Building a new character in a tabletop RPG can be one of the most fun parts. Using nothing but your imagination and the limitations of the system, you get to make someone that will, by proxy, represent you in a whole new world.
However, unless you’re familiar with the system, determining the more technical aspects of your character can be complicated. This is true at times with creating a Vampire: the Masquerade character, too.
Choosing your merits is one aspect that can be both fun and challenging. That’s why I’ve written this quick guide to the best merits in Vampire: the Masquerade.
What are Merits?
I’ll begin by answering the obvious question for any newbies here: what, exactly, are merits? In short, merits are traits you can pay points for in character creation that offer you some kind of benefit.
They’re different from skills such as computer use or attributes like intelligence. I guess I would almost describe them as “soft” traits. For instance, if you have a soft voice or innocent look that just makes you seem trustworthy, that would be similar to a merit.
The V5 Core Rulebook, the latest edition of the game, defines merits in the following way: “advantages and gifts inherent to the character.”
You can generally only get merits during character creation. How you pay for them, though, varies based on which edition you’re playing. I’ll be discussing two editions here: second (revised) edition and V5, as those are the editions I have access to.
In revised edition, you would get a number of freebie points that you could spend on just about anything. You could use the points to increase your attributes, for instance…or you could purchase merits, which differed in cost. If you wanted more merits but didn’t have enough points, you had the option of picking flaws, which were negative qualities that gave you more points to spend.
It’s quite a bit different in V5. You’ll get 7 points to spend on Advantages like merits, and then you automatically have to take 2 points of Flaws. You can’t take on a Flaw to get more points to spend towards advantages. (There’s no reason you couldn’t have a house rule for that, though!)
Best Merits to Pick from the V5 Core Rulebook
The below merits are all merits I found in the V5 Core Rulebook. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to include a lot of them, even in the appendix, so my pickings were slim.
I’m not sure if there are more in supplementary V5 books. Currently, I only have access to the Core Rulebook. For the time being, I’ve included what I found that I felt was good here.
To explain to you why Unbondable is so good, I need to fill you in on what a Blood Bond is. You can pretty much guess correctly based on the name alone.
A vampire’s blood is addictive. Those who feed on it quickly grow to crave it, developing a bond with the Kindred it comes from. After drinking from the vampire in question three times on three separate nights within one year, the subject becomes a thrall, which is essentially a vampire’s servant.
This can even happen between other vampires. Some even Blood Bond each other as an attempt at forming a relationship, although this leads to mutual obsession rather than love.
Anyway, Unbondable makes it so your character resists Blood Bonding. In other words, no vampire can force you to become their thrall, through trickery or other means.
The other benefit to this merit is that your blood is valuable as a result of its mysterious unbondable quality. Alchemists will pay you a little extra cash under the table to acquire some, which could be some income for you if you fall on hard times.
Bloodhound is another one that will take a little extra explanation. In short, it allows your character to smell the Resonance in someone’s blood without feeding on them.
So, what is Resonance? Resonance is something in blood that allows your character to increase the power of their Disciplines, which are essentially vampire powers.
Technically, this Resonance-induced boost is temporary. When your character gets Hungry – or should we say thirsty? – enough, that boost fades until he or she feeds again.
To circle back to the Bloodhound merit, this makes feeding much easier when you’re looking to buff your character. You’ll know who you should or shouldn’t waste time on simply by their smell – no exhausting hunting or trickery necessary.
I think most people kind of think of Looks and Charisma as dump stats that you don’t bother with. This might be more applicable in games that are combat-heavy, but keep in mind that Vampire: the Masquerade is a game about complex and dark vampire politics.
Putting some dots in Looks could make all the difference between that human falling for your wiles or running away from you, screaming to whoever will listen about the monster they just met.
With just two dots in Looks, your character gets the beautiful status. This allows them to add one extra die to any social rolls where looks might be important. Four dots and you get stunning, which allows you to add two extra dice.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like there are tons of opportunities to take advantage of these extra dice in a politics-heavy game.
Vampires are sort of picky eaters. They need fresh blood to thrive.
With Iron Gullet, however, that doesn’t have to be the case. Putting points in this merit makes it possible for you to drink cold or rancid blood. You can even drink plasma to get by.
In other words, the stereotype of vampires buying refrigerated blood from blood banks in the name of ethics is now a possibility for you.
To choose this merit, you’ll need to make a Thin-Blooded character. Thin Bloods are vampires from the latest generations, and they tend not to be as powerful as old ones.
All Kindred came from one vampire: Caine. Second-generation vampires were sired directly by him, the third generation sired by the second generation, and so on. The more generations between you and the original vampire, the “thinner” your blood is.
To be precise, fourteenth and fifteenth-generation vampires tend to be considered Thin Bloods. If you happen to be playing one of them, you can soften the blow of your comparative weakness by taking Day Drinker.
You know how normal vampires can’t go out in the sunlight? Well, Day Drinker allows you to do so – although not wholly unscathed. Your health will be cut in half, and you’ll lose all your vampire abilities in the sunlight, but other than that, it’s no sweat for you.
Imagine your time doubled, and you’ll see why this is so useful. Does your party need someone to do research in the library or visit an office that only has daytime hours? No more will you have to make thralls do it – you can do it yourself and make sure it gets done right.
