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Humanity - the non-degenerative aproach

Started by sanctum, September 11, 2001, 09:27:00 PM

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I haven't run a sorcerer campaign yet, but that hasn't stopped me from forming concepts as I read through the rule book.  Frequently when humanity is discussed it is made very apparent that it is just a number, the value does not corrolate with a sliding scale or degeneration of character.  I have found this very hard to come to terms with after being so used to the same statistic in Vampire : The Masquerade, where the slow loss of the stat reflects a characters slide into bestiality.  I believe many other players and refs who have posted here are also treating the humanity stat as it is dealt with in vampire or as sanity is aproached in Cthulhu.  I have finally rationalised a non-degenerative explanation for the stat which I feel is wholly in keeping with the flavour of the game.

A characters starting humanity value is a measure of his grasp of reality.  A measure of how well he can cope with earth shattering realisations, such as the existance of Demons, the fact that he has inadvertently killed an innocent or the news report of the destruction of the world trade centre.
A character with low starting humanity will have a dangerously unstable psyche, likely to drop him into madness as soon as his fragile understanding of the world about him is tested.  Where as a high humanity would reflect a person of stout confidence or unshakable belief.  As humanity drops we are merely measuring the degree to which the fundamentals of that characters grasp on reality is being challenged, this needent affect the character in any way, but there will come a point where a simple event will trigger the change from PC to NPC, from rational member of society to remorseless hedonist.
This method allows all manner of reality shaking events to affect a character from humanity 10 down to humanity 1.  A problem in the Vampire system is that a humanity 1 character can commit any unspeakable act short of deliberate mutilation.  Take away the slow degradation and you see that all events that run counter to our safe little world image will rock the boat, it doesn't mean we keep rocking the boat, perpetuating or mimicing those atrocities and viewing them as normal.
This is the big point.
As humanity drops, it is not the character who changes, just his awareness of the world.  Eventually even the strongest character will have his world image changed enough that he will simply change his moral code overnight as the sheer weight of reality sinks in.
If you want to look to reality for evidence to support this concept, just examine any nervous breakdown case.
I apologise if this post is old news to any of you, I know this helped me seperate sorcerer form other roleplaying games, maybe it can help someone else.


Your idea only works if I view Humanity as Sanity/Morality.

If I view it as Soul/Honor or another combination, then your idea falls apart.

And that's not a bad thing.

If you want Humanity to be Sanity/Morality to be the basis for your Sorcerer games I would say your ideas are good - in fact I like them enough to maybe use them myself.

But, from how I see Sorcerer, if we were to limit Humanity to be only one thing or one combination (Sanity/Morality) and make that thing/combination cannon - that would go a bit too far.  It would limit the use(s) of Humanity which I feel is the most interesting part of the game.


Blake Hutchins

With respect, Time, it works the same way. Think of Humanity (whatever it represents) as moral (whether defined as honor, empathy, etc.) padding. A person with Humanity (Honor) 1 can be just as honorable as someone with Humanity 10, but once tested (losing a Humanity roll), the person's adherence to the code doesn't bend; it shatters. What the nature of Humanity determines is the exact consequence of a total Humanity loss: insanity, immobilizing guilt, moral descent, demonic possession, sociopathic disconnection, etc.



[ This Message was edited by: Blake Hutchins on 2001-09-13 15:47 ]


I see the point, but I think I expanded on one basic premise to give the full blown concept above, which of course only fits my game concept.  The basic premise alone is still valid and could be expanded on in any number of ways.


The higher the starting value of humanity, the stronger a characters resolve/morality/soul/honour/etc. etc.
Any losses in humanity represent little knocks which niggle behind the scenes.
Any gains are reaffirmations.
Any gains above the original humanity score would represent new views or an increased self regard.

This is just the best way I've found to explain to myself what the book occasionally proposes, if it doesn't work for you then I hope your system works fine already.  I was just worried that with my group they'd end up wandering arround at humanity 2 or 3 and become hedonistic remorseless murderers, that's happpened in Vampire before and I don't want it in my sorcerer campaigns.


Ah!  Now I see it.  Sometimes it just takes another perspective and another re-read.  Thanks Blake.

The concept in the original post makes more sense to me now.


Ron Edwards

Hello all,

Great thread - two important principles have been illustrated that work well together.

1) In-game-world, Humanity is an active/change mechanic rather than as a gauge of "what my guy is like." [I confess that some unreconstructed prose in the book can be misleading about that. With any luck, 'Soul fixes that problem.]

Metagame/Narrativist speaking, however, the value of current Humanity is a gauge, in its way, - "how far are we from dealing with the Nasty/Grim part?" How does the player want to deal with that?

