Puissant or Affinity

Hi all,
When I was creating my new companion character I was undecided as to whether she should have Puissant (ability) or Affinity (ability). Puissant gives a constant +2 to the ability, Affinity gives an extra half XP (rounded up).
So I crafted a spreadsheet to work out the relative levels and XPs as the scores increase. This spreadsheet assumes that there is no munchkin adding XP 1 at a time, to boost the scores.

I found that for abilities Puissant is superior to Affinity, Affinity finally catches up to Puissant at Score 9 (11) 225XP, which with affinity gives 338 or Score 11. As most abilities will not reach this high, Puissant gives better performance for your XP.

With arts however, the matter is different. Puissant art gives a +3 bonus, but arts tail off around 35-40. In this case the Affinity catches up to the puissant at level 13, 91XP. Both virtues give you level 16, but then affinity starts to pull ahead, with the gap ever widening.

In summary choose Puissant (ability) & Affinity(art)

Yep, did that same chart about two years ago. :slight_smile:

Absolutely no offense meant, but I find that sort of mathematically created character quite the oddity.

IMHO, Puissant denotes a knack, a certain easiness, familiarity, who knows maybe even luck with a certain ability: talent.

Affinity OTOH denotes latent excellence, raw potential.

In practical terms, we sort of reach the same conclusion: puissant is best for low to medium level of pursuit in an activity, while Affinity is reserved for potential geniuses in their respective fields and both can be applied to the same person, of course.

I just find the idea of thinking about it in numerical terms much more distant to the actual conceptualization of the character.

I agree that you will get better results in any die roll when using puissant (ability) rather than affinity (ability). However, these two points do not help you when writing a book about this subject. So there are some abilities where affinity (ability) is better than puissant (ability) as you rarely use die rolls but need the absulute value. An example would be Artes liberales.

For powergamers: go with puissant ever time. Or better yet: choose both.
And let me add to that: puissant (Parma Magica) rocks.

Puissant is better, but affinity also has its nice parts. It will give you a lot of xp, which is a very nice feeling during play. My troupe was filled with jealousy when I got 30 xp from a seasonsworth of Vis study. (6 from aura, 3 from free study, 9 from the die -> 18 x 1,5 = 27 in my affinity art, then adding 3 xp to the other elements for elementalist)

When you have a high stat since character generation is had less of a feel than when you improve it during play IMO.

So in short: use puissants and afinities, they can both add their own flavour to your character.

Seem here, no offence meant, but with the same facts I seem to come to an opposite conclusion.
The in-game explanation from having a virtue should not and need not be as precise as you seem to show.
Let me explain myself.

Since the "actual conceptualization of the character" is "much more distant to the" "numerical terms", the influence of the character concept should have limited impact on your mathematical/numerical character creation.

I agree that precedence should be given to roleplaying concerns about the character concept, but once it have been decided that your mage have a potential with Rego, it doesn't matter of you choose puissant of affinity.
It doesn't matter because it is only a matter of having that bonus instead of that other bonus, about the same thing.

I agree with your analysis of the advantages of Puissant and Affinity.
But in the end, it is only a matter of having a +2 instead of a +3, a +2 instead of a +2 : the difference is not great, it is trivial.
And, the difference is only mathematical. At that level, you are a league away from doing the conceptualization of the character.

I don't think you should link too tighly the numerical character and the roleplaying design of a character, as this could lead to abuse.
IMO, it is more important that the different roleplaying ideas about your character be coherent within themselves, than that those be that precisely coherent with your numerical character (the "stats").

E.g. A well known specialist in Rego can be without any affinity(Rego) or puissant (Rego). - A mage with puissant (penetration) need not have any think in is character in-game presentation about "penetration".
The two above as long as it make for a fun-to-play-with character.

As I said, this is said friendly. If we meet someday, i would happily buy you a beer ^^

One thing that should be said IMO:
If you are good because of puissant, you can't learn others at your higher level, while affinity characters can 'explain their understanding.'

