- 1 What Disadvantages Are
- 2 Disadvantage Structure
- 3 Disadvantage Policy and Philosophy
- 4 Example Troubles
What Disadvantages Are
The Disadvantages system here is a core conceit of MCM's style of roleplay, used to categorize and make official the ways in which a well-written character has flaws and imperfections as a person, experiences hardships, and makes interesting and narratively engaging, rather than purely optimal, decisions.
Disadvantages are an essential part of a character fitting into stories and spinning story and engagement out of their presence. Disadvantages don't exist to be "balancing factors", like in a tabletop game, which make the character weaker to keep things fair". Rather, Disadvantages are narrative hooks and writing prompts; they are things to play and for others to play with, bouncing off of the character and creating content.
With that stance in mind, the biggest thing we have to say on Disadvantages is the following: Every Disadvantage a character has should be something the player will enjoy roleplaying.
Disadvantages come in three varieties, which are descending grades of Disadvantage "weight": Trouble, Flaw, and Drawback. All characters on MCM have a Trouble, representing the very core of their character conflict and personal struggles. Flaws and Drawbacks are optional, though a strong Flaw that adds to the character can award a minor amount of extra Advantage space. Drawbacks are mostly for fun, or included due to being canon for FCs but very niche.
As a general rule, staff expects to see one Trouble. While two is technically permitted, it's very rare that an application can write two Troubles that aren't simply better off combined into a single one, or a Trouble and a Flaw, to ensure that each one is individually strong and can stand on its own. Staff always advises that plenty of thought go into these; we prefer to see players do well above the minimum bar, and reluctantly trying to scrape by as narrowly as possible is a likely source of repeated application rejections. Remember that Disadvantages are supposed to enrich the character, not "make them worse" or "make people hate them".
A Drawback can be just about anything that inconveniences your character to a reasonable extent. It can be an everyday annoyance, a deficiency that comes up frequently but has low impact, a stronger issue that is very niche and will happen rarely, or a significant weakness that the character strives to mitigate with reasonable effectiveness, though one they can't totally erase. These are usually played for flavor.
Outright Crippling Disadvantages
If a Disadvantage, if invoked, would effectively remove a character's ability to participate in a scene, fully or partially, then it can only ever be used as a Drawback. This is because these sorts of incredibly severe Disadvantages are things that other players will rarely ever want to invoke, due to their propensity to result in quick and dirty, "feelbad" wins, and reducing the overall fun of the scene. Having a weak point that instantly defeats you, or having a vulnerable and comatose body somewhere else like in the Matrix, are examples of these.
A Flaw can take just about any form, but all Flaws are expected to be serious, concrete deficiencies, faults, or weaknesses that could hypothetically be used against your character if someone put in the effort to learn and exploit them.
A Flaw could be a weakness to silver, a severe phobia of fire, being trusting to the point of gullibility, being strongly pacifistic, having a physical disability, a broad prejudice, a repulsive habit or behavior, an oath to never defeat an enemy through subterfuge or dishonesty, an inability to lie, susceptibility to unusual forms of harm, an overpowering urge to consume blood, a delusion which the character frequently acts upon, etc.
Like any Disadvantage, these should be things that you would enjoy seeing come up, and the best ones are those that spotlight your character. It's inadvisable to pick a Flaw that will bore you, ruin your fun, put the character completely out of play, or only serve as aggravating “nerfs”.
Vulnerabilities to Specialists
Flaws sometimes include weaknesses or vulnerabilities to certain powers, items, or abilities. These can often seem valid, but turn out to be useless to the overwhelming majority of other characters in reality. These are typified by "banes" that are so specific that they require another character to have a relevant Advantage to have any business employing them, or being at a disadvantage against a certain skill set that would likewise require an Advantage to be competent at. These Disadvantages are never acceptable as a rule.
e.x. A cyborg PC having a Disadvantage to merely represent the possibility of hacking them is unacceptable. A skilled hacker is already presumed to able to hack a cyborg's systems if the paradigm is remotely compatible. It is actually abusive behavior to insist that, for example, a cyborg character from Ghost in the Shell can't be hacked if they don't take a “hackable” Disadvantage. The only way this type of Disadvantage would be acceptable would be at the level that they could be adversely affected by broadcasting or jacking them with a generic computer virus, or perhaps whose security has such gaping holes that just about anyone could gain access with easily acquired equipment.
A Trouble is the character's main, driving Disadvantage. It is an aspect of the character, or a culmination of several aspects, that define who they are and secure a memorable place in their theme, just as much as their most iconic abilities do. A Trouble is something that, were it to no longer exist, a character would no longer be recognizable as themselves, which usually makes them something that their original writer(s) will never completely resolve, though they might morph and change over time.
