Much as with Humanity, Virtues are one of those core concepts that took me a while to even start getting a handle on; in fact, I’m still trying to really “get” them. While they do have a mechanical role to play in the game, the situations where they do come are fairly rare, and generally are of a punitive nature. One rolls Conscience to avoid losing Humanity (and/or getting lectured by the Storyteller) and one rolls Self-Control to avoid losing control of your character, because the Storyteller thinks your character should behave a different way than you do. In no case do these Virtues ever approach anything resembling “neat” or “fun.”
While I still enforce the raw rules regarding the Virtues, I've started to view them in a slightly different manner. First off, is viewing them as role-playing tools. Much like Nature and Demeanor, these are often interpreted as straight jackets, but actually they are supposed to be there to assist one in fulling inhabiting the character. If you want to play somewhat who is passionate and spontaneous, one should go with a high Conscience (or Instinct), while those who prefer playing a more calm and deliberative character should focus on Self-Control (of Conviction).
While useful in such a sense, I still run into the problem that they don’t do anything fun or interesting in the game itself. I’m starting up a new Dark Ages game soon, and I’m trying to think of what I can do to make the Virtues more interesting, and also more proactive. Things that you roll to keep playing your character they way you want (a “privilege” that is assume in every other table-top RPG) are inherently reactive and quite a bit dull. I don’t want them to just be “saving throws” against Storyteller fiat.
Conscience is often the most undervalued of the virtues. Courage is awesome, of course, since it gives you Willpower and you can use it to tell Capt. “I Have a 5 in Presence” to go fuck himself. Self-Control tends to be the middle ground, useful to make your save against the Storyteller, while Conscience ends up as the dump stat.
I’m not really sure what I would do to change this. Maybe add half your score as bonus dice when dealing with mortals? Perhaps reduce difficulty to understand mood and motivation?
Obviously, its something I’m struggling with. How can something so seemingly key to a game be so...boring, and uninteresting?
Likewise, Degeneration is something I struggle with. I have to admit a certain fondness for the the idea that as you lose Humanity, you also gain a Derangement--particularly if they are less "fishmalky" and more "twisted role-playing ideas." But, again, this is an issue where the Storyteller tells the Player how to play their character. In theory, I like this idea, but even as a player I've had issues when my Storyteller tried this tactic with me. Not because I don't want to see my character inconvenienced, but because what I did not agree with their ideas, or I had no idea how to play the Derangements they gave me. Telling me "oh, you're a good role-player, you'll figure it out" didn't help me when I literally had no idea what he was talking about.
I think this is why my attitude nowadays is to try and minimize Degeneration as much as possible. I pretty much let my players pick their own Humanity rating, regardless of their virtues, and use it only as a role-playing guideline. Playing it well gets you those oh so valuable "role-playing XP's", and Degeneration only really happens when the Storyteller and player agree that this is where the character is now, or where he is going.