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Old 12-30-2017, 05:54 AM   #1
johndallman
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Default [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Cannot Learn

Cannot Learn [-30] is a mental disadvantage that is theoretically mundane, but implausible for humans. It's most appropriate for automata, such as robots or golems, which have minds that can't absorb new information, or truly mindless undead. It appeared at 3e, but is more tightly defined at 4e.

You cannot add or improve familiarities, techniques, skills, mental advantages, DX or IQ. You are stuck with your initial traits. You can still improve ST or HT, or add physical advantages, with the GM's permission. If you have Modular Abilities, you can acquire the use of skills that way, on a temporary basis, which could represent various kinds of limited AI.

There seems to be scope for limited versions of this disadvantage. One obvious one is that you cannot learn by yourself, but you can be upgraded by someone else, with a better computer, a less restrictive religious scroll, or whatever's appropriate. Limitations that allowed very limited learning ("I'll have to erase my familiarity with operating this ship's life support systems to remove my penalty to repair your blaster [y/n]?") also make sense, but could easily become cheesy. Some societies might consider things that cannot learn not to have "human" rights, but to be mere property.

Cannot Learn shows up in GURPS books on low-grade zombies, gargoyles, and similar monstrous things. Madness Dossier has ways to inflict it, and Powers: The Weird has AIs with it. Back to School clarifies details, and Ultra-Tech has more AIs. Zombies has lots of extra details on this disadvantage and its effects on your servitors.

I've never seen this disadvantage in use, because everything I've played involving AIs has been Transhuman Space. How have you used it?
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Old 12-30-2017, 07:56 AM   #2
Railstar
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Cannot Learn

Having a fondness for playing necromancers means it comes up for me. Cannot Learn is the difference between the mindless zombie who will always need micromanagement, and the trainable Improved Zombie who can develop sophisticated routines based around complex or extended decision trees, with “if X then Y” processes determined by their mental skills.

As I’ve used it, ‘standard’ skeletons or golems with Cannot Learn will never be more than they are when you create them. The failings they have will always be there. The problems of Automatons cannot be circumvented by the minion gradually learning “when I am given instruction A I should go about it through B, C & D, or E under conditions F.” Instead they stay literal-minded forever. Any increased efficiency comes from the master learning to give better orders, not the minion gaining a better understanding of what those orders mean.

One research project for my necromancer is creating more sophisticated undead servitors, not by giving them a more powerful template, but by using the absence of Cannot Learn on Improved Zombies to have them slowly start buying off certain limitations of the Automaton meta-trait (I assume normally it can’t be bought off, but that is why this is the subject of a necromancer’s research). For instance, they may replace Low Empathy with Callous & Oblivious, or buying down Incurious, becoming more able to interpret orders.

This might eventually backfire, if they start buying down Slave Mentality and become more difficult to control, but it is an acceptable risk in the name of science. The motivation isn’t entirely about efficiency anyway.
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Old 12-30-2017, 01:20 PM   #3
Phil Masters
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Cannot Learn

It’s obviously not something that many PCs are going to take, and as a rule, as a GM, if I’m creating stats for disposable automaton NPCs, I’m not going to bother writing stuff like that down. But I can see that PCs with idiot automatons working for them that need full stats because of the Ally rules will use this sometimes.

(So yep, I typed it when statting up the servitor undead in DF #9.)
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Old 12-30-2017, 02:30 PM   #4
RogerBW
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Cannot Learn

Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
There seems to be scope for limited versions of this disadvantage. One obvious one is that you cannot learn by yourself, but you can be upgraded by someone else, with a better computer, a less restrictive religious scroll, or whatever's appropriate.
I think it's too late for that; it would be perfectly legitimate to stat up a simplistic guard-bot or zombie with full-value Cannot Learn, and then upgrade it. The description only states that the character cannot spend earned character points on certain classes of ability, not that changes can't be made by other means.

(Personally I would be inclined to list buying off mental disadvantages alongside buying new mental advantages.)
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Old 12-31-2017, 07:38 AM   #5
malloyd
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Cannot Learn

I think the central problem with Cannot Learn is that it's described in terms of limiting future point spending in Basic. That's a just a set of Taboo Traits, worth 0 points. In order to qualify as a -30 point disadvantage it has to restrict you in play somehow, but the description doesn't provide any clues to how it would, being confined entirely to the zero point character advancement stuff. That gap leads to radically different interpretations that cause it to range from "free points" to "unplayble character" depending on what the GM guesses the effects are "supposed" to be.
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Old 12-31-2017, 07:53 AM   #6
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Cannot Learn

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Originally Posted by malloyd View Post
I think the central problem with Cannot Learn is that it's described in terms of limiting future point spending in Basic. That's a just a set of Taboo Traits, worth 0 points. In order to qualify as a -30 point disadvantage it has to restrict you in play somehow, but the description doesn't provide any clues to how it would, being confined entirely to the zero point character advancement stuff. That gap leads to radically different interpretations that cause it to range from "free points" to "unplayble character" depending on what the GM guesses the effects are "supposed" to be.
Limiting a character's potential for future growth is a legitimate disadvantage, otherwise Terminal wouldn't be in there.
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Old 12-31-2017, 11:04 AM   #7
Bruno
 
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the week: Cannot Learn

Terminally ill "limits your potential for future growth" by limiting your future. It takes your character away from you. That's not the same thing as Cannot Learn at all.

Cannot Learn is more than your average Taboo Trait, regardless of how you draw the line, it's clearly a big swathe of things forbidden to you that would be desirable to acquire, even after character creation. Unlike Taboo Trait, you can be trained (spend points on) something before play starts, you just can't afterwards. But it's not the same as "Can't spend points on anything as you can still buy physical advantages, attributes, etc.

I'm not convinced it's worth -30 points, but I'm not convinced it's not worth -30 points.

It's notable that Taboo Trait isn't an absolute - if you have Taboo Trait - Mental Instability because you're a bioroid pod person, you aren't immune to going crazy in play, and you're not even totally prevented from starting with "mental instability" disadvantages, as long as they're defined as coming from "post decanting" trauma. Taboo Trait isn't worth points in part because it's such a "soft" trait.
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