Disabilities and Mental Illness as Character Traits


  • Pitcrew

    I see this chat in Gray Harbor and decided it needs its own dang thread.

    As I've said many times here, this kinda this is my jam. I'm not out to fetishize, I know that much. I always chose to play a disabled character when I think it'd just be an interesting addition to the overall tapestry of a roster of characters. It's a challenge to myself in one way. I always want to know if I can 'do it right'.

    And I always hope that storytellers I encounter see it as a fun or interesting challenge too. I worry about that a lot. A LOT.

    I don't typically play with mental illnesses anymore. If I do, I go with a lighter touch. A depressed character can be a downer. PTSD with a heavy hand can be showy and insulting. OCD is more than being a neat freak and it isn't funny, it's miserable to sufferers.

    That said, I am experimenting with a character with PTSD after an extended prison stay. In his case, I don't feel right having the long prison stay not affect him in some way and my understanding of PTSD has expanded in my years roleplaying. I feel comfortable dipping my toe in.

    But, like I said elsewhere, I try very hard to approach these traits with respect. I don't always ace it, I know but my heart is in the right place.



  • If I have a problem with someone's portrayal of something I ask them directly what their intentions are. More often than not, they'll have no idea that their portrayal came off as insensitive.

    The exception being the ones that are insanely, grossly, obviously offensive for the sake of caricature. I ran into a skeezy black crack-whore named 'LaQueefa' on a game for instance. -Fuck that shit-. If staff won't remove that kind of shit from the grid I won't play there. (And I don't anymore.)



  • Play what you want how you want, just do so with good intentions.

    The moment you start justifying your character concepts based on your gender, race, orientations, RL diagnoses, or religion, you're setting yourself up for being told what you cannot play.

    Be creative. Have fun. If you're a heterosexual white woman who was raised Christian and wanna play a biracial male bisexual hockey player with PTSD who dabbles in Gardnerian Witchcraft? Swing for the bleachers.

    Fiction is about writing people you are not.


  • Pitcrew

    I feel like it comes down to respect.

    I'm not quite sure how to quantify 'respect' though. If anyone has words here I would love to take them.

    I know what respect ISN'T when I see it better. Like if someone uses their character's disability or mental illness as an excuse to do shitty things, that isn't respect. Another is if they use it as the only defining characteristic for their character, and there isn't anything deeper going on.

    Also if they joke about the disability or mental illness in ooc - "omg my character is soooo <insert thing here> hahahaha," then they aren't being respectful either.



  • I also don't feel comfortable when someone has a disability for their character and they always have an 'escape' written in (is wheelchair bound, but can walk sometimes, is blind, but can see shapes and light now and then... etc.) that always comes into play when it's... convenient.

    The blind character somehow has a high Alertness and for 'visual' type Alertness rolls (because I could see it being factored as a sound/smell thing!) they explain it as 'oh it's that one time they can see something!' or for that wheelchair bound char, in a combat scene or something, they're able to walk! They fight for that scene and go back to their wheelchair after (or worse: crumple to the ground and need everyone's help for an extra-dramatic post-fight scene).

    Like I see these characters sometimes where the disability is a 'prop' for social RP and it's just handwaved away during plot/combat scenes. That's why I get uncomfortable about the rise in use. When you have a disability, it is always there. And I know 'fun' comes into play, too, but... it's almost insulting that it's just cast aside when it's convenient and brought back into play when it's fun again.

    But I guess that plays into what @silverfox said: to me, the people doing things that way aren't being respectful.



  • @Auspice said in Disabilities and Mental Illness as Character Traits:

    I also don't feel comfortable when someone has a disability for their character and they always have an 'escape' written in (is wheelchair bound, but can walk sometimes, is blind, but can see shapes and light now and then... etc.) that always comes into play when it's... convenient.

    I hate that shit, mostly because the player took extra freebie points for being blind, but then doesn't roleplay it. Or, they took the points for taking some kind of BLIND flaw only to negate it with cybernetics.

    It's like: "Dude, BLIND means CANNOT SEE. If your guy has cybernetic eyes, they can see, and therefore are no longer BLIND. If you can barely hear and then get a hearing aid or cochlear implants, the -4 to awareness checks doesn't apply."

