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Old 07-26-2019, 03:27 AM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Mundane Background

Mundane Background [-10] is a mundane mental disadvantage. It is only available in game settings that have magic, or other supernatural or weird elements, and is the disadvantage of being entirely unaware of those things, and lacking even the most basic knowledge of how to deal with them. I believe it first appeared in Illuminati University (aka IOU) for GURPS 3e.

At character generation, you can only have mundane skills and equipment. Spells and other magical skills, cinematic skills, and skills such as Hidden Lore and Occultism were not available in your background. You can have advantages that are not mundane, but you have no idea how to use them, nor any skills related to them, and you are unaware of them. Before you can learn non-mundane skills, or learn how to use non-mundane advantages, you must buy off this disadvantage.

In a world with widely known supernatural or weird abilities, this disadvantage is a bit implausible, and might attract reaction penalties like some form of Social Stigma (Uneducated). It seems to be mostly useful in settings where the supernatural isnít widely known, but definitely exists. Buying it off in instalments seems practical, via Aspected limitations, or a self-control roll.

Mundane Background isnít mentioned in many GURPS supplements. Discworld and Dungeon Fantasy are both examples of games where it makes no sense. Fantasy gives it to settled halflings and cross-timers investigating Roma Arcana, and makes it an option for Barbarians; itís a key feature of games that use Portal Realms. Infinite Worlds points out that most inhabitants of no-mana worlds have this disadvantage, while Psis points out that itís compatible with Anti-Psi abilities used at default.

I've never seen this disadvantage used, or even wanted. Has it been fun in your games?
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Old 07-26-2019, 01:58 PM   #2
RogerBW's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: near London, UK
Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Mundane Background

I've run a couple of games about the discovery of magic/psi, but each time I've used point-pool systems: X points that can only be spent on weird powers, Y points that can go on anything. (I got this idea from John originally; I think the goal of this particular division is to prevent people from going all-out on things like Wealth or Status that may well be useful but aren't really what the campaign is about.)

But even then, if the campaign is about the discovery of these things, that character's first earned XP are going to have to go into buying it off, so in effect it's a loan Ė albeit one which provokes some amusing role-playing. Certainly I could picture the pilot episode in which the four new lab-rat psis join forces with a police detective to solve a crime, the detective doesn't believe in any of this weird stuff but they seem to be getting the right answers, and then he becomes a series regular. But again, that's the first thing to buy off.

Having this as a long-term disad would really demand something like IOU, where it can be repeatedly played for laughs.
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Old 07-27-2019, 12:28 AM   #3
Join Date: Apr 2005
Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Mundane Background

I had great fun playing a character with Mundane Background and Delusion (Supernatural does not exist) in an "Occult Investigators" campaign.

It was a fun roleplaying exercise trying to rationalize the inexplicable and otherwise acting like that my character was the only sane person in the party. Less fun was putting aside all my savvy roleplaying gamer skills and having my character do the stupid things that you see soon-to-be-screaming- victims do in the first reel of any given spatter film. Only GM forbearance kept my character alive.

Of necessity, over time you almost have to buy off the disadvantage in any campaign where weird stuff happens all the time. Alternately, it gets turned into some disadvantageous form of Magic/Psi resistance, on the assumption that the character's bloody-minded refusal to accept the supernatural as fact eventually warps reality around him.

If you want to get darker, you have to assume that the character clings to sanity by desperately trying to prove that it's the world that has gone crazy, not him. Mundane Background turns into some sort of mental disad with equal cost, like Delusion (This is all a dream) or Obsession (Prove that psi/magic/whatever has a valid scientific basis).

Last edited by Pursuivant; 07-27-2019 at 12:35 AM.
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Old 07-27-2019, 02:04 AM   #4
David Johnston2
Join Date: Dec 2007
Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Mundane Background

It's most useful as a trait for NPCs to cover the strange unwillingness of humans in wainscot settings to figure out the things that happen right in front of them.
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Old 08-18-2019, 12:17 AM   #5
Join Date: Apr 2005
Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Mundane Background

I recently used Mundane Background to represent a strange alien race for a SF campaign. I revised it to allow exotic or supernatural traits or "weird" skills which are appropriate to the species and its culture, while preventing characters from having any trait which implied knowledge of, or ability to understand, aliens or weird technology. E.g., skills like exo-planet specializations of Biology or Geology, and advantages like Language Ability or Xenoadaptability.

For really weird aliens, I created this special enhancement:

Alien or Utterly Alien (+50% or +100%): You donít just come from a mundane background, but an alien one. For +50%, you canít have any ďnormalĒ advantages, disadvantages, perks, quirks, skills, or spells as compared to what is normal for the campaign, and you must make an IQ roll to understand basic concepts that ďnormalĒ people take for granted, such as basic cultural or technological concepts, typical emotions, and ordinary biological functions.

For +100%, you are utterly alien. Not only are you forbidden from having normal traits, you donít understand concepts that even typical ďaliensĒ understand, such as civilization, death, intelligence, life, matter, physical laws, technology, or the passage of time. Even if you do eventually grasp these concepts, your subsequent behavior is still inexplicably alien. For example, a god-like spirit entity might have trouble understanding that corporeal life exists, that it can be sapient, that it can die, and that it can only experience time in a linear fashion. Once it grasps these facts, however, it might begin to experiment on corporeal life forms in the same way that a scientist might consider a new species of virus, perhaps by exposing a few billion specimens to intense doses of cosmic radiation.
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disadvantage of the week, mundane background

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