When an owner asks for a character's strength and a weakness, this is not a throwaway request. It's not there to fill in space. They are serious categories that need lots of consideration from the person applying to that rpg.
I know that I measure a character's worth by how the author replies to strengths and weaknesses. As an rpg owner or fellow player, I pay extra attention to this because it tells me exactly how the character will be played. Let me tell you how I read Strengths and Weaknesses.
Cadence Drew and the Case of the Mystery Strength
It goes without saying that all powerful characters are a pain in the ass. They are a huge no-no and warnings against this can be found in every rpg. The following most annoying mistake is not defining the strength in a reasonable way... or at all. If Gary Stu is the perfect killing machine and leaves it at that, I have no idea what he does. Could be anything. He's left a lot open for himself to be able to do. Same with Mary Sue saying she's a witch. Sure, we all have a general idea of what witches can do but Mary Sue has allowed herself the ability to do whatever she likes. Gary Stu has a mysterious past and his powers are just as shadowy. He's likely to pull any magic out of his ass just to come out on top. Being vague and secretive about ones strengths is being a poor sport.
I think part of the temptation in doing this comes from movies, books and TV. While it's interesting to watch a cryptic or aloof character and wonder what they will do next, that translates poorly into an rpg. RPGs aren't centered around one person. Everyone has their own story to tell and swooping in with some hidden or omitted strength that solves a problem ignores that. And let me tell you, in an rpg the mindset of other authors is usually on the arc of their own characters. They could care less about someone elses arc and won't take the time to watch the big reveal of the mystery character. What's the reveal anyway? Mary Sue and Gary Stu are better at everything. We already knew that. That's not a shocker at all.
No such thing as an Excusable Strength
Ever heard someone say, "Well I said I could do that in my bio." Sometimes it's not even said but implied. The truth is, it's the worst excuse for bad behavior in an rpg. Sure, if an author says in their bio that they can read minds, how responsibly will they use that power? You can never know how someone will use that talent or gift until you see it in the rpg. You have to hope they won't read your mind and guess what you are up to and stop you before you can carry it out.
When someone points out that they claimed that strength, it's not a valid excuse to wreck a story because of that strength. While you may have read in the bio that someone is a witch, there is no way to predict that they would use their magical powers to levitate your character above a dangerous situation to save you. If someone uses this excuse on you, remind them that the rpg is based on cooperation and you need some in order to complete your story. You are entitled to a plot and it's not fair if it's interrupted by someone who feels they are entitled to tout their strengths around in your face.
Wasting a Weakness
I worry when a weakness is glossed over or downplayed. Even if a strength is well defined, a mismatched weakness can throw everything off balance. Mary Sue may be an animagus but so what if her weakness is being allergic to cinnamon. A vampire has super strength and can't die easily but he can't sing. Mary Sue is still a strong animagus and the vampire is still has super strength. How much do these weaknesses really slow them down? Mary Sue can just get an allergy shot and a karaoke contest to the death isn't likely to happen to the vampire.
Choosing a weakness that can never happen during the course of an rpg is the lamest thing one can do. The author thinks they are being clever by doing this but it effectively crosses out a weakness and only leaves a strength. Ex:
- Afraid of oceans while living in a desert.
- Fears an abusive father who won't be showing up in the rpg.
- Scared of thunderstorms and lives on a spaceship.
- Allergic to pizza sauce while the character is a warrior cat in the forest.
- Dying. Don't get me started on rpgs that make rules about characters not being able to kill one another and Mary Sues who say that killing them is a weakness. For fuck's sake, it won't be happening if it's against the rules!!!!11!!!!
Beware of JAWs
A JAW is a job application weakness. This is a weakness that is worded in such a way that it really comes across as a strength. Say that a potential employer asks what you consider your flaws to be and you tell them, "I'm a perfectionist. I just want everything to work so well that I will nitpick at a project until it's successful." Authors who create weaknesses like these are scary:
- She is afraid of losing those she loves so she's fiercely loyal.
- He speaks his mind no matter what the cost.
- She tries to befriend everyone she meets.
- Men and women both want to get into his pants and he just wants to please everyone.
- She's always running late because people on the street beg her for her autograph.
- He's so smart and rich that people expect him to be stuck up.
God Moding Strengths and Weaknesses
This is when an author tells you how you should look at their character. This is such a gray area that I'm not sure what is right and wrong but I can tell you how I feel when I see certain things.
I'm more likely to respect this if the author is a member of the rpg staff or the character is some sort of authority to my character. Beyond that, if this character is an equal to mine, I evaluate how this demand/request effects my character.
It's human nature to ignore someone who tells you that you have to look up to them. Too many times I see Mary Sues who will actually say, "She's so gorgeous that guys want to sleep with her and girls want to be her." Fuck that! I'm not going along with her story at all if she's going to be that way about it. If another author says of their character, "Most people think he's a big dork," I don't see anything wrong with going along with that. "Most people" indicates that I don't have to follow if I don't want to and if I do want to, I'm welcome to decide for myself if being a "dork" is good or bad. Invitations work better than commands.
These petty replies for strengths and weaknesses can also be found in categories like likes, dislikes and fears. Waffling answers, deliberately vague responses and lame distractions in these areas send up red flags that a character is lacking and an author doesn't really care about you unless your character is down on all fours like a human ottoman. Protect your own character and answer these categories intelligently and watch out for players who don't.