Why do Virtues and Flaws have to balance?

The more I think about this the more it bothers me. Many other similar games don't require players to take a flaws the same way Ars Magica does.

The oWoD and nWoD lines give you bonus points for taking flaws, but you have a pool in which to buy some benefits for your PC to begin with. This has been something rolling around in my mind for a while. I think it was kept in 5th edition because Ars Magica always had virtues and flaws balance.

But with the Advent of the Mysteries book, which has a system for acquiring virtues, as well as many books (Hedge Magic, Rival Magic, Ancient Magic, Cradle & the Crescent, True Lineages) showing how to develop new arreas of hermetic magic with virtues... I begin to wonder if "requiring" balancing flaws is really so useful after all.

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Nothing breaks if you change things.

The current system is just one way to get players to take stuff that differentiates their characters in good and bad ways.

Virtues and Flaws are not balanced.



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Mysteries gained in play have a cost. You have to participate in stories and pay the relevant prices - which often include flaws.

Virtues and Flaws only need to balance at character creation. V&F you gain later through play do not.


I feel like I'm being completely misunderstood here guys - what is the point of having virtues and flaws balance at character creation? What is the purpose of this that is of a long term benefit to the game? Am I the only one with 5 players who finds that maybe one or two of a PC's multiple flaws comes up on a regular basis - and that keeping track of two dozen flaws with is a bit much of a time sink?

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I think the rule on balancing virtues and flaws can encourage the generation of rather odd PCs, especially when it comes to Companions (as they can take up to 10 points of Flaws and can't take Hermetic Flaws). In my saga players have tended not to take the full 10 points of Virtues for their Companions because it would force them into taking Flaws that would lead to PCs with rather extreme personality types or with character-defining physical or mental traits that they would find very restrictive (I guess there are occasions when players might want to play a deaf or lame character, but they must be quite rare) - and I have been generous in allowing all magi and companions to have two story flaws each, if they wish.

But even stranger to me is the idea that NPCs should be generated the same way as PCs, and so that they should also have Virtues and Flaws that balance out. Likewise, just as strange, why should points in Characteristics always add up to seven, even for NPCs (without fiddling around with Virtues and Flaws to modify this)? I am happily ignoring this, and assigning Characteristics and Virtues/Flaws as fits my idea of the character, without worrying about 'game balance' or adding points up, but it is a pity there are not guidelines for rough-and-ready NPC generation as opposed to precise, and very time-consuming, PC creation. For instance, I have always assumed (and I am sure it must be written in a book for some previous edition) that 0 is the human average in all Characteristics, and PCs get seven points to spend because they are meant to be better than the average person. But I can't see that written in fifth edition, and if you generate all NPCs as PCs then the human average in effect becomes higher.


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Even in that situation, I copy them down to start and then take them back to plan. The best explanation for virtues and flaws I've ever seen is from David Chart on these forums where he said that virtues are the stories you know about and flaws are the stories you want to be surprised with, or something similar to that point.

Then I go back, I see if anything in my currently planned arcs matches with what they've selected, or if I can work them in over time. I like to incorporate some of the bigger ones whenever I can, and try braiding them in when I can according to the value. Do they have to balance? I guess not, but I prefer having as many surprises as I have open hooks.

The point is simply to make more interesting PCs and therefore, hopefully, more interesting stories.

When I GM, I only bother keeping track of Story Flaws. Many Flaws are just game mechanical penalties, so I let the players worry about those. Likewise, Personality Flaws are the player's problem to worry about, not mine.

There's no reason to generate NPCs the same way. Except, that in Ars Magica (due to the troupe-nature) NPCs often end up becoming PCs, so it pays to not distinguish too much between NPC and PC.

Published NPCs are generally intended to be easily re-purposed as PCs, or at least be templates for PCs, so that's why those generally follow the same character generation rules.

You don't have to spend all your characteristic points. You can simply choose to only spend a few.

Yes, I can see the sense to this, but personally I think it has been pursued excessively in the game. For example, I find the range of living, human characters that can be played as a PC in ArM to be more than sufficient, and I can't imagine a player in my troupe ever wanting to play an airy spirit or ghost or transformed animal, etc. And yet the character creation rules in 'RoP: Magic' are set up so you can play the majority of characters described there. That's not useful to me and my troupe, and means the book contains far more complex character creation rules than we really need. Maybe other troupes find it useful, but I suspect most of the different kinds of magical character described in that book aren't played as PCs.

Surely the logic behind the kind of point-build character design that ArM employs, where you have a discrete pool of points to assign, is that all characters created at the beginning of a campaign are meant to be 'equal' at some kind of level, no matter what choices you make, and therefore there is no great in-game advantage taking one option over another. If it is just about creating characters that are interesting to play, why have a point system at all?

