A long time ago, in another comic involving adorable kitties, we touched on the subject of character flaws. There are systems out there that offer bonuses, extra build points, and free feats in exchange for saddling your character with traits like “phobic” or “addicted” or “chronic liar.” Today however, we’re talking about another class of character flaws, one that gets to the heart of contrasting playstyles. I’m talking about self-imposed disadvantages.

I started thinking about this topic thanks to Starfinder. I’ll be kicking off my first campaign in the system this weekend, and there’s an interesting rule stuck into the Ability Scores section:

The buying ability scores method makes sure that your character is always at least close to average—your race might push you slightly below the average of 10, but you won’t be severely hampered. Sometimes, however, it’s fun to play a character with a major flaw. If you want to reduce any ability scores for your character below what this system would normally allow, that’s fine—playing a brutish soldier with an intelligence of 5 or a noodle-armed technomancer with a Strength of 4 could allow for some fun roleplaying opportunities—but you don’t get to reassign those lost ability points elsewhere. Beware making your scores so low that your character can’t keep up with the rest of the party!

On the one hand, the optimizer in me recoils at the idea. What do you mean ‘noodle-armed technomancer!?’ Yeah, that sounds hilarious until I’ve got to drag my unconscious buddies out of a crashed starfighter. I don’t want to be a burden on the team! On the other hand, I’ve seen my share of by-the-numbers average Intelligence barbarians played like morons, and that always feels a bit off to me too. If you’re going to play to the stereotype, shouldn’t your stats somehow reflect the character?

For me, this internal debate epitomizes the agony of deciding whether to treat TRPGs like games or like simulations. Am I trying to make a character who’s best able to overcome challenges, or am I trying to use the rules to reflect a character concept? The answer to that question will likely vary between groups. That said, I don’t think that “irresistible love for baked goods” is going to break anyone’s campaign.

What do you guys think? Do you ever give your PCs self-imposed disadvantages? If so, what’s the rationale? Let’s hear it in the comments!