Social Advantagesby Paul Mitchener
Social Advantagesby Paul Mitchener
Methods of Campaign and Adventure Design 5
By Paul Mitchener
In my last column, I formulated a theory concerning disadvantages in character creation systems. The basic idea was that disadvantages can provide handy plot hooks for the GM, and therefore should grant some sort of meta-game reward to players who choose to have disadvantages. In many systems, this reward takes the form of extra character points to be spent on skills and so on.
Before I go on to apply this philosophy to character advantages, I want to mention a rule used in some systems that was mentioned several times in the forum. This idea is that disadvantages give certain benefits (possibly simply extra experience points) if they inconvenience a character during play. With such a rule in place, disadvantages should either grant no free character points, or even actually cost points to have.
One thing I like about this method is that it can totally remove any coercive element from various mental disadvantages (for example alcoholism, lechery, and compulsive curiosity), which means I suddenly like the idea of playing such disadvantages a lot more. It also seems to make disadvantages a lot less prone to abuse.
Many advantages within a system represent character powers, and, along with their exact points value, are inherent to the system they exist in. It is probably best not to mess around to much with that aspect of a system unless you are willing to risk breaking it. Trust me; I have made such mistakes in the past.
However, for a given campaign, there are a number of advantages that can be useful for a GM. The list will be dependent upon the campaign being run, and (for me at least) many of these advantages will be social in nature. My recommendation here is to let each player pick out one of these useful advantages for free. Here are some examples.
The character has an ambition to reach some sort of goal, decided by discussion between the player and the GM. While involved in an activity directly related to the ambition, the character gains a bonus to all die rolls made. In a d20 system game, I would make the bonus +2; under other systems, the bonus should be scaled accordingly. Note that simple survival is not necessarily relevant to the ambition.
It should be obvious how a GM can use this advantage when designing adventures.
The contacts advantage means that the character knows people in a circle to which most people do not normally have access. This circle could be the ruling class, the very wealthy, or alternatively various criminal organisations.
This advantage is useful since it gives the characters connections to several interesting NPCs that one might want to use. It can also put the characters in the position of being amongst the only ones able to solve some sort of problem because of the information they have access to.
The favour advantage means that a powerful individual owes the character a significant favour because of some event in the past. The exact background events which led to this owed favour needs to be discussed between the player and GM.
An owed Favour is potentially useful for the GM since it potentially provides a way out for characters who get into trouble that is too big for them to handle. It should not be unbalancing to a campaign, since once a favour is called upon, it is gone.
A character with this advantage comes from the upper echelons of society, and is accepted as an equal in various elite circles. This advantage does not by itself imply wealth, although the wealth advantage could be something useful to take at the same time.
As well as helping to provide some interesting character background, which needs to be developed, this advantage is useful to the GM for much the same reasons as the contacts advantage.
The character has some independent source of money, and does not need to work for a living. This advantage does not modify the character's level of wealth, but instead means that no work is needed to maintain it.
What this advantage does for a character is legitimise them being an adventurer or investigator who does not have to worry where money is coming from. Only a very cruel GM would threaten them with a problem that would potentially cut off their money, of course.
There are two types of language related advantage that should be discussed. The first advantage simply gives the character one or two extra languages at a perfect level of fluency, probably because of an unusual upbringing. The second advantage makes it easy for the character to learn new languages, dividing the usual experience point cost in two (or possibly more if the system is very harsh on costs to learn languages). Within the d20 system, this advantage lets the character learn a new language he has been exposed to at every level.
The reason for mentioning this advantage as being useful to the GM is that the PCs might find themselves in a strange culture, or meeting someone from such a culture. The GM probably wants at least one character, at least eventually, to be able to talk to various NPCs encountered.
A character with this advantage has certain rights not very common in a campaign. The advantage might involve access to heavy weapons. It might involve being allowed to practice magic, or to travel, without being questioned; the exact nature of the powers need to be determined. Having legal powers is probably tied up with some sort of responsibility to an organisation granting these powers.
The point of this advantage is that it grants legitimacy to certain PC actions, as well as helping to put them in a position of authority where they have to be the ones solving problems.
The character has a particular desire to do something in the world that he sees as important and good. Examples might be helping those oppressed by tyranny, fighting for one's liege, or helping those who cannot help themselves.
While involved in an activity directly related to the noble urge, the character gains a bonus to all die rolls made. In a d20 system game, I would make the bonus +2; under other systems, the bonus should be scaled accordingly. Note that simple survival is not necessarily relevant to the noble urge.
A Noble Urge has obvious uses for providing more interest within adventures and occasional plot hooks.
The property advantage grants a character some sort of unusual or expensive item, for example a big house, a magical sword, or a spaceship. The item should probably be fairly minor compared to others of its type, but nonetheless extremely expensive, if not impossible, to buy.
This advantage has two benefits for the GM. The first benefit is that it potentially adds to a character's background; it should be explained exactly how a character obtained the property concerned. Secondly, it lets the players have access to items they need for adventures, but could not possibly own in any other way. For example, in D&D, many creatures can only be attacked effectively by magical weapons. In a typical space opera campaign, a spaceship is likely to be useful, but prohibitively expensive for anyone who is not exceptionally wealthy.
The character has a particular reputation for excellence in a particular area. Although obviously useful when making a good impression, this advantage can easily provide adventure hooks for the GM. For example, the character could be sought out because they are seen as being the best person to help with a particular problem. Alternatively, the character could be in trouble because thay are trying to live up to an exceptional reputation. For example, a character famed as the best swordsman on the continent might constantly be challenged to duels.
A character with this advantage is totally immune to fear and to effects likely to make him panic. This advantage will not be suitable for every game. In a campaign where there is little horror, it is worthless. In a Call of Cthulhu style game, on the other hand, this advantage would be far too useful.
The main use of this advantage from the GM point of view is that it allows the party to be confronted with something calling for some sort of difficult fright check without the risk that the entire party will lose control, and so probably die. It can also be quite good for characterisation.
An exact points cost of these `free advantages' is of course irrelevant. If playing in a system of the type I have mentioned above, where certain 1disadvantages' cost points, these traits could also be allowed for free. The disadvantages I listed in the last column could all provide story ideas.
I have now finished my two part column on advantages and disadvantages. In the next column, I want to look at something more concrete and less game-mechanics oriented. I will probably focus on some particular aspect of campaign design, although if I am being honest, I am forced to admit that I have not precisely decided what exactly. As usual, requests are welcome.