Some time ago, I was playing in a Savage Worlds convention game, and our party hit a major decision point in the scenario. Before the discussion/argument over what to do could really get rolling, the GM (whose name I have sadly forgotten) made a very important point. Instead of analyzing our Skills and Edges to decide what to do, we should look at our Hindrances, because they define the personality of our characters. (In addition, we’d get Bennies for following our Hindrances.)
Savage Worlds almost certainly isn’t the first game to point out that flaws make a character more than just a collection of stats, but it was the first time I’ve seen this point made so bluntly. As a player in many games, I’ve used this technique to decide my character’s actions, and received many a Bennie for it. I’ve also pre-generated characters with conflicting Hindrances in order to create some intra-party conflict.
Now, let’s turn this approach to the GM’s side of the screen…
Obviously, NPCs can be defined by their flaws as easily as PCs, especially when those NPCs fall into the ‘antagonist’ category, and the flaws will help lead to their eventual downfall. This is such a common fictional trope that it should be obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs pointing out.
An individual flaw can be as blindingly obvious as a dictator’s narcissism or a thug’s racism, or as hidden as a detective’s drug addiction or a preacher’s illegitimate child. It can be a major plot point, or just a minor bit of color, and more than one of my NPCs has developed as flaw as gameplay proceeded.
Less obvious, but just as handy, is defining entire species of monsters and critters by their flaws. Some examples:
- Werewolves are as dangerous a foe as anyone might meet, but they are easily distracted, and prefer to chase a moving target instead of noticing the quiet man with the silver-loaded shotgun…
- Ghouls are so ravenous that they will stop mid-combat to feed on the first paralyzed victim, or even on rotten meat thrown at them.
- Kobolds are greedy and stupid, and will forget all about the livestock they were going to ‘acquire’ when they stumble on bright, shiny objects.
- Goblins are aggressively curious and stupid, and will try to open any doors or containers, use any wands, ride any brooms, look at the pictures in any books (because reading is beyond them), etc.
- Vampires are driven by an overwhelming desire for… Oops, sorry, I can’t tell you that; my group hasn’t encountered an elder vampire yet.
Flaws can be revealed through gameplay, research, or simple knowledge checks, but I find that gameplay is the best way to get them across. Of course, not all tribes of Goblins are going to have the exact same flaws, and the Senator’s illegitimate son is certainly embarrassing, but it’s not as bad as the drug cartel funding his campaign…
(I should add here that a flaw is not necessarily a bad thing. The Senator may love his illegitimate son so much that he wants to keep the press and the filthy money of politics away from him and his mother. A flaw is merely a point of leverage.)
Are your characters and groups flawed? Have you had any good or bad experiences with a flawed NPC or group of NPCs? Sound off in the comments and let us know!