This will have an effect on the game and character concept.
My poor young bonisagus may have a magic theory of 6, but he can only teach others up to 4. The affinity in Aquam however lets him actually teach people up to lvl 19 (instead of just 15 when I had chosen puissant).

My covenant mates already taunt me that my 'lab rugrat' cannot teach them anything new on magic theory. (I must admit that MT 6 is very low for bonisagi, I'm working on it)

Interesting to read your thoughts on the matter, but I cannot agree with your conclusion that there is no difference, except for the numerical one, in the two virtues. I do not agree because your view is exactely the opposite of mine, that you think in the end the only difference in them is the bonus - while I think it quite important to distinguish whether the character is talented or has the potential to be a genius.

If you look at the difference in numerical terms, certainly then it is trivial and I couldn't care less, but imagine Harry Potter for example (just a famous character that came to mind) there is no indication that he has any untapped genius potential in him, only that his magic is naturally strong, puissant in other words. What bonus does he get? Who the hell cares?

And then you have, Hermione. Is her magic particularly strong? No. Does she have potential to become an authority on the matter? Perhaps. Dumbledore coule be argued to have both.

In ArM, Bonisagus might certainly be credited with an affinity for magic theory while Flambeau would be reputed to have had puissant Perdo and Guernicus had neither despite being considered an authority in Terram.

My point is that it doesn't matter as much what sort of bonus you get from such and such Virtue or Flaw, but the mood and flavour it establishes for your character and IMHO there is a chasm of difference between Puissant and Affinity.

As for that beer, where do you live again? :wink:

Harry likely has both Affinity and Puissant for the Arts (likely the Techniques) relevant to combat and warding/banishing, as well as Free Study, Independent Study, and Study Bonus. He has genius potential, but it's focused on specific kinds of magic, and figuring things on his own.

Hermione has a broad-range genius potential, and a generalist aptitude to learn all kinds of magic easily from any source: she has the whole package of Book Learner, Apt Student, Free Study, Independent Study, and Study Bonus.

Affinity is the virtue that reflects someone who has the ability to soak up knowledge in a particular field.

Puissant is the virtue for people who perform beyond their understanding.

So the question is , do you view the character as having a knack for learning or a knack for doing? That's the difference.

I never actually considered the fact that Puissant doesn't apply when teaching or writing books. That does change things slightly...

Although people are right, it is more the character aspect of it than the number crunching.

The two things quite often insensibly bleed into each other (people who have a talent for something learn about it very quickly and enjoy experimenting and tinkering about it beyond established know-how and accumulating lore about it and vice versa), so often its' quite appropriate to use either Virtue, or if possible both, to represent talent. Actually, having only one type of aptitude without any glint of the other (only for theoretical knowledge or for pragmatic unschooled skill) is the less common occurrence. It may happen, but it's not the default.

And you've taken a worldwide poll of all Ars players to conclude this statistical claim? :wink:

I would suspect that its much more common than you think. Most characters I have made or seen have only had either puissant or affinity in any one thing so as to leave virtue space free for many other useful virtues other than Art/Ability modifiers.

Sorry, I was referring to real-world experience. In the population of ArM characters, it is indeed as you say, for reasons of character optimization, but in RL people who have talent generally have a mix of what you could call puissant and affinity, in various degrees of combination.

Ahh sorry, misread entirely what you meant. Serves me right for responding to posts at 3 am after 12 hours of playing World of Warcraft. lol.

I finally had time to type this up after this thread was pointed out to me.

Here's the most accurate estimate of the value of Puissant X vs. Affinity w/ X, where X is an ability, that I have yet seen. Many may not agree with several of the specific estimates made, but you can easily tweak any of the numbers I've given to reflect differences in your sagas. Regardless, this will still be a better estimate than is usually made. (Note, I am also not assuming the "munchkin" approach as it was named by the OP. However, I am not assuming that every single source quality will be of the same parity (even or odd), as the OP did, which unfairly favors Puissant X.)