A Trouble in nature is a part of the character that is the root of most of the trouble the character gets themselves in. All real people are, at least in part, the architect of their own problems and life struggles, and the Trouble serves as a primary hook to engage the character in scenarios, to catch players’ attention, and to enrich the situations they find themselves in with complications and conflicts. This concept is a fundamental basis of good fiction, and, transparently, a character without one is almost certainly a de facto Mary Sue. You, the reader, have a Trouble. There is no such thing as a person who has never caused any of their own problems.
A Trouble absolutely, non-negotiably has to be rooted in the character's intrinsic personality. A Trouble cannot be a combat weakness or physical limitation, nor can it be an externally imposed curse or compulsion. These things have no bearing on the character, and effectively allow them to be a perfect person with a single limitation that "isn't their fault". Troubles also cannot be something that can be “fixed” or totally mitigated, or else “turned off” when they would be inconvenient.
What can constitute a Trouble is extremely broad. They could be a single behavior or belief that is overwhelmingly impactful in their lives, often instantly recognizable in popular FCs. They could also be a complex combination of factors and traits that are the root of many of their problems as much as they are the summation of their identity. They might even be somewhere in between. A Trouble does not have to be cartoonishly simple, nor does it have to be all about how your character is a terrible person. Many Troubles come down to a take on how on how the character “being themself” is not always easy, glamorous, or something to be proud of.
It's worth noting that a character need not agree with, be proud of, or condone their Trouble behavior. They may believe themselves to be in the right when engaged with it, as many people do, or just never notice it, but there's no rule that a character has to be fine with their flaws.
When character staff reviews a Trouble, the three things we always look for are:
- When does the Trouble come into play? What situations prompt the character to act out the Trouble? Do not assume this is self-explanatory. If the situation is “when the character becomes angry”, what typically makes them angry?
- How does the character act when their Trouble is in play? What things are they liable to actually do in those situations? It’s not enough to simply say “they become reckless”. Recklessness can take many forms. What actions do they indulge in that are so reckless?
- What effects do these actions have on the character, their objective, and/or those around them, and how is that not a good thing? Sometimes this can be implicitly obvious (causing massive collateral damage or behaving in a completely aggravating and unlikable manner are obviously detrimental), but not always. How does being reckless come back to bite them? Recklessness can easily be portrayed as a style or attitude and nothing more, so what makes the character’s brand of recklessness actually get them into jams, and what kind?
There are some examples of Troubles, and what staff expects and likes to see, later on.
Being Evil is not a Trouble
Sometimes players fall into the trap of quickly ascribing a character's core flaw and/or conflict to "being a bad guy that does bad things". Aside from being a shallow take on a character, this type of Trouble will never pass. The reason for this is that a character being evil (or morally ambiguous/shady) is not intrinsically a character's problem. A character who is perfectly effective and accomplishes their goals just fine, but is "ethically wrong", is still a character whose sole "flaw" is that people disagree with them, and go out of their way to "be mean to them". This places the responsibility to play the Trouble on other players, not the applicant, and makes the Trouble self-negate when playing with other evil or morally unconcerned characters, or when players simply can't go out of their way to derail the scene into heroically bullying the character.
Being Good is not a Trouble
Likewise, Troubles for heroic characters are often scribbled in with a core basis that amounts to "being a hero is dangerous". A character being the sort of person to involve themselves in matters head first, frequently face danger and adversity, try to be a good person and help or improve things where they can, value their friends and loved ones, and try to protect their relationships, is the standard archetype of a player character; any given human in the world tries to do most of these things, and on the subject of unusual danger, PCs simply have more dangerous and exciting lifestyles by virtue of going to scenes at all. Not having this "Trouble" usually just means a character would be utterly unplayable.
Trouble Drift In Play
It’s natural that sometimes characters, especially those played for a long time, will experience major shifts in their outlook, behavior, beliefs, personal codes, or similar aspects of their personality. Many times these are well within the scope of the Disadvantages they were approved with, but other times their core conflicts and flaws shift dramatically enough that their Trouble no longer adequately describes them.
MCM generally follows the tack that a character doesn’t necessarily have to play by a specific Trouble so long as they always have a Trouble. If a player feels the basis of their trouble is shifting, or has shifted, very significantly, they may enter an Upgrade Application to change it at any time. If they're still feeling it out and don't feel ready to commit until they figure out what feels best, and feel as if their current Trouble has diminished presence, a +job request in the Faction box is an appropriate notification to communicate their current situation.
