Buckets of Disads! (guest post by Kalzazz)

Inspired by Douglas’ cool post on organization of disadvantages, I also follow a certain way of thinking about disadvantages.  Buckets of Points (Pyramid 65) presents an option for giving players different amount of points for different amounts of positive traits, skills, attributes, advantages etc.

While I do not strictly budget disadvantages, I have for a long time regarded them in the same way, and believe that it helps to keep in mind three buckets when choosing disadvantages for a character, allowing a character that has characterization but is not a menace to society for DM or player!

  1. DM facing Disadvantages – These are disadvantages such as Enemies, Weirdness Magnet, Klutz, Unluckiness, Dependents . . . disadvantages that rely on the DM having something happen to the character.  These are the first sort of disadvantages I felt needed to belong in a bucket of their own for two reasons
    • Being DM facing, they place an extra level of burden on the DM keeping up with them across an entire party of characters, and I could feel swamped as a DM when to many of them reared their head.   
    • Since they are something the DM directly implements, they are a nice tool the player is kindly providing to the DM to help guide, flesh out and make interesting scenarios in the game!
  2. Player facing Disadvantages – These are disadvantages such as Intolerance, Lecherousness, Honesty, Bloodlust . . . disadvantages that are reliant on the player roleplaying them to be implemented, rather than on the DM.   Since these are roleplaying focused, they add quite a bit to the flavor of the character, but can add quite a bit of load to the player to keep track of playing a lot of them.   The DM can of course fit challenges appropriate to these disadvantages into the game, but they are dealt with by the player and thus can be far less of a load on the DM.  This is the second category I felt stood out, and in one of my campaign notes I specifically requested players take primarily ‘player facing’ disadvantages, which at the time I considered everything not DM facing!
  3. Game facing Disadvantages – These are disadvantages such as Reduced Stats, Vulnerability, Maintenance, Bad Sight – disadvantages which are primarily in terms of game mechanics which just exist, not reliant on the DM putting them into play, nor reliant on the player roleplaying them.   They can provide interesting challenges to the player to deal with, and the DM can incorporate them into scenarios, but since they are straight game mechanics they add very little load to player or DM.   They are often not as interesting for guiding the game or characterization however.   I originally considered these to be ‘player facing’, but now believe they fit into a category of their own.

One consideration is that disads can jump boundaries based on the perspective of the DM and implementation, a particular example being Vulnerability.   I tend to view Vulnerability as pretty much Game facing and as a DM do not worry about it, as I figure that in the course of DMing I will throw a miscellany assortment of damage types along, and that Crushing, Fire, Unholy, or Antimagic or what have you will come up in due course.   But for other things, particularly lower frequency items such as say Silver or Jade, the DM must remember to actually appropriately outfit enemies with them as suited to the commonness chosen for the vulnerability.   Thus it can also be DM facing.   

While I have never advocated a particular budget of points between the three buckets, I believe it can be important to keep a balance between them, and that the balance can shift between different games.   For instance, with a large party, fewer DM facing disadvantages might be chosen, as with several party members the DM could well get swamped.   The opposite with a smaller party . . . . a single solitary PC could do well to have Enemies, Dependents, and so forth oh my!

For a decent sized party, I would recommend no more than a couple DM facing disads for any given party member.   Several more player facing disads can be appropriate can be proper for each character as the player is focused on their own character.   Game facing disads can be added pretty freely, as they help make things interesting without loading anyone down . . . . having played and DMed in a number of games with more generous disadvantage limits I find them quite indispensable in such situations.

Since that is rather dry, let us look at an example of an actual character I’ve played.   Said character was expected to be played in a party ranging from 2 to 5 or so party members.

DM Facing Disads

  • Duty (Council of Archmages)
  • Flagrant Aura
  • Supernatural Features, overly warm

Player Facing Disads

  • Obsession (Become a member of the Council of Archmages)
  • Callous
  • Honesty
  • Truthfulness
  • Curiosity
  • Overconfidence

Game Facing Disads

  • Dependency, Mana, Constantly
  • Increased Consumption
  • Restricted Diet, Mundane Food
  • Vulnerability DN, Antimagic  x2
  • Lowered Per/Will
  • Lowered ST

Thus, following the ideas of breaking the disads into the three buckets, you can arrive at a fairly well characterized character with all manner of interesting bad things about them, but without burning out the DM or player with the load of them all!  This approach is based around sharing the load between DM, Player, and leaving it up to the game system, and I think it works out pretty well.

I would like to thank starslayer for looking at the first draft of this and helping me improve it, and in particular for bringing up the vulnerability issue.

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