Just The Rules: Yet More Drawbacks

Yesterday I examined existing drawbacks in Ultimate Spheres of Power, and one of them really stood out to me.

Twenty-four of the twenty-five drawbacks I examined could be modeled in Hero System as Limitations. Almost all would be considered -1/2 Limitations and some were worth twice as much (and would be considered -1 Limitations, more or less).

Witchedmarked is best modeled as a character complication, specifically Distinctive Features. The distinctive features are concealable with a skill check (10 CP), noticed and recognizable (+0; does not seem to cause an particular reaction), and easily sensed (-0). 10 Character Points worth of complication.

Applying Complications as Drawbacks

10 Character Points worth of complication often means “Frequently and Minor Effect” or “Infrequently and Major Effect”, with some modification as things can increase or mitigate the complication.

Frequency LabelSession Frequency
Uncommon or InfrequentlyOnce every 5 sessions or so
Common or FrequentlyOnce every 3-4 sessions
Very Common or Very FrequentlyOnce every 2 sessions or so
Extremely Common or All The TimeAlmost every session

This means a 10 CP complication likely causes some minor inconvenience every three or four sessions, or a greater inconvenience every five sessions or so. Enough to be noticeable, without being overwhelming.

If a 10 Character Point complication is enough to be a drawback, it seems a 20 Character Point complication might be a worthwhile double-value drawback.

Before looking at this I would have guessed 15 and 30 character points for these respectively, but let’s see how it goes. In no particular order…


A Hunted complication that some person or group is chasing the character. The complication value depends on how competent the hunters are, how often they show up, and how harsh their intentions are.

  • Apostate: 10 CP: As Powerful (10 CP), extensive Non-Combat Influence (NCI, +5 CP), Infrequently (+0), Mildly Punish (-5). The tradition practitioner can expect to run into an inquisitor who causes problems every five sessions or so.
  • Heretical Teachings: 20 CP: More Powerful (15 CP), Frequently (+5 CP), Harshly Punish (-0 CP). A schism or other event caused practitioners of this tradition to go into hiding, which is a good idea because there are those who are eager and able to cause them great distress, and can be expected to show up every few sessions.

I should note that a Hunted complication does not necessarily mean a fight, or even a direct encounter. It would be entirely legitimate to have a PC with Heretical Teachings present in a social situation with a powerful Witch Hunter at the head table and the PC (and party, if known to the Witch Hunter) having to spend the session trying to achieve their goals without drawing attention.

Distinctive Features

A Distinctive Features complication makes a character easy to identify, and may cause severe reactions in others.

  • Mystic Aura: 10 CP: Not Concealable (15 CP), Always Noticed and causes Major Reaction or Prejudice (+5 CP), Detectable only through magic senses and to those who use magic (-10 CP). The character radiates magical power, and while this is not discernible to most people, any magical adept and anyone using magical senses know immediately what the character has learned, and will respond strongly.
  • Gemstone Eyes: 10 CP: Easily Concealable (5 CP), Strong Reaction (+5 CP, greed), Detectable by Common Senses (-0 CP). Bonds to elemental earth have caused the characters eyes to become faceted gems. They are easily concealed by keeping the eyes hidden [which is itself noticeable, if not distinctive.. and they are highly reflective if any light hits them], and often induce extreme greed, avarice, and covetousness in those who see them.
  • Hellish Miasma: 20 CP: Not Concealable (15 CP), Feature Causes Extreme Reaction (+10), Detectable by Uncommonly-Used Senses or by Large Group or by Simple Tests (-5; not directly discernible, but animals shy away… except those associated with hell). A character who delves into forbidden infernal arts acquires a spiritual stench of the hells; most animals shy away or flee if brought into too close a contact, and mortals who learn the truth do so as well… when they don’t react with hatred or lust for power.

In the first case above, the character radiates magic such that those who can detect magic or who use magic know what secrets the character knows… and might seek to force the character so share them, or to suppress them.

The second case is easier to hide, but anyone who sees the gemstone eyes will realize what they are and may be overcome with avarice, and seek to take them… regardless of consequence.

In the third case the character as been immersed in hellish lore and it sticks. This is not obvious, but cannot be hidden from those who know how to recognize the subtle signs… and those who recognize them will likely have a reaction that is extremely unfavorable to the character.

Psychological Complication

This is a catch all for complications do with the mind. Some of these drawbacks could be modeled as Limited Power, “conforms to this behavior”, but I’m going to say that the magic itself sets limitations on the character’s actions. That is, I could have a Limited Power “has not lied in the last day” that can shut a power down, but instead the magic itself compels the character to not lie. The character can, with effort, overcome this compulsion, but this could prevent the character from using magic for a time.