First, we need to understand when the two situations are equally beneficial. It could be argued that when the rank of X with Affinity w/ X is two greater than the rank of X with Puissant X, the affinity is better because of things like teaching and training limits from the teaching standpoint. However, it could also be argued the other way based on those same things from the learning standpoint. In all other cases, they are equivalent at this point, so let's just say they are equally beneficial at this point.

Now we need to understand just how much experience Affinity w/ X is really worth. I've mostly only seen people saying 1.5 times the experience without it. However, that is an absolutely worst-case scenario. If there is ever a point at which an odd number of experience is earned, then Affinity w/ X has provided more than. Any time a single experience would have been gained, two are instead, meaning Affinity w/ X has provided a 100% bonus. With three experience, give are gained instead, meaning the bonus is 67%. Etc. So, just how much is it really worth. This is a non-trivial but crucial estimate. To handle this estimate, it is advisable to break all abilities into three categories: Magic Theory, others that can be studied from books, and all the remaining abilities. In each case we'll have to determine how many times experience will be earned to reach any given rank and figure that half of those times will provide an odd number of experience, so using a 1.5 multiplier will miscount the number of experience earned by 0.5 experience. Thus the number of experience earned with the affinity will be:


where E' is the experience with the affinity, E is the experience without it, and N is the number of seasons in which experience has been gained in the ability.

Determining N is the tricky part and it can only be an estimate unless we look at an actual character's past. We need to determine how much experience is gained in any season in which advancement is made in the relevant ability. To do that we must look at how much experience is gained via any given method and try to determine a meaningful average. Let's start with the basics. Exposure will provide 1 or 2 experience, for an average of 1.5 experience. Adventure will provide 1 to 5 experience, for an average of 3 experience. Practice will provide 1 to 8 experience, but it will rarely be split so 3 to 8 is a better range, and 4 or 5 is most likely, so an average of 4.5 is reasonable. Training and teaching are highly variable based on the teachers and whether you're alone or not (for teaching). An estimate of a quality of 9 for training and 12 for teaching on average is not unreasonable, though I've seen teaching reach into the upper 20's fairly easily. As discussed elsewhere, lower quality books (for ease we'll put summas and tractatus together) are less likely to circulate much, making a quality of 11 quite a reasonable average. We should also try to take things like Apt Student and Book Learner. In my experience Book Learner is the most common and the others not so much so, so I'll add 1.5 to the quality of the books. In addition to this, correspondence is done for those areas in which books are written, so I'll add another 0.5 to the qualities for those things. That leaves:

Non-book abilities
Exposure: 1.5
Adventure: 3
Practice: 4.5
Training: 10

Magic Theory and other book abilities
Exposure: 2
Adventure: 3.5
Practice: 5
Teaching: 12.5
Books: 13

Now we need to try to gauge the relative frequency of these things. For non-book abilities training is harder to come by, and the rest are probably fairly balanced. If we estimate training as half as common as any of the others, then we get 4 experience on average in a season of advancement of a non-book ability.

For non-Magic Theory book abilities just taking an even split of all five methods may be decent, yielding about 7 experience on average in a season of advancement of a book ability.

For Magic Theory experience is usually only gained via exposure, teaching, and books. As magi commonly spend about two seasons a year in the lab (according to Covenants) and maybe one season every three years studying Magic Theory, then we get something around 3.5 experience on average in a season of advancement in Magic Theory. (Note, the rules heavily favor lab work, and I figure a lab rat is the type who would most frequently take Puissant Magic Theory or Affinity w/ Magic Theory.)

Where do we put these estimates? Here is how we calculate N:


where N is the number of seasons in which experience has been gained in the ability, E is the experience (without an affinity), S is the original number of experience put into an ability, and R is the rate determined above.

So, what is S? Again, this can only be an estimate unless we examine a specific character's past. I would hazard to say most characters with Puissant X or Affinity w/ X will want X to start relatively high because they want to focus in it. I would say putting 50 starting experience into such an ability is quite reasonable, though certainly more or fewer will happen. Fewer would favor Affinity w/ X more than this argument does. More would favor Puissant X more than this does.

