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Defining Humanity Through Play

Started by Bailywolf, August 05, 2002, 06:18:14 PM

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Perhpas this is in 'Soul, but I don't have a copy (perhaps I should...).  Defining Humanity always seems like one of the cornerstones set during the conception process of a particular implementation of Sorcerer... and off this, the nature of demons, sorcery itself, the flavor for the rituals etc all spring.  

But in reality, what is humanity?  Lots of opinions, no certain answers.  

I would love to set up a Sorcerer campaign where defining humanity is the driving themtic energy behind the stories... what the hell is it we risk anyway?    Imagine the headgames...the justifications for loosing humanity...the slow slide into a cynical reality... I can't define this 'humanity' so who cares if I loose it?  Perhaps it doesn't even exist except as an illusion in my mind...holding me back...

By proxy, the nature of demons and sorcery itself are left as blanks... even I as the GM would have no idea...they would becomes defined through the discovery process of the characters themselves.

I'm pretty stuck on how to implement this thing...

One thing I considered is keeping each character's current Humanity score secret...but since rolling out humanity accounts for some of the game's major mechanics...have to come up with some kind of alternative.  Perhaps players only know their humanity as of the last time they rolled it...when they need to roll it for something, the GM tells them how many dice they have left in it... this could make for some nice "Oh shit" moments... a character who has been doing some heavy binding calls upon his Humanity to Banish...and he's got one die to play with.  Despite his arrogance and hubris, his humanity- an undefinable yet powerful and importiant component of himself has atrophied.

And the only way to know if it is intact is to test it agianst some horror or another... only by holding yourself up next to some utterly inhuman other can you see the contrast created by your humanity...

If this is covered in the Sorcerer's Soul, I'm sorry to beat a dead horse, but otherwise, thoughts?

Ron Edwards

Hi Benjamin,

With respect, your preference or tendency to kitchen-sink your game ideas is maybe not the best route to take for Sorcerer.

I'll be the first to say that a rigid and imposed "this is Humanity" approach may not always be called for. I know that in general, the game calls for a pretty solid definition, but I also know that in practice, that pre-game definition tends to be blurred and, for lack of a better word, deconstructed through the events of play. Which is fine, in fact, it's kind of impressive when it happens.

But defining it entirely through play? Humanity, ultimately, reflects a value system, up to and including moral judgments. One doesn't do well to Tao one's value-system, ie, make it up "with the flow" as you go along ... such behavior invariably becomes self-serving and self-indulgent, and ultimately thematically empty. (I am referring to creating stories here; what a person tends to do with one's real value-system, in life, is his or her business.)

In order for the question you pose, "What is it we risk?" to be viable for Sorcerer play, people must be willing to answer that through play - and basically, do exactly what I recommend in the first place. Deferring it slightly seems like a fine option. However, sooner rather than later, the GM says, "Make a Humanity check" (or a fellow player suggests that such a check really ought to happen). There you go. Playing the game requires that such things be said, and thus that a certain take on Humanity has to be operating.

Perhaps the very variety and frustration of the "head games" you mention are exactly why implementing the idea is difficult. For me, head games aren't an attractive incentive to play.

I do think it's a worthwhile line of inquiry, and I'd like to see what others think of it. Most of this post is, for lack of a better word, the prevailing counter-argument, and I'm willing to see where exceptions to it might lie.


Uncle Dark


Let me meet you halfway.  Instead of working up the moral/thematic issues of Humanity before play begins, why not decide how it will be used as an attribute before play, and flesh out the more philisophical points in play.

That is, if your group decides that Humanity (whatever it ultimately represents) is rolled when trying to relate to NPCs on an emotional level.  Commanding and threatening and business and other impersonal, not-emotionally-inolved stuff is handled with Will.  Humanity is rolled when appealing to another character's love, or empathising with their fear, or generally sharing in some way in whatever is going on for them.

Roll wit it.  See where you, as the GM, call for Humanity checks.  This might even work best with players who are willing to say, "I'm not sure exactly why, but it feels like my guy ought to be facing humanity loss here."

The idea is that a mechanical definition of Humanity carries implicit ethical ideas, without getting all philisophical, which can distance some people from the game.  It puts some broad limits on what Humanity might be, leaving the fine details for later.

Reality is what you can get away with.