Virtue is as Virtue does (Momma always said)

He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Anyone familiar with pre-NWoD Storyteller games will also be familiar with a set of Traits called Virtues – Courage, Conviction, etcetera. In Exalted™ the Virtues describe the passions of the Chosen – how strongly they feel and behave regarding a particular concept such as bravery – and go so far as to potentially over-ride the will of the character. This is part-and-parcel of what I call “White Wolf’s Flawed Character Model” wherein the protagonists have something internal that they must struggle against, lest they become the very monsters that they fight. Vampires must maintain their Via or Humanity, Werewolves struggle against Rage, Mages against Paradox, and so on.

Legend of the Three Pillars partially embraces this concept. We often find, in literature or film, that heroes are defined as much by their flaws as by their actions, or willingness to act. So whenI talk about Virtues we have two forces at work:

A hero – or at least an individual of heroic stature – has both the ability and the will to act when others do not. This is represented by the Virtue scores themselvs. LoTP uses Courage, Conviction and Temperance which are described in the Exalted™ rulebook (p. 103. I use Courage instead of Valor but the terms are synonymous for our purposes). These Traits help determine a character’s pool of Heroic Reserves and allow a character to perform above and beyond what is possible for normal mortals. As described in the rules (p. 102) a character may use a point of Willpower to channel a Virtue towards an appropriate action. This can occur once per day per dot in the Virtue, and the dice bonus is equal to the Virtue’s rating.

Sister Teress, of the Immaculate Order of the First Tower, is attempting to exorcise a Chaos spirit. She has Conviction of 4. By expending a point of Willpower Teress is able to channel her Conviction and add 4 dice to her Charisma+Occult roll for the exorcism ritual.

The Virtue ratings may also be used to determine whether a character is able to act heroically at all. Charging into combat against a dragon, for instance, may require a roll against Courage. Resisting the lure of a siren could require a roll against Conviction or Temperance. Usually only a single success is required. If a roll of this kind is failed then the character acts in an un-virtuous way – cowering behind a rock, or diving headlong into the arms of the soul-devouring temptress. Such actions can be temporarily avoided by the expenditure of Willpower.

Note that if a character’s normal reaction is to embrace every vice, hide under the bed and avoid risk at all costs then I submit that the character is not of heroic stature (Read: a total wuss) and the player of said character may wish to rethink things. Having the ability and wherewithal to act heroically means that one must actually do so. A character with a high Courage acts courageously. A character with a high Conviction defends her beliefs against all comers. A character with a high Temperance resists the urge to steal anything that isn’t nailed down. A player should choose their Virtue ratings with this in mind.

The flipside of virtues are flaws. Flawed characters – sometimes deeply so – are an integral part of heroic literature and film. Often it is the struggle against one’s flaws that defines a character as heroic. Characters in LoTP ‘earn’ flaws during play whenever they botch a roll – either a Virtue check or a skill test where a Virtue is being channeled. A flaw should, after consultation between player and Storyteller, be related to both the situation and Virtue.

Once a character has a flaw for a particular Virtue it is permanent and can only be removed by good roleplaying over a period of time. Also, the character does not accrue more flaws towards a Virtue – if a flawed Virtue roll is botched then the existing problem gets worse.  A player may expend Willpower to temporarily overcome the effect of a flaw, and consistent roleplaying of the character’s attempts to overcome their flaws can permanently reduce the severity of an existing flaw.

Anati ibn-Fe’din, while hunting a sand-demon, falls foul of the creature’s entrancement. The spirit magically compels Anati to drink its blood and Anati botches his Temperance check, becoming the demon’s slave for a year and a day. Once free, Anati’s player assigns the flaw “Binge Drinker” to Temperance. Anati now drinks heavily – whenever alcohol is on offer – in an effort to forget the things the sand-demon made him do. Should Anati botch another Temperance related check – perhaps to resist drinking too much at the Sultan’s wedding – the player may change the flaw to “Sot”, meaning that Anati is almost always drunk and will go to great lengths to remain so.

I am resisting the urge to add mechanical effects to flaws. This isn’t stock Exalted™ and there is no Great Curse for characters to overcome. There is no Limit and no Limit Breaks, and no penalty to suppressing a Virtue other than the expenditure of Willpower. Virtue flaws are meant as a story and roleplaying hook. They should add flavour to a character – some rough edges – and enhance the story. If a player or Storyteller feels that a particular flaw is impeding gameplay or taking the fun away then there needs to be some dialogue so that a reasonable comprimise can be reached.

In conclusion, a character’s Virtues are integral to what it means to be a hero. They do not compel a character to be a ‘good guy’- far from it – but they do help define the boundaries of a character’s heroism. They are the peaks of a mountain range, and the concomitant flaws are the valleys.

Comments are welcome, as always.


~ by occam99 on July 5, 2012.

4 Responses to “Virtue is as Virtue does (Momma always said)”

  1. I like the way flaws round out a heroic character. Almost want to intentionally botch a roll so that I can get one…

    Ever thought of having new characters start with a flaw?

    Reading between the lines, I presume that Virtue based rolls will be fairly common in LoTP? Something simular to sanity checks in Cthulhu?


  2. The thought of having characters start with a flaw – should the player shoose – crossed my mind. But we then have to apply the inverse principle of Heroic Action Requires Heroic Resources, to whit: what do I give a starting character in exchange for this flaw? I have studiously steered clear of the Merits & Flaws we see in other White Wolf games, and allowing a character to start with a flaw just opens that can of worms up. Perhaps it is something we can revisit at another time, maybe characters introduced into an ongoing campaign.
    As to the second part – I imagine that Storyteller initiated Virtue checks will be not too common, so long as characters are played in-line with their virtue scores. I forsee that player-initiated Virtue checks (i.e chanelling a Virtue for bonus dice) will be far more common.

  3. Cool – not having access to the rules yet I was not sure what temperance was in relation to the other two. I thought it was more a general self control. My character concept is that he is not well controlled when he sees issues but he would not steal. Only way I can see to portray that in stats is with a higher temperance and a flaw. I’ll just attempt to RP it for now. What does a “normal” person have in terms of virtues dots?

  4. Temperance is exactly that: self-control. The ability to resist temptation and over-indulgence. The stealing reference was directed more towards players who have their characters attempt to steal everything “because I’m a thief”. A thief with a low Temperance is a kleptomaniac and soon get’s caught. An ‘heroic’ thief with a high Temperance is can resist the easy pickings and focus on the big score.

    Really it was an attempt to have players realise that LoTP characters are a cut above ruffians and petty thugs. Even the least powerful character can do things that normal people can’t.

    Your character probably has a decent Courage and Conviction and a lower Temperance.

    An average person probably has a couple of Virtues at 2 and one at 1.

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