one for your character. Take a few. You'll be glad you did.


One of the most defining aspects of an amusing character is a silly accent. Corny, yes, but it's true, all the same.

So make up a silly accent for your character and take it as a quirk. You might as well. If, however, you've got so many other quirks you want to take, you could make a seperate line called "Accent" on your character sheet and put it there. Regardless, you should come up with some silly voice affectation for your character.

An "accent" quirk can be pumped into / complemented by a social stigma of some sort, i.e. a Pakistani living in England, or a Texan living anywhere outside of Texas.

Likes to Talk About...

This implies that there is some large topic that the character is very familiar with and enjoys sharing with others. Examples include:

These kind of quirks can be tricky. Here's why: YOU are playing your character, right? This means that if YOU don't know about a particular topic well enough to pull out random facts about it, your CHARACTER isn't going to be able to do it either. Consider also the fact that when you're in the middle of a tense gaming moment that's taxing your brainpower, you don't have a lot of extra cycles to devote to searching the catacombs of your mind for some obscure bit of trivia that you can utter so as to play your quirk. You have been warned.

If you're going to pull this off with any aplomb, do some homework and come up with a list of things your character might talk about within his fetish topic. Encyclopedias and the Internet are your friends here.


This means your character uses a word or words from a particular dialect or vernacular. These could even be jargon or slang terms. Examples:

This category is kind of a mescla of the previous verbal categories. It complements 'Accent' well because someone who speaks in a particualr accent often has particular word choices as well. 'Lingo' also falls somewhere between 'Catch Phrases' and 'Likes to Talk About...' because at it's simplest it's a one-word catch phrase, and at it's extreme it's a whole body of lexicon. At the extreme end, the same warnings concerning 'Likes to Talk About..' apply here, so do be cautious.

Appearance Quirks

This category covers anything the character might wear or any physical features.

This category of quirks can be difficult to roleplay for the simple reason that it's hard to verbalize a non-verbal quirk. This means that you have to reach a bit to roleplay these. Here's some guidelines for roleplaying appearance quirks.

You should consider pumping appearance quirks into some sort of reaction-modifying appearance disadvantage (probably -1 to reaction rolls). An odd physical feature becomes Unattractive Appearance, i.e.


Some article of clothing or accessory: jewelry, handbags, gloves, hats and such like. The 'Pantomime' or 'Act Out' suggestions work well for roleplaying these kind of quirks.

Physical Features

Something about your physical appearance that is a little out of the ordinary. If you're considering one of these, think about turning it into a behavioral quirk. Thus, 'Thick beard' could become 'Likes to pull on beard'. Lots of these pump easily into 5-point (or higher) appearance disadvantages.

Psychological Quirks

These are any quirks that reflect some strange corner of your character's mental makeup. Tastes, habits, preferences, beliefs, etc. These quirks can usually be easily roleplayed because you can verbalize most of them. Those that can't be verbalized can usually be pantomimed or acted out.

Behavioral Quirks

Things the character does from time to time. This often involves fiddling with your body or clothing somehow, and can therefore be roleplayed with the 'Pantomime' or 'Act Out' suggestions described earlier. Most all of the aforementioned 'Attire' quirks above can become Behavioral quirks with very little effort, and they will be much easier to roleplay. Some of these can be pumped into Odious Personal Habits or Compulsive Behavior disadvantages.

Likes / Dislikes

Some taste or preference about things. Good topics for Likes / Dislikes quirks are food, drink, music, and sports. Some rarer topics would be vehicles, weapons, pets, colors, and furniture.

One thing to be cautious of here are tastes that are rarely encountered, the reason being that you will seldome have an opportunity to roleplay them and won't get the points for playing your quirk!

To roleplay these, try to verbalize them when you can: "You're ordering pizza? Ooh! Can we get anchovies? I just love anchovies!"

Mild Delusions

This category includes strange beliefs, superstitions, etc. These quirks can usually be pumped into a full-fledged Delusion or a Phobia.

As with Likes / Dislikes quirks, these are often best roleplayed if they can be verbalized.

And Beyond...

There are doubtless many more categories of quirks that I have not mentioned on this page. Likewise, there is doubtless much more that could be said about quirks in general. The bottom line with quirks is that they should be entertaining and role-playable, anything after that is gravy.

Bonus Extra: I followed my own advice and made a character called "The Gravedigger" and I started with his quriks first. Here's the quirks scratchpad I worked off of, and here's the resulting character.