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What do you do when a system gives points at character creation for flaws/disadvantages when a player can permanently remove the effects of that flaw by buying something or spending other points to cancel it out (still making profit on character points). Do you allow the flaw anyway or make sure that somehow this exploit is not going to work?

Example in Shadowrun 4th edition: Albinism is considered to be a light allergy to sunlight and makes you vulnerable to flash or glare effect if you don't have cyber eyes. Gives you 10 points. Easy..if you always wear full suit that cover each part of your skin and if you get cybereyes. Free 10 points for any Streetsam with full body armor.

Another example: Night blindness. 5 build points to get an additional -2 when in darkness to see. Specifically noted "a character's (natural) eyes". So if I take cybernetic eyes, I just got free building points.

My examples are from Shadowrun but this is common in many game systems.

Do you simply ban the combo saying this is obviously not a flaw if you don't suffer any effects?

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For the night blindness loophole in particular, I'd say no dice: they don't start the game with natural eyes, so they can't take disads that affect a body part they don't have. – SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 3:27
This reminds me of a certain Star Wars player attempting to play a droid with the flaw: lactose intolerance. – vsz Sep 4 '12 at 6:16
@seven: That would make half of a good two-sentence answer. – Alticamelus Sep 4 '12 at 10:56
I'd let them take the eyes, but since the optic nerve is deformed, the connection isn't as reliable. Every encounter they'd suffer a 10% chance of losing sight (no matter day or night). Duration determined by how much over 10% the roll is (or make up your own rule). – Yianes the Sneak Sep 4 '12 at 14:52
@Yianes There are lots of things not written in the rules. If you never have players who have science degrees or an internet connection to Wikipedia, then no problem. If they do, though, then it just makes the GM seem like they're out to arbitrarily screw the players, which erodes player trust. – SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 15:36

10 Answers 10

up vote 21 down vote accepted

In that case, there are a couple of things you can do.

The first, and best, IMO, is to look at the player and explain to them that while you appreciate their cleverness is doing so, that it is a really, really cheesy move and not one that you appreciate them doing, as it completely negates the point of taking the disadvantage.

The second is in-game. Eventually, the enemy (enemies) that they are facing will start to wonder why they are always wearing the full body outfit/eyeglasses/whatever, and will find out. Once they find out, they will find a way to exploit it, ideally at the most inopportune time.

Tied in with this second item is that you could have them take missions which require the Street Samurai to, for example, go in undercover in a posh setting which does not permit full face masks or body armor, allowing skin to be exposed. Or perhaps the area in which they are operating is really humid, or is very tight and the body armor doesn't fit through where they need to go.

For the nightblindness, perhaps the problem is such that they can replace the eyes by cybereyes, but that the nightblindness requires more expensive cyber eyes or that it may be a problem such that the problem is in the optic nerve. The cyber eyes may deal with the problem in the short term, but that in the long term, as the PCs get more powerful and get known, enemies dig up the old eyes, see that the PC suffered from night blindness, and figure out a grenade that replicates the same thing in the PC.

Of course, there is always the option that "if you guys are going to cheese out your PCs like that, I may end up doing the same thing to the NPCs, and I have a much larger toolbox handy."

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+1 for telling the player that they're being cheesy. Sometimes that's all it takes. – GMJoe Sep 4 '12 at 3:38
+1 My DM often reminds us. "If you want me to allow you to do that, I have to have NPCs that do it too." This can be a deterrent from trying a new class out that may not be well balanced. – deltree Sep 4 '12 at 11:59
@deltree My players really like this thing. I'm always in need of modifying all the monsters in the adventure to keep up with them. Saying no is waaaay easier. – Zachiel Sep 6 '12 at 17:03

Do you simply ban the combo saying this is obviously not a flaw if you don't suffer any effects?

Yes. While others have offered some tactics to exploit the flaw after all, I think a ban is the best strategy. It makes it clear to the player up front that you don't like them being cute with the rules. Most point based systems I've read even explicitly encourage this.

An alternative

I do want to mention an alternative. The new World of Darkness had a very clever approach -- rather than flaws granting bonus points at character creation, they grant bonus XP in any session where the flaw causes problems for the PC. So if you find a way to completely circumvent your characters weakness, you gain no benefit from it!

You could adapt this for shadowrun or other point based systems pretty easily, I'd think, so long as XP and character points have some exchange rate.