Other Merits to Consider
For the following merits, I had to dig into my copy of Revised Edition. This is a much older edition. Your Storyteller could say that, since these merits aren’t explicitly listed in the V5 Core Rulebook, you can’t use them.
However, that is entirely up to them and your play group. If it’s allowed, feel free to use any of my suggested merits from the below list…
Blush of Health
Whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to deal with humans occasionally. Being able to blend in with them could be beneficial for you, especially from a hunter’s perspective.
That’s what Blush of Health is for. For two points, you’ll gain an appearance that makes you look rosy-cheeked and healthy, allowing you to camouflage into a crowd of people.
You’ve probably seen a crime show or movie in which some stuffy genius had a photographic memory. If you’re willing to part with two freebie points, you can give your character that exact talent.
With the Eidetic Memory merit, your character can recall memories with crystal-clear detail. They’ll remember all documents they’ve read, the faces of people they met, and conversations they’ve had.
Basically, you can turn your character into an undead encyclopedia.
For two points, you can also get Enchanting Voice, which is exactly what it sounds like. You’ll get a voice that holds listeners inexplicably bound to you.
Shout, and they’ll tremble in fear. Speak softly, and they’ll be entranced. Whenever you use your voice to achieve some effect, whether it’s intimidation, persuasion, or seduction, the difficulty level to succeed is reduced by two.
In a lot of traditional vampire lore, vampires have superhuman senses. What’s the fun in being an immortal undead if you still have crappy eyesight, right?
However, you’ll need Acute Sense to really heighten your senses. Spend one point, and you’ll get one sense preternaturally sharpened. You can choose sight, smell, touch, taste, or hearing.
Depending on which sense you choose, perception rolls can be drastically changed with your inhuman sensory capabilities. Imagine combining this with Bloodhound for an extra-sharp sense of smell that lets you sample the scent of a person’s blood without so much as spilling a drop.
You’d be almost like a vampire sommelier.
I get it: when you design a playable character for a tabletop RPG, it’s because you want to be the main character of your story. You don’t want to be forced to submit to the will of someone else.
Iron Will helps make that a reality. You can use it to spend Willpower to resist the vampiric power of Dominate, breaking free from the shackles of another’s will.
Similarly, you get three bonus dice to roll when trying to resist mental effects of magic. If you’re going to make the mistake of bumping into mages or if you encounter a Tremere, this could be a lifesaver.
Read Also: Best Clans in Vampire: the Masquerade
Someone needs to lead the pack in your playgroup. If that’s you, you may want to consider picking up Natural Leader for a cool single point.
It basically gives you a natural gravitas that will have people following you without really knowing why. Whenever you make a Leadership roll, you’ll get two extra dice.
In order to get this merit, though, you need to have a Charisma attribute of at least three.
A little earlier on in this post, we mentioned Iron Will, a merit that grants you some resistance towards mental magic effects. But what about other magic effects?
If you want to make yourself into an anti-magic tank, you’ll need the two-point merit Magic Resistance. As you can imagine, it gives you a natural resistance to Tremere and mage spells.
Mechanically, it means a Tremere Kindred or mage attempting to cast a spell on you must succeed at a roll that’s two difficulty levels higher than the norm. There is a heavy price to pay aside from the freebie points, though: you will never be able to learn Thaumaturgy (blood magic) as a result of this very merit.
Whether or not that price is worth it is up to you.
It’s never a bad thing to have Lady Luck on your side. With the Lucky merit, you get precisely that…well, sort of.
In game, you get can reroll three rolls you failed each story. That includes totally botched rolls, which could save your butt multiple times.
There’s only one limitation, and it’s that you can only do it once for any given failed roll. But if it’s the only thing standing between you and a botched roll that leads to certain death, humiliation, or possibly even worse, it’s worth a shot.
You’ve heard the saying that cats have nine lives. While this obviously isn’t true for cats, it can be true for your vampire if you decide to blow a whopping six points for the merit.
Assuming you do, here’s what happens: every time you make a roll that would lead to the end of your unlife, you get to make another roll. If this second rolls succeeds, you live another day, permanently losing one of your nine lives.
As you can guess from the name, you get to do this up to nine times. If it works flawlessly (which I can’t guarantee, of course!), that means you’ll have been saved a total of nine times.
This doesn’t have to be spread out, either. If you’re really unlucky and fail that second roll, you can keep rolling again until you succeed, each subsequent roll consuming one of your nine lives. Hopefully, you don’t spend all those rolls in one place.
Maybe you’re like me, though, and you’re a botch magnet. Consider picking up the Lucky merit, in that case.
There are tons of ways to deeply personalize your vampire in Vampire: the Masquerade. Part of this depends on which edition your group has chosen to play.
I’d like to think, though, that many good Storytellers will make concessions for merits from other editions if they’re interesting enough. If you’re playing V5, for instance, and would prefer to use merits from previous editions, it doesn’t hurt to ask your Storyteller.
You can even make up your own homebrewed merits if you want to get extra creative. Again, just make sure you float the idea by your Storyteller first. The last thing they want is for you to show up to the game with a made-up merit that allows you manipulate reality or something.