RPG Corner: Disadvantages

Back in the day, myy buddies and I used to run a lot of “Champions” campaigns, the points-based super-hero role playing game. One of my favorite features of that system was the idea of Disadvantages — to pay for your character’s powers, you had to choose various personal, social, mental, or physical weaknesses he or she would also have to deal with.

What I liked about it so much was that it forced you to think through your character more thoroughly than the standard 3d6 D&D style method. You had to not only worry about what they could do, but what they couldn’t, and why. A lot of times their quirks made the sessions way more interesting than they would have been otherwise. For instance, one of my main guys, Cavalier, had a Psychological Limitation that he was a reckless daredevil, which led him at one point to teleporting onto the nose of a fleeing enemy fighter. Not smart, but fun.

So my RPG Corner question for you this week is, what disadvantages have you used that you thought were the most original, unique, or fun, and how did they influence the campaign you were in?

On a related note, what do you think the Disadvantages are of your favorite published character? Obviously you have Superman’s “Vulnerability to Kryptonite” and “Vulnerability to Magic”, but do you think Batman has “Psychological Limitation: Can’t resist taking on underage boys as partners”? Or Spider-Man has “Unable to Keep a Steady Job”?

14 Responses to RPG Corner: Disadvantages

  1. Are you kidding? My friends and I STILL play Champions. My hero has a psych lim that’s a form of overconfidence This overconfidence stems from the fact that his secret ID is a super-hero comic book writer. So, as a hero, he tends to believe and follow the comic book stereotypes. He will always triumph because he is a “hero”. The villains will always lose because they’re “evil”. The villains will always stupidly reveal their evil plan, etc. I think the best comparisson is imagine Rex O’Herlihan from the movie Rustler’s Rhapsody.

    This tends to lead to some very humorous situations during the game and also forces the GM to “think outside the box” when it comes to his villains.

  2. Tabletop Champions > Champions Online

    My superheroine Sistenas has to stay drunk in order to use her pyrokinetic powers. Why? Because my GM is out of his mind and assigned us Disadvantages. On top of that one, I ended up with The Hulk’s disadvantage of Hunted By The US Army. So no matter where the team ends up, I can be sure that some National Guardsman is dialing in the cavalry form his/her cell phone. (Mutants just wanna be loooved. Snif.)

  3. Me, Myself & I

    One of my favorite characters was a World of Darkness Vampire. The campaign spanned over 700 years of game time and saw a lot of character developement. We had two enemies nemesis that we battled for the whole time and both of them were selected as character flaws. In that system you can select numerous different types of flaws. All of my character’s flaws were psychological.

    His psychosis stemed from his mother being completely insane and hating him (I won’t get into the WHOLE backstory of why here but let it suffice to say that she was punishing him for his fathers crimes because she could not get to his father). She kept him isolated from others in her castle dungeon and abused him emotionally his whole childhood. She made him wear a mask his whole life as he grew up and it didn’t take long till he believed he was a grotesque monster.

    There were two main points of irony with this character. We played each of our charaters for wuite some time before being made into vampires. His life was so tortured as a mortal that being made into a vampire was actually his salvation. He became much more emotionally balanced after that.

    The other point of irony was actually extremely hansome. Despite that all he could see when he looked in a mirror was a monster (even with the mask off). It took him hundreds of years go get over that flaw. I eventually bought the flaw off but it took him hundreds of years and made for a lot of angsty RPing.

    In summary, the flaws selected for this character ,made the game a LOT of fun, angsty, but fun. It took over five years after that game was over before I even considered another angsty character.

  4. Me, Myself & I

    its also worth mentioning that if flaws are available, I almost always select some flaws for a character. It makes the suspension of disbelief easier whn a character isn’t perfect in every way.

  5. i play alot of GURPS. There is a standard set of flaws that i always seem to get because there is a certain way I end up RPGing. They include “overconfidence” because i have faith in dice, “curious” because its more fun to be so, a low level of “Code of honor” and “Sense of duty” because you wouldn’t want to play with a person who didn’t have those flaws on their character since the character would have no character. (confused now)

    Anyway, I like to build my flaws around the concept of the character, such as to give the character the flaw of “lecherousness”, “lovers distraction”, and “compulsive flirting”. but then back it up with skills that make up successful in the random hook-ups. Or the combo of “primitive” “bestial” and “mute” with the advantage of “beast kin” or “animal empathy”. Such characters are fun fun in a high tech setting. Where OG the caveman follows the party out of fear and will smash all to protect them.

  6. Nick Hentschel

    Never played, “Champions,” but I’ve always felt that superpowers should come with side effects: Rogue’s inability to touch people, Wolverine’s inbred temper, etc. A favorite of mine was a scene in the old, “The Flash” TV series, wherein Barry Allen finds that he now downs 4 pizzas in a row, because his metabolism is running so fast! (Never mind the scene in bed with his girlfriend.)

