Thursday, December 13, 2007

The disadvantage of disadvantages

The blog by Mike Mearls from Dec 12th worries me. (Sorry, I can't link to the Gleemax abomination. Partly out of unwillingness to go there, and partly to spare the innocent reader some pain.)

In it, he discusses at length the pros and cons of having Disadvantages in a point based game. For those who have never seen the Disadvantage mechanic in a game, basically you give your character certain disadvantages (such as night blindness, an arch-enemy, a phobia, vertigo etc...). In exchange your character gets points to spend on whatever. Extra skills, feats, or even Advantages.

I'll admit that it's an interesting game device in that it gives a little flavor to a character's background. Namely in things that I might never have thought of, but also in terms of things I'd kinda like to try, but don't because the drawbacks are too great. After all, a major point of the game is to have a viable character that'll survive the challenges of the adventure. While a blind monk might be cool on paper, being unable to hit the broad side of a drunken orc might not be so much fun.

Putting richer character backgrounds and concepts aside, the power gamer in me loves Disadvantages. That right there is a danger sign. More than anything else, the fact that I like it as a player but hate it as a DM says that Disadvantages are inherently broken.

Broken in that they are nearly impossible to balance. Any player with a shred of creativity can pick a few disadvantages for the points they give, and then fiddle them around so that they'll never really impact the character. ie, an ancient family enemy who is hunting the character might be worth 3 points, but what are the odds that this will ever come up in the game? If the DM really has his/her act together it might show up once in a while. However I think most DMs will either chose against changing the campaign or story arc or simply forget about it. Even phobias, in the heat of battle can be conveniently "forgotten". Talk about a free lunch.

So, my concern over Mike's blog is this. Is he he just testing the water to see how this mechanic might be accepted by the DnD community? Is he just doing the online equivalent of thinking out loud? Or is he bracing us all for the inclusion of Disadvantages in 4e?

My gut instinct is that it's one of the first two guesses. I might be reading too much into his tone, but his writing didn't strike me as overly committed to the idea. Then again, why bring it up at all if they aren't at least pondering the inclusion of it into 4e?

1 comment:

Crwth said...

"Then again, why bring it up at all if they aren't at least pondering the inclusion of it into 4e?"

I'll tell you why -- because the "developer blogs" aren't about development. Because they're not going to add Twilight Imperium mechanics into 4e, or Hallowe'en costumes, or cubicle contents, or any of the other crap that they talk about in their blogs that doesn't have to do with 4e.

As for disadvantages, I'm in complete agreement -- I always liked them *as a player*, but never as a DM. The power-gaming is always there for the taking. I believe the Warhammer Fantasy RPG had them, and I had put together quite the powerful character with no functional issues.