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+1 The Alternative of granting a gain for playing a disadvantage has become the norm in many other roll playing games... – F. Randall Farmer Sep 4 '12 at 5:42

Straight bans will upset players that genuinely want to create a flawed character. Rather than banning such "easily circumventable" flaws, I'd recommend tacking on additional complications during the game that aren't obvious during character creation.

For example, albinism is a rare genetic mutation that brings along a host of other mild or not so mild allergies and irritations because your skin is lacking one of its most important protective proteins. Besides you would be leaving a neon-lit DNA signature wherever you walk, so it is very easy to trace a dandruff sample back to you.

Night blindness is (usually) caused by another mutation that prevents the development of low-light sensitive rod cells in your retina. But the lack of cells also prevent the corresponding neural pathways in your brain from developing properly in your childhood. So a regular cybereye probably won't fix night blindness but a specially modified(read: expensive) cybereye may, by redirecting low-light data to your working neural pathways. A funny side effect would be, you would probably lose the ability to distinguish between the sun and a flashlight at first glance. Even if your conscious brain can eventually decide if a light source is the sun or not depending on other factors, your autonomous nervous system and endocrine system would constantly be fooled into seeing sunlight 24/7. Such a situation would probably give you a constant headache that only goes away if you rest properly, and unfortunately, it would also give you severe insomnia due to increased levels of melatonin caused by, well, seeing the sun all the time.

In other words, those flaws probably have more to them than written in the book. Do some research (wikipedia will work wonders) and work your own fiction for their cause and effect. Then if somebody insists on circumventing the book-effects of those flaws, let them do it and hit them where they don't expect, so that the flaw still works as a flaw.

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To sloganise: character advantages and flaws are open-ended – Alticamelus Sep 4 '12 at 10:55
Is there a minimum age for having cybereyes installed? If not (or if it's low enough) the MinMaxer could just insist they were installed when his character was an infant and as a result his brain developed as if he had normal night vision. – Dan Neely Sep 4 '12 at 12:53
+1 for Science. – mudbunny Sep 4 '12 at 13:13
Ah the minmaxers, they may be smart but there are always smarter ploys. — You had your eyes installed 25 years ago so your night vision deficiency is cured, but your neural pathways developed to accomodate those specific eyes, and are now incompatible with modern cybereyes. You can't have them replaced without developing [insert terrible condition]. You are stuck with vintage low-tech cybereyes from the dawn of the cyber-revolution – edgerunner Sep 4 '12 at 13:14
Night blindness that only carries a -2 would be far from total, so the cortical pathways would be intact. – SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 15:39

Yes, you should allow it.

Players should realise that great characterisation comes from flaws not being awesome all the time. Referees should realise that allowing players to have things is good and will help the story.


In your example first. Clearly, the player has not taken Albinism as a flaw. They have taken bad body image which will lead to surgical addiction, and eventually full blown cyberpsychosis. So, sure, have those 10 extra points, not a problem here.

In general, try to stop reading the letter of the rules. They are not there as a divine canon to be obeyed. They are there to model reality. As such, a flaw is a disadvantage which should have more impact on the story you are trying to tell than on the rules. You can game any system. Humans are very good at gaming systems. RPG systems are trivial to game. So, let the players do it if they wish it.

From a player's point of view, all characterisation must start from a point of weakness with obstacles to remove. Overcoming said weaknesses and obstacles is what makes a good story. Here's an experiment for you: Pick the main protagonist from your favourite TV show in the first few episodes. Enumerate their flaws. Enumerate their qualities. Do the same thing with books, stories, films, whatever... You will find the same pattern.

Lastly, an anecdote: Players ask for X. Sure, have them. How about Y? Sure. How about Z? Sure. After making the most powerful flawless god-like beings, referee says You discover a nefarious plot. By leaps of logic and magic you work out who is responsible and how to stop them. You do it and manage to get everything you ever wanted. Well done. You are winners. Now shall we make interesting characters and start again?

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+1 for "[Rules] are not there as a divine canon to be obeyed." – edgerunner Sep 4 '12 at 6:56
@edgerunner: thanks for the proof reading! – Sardathrion Sep 4 '12 at 7:02
+1 for that anecdote. I gotta try that. – IgneusJotunn Sep 5 '12 at 1:17

If players pick a character flaw, that gives you as GM permission to give them trouble regarding that flaw. Full body armor isn't always going to stay on, especially if your enemies find out about it. I'll admit I can't readily come up with a way to pick on night blindness plus cybereyes, but I'm sure there's a way.