  7. You know the minotaur monk I keep mentioning? I can’t remember all the disadvantages, but I remember he had three levels of “honorable”, and he also had “destitute.” The destitute flaw was balanced out not only by the fact that he didn’t need any equipment, but also by the fact that we had a multimillionaire in our party.

  8. I played (play) Palladium’s Heroes Unlimited. In it, the Insanities you can choose have no beneficial aspect, and exist solely to add character. I remember I and two others once played villains with tremendously dark backgrounds, ranging from sexual abuse as a child, to being raised in a cult, to coming home to witness a father’s self-flagellation as a result of a psychotic breakdown.

    All the flaws chosen were purely to funk our characters up and had no up side.

  9. War Wizardess

    Yeah, disadvantages, flaws and taboos are great to add another layer to a character, no matter what system or genre.

    My current D&D character values free will so highly that she will under no circumstances cast a charm or compulsion spell (or let her comrades do so) even when it would avoid a battle or be a fast, painless way to get important information. You should have seen the look on the paladin’s face when she told him he’d better NOT put that despicable drow priestess under a truth spell. Did I mention she is an elf? *g* To her, changing someone’s thoughts or feelings is a crime akin to rape, no matter the motives. Since the drow always had the choice to stay silent or try to lie nonetheless (very difficult but possible) it was rather “tame” but more than my character would wish even on an enemy (She couldn’t prevent the casting of the spell in the end since it wasn’t illegal and she had no influence in the church or government, but at least she tried.)
    Speaking of churches, it was also quite amusing when she adamantly resisted a “Blessing” (beneficial compulsion spell, makes you feel great and bolsters courage) cast by a priestess of her own god…

    Ah, I love that character. Breaks the law now and then but keeps her word. Walks through the world with eyes wide open and NEVER EVER forgets that there are consequences. She’s impatient for an elf and no diplomat, showing up out of the blue to save the day and ruin everyone’s schedule. A badass teamplayer, but send her on solo recon or let her sleep alone with no friend nearby and she’s a frightened girl who might flee at the first sign of danger or hurl her deadliest spell at anything that moves (and THEN flee). She’s neither emo nor psycho, she’s as loving and heroic as they come – there are just things that she can’t do, can’t change or can’t accept. And that just adds to the fun.

  10. Me, Myself & I

    @kingmonkey (8)

    That reminds me of a game back when I was a teen. We were playing Heroes Unlimited and one of the players rolled randomly on the mental disorder charts and got a multiple personality disorder. Well he desided to roll again for each personality and to make a long story short he ended up with 6 personalities. In the end the character ended up being unplayable. In the interim though it was so much fun our stomachs were sore the next day from all the laughing.

    The disadvantages can be a very neet way to flesh out a character but you can sertainly go overboard.

  11. Champions was one of my favorites not only because I’m a huge superhero geek but also that personality quirks were written into the game.

    @Me, Myself & I, as the GM of the campaign, I created a character with MPD to use as an NPC. As a twist, each alter had his own powerset. Sometimes the powers fit the personality, sometimes they were opposite. One alter was very timid and apologetic yet possessed tremendous physical strength. The character began to develop well especially after she was taken over by one of the players.

    Most of the time, as a player, I tried to keep the limitations consistent with the character. I never like the whole “vulnerable to an unbelievably rare element” as a weakness, especially for a character with over-the-top powers. More often, I went for a set that included both psychological and physical limitation. For example, I played a speedster for a while whose powers were electromagnetically based. Strong magnetic fields messed him up and drained his powers. He was driven both by a fear of these fields and survivors guilt after the accident that gave him his powers. Unlike most characters of his type, he was not arrogant or brash but sullen and brooding. When a young hero joined the team with electrical powers things got very interesting.

  12. JinkieZoinks

    O had a character called “hush” who was sonic based, but in a neat twist she had a phobia of load noises, due to her powers she could cancel out noise as a subconsious of avoiding her fear. the downside being it was a blanket effect, and it grew in potency as the ambient noise level increased. It made battles extremely challenging, for everyone, until the team got our telepath.

  13. @War Wizardess – Woo I like that in a character. We’ve had a few people play minor character traits somewhat like that, but never one so strong and troublesome :).

    We use to play Vampire: Masquerade, and we took weird traits all the time. Crosses didn’t do anything to the group, so we were surprised when one guy had apparently taken a fear of them. It came out in a session, and really altered our options. We had various quirks throughout the entire group and made it a lot of fun.

    As for D&D, I had the most fun with a small one. I played a fighter for one group, but I was blind in one eye. Something I threw together to jump into a group for just a few sessions. Like a captain of the city guard. He took the penalty to attack and spot checks. He had a few good feats that made him a power house, when his disability wasn’t getting in the way. It wasn’t that big of a stretch, but the group seemed to enjoy adding a little something to their usual hack-n-slash play style.

  14. Me, Myself & I

    I also once played an Elf from a barbaric tribe who was mute. It made teamwork quite difficult for a while. Eventually he found an intelligent sword that could speak with him telepathically and translate his thoguhts. Unfortunately it would often come up with very loose transaltions on occasion causing my character some angst. It was actually a lot of fun.