Monday, September 28, 2009

Disadvantages, Part III: General Classifications

As I mentioned in my previous article, I’m going to classify some general types of disadvantages:
1. The negative ability. This sort of disadvantage is something that makes your character statistically worse, the opposite of an advantage or ability which makes your character better. So if having superior eyesight is clearly an ability that would cost points, having inferior eyesight is a negative ability that should give you back points. If being wealthy is a useful ability that costs points, being flat broke is a negative ability. Similarly, having a bad leg is the opposite of being a fast runner, being vulnerable to fire attacks is the opposite of being fire proof, being forgetful is the opposite of having a perfect memory, and so on. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include Physical Limitation, Unluck, and Vulnerability. Getting points back for having very poor statistics is basically also in this category, though in many games (such as Champions) it is not formally considered a disadvantage.

2. Restricted choice. With this type of disadvantage, the character has no limitations on how well he does things, just limitations on what he can choose to do. Normally, the assumption in a role-playing game is that the player can have his or her character perform any action at any time. So if a villain threatens to kill a hostage if the character doesn't surrender, the player can decide whether the character surrenders, or tries a risky gambit to stun the villain before he can carry out his threat, or ignores the threat and attacks the villain, or flies away and becomes an insurance salesman. But if the character has the disadvantage “Protective of innocents”, then the character is more limited in the choice of actions he will consider. This disadvantage does not inhibit the character in carrying out whatever course of action he chooses to pursue. It just means that the character may not be able to perform the action which the player believes is optimum in that situation. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include Enraged and Psychological Limitation.

3. Story disadvantage. This type of disadvantage tells the GM to put specific additional elements into the adventures that cause trouble for the hero. For instance, if the character is wanted for a crime he did not commit, this can control the entire flow of adventures in which he participates. The character really wishes this wasn’t the case, and is constantly inconvenienced by having to stay one step ahead of the law. But the character doesn’t have any penalties to his abilities, and no restrictions on what actions he can choose to take. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include DNPC, Hunted.

4. Situational vulnerability. This means that certain story situations cause severe problems for your character. The classic example is Superman’s susceptibility to kryptonite; whenever the opponents have kryptonite, he is a much less powerful character. This is similar to a negative ability in that it materially reduces the character’s effectiveness, but feels quite different because it is applied more like a Story disadvantage. Corresponding Champions disadvantages include Dependence, Susceptibility, Vulnerability.

These classifications aren’t necessarily exclusive – an individual disadvantage may blur the line between two categories. But these represent what I think are the broad types of effects that disadvantages have. Actually, it is the first three I was really thinking of as describing the fundamental categories of disadvantages. But as I was writing this, I felt that the situational vulnerability was distinctive enough to be described in its own category.

Next article: How the classifications relate to the 2 goals.

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