Best Story Flaws?

Imagine you are starting a new saga. Your players are a bit overwhelmed by all the options for Virtues and Flaws: which Story Flaws would you recommend for those new to the game, as giving clear fun and lots of adventure opportunity? We are hoping to compile your advice in an Arcane Connection podcast!

If your players are new and struggling to understand things like mechanics and setting expectations, it might be a good idea to stick to Flaws that produce problems the players/characters can directly help each other with, and don't require a deep understanding of the setting to navigate. Black Sheep and Tormenting Master might be difficult Story Flaws for your first-ever magus, because they're highly personal, likely to involve setting social complexity around family dynamics and/or bumping against the Code, and are things you can't really make progress towards resolving by getting better at the primary game systems such as Hermetic magic. On the other hand, something like Enemies, Favors, or Plagued by Supernatural Entity all feature really clear-cut sources of conflict, and are typically situations where you can address those conflicts by getting better at Hermetic Magic and/or having the other players and their characters help you out in straightforward ways.

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Magical Animal Companion or Animal Companion. They draw characters into stories and don't seem punitive -- it's an NPC that the player wants to be hanging around.

If you need a Major Story Flaw: Favors. It pulls the character into stories but isn't usually urgent enough to annoy the player.

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My go-to Story Flaw for new players, especially young people who want to do a lot of fighting, is “Enemy: the four brothers of the guy you killed in a duel.” This allows the GM to throw brothers at the character one at a time. They get progressively tougher and have different approaches. Or, they can all jump the character at once, and it’s time to pick a new Flaw.

Favors is also great because it tells the player how to solve problems. You need something? Offer someone a favor. You’re confronted by bad guys? Offer to do them a favor. It’s a great roleplaying signpost.

The main thing I try to get across when explaining Story Flaws to new players is that Minor Flaws are Minor because they are sometimes helpful, but a Major Flaw is Major because it is (almost) never helpful.

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These are my least favourite flaws as a storyteller.

The mages will most likely get a familiar, this cuts away the story potential of the hunt for one as most people seem to take their magical pet as familiar (which makes sense).

I am absolutely uninspired by these flaws, ok the (magical) dog ran away and you gotta find it, start making hunt rolls.

My favourites are vision, mentor and diabolical past.

Mentor lets me help the new players both in game with little helpful nudges while also giving a source of hooks to drive them to adventure.

Diabolical past lets me weave in any infernal stuff and feel personnal.

Visions lets me do "trippy" sequences and indulge in pseudo prophecy.

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I quite like Major: Dependent ,(ususally kid brother or sister) for the same reason as Hyalus advocated Animal companion, but without the risk of it being a free Familiar.

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Curse of Venus is one I'd avoid, unless you know your playing group very well. - If comedic misplaced romance is your thing, great. It can get creepy real quick though.

Any flaw that may take a season, it is again very important to know the playing group. Some people get grumpy with their season being derailed, even when reminded that's why they got the good stuff they got.
With that caveat, anything that drives a story is great, Enemies, Favours, Mistaken Identity, Plagued by Supernatural Entity, Supernatural Nuisance, etc.

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My game has four characters with Visions. It needed extra work to distinguish them: how they receive their visions, what things they are about, etc. And the players' wanting the Visions to be pseudo-prophecy is part of the problem with that Flaw: using it that way isn't generating stories; it's just cluing them in on stories that were going to come up anyway.

Moreover, since Visions is also a supernatural flaw two of those Visions characters are magi who made their Magical Animal Companions into their familiars. (and a third is a grog/specialist.) Just because they turned their Story Flaw into a familiar does not mean it stops generating stories: both of their familiars are Doing Things in the background that lead to stories. (the pine marten's "can I eat this?" game has brought home an undead raven spy and scitalis hatchling, so far.) When the magus raising a kitten makes that his familiar, it'll be much more chill since it's not a Story Flaw as well.

What I need from a Story Flaw is something that creates stories which the players will want to engage with.

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This illustrates the big challenge with Story Flaws. Players, new and old, often pick a Story Flaw based on a defensive “this won’t inconvenience me much” mindset. They pick the Story Flaw they think inconveniences them the least.

But that’s not what Story Flaws are for. They’re a way, maybe even THE most important way, for a player to tell the GM “this is the kind of story I want my character to be in.” This also means the Story Flaw is optional. Just because you are close to your parens, that doesn’t mean you need to take Mentor. Take Mentor if you want your parens to occasionally ask you to do things. But if you don’t want that, if you just want you and your parens to get along, then you don’t need the Flaw.

That’s a hard sell for a lot of players. They’re not used to have their hand on one of the campaign’s dials, and they’re used to Flaws being descriptive rather than optional.

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Oh, yes! This is a more intense variation than usual for that Flaw, but in my favorite saga I've been in I played a maga with Major: Dependent for her (at campaign start, newborn) daughter who was secretly a demigod of Helios. Made it very easy to generate stories around the kid's powers developing, or keeping her parentage a secret from the Cult of Heroes, or the demon trapped in our local regio taking an interest and kidnapping her for attempted possession (always fun when Hooks and Story Flaws can intermingle), or self-driven stories about getting her adequate education and equipment to help her fulfill her potential some day. Managed to find Excalibur for her. Good times.

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I would echo what Jason Tondro said: taking a Story Flaw is a way to tell the troupe "I want my PC to be involved in stories about this stuff"; note that something very similar holds for Major Personality Flaws, and of course covenant Hooks. This has two crucial consequences.

First and foremost, a Story Flaw is only good if you, as a player, enjoy your PC being involved in that type of story!

