We touched on this issue way back in Special Snowflake, but I think it’s worth a revisit.

If you’re trying to develop a “fully realized, three-dimensional character,” then systems that offer drawbacks can be great. Take Savage Worlds for instance. A few favorites from their big list o’ drawbacks include such evocative and interesting hindrances as Bullet Magnet, Hoardosaurus, Xenophobic, and Wuss. Any one of these can be a great direction to take a character, and they all give you a few extra points to spend. In practice however, I’ve seen disadvantages fall into two traps.

  • Minor Character Notes: You load yourself down with weird and marginal hindrances. You’re afraid of clowns, suffer from insomnia, and are a bit greedier than the average adventurer. That’s interesting stuff in theory, but for the most part these quirks have little impact on the game.
  • Overemphasis: Your character has some kind of major issue, and you RP the heck out of it. Say your character is an alcoholic. You slur your words, sip from your hip flask, and suffer from the mildly inebriated condition in every session. This becomes the defining aspect of your character.

There’s a struggle here between keeping your disadvantages relevant on the one hand and keeping them from running rampant on the other. It’s very easy to skew one way or the other, and I’m not certain I’ve ever got it right myself. For example, I’m currently suffering from the “minor character notes” issue. I’ve got an ex-nobleman PC who’s addicted to luxury. I’m self-conscious about pausing the game to go antiquing though, so it tends not to come up at the table.

How about your guys? Have you ever seen somebody really nail a disadvantage/hindrance/flaw in a game? What was it?