Monday, April 25, 2016

Disadvantage: Callous

The first totally awesome and cool
image search result for callous.
So, today I was reading a conversation on the disadvantage Callous and how it almost seems like more good than bad. So, I thought I'd take a shot at dissecting it. I dunno if I have anything useful to add to that conversation, but let's see.


Callous is a mental disadvantage, and it is very cheap for -5 points, which usually speaks to not having a terrible impact or being able to grow out of or into it easily. The basics can be found in the Basic Set on p.125, and it has a mix of good and bad. You have decent penalties explicitly called out for the Teaching and Psychology skills, but in an open-ended manner, it also applies to any interactions with anyone at the GM's discretion that have suffered consequences of the players callousness in a previous altercation.
It also gives a slightly better than perk level bonus to a few of the more antisocial negotiation skills.
Taking into consideration that it comes with this strong perk-ish benefit, if you are the type of person who likes to quantify negative impacts of somewhat more subjective disadvantages, you might rather treat the negatives as bad as somewhere from -6 to -10.


Everything we care about
today is from this book.
With the low point value, this disadvantage looks like it is almost meant to be a "flavor" disadvantage. That is to say, it more exists to tell the GM and your fellow characters, "I am an uncaring person," than it does to pose serious negative stumbling blocks. The important thing here then is that it can be kind of considered more of a role-playing contract than anything else. "I will act like a jerk and I know this will bite me in the end... but only a little bit because it's kind of cheap."
As a GM, the important thing to note is that realistic, and even slightly harsher than realistic consequences should be enforced. When a player controls a character with Callous it is important to somehow expose them to ironic comeuppance in the form of incidentally spiting people that turn out to be vital to the success of a particular future endeavor. You probably want to take notes of everyone the character has backstabbed or at least a few interesting ones. If the character isn't being insensitive to people, they either need more opportunities to interact, or they need help with situations framed for them to take advantage of someone else.
When a player considers taking Callous consider this:
  • As a Player
    • Are you willing to act out a bit of psychopathy?
    • Are you ok with a character that will have difficulty making "real" friends?
      • If not, are you interested in hopefully overcoming callousness through character growth to have a character slowly become a better person?
    • You might need to have situations where you might have to work against the feelings of other party members if any of them are more good people, or finding ways to reconcile a defining character trait with occasional acts of kindness. Are you ok with this type of tension?
  • As a GM
    • Callous can seem a bit like a point crock; but it is also a bit cheap, do you fumble with wondering if you are levying consequences in a fair manner?
    • Though it isn't as extreme as some disadvantages, are you prepared for realistic intra-party conflict?
    • Do you know the player who wants to take Callous? It can be a subtle thing to roleplay well, and it requires the player puts themselves in compromising socially compromising situations, but it also needs to be balanced against the responsibility of making sure one player's fun isn't treading on another player's fun.

Other Thoughts and Conclusions

I think the critical take away is that it is a role play disadvantage, and it is a bit of a tight-rope walk. It can be difficult for a player to be callous enough but not too callous, and likewise, I think it is difficult for a GM to be punishing enough, but not too punishing. I think it is best suited for a player in a group that can roll with the punches that might accidentally hit them instead. I don't think it is as difficult to role play as maybe some other disadvantages, but it requires putting yourself out there in a way that might be counter-intuitive if you are a nice guy like me! Remember, it's ok because everyone you con or interrogate or torture is make-believe!

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