  • Lust for Power: 10 CP. Uncommon (5 CP), Strong (+5 CP). The character will accept undue risk if it means gaining personal power, especially magical power.
  • Truthbound: 20 CP: Common (10 CP), Total (+10 CP). The character is almost entirely incapable of deceit. Perhaps the cost of True Knowledge is an inability to convey or abide untruth.

With Lust for Power, the character will go to great lengths and make dubious decisions in the pursuit of power. Whether it means delving into lost places to find forgotten lore, or picking fights that ought not be picked, the character is likely to get into trouble because of it. This is possibly a good match for magic that rewards the bold, or that demands high prices that can only be met by those who are willing to take chances.

With Truthbound, the character cannot, through action or omission, deceive another person. Unlike the Honorable complication (always keeps word, never takes advantage of a situation) the Truthbound adept can fight dirty, take ruinous advantage of a merchant, and so on, but cannot convey untruth and feels compelled to correct misunderstandings coming of statements from the adept or the adept’s allies.

Negative Reputation

A Negative Reputation complication indicates that when people recognize the character, they might know something that causes them to treat the character poorly or gives leverage over the character. These overlaps some of the other complications, but not always. For instance, Distinctive Features is worth more points if they provoke a stronger response, so Negative Reputation overlaps (does not add to this) if they would be the same. However, if Distinctive Features causes a strong response (“it’s a tiefling! Get him!”) and Negative Reaction causes a different response (“it’s Hazgroth… and I know how bad he wants to find his master”) they can be different complications.

  • Puppy Killer: 10 CP: Infrequently (5 CP), Extreme (+5 CP). The character’s magic sometimes requires the killing of cute furry animals, which makes many people very unhappy when they realize how bloody this character’s hands are.
  • Traffics With Dark Powers: 20 CP: Very Frequently (15 CP), Extreme (+5 CP). Anyone who practices this kind of magic is twisted! Shun, pelt with offal and road apples, try to push out of town!
  • Touched By Gods: 20 PC: Very Frequently (15 CP), Extreme (+5 CP). Praise be! The Godtouched is here! Miracles! We need miracles! SAVE MY BABIES!

Puppy Killer seems a little silly, especially in a setting where almost everyone has at some point or another had to butcher and dress animals for food, but… some things go too far!

In this case it could be paired with Material Casting (puppies!), to represent that 1. the character needs to sacrifice puppies to enact magic, and 2. this disgusts people.

Traffics With Dark Powers… everyone knows the caster is a foul user of magic, conveying with evil beings. We’d kill him, but we know there’s a death curse that will destroy us, so we’ll treat him such that he won’t have cause enough to call down his masters, but will still decide to leave town!

Of course, the adept knows none of this is true, but until gaining what the adept came here to find, the adept will not leave. There won’t be a better reception elsewhere, after all.

Not all Negative Reputations are about bad things. Having a Godtouched character is a wondrous boon to the populace, you can go to them any time to ask for help. They have to help, the gods tell them to.

It perhaps isn’t as harsh as being shunned and reviled, but I can imagine being frequently faced with desperate people who need help, that you are supposed to help, could prove exhausting.


The character must have something regularly. This is most often a material or item, but can include activities.

  • Prayerbound: 10 CP: Easy to Obtain (5 CP), Damage (+10 CP, “2d6”), Hourly (-5, 1 hour). Every hour the character fails to spend 5 minutes dedicated to prayer, the character’s caster level is reduced by 1. Recovery requires five minutes prayer per missed hour.
  • Bloodmage: Difficult to Obtain (10 CP), Damage (+20 CP, loss of all tradition casting), Time (-10, 6 hours). A bloodmage must shed at lest 1d6 of another sentient’s blood every 6 hours or lose the use of their magic. They can choose to shed their own blood, but the damage will not heal via magic, only naturally.

The complications require the adepts to perform some actions on a regular basis, rather than ingest some material or another as is often the case with Dependence. Unlike Psychological Limitations these are not mental compulsions, but a consequence of their power.

Prayerbound is mildly inconvenient overall, though failing to keep on their prayer duties will reduce their power gradually until they can catch up. Assuming the character can only reduce the caster level to 0 (safe assumption) there is a limit to how much time would be needed to recover.

I admit, I like the idea of a prayerbound character needing to spend a few days praying to catch up… but that’s not quite in line with the rules for Dependence.

Bloodmage, on the other hand, is binary. I assigned it a +20 CP value because I reckon that’s where “instant shutoff” happens. I considered the substance “difficult to obtain”: despite combat being a common thing, getting into three or four fights a day gets pretty hazardous.

Physical Complication

Physical Complications are physical problems that interfere with a character’s capabilities. They are conditions that generally cannot be overcome by will power.

