Thursday, October 22, 2015

What I like in a good disadvantage

Here is what I like in GURPS disadvantages in my games.

Player-centered. In other words, the player does the work. I'm not a big fan of "once per session the GM will . . . " But I am a big fan of limitations or forced actions on the player. I got rid of Weirdness Magnet in my DF game because it became 15 free points most of the time, because I was too busy to warp the game to make it count. Enemies, Dependents, etc. are kind of a pain.

Clear limits. I like disads that put clear limits on your actions. Sense of Duty means you don't ditch your friends. Bloodlust means you don't say, "I clearly killed him and he doesn't need a finishing blow." Berserk says you can't be a defensive fighter while it's ongoing.

I'm less of a fan of vague limits, which is why I shoot down a lot of player-created codes or Vows or Obsessions. Either it applies, or it doesn't, but if it only applies when it's convenient, it's not limiting your actions and thus not a disadvantage. None of this "Vow: Only do what I want when I want it!" or "Quirk: Always ready for anything!" kind of stuff. It should be painful to read when you write it down on your sheet.

Not crippling. I hate it when PCs have disads that make adventuring just not work, or which take them out utterly. Especially if they have an escape hatch ("I'm addicted to a ridiculously expensive crippling drug, and I'm fine with it, but useless without it!"). I prefer your disads to limit you, not end you as a functioning character at the table.

Frequently appearing. I don't like disads that never come up. "I hate this one tiny group of guys." Great, who cares? Or a Vow of chastity in a game where sex doesn't come up. Or something so big it's effectively a raison d'etre and not a disad ("Obsession: Become the world's most powerful wizard . . . by adventuring!"). It better come up. All of those are valid if they come up almost every session - if you drive the PCs towards the Lost Lab of Alchemy despite the death traps because each session must be a step toward your obsession, great. If you hate the one tiny group of guys who run the area, perfect! If that Vow means you don't get to, uhm, "interrogate" the attractive NPC for special information and fringe benefits, then it's a good thing. Even a perfectly valid disad that can't affect you often isn't really a limitation, so I'm less likely to go for it.

That's pretty much the kind of stuff I like.

And for the love of everything roleplaying, don't tell people you're being X because your character is X. "I'm stubborn because my guy is stubborn!" "I'm being angry because my guy has Bad Temper!" "Don't tell me guy about that treasure, he's got Greedy and he'll want it!" Just play it. We should be able to tell you your disads just from how you play them.


  1. I'm working on a post on this, and have been trying to research the disadvantages on the DF list. There are many that are irritatingly vague and some that don't fit DF well (Lecherousness).

    1. Lecherousness is one my players - for all they love to make jokes about hot watery murder nymphs - have avoided. I think they're sure its an instant death sentence the moment they meet a life-draining succubus or attractive ghost or something.

      They're not necessarily wrong. :)

  2. There is also the idea that taking a disadvantage means that the player wants this to be a part of play and is actually inviting the gamemaster to make active use of it. This is often lost on people just considering the point value of a disadvantage.

    So having a vow of chastity means that a player will encounter situations where it might be a serious inconvenience. That small group of enemies? Well they might be small, but that just means this close-knit has dedicated their entire existence to thwarting the player, or they stand specifically in the characters way for some reason.

    Then again I love disadvantages. It's the first part of any new rules I look closely at because they drive play so well.

    [PS: You can also take the Amber RPG approach to players who don't really play their disadvantages (especially personality ones) by considering that this is the fact that this is how the character is perceived by NPCs, similar to the way that game deals with Good Stuff and Bad Stuff. For example the player with Lecherousness asks someone the time and gets a slap for their trouble. "How dare you! I'm married!"]

    1. I agree on the invitation part - this is the kind of trouble I want, so give it to me. But it's a pain when it's mostly in the hands of the GM. It's easier for everyone all around if there is a player-centered or player-limiting effect. As I said to Jason Packer over on G+, Enemies are great when it means that your troubles follow you and when they turn up it is normal problems + Enemies. Not if it's Enemies instead of normal problems.

      This isn't to say I think there should be no such thing as GM-centered disadvantages. It's just that I don't like them as much because it's more work for me, and they can get overlooked when I've got between 4 and 8 people to deal with and run the game.

  3. I don't mind disads that don't come up frequently if the impact when they do is proportionately greater, and the points granted are proportionately smaller.


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