mechanteanemone has begun running a "Firefly" campaign using the mini-six system, and one of the design features of the system has me vaguely pissed off.
As with most RPGs these days, mini-six has some rules for giving characters disadvantages (or, as they are called in the game system, "complications"). Disadvantages for PCs have been around for a long time (I think that "Champions" was the first time I encountered them) so it isn't as though they are a new idea. So why in the name of the great Gygax can't people put at least a little thought into trying to balance them out??????
Here's what I am talking about - in mini-six there are certain complications that require you to roleplay them during the course of an adventure in order to earn extra experience. For example, my character has "Damned Fool Hero" that requires him to act like a damned-fool hero sometime during the adventure in order to earn an extra XP. There are also certain complications that are largely under GM control such as "Enemies" that will earn the player an extra XP when they show up, but are largely out of player control.
But there are also some completely passive complications such as "bull in a china shop" that reduce a character's ability to use certain skills. And these require no effort whatsoever to bring into the plot - they just automatically generate one XP per session!
The problem with these complications is threefold. First, they are boring - they add nothing to the plot, or to the character. They are just a bunch of skills that the character is bad at. Second, they are easy to work around because even without these sorts of complications there will always be a bunch of skills that any player doesn't intend for their character to use much - if you are a pilot you are probably not going to be big into knowledge skills for example, so it won't affect your character much if you are a little worse at them than you would be anyway. Third, they are actually more efficient generators of XP than the more interesting, plot involved complications. For plot involved complications you actually have to bring them into play in order for your character to earn the XP. If you have one of these passive complications, you will get an XP every game whether you had to attempt a roll with one of the skills you suck at or not!
The thing is, players are smart. They understand that if they suck at Dexterity skills they should avoid situations where Dexterity skills are crucial for success... AND they should have alternate problem solving ideas ready that use their good skills for those times when Dexterity skills matter. So normally, having one set of abilities that a character isn't good at isn't much of a hindrance - almost every character has a dump stat anyway, so the dump stat of a given character just gets a little bit dumpier. GMs will generally find it difficult to put PCs in situations where they have to use one of their dump stat skills in order to succeed because a) PCs will always try to wiggle out of them by using some alternate ability, and b) Players really hate being put in no-win situations, so if you tell them "The only way out is to use that ability that you have 2d-5 in" they are going to feel like you as GM are railroading them rather than that you as GM are making them earn that XP for their disadvantage.
But really, I think that's the way it OUGHT to be- you should only get the point if it causes you some sort of inconvenience.
Really though, that's not what I am ranting about. What I am ranting about is that by this point in the history of roleplaying, game designers shouldn't be falling into a trap this obvious anymore. I realize that fine-tuning disadvantages is tricky (is "Damned Fool Hero", which is mostly player driven, worth more or less than "Enemies" which is mostly GM driven?) but certain things ought to be obvious by now:
1) Disadvantages should be mechanically similar in operation. If all your disadvantages are equal in terms of cost, they should all be roughly equal in benefit. If disadvantages vary in cost they should vary in benefit. But if they are all the same in cost then they shouldn't vary in terms of benefit.
2) Disadvantages should hose the player's character, not the characters of other players. This isn't a problem in mini-six, but I have seen it in other games. A classic example is the old "Deadlands" disad "Bad Luck Betty" which causes every character BUT the character with the disadvantage to automatically roll the worst result possible on the Fumble table every time they fumble. That sort of disadvantage is a recipe for inter-party conflict and bad feelings (made worse in this case by the fact that this disad comes from a random roll on a table, so it isn't even the player's choice whether his or her character has it).
Anyway, that's my gaming rant for today.