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Like Attributes and Skills, Merits are usually rated at between 1 and 5 dots, but in contrast to Attributes and Skills, characters do not automatically possess any Merits, even at a rating of zero. They must be purchased at character creation with an allocation of points, or bought later with experience.

Many Merits are rated at a specific number of dots, representing the Merit's potency. For example, the Mental Merit Encyclopaedic Knowledge is rated at four dots; either you pay for four dots and have Encyclopaedic Knowledge, or you do not. Other Merits may have variable ratings, representing varying levels of effectiveness. These may follow the usual 1-to-5 scale of Skills, as in the case of background Merits like Resources or Contacts, or there may be multiple versions of the Merit, each with specific costs and varying effects. Examples of the latter are Striking Looks, which may be rated at 2 or 4 dots, and New Identity, which may be rated from 1 to 3 dots.

Most Merits are considered either Mental, Social or Physical, though supernatural qualities are usually considered outside these categories. In general, Mental Merits represent intellectual or cognitive talents; Physical Merits represent special physical training or particular physical talents; and Social Merits represent a character's relationships with society or unique circumstances which are advantageous in social interactions. Supernatural Merits run a wide gamut, including anything from psychic powers to the Mantle of Changelings or the Elpis of Prometheans.

Some Merits may have prerequisites which must be met before a character can acquire them. These are typically minimum ratings in an Attribute, Skill or other trait. It is also common for Merits to be restricted to new characters (i.e. they must be bought with the pool of points granted at character creation, not later with experience). These represent characteristics with which an individual is born, like Ambidexterity, or which have taken a lifetime to acquire, like Encyclopaedic Knowledge. Some Merits, including most supernatural ones, are restricted either to specific types of supernatural creature (e.g. Mantle is available only to Changelings) or to mortals (e.g. the Unseen Sense Merit).

Merits are not necessarily permanent — particularly Social Merits like Resources or Allies. Should a Merit be lost, the dots assigned to them may be reassigned to a different Merit, a process referred to as the Sanctity of Merits.

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