Sunday, September 20, 2009

Disadvantages, Part II: Design of the Champions disadvantage system

In my previous post, I said that there were 2 different goals for disadvantage systems, encouragement and compensation. Now I will go into some more specific analysis and say that Champions, my reference system, is primarily designed for encouragement. By the way, when I say designed, I don't necessarily mean that it was intentionally designed with this goal in mind, but rather that the game design as it stands is most effective at supporting that goal.

The fact that Champions is designed to encourage disadvantages can be seen with a very high-level analysis, without actually looking at the disadvantages themselves. A fourth edition Champions character is built with 100 base points plus up to 150 points of disadvantages. Almost every character I've ever seen uses the maximum 150 points of disadvantages. This is very telling all by itself, strongly implying that the points that disadvantages give you is a very favorable trade in return for the disadvantages you suffer; in other words, that the points you get from disadvantages is more than they are really worth, so you want to take as many as you can. If the points from disadvantages were balanced to be exactly what they were worth, you would expect that a character built on 100 points with no disadvantages would be about as good as a normal 250 point character. This is not at all the case, 100 points is totally insufficient, such a character would be totally inadequate compared to a 250 point character (unless the 100 point character were built in a much more point efficient manner than the 250 point character, but this wouldn’t be a fair comparison).

This sort of structure, with disadvantages that are very favorable and a cap on the total amount, is very well suited for the goal of encouraging disadvantages, and seems to do an excellent job of achieving that. I can attest that most Champions players I know of spend quite a while sitting around trying to think of disadvantages which aren't part of their initial character conception, just so they can make the 150 points.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to fairly compensate people for disadvantages that are part of their basic character conception, this structure would seem a little weird. The compensation you get for building a character with a major flaw is not that really that you get extra points, since every character ends up with the same 250 points. Rather, the compensation is that you are not required to take as many other disadvantages. In effect, the advantage you get from wanting to play a character with serious disadvantages, is that you are an easier time picking your 150 points of disadvantages and are likely to be happier with the results. This is a workable mechanism, but sort of sub-optimum for this goal; it is odd that character conceptions for which it is easier to think of disadvantages cannot actually end up with more disadvantages then character conceptions which do not naturally lend themselves to a lot of disadvantages. And what happens if the flaws that arise directly from your character conception are more disadvantageous than the 150 points of disadvantages that a normal character takes? Then there is no way to be fairly compensated.

However, at this point this is all a bit too abstract to continue discussing without knowing more about the actual disadvantages themselves. So for the next article on this topic, I will start going into more detail by categorizing the types of disadvantages.

Next topic: Disadvantage classifications

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