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I had this issue in L5R, but there are many role-playing games that include in their character creation process a "disadvantage" purchase system : any kind of handicap, that may be physic, mental, social, material or even other, that will add some difficulty for the player, but that give in return a few more start experience points.
There is a list of predefined disadvantages and their respective "prices" for the return favor.

Of course, a lot of players want to abuse this system and buy a lot of disadvantages that would not handicap a lot their characters, like a courtier purchasing a Bishamon’s Curse (a handicap to melee damage rolls), to get more experience points.

My question is: what is the best way to discourage this practice ?

Of course, we could simply forbid them to do it. But they would see it as an unfair rule. The famous "It is wrote like this in rules, we should have right to do this". And finally, they would start the game with the sentiment that they didn't created their character as they wanted, which is not a good start at all.

So what would be the best way to make them understand their mistake ?

  • Find a way to return their "easy" disadvantages against them ?
  • Advantage players that were honest in their choices ?
  • Something else ?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ what edition of L5R? in L5R 4th, I don't recall any "easy" disadvantage, that you speak of. Please give some concrete named examples \$\endgroup\$ – Lyndon White Mar 10 '16 at 22:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ In L5R disadvantages are quite poorly paid when played to the max. Your spell casting example doesn't speak to me, but the disadvantages that look like that always have two reward : one for caster and one, lower, for everyone else. You just have to make sure that your fighter has to help cast a spell. \$\endgroup\$ – MakorDal Mar 11 '16 at 5:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Oxinabox I added a precise sample. Or I could have added another one, like a cursed by the realm [Chikushudo], that grant you 4 experience points for a handicap on animal handling, a competence barely used in many campaigns. \$\endgroup\$ – Aracthor Mar 11 '16 at 11:55
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This is a pretty heavy houserule answer, but it's the only way I can tolerate 'disadvantages' these days; However, I'm not specifically familiar with L5R, so this will be a little bit abstracted.

The gist of it is simple: Disadvantages are now worth zero extra chargen points. (you may wish to give everyone a modest number of extra points to compensate, but this is up to you.) Instead, disadvantages generate XP when they cause the character some sort of trouble. There's a little bit of a judgement call on what is sufficently problematic to count as 'trouble' but overall, you can just rely on the fact that more 'powerful' disads come up more often.

Since L5R XP comes in a pretty 'chunky' style (earning single digits of XP per session instead of hundreds to thousands in a game like D&D), you will probably want to limit disadvantage bonus XP to "one XP per disad per session" and possibly also cap the total number of disad XP at 2 or 3.

The net effect of this, of course, is that characters who are caused problems by their disads get more XP than characters who don't. So the player who took 'fear of boats' in the desert campaign, or the player who took 'missing leg' in the game of courtly intrigue aren't going to be seeing a lot of XP for them, while the player who took 'albino' in the desert campaign, or the player who took 'stammer' in the courtly intrigue game are going to be seeing rewards for those disads a LOT. This means that, effectively, the 'value' of a disadvantage is directly tied to how disadvantageous it is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1; making disadvantages exactly as useful as they are disadvantageous is excellent balance, and of course anything that advances the plot and makes characters' quirks shine is great. White Wolf used this approach for Flaws in NWoD. \$\endgroup\$ – user1861 Sep 8 '15 at 12:45
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Make the setting work for you

Players that take disadvantages are asking for problems. Specifically, by taking disadvantages, they are extending an invitation to the DM to create challenges for their characters.

  • A player creates a fully combat oriented Crab samurai that is very lacking in the mental side (the player took the gullible disadvantage and reduced his mental attributes) because he knew his character would not set a step in the court. During a battle at the wall, he is easily deceived by a shape shifting oni disguised as his commander, who convinced him to attack and kill several of his comrades under the pretence that they were possessed, and is then left alone trying to explain the situation to his true commander.The crab player has now helped you to show the group that there is more dangers in the shadowlands than the claws and fangs of the oni.
  • A magistrate loses control of his horse during a chase and falls to the ground in a rather spectacular and embarrassing fashion, losing sight of his quarry and failing the mission given to him by his daimyo. What really happened was that the player choose to take the ghost disadvantage, but did nothing to appease the spirit. As a result, the displeased ancestor decided to show up in the worst moment, scaring the horse with his antics. With this, the players will learn the importance of appeasing one own ancestors, something fundamental to the culture in Rokugan. And the magistrate will have plenty of time to meditate on it, while his broken arm heals. By the way, his mortal enemy, a scorpion courtier, will be really happy to use this incident to sully the character reputation. A lot.
  • A player created a courtier character with impressive social skills bought with a low physical attributes and bunch of physical and combat related disadvantages, for a campaign centred in the civilised and sheltered environment that is the imperial court. However, thanks to his poor orientation and low outdoor related skills, the courtier lose his way while walking on the forests near the palace when he is surprised by a sudden blizzard. This creates a chance for the DM to break the routine of a courtly adventure, with a impromptu search & rescue mission, while the courtier experience the fragility of life in a setting where people can die from flu (If hypothermia does not kill him first, of course).