  • Mimir’s Price: 20 CP: Frequent (10 CP), Greatly Impairing (+10 CP, penalty to ranged attacks and no vision on one side, penalty to Perception checks). Odin sacrificed an eye to Mimir to gain wisdom and knowledge… the price must be paid.

In a D&D-based game I’d probably reduce the value of Mimir’s Price by half, there doesn’t seem to be much effect in-game for losing an eye.

Note on Physical and Psychological Complications

Normally something that a character can but will not do is a Psychological Compulsion. However, mental complications that simply cannot be overcome might be better modeled as a Physical Complication. An example from the book is “No Knowledge of Earth Culture”. The character as no frame of reference and no way to simply will themselves to understand. They can eventually learn (i.e. buy off the complication), but until they do they will be stuck.

Truthbound above might have been better modeled as a Physical Complication. I had in mind that the character was utterly unable to mislead, deceive, or otherwise let people believe something known to be false. This would change the point value determination from “how much effect does this have on the character’s actions?” to “how much does it screw up the character’s effectiveness?” That is, it wouldn’t measure how hard it is for the character to deceive, but how bad it would be to have the character trying to take part in a situation.

Carrot Ironfoundersson, Captain of the Ankh-Morpork Watch, is almost Truthbound. He is utterly unable to lie, and can’t even hide when he hears others lie… but there have been times he was able to cause others to understand the wrong thing despite telling the truth.

“If you don’t answer us, I will be forced to follow the orders I was given, to the letter. If it helps, I will be very ashamed of myself.”

Vimes had seen people bluff while playing cards, this was the first time he’d seen it done with an empty hand.

[Before entering the building, Vimes had ordered Carrot, if the person they went to question refused to cooperate, to walk away peacefully.]

Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett (if I recall correctly)

Social Complication

Social Complication is basically the abstract complication that others such as Distinctive Features, Negative Reputation, and Hunted are built on. It represents things that make it more difficult for the character to interact with society.

  • Hidden Master: 10 CP: Infrequently (5 CP), Major (+5 CP). The character is not known to be an adept, and isn’t often in a situation where it could be revealed… but if it ever does become known the character is subject to major consequences.
  • Disciple of the Devil: 20 CP: Frequently (20 CP), Severe (+10 CP). The character dealt with the devil and is now bound to obey their soulbound liege. This puts the character at great risk, being coerced into dangerous situations and missions, and balking could cause the powers to be withdrawn.
    • This could be joined by other drawbacks, such as Hellish Miasma (Distinctive Features, above), an inability to enter holy ground (Physical Limitation, not described), or Unholy Flesh (Susceptibility, below).


The character is subject to damage (or other effects) most characters and creatures would not be.

  • Unholy Flesh: 10 CP: Uncommon (5 CP), Instant (+0), Damage (+5 CP, 2d6). Holy water burns unholy flesh.
  • Fey-Blooded: 20 CP: Very Common (15 CP, iron or steel), Time (-5, 5 Minutes), Effect (+10, 3d6)

Holy water isn’t really rare, but it’s not likely to be applied… normally. However, there are situations where characters could expect to come into contact with it — especially holy rituals, or to test for unholy flesh, to seek out demons and the like trying to entire holy grounds.

Most people take no harm from it, but someone steeped in hellish power could find it burns most unpleasantly.

A Fey-Blooded adept is closely bound to the fey, being a changeling or someone otherwise long-exposed to their magic, and has become much as they are. In this case it might be something like every five minutes they are in contact with iron or steel, they lose some of their power (and if it goes long enough, their ability to use magic could be destroyed). I used a similar complication in a Hero campaign years ago that had a MAGIC characteristic similar the BODY, and a MANA score similar to STUN. When a character with this susceptibility (at a lower damage rate, here I’m demonstrating a point) lost all their MANA, they started losing MAGIC… and if that ran out, their magic died.


Where Susceptibility means a character takes damage from things others don’t, Vulnerability means a character takes more damage than normal from things that normal cause damage.

  • Fey-Touched: 10 CP: Common (10 CP, iron and steel weapons), x1.5 damage (+0). The character is not as susceptible to iron-based damage as a Fey-Blooded character, but still takes extra damage when struck but such weapons and is probably uncomfortable around iron and steel.

Closing Comments

I’m not going to get into the remaining complications tonight, but I think they’re generally less likely to come up anyway.

It looks to me like 10 CP/20 CP actually are good spots for new Ultimate Spheres of Power drawbacks. They’re not perfect and I’m sure I would need to tweak them a little bit to fit perfectly, but all in all I’m pretty happy with these as a starting point.

And if I want, I could create many, many more.

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