Sunday, May 24, 2015

White Wolf and the Sliding Scale of Humanity

Last weekend, my friend and GM for the Call of Cthulhu game we've been playing in decided to do a flashback episode using the EPOCH system. It was less rules crunchy and more story driven. It puts a lot of power to the GM to tell an epic story and us players were more encouraged to tell how we did things rather than focus on using abilities and the like.

The one shot itself was set in the trenches of World War I. For the first few rounds, we focused on characters and typical choices one would come across during war time before we got to the Lovecraftian stuff. I played an Italian immigrant who was kind of a cross of Prince Naveen in Princess and the Frog and Jake Peralta in Brooklyn 99.

This pretty much was Tino-style thousand yard stare

But anyway, while all this was going on, the GM was secretly keeping tabs on what we did that was good and what was bad. The reason was what we ended up unleashing in the church worked like a virus that would infect those who had a very low morality score. When it got to a certain point, that character would scratch his skin off and turn into a monster who attacked people.

Now, I've already mentioned how much I loved that whole concept (about the sliding scale of morality not about the skinless) to the GM in e-mail and in person and now I'm mentioning it again in a blog post (sorry, not sorry). But it made me consider why I love White Wolf so much.

The people who annoy me who tend to play VtM

I'm not a douchy little Vampire Kid or even really a fan of Ann Rice but I love Vampire: The Masquerade and most of the other systems in the Old World of Darkness. I'm not really a Werewolf fan or a Mage fan (seriously, one of my co-workers said he tried tabletop roleplaying once and his first system was Mage and he was so confused he never played again. Mage is on the hard end of the spectrum as far as tabletop roleplying goes). But everything else in the Old World of Darkness I absolutely love: especially Vampire, Demon, and Hunter. Sure, the system itself is a little clunky but oh man, the world building. When I first discovered WoD, I used to make characters just for the hell of making characters -- complete with backstories.

It is kind of funny that when it comes to edition changes of games, I don't get as angry and hardcore as other people. Like Dungeons and Dragons? Meh. I wrote before how I don't consider 4th edition D&D but it is still an interesting system when you don't look at it like D&D. And haters gonna hate but I actually LIKE 5th Edition. However, having said that, I STRONGLY dislike New World of Darkness, especially Vampire: The Requiem. They changed so much in the world building I loved that UG!

Having said that, though, Changeling: The Lost was a vast improvement over Changeling: The Dreaming and it is probably my most favorite setting to this day. One day I hope to run/play in a Changeling: The Lost tabletop. I did a post-by-post game that lasted year in the Changeling: The Lost universe. That was fun. Also, Hunter: The Vigil is okay compared to the Reckoning. And Geist: The Sineaters is not as depressing as Wraith.

Forever my favorite setting

Okay, now this entry has taken a left turn about to make it to off-topic city, I need to steer it back on track. The reason why I love Vampire so much is because the bad guy in the game is you. Yeah sure, you may run into werewolves or the Prince of the city is a huge dick to you on a regular basis or the Sabbat is causing trouble again but all that is really incidental. Your character is really wrestling with his or her humanity -- what's left of it anyway. A properly run Vampire game involves many Humanity rolls. If you run out of humanity, your character finally gives in to the monster inside of her and as the book says, you hand your character sheet to the storyteller. Yes, there are ways around the humanity stat. There are separate paths of morality that characters can follow but humanity is the hardest. As a side note, Requiem does still have the Humanity scale so my dislike of Requiem is not due to it lacking that.

However, the thing is way too many people DON'T run Vampire like that. They play it and run it like it were a D&D game and Vampires spend most of their time in combat. It's not like that. The simplest terms Vampire is a game about politics. It is possible for a lot to happen in a session with no fighting but just maneuvering in the Vampire political/social scene.

In the two Vampire games I played in, in which I feel the storyteller ran it correctly, there was one instance in which I felt Humanity was used in an intriguing way. In the first game, we played newly embraced vampires. I played essentially a Holden Caulfield, smart-ass teenager who got embraced by a Brujah. His name was Aaron. The funny part was, this particular character was like Will in Good Will Hunting -- working class who was super smart. The brujah hired him initially to keep their books thinking they could get away with not paying him a whole lot because Vampires aren't above child labor laws. They kept him human for that time. After he was embraced, his sire got iced because he embraced Aaron young but the Prince was intrigued with Aaron's bookkeeping and kept him alive just for that.

Not pictured -- Vampire Overlords

At first, Aaron saw Vampire life almost as a dream because he got out of his shitty home situation. But then, he and another vampire got set on a mission. Aaron frenzied because he was being tortured for information. The room was filled with vampires and ghouls. I rolled extremely well. The storyteller just said when Aaron came to, the room was filled with dead bodies that had been ripped apart. This requires a humanity roll. If Aaron failed, he would have lost all his Humanity. He would have looked at what he just did, shrugged his shoulders and became more and more ... inhuman. In this case, I would have to stop playing him.

But I passed the Humanity roll, so Aaron felt really awful about it. He was inconsolable. Being a vampire wasn't cool anymore and he realized he was now stuck with it. And he was no longer human. It was up to the other PCs to drag him out of there. It wasn't too different than when someone loses a lot of sanity in Call of Cthulhu.

White Wolf systems have other types of Humanity type rolls. For Changeling it was Clarity -- the idea being how much  you see the invisible world. Too high and you ramble like a madman. Synergy in Geist is how well the death spirit is attached to you. Too high and the ghost controls you. Etc. However, Humanity in vampire always intrigued me the most.

Part of the reason why I like humanity is because people who are into vampires think they're so cool when it reality, it really isn't cool. It kind of sucks. Sure, you are stronger and immortal but look at the cost. But another reason why I like humanity as a stat because, like in the EPOCH game, the game punishes you for being a bad person. It encourages you to try to be a moral person. And in tabletop roleplaying games, that is usually not the case. Okay, we can destroy an entire village of innocents and the worst punishment is you may not be able to use certain items or paladins may bother you. But with the Humanity stat in Vampire, it actually works against you.

You're forced to play the Masquerade that you're still human, even though you're not.

I'll close up by adding this caveat-- I don't think it is a bad thing to have a game in which you don't have to think about the morals of the situation. When I am having a shitty, stressful week, I will mindlessly click a screen playing Diablo III, even though a co-worker of mine and I once joked about slaughtering goblins in the villages. What if they were just refugees from hell? I'll still play though.

Also, even in Vampire, I did play probably my most evil character and I couldn't use the Humanity stat with him. I used a different path of morality (it was knowledge focused). The game was well-run though because the storyteller did play with the idea of humanity. We were also older vampires and we played the political game well against each other (lesson -- keep an eye on the Toreador, not all of them are fluffy-head, art lovers like they appear to be!) . I played a Tremere in that game who liked to experiment and invent rituals. Let's just say that the homeless population in town was no longer a "problem" thanks to him.

So this entry was not a criticism against systems who do not employ a morality scale. Just that I really like the idea of them. 

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