Monday, May 14, 2012

I Love Mechanics Mondays: Advantages and Disadvantages

Ryan Macklin got to writing about advantages and disadvantages a little while ago, and basically said everything that I would have said for what I wanted. To reiterate his key points, disadvantages:

  1. They should always fucking matter. No such thing as a free lunch.
  2. If you tie it to character currency[i.e., build points], whether getting some more or paying some, you’re encouraging uninteresting — no, I’ll go as far as to say bullshit — behavior.
  3. The player should not be powerless to incorporate them, especially if they are tied to a reward cycle.
  4. And frankly, let’s tie them to reward cycles, whether it’s growth currency (XP) or competence currency (things like Fate points).
The principle reason being is that disadvantages put the work on the GM, generally, to take advantage of them, so they should be few in number. Advantages? Well, the player will WANT to remember to implement those at every opportunity.

Advantages got less attention - I think my favorite implementation, at least conceptually has been Adventure!'s implementation, which effectively added a sixth dot. This supercharged the advantage - You didn't have Resources: 6, you had "Wealth Beyond Avarice"; you didn't have "Contacts: 6" you had "Kingpin" and so on and so forth. The idea of titles and names for these backgrounds traits just caught my imagine, and even years later I have a certain fondness for the concept of playing a Daredevil who's power is buried in the wealth of backgrounds.

I think my ideal would be a four tiered system - something that gave you a minor/moderate/major advantage in a conflict or challenge, with the fourth tier being "overwhelming", and basically if you weren't equally matched in advantages you were going to lose. For something like resources it would be something like $100/$1000/10,000/500,000 of extra spending money or something equally ridiculous. Overwhelming should break the step increases.


  1. If you tie it to character currency[i.e., build points], whether getting some more or paying some, you’re encouraging uninteresting — no, I’ll go as far as to say bullshit — behavior

    I'd like some expansion on this point. Surely the level of "bullshit" behavior is dependent on the permissiveness of the GM? I mean, the HERO system uses this technique, but the GM that introduced me to the system would never let us use a negative character trait just to generate "character currency" - if there was a negative trait, it affected game play substantially.

  2. Sure, but everything is dependent on the permissiveness of the GM. Going with a RAW (Rules as Written) interpretation - I can load up my GURPS character with 10 different 5 point (relatively minor) flaws to hit the 50 point cap to build a better hero; and then it'll be dependent, generally, for the GM to make those flaws matter.

  3. Hey! Pretty good recap here. You're right that I didn't touch on advantages -- that's a different topic in my mind, though now you have me thinking about what I'd say. One of my favorite systems for that is, predictably, stunts in Fate. "Here are X slots to put unique mechanical/story bits that modify the shared stuff, like skills."

    MTimonin: People said the same thing on my post. Look there for my answers to that, but to sum up: I would rather a game not give me bullshit work of vetting nickel & diming crap. That takes time & effort away from doing awesome stuff with the game. :/ And I'm now of the mind that if someone says "Hey, I want to be totally awesome with no disadvantages," I'm all for that. That's their loss.

    - Ryah