A gestalt is a type of character bit that represents multiple characters simultaneously. Although characters like are these allowed without taking the NPCs advantage, gestalt characters are also required to incorporate their 'whole character bit' -- that is, all component characters of the bit -- into their Trouble. This can be in the form of a single consistent Trouble between them, or a cluster of sub-Troubles that apply to individuals within the gestalt.
A Trouble is mandatory for all characters. A character cannot be approved without one. Including a strong Flaw entitles a character to 4 additional Pips of Advantages to spend however they please. A second Trouble, in the instance one is approved, counts as well. If a character has a second strong Flaw, they may receive a small flavor benefit: the character may choose to receive two Vanity Pips, or increase the rating of an Advantage rated 3 or higher by one, up to two times; this cannot be used to pay for an Advantage that has a minimum rating of 4 or 5. Drawbacks have no specific return. They exist purely for fun.
Disadvantage Policy and Philosophy
Because Disadvantages fundamentally represent the human flaws and associations that embroil them in adventures, create exciting conflicts, and flesh out the situations they find themselves in, as accessible hooks for scene runners and other players to create RP from, there are a couple of types of Disadvantage that are generally unacceptable in character applications, for accomplishing none of these things.
These are Disadvantages that only really apply within a specific setting, or require their player to go far out of the way to bring on themselves. Common examples are being hunted by a character or faction that nobody is playing (or likely will play) from their theme, experiencing a negative reaction to a specific place in their homeworld, or being weak to a kind of Advantage that only someone from their theme would have access to.
These are Disadvantages which self-negate, are obviated by other aspects of the character, or which effectively do nothing. These most often happen where weak language allows a character to weasel out of their flaws where it's inconvenient to be fallible, but can also happen when another part of the character essentially makes them impossible to invoke, such as being terrified of fire, but having the ability to shut off emotions, for instance. An example of a Non-Flaw follows: Hot-Headed Guy: Hero A is a very hot-headed guy. He gets angry easily and rushes his way into problems constantly. However, if he knows someone is trying to make him get angry, he's smart enough to stop himself from getting baited into making these mistakes. He also listens to his allies when they tell him to calm down or they need him to keep an even head for the mission. Normally, this Disadvantage could be a great Trouble, or at least worthy of a Significant place, but the way it's written explicitly excludes someone playing Hero A with his anger, or from his anger inconveniencing a mission. He can effectively back out of any potential consequences caused by losing his temper whenever it would be to his detriment, and that makes it a half-hearted flaw with very poor hook material.
Faction Intrinsic Flaws
There are a narrow variety of Disadvantages that are simply “the downside of being in a particular faction”. Frequently, these are pretty weak on their own anyways, but they can be judged flat out non-flaws in other circumstances. For instance, being an extreme vigilante who is hunted by the law, is not a very strong Disadvantage for a member of the Watch; they are typically signing up for being on the wrong side of the law by default. It's worth noting that blatantly faction intrinsic flaws probably won't be approved even on an unaffiliated character, for the complications presented if they then join the relevant faction.
Simple Trouble Examples
These are some examples of obvious, iconic, and very easily identified Troubles in FCs, which are practically an elevator pitch, but the themes of which massively impact their everyday lives and aspirations:
e.x. Marty McFly from Back to the Future is so insecure about how other people perceive his confidence and machismo, that he will effectively do just about anything, no matter how reckless or dangerous, if called a chicken or a coward. If someone questions if he has the guts, he will leap at the chance to prove that he does, even when doing so is obviously an absolutely terrible idea.
e.x. Batman's obsession with thwarting crime and punishing villains, but without ever killing another human being, is something fundamentally ingrained in his character. He dedicates his life to pursuing criminals and crazies wherever he hears word of them, but makes things much more difficult by himself by refusing to make the frequently pragmatic choice of using lethal force, going to great pains to capture his marks alive and in relatively one piece. Villains commonly exploit this as a known fact to give themselves an edge over him, to make themselves harder to catch, and oftentimes they break out of jail almost immediately, making his problems never-ending, when he could have just shot the Joker a hundred times by then.
e.x. Gilgamesh from the Fate/ series is known for his incredible arrogance. He looks down on anyone and everyone, and talks down to them too, refusing to ally himself with anyone who doesn't completely defer to him as their superior. He rejects help from anyone who doesn't admit to being his inferior, and often refuses to take opponents seriously, even when in severe danger in either case. Everything is a matter of pride to him, and it makes him touchy, difficult to work with, and it frequently bites him in the ass when he underestimates a foe, or stubbornly refuses to get serious.
e.x. Natsu Dragneel from Fairy Tail is a heroic kind of guy who loves to help people and defeat badguys, but he's also kind of a blockhead who wants to fight at every opportunity he can get. He is prone to squabbling with strong allies and then challenging them to brawls to settle the score, often just to test their strength. Even when focused on task, he constantly gets carried away and causes massive collateral damage that results in a lot of angry people he was trying to protect, and tremendous bills. To make matters worse, he totally loses his cool when he sees an ally, or even a sympathetic potential ally, being abused or belittled, and will attempt to fight to the death even when he is clearly utterly outclassed.