So, combining all of this yields:


Non-book abilities: E'=25E/16-25/8
Book abilities: E'=43E/28-25/14
Magic Theory: E'=22E/14-25/7

Now we have to relate all that to the cost to reach the different ranks. We want the rank with E' to be two higher than the rank with E. The necessary formula is:


where n is the number of ranks. So for the affinity:


That leads us to:

Non-book abilities: 5(n+2)(n+3)/2=125n(n+1)/32-25/8
Book abilities: 5(n+2)(n+3)/2=215n(n+1)/56-25/14
Magic Theory: 5(n+2)(n+3)/2=110n(n+1)/28-25/7

Divide all formulas by 5 and multiply them by their greatest denominator:

Non-book abilities: 16(n+2)(n+3)=25n(n+1)-20
Book abilities: 28(n+2)(n+3)=43n(n+1)-20
Magic Theory: 14(n+2)(n+3)=22n(n+1)-20

Write these in standard form:

Non-book abilities: 9n^2-55n-116=0
Book abilities: 15n^2-97n-188=0
Magic Theory: 8n^2-48n-104=0

Solve these:

Non-book abilities: n=7.8
Book abilities: n=8.0
Magic Theory: n=7.7

What this tells us is that as a basic guideline you reach effective rank 9 (7+2) with Puissant X earlier than you reach rank 9 with Affinity w/ X, but you reach rank 10 with Affinity w/ X faster than you reach effective rank 10 (8+2) with Puissant X.

Next is the question of the limit of experience earned in any ability. Reaching an 8 is pretty tough and won't happen that much. And even if you do have 8 ranks and Puissant X, you're only missing out in a couple spots due to the large number of experience required to go from one rank to another. Plus, you'll probably spend most of your character's career just trying to reach that point, so you'll be using lower values most of the time. So I agree you should stick with Puissant X unless it's a very long-running saga and the character will be active a lot later in the saga. The one case where this is not so true is with Magic Theory. With the estimates here, a magus will get there in about 15 years. (If players don't realize just how much the rules favor lab work over casting scores, this could take longer, but it certainly shouldn't for a lab rat. Certainly, it will be taking well under 15 years for any of my lab rat characters since I've seen the item creation rules a lot.) So if you're in a relatively short-lived saga, stick with Puissant Magic Theory. However, if you're in a longer-lived saga (let's say 20+ years), especially if you're lab-focused (15+ years), go with Affiinity w/ Magic Theory for later gains. Certainly the older archmagi will have done much better by taking Affinity w/ Magic Theory over Puissant Magic Theory. Better yet, take both!


With my powergamer hat on... (and hiding from Matt)

Both are juicy targets for twilight effects as they are fast, easy, and memorable--"do you have an affinity for ignem? no? okay you do now." With that in mind, it's better to take the affinity early on, getting the full benefits of it over a lifetime, expecting puissant as a twilight effect at a later date.

In general, however, puissant is superior. They both reflect an edge the character has for the specific attribute--the difference is nuanced and either interpretation of that edge is usally not essential to a concept (the "natural power in" or the "better aptitude" both reflect an innate talent or bent).

I would add, though, that allowing puissant in Parma is rather abusive and not good for a saga in general.

Um... Matt you can ignore this message.


Nice analysis - I just took a sheet of quad paper, and made a chart with the summed costs for normal and Affinities, for both Arts and Abilities. Too handy when building a character- keep it in the back of my rulebook. But that chart showed me where the cutpoint is, between 10 and 11 for Abilities, and exactly 16 for Arts. 8)


IMS we seem to have gone for focus, ignoring both puissant and affinity bonu8ses unless given as a default by the house of the character. No one thought a lot about puissant or affinities given the choice of V&F available.

Seems the characters are less optimal than I thought in the end, even if we have a puissant MT bonisagus.




I'd be interested to hear you talk more about this.