Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's in a Path?

Paths offer some great roleplaying opportunities but, like Malkavians, are easy to fall short on if the player doesn't fully realize and embrace what they're signing up for. Whether you're on Humanity or a Path, your character's morality and conscience (or conviction) guide your actions. The decision to follow a path shouldn't be to get out of the obligations of Humanity, but because you're interested in the challenge a specific path offers.
  • Morality is what your character has been raised to believe in. What's good and bad.
    • Everyone starts on Humanity but that doesn't mean they're nice people, it just means that there are some key things they know are wrong: property damage, stealing, accidental killing, premeditated murder, etc.
    • An older vampire sometimes finds it's difficult to be "humane" over hundreds of years or as they fully embrace the monster they've become. In these cases, they may strip their humanity away and learn to follow a Path instead. (More on that later.)
  • Conscience / Conviction dictate how bad you feel about the decisions you make that contradict your morals and how well you deal with them.
    • If you break a tenant of your beliefs, but pass the test, (Which is easier with a higher Conscience / Conviction) your Morality doesn't drop. You know what you did was wrong, but you're able to justify your actions to yourself.
    • If you fail the test, your Morality drops. Whether Humane or on a Path, as your morality drops, you become more monstrous. Why? Because there are fewer things you feel bad about doing. When you run out of morality, the beast within takes over and you become an NPC.
Real world examples of Humanity

Everything you've learned about right and wrong since you were a kid defines your view of humanity. This may differ from one culture to another, but in game terms Humanity offers a "good" outline of how most characters should act.

Real world examples of high Conscience / Conviction

Witch trials, wars, kings and judges are all situations where people know the difference between right and wrong but take actions because they strongly believe in what they're doing.

  • A priest might feel bad about sending a witch to her death, but believes what he's doing is for the good of the community.
  • Soldiers may not agree with murder, but will fight on a battlefield for king and country.
  • Kings and generals make decisions all the time that send 1000's of people to their deaths, because to them, the end justifies the means.
  • Judges will sentence criminals to death because they are following the law.

Real world examples of loss and gain of Humanity

Witch hunters that have to burn a loved one, soldiers ordered to kill women and children, leaders that hate sending soldiers to their death or judges who don't believe in the death penalty but must uphold the law will slowly be eroded by their actions. In these situations, their morality is tested and without a strong conscience or conviction, it slowly deteriorates. As they're faced with these hardships, they have the opportunity to change their ways and grow. (As characters can buy up their mortality.)

What's the difference between Humanity and a Path?

Following a path means your character has a COMPLETELY alien way of thinking. If the tenants of a path define what your character was raised to think is right and wrong, compare humanity to the other paths. The WORST thing you can do if you're humane (level 1 sin) is "Casual killing" or "acts of great evil." If you follow the Path of Night, they consider "accepting another's authority" as just as horrible as you and I would think of someone going on a random killing spree. How about those Setites? Nowhere on the Path of Typhon does it even mention killing, but don't you dare "fail to take advantage of another." Imagine that - if you see an opportunity to use another character and you don't take it, your character feels so much remorse it's as someone humane burned down an orphanage for fun.

Now, following Paths doesn't necessarily your character is a sociopath. (Though it doesn't not mean that.) Keeping on the Typhon example, just because it doesn't specify murder is wrong, doesn't mean your character is on a constant killing spree. It just means your character doesn't have a problem if sometimes people have to die. Extra thirsty? Drain that blood bag. Don't want to draw extra attention? Let it live. Need a distraction? Burn down an orphanage.

The process of actually adopting a path should be a long and arduous one. You need to strip away everything that makes your character human while learning the teachings of a path, the whole time keeping the beast at bay. Most characters would start on a path in game-terms, otherwise you'd need a lot of time and another player or mentor to help you along. Just reading a book probably wouldn't be enough.

Real world examples of following a Path

If you want a better idea of what it means to follow a path, there are a number of examples we can take from real life. One that springs to mind is racism like Nazis or slave owners. Essentially, these people are following a version of Humanity twisted to suggest that other races are no more than animals and feel little to no remorse for harm done to them. I'm sure you can think of other situations in todays world where children are swayed by charismatic leaders.

In game terms, a storyteller could allow a player to use a twisted version of Humanity, based on a background where the character was raised from birth believing a certain rhetoric. (Not just someone swept up in a mob mentality.) A storyteller should think hard about whether they want to introduce this kind of theme to their game. Perhaps a 2-5 point Social Merit or Flaw (Depending on the setting and what the player is asking for.) named something like "Twisted Morality." (Not that these kinds of actions are "meritable" but because they're getting leniency on what they can get away with.)

A desperate loss of Humanity (example)

Lets look at an example of a homeless person living on the street in game terms, starting out with max Humanity. (5 in LARP terms.)
  • At this level, they can't even have a selfish thought. Even considering stealing some food could lower their humanity.
    • Few people have a conscience this high so it's good odds they'll fail the morality test and drop to level 4 pretty quick. Thinking about doing bad things to survive becomes ok as long as they don't act on those urges.
  • Eventually the hunger gets to them and they steal some food.
    • For a time, their conscience tells them it's ok even though they feel bad about it every time. They need the food to survive.
    • source
    • Few characters will even have a conscience of 4, so stealing to survive will probably cause a character to drop to Humanity 3 rather speedily. Now, stealing and even causing some injury is ok. They need it more than others.
  • At Humanity 3, they'll want to avoid accidentally killing or intentionally causing property damage. Maybe a mugging goes bad or they break into a house for some stuff to pawn.
    • If their conscience lines up at this level, their morality might not drop the first few times it happens. They feel bad about it, but they justify their actions. With a lower conscience or if they're faced with these situations enough, they'll fall to 2 Humanity eventually.
  • Someone with 1-2 Humanity isn't a very nice person at all. They'd feel bad about premeditated or casual killing and acts of great evil. Everything else is pretty much on the table though. We're now looking at someone who will do almost anything to survive.
    • All is not lost however. In the game, you can spend XP to buy your morality and conscience up. Perhaps remorse after a particularly evil act on their part or a surprisingly kind gesture from someone else causes them to improve their morality. Maybe they improve their conscience because times were just so tough they develop thicker skin making it harder to lose Humanity in the future.