Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Flaws

This is the second post of my Building a Better Hero series, which will run throughout my April A to Z posts.

Zatoichi, the blind swordsman

Though some people don’t like to admit it, nobody’s perfect. Even the greatest heroes of history and fiction have their flaws. Superman has Kryptonite, Indiana Jones is terrified of snakes, Achilles had that foot thing, and Scooby Doo was both a complete coward and horribly addicted to Scooby Snacks. Call them flaws, call them weak spots, call them whatever you like... These faults that we all have are part of what make us interesting.

So, what about characters in your game? D&D, as a game system does not really have a built in system for incorporating character flaws. Granted, characters created by rolling dice tend to have a few above average and a few below average stats, and those created with a point-buy system are guaranteed to have certain weak spots... but these are just on a super-basic game mechanic level. Having a low Constitution score might mean something in terms of the rules, but what does it mean in the context of your character’s world? Is your character asthmatic? Do they catch cold easily? Have fainting spells? While some players willingly embrace this sort of elaboration on their character’s condition, others may balk out of fear that such a flaw will be exploited.

That’s just it, though. For me, part of what makes roleplaying fun, and action roleplaying exciting is dealing with situations that might require a character to face, overcome or even turn his or her imperfections into an advantage. That moment of overcoming adversity sits close to the heart of drama. Don’t believe me? Imagine the following scene if the characters in it were all perfect individuals without major faults.

So, what is a GM to do? How does one incorporate character-building flaws, even beyond what the simple stats tell you? One option is to trade the fault for a boost elsewhere. The Game of Thrones RPG (based on George R.R. Martin’s books) has this mechanic built in. Essentially, a character can take a defect in exchange for bonus points based on the defect’s severity. Defects in GOT include things like dark secrets, maimed limbs, a debauched personality, or impaired senses. Players who take, or receive such defects over the course of the game can exchange them for additional skill points, or even extraordinary feats. GOT’s defect system is the RPG equivalent of, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It might require some balancing, but such a system could pretty easily be incorporated into D&D as well.

Another option for working defects into a game is to make them an alternative to other really bad stuff, like character death. Back in February, I posted about implementing a fate more interesting than death under certain circumstances in a game. After some deliberation, I think I would choose those situations more carefully, but the premise is essentially the same. If a character otherwise die a random death that does not add to and perhaps even hinders the situation, it may be appropriate to exhange that demise for a lasting flaw. The save or die mechanics being debated among the D&D community as Wizards of the Coast hashes out the next iteration of the game might be an example of such a situation... It depends on the DM and the group.

Anyway, I think the point of this post is to embrace the flaws and quirks that give a character character. In my opinion, min/maxing and twinking are for World of Warcraft, not for a game where imagination and creative thinking have the day. Now, WHO’S WITH ME!?


  1. I'm with you. Embrace the flaws and quirks, it's what makes us who we are instead of carbon copies. Love your post!

    Visiting and now your latest GFC follower through the A to Z Challenge. Lovely blog!

    Best regards,
    Award-winning Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog

  2. A character with good flaws can be amazing to play! I like that it's also incorporated in the World of Darkness games. It can get very interesting, if the ST knows how to work with it :)
    Fun blog! I'll keep checking back :) Happy A to Z!

  3. I am with you on this. I love giving my characters flaws, even with out any benefit to offset it. it just makes the character that much more interesting to play.

    1. In one of the games I played in a while back, one of the other players was running a barbarian with a low Dex score. She decided it was because she had lost an eye. I had my wizard make her a glass eye with a continual flame spell on it and our DM thought it was cool enough to give her a bonus to intimidate anytime we were in low-light conditions.

  4. Flaws are so necessary! The character should still be playable (or else it's no fun) but flaws are what make them human.

    I thought there was a system of flaws in D&D though?


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