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Character creation: Flaws make the character

"My character is ready. What? Oh, I need to get some flaws to pay off all the extra stuff I've already picked. But my character is perfect... Now, what flaws would have least effect on my character?"

Sounds familiar? All too familiar to me. Most of my players want to think of all those munchkiny statistics and features first, and then, if the system has a mechanism for negative features (flaws, hindrances, disadvantages, whatever they are called), they try to find something that doesn't hinder their character. I confess, I'm guilty of that too.

Importance of flaws

Rud Grundler - a charming gentleman.

Every good roleplaying game should have some kind of flaws. This is something that many think makes D&D less serious roleplaying game, especially as D&D players are often quite competition -oriented. Good roleplayers can create their own flaws for their characters and play them, but if efficiency is needed, they are quickly forgotten. But flaws are what make characters really interesting. If you are not GM'ing railroad-like adventures that have little room for improvising, they are even more important.

My recipe for this is that when you are creating a character, or asking your players to do characters, be sure that character personalities are created first - paying focus on those negative features. And mental ones are always more interesting than physical ones. It's even better if you create the idea of the character (flaws) without opening the rulebook. Once you have the idea of the character, you can translate it into game flaws and traits.

So, before you start to look for what the character can really do, you already know what miserable, flawed (interesting!) bastard he is going to be and have no illusion of a pure (boring) paragon character.

If you have doubts about flaws, just think of Galactica -series - character flaws create half of the stories in the series!

Risks for the game - killings and breaking apart

In case the players are in risk of killing each other because of their flaws (if using for example Conflict -encouraging flaws for Savage Worlds ) - remind them that their characters are people with only one life; killing allies (or people in general) may have dire consequences, either by law enforcement, other allies, employer or whoever has power in the game. And it may lead to character death, imprisonment, maiming - and often newly created characters get xp penalties.

And if the group tends to break apart, you perhaps should have something prepared, if you are not good in improvisation. An employer may order them to work together, perhaps using geas or implanted bomb if nothing else helps; Leaving character may really leave and player get a premade temporary character to play. Maybe something happens, forcing characters in the same location (Captured!), the bully gets punished by the employer and is pushed to find them and tell he's sorry, or leaving character(s) learn something that is likely to change their mind ('What, my wife has been captured in that castle?!?') 

Game master's tools for flaws

Reward players for playing their flaws well and using them to create story. Depending on case, XP might not always be the best reward, but fate points, bennies, whatever resource mechanic your game uses. You may award special re-roll -tokens, or allow characters to recharge an encounter power after doing something cool but completely unnecessary, or something very risky. Make those character flaws, whether coming from game mechanics or imaginary, benefits rather than hindrances.

In my Savage Worlds Cyberpunk game, I've decided to give each character maximum benefits without requirement of taking hindrances. The players are rewarded with Bennies if they get into trouble (or take big risks) because of their flaws. This has worked quite well; one (most min-maxed) character has only one flaw, and she gets least bennies in the game. I bet the player gets more flaws for his next character.

There's one more benefit from character flaws - they ensure you more screen time. If you have no flaws, you're likely to be left aside from what's happening more often than others. 


Average: 3 (2 votes)


A few more words for those D

Submitted by Shaper and Maker on

A few more words for those D&D DM's that want to encourage their players to develop and roleplay  character flaws.

What you can reward players or characters with start from minor rewards like temporary hp's, and can be as great as healing surges, action points or recharging encounter or even daily powers. Game mechanics created for balance don't take roleplaying bonuses into account, and therefore rewards like this should override normal game restrictions; temporary hp's should stack, action points should be usable in the same encounter etc.

Keep in mind that your last

Submitted by Lugh (not verified) on

Keep in mind that your last paragraph is critical as your players become more comfortable with flaws. There are a lot of flaws that give you relatively little mechanical disadvantage, but gain you a lot of spotlight time. "Hot Tempered" is a good example, as is "Insatiably Curious." Players will tend to use these flaws to justify all kinds of anti-team behavior, grabbing both the spotlight and the reins of the story. The other players will quickly start trying to determine if they can just hogtie and gag the offending character, if only to extend the survival rate of the rest of the party.

Good point Lugh. It's

Submitted by Shaper and Maker on

Good point Lugh. It's Gamemaster's duty to keep game going for everyone, fast-forwarding when it looks like the game might stall. GM should also make it clear to players that it's a game that's for everyone; Trying to steal too much time stops the rewards flows and might even turn negative - a curious or hot-tempered character might end up beaten unconscious or jailed for a while. If he's been spotlight for a while IMHO it's not even unfair. You might still give him reward for getting in trouble. 

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