Disadvantages: An argument for template (guest post by Michael Wolf)

This post initially appeared on Michael’s Google+ feed, but I liked it so much I asked him if I could repost it on my blog. He agreed.

Since disadvantages are unofficial topic of the week I’ve been thinking about our storied history of disadvantages and I was writing a HUGE response to Douglas Cole and realized it wasn’t really even on topic. So I decided to post separately.

For the longest time we had religiously made characters with 40D 5Q. We fell into some very predictable patterns because at that range we all had favorites. We may try a different disadvantage that fit the character but Chris always had Bad Temper, Nate Always had Sadist, Alex always had Sense of Duty, and as much as I like to pretend I’m the Alpha roleplayer, a lot of my characters had Impulsive. We just found things that worked better for our play style and personality as roleplayers but that turned into a rut. Players anticipated that we’d make these characters and they built characters on that assumption. We didnt’ try new things or grow very much.

We had also done those insane games with 100points in disadvantages, but we weren’t used to that scope so we didn’t have that balance of disadvantages that Douglas Cole talks about. We’d go all in on big-point disadvantages or have just a huge laundry list of disadvantages that we couldn’t manage to roleplay well. And we’d invariably choose those favorite Disadvantages again too.

When I was trying to figure out a good system to do templates one of the things I wanted to emphasize was choices that produced a character that was different than what we normally play, not something uncomfortably out of our range, just out of our rut. I knew I’d have racial disadvantages and possibly some disadvantages from lens-style templates. So I set the disadvantages for the primary templates at 20 points in a pool of about a dozen selected disadvantages appropriate tot he character type, it gave players a lot of choices for disadvantages without having to spend a lot of time choosing and it took us out of our go-to disadvantages.

There were four things I learned:

I’m right; from my perspective. At least one game in three one of my players wants a disadvantage I don’t like dealing with or don’t think fits the game and I find a way to make it happen to be accommodating. And it becomes a burden for me or worse for the other players. In selecting pools of disadvantages I didn’t control what the players could play but I controlled what I had to deal with. Games ran more smoothly and it was easier to build stories that played off of those disadvantages because they were chosen from a pool that the GM already thought were thematic to that style of character.

Furthermore, small-point game-facing disadvantages make smaller problems for the game master overall. Our group doesn’t always have a great sense of scale and a lot of Disadvantages are bought based on how many points we have to take in Disadvantages rather than what is appropriate. We’ve had fantasy characters who were hunted by the entire Kingdom. It’s rough one one player chooses a Disadvantage that becomes the game and it doesn’t have to be. You get roleplay from 5 and 10 pt Enemies or addictions or supernatural madness but it doesn’t hyjack the game for the other players.

Characters were very similar in flaws. It was originally a little unsettling to see so many of the same disadvantages on characters. I had thought I porked the game by not making templates different enough but there were always going to be disadvantages that are more popular, a smaller pool just meant more of the same disadvantages were going to be on character sheets. What I found was that this was great. Players had common ideology or vices, they found easier reasons to be friends or work together, things fell apart less because most of the characters , despite being post-apocalyptic bastards, had a Sense of Duty to their friends.

20 Points of disadvantages is a lot of character without a lot of leftovers. Especially coming from 40pts in disadvantages, having only 20pts makes players selective about their choices. Players had just as much roleplaying but they bought off disadvantages less often and for the most part, even with limited choices they roleplayed their disadvantages better.

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