I'm GM'ing a Savage Worlds (Adventure Edition) campaign, where the PCs have hindrances as usual: some directly affect the crunch and some only affect the fluff, e.g. Vengeful.

I don't want my (partly new) players to fall into "My Guy Syndrome" and let their hindrances decide their actions. Instead, I encouraged my players to act against their hindrances when they think it fits. In addition to providing my players with the agency I want them to have, it can lead to very memorable moments when characters make a tough decision against their usual behavior, e.g. a vengeful character abstaining from revenge for a more important reason.

The problem I see: This can be unbalanced compared to crunch-affecting hindrances, as players cannot ignore those.

How can a fair balancing be ensured by the GM, when players can ignore fluff-only hindrances?

What I've thought of so far:

  • Ignoring a fluff-only hindrance causes a crunch-penalty, where the penalty can only be resolved by something fluffy, e.g. a vengeful character trying to take over someone else's revenge. Such a penalty could be a -1 on all/certain checks or one Benny less per session.
  • Ignoring a fluff-only hindrance costs one Benny, i.e. the player will start the next session with one Benny less.

This questions is meant to be good subjective: Please answer based on your experiences, where similar situations have been successfully handled. Answers from other game systems are also appreciated.

Considering the answers (thanks!), I choose to apply a small penalty: a -1 on a check which appears roughly once per session.

The reason for applying a penalty at all is, that I see (and try to communicate with my players) a penalty not as punishment but as cost. Having a cost might help players justify for themselves to go against a hindrance, where otherwise they might feel like they must role play their hindrance. Moreover, the players have a motivation to do something fluffy later on.

I know this train of thought does not apply to everyone, so I hope everyone reading this question reads all answers and estimates what's best for their group.


3 Answers 3


Preface: I haven't played Savage Worlds so I'm unfamiliar with the details.

I've been playing in a FATE Core game recently and Troubles sound pretty similar in description. For FATE, they had the mechanic of compels where anyone could suggest a way to bring up your trouble in an interesting way (e.g. maybe you have "a lover at every port") and someone might use that to say one of your past lovers shows up and complicates a situation. If you accepted it, you would get a FATE point (which sounds like a Benny) and if you declined it, you would have to pay a FATE point to avoid it.

A similar option could be done here; you (or anyone could suggest!) could bring up a situation where their Hindrance is important (e.g. "this guy annoyed you before, I'll give you a Benny if you start a fight/try to sabotage him") and offer them a Benny if they act in accordance with it, or they pay one if they do not. At least in FATE, this ties all of them into mechanics a little bit and in your situation would make the fluff ones have a little more mechanical teeth. It does require you (if no one else is) to come up with said problems, but likely you are already doing that.

Additionally, I treated Troubles (and thus Hindrances) as something the player picks to say "this is something a want to do" AND "this is something I want to cause interesting problems." This means that the players should avoid picking Hindrances they don't like; if I hate fighting, I shouldn't pick a Hindrance around fighting. If a player did but it turns out they aren't liking it and trying to avoid it at all times then I would have a conversation with the player about their character and what they want to do in the game. When I came up with my Trouble, it was a result of a conversation between me/the DM so we could figure out what would work best for both of us. This really helped ensure we both knew what we wanted out of it and probably would help here as well.



Hindrances do not exist to penalize characters. They exist to define characters and how they connect to the stories of the setting. To quote the rule book (page 9)

Taking Hindrances not only helps you define and roleplay your hero, but also gives you additional points you can use to start with additional attribute or skill points, Edges, or even money for gear.

So ensure that you're approaching the issue of Hindrances from the perspective of defining the characters.

Ignored Hindrances

If a player never role plays a role playing hindrance then the Hindrance needs to be removed or replaced, because it no longer defines the character.

Removing a Hindrance is straightforward, but costly. (Page 54)

Permanently remove a Minor Hindrance, or reduce a Major Hindrance to a Minor (if possible). With the GM’s permission, and if it makes sense, two Advances may be saved up and spent to remove a Major Hindrance. The player and GM should work out how and when this happens. Perhaps the shocking death of an ally triggers a change in attitude, the hero puts real effort into improving harmful behavior, or might even seek professional help during downtime between missions.

But Hindrances are about defining the character, so it is probably more useful and interesting to exchange an ignored Hindrance for a more fitting Hindrance. If the Bloodthirsty fighter is now taking prisoners and turning in bounties then he is clearly no longer Bloodthirsty, but if he is also charging directly at the most imposing combatant on the hostile side then he matches the Arrogant hindrance and the GM can require him to do a one-for-one exchange.

It's noteworthy that every hindrance can be ignored. Possibly by everyone forgetting to apply the relevant rules, but more commonly by players choosing actions that avoid hindrances from being relevant. Heck, the Bad Eyes and Lame hindrances have mitigation written into them, and it's possible to go an entire campaign without ever breaking glasses or removing a prosthetic leg.

