When the hordes are beating down the door, food is running low, and you’re trying to figure out the best Project Zomboid traits, you’ll need every bit of help you can get. Making a character is deceptively simple, but the correct starting choices will set you up for the long run, while the wrong ones will add you to the shambling masses.
In my time fiddling with different types of characters across my playthroughs I’ve scribbled down my thoughts with my very last red pen, before I had to stick it into a zombie. Here are my findings.
What’s the best way to create a character in Project Zomboid?
If you’re new to Project Zomboid it can be pretty intimidating to look at the list of traits, skills, and occupations and figure out what to put together. I like to start by figuring out what I’m going to try to do with my playthrough—am I setting a higher difficulty than normal and just trying to live as long as I can or am I planning for the long term? Do I plan to try to establish a base or will I just hole up in whatever building I find each night? Am I messing around with a few friends in multiplayer, or do we want to try to have an ongoing game? If I'm playing with friends, I’ll try to coordinate what we’re each doing to cover for each other, for example.
Most occupations just provide a collection of skills at a discount and maybe skill multipliers for certain skills. However, a few of them also offer unique traits you can only get from that specific occupation, like Burglar, which lets you hotwire vehicles and lowers the chance you break window locks. They also influence what your spawn point is on some maps, or let you start with different clothes like the Firefighter’s pants. If you don’t like any of the choices, you can always start as Unemployed and make your own collection of traits with the extra available points.
Once I have a handle on what I want to do with my character, I figure out what skills and situations in which I’ll need to excel. Am I going to be doing supply runs to try to scout out and return with valuables all the time? If so, Nimble, Lightfooted, and Sneaking are all going to be important to avoid detection, and Inconspicuous and Graceful can also make it easier to get around without becoming the pied piper of the undead.
No matter what you decide to start with, it’s important to note that Fitness is critical, as it determines how quickly you’ll become fatigued. As you learn to manage your exhaustion level, being in decent shape is a huge help. More experienced builds can treat Fitness as a dump stat—it can be trained up later by doing exercise—or even take more serious negative traits like Out of Shape or Obese for big point bonuses.
How traits work
How do Project Zomboid traits work, exactly?
Traits are divided up into positive traits that cost points to have, and negative traits that give you points to spend.
Most positive traits give you some combination of bonuses to your skills. A few have unique bonuses outside of skills—such as Inconspicuous reducing the chance of zombies spotting you or Lucky raising the chance of getting rare loot—but the majority give you a leg up against the hordes in your starting skills.
Some traits can be removed, but most can't. Some put you in a disadvantaged state, but can be overcome with time and the right circumstances. For example, Underweight, Very Underweight, Overweight, and Obese can all be changed simply by managing your weight via what you eat and when. Other skills like Out of Shape and Unfit simply reduce a skill, which you can train back up.
Claustrophobic and Agoraphobic—which cause you to panic when inside or outside, respectively—won’t truly go away, but can be nullified if you survive long enough, since your ability to dissipate panic goes up every day. Humans can get used to everything, apparently.
Project Zomboid best traits: Which should you choose?
While every character is different, these are some of the traits I’ve found the strongest for my motley collection of kinda-Kentuckians:
With a 10 percent higher chance of finding rare loot, lucky is my absolute favorite trait. Nothing is more satisfying than finding an axe in your second closet or a box of shotgun shells under the sink. It feels like it always gives me just what I need, when I need it. The five percent bonus to repairing success and the better foraging results are just gravy to me, because zombies never have a sewing needle on them when you’ve got a laceration to deal with from your last window escape.
Because I am an absolute loot goblin in Project Zomboid—never able to resist yet another ill-conceived break-in to vacuum up everything in sight—this is my trait of choice. Making items transfer 50 percent faster makes so many daring escapes possible, ones that otherwise would result in my hubris killing me. It’s a godsend as the undead creep up behind me while I stuff another can of beans and bundle of red pens into my garbage bag. Don’t ask what I plan to do with all the crap I shove into my bags, though.
I have a bad habit of forgetting to sneak. You may also have this habit, but even if you don’t, Inconspicuous and Graceful exist to help you out. Lowering the chance that zombies will spot you, and reducing the distance the sound of your footsteps travels are both powerful benefits you can exploit in both your looting and scooting.
When it comes to negative traits, it’s all about maximizing your return and figuring out what you can survive. Short Sighted has never seemed to make a large difference to me, I don’t notice the smaller view radius or slower fade, and the smaller foraging radius is just fine by me in return for the two points it earns.
Some people call me nuts for taking High Thirst, but as far as I’m concerned the world is my water bottle. I’ll happily stuff my bag with orange sodas, drink out of every water cooler and bathroom sink, and boil random pots full of water. If it gets me the six free points I covet to be Lucky, then great.
A couple of top Project Zomboid builds
Brady, the punk lumberjack
This is the build I’ve chosen for Brady, the punk lumberjack. The Lumberjack occupation gives me access to the unique Axe Man trait, which makes my axe swings faster and more effective at cutting down trees. It also starts me off with plentiful Fitness and Strength, plus two ranks in Axe and a bonus to skill gain.
I’ve also gone for High Thirst and Claustrophobic for the bonus 10 points I need. Brady is at home in the trees of his lumberpeople, and has no need for, or understanding of, closed spaces. Plus, if I can build or find a large enough room his Claustrophobia won’t be a huge deal.
I've spent my 10 points to secure Lucky, hoping it will help me find an early axe—the cornerstone of both Brady’s personality, religion, and skills—and keep it in good repair, and Stout, which gives me even more points in Strength to start, probably earned from a lifetime of Kentucky punk shows and tree chopping.
Brady can kill zombies all day long with his axe (once he finds one) and has the setup to learn carpentry with the massive piles of wood he’ll accumulate. He’ll need to learn some carpentry for rain catchers and stockpile pots and pans to meet his endless thirst, and he’ll struggle to sleep early on when he won’t be able to get his panic down in small bedrooms. But y'know, the zombie killing helps.
Bart, the scavenging security guard
Here I’ve decided to build Bart the security guard into an all-hours searcher. He often forgets to eat, watching all those old reruns on his little black and white Project Zomboid TV (opens in new tab), but now the apocalypse has arrived he can finally become the sheriff his town deserves.
With downsides like Short Sighted and Underweight, Bart has to observe his surroundings carefully so he doesn’t get swarmed. Since he doesn’t have the energy to be running around fleeing hordes and leading them away from the spots he needs to search, he’ll sneak instead. If he does get attention, he’ll break line of sight and change direction to lose his zombie pursuers.
Since he doesn’t sleep as much, courtesy of Night Owl and Wakeful, he’ll have time at night to slowly make his way through all the reading he’ll gather in his neighborhood ransacking. And Bart will need that time if he wants to read, because he never paid much attention in reading class, with the Slow Reader trait. Just make sure to prioritize a digital watch so you can get yourself up on time.
Bart is excellent at avoiding the notice of the squads of the dead roaming the streets, with both Graceful and Inconspicuous making his movement quiet and ninja-like. With these helping keep his profile down—and Dextrous making him grab items twice as fast—he can sneak into choice looting grounds and escape with his skin (and brains) intact.