2) The concept of Humanity as a customized, group-specific issue. The 'Soul supplement is of course devoted to exactly this topic.

Sounds to me like everyone posting on this thread is hitting all cylinders for both of these issues. How it works out in actual play will be of great interest to me.



something i was kicking around...

Instead of actualy reducing the Humanity trait itself, inflict 'humanity damage' on a character- just like the sort of accumulated penalties associated with injury.

Temporary shocks, surprises, and freak-outs can temporarily unhinge a person (read: shock), while truly supernatural or world-shattering events leave longer lasting marks.

Just like injury, when the number of humanity penalties meets or excedes the humanity trait, a person's mental state is thrown into chaos- psychotic episode, shock, coma, fugue state, dissociative episodes etc.  Shocks can be reduced by resting, talking about it, getting some time to think etc.  More serious psychic injuries require long term help to heal- therepy, meditation, drugs, or a life-style change.  

Demonic powers which now reduce the humanity score instead inflict humanity injuries just like a physical attack.

Ron Edwards


Interesting idea. If everyone's up for the record-keeping, it could be worth a try.

However, since character behavior isn't constrained to change given a lower/higher score of Humanity, I'm not sure about the actual effects of this proposed method unless it involves Humanity 0. And I think that makes most sense in the context of options that do NOT remove the PC from the player's control ...

The mini-supplement Hellbound provides a very intense, aggressive set of rules (or sub-rules) for similar issues.

So yes, interesting. I'd be curious to see how a group works with this in practice.




If the temporaty Humanity lost lasted for say... 1 day per lost point (just pulling a durration of the top of my head), I think that might be interesting (Better not summon up that demon now, I'm down to onlly 2 Humanity...).

It would be a bit more record keeping, but might make for some interesting tactical problems for the players.

Then again, it might subtract from the roleplaying aspect of the game and focus too much on numbers.




Thats a real interesting idea BW.  Would support the "unified field" theory of game mechanics making "damage" to Humanity track and function identically to physical injury.  One could even devise a scale of horrific events paralleling the "X" Factor damage table, and a "Humanity Loss" effects chart similiar to the Stamina based damage effects chart.

All sorts of interesting possibilities in there.  Would require a lot of effort to make it workable enough to give it a try though.


I do like the humanity/shock damage concept, but I'd robably use it to avoid taking characters away at 0 humanity.  Maybe use 0 humanity to reflect borderline state and big shocks to throw the character temporarily over the edge.  Over time the character may pull himself back together to 0 humanity again, but may require help/treatment/isolation whatever.

May I suggest -1die penalty per humanity point below 0 to all actions?
Certainly food for thought.

Ron Edwards

Sanctum wrote
"May I suggest -1 die penalty per humanity point below 0 to all actions?"

I'm not sure if that's much different from simply taking away the character, in terms of its goal. It's basically just slower. I consider the basic rules for 0-Humanity to be more-or-less the "unreconstructed" version of what one might do, and the penalty-suggestion seems to me to differ only in degree.

Of course, the suggestion is perfectly functional. The basic rules (and this penalty-based suggestion) WORK fine, but they don't use the concept of 0-Humanity as a springboard for further story or character development. Except very loosely in the "character rewrite" section.

Alternately, The Sorcerer's Soul offers much more interesting options about what to do with 0-Humanity characters, especially if one is using the Grace rules in the Angels chapter. Also, as I mentioned the mini-supplement Hellbound, by Dav Harnish, in which characters trade off Power and Humanity, and can even use others' Humanity as a direct resource. (Sorry for the unabashed sales plug ...)



Here is another option which melds the two humanity tracks-

People suffer Humanity Damage from their experiences... and then based on a rough table of possible effects the effects can be determined.  Shocks return fairly quickly- usualy after the situatio which induced them is past, while Scars are much longer lasting and inflict specific relevent penalties in certain circumstances (such as a Scar which was the result of a confrontation with a slimy, face licking demon may induce a fear or close intimicy, of kissing, or of helplessness).  In such circumstances, a character's actions may fall to the GM to describe- a loss of control.

Now, players can choose to burn a point off the humanity trait itself to reduce the game mechanic penalties from a Scar- they still have it, but have made it a part of themselves so completely that they can function with it... though they won't be the same afterwords... and future humanity damage will more difficut to resist.  

Both the immediate trauma of the unnatural and the long-term soul scaring can be captured this way.

It adds a couple of new wrinkles of complexity, but puts humanity loss in the realm of player choice rather than random accident.

Ron Edwards


Bake this idea in a fair amount of actual play, come up with some scenarios and relationship maps, maybe some setting material, find an artist who'd like an RPG cred, and you have the makings of a fine mini-supplement, my friend.