Social Issues

Still, there are always players that don't want to role play. Some days that's me, when I'm mentally exhausted. That can be fine, as long as they aren't making the game unfun for everyone playing.

If a player is only neglecting role play at rare and random intervals then they're probably also mentally or emotionally tired and just looking to relax without stress. Making them have to care, and increase their stress, is a jerk move that reduces fun.
If a player is consistently neglecting the role play of a Hindrance then that's a more serious concern. Possibly (and I've had this happen) the player isn't good at representing that particular Hindrance and needs to swap it out for something that will be interesting; the solution is to talk with them, learn this, and help them do it. However, the concern raised is that (extremely) rare category of player that refuses to role play their character's Hindrances.

I maintain that any solution needs to start with "talk to the player". Sometimes the problem is poor communication; the player may think they are role playing and not being rewarded for it, or the player may not recognize the opportunities they've missed, or the player is role playing their idea of the Hindrance but it's completely different from the game master's idea. All three of those are communication problems that can be solved by talking things out.
While I haven't encountered it, it is entirely possible that a player isn't role playing because they don't want to have any drawbacks. ... Which makes their character really boring. I'd start with a conversation and figure out how to mention that "boring" fact. Beyond that, you're on your own - everyone is unique.

Frame Challenge

That very last category is the only reason to change the rules, and honestly I'd rather change the problematic player behavior. The danger of house rules is that they'll have unintended consequences. The danger of trying to get players to change behavior is that they'll leave my game ... and take their problems with them. Not ideal, but I'm okay with that risk.

Situational Reluctance

Sometimes players just don't want to give into a Hindrance in the current situation. This is fine, but it can be fun for everyone if the GM holds up a Benny to tempt the player to go along with the Hindrance in that specific situation. Verbal reminders are optional.

I've been playing Savage Worlds regularly since 2008. I've been Game Master for approximately 150 unique Savage Worlds players. I'm also very active on the Official Pinnacle forums, where this question comes up frequently (about once per quarter).


Your player isn't the only one who can play a Hindrance.

Here's some advice on the subject from Savage Worlds Deluxe, a slightly older edition. Apologies if some of the terminology might be off but it should still be sound.

Some Hindrances impose game penalties and some only really matter if the player roleplays them. That's intentional and not something you should worry about too much. The game is designed with the assumption that all heroes take their full complement of Hindrances and therefore have two additional attribute points, Edges, skills, or a combination thereof.

It's certainly true that a Hindrance like Big Mouth won't be worth much if the player doesn't occasionally roleplay it by blurting things out at inappropriate times. But the Game Master can pay a little attention here, too. For example, in a fantasy campaign, players don't roleplay every minute their characters are in a tavern. But it's easy to assume that while they’re there -- whether it was acted out or not -- the Big Mouthed hero let spill their plans to raid the ancient tomb on the hill. Maybe the group will find another team of adventurers are there before them -- or worse, waiting to see what they found when they come out.

Finally, Hindrances are more about helping a player figure out who his character is than inflicting a gameplay penalty on him. Being Loyal may never really be a problem -- most characters are just naturally loyal to others in their party. But having it on the character sheet reminds the player that he's a "good guy," at least to his friends, and will help him indirectly roleplay his character and make decisions within that context he might have made differently if he was Mean instead.

-- "Design Note - Roleplaying Hindrances", Savage Worlds Deluxe p.28, emphasis mine

Now, I will caution here: this is an older book, and some of this veers too close to the old, bad pattern of the GM dictating player actions. If your Majorly Vengeant character gets socially annihilated by Viscount Poncingjay, but they choke down their rage for the good of the diplomatic mission, it's going too far for you as the GM to just say that in the night they sneak into the viscount's chambers and murder him in hot blood.

However, take a look at what I've highlighted. Hindrances are there to figure out who the character is -- and unless I seriously miss my mark, all of the roleplay Hindrances are about who the character publicly is, rather than some secret about them. If you're Majorly Vengeant, you hold grudges and exact payback, and even if you haven't killed over a slight before, you have a reputation for being the kind of person who would.

When Viscount Poncingjay is found violently stabbed in his bed the following morning? That's a mystery your players are going to have a strong interest in solving, because, uh, no prizes for guessing who everyone else suspects.

This isn't to suggest some sort of if-then balancing factor, some logic of "if they don't play out their Vengeance (Major) this session, then next session I'll make things worse than they would have been otherwise". Play the world honestly and consistently, and plot with everyone's Hindrances in mind. After all, you and your players are all playing the game together, and you can show them the world reacting to a Majorly Vengeant character, even when that character isn't currently taking revenge.


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