I've often wondered, what's the rationale behind giving a free, random Supernatural Virtue to any character born in the Porphyry chamber (from Sundered Eagle)? At first sight it seems an invitation to munchkinism that doesn't really add anything to the game.
Because it is basically a major story flaw? You are not born in the purple and have no story strings (ropes, more likely) attached to you left and right.
I'm not convinced.
Porphyrogenitos without any supernatural Virtue/Flaw attached to it should be a Minor Story Flaw: a Story Flaw because, as you say, it drags the character into stories, and a Minor one because the accompanying status can be useful. In many ways, it's a variant of the Heir Flaw.
In contrast, Porphyrogenitos is NOT a Story Flaw. But being born in the purple for some reason gives you a "free", random Supernatural Virtue. Why?
As the realm is randomly aligned, you can not view it as a great blessing - your character might be screwed up by an infernal "virtue".
As far as munchkinism goes...there's much worse in the Sundered Eagle. Much, much worse - so perhaps this is a diversion to grab the less cunning munchkins in?
The probability of getting an Infernal Virtue is only 1 out of 9. Even then, the player can pick the Virtue, and most Infernal Virtues hardly, as you say, "screw up" a character; how does having Second Sight, Sense Holiness or Unholiness, or Enchanting Music "screw up" a character even if of Infernal origin? Look, let's make a test. Ask your players, during character creation, something like "You can opt to have a particularly potent Gift, possibly partially associated with other Realms. If you accept, I'll just roll on this table to determine the source of your power and whether you get a free minor virtue or a free major virtue, which you pick subject to Troupe's approval". How many would refuse?
Ok, tell us what so much worse, I'm curious!
I don't think that its supposed to be for normal starting characters. There are a LOT of ways to get free virtues. Magic/farie powers, infernal malifica, initiations, pilgrimages, and I think something from apprentices. In general, you aren't allowed to say "My teacher had a power/script/etc. that gave me this free virtue."
Page 58 - the cult of Eleusis. The Eleusinian Mysteries offer an interesting ritual, and come in two forms: The lesser one grants self-confidence as the initiate loses their fear of death (does not mention any downside to this). The greater one, performed every five years, may grant Death Prophecy. Death Prophecy is quite a powerful Virtue which is why it's usually recommended you discuss this with the troupe before taking it. Still, this is interesting and you can see mystically inclined characters going for it.
Page 101-2 - the Criamon clutch. Artoud, the most senior Criamon in the Tribunal, is a master of The Path of the Body. At higher levels, this allows you to regenerate all damage at sunrise and sunset - so in combination with Death Prophecy makes for "Captain Scarlet, Criamon master" (for fans of Gerry Anderson). A Criamon who follows the Path they can most easily find a mentor from who also follows the Eleusinian Mysteries as far as possible could become obscenely munchkinny, which is why the crucial paragraph on page 58 says "this may grant Death Prophecy" to allow the SG to change his mind at the last minute.
On a lesser note of min/maxing - on page 127 it gives sympathy traits of the Olympians. Now, if you're a fan of Realms of Power:Faerie you will know that Faerie Blood with a Faerie God heritage allows you to get a free point in a sympathy trait, which can be increased in line with your warping score (one more than for minor faerie blood, three more for major). Dionysos includes "Initiation" - so members of mystery cults who are wondering where to get that bonus to their initiation scripts from may want to take Faerie Blood:Dionysos. Sure, it's only a tiny bonus at the start but as you gain warping you can increase it. When I finally get round to writing that post on uses & abuses of the mystery initiation system, I'll be sure to recommend you have Dionysos, Odin or some other deity who gained wisdom through extreme suffering as an ancestor.
I'm not sure what you mean. On the one hand, I don't really see how it could be meant to be earned in play -- giving that it depends solely on the place a character was born. On the other hand, it's clearly meant for Player Characters, since the player is supposed to pick the Virtue by negotiation with the troupe.
Ah, but those aren't exactly free. They involve stories, warping, etc. You don't get them at character creation.
