Most role playing games with point-buy character generation have some form of disadvantage system. In Nomine is no exception. Throughout the manuals you will find a number of negative quirks (called Discords) that impede the character and reward the player with additional points for building their character by way of compensation. However, there are some very severe problems with how In Nomine has implemented its disadvantage system.
Uniformity of Price
With the exception of Vulnerability, all Discords have the same character point value. Burning Touch, Damaged Hearing, Obese and Twitchy all reward the player with the same number of character points.
Burning Touch is often advantageous. It gives the player additional information about the world, and the negative impact has an exactly symmetrical positive impact.
Damaged Hearing is clearly disadvantageous. It penalized one attribute under certain circumstances.
Obese is also disadvantageous. It penalizes one attribute under all circumstances (and may have social repercussions as well).
Twitchy isn’t just disadvantageous, it’s crippling. It penalizes two attributes under all circumstances and also penalizes the outcome of the roll.
Even a cursory glance should indicate that they do not burden the character the same amount. By giving the same compensation for each, In Nomine rewards players who intentionally pursue nominal disadvantages while crippling those who specifically go for story-driven penalties.
I would suggest a massive re-valuation of Discords on the following principle.
1 CP/Level – Discords with skill equivalent penalties (that is, something that impacts a particular attribute under certain circumstances)
2 CP/Level – Discords which penalize reaction rolls by 1 or which impact a particular attribute most (but not all) of the time
3 CP/Level – Discords that amount to a permanent reduction in an attribute
Twitchy would probably be worth 10 CP/Level
In this way each discord provides only enough Character Points to offset its own negative impacts.
Dissonance and Discord
All Celestials have the ability to convert 3 levels of dissonance into 1 level of discord. This seems perfectly reasonable when all Discords have the same character point value. It becomes significantly less than ideal if the Discords have different values like I suggest above.
I would suggest tweaking this rule so that any Celestial with 3 or more levels of dissonance may chose to convert dissonance into Discord, but the amount of dissonance absorbed by the act is only equal to the Discord’s revised CP value.
A player may chose a discord with a CP value greater than their current dissonance in order to clear it all, but this should never be required.
Mechanics Free Discords
Stinky and Vestigium both have mechanics, but they are purely narrative. There are no guidelines on how much the Discord should impact relevant rolls.
If a demon reeks of decaying roses…
- Are they easier to track?
- Is it easier to research their true name?
- Does the smell have an impact on reaction rolls?
- How difficult is it to avoid retching when you enter a small room that is rancid with their scent?
It’s fine if the rules don’t cover all of these questions (we do have GMs for a reason), but it would be nice if they’d tackled at least one or two of them.
However, if the intent is something that’s “flavor only,” then I think 1 CP/level would be the appropriate value.
There are three different disadvantages that result in a direct penalty to the TN of reaction rolls:
- Negative Charisma
Some of the side effects are slightly different (someone who is Ugly doesn’t necessarily smell, but they are significantly more off-putting that neither of the other two), but the core mechanic is identical for all three and Stigmata isn’t much different.
It’s rather boring to have Discords that are so close to each other (especially when negative Charisma is already described as a catch-all that can be customized to describe why folks don’t like you).
It also opens the door to min-maxing (crippling your character in an area you don’t think you’ll need in order to maximize your effectiveness in another). The more ways there are to dump on reactions, or Dexterity, or Perception, or whatever it is that you’ve decided it is that your character doesn’t care about, the easier it is to build a character who is weak in one area but awesome everywhere else.
Lack of Granularity
Some of the In Nomine Discords look like they try to get around the Overlap problem by impacting more (rather than different) mechanics. Twitchy is a good example of this. It is one of three Discords that hurts Dexterity TNs. It is distinct from Obese and Crippled in that it also impacts Check Digits and Precision.
There are some problems with the size of Twitchy’s impact, but more importantly, there’s no need for Twitchy to modify so many different rolls. If it only impacted Precision or only impacted Check Digits, it would still be unique from the other Discords and it could have a more reasonable CP value (5).
GURPs & Beyond
Part of why I think SJ Games was so ready to integrate In Nomine into the GURPs line is that a lot of work has already gone into balancing the Advantages and Disadvantages of the GURPs system.
I personally prefer games with native systems, but if you don’t want to put in the work to fix In Nomine‘s Discords, the GURPs approach is a good way to go.
That said, if you keep your eyes peeled, I will be suggesting some homebrewed rules over the next few months that I think will fix a lot of the problems with In Nomine‘s discordant disadvantages.