Multifaceted Trouble Examples
These are some examples of nuanced, complicated, heavy, and/or subtle Troubles that might be difficult to pin down in FCs:
e.x. Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars is a troubled young adult born into slavery and recruited by the Jedi Order, and has perpetually labored under the expectations of others without guidance or actualization. He is overly confident in his power, eager to throw it around to validate himself and reassure himself that he is more talented than everyone else, and so he suffers excessive angst and unrest when this results in admonishment and disaster instead of praise. His personality is fundamentally incompatible with the strict, selfless, monastic code and big picture thinking of the Jedi, and he rebels against it with needless selfishness and grabbing at power and authority. He suspects the motives of everyone around him, and is easily flipped on his perceptions of people by rudimentary manipulation, especially from those who validates him for his talent. He will take authority by force if he feels recognition is being withheld, and is angry, antisocial, and extremely demanding of the people in his life, holding them to ideas that amount to them existing to make him happy, and he often vents his frustration at their shortcomings with violence.
e.x. John 117 from Halo often comes off a flat and emotionless person, derisively likened to a wind-up toy or a machine by others, but this is an intentionally professional and neutral facade that he shows as a way to avoid personally engaging with people. Indoctrinated as a child to be a perfect soldier without hesitation or humanity, the only people he understood were his peer SPARTANs, and with his "brothers and sisters" all dead or missing, he is a lost man, filled with guilt, loneliness, mistrust of authority, and flagging belief in a greater good, which makes him guarded, uncooperative, and uncommunicative in critical situations, and he refuses to please anyone else or heed advice or instruction even when highly valuable. In private moments, or with the few he trusts, he becomes protective and sentimental to a fault, going wildly off-script, abandoning carefully constructed plans, and often throwing others into tough situations, in order to rescue them from consequences. He is even so war weary of sacrificing the few to save the many that he will pass up what could be big advantages or long term gains in order to preserve a few lives where he is in the prime position of personal responsibility.
e.x. Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion is a multi-dimensioned disaster of a human being. He is already as awkward and confused as any teenager, if not significantly more so, with little control of his high emotions, which sabotage or debilitate him at moments of high stress. He not only struggles for direction as a person, but actively avoids seeking a real way in life, and thus always defaults to whatever the people around him expect of him. He is easy to pressure into almost anything, especially when the alternative to is being ignored, and when he gains even a little confidence or receives praise, he becomes eager to show off without any idea of what he’s doing, making risky, stupid, or ill-informed decisions. He is categorically awful at communicating his feelings to anyone, bottling them up until they explode and make him unreasonable, short-sighted, stupid, or even just plain crazy. An average teen is not cut out for a life of danger either, and so he loses his nerve or either outright panics when put in exceptionally threatening situations, either imploding into a stubborn refusal to engage, or exploding into an unthinking, near-suicidal fury. If pushed too hard to perform, he is liable to retreat into himself and become listless, uncooperative, and generally useless, or even run away from responsibility.
e.x. Desus from Exalted, even outside of the Great Curse, is a delusional, manipulative, sociopathic egomaniac. Completely sure of his rightness and righteousness, deservedning divine authority of rule, he acts solely in his own self-interest under the assumption that his actions are automatically justified by being one of the Solar Exalted. He takes his ego and his presentation incredibly seriously, and acts out disproportionate wrath and vengeance when he feels disrespected or slighted, no matter how unreasonable demands, even to the point of raging at purely natural processes. He is exceptionally ambitious and greedy, prone to taking whatever he wants by force if it isn’t given freely, and as a skilled manipulator and master liar, he frequently tries to deceive others and play them against each other even when there is no good reason to, just for his amusement. He is unhealthily possessive of people he likes, wanting their unswerving praise and loyalty and devotion, but due to his abhorrent lifestyle, he goes about it leading a double life of lies and excuses, depending entirely on undermining their confidence, isolating them, psychologically exploiting and gaslighting them, and using mind-influencing magic, to maintain any kind of positive relationship, which completely falls apart when he is exposed.