Handicaps and Attribute Stall

If played by the rules for using experience points to raise attributes, The Fantasy Trip (Legacy Edition) allows character growth that is rapid at low levels, begins to decelerate around at around 35 points, and becomes quite slow and costly for any attribute points beyond the 37th. This represents a departure from Classic TFT’s rules that allowed for less expensive character growth, and some players are still getting used to it.

Even back in the Classic era, players who enjoyed higher-powered characters often utilized Handicaps that allowed them to start their character with a higher attribute point total than normal, and the LE still allows that. The problem with this approach is that those Handicaps stubbornly persist for the life of your character, and the value of the early benefit soon wanes because you simply start closer to the point at which attribute gain stalls.

One way to make Handicaps continue to give benefit as the character progresses is to institute a house rule that states that instead of adding to a character’s starting attribute total, Handicaps subtract their value from a character’s point total for the purposes determining the XP required to raise an attribute. Thus, a 36-point character with a 2-point Handicap buys an additional attribute point as though they were only a 34-point character.

Applying the benefit of Handicaps this way is a radical departure, because by RAW Handicaps offer all of their benefit at character generation; one can think of them as XP that must be spent on attribute points. This house rule, on the other hand, makes Handicaps worthless at chargen, but their value increases over time. By RAW, a 2-point Handicap is worth 200 XP, putting starting character at 34 points, and by the time they reach 36 points, the Handicap is still worth only 200 XP. With this house rule, however, that same handicap an increased to a value of 300 XP at by the time the character reaches 36 points, 700 XP at 37 points, 1,400 XP at 38 points, 2,800 XP at 39 points, a whopping 5,800 XP at 40 points, and so on. You can see that this approach does not eliminate the attribute gain stall point, but it allows the player some control over when it kicks in for a character.

Even with that house rule, I suggest approaching Handicaps with caution. Speaking from experience, I can say that ones that seemed like such a good idea at character generation can grow old, taking some of the joy out of playing a character with them. And, GMs should always be consulted about whether or not a given Handicap is a good fit for the game. Ones like Over-sexed (TFT Companion p. 18) might be too obnoxious for a modern table or with widely varying ages.

In addition to aging well, the best Handicaps provide hooks for the GM to pull characters into situations with heightened tension. For instance, Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes, Conan suffered from a fear of the uncanny, and one can easily imagine how fear of water or fire could be capitalized upon at the table to twist the tension knob to eleven. To make the most of phobias, don’t forget to utilize the Fear Factor rules by yours truly in the excellent Hexagram 8 and with further ideas about how to use them in an earlier Musings. Poverty can make another great Handicap, because any character with it will always be needing to earn some coin, regardless of how great their haul was in the previous session, and that means adventure!

If you have had some memorable moments at the table due to character handicaps or thoughts about attribute gain, drop me a line!

The material presented here is my original creation intended for use with the The Fantasy Trip system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games. It may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without permission.

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