Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Players: Play Up Your Disadvantages

A lot of players fear their disadvantages. I've seen it a lot. I've seen it online in games. I've seen it in discussions. I've seen it in people who are new to some of the stable groups I'm in. I understand it, somewhat anyhow. Your character's disadvantages are weaknesses. The thought follows that if they come up then your character will be exposed, hurt, and possibly unmade. The thing is, disadvantages are a good thing and if you play them up you can even mitigate how much they harm you. Today, I want to talk about that.

Playing Up Your Disadvantages
Before I get into how it may benefit you, let's talk about your disadvantages as a whole. Disadvantages are awesome because in many ways they help make your character stand out or be unique. Darkness defines light. Death defines life. And so too it stands that your character's weaknesses and vulnerabilities will define her strengths.

Celebrate this. Play into it. Have fun with it. If your character has a dependent, then spend time worrying about your dependent and make it a point to remind the GM about them and that you are taking care of them. If your character is blind, play into the fact that they can't see. Have a character with contrary? Get into debates and discussions.

You can do the same with advantages, but what makes a character weak, where they act in ways perhaps we wouldn't like, or that aren't ideal, makes them all the more interesting. Would Inigo Montoya have been half as interesting if he hadn't started his duel left handed to give his opponent a chance and make the fight satisfying? Would Batman be as interesting if his need to be in control didn't push away the family he has carefully built for himself, so often at the times he needs them most?

Look at Superman. One of the most common gripes about him is that he's boring because he is a character without any real downsides. Sure, he can do well in a team book, but as an individual the character is somewhat flat and easily dismissed.

And then, if for no other reason, you may benefit playing up your disadvantages on your own, because nothing makes a GM forget about something faster than not having to be responsible for it.

Why GMs Flag Disadvantages
Before we go into how playing up your disadvantages helps you, we need to look at why the GM pulls your disadvantages into play. Quite frankly, the reason is simple: it's part of their job. When you built your character, when you took the disadvantage, you received some benefit for it. In exchange, you accepted a weakness. The GM has the job of challenging the players, pushing them, and testing them. That means bringing up your disadvantages.

In other words, when you take a disadvantage you tell your GM that you want that aspect of your character to be something that hinders you.

Hiding In Plain Sight
So what happens when the thing the GM is supposed to test you with is a regular part of your character's RP for good and for ill? Well, because it is in the game, the GM doesn't have to bring it up. Since the GM doesn't have to bring it up they don't have to worry about it. It's not that they forget, but why plan how to bring up Sarah's dependent NPC when Sarah herself keeps the son in mind all the time?

Now, this isn't a cheat. You're not escaping the negative aspects of your disadvantage, but you are normalizing it. Which means that when it is a big deal time, you may get leeway. How?

Well, for example, in a game I ran a player was good about taking care of their dependent character - a younger sibling. They were so good at it, that even at times when I wanted it to be a thing the PC got off easier because they'd already established things like the support network they used to make sure the sibling stayed safe when they were off heroing.

In a game I'm in, my character is a drunk and has the addiction disadvantage. However, I play it up all the time for the character. They steal liquour, they always have it on them, and they get ornery when they're denied it. Because of that - mostly the first two points - when the GM had us stranded with no access for a while, because I played up the addiction I'd already established that my character had a secret stash and new how to ration - somewhat, they're still an addict - to get through harder times.

In both cases the disadvantage was still worth the points, but it never really came up and screwed the character in question as hard as it would if the player didn't keep it in the game all the time. And in return, both characters were much better defined by these aspects of wh o they were.

Give it a shot. What's the worst that can happen?

1 comment:

  1. ... Huh. I finally realize why my own PC always seems to get 'special treatment' whenever her flaws come up. Whenever one of the other PC's encounter, it tends to be a Bad Situation where they need the help of the other PCs to get out of it. My PC on the other hand, tends to resolve these situations much faster, and I thought it was because I get less... problematic problems. But I usually bring up my PC's flaws in situations where I think it would be appropriate, which means I don't rely on the GM to bring them to the foreground and gives me a little more control over what happens during that specific scene.

    So by normalizing the disadvantage, you 1) enhance your own gameplay, 2) lessen the burden on your DM, and 3) are able to mitigate the worst of the damage.

    *Insert the song "I see the Light" from Tangled here*

    On a DM-note: Not everyone likes playing to their disadvantages, and I have players who don't like playing to their advantages either. I finally resolved this problem with my bunch of masochists by realizing that every advantage comes with its own disadvantages, and some disatvantages can be an advantage in some situations. Turn up an advantage up to eleven and you can see the pitfalls that are created by it. The Cleric tends to be self-sacrificing, ignores anything that could be seen as a windfall and is overall simply depressing to be around with? He now has an acolyte who practically worships him, and emulates his behaviour. I haven't played many NPC's who are as much fun to have around as this guy.