Doubt

So, I’m going to talk about L5R (RPG) and HoR.  But, first, Champions (or any Hero system game but especially Champions).

There was an article in an issue of the Adventurer’s Club (#9, Spring 1987) about powergaming …

“Now, your character is going to be a hopelessly psychotic cripple who takes damage from being alive, and is hunted by every intelligent being in the universe; but with this kind of point total, who cares?”

… If you ever look at the disadvantages that (yesteryear, I stopped buying Hero products a long, long time ago) Champions characters typically have, they make about as much sense as trying to follow my trains of thought.  It’s all about point scraping.  “Oh, if I just had 15 more character points, I could do cool stuff.  Where can I scrape those up?  I’m sure I ticked off some random villain group that doesn’t exist in the campaign yet before I started adventuring.  Speaking of ticked off, I’m sure I’ll get Enraged by …”

It was just so blatantly blatant in Champions.  That had something to do with the game having the non-genre concept that characters should balance against each other and that starting characters should be largely wusses.  However, the idea of coming up with out of character disadvantages to scrape up some more points is hardly limited to Hero.

But, that’s not what this post is really about, either.  Fourth Edition L5R is coming out this Summer.  I like Third Edition.  Really, I actually like something.  Something broken, horribly, horribly broken.  But, then, I’ve come to realize that broken vs. broken can be fine.

There are things I don’t like about Third Edition.  Main one?  Disadvantages.  At the heart of many of my rants about RPGs is balance.  What’s galling about imbalance is that it discourages variety.  I find it excruciating to go through the list of disadvantages in the main book for 3e to scrape up those extra 10 character points to make my silly characters.

I’m not going to go through every disadvantage – there’s 60 of them and I haven’t played with most of them, anyway.  I will talk about a few, but before I get to that point, maybe someone would like to know what the point of this post is.  Even though it’s true that in many RPGs, including this one, that characters should be designed with disadvantages in mind first as it’s usually the disadvantages rather than the abilities that make the character interesting and more fully realized, that’s not the inspiration for taking a look at L5R 3e disads.

What is the inspiration is the hope that they don’t screw up the costing as badly in 4e as they did in 3e.  Note that I don’t care about fixes in Third Edition Revised – the point isn’t to criticize 3e or fix 3e but to point out areas where I hope better playtesting with 4e avoided pitfalls.  Note #2, I only play L5R in HoR, and HoR has its own biases.

Antisocial (2/4)

Gain 2 character points (CP) for keeping one less die on social rolls, 4 CP for keeping two less dice.  One of the biases in HoR is away from combat.  Combat is too deadly to expect someone to survive for very long unless you limit it.  In truth, it’s not that brutal, most of the time, to be socially impaired.  But, sometimes it is.  Keeping one less die on social rolls is not real far off from having one less Awareness.  Certainly, it’s crippling for a social courtier.  It might make some sense with a duelist who only bumped Awareness for the dueling benefits and insight.  It probably fits best with a shugenja who doesn’t care so much about social stuff as having a good Air Ring for spellcasting.  Socially inept bushi have enough problems in HoR (more so out of boredom, but still), without being saddled with such a significant loss in dice pool.

Bad Health (3)

Basically, suicidal unless you avoid every combat mod.  That’s totally worth 3 CP.

Bad Sight (4)

Four is a lot of points to get from a disad when you consider that you would never want more than 10 points.  On the other hand, four is not a lot of points to apply to making your character better.  My current backup character has Bad Sight.  I find it amusing, but then, I’m a masochist.  Read literally, it’s absurdly painful, being a disad that would kick in in about 50% of the rolls made in HoR; actually, even if adjudicated more reasonably than two less dice on all Perception checks (unless they just mean raw trait rolls), it’s still crippling.  From a thematic standpoint, it’s frustrating as not knowing what’s going on runs counter to my personality of trying to know everything that’s going on.  Last mod I played in, I actually had no idea what the plot was until the mod was over, all because nothing is more important than being perceptive (true of many RPGs).

Can’t Lie (3)

Oddly, I find this to be trivially disadvantageous.  As long as someone else can lie, and as long as you can keep your mouth shut, eh.  I do enjoy characters who lie outrageously, though I also like the idea of having to think about what I say to avoid lying.  I sometimes forget which character I’m playing but, otherwise, hardly notice this disad.

Contrary (3)

On the one hand, this sounds fun.  On the other, I see it being incredibly hard to play correctly while not being forced to commit seppuku.

Coward (3/6)

It’s just too broad for me to see how it could be remotely fun.  It’s just so-o-o-o rare to find NPCs who are more glorious than you.

Cruel (3)

Your Awareness is one less for social interaction = Antisocial.  And, you get dinged on Honor Rolls.  I’m trying to envision the character who works around these.  Dishonorable, antisocial scum can survive in the relatively benign HoR world.  I happen to know a rank 5 character who not only made rank 5 but is a high status magistrate who is Cruel.  While it has a good thematic element, it’s mechanically rather punishing.

Doubt (4)

I consider Doubt cheesy.  While I did have a character with it, 1) I had a pretty cool explanation for why he had it, and 2) he was the opposite of effective.  Third Revised actually made it less disadvantageous for some reason.  Are there schools that only have useful starting skills?  Probably.  I know it never mattered to my character that he Doubted a combat! skill.

Elemental Imbalance (1/3/6)

I see this as:  cheese; hysterical.  I wonder if I would ever build a shugenja that didn’t have this.  Of course, you’d never take the 1 pt. version.

Fascination (1)

Key to my main character is his Fascination.  It’s one of the disads that I think makes characters more interesting without screwing them utterly.  That’s assuming you don’t read what the description says, where this 1 pt. disad would kill anyone dumb enough to act the way the disad suggests.

