1.5.4 Character Disadvantages
Disadvantages are problems such as social stigmas, obligations, or physical or mental handicaps acquired before your character enters play. There are two reasons for taking disadvantages. One, they are worth points; two, if the disadvantages are well chosen, they make the character more interesting and fun to play. Doesn't the fact that Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes make him a more interesting and likeable fellow? Experienced roleplayers often find working around disadvantages one of the most satisfying elements of RP games.
Like advantages, disadvantages are presented as broad categories. The most important guideline to keep in mind when defining disadvantages is 'If it doesn't cause problems, it's not worth points'. You can give yourself the Mental Disadvantage Fear of Water, but if the game world is set on a desert planet, you don't get any points for it. Health complications notwithstanding, being Overweight isn't a disadvantage in a society where obesity is considered the highest form of personal beauty.
Also like advantages, disadvantages are rated in terms of frequency and severity, for a total value of one to six points. A disadvantage that seldom comes into play (roughly defined as a role of 8 or less per game session or plot) would be worth 1 point for frequency. A disadvantage that's Always or Consistently in effect (takes effect on a roll of 14, with rolls made once per game session and any time plot events make it likely) would be worth 3 points for frequency. Something in between these, a frequent disadvantage, would be worth 2 points. If the disadvantage is Slight (a nuisance, but rarely something that would be a threat to the character) it would be worth 1 point for severity. If the severity is Significant (makes important tasks difficult, and can be a threat to the character), it's worth 2 points. If the severity is Great (important tasks are extremely difficult or impossible; the disadvantage entails a significant threat to the character), it's worth 3 points.The Argo staff on your
Some disadvantages are positive traits that get in the way and cause problems for the character, especially if taken to an extreme. Honesty, for example, can be a disadvantage: a character could take the Mental Limitation disadvantage, and define it as Total Honesty. She would get extra points to work with, but she must obey the law and do her best to get others to do so as well; she cannot lie, even when doing so would be in her best interest.
You can take any number of disadvantages worth up to the maximum number
of points set by the
Disadvantages can only be purchased during character generation. During play, you might acquire problems equivalent to a disadvantage, but that's just the breaks... you don't get any points for them. If the problem represented by a disadvantage goes away, you'll need to `buy off' the disadvantage by paying the appropriate number of points, or select a new one of equivalent value to take its place. For example, you could take Youth as a Social Disadvantage: being less than an adult causes problems for a character, and is worth points. But time goes by. Once enough IC time has passed for the character to become an adult, the Youth Disadvantage would no longer be appropriate. The player could select a new disadvantage, or pay enough character points to get rid of Youth. In order to make these kinds of changes, a character will need to be temporarily unapproved by a Monitor.
When Monitors are overseeing RP, they will try to see that everyone abides by their disadvantages, but usually it will be up to the players to do so. There will be times when you want or need to do something even though you have a disadvantage that makes it difficult (if there aren't such times, then it is not a legitimate disadvantage, and should not be worth points). Trying to accomplish the task anyway isn't necessarily 'ignoring the disadvantage', especially in the case of Mental disadvantages. Indiana Jones goes into the pyramid even though it's full of snakes: he masters his fear. The way to handle this in play is to make a `will power roll' or `fright roll': roll against your Presence. A successful roll means that on this occassion you mastered your fear or handicap (RP roles are discussed in Section 4). But some disadvantages especially physical ones just don't work this way. If you're blind, you're blind, no matter how many dice you roll.
You are past the peak of your physical abilities. The Age Disadvantage is
a specific form of the broader class Physical Disadvantage, with specified
effects in game terms. The actual age for each level of severity will depend
on your species and the game world, but assume the following levels for the
sake of comparison: age 50 or older, severity 1 or Slight; age 65 or older,
severity 2 or Significant; age 80 or older, severity 3 or Great. Your
Strength and Constitution cannot be raised higher than 14 minus 2 times the
severity of the disadvantage. That is, for a severity of 1, your maximum for
these two Stats is 12 (14 - 1 * 2). For severity 2 it's 10; for severity 3
it's 8. Also, you must make one additional roll against
You don't necessarily have to take the Age Disadvantage just because your character is old: while you should observe a certain degree of realism, it is legitimate to use normal values for, say, an extremely old wizard. Or you can specify the effects of aging on your character in different forms if you choose, placing them in the Physical or Mental Disadvantages categories. For example, you might want to play an very elderly character, and get points for it, but define the disadvantages in terms that fit better with your character conception: she has a Palsy, a 1-point Physical Disadvantage that causes her hands to shake quite noticeably, and she has the 3-point Mental Disadvantage Extremely Forgetful.