Second, particularly with largish troupes, the best Story Flaws are those triggered by the same stuff that triggers other PCs Story/Major Personality Flaws and/or the Covenant's Hooks, so the same story can be significant to a larger number of major characters (magi, companions, and the covenant itself). You don't need to have every story trigger a Story/Personality Flaw in every PC and multiple covenant Hooks, of course, but the more the better. Thus, ideally these Flaws are chosen as part of a common discussion about what type of saga people want. In this sense, because the game focuses on magi (and covenants exist for them), it tends to be somewhat harder and thus somewhat more important to ensure that Companions are tied to stories, so good Companion Story Flaws are the best Story Flaws.

So Enemies, Tormenting Masters, Feuds, and some plagu-ing Supernatural entities/Nuisances are great, as are Dependents, True Loves, Close Family members, NPCs owed an Oath of Fealty or Favours (and some Faerie Friends and (Magical or mundane) Animal Companions) threatened by them, as long as appropriately tied together. The same holds for being a Heir or Cursed by Venus.

Visions can be a fantastic Story Flaw, in that it can trigger for almost every story, though it needs to be attached to a character for whom those Visions are really important (which should always be the case, if the players took it as a Story Flaw, but ...). The same holds for Mentor, for Difficult Underlings, and for some Faerie Friends.

On the other hand from my experience Dark Secret, Diabolic Past, Blackmail and to some extent Monastic Vows only work for certain types of games - and tend to take more effort to tie to other stuff. If no one takes other ties to the Infernal, for example, Diabolic Past should probably be avoided. Then again, it's a perfect Story Flaw in a game focused on the Infernal; in such a game it's as widely-triggering as Visions or Mentor. Something similar holds for Fury and Indiscreet (which in my view should actually be Personality Flaws).

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I wouldn't talk to a player at first about Story flaws. I'd ask what sort of character they would like to play, and try to tease a story out of the personality that emerges. "OK, so your character sounds rather brash. Who would they have annoyed?" From there it's a quick step to the Story Flaw.

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yes, but i think here the subtext is the general preparation for ARMDefinitive (what is the agreed abbreviation?), and so for total newbies what would be the easiest for us to suggest to them.

Bob

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That sounds like something to have discussed during session 0, either give everyone visions for free or ask people to chose amongst themselves a reduced number of PCs to have it.

See that really doesn't to it for me anymore than Jarjar Binks in the prequel star wars. Part of why I don't care for the pet flaws.

But this "isn't generating stories; it's just cluing them in on stories that were going to come up anyway." If the raven spy was plot relevant, as a storyteller these could simply have been caught by hunter grogs, kids from the Covenant getting up to mischief...

The discussion if a flaw really brings a story or if the story would happen anyway is... flawed. Ars Magica is a RpG, so stories are supposed to happen, that's the whole concept of RpG, not only Ars.

It is like saying that without this flaw, the session would have been uneventful and all mages would have gone through their seasons' schedule without an itch. A adventure-less session can happen in Ars (more than in any other games), but as a player, I am expecting to have some adventures, not only do seasons. I never had a table where everybody was willing to go through seasons after seasons for several sessions in a row - occasionally, we had the "let's do five years in one go", but that remains a rare occurrence. So adventures will happen one way or another.

These flaws allow a more organic way to happen instead of the Redcap dropping an urgent letter or a vagabond knocking at the door.
It just happens that lightning tend to hit more often at the feet of this character than any other. For a mage, it could mean that he has a bit more issue to stick to his season's schedule than anybody else.

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Well yes. My advice for total newbies is don't start with a suggesting a story flaw!

No subtext, the explicit text from CJ was to recommend story flaws to new players whenever the game attracts interest from new players!

I take the opposite approach to Rhodri - I think story flaws are a great part of the Ars Magica experience, and so recommend them to new players.

Same here.

Players invested in their characters often come up with elaborate backgrounds. But in my experience they often really want that as colour only. A player whose character's suffered all his youth enslaved may or may not want to play stories with an Enemy trying to enslave him again. A player whose character is a beautiful noble maiden courted by hundreds, who escaped from home to become a warrior, may or may not want stories with hordes of suitors trying to wed (or at least bed) her due to a Curse of Venus.

Story Flaws and Major Personality Flaws are a simple, straightforward way to make sure that the game is about what each individual player wants (and not just the troupe as a whole wants - that's what Hooks are for) and to make it explicit. You get at most one of each to ensure focus. I've always found new players get this concept really easily, and are quite enthusiastic about it.

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One issue I've occasionally had with new players is not about Story Flaws per se, but more in general about saga direction. For example, I've seen a player decide it would be fun to play an Avaricious magus. The magus, thanks to his magic (but without violating the Code) within ten years became the richest person in Mythic Europe; and within twenty owned directly or indirectly some 50% of its wealth. I thought that would be when the really fun part started: how can you (attempt to) become much richer when you already own so much? Perhaps by getting everyone deeply, deeply in debt with you? The player, however, thought there was no more fun to be had.

So my suggestion (and a House Rule at our gaming table) is this:

Whenever a Story or Personality Flaw no longer provides fun, the character's player can ask the troupe for a story that will dramatically alter the character's life and resolve the Flaw, exchanging it with another one of identical value of the player's choice. A Story Flaw can be exchanged for a Personality Flaw and viceversa, but only if initial limits (at most one Story Flaw, at most one Major Personality Flaw etc.) remain in place.

An Enemy or the object one one's Major Hatred might be vanquished to be replaced by a Feud ... or by profound Overconfidence. A Pilgrimage might lift a flirty character's Curse of Venus, but attach to her a Nuisance of an Angel who's constantly chaperoning her, etc. I've found this rule works really well.

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