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Merits as a system does not seem to be well balanced. Some merits (such as resources 1) seem like they should be mandatory (or a flaw to not have them). Other merits such as housing ones (haven, sanctum, etc) requires a ridiculous amount of merits to get anywhere. (a two bedroom apartment near downtown with security cameras could be as much as 5 points, the same as having connections with major crime lords throughout the city, or being a prince).

What ends up happening is players avoid fringe merits (like specific fighting styles) and spend all their points in "quality of life" merits.

I often give some merits for free, and are more lenient about allowing players to earn merits in game without paying for them for this reason. What house rules/rule interpretations are successful in making merits feel balanced, meaningful, and fun?

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I've often found this and would love an answer. –  Pureferret Jan 30 '12 at 21:56
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Resources, and equipment's resource requirement, represent permanent attachments to a character. These are things that are simply part of the character's existence and not just items that happen to be lying around. You don't have to have resources to have access to a weapon for a scene where you need it, you need to have resources to have access to that weapon as a default. If you're starting a situation where in a near-future scene you will need access to an item and you don't currently have it, you have to go through some method of obtaining the item whether you have the necessary resources to obtain it that way or not. If you don't have the resources, you'll need to obtain the item some other way, but it doesn't make it unobtainable.

For example: Gangrel vampire Marky Fangs needs a gun to take to a gunfight, since he knows that even for vampires the old adage about knives still holds true. Marky lives a simple life, where he gets what he needs by taking it, since there's certainly nobody who's gonna tell him he can't have something. After observing a few gang-bangers that hang out down the block from his Haven, he follows one of them he's seen brandishing a gun before as the gang-banger walks home. Marky jumps the kid, and after a brief struggle Marky ends up with the gun. Marky decides to let the kid go...this time. He doesn't need another mess to clean up right now. Marky steps off into the shadows of the nearby alley before disappearing into the night with his newfound weapon.

Absolutely no resources required, but Marky now has a gun. Of course he only has the ammo that's in the gun (unless he somehow acquires that) and he certainly doesn't have any way of maintaining the gun. He also has no attachment to it, so if it gets broken, destroyed or lost it's unlikely for Marky to care much about it, he'll just get another one the same way. He has nothing invested.

All merits can work the same way, if Marky's player had decided to spend some experience or creation merit points in Resources previously, he'd be able to just buy the gun, rather than suffer the consequences of having a now pissed-off gang-banger in his neighborhood who might or might not come back with friends to make Marky's life a little more difficult. If Marky had needed some heavier weaponry, obviously it would've taken a lot more effort to retrieve, and thus a greater amount of repercussion possible, which is the trade-off for having the Merit in this case.

I hesitate to say this makes Merits "feel balanced, meaningful, and fun..." but when you push characters to make decisions like that it can definitely improve the overall balance of the game regarding merits. The flip side of the coin is going to be punishing players for over-using high-rated "Quality of Life" merits to extract more mileage from them than would normally make sense. This occurs whenever you have a player whose high-resources character simply starts buying his way through problems rather than role-playing the situations out. (Essentially the polar opposite of my previous example). You can re-balance those high-merits through role-playing means again, pulling out things like suspicious IRS agents investigating or freezing the accounts temporarily (Don't take the dots away, simply make the player have to do some role-playing to make up for the RP he'd avoided using the Merit) or having the player attract the attention of powerful players in the city with all the cash he's throwing around.

When you get right down to it, having Resources 5, Allies 5, (Housing) 5 or Fighting Styles (Kung-Fu) 5 are all perfectly balanced, and realistically they can all provide you the same things with decent role-playing. In the Gun-needing-situation earlier, Resources 5 could've easily purchased the gun, assuming the character can find someone who'll sell it to him. With Allies 5, he could call on his buddy to bring him a gun (Though at a possible risk to his ally), with Housing 5, the gun could be considered part of the security of the house, if said housing was spent on security, but the gun being lost or permanently removed from the house could negatively impact the house merit. Kung Fu of course could be used to bypass the need for the gun, or to retrieve a gun in a similar fashion as exampled above. Or to earn some cash to buy the gun. Or make a friend who counts as an ally to bring you the gun.