You require some depletable substance. This could take the form of a
physical addiction, such as heroin, or an addiction that has both physical
and mental factors, such as alcoholism. Or the dependence could be an aspect
of your race or species: an android character might require specialized
power packs. Or you have chosen (perversely) to play on Planet of the
Like all disadvantages, Dependence is worth one to six character points. Rather than using the frequency and severity scales, however, it may work better to arrive at the point value based on how difficult, expensive, or dangerous it is to acquire the substance you depend on, and/or the effects of withdrawal.
Example: SlapJack is a
The severity of Riff's Dependence is obviously Great, as are the dangers:
he must make a successful roll vs
You have a responsibility to others, either an individual, group, or organization. Fulfilling the responsibility involves danger, and you do not have control over when or where you will be called upon to do so. A military officer who must follow orders and be responsible for his men, a knight who owes fielty to his liege lord, or a priestess who must obey the decrees of her goddess would each have a Duty Disadvantage.
Example: Sammy is RapDep Infantry. Sure, she bitches her fair share and will cut the corners of regulations a bit fine from time to time, but she's RDI, and that means when the word comes, she goes, just like everyone else in the outfit. Encased in a powered combat suit and packing a wad of weaponry that lets her raze a city block or pick off a man at 6,000 yards with equal ease, Sammy is launched with her platoon from the tubes of their corvette, `chuting into whatever hot spot the powers-that-be decide needs hosed down. A brush war along the line between a couple groups of yammerheads who just don't get it that the days of national sovereignty are over. A pesthole planetoid infested by slavers and pirates who should just be nuked from orbit, but are holding too many hostages for that approach to work. Or the planet where the endlessly patient Hive has chosen to make the next move in its lethal chess game against humanity.
Sammy can be pretty sure she'll come back from the next drop the RDI brings back its own. It's just that they don't always bring them back alive: her Duty is Extremely Hazardous (severity 3). Fortunately, though, there's plenty of time between drops. There's time to knock back a few brews in the Rattletrap Tap, and maybe knock a few heads together as well (some folks just won't stay convinced that the compared to the 83rd any other unit is, well, pretty pitiful). If she hits the Sargent up right, he'll probably cut her a two week pass, and let her take along some of the unit's gear for `field testing' (frequency Seldom). Sammy's Duty as a trooper in the 83rd is a 4 point Disadvantage. But you wouldn't want to say that to her face.
You have a mental handicap or abnormality. Examples include obvious disabilities such as paranoia, phobias, and schizophrenia. Positive traits taken to extremes can also qualify as Mental Disadvantages: honesty, a code of honor, or adherence to a vow. The category also includes negative personality traits which, though not disabilities in a clinical sense, cause problems for the character: laziness, forgetfulness, impulsiveness, and so on.
Example: Roland has been given a feature role in the medieval
Each of these would be a 1-3 point disadvantage, possibly higher for the Delusions. With a feature role such as the King, however, the precise point value is of less importance than using disadvantages to create a vivid character who will provide catalysts for roleplay. A feature character is usually given extra points to work with, which are necessary in order to make the characters stats, skills, and advantages fit the role he must play (Roland's Status and Wealth alone would be worth 12-14 points). Designing a character such as Roland would entail several discussions with the Monitors. The character conception outlined above might spark ideas for the Monitors, who could provide additional suggestions or twists: perhaps Roland's mental instability is the product of some subtle poison or magic being practiced against him; perhaps his `delusions' are an unreliable form of prescience or divination, and some are in fact true.
An NPC Disadvantage reflects a relationship between you and an NPC that works against you. Usually the NPC will be an individual, but it's also possible to define a group as an NPC Disadvantage. NPC Disadvantages include Dependents, Rivals, Watchers, and Enemies.