Of course we want believable characters, that are realistic in that they fit the environment in which we play, and so we need to take that into account in character design. And I think the way abilities improve over time, and the balance between improvement through stories and out of stories, has an air of realism to me. But when it comes to the talents, hindrances and relationships represented by Characteristics, Virtues and Flaws, we are not equal in this world, nor in Mythic Europe - some people are dealt a much better hand than others. And so it is odd to find these always balancing out for NPCs, even for those in scenarios where certainly there is no intention for them to be used as a player character.


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Yes, I do agree that there is a limit to what is needed here, especially with non-human characters. I was thinking mostly of human(ish) NPCs.

You are correct that, in general, such point-based role-playing character creation systems are intended to create "equal" characters (or equal tiers of character, such as grog, companion, magus). However, in ArM the idea, as I see it, is not actually to create characters that are equal in in-game terms.

The idea is the create characters that are equally interesting to play / equally important to the story (within their tier).

The idea is that there could be great disparity amongst the in-game power of PCs (e.g. archmagi and freshly gauntleted magi as PCs in the same covenant), but all the PCs (of the same tier) have similar importance to the story.

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I've played most of them, and variations on several, and several of my fellows are similar. It's a bit silly to take a game whose main selling point is its ability to be highly variable while maintaining cohesion, and criticize it for being too variable and cohesive. Also, I really fail to see how the book's ability to accommodate various kinds of magical creatures makes things more complicated for humans and humanoids. Just ignore the Virtues and such that don't make sense for human characters.

Narrative impact. The difference between an old and empowered mortal and a fresh-faced one is usually just the kind of impact they make, not the fact that they make an impact at all. Magi power is of the type and scale where their ability to affect things narratively is largely equivalent to how much experience they have. Everybody needs to start on relatively even footing; then their choices should be what dictates if that drifts out of alignment.

I don't think you actually have to take as many Virtues as Flaws if you don't want to, so feel free to have an NPC inferior. On the flip side of that, I don't typically want player characters to be inherently inferior to NPCs unless those NPCs have a real reason for being better, usually a supernatural one. Because the PCs are meant to be the movers and shakers who can do anything if they put their time and effort into it wholeheartedly; leave the characters who constantly fail because they don't have the aptitude to ever succeed to grogs and NPCs, and let the players have fun overcoming obstacles with their major PCs. This is ultimately entertainment, after all.

I certainly didn't mean to criticise the game for being too variable and cohesive! But I go to the Realms of Power books to create NPCs, and I think the process of creating NPCs is more complicated in those books than it needs to be, and this is partly because creating a magical or faerie NPC, etc, is like creating a PC, but with some additional things to consider as well. Ars Magica is infamous for its complex character generation for PCs (I remember the first time I played in an ArM game we spent three sessions just on character creation, at the end of which we hadn't even got onto Companions and Grogs - luckily I was into the game and stuck with it). I am OK with the time spent on PCs as they are going to be central to the saga, and players will likely play them for a long time. But I am not so keen on NPC generation potentially being even more complex than it is for PCs. I guess that comes down to taste and playing style - for one thing, I don't like to prejudge too much which NPCs are going to be central to a session so I am sometimes faced with having to work up a lot.

But surely newly gauntleted magi, as the PC magi are in my saga, are going to be pretty clearly inferior to any senior mage they meet. Likewise, I don't think it's unreasonable (although it certainly would be very rare) to have an NPC who might be the same age or younger who is loaded with Virtues and pretty much Flaw-less - who would also be superior to the PC magi, but in a different way. Imagine a PC finds a child with the Gift and decides to take them as an apprentice. Over time they find they have power that far exceeds anything they are familiar with. Where does he get his power from - God, the devil? Is he here because of some great purpose? Will he become a threat to his master, to the Order? One could have a saga around protecting and preparing that child for the fate that awaits him. Or at the very least, a short story where the apprentice is disposed of!


If you want to do something different in your game, you can. However, it makes a good default position.

Back when I played 4th ed there seemed to be a steeper power curve for magi than for companions (at least in my saga), and eventyally some of the magi could do what the companions' originally were intended to do thus ursurping their role. And if a designwas tried to really max out the companion they were too heavily flawed.

We tried creating new companions only needing to balance every 2 Virtue points bonly 1 Flaw point, so the maxed out companions weren't too heavily disadvantaged. It worked fine.

My take on Flaws:
*5th ed does a great job with categorizing Flaws and limiting some of them
*Magi sometimes have an easier time taking flaws because Hermetic Flaws aren't as crippling as General ones, and there are many more to choose from. Often a magus can be designed to be totally crippled in one area of magic that the concept never touches anyway.
*Too many diferent flaws can make it impossible to enforce them all for a SG. Thus a lot of Flaws become "free" or "cheap"
*As SG I mostly try to remember Story Flaws, thes rest I assume players do themselves.
*If the Troupe agrees upon it most limits and balance for V&Fs can be changed. If you really want to.


