Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Flaws in Game Design

I tend to be a fan of a particular game-mechanical trick that first (to my knowledge) showed up in TSR's old Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) game - that of spending experience points (or their equivalent) for temporary power boosts. I've often thought that one good way of making veteran-types characters would be to allow them to more cheaply buy higher-level abilities with the caveat that using those abilities at their full level costs them a wee bit of xp (definitely less than they would normally get during the session).

Given that, you'd think I'd be a fan of the inverse: character flaws that you take that give you a bit of extra xp when they come into play. I would have (and did) think this too.

I've been playing in a game for a few months now that is using White Wolf's new Storytelling system. While it is generally a much better system than their old one, its take on Flaws is grating on me. Here's the deal:

One of the PCs has the 'behavior blind' flaw. Essentially, he doesn't pick up on social cues. He has a tendency to say wholly inappropriate things. According to the rules, he gets an extra experience point (we normally get about 3/session, so this is significant) in a session where his flaw comes into play in a way that inconveniences him.

It sounds OK, right?

Well, the problem is that it inconveniences the other PCs more often and more dramatically than it inconveniences him - his major goals, unsurprisingly, tend not to be social in nature. In last night's session, it inconvenienced him and he properly got an extra xp - because we cut his PC out of about 1/4 of the session entirely. The player was (vocally) unhappy about this, and as players we didn't want to cut another player out of the game, but there was no way we'd have allowed his PC to enter into a delicate social situation when we could avoid it. The extra xp helped smooth that over. It worked.

It was the first time it worked, though. More often, I've been frustrated when he's been receiving extra xp for, essentially, mouthing off in a way that ruins my goals... and (maybe) mildly inconveniences him. The GM has, on occasion, simply awarded the extra xp to everyone... but that's a kludge. The rule doesn't work as advertised. Perhaps if it came with additional guidance, but such advice sections are notoriously ignored anyway...

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