Dependent: A Dependent is an NPC to whom you are attached a relative, someone you care for, someone you are obligated to by a vow, etc. and who often gets into trouble, requiring your aid. The more frequent and serious the trouble, and the less able the NPC is able to take care of him- or herself, the more the disadvantage is worth. It's possible that your Dependent will sometimes be a help to you, but if the relationship is defined as a disadvantage, these should be far less frequent than times when the NPC causes trouble. (It is possible for one's relationship with an NPC to be both an advantage and disadvantage, with offsetting point values. Such a complicated relationship would usually require a great deal of participation from the Monitor staff, and could only be set up with their cooperations.)
Rival: A Rival is someone whom you are compelled to compete with, even when doing so is not in your best interest. The rivalry can be professional, romantic, or both. News of your rival's successes will wound you deeply; you will rejoice over his failures, probably in an unseemly way. The Rival NPC Disadvantage can be combined with Mental Disadvantages to good effect.
Watcher: A Watcher is someone or some organization who tries to keep track of your movements and activities. They will often know where you are, and what you have done, and will not hesitate to use this information against you or make it available to others. Watchers can range from a neighborhood busybody to the ruthlessly efficient agents of a police state. In worlds with Magic or Psionics, Watchers could have more insidious aspects.
Enemy: An Enemy is, well, your enemy: someone who for whatever reason will act against you. The motivations might be personal, religious, professional, etc. The actions taken against you will be appropriate for the NPC's character, and will vary in severity, ranging from a co-worker who sabotages your projects and tries to make you look bad, to a trained assassin sworn to kill you. The point value of the Enemy is determined by how often the NPC shows up to act against you (frequency) and by how dangerous both the character and his level of enmity are (severity).
Example: Mike Hammer went and let himself get attached to that skinny kid Rico, against his better judgment and for no good reason. Well, no good reason except he sees himself in the kid, remembering what it was like to have nowhere to go, living by your wits in a hard world. That hard-won knowledge of the street is paying off for Hammer now: he's a successful private investigator, working the fog-shrouded waterfront in San Francisco of the 1930's. Ever since Rico gave him that `hot tip' (really it was just a matter of `they went that way!'), the kid is convinced that he and Hammer are partners: the ace private eye and his resourceful sidekick. And Hammer Hammer the tough guy can't bear to take that away from him. So, `Sure, Kid', he says, `Partners all the way. You watch my back and I'll watch yours.' Unfortunately, it turns out that Hammer has to watch the kid's back a lot more than the other way round. Rico is a good kid, Hammer sees that if others don't, but he's always getting into scrapes... sometimes stealing a bit, sometimes blabbing about something he saw but shouldn't have... Worse yet, Benny the Stiff knows how much Rico means to Mike, which means the whole low-level underground where Hammer plies his trade probably knows. He can still hear Benny's sneering, oily tone: `I wuz never here, Hammer, and you weren't either. You forget you saw me tonight, and little Rico won't have no `accident'. You get me?' Hammer didn't forget, but he didn't tip the cops either. God it rankled, but it's hard enough living with himself these days without something like that over his head too.
Rico doesn't get into trouble that often, but ever since Benny tipped to
the fact, Hammer has found his relationship with the kid hobbling him more
often (frequent; 2 points). He's a bright kid (
Physical Disadvantage: A Physical disadvantage is some physical handicap or condition that works against you. Obvious examples include things like Poor Vision or Blindness, Lame, One Hand, etc. An aspect of your species might be defined as a Physical disadvantage.
Example: !'pon4 is a Tanth, an intelligent crystalline lifeform from the Sagitarius Sector. The Tanth are brilliant, patient, respected, and telepathic. They also can't move, unless someone carries them. On their home world this is no problem, but for the Tanth who have left (or been taken from) their homeworld, it presents a number of problems. !'pon4's Physical disadvantage No Movement is Always in effect (3 points). The Tanth have adapted to this condition in various ways, most related to their telepathic abilities, but the drawbacks are still Significant when offworld (2 points).
Reputation: People in your society have heard of you or will recognize you, and this works against you, either because your reputation is bad, or because your lifestyle requires that you not be noticed.