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You can pick of the cybereyes though. Would suck to have someone hack them and put "HAXXED BY KEWLDOOD18" in the centre of your vision. – SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 3:24
Wasn't there a Neal Stephenson novel where someone complained about getting spam channeled directly to their optic nerve? :) – starwed Sep 4 '12 at 4:29
@starwed Sounds like Snow Crash. I could imagine a electrical or tech problem that could take out cybereyes... – okeefe Sep 4 '12 at 4:55
Or was it Diamond Age? That one sent up a lot of cyberpunk tropes. – SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 15:49

My point of view is that it how clever they are in the work around and if it still provides some drawbacks matters.

In the albinism case, it is slightly clever (it requires both the cybereyes and the full clothing), and it will still bring in drawbacks. He has to wear that full bodysuit all the time during daylight outside, that comes with some serious social reprecussions for one. It may exclude him from certain missions that involve being inconscpicuoous outside during the day. Children may point and stare. It might be appropriate to apply additional fatigue multipliers if he is exerting himself heavily outdoors, in the sun, with his face and head covered because he can't get air circulation or sweat as readily. As long as the full consequences, both mechanically and in terms of roleplaying, of his mitigating measures are brought to bear I would be quite content with that as a GM.

Now the nightblindness one bothers me a bit more. Simply switching to cybereyes requires no creativity at all, and leaves no disadvantage at all. At that point I would be inclined to work with the player to ensure there was a residual disadvantage of some kind (he is psychologically afraid of the dark due to a childhood of truly not being able to see in it, his brain has a hard time processing the low light data from the cybereyes so still has a penalty, even if less of one, etc...) And if we couldn't do that, then I might be inclined to ban, not the flaw, but the combination.

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GURPS actually requires that you buy the disadvantage off.

Disadvantages taken at character creation time grant a player extra points to use to improve his character in other areas. A disadvantage imposes some restriction on the character. If he can get rid of a disadvantage without buying it off, it means he's getting something for nothing and "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

This is from the FAQ

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Although in GURPS, the character may still get partial points for a disadvantage that is mitigated by hardware. For example, near-sighted is mitigated by eyeglasses or contacts, but those can be lost or not being worn during a surprise night attack, so it is still worth -5 points instead of -10. – Zan Lynx Sep 4 '12 at 19:40
"If it doesn't restrict the player in some way, it's not a disadvantage." That's why (both in GURPS and generally) disadvantage is a better word than flaw. Honesty is hardly a flaw, but it's certainly a disadvantage in most campaigns. – TimLymington Sep 4 '12 at 19:51

I once ran a Hero system game of champions, where one of the pc's had a character that took paralyzed as a disadvantage and then purchased a device that enabled him to move ( It was a cyber harness,etc) - normally I would say that it would be allowed since he would only use it in hero id; but that wasn't the case - He would use it all the time - so his character which he made wheel chair depended is now walking,etc. I decided to still play up on the disadvantage by making the device short out at the worse times (running after a villain who just robbed a bank) or my favorite - he started having adverse physical effects from exposure to the device. Needless to say, he was able to buy out the original disadvantage and in the game fiction had alien tech grafted to him. What I guess I am trying to say is that if someone wants to bend the rules they have to face the conseqences of thier actions

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It's one of hose things I am in two minds on.

Yes, it's clever taking a flaw/disadvantage that doesn't matter (or is trivially work-around-able).

No, it's entirely against the spirit of them.

As a GM, I would try to engineer something where the character's work-around is suddenly not available (or in the case of cyber-eye implants to work around night-blindness, any light-amplification device has issues when light levels shift suddenly; any gun fire during night should blind the character for 5-10 seconds after each exchange of fire).

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As a personal rule, I ban flaws and then tell players that if they talk to me about what they're trying to do, exceptions can be made. That gives me the ability to block any negatable flaws, much like the one you describe. The other type I never allow are the ones that just don't matter, like a bow user taking a penalty to attacking with axes or something. They can do that if they want to add character flavor, but they aren't getting any extra points/feats/whatever for it.

The only ones I allow are ones that are a real hinderance to the player. That's always something you have to do on a case-by-case basis, and some players get annoyed by it. In my experience, those players are always the ones trying to min-max the flaw system to powergame.

An example of one I allowed is in a D&D game where the player takes -5 to saves against fear, and cannot be made immune to fear by any means. Anything that normally grants fear immunity doesn't work on him, meaning that no matter what he's always eating that -5. In the case of your example if you removed the means to gain immunity the flaw would be a lot more balanced, though that might be tricky to explain away in the setting.

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