Friday, September 04, 2015

Disadvantages, Disadvantage, and EXP

In an attempt to make RPG characters mechanically unique, there was a trend in the early years to include lists of disadvantages you could take for your characters. The first game I came across that did this was GURPS in the mid ‘80s but I can’t say another game didn’t do it first.

Typically, these gave you additional points to buy better stats, abilities, or advantages during character creation. After that, it was up to the GM, largely, to keep track of your disadvantages and apply them during play.

This is, obviously, a clunky system, adding extra burdens on the GM to not only be certain to apply the disadvantages but to do so fairly. Certain disadvantages might not show up much at all because of the nature of the campaign (for instance, being unable to swim in a campaign set in deep space) while others might cripple a PC due to the themes and preferences of the GM (like arachnophobia in a campaign where the principle villains are drow).

More recently, people have been experimenting with flaws that reward the player when they penalize the character. You can see this kinda-sorta in Numenera with its GM intrusions mechanic.

I’m thinking of adding it to my D&D toolbox as follows: every time a flaw is invoked to cause serious disadvantage to the PC and most especially if it actually causes them to roll with disadvantage (roll two d20s and take the lower roll, as per 5e), the PC gets EXP equal to 2% of the difference between the amount needed for next level and the minimum they needed for their current level.

Now, I haven’t playtested this at all yet. I’m guessing that a flaw that comes up more than 5 times per hour (or 20 times per session) probably needs a serious looking-at. But this puts the burden of using it largely on the player, and incentivizes them to invoke it.

That said, I’m not sure I’d use it during character creation. Instead, I’d probably use it in conjunction with something like a Table of Death & Dismemberment (such as losing an eye causing disadvantage in to-hit with missile weapons) or mutation tables. I could also see using a system like that in conjunction with mental instabilities like those found in Wrath of Demons or Kingdom Death.


the one said...

I remember using this type of system when we played Vampire RPG back it the day. It was called "Merits & Flaws", but due to our overuse of this new concept we renamed it "wroughts & cheats".

If it wasn't closely monitored by the GM then you could easily end up with a crippled, blind, deaf, alcoholic that was a combat beast.....all at the same time! It was funny to try once, having to have wheelchair access in a game :D etcetera, but left open to abuse by the player's it quickly became unplayable.

Our GM's work around was to limit our options to a couple of low cost merits & flaws. But I think in the end we just abandoned their use. Probably depends on the type of player's too, we never took our games too seriously.


Alexander Osias said...

If players and GM agree to the genre and adjust limitations accordingly, it's not that bad. In fact, the players tend to bring up their own disadvantages to retain the suspension of disbelief. But,that is the ideal case.

trollsmyth said...

the one: Yeah, my experience with GURPS was that players knew which flaws would almost never come up in a game and tap those. Sure, the GM would make sure they came up early, but soon they'd be forgotten and they were all but free points.

Granted, at that time, we were all about winning. As Alexander Osias points out, if the players choose carefully, the flaws can actually be part of the fun. But that's probably a post for another day.

Ripper X said...

The dreaded 2.5e had this, and I refused to use it then too. It was right before 3e came out to change the game in favor of all of the stuff that I hated about 2.5. As far as I am concerned, flaws are roleplaying issues, and that is it! But then again, I'm just a grumpy old man.

Nick Wright said...

I can't remember where I was reading it, but I remember coming across a similar system to the one you've proposed.

Characters wrote down something negative that they wanted to happen to them (the example was that the Paladin wanted to be offered shortcuts that rankled his sense of right and wrong) and then if it happened during the session, they get a little benefit.