As a final note, even if the system basically encourages you to do this, you should still make sure that the players understand that there will be consequences to their decisions, and try to present those consequences in a way that is fun and meaningful for them.

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This is one of the things that comes up a lot with advantage/disadvantage systems - you get a lot of characters who are simply wacky because the players are trying to minmax the system without any thematic hold to what they're choosing. You have several options, however, none of them necessarily mean the players will LIKE it. You'll have to talk to the group and work out what will fit.

Limit which disadvantages are available

This is a good one if you see some disadvantages getting taken all the time or ones that are thematically inappropriate. Fitting them to the campaign you're running is totally appropriate.

"Pick one. Just one."

Players can choose 1 disadvantage. Period. This reduces the completely wacky characters and makes players have to think a bit more about what they want. The real min-maxers will be forced to take high-cost disadvantages, which often can be the ones that suck more. Likewise, players will have less points to buy advantages, so they'll need to be more judicious as well.

"If you take a disadvantage, I guarantee I will make it hurt"

If players take a disadvantage, let them know you will MAKE it a pain in their ass. However, part of this is if neither you nor the player can describe how this will probably be bad for them, they can't take it. Make the player give you suggestions for how it will screw up their life, and if they can't come up with something YOU can buy into, they can't take it.

A secondary issue

Some players minmax because they see it as the only way their characters might survive play. If you actually aren't running a game that will be pushing the edge of survival at all times, you don't have to minmax as hard. Letting the players know that can turn down some of the habits of this, if you all are in agreement in what kind of game you want to play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "I will make it hurt" - Disadvantages should be treated like that and should fit with the character (forbid magic-disadvantages for mundane characters for example). And disadvantages should be played out during the game. So, your fighter has an anxiety of spiders? Well, dungeons are full of them... \$\endgroup\$ – Ferox Sep 8 '15 at 6:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ An additional system-agnostic suggestion to limiting available disadvantages: make the list of disadvantages available specific to class, if your game is class-based. For instance, this would solve the problem the OP mentioned where a warrior takes a spell-casting disadvantage -- that disadvantage wouldn't be available, instead only disadvantages that are meaningful to the class. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Sep 8 '15 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ A variation on "pick one" - GURPS, which starts characters with ~150 points, recommends limiting to three disadvantages worth 50-75 points, or one disadvantage of any size. Thus, most characters will have approximately one major, one moderate, and one minor disadvantage. The rules also explicitly forbid taking disadvantages that would be totally trivial or frivolous (fear of magic in a no-magic campaign, for example.) \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Jul 25 '17 at 18:57
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What's happening here is your players are treating your "disadvantage" system in the same way that they treat all the other pieces of character creation: they're trying to build a good character.

Let's take stat point allocation as an example. Suppose someone is playing a fighter, and they choose to have their strength score be high, and their wisdom score be lower. We could say: "That's so lame! You're min-maxing your stats to make a better character! You should be playing something more realistic, like a fighter whose best stat is intelligence!"

Now suppose our fighter character is allocating their skill points, and they choose to put a lot of skill points in "melee combat". We could say: "That's so lame! You're min-maxing your skills to make a better character! You should be playing something more realistic, like a fighter whose skills are in food preparation and eighteenth century literature!"

And now our fighter character is choosing disadvantages, and they choose "afraid of spiders" and "can't tolerate spicy food". We could say: "That's so lame! You're min-maxing your disadvantages to make a better character! You should have taken 'prone to epileptic fits in the middle of combat' and 'pacifist'!"


In other words, the problem you're having is that [your players believe that] your game rewards more competent characters with greater success. This is not unusual: nearly all role-playing games do it. If you really want to fix this problem for good, you need to make it clear to your players that their characters' competence doesn't matter. One option would be to switch to a game like Fiasco where it's expected that everyone's character will die horribly by the end. At the minimum, you'll probably need to stop having combat in your game, because combat will usually reward the characters with the best combat stats.

If you're not ready to completely eliminate the "more competent characters succeed more" thing, a good hack is to use a simpler character creation system. You could use something like Dungeon World, where the aren't as many character creation choices, so there aren't as many decisions to min-max.

