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I was tempted to add the System Agnostic tag to this, but for today there is a specific game in mind to receive an answer.

Regardless of the source of the disad, (Physical, Mental, etc.) there are plenty that are inflicted on a character before the game in question starts.

Please consider the following Disadvantages from L5R 4e:

  • Disturbing Countenance
  • Lame
  • Missing Eye
  • Missing Limb
  • Permanent Wound

At what point in combat would one of these be applied to a character? Obviously raises for a Called Shot could be involved before it's even a question to make it fair, although random hit locations are just as fun. In one game I made it any called shot dealing wounds surpassing (defender) Earthx5 just to have something to scare them, but these are traditionally permanent disadvantages.

How fair would it be for a character who botches a few social rolls or gets embarrassed by a rival to grow a Doubt disadvantage for any length of time? Or maybe after getting hit with a harsh fire spell, could a character develop a Phobia? It would happen and be a very real affliction but maybe puts too much realism and minutiae on the game.

At what point, and for what reward (if any) should a PC gain a Disadvantage?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's just as well you left the SA tag off, or this would probably be too opinion-based. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 4:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fixed. Moved the sentence but had an orphan line. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 12:36

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Disadvantages as a mechanic can be a double edged sword. For one side, it is true that in some situations, seem natural for characters to have disadvantages imposed onto them as the results of their actions, but one the other side many players would think it is unfair that their characters are burdened with a disadvantage due sheer chance or bad luck. The key here is choice, either in the adquisition of the disadvantage, or in the possibility of removing it later.

Do that only with disadvantages that the can be removed later

Most physical disadvantages are not in this category. It is impossible to regrow missing eyes or limbs, and those gruesome scars are going to remain in your face until the very end. Many social disadvantages are perfect for this, however, since their adjudication and their removal can be easily tied to an adventure as the reward or as the hook for it. Example: Suffering extortion from a scorpion courtier after a spectacularly botched social roll ends in the character getting the blackmailed disadvantage, but only until the character finds a way to convince the scorpion to stop his demands, or dispose of him in another way.

Disadvantages as consequences

Borrowing from Fate system, an option would be making those disadvantages a choice of the player, by offering him the disadvantage as the price for avoiding a gruesome fate:

  • A lethal blow (which can be surprisingly common in L5R) turns into a non-lethal blow when the character barely avoid being beheaded by a sword, but the blows marks him with horrible scars, leaving him with a missing limb, missing eye or a permanent wound.

  • After a huge social mistake is about to force the character to commit seppukku, someone offer to testify in his favour. This saves the character, but he becomes the black sheep of his family, or acquire an obligation to the person that helped him.

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I've played a bunch of 1st edition L5R and a bit of 3rd edition, so I don't know how much anything has fundamentally changed - but as far as I remember, and from the sound of your question there is zero system support of how/when to translate actual play events into disadvantages. L5R isn't a very realistic game when it comes to wounds and gruesomeness...

So you're left in a sort of limbo with some options:

Never

Disadvantages only exist as character building options, and presumably exist in the game world, but as far as play goes, characters do not receive them, and their core concept stays intact. You could, if you'd prefer, alter this so player characters never receive them, since you control what happens to NPCs.

Only under X conditions

When a wound of X damage is taken. Be aware though, that with the exploding dice system, this might happen a bit more than you expect. Realistic? Well, more so, but then the other question comes in - is it fun? The other issue is that one should expect armor to impact this more rather than "harder to hit" which was the set up for previous versions of L5R.

Bribery

You could also declare that a player can choose to voluntarily take one when certain amounts of damage are flung out, in exchange for either raw character points (to be put towards other advantages later) or for a flat out XP multiplier. "Oh, that's a 5 pt character disdvantage, so you can 50 XP for taking it, the only limit is that what you spend that XP on has to happen over the next 3 game months, you don't instantly improve..."

Ultimately L5R is not a system I'd use if I was wanting to have lasting injuries be modeled by the mechanics. You can hack something in, to be sure, but the other half of the issue is that it probably will not make things more fun.

There's a few games where this does work - Burning Wheel for instance, at least makes it easier to get advancement under severe injuries, and also gives it's equivalent of Void points whenever you have to deal with a negative character trait - making serious, cripping wounds a source of reward. Poison'd puts the stakes up front whether those injuries can happen or not - you know before rolling the dice about how bad it's going to be and have to ask yourself if it's worth it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One solution I am considering is that the player can opt to ignore damage from one attack to receive a disadvantage. That is, instead of dying they lose an arm/eye/leg, gain a permanent wound or disfiguring scar. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 16:41

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