For the system in Fifth Edition, see Advantages and Flaws (Fifth Edition).
Merits and Flaws are an optional type of trait used to flesh out characters in the Storyteller System (the system used by the Classic World of Darkness, among other game lines). Merits cost a fixed number of freebie points, while flaws likewise grant freebie points. Merits and flaws are used to flesh out a character and add playable advantages or disadvantages that are otherwise not covered by the typical character traits. They were usually not found in the main rulebook of each line, but were instead published in that line's Players Guide.
The range of merits and flaws are diverse, but there are several basic merits and flaws that are common to all lines. Physical, social, mental and supernatural were among the most common categories, as were psychological and ally-type merits and flaws. Other types are available, depending on the type of creature being created, and are usually related to that specific supernatural breed. A classic Vampire: The Masquerade flaw, for example, was Thin Blood, used to represent a character above the thirteenth generation.
Merits, as the name suggests, provide boons or advantages and could be purchased through freebie points or (in some cases) experience points. Merits have a similar function to Backgrounds in that they flesh out a character via game mechanics, but unlike Backgrounds, they have a fixed cost rather than a rating of one to five dots. Classic examples of merits include Common Sense, Code of Honor, Eidetic Memory, Ambidextrous, True Love, Lucky, and Fast Learner (which, in its early incarnations, many took for the extra experience point gained at the end of every chapter). Also seen as merits were alliances with a creature of another supernatural breed, such as a wraith ally for a non-wraith character.
Flaws naturally provide the opposite effect. Unlike merits, adding a flaw to a character grants freebie points equal to that flaw's rating; however, there is usually a limit of seven points that could be gained in this manner. Classic flaws include Phobia, Curse, Vengeance, Amnesia, Distinctive Appearance, and Enemy. A set of flaws which limits the amount of points that could be spent in each category of Abilities: Inept limited the points one could take in Talents, Uneducated limited Knowledges, and Unskilled affected Skills.
The predecessor of the Storyteller System's Merits were the Virtues of Ars Magica, many of which were virtually identical in function and cost to their Storyteller System counterparts. In turn, the Storyteller System's Merits are the predecessors of the Storytelling System's Merit system, which combines the functions of the Storyteller System's Merits and Backgrounds.
A very different system for handling Flaws is used by the first edition of the Storytelling System, in which they are unrelated to Merits; instead of providing bonus at character creation, they provide bonus experience points as they came into play. Flaws were effectively removed from the game in the Revised Storytelling System, in which their function of granting experience through adversity was folded into the core system of Beats.
For a listing of Merits and Flaws in the Storyteller System, see List of Merits and Flaws (Storyteller System).