Example: Sellini is a thief... a hard-working, skilled thief making a living the best he can, just like the rest of them. The problem is, the rest don't trust him any farther than they could throw him, because Sellini has a reputation as an informer. OK, so one time he did mention some names to the cops: they had him on a hard rap, and in this case he didn't have anything to do with it. But he knew who did, and bought his way out of the scrape by telling the cops. Word of this got out, and now everyone in the underworld has Sellini pegged as a snitch.
Sellini's occupation requires that he moves among underworld figures constantly, so his reputation frequently causes problems (2 points). And, given his line of work, he is considerably handicapped by it (2 points).
Secret: You have some secret which will cause you considerable harm if revealed. A criminal past. An illicit romance. A secret identity.
Example: Andretti is a police captain in the same 1930's San Fransisco that Hammer and Rico inhabit. He's tough and he's honest and he keeps the lid on an underworld that's always ready to make inroads on the lives of decent citizens. He weeds bad apples out of his precinct as quick as he finds them and he has the respect of his men... Only there's one problem: Andretti is homosexual. And the society he lives in would never be able to look past that fact and still see the positive qualities that put him where he is today... at least not the segments of society that matter to his career. So, always, always, discretion. And always, always, the nagging fear that his orientation will become public knowledge, and his career will be over.
At one time, Andretti had a steady lover, but that ended. Now, he only
engages in romantic activities rarely, and never in San Fransisco. But he
does occassionally come into contact with people who know he is gay, and he
has to handle them with kid gloves. The frequency of Andretti's disadvantage
is Seldom (1 point), but the consequences of it being revealed, and the
lengths to which he would go to keep his secret are Great (3 points).
Andretti's sexual orientation is a 4 point disadvantage. On a different
Social Disadvantage: A Social Disadvantage is something unrelated or indirectly related to your Status that works against you. This is a very broad category, and can include anything from offensive personal habits to membership in some stigmatized group.
Example: Corell's people would consider him cultured and refined. However, Corell's people are the Narthanders, a `barbarian' tribe as far as the culture he lives in now are concerned. His dress, his accent, and his manner all mark him as a barbarian to most of the people he comes into contact with. He is primarily a fighting man, so people don't come to him for lessons in refinement, and his friends have learned to accept him as he is (the severity of his disadvantages is Slight, 1 point), but his background does color his interactions with the most of the people he comes into contact with (frequent, 2 points). Corell's background is a 3 point disadvantage.
Vulnerability: Some situation or substance (perhaps common, perhaps not) causes unusual harm or problems for you. Superman's Vulnerability to Kryptonite and vampires' Vulnerability to Sunlight are classic examples. On some worlds, it might be appropriate to shape the character around a prophecy, defined in game terms as a Vulnerability (cf. Achilles and the Lord of the Nazgul). On a more mundane level, some some Physical and Mental Disadvantages might be better defined using the narrower category of Vulnerability (a diabetic's problems with sugar; a hemophiliac's vulnerability to cuts; an epileptic's susceptibility to patterns of flashing light).
Example: Egypt is a crack coder and expert in encryption. He plies his trade in the service of Garyx, one of the ruthless cartels that dominate so many aspects of life in his 21st century world, cracking into databanks and retrieving or planting the data he's been contracted for. At first, his work for Garyx was by choice. Now, he has no choice. His employers have poisoned his system with a rogue strain of ValThrax, an artificial virus that destroys the nervous system. The ValThrax is inert as long as he keeps taking the inhibitor agent his employers supply him with, but if he misses one of the daily doses, it will immediately and quickly attack his system, bringing spasms, then paralysis, then death.
Egypt must constantly do all he can to stay in Garyx's good graces, and the Consequences of not doing so are obviously Great. This is a 6-point disadvantage.
Unusual Appearance: Your appearance is outside the norm for your society, and the effects are detrimental. The way in which the disadvantage works against you can vary: you often need to go unnoticed, but your appearance calls attention to you; your appearance arouses fear or disgust.
Example: Ranes's first encounter with the Brood hellspawn that haunt the dark city he inhabits left him marked for life, both mentally and physically. The physical marks are striking: his skin is now reddish and reptilian in appearance. He survived that encounter, and has since made hunting down the Brood his calling. His appearance, though, is repulsive to the ordinary citizens (few of whom believe that the Brood even exist) for whom he risks his life to protect.
This disadvantage is Constant. It Significantly affects his life. 5 points.