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2014-05-23

Making Disadvantages Fun


I've always thought that Disadvantages define more about a character than anything else on the characters sheet. Sure, Skills and Advantages tell what a character can do, but Disadvantages tell who they are.

So, I like Disadvantages when they are selected to flesh out a character, to play into a characters concept or back story. I also hate when they are used just to pick up points. Honestly, I wish that official templates didn't include Disadvantages at all, and instead just listed some "Common Disadvantages" in the customization notes. (I also have a bit of a pet peeve how GCA requires picking the exact value of Disads from the Template...).

When done right, disads can add a lot to a character, but at the same time they can be very disruptive to the group as a whole. Things like Obsession, Vow, and many Compulsive Behaviors can lead to character in conflict with the party's goals. Of course the basic social contract comes into play here: don't be an ass. RPGs are a group entertainment activity, and should be fun for everyone involved.

To that end, I have a few tips and some advice on how some disadvantages might play out in a game (with a leaning toward DF here).

First off, disadvantages are a great way to get a bit of "spotlight time" for your character, but this can be a tricky road. The game isn't about your character, it is about the group. Try to keep this in mind. If you really want to play an Obsessed, Jealous, Loner, you'd be better off playing a one-on-one game (or go write a book).

Also, when RPing something that could potently be detrimental to the rest of the party (and most things that are bad for your character are bad for the group), try to make it entertaining! It is easier to forgive something that hurts the group if it was fun to watch or be a part of.

Now, here are some disads that have come up in my games (most are on DF templates) and how I see them as being used in a fun way:

Absent-Mindedness: "You have trouble focusing on anything not of immediate interest." This comes into play whenever there someone else is performing a task that takes longer that a few seconds. The character might wonder down a passage while a lock is being picked, start to practice skills while a room is searched.

Again, make this fun and entertaining, but also don't try to steal the spotlight. Absent-Minded is more about not being involved/aware. A quick, "I've wondered down the left path." When things slow down, or right before they pick up, might be enough.

Charitable: "acutely aware of others’ emotions, and feel compelled to help" This is the bleeding heart disadvantage, and should be played up that way. Charitable and other "compulsion" disadvantages shouldn't only mean that you have to do that activity, but that you feel the need to! Play that up!

Code of Honor (Gentleman’s): NEVER break your word, ignore an insult, or take advantage of an opponent. While this states that it only applies between gentlemen, I think that is just seeking recompense, you would still punish "non-gentlemen" such as, "Discourtesy from anyone of Status 0 or less calls for a whipping, not a duel!" There are few gentlemen in the dungeon, but the any sentient being should be treated with some respect, and you should expect some respect in return, or act accordingly.

Curious: This is major curiosity, not just "hm, what's in that dungeon", but "hm, what happens when I press this button marked, 'Never Press'?" This can be easily the most entertaining disadvantage a character has... but is best paired with some resilience to damage.

Obsession: This can be a real problem in a group. If the obsession ties directly into the groups focus, this could work, but may also require in-party arguments or persuasion to convince the character that deviation from the obsession will still lead towards the overall goal. This can be very fun if the other players are willing to have these debates (and they win sometimes). Otherwise avoid this.

Overconfidence: This is probably the most commonly taken disadvantage I've had in my groups, but in some ways the hardest to pull off. The idea is that you think you are FAR more capable than what your character sheet has. Treat all your skills as if they were 6+ points higher! If you don't have Luck, act as if you do! If you do have Luck, act as though you don't need it!

The goal is to have fun as a group, and have an interesting character. These don't have to be in conflict. The group should work together to make sure that the characters are all compatible and okay with each other. Characters with disadvantages that come in conflict with others can be fun, but only when it doesn't lead to deadlock. Figure out what works, change what doesn't, and