Forsaken (1)

More often an advantage than a disad.

Gaijin Name (1)

I think I played a mod where this was actually a disad.  That would make 2% of the mods even considering this a disad.  Admittedly, it’s only worth 1 pt., except it’s worth 2 for Unicorn, which is a lot of money for nothing.

Gullible (3)

I only mention this because it’s incredibly amusing to play someone Gullible.  Nonsensical, a lot of the time, because the character is perceptive and smart.  This is probably worth too many points as it hasn’t really had any impact.

Idealistic (2)

Total screwjob, unless your goal was to have no Honor, in which case it’s a broken dishonor engine.  In what way does it make any sense that someone Idealistic is the least likely to be honorable?

Insensitive (2)

I’m inclined to believe that the mechanic is way out of line with the thematics and the point value.  Maybe, it’s not that hard to justify helping others.

Lame (5)

Five’s a lot, and about five less than it should be when you consider that all combat rolls outside of ranged go off of Agility.

Lechery (1-4)

I’m failing to see how you wouldn’t get autoseduced by anyone of any competence at all, which pretty much means either being a tool or being a broken tool.

Low Pain Threshold (5)

Can look at this two ways.  There’s the cheese of taking this and Strength of the Earth 2 to gain a CP and have the effect of Strength of the Earth 1.  Or, you can look at this as a crippling disad for someone who fights who doesn’t have SotE.

Missing Eye (3)

I seem to be missing something as it’s amazing how many characters have missing eyes.  There must be some sort of constructive point scraping going on that I don’t quite get as the effects are actually pretty obnoxious.

Missing Limb (3)

That’s right, Bad Sight is worth more than missing a limb.

Momoku (10)

Sure, it’s undervalue by some ridiculous amount, but I don’t have any problem with it.  There’s no point in making a disad worth more than 10, so the 10er has to be so utterly harsh that only people with personality traits like mine would want to figure out what to do with it.  The real problem is that it’s so out of line with other disads, in one way or another.  It’s not actually as suicidal as a lot of other disads should be, but it’s way more crippling.

Overconfident (2)

Speaking of suicidal.  Assuming I don’t just build a Perception monster character, a disad that forces you to fight against superior enemies in a game with one of the most lethal combat systems should probably be worth more than 2 CP.

Unlucky (3/6/9)

Unlucky is less of a hose job than one would think.  Maybe it’s because GMs don’t like to screw players that much.  On the other hand, while I frequently notice that various disads never come up, Unlucky is one of those disads that is almost required to see play in every single adventure.

Weakness (5)

I’ve been looking at this, trying to figure out whether there’s ever a way to compensate for the bad math – 8 XP to raise a trait from 1 to 2 vs. +5 CP to start out.  Of course, short term maybe more important than long term, and it would be funny beyond funny to roll, say, 2k1 on an initiative roll, but the angle I’m looking at is playing a family/school mix that you want to play for flavor but gives you some trait bonus you will never care about that you can give back for the 5 CP.

Wrath of the Kami (3)

Another case where I come up with a flimsy justification for cheese.  Please look at the spells in the game and figure out when Wrath of the Kami (Water) x1, x2, or x3 will ever kick in.  Fortunately, my anti-cheese of Bad Sight and no weapon skill ranks, mixed with my awesomeness at having a Tattooed Man monk who has won every iaijutsu tournament he’s ever been in and who is a member of a famed acting troupe … all in the space of two adventures, completely counter the cheese factor of getting six free points off of this.

It’s funny how many of the comments are about disads that should be worth less.  Actually, that’s my own pitfall.  Rather than them being worth less, the others should be worth more is probably the more proper way to look at it.  I don’t know, it gets boring to write “Another suicidal disad for any sort of reasonable campaign.”  I just want disads that hurt some every once in a while that you can play without being crazy and without having the GM coddle you.

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4 Responses to Doubt

  1. Bill Ricardi says:

    Of course the challenge is to find a use for, say, 30 points, and try to find 30 points of disadvantages that won’t kill you. Then the GM will be tormented with trying to remember all the defects of your character, who can kill everything with his pinky.

  2. iclee says:

    I had some interesting ideas for my second backup character before merging two ideas to create the Tattooed Man I’m playing. One of them was an Ikoma trained in the Bayushi bushi school with three ranks of both Luck and Unlucky (take the Bitter Lies Swordsman path at rank 2 … FTW). Besides being a better designed character than I normally do, it should have been hysterical with all of the rerolling, however, it could have also been excruciating.

  3. finbury says:

    Any system that rewards a player for choosing detrimental details and then rewards them again when they don’t come into play is fundamentally not well designed; it rewards loophole-hunting and promotes bland, similar characters. That’s doubly true if they’re variable mechanical effects pulled from a list, and triply true if that list is badly written.

    The fix I first saw in Seventh Sea, and that I’ve seen in play in Spirit of the Century, is a reasonable one: reward the player only when the disadvantage messes with you into play. However, that produces further issues:
    – whose responsibility it is to bring up those disadvantages – the player or the GM?
    – If the former, they can’t really be embedded deeply into the plot
    – if the latter, you’re also constrained as to how many of those things the GM can actually keep track of. (SotC uses 10, and that’s too many for most GMs.)
    – how do you handle the situation where the downside of the disadvantage would be lethal? “I killed your character, but you get a free reroll later in the session” just doesn’t work.

    It’s also perhaps less appropriate for a game with more of a simulationist / tactical bent and open-world feel. Suddenly, the character with a bad leg starts entering marathons, and the stutterer competes in every poetry slam he can find…

    • iclee says:

      Yeah, I’m of mixed opinion on disads. On the one hand, being rewarded for disads makes for more interesting characters. On the other, the rewards/punishments pretty much never work out correctly.

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