Player Options: Flaws and Merits is a 16 page pdf product from Alea Publishing Group by author Joshua Raynack. This product provides elegant mechanics for giving your player characters certain flaws and merits, thereby combining roleplaying and mechanics in a useful little system for enhancing your player character's options. This product is stand-alone and self-contained, and is written for the 4e GSL system.
Player Options: Flaws and Merits comes as a neatly presented pdf file. The cover illustration is good, though perhaps not entirely related to the product content. No bookmarks or a table of contents are included, but it should still be fairly easy to navigate the pdf. The interior of the pdf contains some striking and impressive art by artists N.C.Wyeth, Sade and Joshua Raynack. Of the 16 pages of the pdf, 14 are devoted to content, offering good value for money. Writing and editing is good, and the new mechanics are well defined and well described. Flaw and merit descriptions are straight to the point and easy to understand. Layout is also very impressive. Overall, this pdf shows all the characteristics of a professional product and indeed it is.
I'm generally a fan of combining the mechanics of the game and roleplaying characteristics all in one. It has, of course, its up and down sides. On the up side, it gives you a neat system of roleplaying your character within certain clearly defined rules, and those rules have a certain in-game impact. On the down side, this kind of thing is often quite stringent, and doesn't provide a lot of flexibility in escaping the rules. That depends on how a system is written, of course, but most I've seen through the years in different gaming system don't escape this very well. Characters by their very nature change their persona as time goes by - you can hardly expect that 1st level novice to be the same as the 30th level god-killing champion.
Which brings me to Player Options: Flaws and Merits. This product details a flaws and merits system which is essentially based on the feat system. Whenever you would gain a feat, you can take a flaw (to a maximum of 2) and given the nature of flaws, you can also take either a feat to offset the flaw or a merit, which is essentially a special kind of feat. The system balances itself very well, offering roleplaying opportunities in both flaws and merits as well as good mechanical balance. The system is designed to offer flaws and merits to specific character roles - so a striker will have different flaws and merits to a controller, for example. There's impressive variety here, which means you can place mechanical emphasis on pretty much any character roleplaying trait.
I think for the most part this system works well. Unlike other systems that are largely on or off, this system has an additional mechanic called 'going against the grain'. Essentially it means you can choose not to suffer from your flaw should you choose to do so. In this way, the mechanics effectively allow you unlimited roleplaying freedom when it comes from your flaw. Does your nervous character want to show some backbone - it's possible every once in a while where your roleplaying dictates it. With 52 flaws and 28 merits to choose from, you gave great flexibility in designing a character, working through the flaws, and even overcoming them. This was the only part of the system I didn't agree with - when you overcome the flaw you also lose the associated feat or merit. I would've thought that if you'd gained a skill, you would be able to keep it. Just because you overcome sort of phobia it doesn't mean you forget to do something like be a natural leader of a fast healer.
The last few pages of the pdf are devoted to providing flaw and merit combinations for all character classes, which provides a very useful framework starting point for using this product. Overall, I think this is a welcome product for the 4e GSL system. Now that the product for the 4e GSL are moving away from races and monsters, publishers are starting to fiddle and add to the rules with new and useful additions. Flaws and Merits will make a good addition to your game, and it will certainly encourage roleplaying. It's a very well presented pdf, with good and useful material that's well worth a look at.