It's not bad to be lenient with resources or other "quality of life" merits if you've got much bigger things for the characters to be worried about, but in the average game or with above average players you'll want to be as strict with them as you would be with any other merit, because it's easy for a that leniency to be bent to where the balance of the game overall has to be readjusted to compensate. I used to be very lenient with my players especially regarding resources when both I and my players were new to the system, but I very quickly learned that the seemingly "default" quality of life merits, even at fairly low dot-levels, can be incredibly powerful when abused without check.

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I wish I could give this a +1 because of how well you've explained this. However, I just don't know the system well enough to know whether you are 'correct' :o( –  Phil May 9 '13 at 11:06
While this does not address the fact that housing generally just takes 3x as much to get anywhere, I love the completeness of your examination of resources. +1. –  Pyrodante May 9 '13 at 15:12
I can agree that housing is still steeply priced, especially if it does not come into play regularly. I took another look at housing merits since I had some spare time. In this case remember to allow players to leverage it, in the case of Mage, Sanctum is a prereq for several other merits, and the security represents it for all of them. Same thing for Vampire really. A sanctum is also something of course that can be shared, especially for large sized ones it almost only makes sense that way. –  George Spiceland May 9 '13 at 15:29
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One important thing to note is what the merits actually give the character compared to one without the merit. Resources zero does not mean homeless (although it can). Resources represents 'extra money'

WoD: Core pg 115

All characters are assumed to have a job or a source of income (trust fund, parents) that is sufficient to cover their basic needs: food, shelter and transportation. Dots in this Merit represent disposable income - wealth and assets that can be liquidated for more money in case of emergency.

The Haven merit gives mechanical benefits to hunting and security. If you don't have the merit you still have a haven, it just gives no special bonuses. Vinnie Ventrue's security 5 haven is super hard to find or assault. Finding Mike Mekhet's haven with no merits is a simple matter to locate.

VtR pg 100-101

A haven with no dots in Haven Size is just large enough for its owner and perhaps a single companion, with minimal if any storage capacity

Havens without any dots in Location are sufficiently secluded so as to not provide any bonus.

Havens with no dots in Haven Security can be found by those intent enough to look, and offer little protection once they have been breached.

So the question is whether Allies:Criminals 5 is as valuable as Haven:Security 5 or Fighting Style:Boxing 5. And the answer depends entirely on the character. The sneaky Nos, the Gangrel thug and the Ventrue Mafiosi will each have different priorities for their merits.

There are a few merits that are IMO misspriced and I have house-ruled them in the past. Common Sense for example I price as a 1 dot merit for tabletop, to match the cost in MET, because 4 dots is just feels silly to me for what it provides. But everything has to have a cost if it gives any mechanical benefit or you are taking away from those characters whose concepts flow toward investing in the give-away merits.

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@Pyrodante I hesitate to bring it up, but… theft? I mean, there's that Larceny skill on the sheet just sitting there. :) –  Jadasc Feb 2 '12 at 21:30
@Pyrodante If you have Resources 0 you may have a gun or car that was cheap and second hand and prone to not working. that's one way to work around it. Otherwise this is an excellent question. –  Pureferret Feb 2 '12 at 22:33
Resources 0 still gets transportation, so a cheap basic car would be fine. A cheap second-hand gun would also be fine, maybe from an Ally or Mentor. Choosing resources 0 means you want money to be a challenge for your character. I have a gangrel with that, if he needs something there is a scene where he figures out how to get it. I also have a resources 4 ventrue who just has whatever he needs. Both are fun, but very different styles of play. A low resource character may very well be in the employ of a high resources character. There are reasons ventrue rule.... –  shimonyk Feb 3 '12 at 2:19
Almost all equipment has a resource dot requirement, which seems to imply that without that many dots, you can not afford it. –  Pyrodante Feb 16 '12 at 17:33
1) Dominate: Give me that gun Mr. Policeman. 2) Dominate: You do not remember me. –  Rob May 9 '13 at 8:28
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I found an interesting reference in The Blood for Vampire: The Requiem that explains that players may have access outside of their merits, but that the merit points represent semi-permanent gains — things that are part of the character.

Specifically, they mention that you can have a haven without spending dots, you simply do not get the mechanical benefit, and can't get mad when it burns down for no reason.

Personally, as an ST, I would grant them the merit points for the freebie just for clarity, but then not feel bad when I snatch them away.

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