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Is it fair to ask the DM for some kind of benefit if you give your character self-imposed weaknesses/downsides with definite consequences/mechanics behind them?

For example, if I had a character with the Half-Fae template (Fiend Folio) at +2 level adjustment, and I decided to look up some traditional fey weaknesses and worked them into gameplay mechanics, e.g.:

  • Aversion to Iron: Must avoid Iron objects normally, takes -1 penalty and unable to use template abilities (eg flight or spell-like abilities) if in contact with iron or cold iron, i.e. equipped with iron weapon/armor, bound with iron chains, etc;

  • Cannot lie: cannot use Bluff to outright lie, only tell partial truths or abuse exact words; cannot bluff to answer a question asked three consecutive times;

  • Cannot enter a building without invitation: self-explanatory; cannot physically enter a building unless someone inside invites them in;

  • Obsession with shiny objects: must make will save to resist bribery in GP or other objects with intrinsic value, DC proportional to value in GP of item(s) (but not 1:1; that would get out of hand fast).

Would it be too imbalanced to perhaps ask for a reduced level adjustment for the Half-Fae template provided I adhere to these strictures and roleplay them consistently? Would it be fair to ask for a benefit for this sort of thing at all? Is this min-maxing? Am I just going power-crazy here?

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up vote 19 down vote accepted

D&D 3.5 actually has rules for this sort of thing: Unearthed Arcana's character traits and character flaws systems.

Traits give you a small bonus for a small penalty. For example, for a fey who can't lie, you might use the Honest trait: +1 Diplomacy, -1 Bluff and Sense Motive.

Flaws give you a bonus feat in exchange for a significant non-story penalty. You can invent your own flaws, but they have to be something that affects you constantly, not just a roleplaying penalty or weakness to something rarely encountered like enemies equipped with cold iron.

By comparison to these rules, the penalties you're describing aren't enough to warrant a level adjustment reduction. They're less restrictive than a Flaw, which only grants a feat, and a feat is worth less than a whole level.

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Ok, now this I can use. Will still need to talk to the GM about using that rule anyway, but at least I have a better idea of what to expect to get from this sort of thing. –  Cobalt Aug 27 '13 at 4:14
    
Enemies wielding iron are pretty darn common, actually; steel is just iron with a couple of trace elements, and just about every humanoid enemy is going to wield some kind of iron-based weapon. Even an iron-shod quarterstaff can get in on that action. –  Paul Marshall Aug 28 '13 at 17:23
    
@PaulMarshall Even then, only humanoid enemies use weapons. Many creatures use natural bite, claw and slam attacks. Iron vulnerability is still a weakness, but an intermittent one, and probably not worth a whole level. –  Jonathan Drain Aug 28 '13 at 17:57
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Can't hurt to ask. It's not bad form per se to ask for dispensations, tweaks to the rules, etc., it's common practice.

GMs vary in style widely, however. The response to a query like this could be anywhere from an enthusiastic "Oh yeah and you steal people's teeth at night too, +1 to Intimidate but you've got to steal a tooth a week or yours start falling out... 500 bonus XP for thinking of all this" to "How dare you suggest a violation of the holy 3.5e RAW which only official game designers are qualified to do, you must now be punished by public pillory in RPG Stack Exchange chat, where you will be informed of the error of your ways for all eternity."

There's probably RAW ways of tweaking races in Savage Species etc., so I bet you could find some "in-RAW" ways of getting to what you want, but it's well known that level adjustments in 3.5e are notoriously inflated to be deliberately punitive. As a GM, I personally would drop it a LA for that bundle of disads (since it's my campaign, I can make sure they come up enough, too - this is where a real game at the table is so much easier than "arbitrary RAW game balance trying to serve every weirdo out there").

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I would hope in most games that there is no harm in asking your DM anything. Just be very clear that you are asking and not passive-aggressively demanding.

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More importantly, don't passive-aggressively demand while pretending you're just asking. It never ends well. –  Zachiel Aug 27 '13 at 10:55
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As to the question, I think if your motives are honest there's nothing "unfair" about it, no.

If I was your DM I'd worry most about your place in the party. With a relatively more powerful character and a bunch of traits that, if role-played honestly, could easily drop the rest of the PC's right in it, how popular do you think your character is going to be with his companions?