AM2 has some useful indications of restoring the role of companions and grogs:

  • Spells always lose initiative to physical combat. Always. They go off at the end of the round.
  • There is no such thing as a fast-cast spell. A spontaneous defense using the same TeFo to disrupt magic is always permitted, but this is not really a spell and aside from a possible noise and light show, does nothing other than disrupt magic.

I would add a single combat maneuver to bolster this:

Take the Hit: A shield grog or other character declaring this action at the start a round can always interpose himself between any and every attack he can reasonably perceive on his designated magus before dice are rolled. The attack is resolved against the shield grog rather than the magus. This works against swords and even dragonfire, though not against poison clouds, mind control and the like. More than one defender can protect a given charge, but a single defender can only protect one charge per round. Obviously, the defender needs to be next to his charge.

All editions of AM have useful fluff to bolster the social role of companion.

  • The Gift. Play with the fluff, not just the -3 penalty to dice rolls. When a player does a great job rping a very convincing argument or charming demeanor, pretend the magus smells like my refrigerator when I'm single, and is oozing pus. (My refrigerator didn't ooze pus.) Rule that the penalties of the Gift cannot be changed or suppressed through magic without totally suppressing or destroying the Gift.

FWIW, getting rid of fast-cast spells solves some other problems, as does always allowing a spontaneous defense against magic.

(Diedne Magic also becomes almost decent, for one thing.)



I was mulling this over when I was thinking about NPC generation. I'd been concerned with giving them the same amounts of points for Characteristics, Virtues, Flaws and experience as PCs would get, but this struck me as unnecessary. One player's character shouldn't start out as any "better" than any other's, points-wise, something which I think is integral to just about every character generation system I've ever seen. I think NPCs should have whatever statistics are necessary and appropriate for the story though, even with regard to experience - those with access to better books, resources or teachers than those assumed to be available to PCs could well get more per year.

We never require Virtues and Flaws to balance: you always can get more flaws than virtues if you want!

I spent the last winter designing creatures, mostly with RoP:M, and what I found is that most of the time all that extra set of additional things, which most of the times are Qualities & Inferiorities, just let you cross the bridge from mundane creatures to whatever you have in mind: if your creature is mighty enough, virtues can be purchased through Qualities, so the balance rule stops applying just as soon as you need. And when they aren't that way I always took them as design challenges. But if that annoys you when designing NPCs, just do whatever you want.

Also I think I recall some mention in Antagonist's Hannelore about her virtues and flaws not balancing, and how it didn't really matter as she was an antagonist ...or maybe it just said that you could cover it up with a lot of Infernal Blessings, which at the end is just the same. Maybe flaws and virtues doesn't balance because a magical creature or a fae gave them these virtues through a Ritual Power. Which also could open the gate for the next story antagonist being the virtue granter.

About stats, I thought a lot also of that thing of 0 being the average in a world where everyone gets 7 points (and I was just assuming that in a world of 7 free points the average was almost 1, which isn't such a big deal anyway), until I read Richard Love saying that getting these points doesn't mean you use them (and as sometimes getting 3 flaws for a Grog or grog level NPC can be a nightmare, getting the Reduced Characteristcs Flaw seems quite reasonable).

It seems that this thread is discussing three questions without really making them distinct.

  1. Do we have to make PCs balanced?
  2. Do we have to balance virtues and flaws isolated from the rest of the character?
  3. Why is it so hard to make an interesting, playable companion with -10 flaw points?

It seems to me that OP's question was misinterpreted as (1) when in fact it was (2). Let's return to the comparison with World of Darkness. What WoD has is the freebie point systems, points which can be converted to any sort of character feature, characteristics, abilities, virtues/flaws, background options, etc. Once they have that system, virtues can be balanced against anything, not only flaws. That's convenient. Bolting onto a another game system is hard to do without breaking something.

Of course, Ars Magica has the same thing to some extent, the improved characteristics virtue and analogous flaw let us exchange virtue/flaw points for characteristics 1:3. Fine. Doing the same thing with abilities is harder; one would easily end up with a character crippled by missing abilities. To a greater extent than WoD, ArM aims to give the characters complete skill sets for everyday life. WoD focuses on skills frequently used on stage, and sacrificing those for other features does not make the character so crippled or strange.

When it comes to (3), possibly the source of the question in the first place, I agree. All our deep-rooted min-max habits from roleplaying say that of course you take your full +10 virtue points for the companion. Then, turning to the flaws, it really is almost impossible to find -10 flaws without either crippling the character, making him unplayable, or reusing a very few stereotypical flaws over and over again. Now, is that really a problem? Are companions meant to always have +10 virtues?

Actually something I think is missing from the range of Virtues and Flaws is more options for reducing experience points for Abilities. There are plenty of Virtues that grant more xp or Ability enhancements, e.g. Wealthy, Skilled Parens, Puissant Ability, but adding one that perhaps reflects a less diligent approach to learning and training that would result in getting less points in character generation, or another that allows characters to be particularly unskilled in certain areas, could address this issue to some extent.