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Old 09-26-2017, 07:45 AM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Absent-Mindedness and Short Attention Span

Absent-Mindedness is a 15-point mundane Mental disadvantage. It's kind of a self-control problem, although it doesn't have a self-control roll. Rather, you have trouble paying attention to anything except whatever you're currently interested, in the manner of clichéd eccentric geniuses.

You get -5 to all IQ rolls and IQ-based skill rolls that aren't part of your current interest, which will handicap you severely in dealing with anything else. If there is nothing interesting to do, you'll come up with something within a few minutes, and while you're thinking that up, you also have -5 to Perception rolls to notice anything subtler than injuries. To stay focussed on something that isn't interesting and engaging, you need to make a Will-5 roll every five minutes. You also tend to forget routine things, like paying bills or changing batteries; you get an IQ-2 roll to avoid this when it matters.

Combining this with Short Attention Span means you aren't going to manage to do or learn anything difficult. That disadvantage is also mental and Mundane, worth -10 for a 12- self-control roll. It requires you to succeed in a self-control roll to succeed in any long task, irrespective of how interesting it is. The GM might grant you a bonus for really important things. The difference between these disadvantages is that Absent-Minded characters have no trouble sticking to an interesting task, but can't cope with boring ones, and have several ways of distracting themselves. Short Attention Span just means any lengthy task is a problem.

Neither of these disadvantages was in GURPS 1e, but they are in 3e with almost identical wording to 4e. I suspect Absent-Mindedness may have appeared in the first edition of Horror, but I don't have that book any more. 3e Compendium I contains a precursor to the 4e self-control rolls, and specifically calls out Absent-Mindedness as not being appropriate for that mechanism since it doesn't involve a choice by the character.

The way Absent-Mindedness is written seems to assume above-average IQ to avoid it being absolutely crippling (think about what it would be like with IQ 10). If we guess that it assumes about IQ 14, which was the start of being really bright under 3e, and all those -5 penalties give it an effective roll of 9-, then you could make Absent-Mindedness a -10 disadvantage with a self-control roll of 12-, if you really wanted. That brings the 9- roll out at -15, a 15- roll at -5, and a 6- roll at -20. The self-control roll would replace all the rolls in the disadvantage RAW, and wouldn't take the -5 or -2 penalties.

Absent-Mindedness is a fairly common option on templates for scientists, sages and magicians, and both disadvantages can be used for modelling creatures that don't concentrate well, such as sparrials, Banestorm kobalds, noble swashbucklers in DF, or the fairies of Alchemical Baroque. Bio-Tech has a mitigator for both, in the form of TL8+ "smart drugs" and it, High-Tech and Horror point out that these conditions can be caused by psychiatric medicines. Absent-Mindedness is a really bad disadvantage if you need to masquerade as a resident of a different one of the Infinite Worlds, and there are quirk-level versions of both in Power-Ups 6. They can be a result of crippling in Psionic Powers, one of the plagues in Reign of Steel or a spell casting critical failure in Thaumatology. They are quite unhelpful to learning and teaching in Back to School, but Ultra-Tech has brain implants that can help.

I've never used either disadvantage, as player or GM. As a player, they don't seem like much fun, since players lose or confuse enough information already, without the characters joining in. As a GM, I don't seem to have ever thought of them as disadvantages for NPCs, but I suspect my players would get bored with them quite fast.

What have you done with these disadvantages?
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