One of the issues I’ve got with making characters in GURPS is the bonus points you get for Disads.
Now, don’t get me wrong. For a point-based game, getting more points for being more limited than other characters is a fine design decision. In the point-based currency of character generation, you’re accepting more power when you can apply it for the cost of being able to apply it less frequently, or less effectively when you do apply it.
Or, it simply makes you more badass at the “cost” of behaving in a way you’d behave anyway. Or at least your character would.
Take Sense of Duty: Companions. This is basically the “don’t be an ass-hat” disadvantage. Apparently it’s needed for some groups. I’m not playing or running games to stab my co-conspirators in the back (if I wanted that, I’d play Munchkin or something). So SoD: Companions is kind of a requirement.
Now, it doesn’t have to be that way. +Tim Shorts had a couple fairly legendary characters in the Monday night game in +Rob Conley‘s Majestic Wilderlands campaign who, in the final analysis, didn’t fit in well with the party. They wind up leaving the campaign, which was darn grown-up of Tim. Tim, of course, did not leave the campaign, but he instantly saw that the game was going in a direction he couldn’t see his character participating in.
In any case, back to GURPS and Disads. I like the concept, but the number and quantity of them that are often plunked down on the character sheet – many just to meet the disad limit total – can get hard to manage. And if the player isn’t constantly on top of his own disad pool, then either he’s walking away with free points (though even a 15-point disad is basically +4 to a skill, or getting 1 or 2 minor Advantages, or +1 to ST and Perception – it’s not a ridiculously decisive boost) or the GM gets to keep his or her brain wrapped around 30 different choice-limiting aspects of the party in front of him.
I use aspect deliberately here.
One of the interesting and successful game design decisions for FATE is that if you accept one of your aspects as hindering you, rather than helping you – an invocation by your foe, for example – you get an extra FATE point that allows you to invoke your own stuff later. It’s referred to as “accepting a Compel,” I believe, and it works quite well within the confines of the system.
I actually think it’d work very well as an alternative disadvantage system for GURPS.
As time has gone by, the presence of Luck (always there, for re-rolls) and the use of Character Points or “bonus” points as used in Monster Hunters and Impulse Buys has given an entirely different currency for games. In +Mark Langsdorf‘s and +Nathan Joy‘s games, the care and feeding of the bonus points given for Wildcard skill use was an important – and fun – metagame activity.
Allowing a few Disad slots that when invoked were rewarded with a bonus point would seem to be a good way to blend the long-time-standing metarule of “Disads that don’t hinder you are worth no points” with giving the players the agency to actively advocate for bringing their disad to bear.
You might not even have to worry about costs. If you have a Disad that’s worth a whole bunch of points, it’ll probably come up a lot. And give you a bunch of bonus points to spend.
Possibly too many. That’s easily taken care of, though. Increase the exchange rate of bonus points to re-rolls or other metagame goodness.
You might need to invoke Honesty three times to give the result of a single bonus point. A point of Luck, or a bonus point given by spending 12 points in a Wildcard skill, would each give three of these new-fangled FATE-style points, so that those advantages/benefits did not change value.
Instead of each player trying to gin up 35-75 points of disadvantages and five quirks, you’d have a system where you only count the “positive” points in character generation. So the base capability of each character would be built on (say) 200 or 300 or 450 “positive” points – which is probably about the typical total for 150, 250, and 400 point games anyway.
Then you’d slap down 3-7 behaviors or constraints – physical or mental – that influence your character.
Want to have Code of Honor (Ranger’s Creed)? Great. Write it down. Every time it comes up in a way that significantly constrains your character’s behavior, you get a bonus point. “Law-Abiding?” No problem – when you need to break the law and can’t . . . bonus point.
What about physical disads, such as one leg or blindness? Aren’t they just a bottomless pit of bonus points? Probably not – ask Daredevil. But if they are that crippling, then your character is either going to be pretty short-lived or perhaps it’s the wrong character type for the campaign?
But more on point: the one-legged thing will apply when you have to sprint down a corridor and a rust-monster has eaten your metal crutch or prosthetic. Blindness may well be invoked every time you get into a fight. So if you’re in a lot of fights (and rolling vs. -10 to be useful), the GM tossing you a re-roll the next time you have to hack a computer is probably not wrong.
I like the concept. I think it keeps chargen a bit more balanced. I think it would allow certain disads and quirks to become emergent in play (or submerge as they’re not used) and be appropriately player-driven rather than GM driven.
When the one-armed princess has to swing across a chasm while holding the unconscious prince in her . . . um. Legs? Tie him on to her waist? That’s something the player will bring up, since she wants to be properly “paid” for the hindrance.
Limits? Sure. Not all behaviors are going to be part of the concept or rewarded with points. Just because something happens that goes against what you’d like to happen doesn’t mean the GM pays you for it. Sometimes things are constraining to everyone.
But when a situation arises that uniquely constrains you, then the bonus point invocations come out, and by this time in the 4e game development pathway, there are pleny of other motivational and metagame currencies that can be used within the GURPS framework to support alternative Disadvantage concepts like this one.
Makes me want to try it if I can ever carve out the time to run a game again.
It also occurs to me that it’d be fairly easy to add this to D&D as well. If you spend a bonus point, you get Advantage on that roll. This could be tied easily and with mechanical weight to the Background, Ideals, Flaws part of chargen, again in a way that is player-facing and motivated. You could also use a “compel-like” mechanic where if, because of your self-imposed limitation, you accept Disadvantage on a roll, you get a bonus point that you can use to gain Advantage later.