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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 96 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Humanity and Protagonism in difficult settings  (Read 3741 times)
Christopher Weeks
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Posts: 683


« on: September 25, 2003, 06:34:02 AM »

How can I establish protagonism for characters in a setting that by modern western sensibility admits mostly of evil?

I have been playing with Sorcerer settings as an exercise.  Most of them have turned out reasonable, playable games with interesting ideas to explore.  The one I'm working on now, has me stumped.  I don't know if it's a really tough nut or I'm having a brain fart.

I'd like to set a game in ~1830 southwest Kansas (or thereabouts) where the players are Comanche witches.  The problem that I'm having is that, as I read it, murder and torture are considered OK (actually, good) things under many, many circumstances.  How do I define Humanity broadly and definitely enough enough that it works as a game mechanic and still permits such a setting?  How would 'healthy' players be able to empathize enough with these characters to really consider them protagonists?

Ten Bears, as portrayed in The Outlaw Josey Wales and even Buffalo Hump as portrayed in Comanche Moon can easily be grasped as protagonists.  But how do I set it up in Sorcerer and stay true to the genre?

Chris
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2003, 08:17:56 AM »

What makes Ten Bears and Buffalo Hump human? If the answer is nothing, then you haven't found a moral center from which to construct a version of humanity (and I wouldn't be surprised if two pop culture references to Native American cultures portrayed them as having no humanity). You might do better to read a good ethnography. Remember, the PC Sorcerers are protagonists. So the source material has to be about protagonists.

Do you remember the movie Sling Blade? I always liked to chide that it was the "feel good slasher film about a guy who kills for all the right reasons."

I think that a game where Humanity was knowing when killing was ethical, and not doing it for selfish reasons, would be interesting. In a way, it relates to the game I'm playtesting right now called Unsung. Killing is what it's all about. The question is whether or not you're killing for the right reasons.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2003, 08:31:07 AM »

Hi Chris,

One possible solution is to focus the Humanity definition quite tightly, to something like "my family vs. my friend," and let any and all other activity in the game simply be irrelevant to Humanity checks and gain rolls.

Another point is not to worry much about the Humanity of NPCs, in many game situations. Mike correctly points out that Humanity is an issue for protagonists.

Best,
Ron
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Christopher Weeks
Member

Posts: 683


« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2003, 10:13:44 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
What makes Ten Bears and Buffalo Hump human?


Yeah.  This is what I needed to see.

The factors that I think make these portrayals protagonistic include: personal strength, "plains" honor, withstanding adversity, personal responsibility, self confidence, and stewardship of the health of one's people.  And I think that all but that last could be rolled pretty neatly into the notion of reputation.  There could then be these two factors to humanity.

As for ethnography, I've done a little "real" research, but I'm more interested for purposes of a game in the somewhat fictionalized setting with which more people are familiar.  And if Ten Bears in the movie is protagonistic, but the real one was not...so what?  Or were you getting at something deeper?

Quote from: Ron Edwards
One possible solution is to focus the Humanity definition quite tightly, to something like "my family vs. my friend," and let any and all other activity in the game simply be irrelevant to Humanity checks and gain rolls.


By this, do you mean that the two dimensions of Humanity would be "doing right by my family" and "doing right by my friends" which might sometimes be at odds, as discussed in 'Soul or 'Sex (confusion due to reading both at the same time)?  If you define it that way, why does sorcery have a negative impact?

Thanks guys,

Chris
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2003, 10:22:30 AM »

I'd call it the "plains" honor thing (and make sure your players understand what constitutes that per your examples). Saying it's Reputation seems to cheapen it to me. It's not what other people think about the character, it's what he thinks of himself that makes up his identity, and humanity if that identity is human.

I'd play the honor thing. I can see a lot of settings where this sort of sacred honor includes killing people. Samurai come to mind instantly.

Quote
And if Ten Bears in the movie is protagonistic, but the real one was not...so what? Or were you getting at something deeper?
Actually, I was saying the opposite. If you find that Ten Bears is an unredeemably villainous character with no humanity given the film portrayal, an ethnography might put his actions into perspective enough for you to understand his actions as human, and perhaps even heroically so.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2003, 10:48:59 AM »

Hi Chris,

I'm indeed referring to the two-definitions issue regarding Humanity, which is a pretty good idea when you're dealing with very tightly focused definition(s) for the score.

But let's not get hung up on that. Your question is more important:

Quote
If you define it that way, why does sorcery have a negative impact?


I'm going to say, let's define Humanity any old way you like, because it doesn't matter what it is, for purposes of answering your question.

Sorcery threatens Humanity based on your group's local definition of it. That's why you're playing in the first place. If you choose to go with "honor," or (as you implied, which I like) "tribal reputation," then bear in mind a couple of things:

- dealing with the demons (ancestor spirits? nature spirits?) still has negative Humanity consequences, potentially. I don't care why or how this gets justified; it is the way it is. Maybe the spirits "take a piece of you." Maybe, individually, they're selfish and have to get headlocked and spanked to help out the tribe. Maybe they demand nasty things in trade. Whatever.

- if you use the spirits to aid the tribe, that might net you enough Humanity gain rolls to offset the Humanity checks from the rituals.

- but if you start using those spirits for non-tribe-welfare stuff, then hoo boy. Are you in trouble.

And in the potential conflict between those last two points, may be found a bushel basket of protagonist-rich conflict.

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2003, 11:25:10 AM »

Hey Chris,

Humanity as described in &Sword has some of the same traits that you're describing here, though with a somewhat different setting. It might be useful to page through it with an eye for your setting.

-Tim
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