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Yes it's fair to ask, if you do it in a way similar to this. It'd also be fair of your GM to say no. Changing level adjustments is a big power change.

I had something similar to this happen in the game I'm currently GMing. A player was playing a very excitable character who wanted to learn absolutely everything about magic. To fit that background, he wanted to take a "curiousity" flaw that would compel him such that if he saw new/interesting magic or magic items, he'd have to stop whatever he was doing and go study them.

I turned that down, because sooner or later that's going to lead to a situation where the player encounters a situation they know is a trap, but the flaw is going to compel them to go do it anyway. That's going to get them (or worse: another party member) killed, unless the player doesn't do it. If he refuses, then he's not playing the flaw properly and I have to force him to do it.

That was a position I did not want to be in. I did encourage him to play up that kind of behavior anyway for story purposes, but to a less severe degree (ie: not blindly walking into obvious traps just because there's a spellbook in the room).

Yours are generally less severe than that, except for the bribery thing. What if you don't want to be bribed, but the GM wants to do it? At what amount of gold is it impossible for you to say no to a ridiculous request? How big an argument at the table is that going to cause?

When it's your character personality, you're in control of that stuff. It leads to interesting RP, but you can suppress it in an obviously bad situation. When you're gaining stat power because of something like that, it becomes a game mechanic and now the GM may feel that you're not playing it properly and thus gaining free power, which is going to put them into a spot of either removing that extra bonus, or compelling you to play the flaw.

Neither of those is all that great.

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As a side note, it may be worth looking into the Fate system and its Aspects used as complications, as well as Mutants & Masterminds 3e and its Complications, for ways to deal with such personality traits. Though a fair warning: they are narrative/meta solutions, which may not be to everyone's taste. –  leokhorn Aug 28 '13 at 10:01
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Bear in mind that while these restrictions may be very flavorful, your group's particular gaming style may render them trivial, crippling, or anything in between. If you're mostly dungeon-crawling, you'll find that most of your restrictions are very social-based and will practically never come into play. Inversely, you're in an intrigue/espionage game, you'll never be able to sneak into anybody's house.

They also might be prone to easy loopholes - for example, in D&D it's extremely likely that in most situations, you'll have a party member present who you can deflect questions to so he can lie for you. "Invitation only" becomes a joke as soon as your friends realize they can cross the threshold first and yell out "Come on in, pal!".

Additionally, some of these might be tough to rule on consistently, and/or create lots of extra work for the GM. "Can never directly lie" could wind up badly if you bend it too far, insisting on debatably-unreasonable interpretations; it also might result primarily in the GM insisting on long, laborious clarifications every time an NPC talks with your character. Even the iron weakness requires the GM to keep much, much closer track of what materials are present in every given scene.

How severe is each of these problems? It depends on your group's style. If your group is fine with homebrew mechanics and with fudging rules for narrative/dramatic effect, then they can probably deal with these issues without much fuss (maybe making some adjustments as you go along). If they're more into following mechanics precisely, then you've got the potential for some serious balance disruption here, and I'd look to rein back mechanical re-jiggerings of the system.


I think this specific example can be expanded into the larger question of taking flaws for extra benefits. In order to strike the right balance, you need to take a deep look at the proposed flaws. You can ask:

  • Is it clear how, and to what degree, these flaws will impede the PC during typical gameplay?
  • Do these flaws have simple loopholes, which makes them not really flaws?
  • Is it clear how to rule on the flaw's effect in most cases?
  • Does the flaw require any extra work from the GM? From the player?

Then just make sure the answers are clear and acceptable to the group and the GM.

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This and actually writing out a plan for my build have led me to decide against actually making these gameplay mechanics. Granted, I might still roleplay the "never truly lies" bit for the fun of it, and I guess the iron weakness thing would be silly both because the alternatives are expensive and because in theory by the time it takes cold iron to really hurt you (and my build starts with DR 2/Cold Iron) you're probably well past regular iron being a problem anymore. Plus the threshhold thing won't be a problem between teammates and at-will Charm Person. –  Cobalt Aug 29 '13 at 2:26
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