But, to formally answer your question: if you don't like people min-maxing their disadvantages, the best solution is to not use a system that has disadvantages. You can switch to a game system that doesn't have a "disadvantages" feature, or you can stick with your current game and simply house-rule it that part of it away. (If you house-rule it away, you might need to award your characters some bonus experience, to make up for what they lose by not taking disadvantages.)

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Additionally, I recently found a new way:

Give me your history, I will give you your disadvantages.

The problem source was players reading the disadvantages list and picking the ones which seemed to not cause trouble.
But what if they don't choose at all?

My last strategy for character creation was in three steps:

  1. Player's choice: The player describe me an overview of what kind of character is in its mind. From this idea, I help him/her to choose its clan, family and school. But he/she has the last word on this point.

  2. Game master's choice: The player create a background story for the character, from its birth to the game start. It includes its family situation, any important event, etc. Once it is defined, I pick advantages and disadvantages for him/her, matching with this background.

  3. Player's choice: The player knows now who is his/her character, its background, its precise advantages and disadvantages, and has got an experience points pack to spend. He/She can know use it to buy its starting characteristics points and competences additionally to its family and school ones.

It reduce a little bit choices for character creation, because some players may have ideas by reading the advantages/disadvantages list, but it solved definitly this precise problem.

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Of course, a lot of players want to abuse this system

You might want to think about the type of people you play with. If you take it as normal for you players to do so, they are probably power gamers. But that by far doesn't mean that every player is like that.

So what would be the best way to make them understand their mistake?

Is it really a mistake? Maybe they want to be stronger and use this mechanic for that? If you think their way of dealing with disadvantages as "free XP" you should talk with them about it. How about a deal like: "You get X more XP at the start and therefore you only take disadvantages that you want to use in-game to play with them".

I don't know you players, but I know some who would take that with open hands and step away from disadvantages for that. Maybe you should talk about the power level you want to play and they want to play.

What is the best way to discourage this practice ?

If you still think you don't want them to abuse disadvantages, there is an easy way to discourage them: Make them pay for disadvantages. Find something where their "easy" disadvantage suddenly hurts a lot and they regret taking it. In Vampire my player had the bad habit of taking "can't cross flowing water" as a disadvantage as they thought that would never be a problem. Even before they were done with their characters I told them how mighty that disadvantage is: They can't even fly over a river in a helicopter. And if they all want to take it, we'll play in a city with a river in the middle. All the sudden they rethought it and only one of them kept it, which IMO was totally okay.

But overall I think it's better practice to talk about it if you don't want it, instead of punishing them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You make some very good points. I suspect the down votes are because you go against the flow of the question. The question specifically asked for way to discourage taking disadvantages. Personally, I agree with you that talking about it as adults would solve this "problem". \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion Feb 9 '16 at 7:56
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What's being suggested as a problem here is actually kind of how the Advantage and Disadvantage system is supposed to work in L5R. After all, would you discourage a player from giving their character an Advantage because it makes them better at what they're good at? Note that L5R already tells you which Advantages and Disadvantages a "typical" character might have. For instance, both Obtuse and Permanent Wound give Bushi an extra point, while Strength of Earth costs a point less.

However this isn't the main reason to let them do this. The setting itself condones characters made this way. After all, the character's Family would work to ensure that they go to a school matching their natural inclinations.

Thus a Gullible Doji is not going to be sent to a Courtier school, which means they'll be sent to the Iron Warrior or Scout Dojos, or the Dueling Academy. Likewise, a Hida with a Low Pain Threshold and a Lame leg probably doesn't belong on the wall, and their Family would work to get them admitted to the Yasuki school.

Shugenja, as always, are the exception. Because Shugenja are chosen based on their ability to speak with spirits, rather than their physical capabilities, a Shugenja could well end up with either set of Disadvantages, or even both. But much as a Family would not send its children to be trained at a school that wastes their potential, they won't appoint them to positions that they expect them to fail at. So again, people get put in positions to do the things they're good at (or at least supposed to be good at); not the ones they're bad at.

However, no Bushi can ever get away with staying completely out of the court AND Samurai are those who fight so you better believe a Courtier is going to see combat at SOME point, even if its just Bandit attacks. And Shugenja will get sent anywhere someone thinks they might be remotely useful.

So, in short, you shouldn't discourage your players from taking Mental flaws for Bushi or Physical flaws for Courtiers (or anything at all for Shugenja); nor should you do anything to actively punish. Just remember that the characters don't get to choose what they're going to do with their time. They have lords for that. And if the lord says "Go to court, and make me look good." the Bushi doesn't get a free pass on those Etiquette and Sincerity rolls.

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