Posted by: Jess Riley | October 23, 2008

The Berserk Button

I’m sure you know the kind of thing I mean; there’ll be a plot in a sitcom where the main character has been putting up with everything from all sides, without any sign of weariness or frustration, up until the end of the episode where his friends confess that they’ve forgotten altogether that today is his birthday.

Well, at that point, it just hits the fan.

Alternatively, we could talk about the character who believes in peace and goodwill for all…

…but not the hair. Don’t you touch the hair, okay?

This, my friends, is the berserk button – the one thing that will make someone just explode, all their other feelings be damned. Virtually everyone has one – it might be to a less dramatic extent than appears in fiction, but there’ll always be one thing you can’t see clearly one, one thing which just riles you more than anything else. It may vary a lot from person to person – it might be people talking down to you, or talking lightly about certain immoralities, or coming up behind you and touching you without warning. Whatever it is, you’ve probably one (or maybe even more).

So what is it for your character?

Make no mistake, your character has at least one thing that just makes them unbelievably angry. Of course, the extent will vary – someone who is already a very fiery person will most likely react more strongly than someone who is usually mild-mannered and not easily bothered. Either way, it will be notable as something that they can’t help but get angry about, almost regardless of the situation.

So, what is it? Well, I can’t decide that for you. You know your character so much better than I do, and I can’t pretend to be able to decide on what your character’s berserk button is, or anything else about them. Mostly, this post is about being aware of other ways to develop your character, by knowing the kinds of things that make a well-rounded character and expanding on them. Secondly, I’ll provide a short list of a few things that might work as a berserk button, things that you can consider for your future roleplay.

  • Being Incorrectly Addressed. This is a fairly standard one – if you’re familiar with the Lion King, consider Pumbaa’s rage when being referred to as a ‘pig’. If you like to think of yourself as someone a bit more adult than to be watching Disney films, consider how the Librarian from Discworld reacts when referred to as a ‘monkey’. Whether it’s a misnomer about their race (referring to the Scourge and the Forsaken under the same terminology, for instance) or referring to them by the wrong personal name, or leaving off some important title, some people will just get angry when called the wrong thing.
  • “You coward!” It’s a fairly typical one – some people will respond more powerfully than anything else to being demeaned as cowardly or incapable. Whether it’s due to some kind of guilt, or a matter of the gentleman protesting too much, if someone refers to them as a coward, or as a dummie, or as incompetent, that someone will be looking for their head.
  • Attacking the friend. “Your fight is with me, not with him.” Maybe what really makes them angry is bring their family, or their friends into the fight – physically, or by reference. Most often associated with fierce loyalty, if you have a beef with this kind of person and you hash it out by targetting, insulting or otherwise bringing in one of their friends or family members, the fight transforms from a scrap to a battle of unstoppable rage. Yeah. Just don’t mess with their family.
  • Looks. Whether it’s commenting that they’ve gotten a bit fat, or that maybe they should get a haircut, or that they’re just plain not that good-looking, commenting on how someone looks can induce terrible rage. Who knows why? Well, maybe it doesn’t even matter why. Just don’t say it. It won’t end well for you.

Of course, these are just a couple of ideas. Let your imagination run wild!


  1. Good idea, I have briefly touched on this in the past with some characters I have had in mind but never thought about applying it to all my characters…for some reason. Though really, their not totally complete, so that is probably why.

    Also I think, this topic could possibly be expanded to a “hot button” kind of topic. Where we could go over things that in general will convey some sort of strong emotion out of you. So to expand on what makes you angry, to what makes you absolutely ecstatic or deeply saddened or very happy. Because like with anger, there are some things that just will automatically put us in a happy or sad mood, as well as a plethora of other strong emotions.

  2. Perhaps in future I’ll talk about other hot-button issues, that induce sadness or happiness or whatever. I limited it to anger this time, though, because I felt I’d go on forever if I covered everything.

  3. I’m reminded of Unknown Armies’s “Rage stimulus, Fear Stimulus, Noble Stimulus” concept.

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