Right. On the other hand, with the porphyry chamber you can simply state that your character was born there, and that character gets the free Virtue. Of course, if every PC ends up being born there the Storyguide will box the players' ears or find a more creative and evil way to teach them the error of their ways. However, the problem remains: either the porphyry chamber is out-of-bounds for [i]all[\i] PCs (in which case, why bother with the whole mechanic?), or any PC who, even with a good backstory, is born there will have an unfair advantage.
It's not as if you can just decide to be born in the imperial birthing chamber. You have to be part of the imperial family, which obviously carries some serious story consequences if it's allowed at all.
The porphyry chamber is powerful numinous and symbolic site. I don't see any real problem with it bestowing magical effects. Generally I would use something like this as a backstory for why a character has The Gift or another supernatural power, rather than an addition to the set of virtues already allowed by the game, but the current rules seem to indicate that virtues are very easily gained. Certainly the porphyry room is less of a power escalation than some of the initiations in various rulebooks or the new rules for teaching hermetic virtues.
These are just two "normal" mystery initiations. I think the author did a good job to think out what kind of Virtues would be granted by the Eleusinian Mysteries (or at least what we know today of them, i.e. that they involved conquering death). Why do they seem particularly unbalancing to you?
Incidentally, I don't think that Death Prophecy is particularly powerful. In fact, it's one of those Virtues that the Storyguide can easily strengthen or weaken by subtle control of the story. The reason why it's recommended you discuss it, is that it creates something bound to happen and may be dramatically different from what the rest of the troupe had in mind -- imagine taking a Death Prophecy saying that your character will die defending London from the Mongols!
Does not seem "munchkinny" at all to me. First of all, resilience to damage in combat seems a useful, but sufficiently narrow advantage to me (particularly because it does not include being cast into twilight, losing one's mind, or being imprisoned until the day of judgement). Second, note that you can still be killed by something dealing sufficient damage and satisfying the prophecy, even symbolically. Third, it's a lot of work to get there.
Note that warping score only influence your starting value in a sympathy trait. After character creation, it's increased like a normal ability. While you are explicitly allowed to raise your starting Warping score as high as you like during character creation, it does not seem a particularly effective move if one is trying to min-max. Now, it's true that combining a sympathy trait in initiations with a Cult Lore ability provides a bonus, because raising 2 abilities to a score of x takes approximately half the experience of raising 1 ability to a score of 2x. But that's pretty close to what you can achieve with an Affinity in Cult Lore, particularly given that it's much harder to find good xp sources for a sympathy trait in Initiations than a Cult Lore skill. So, again, I don't really see such potential for abuse.
Well, as I said, the Storyguide may certainly veto it. But if so, why bother with this mechanic which is pretty obviously meant for PCs? And if the Storyguide does not veto it, it creates (an admittedly minor, but pretty clear) imbalance, that really had no reason at all to exist. As you correctly state:
I wholeheartedly agree. This is exactly my point. There was no need for the whole mechanic. All that was needed was a comment about the porphyry chamber being a source of numinous power, granting supernatural abilities to those born in it -- supernatural abilities generally thought to be divine, but that could come from other realms as well. Done!
Ok, but still: the mechanics for the free Virtue from the porphyry chamber appear something that adds nothing, and creates a minor annoyance. The fact that the annoyance is relatively minor is not a good justification for having them. It's like asking a little kid "why did you punch your sister out of the blue? She had done nothing to you!", and getting as an answer "There are many things worse than a punch in this world!".
No, this is not the case. Your starting value is set by the Virtue that grants the Sympathy Trait. You can increase that during character creation or with experience later to a limit based on Warping Score and a few Virtues/Flaws. The only exception to this is rolling 1's; increases this way are not limited by Warping Score.
On using Faerie Sympathies, note that you generally lose 1 point by applying the Sympathy Trait because it replaces the specialty, which would presumably have been chosen to be in the area to which the Sympathy Trait applies. Sure, it's not big, but it's worth remembering. That allows ezzelino's statement about the equivalent value to an Affinity to become even more true.