Features and Avoids

EDIT: Thoughtless original name edited out in the title, until I can come up with something better.

This has an unfortunate name collision with “Stars and Wishes”, which is another tool that I love, but please note that is not what I’m talking about in this thread.

The idea is that, in a long term campaign, you make a metagame vote for certain things to appear or not to appear in the game, by quickly annotating your character sheet.

Sometimes, in games, we take a high score / skill value / advantage, because we want that thing to feature prominently, and show off how awesome our character is compared to others with lesser ability.

Other times, we take such defensively: I want a high willpower because I dislike losing control of my character, or etc. We take “wealthy” because we don’t want to keep track of every penny. We’re trying to bar our characters from having that kind of problem.

The gameplay technique is simple. Put a star on your character sheet next to the things you want to show off (to let your PC “star” in the game), and an X next to things you want to avoid (to “bar” them from affecting you). The GM can then look for patterns in what the players want to have challenged or featured, and what they want to avoid.

Note that “bars” are different from Veils: veils are something you don’t want to see in the game at all. Bars are something you don’t want to affect your character.

See also “Play Unsafe” for some thoughts by John Wick on encouraging the former type of play, and discouraging the latter (super-summarizing John’s ideas, so probably misrepresenting him a bit here).


Interesting tool. Just want to note that it’s shares a name with the first flag of the Confederate States of America, and that’s going to be off-putting to alot of folks (myself included). Might be a good idea to switch up the name.


That’s fair. Any suggestions? I’ll try to think of some as well.

(On an unrelated note, I look forward to the day that particular fact becomes obscure trivia, rather than something I should have thought of right away. Mea culpa.

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I love this simple way of flagging. Very cool!

But IMHO it needs at least a third symbol: something for “Challenge me here”. In my understanding, Stars highlight the the vision of a character, which you do not want to see really challenged or broken.

But there are points, where you want some heavy pressure and play to find out what happens.


Good stuff. I think there’s definitely some real potential for good flagging here.

My only concern is that it might encourage the sort of play culture which expects the GM to do all the “work” and to please the players. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but for most games and most tables, I consider it an unfortunate and unhelpful approach to gaming. Start with the assumption that the GM is there to please and entertain the players, and you have a potential really fragile and difficult play culture.

Much better if it’s somehow flagged publicly, so everyone can see and react to it. There may be the seeds for a really interesting new game design in there…


Yes, I put these in my game Utopian Chronicles : black dots are a safety tool that say “this part of my Character can be challenged and I will like it”. Meaning if there is not, abstain.
All this here is cool for GMful play.


I mean, if it’s on the character sheet, isn’t that relatively public? I don’t see why a player-in-authorial-stance couldn’t use the information in the same way as a GM.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe an arrow, with the memory device that this means “test this with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”?

(I’m trying to keep all the symbols easily drawn by anyone and at least semi-recognizable from across a table.)

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Good idea! I was thinking about a crosshair symbol but then you need something different for the other one…

In the 3rd edition of Over the Edge, every character has a question mark trait, that you identify by just putting a big ? on the sheet next to it. This is a trait that the character wants to think of themselves as, but might not be. So a Generous PC is actually generous, but a Generous? PC might not be under some circumstances. A Heartless? assassin character highlights their struggle with the morality of killing, and might eventually decide to abandon that life. That sort of thing. It’s a flag for the GM and other players to challenge that trait, to tempt them to see if they’ll act differently in some situation. In my experience, it worked really well.


How about “stars,” “wishes,” and “clouds”?

Wishes are themes you want your character to grapple with.
Stars are things you want your character to excel in.
Clouds are things you want to have simply float on by.


Or maybe: “sails”, “sights”, and “storms”.

A “sail” is what gives your character lift. “My sails are ‘Inquiry’ and ‘Puppies’”
A “sight” is what you want to interact with. “I want class struggle and air-balloons in our story”
A “storm” is what you want to avoid. “I am fine with romance in the story, just not for my PC”

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An alternative suggestion:

If you want your character to kick ass or to be celebrated with regards to this trait, write an exclamation point.

Kung-fu !

If you want your character to be challenged with regards to this trait, write a question mark.

Honourable ?

If you want your character to just hold this trait passively (don’t challenge or celebrate), mark it with a little shield.

Something like this:



I like it, good ideas.

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A shield could just be a circle around the word.