    But yes, I agree. Disabled but not is a peeve. It doesn't make me uncomfortable, I just think it's stupid, metagamey, and usually tied to jerking around with a character sheet.


  • Admin

    @Auspice The thing is though there are legitimate fantasy tropes based on disabilities that are overcome. The blind archer, old and frail martial artist, slow-witted but massive warrior are pretty standard ideas.



  • @Arkandel said in Disabilities and Mental Illness as Character Traits:

    @Auspice The thing is though there are legitimate fantasy tropes based on disabilities that are overcome. The blind archer, old and frail martial artist, slow-witted but massive warrior are pretty standard ideas.

    Yes, but they work around the disability.
    The disability isn't just magically suspended put of convenience.

    The blind archer still has a handicap and someone utilizing a lot of noise can overcome him (some of Daredevil's enemies in Marvel have done exactly this and he is so far beyond mortal Ken, but he still has limitations!).



  • @Ghost I agree 100% with the point of the post.

    THAT SAID, there is a game design stupid there, too, in not having a reasonable continuum of options there in many cases. WoD being a prime example. There's not really 'everybody is a blur without your glasses and forget becoming a sniper' (which is a notable impediment in the game world) or similar options, there's only 'totally normal vision' or 'LIGHT ALL THE WAY OUT'.

    I try not to quibble too hard about lack of realism, but that's a fairly substantial design issue.

    In some instances you can probably do something where you have an equipment item that helps ameliorate the penalty somewhat in WoD. However, you gotta be prepared to lose that thing and deal with the full penalty. (Ex: a hit to the head knocks the implants offline or similar.)

    ETA: I think the lack of these reasonable levels in the middle is where some of the less bad-intentioned 'ignore it' conditionals may stem from. Essentially, the system doesn't recognize what they're trying to do.



  • V5 did a great job in handling this.

    (Wut, Ghost is gonna V5 fanboy again? Yes.)

    One of the big problems with WoD (especially oWoD) is the smorgasbord of mental, physical, and social flaws. When you pick a flaw, you get extra xp to build your character with. One really bad WoD player habit (and by really bad I mean it's damn near endemic) is taking a flaw for the extra XP, and then either choosing one that they can either get the extra points for with relatively low risk of it coming into play OR roleplaying around it (like it doesn't exist, that the negatives are mitigated, or simply not pointing out when they have a -2 dice penalty unless the ST remembers it).

    Stuff like:

    • HATRED: INUIT in a game that takes place in Brazil.
    • MISSING LIMB but then has Blade Runner leg that they claim doesnt impede them at all.
    • MPD triggered by being in the presence of a 56 (not 55, not 57) year old dwarf holding a Chihuahua in one hand and a bottle of Strawberry Fanta in the other. Otherwise they're normal. Thanks for the extra XP!

    V5 addressed this in ways by simply referring to these things as an existing condition that will always add difficulty/dice penalty to a scene. You see this really well in the Malkavian clan flaw section, where a player cannot detail the exact terms and conditions of how and when they're affected, but their mental state will often manifest as a base difficulty at nearly all times to perception.

    I'm getting off topic with mechanics, though. This thread was more about the spirit of whether or not it's okay to role play disabilities, to which I still say that everyone should feel welcome to RP whatever the fuck they want so long as they're being respectful and not using said disability to cheeseball the rules for xp bonuses.



  • @Ghost said in Disabilities and Mental Illness as Character Traits:

    holding a Chihuahua in one hand and a bottle of Strawberry Fanta in the other.

    Gonna be honest. A Chihuahua holder drinking strawberry fanta drops my drawbridge everytime, being 56 is just insult to injury.



  • @Lotherio said in Disabilities and Mental Illness as Character Traits:

    @Ghost said in Disabilities and Mental Illness as Character Traits:

    holding a Chihuahua in one hand and a bottle of Strawberry Fanta in the other.

    Gonna be honest. A Chihuahua holder drinking strawberry fanta drops my drawbridge everytime, being 56 is just insult to injury.

    Yeah, definitely could be a Bond villain concept.


  • Pitcrew

    @Ghost

    Welcome to 'full Sluagh takes Commanding Voice to not be restricted to speaking softly and suffering the -2 penalty' - land.


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