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Author Topic: Humanity checks  (Read 9827 times)
colin roald
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« on: January 19, 2004, 09:07:58 PM »

Okay, so Humanity checks seemed straightforward enough when I first read them, but then I started thinking about how to administer them.  The rules say:
Quote
GMs can also decree Humanity loss rolls if the characters perform heinous acts, such as sacrificing the newspaper boy to Summon something or going on a killing spree for some reason.  In such a case, roll current Humanity against itself.
 And we also have:
Quote from: Ron Edwards
However, I strongly recommend that the severity of an action not apply as a penalty for a Humanity check. In other words, NOT: if you are rude to your aunt, that's a normal check, but if you butcher and kill and rape your aunt, in that order, that's a check with a penalty. Don't do that at all.  
The solution would be to have multiple Humanity checks for a mult-part nasty action, ie, one for butchering, one for killing, one for raping, etc.  (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=27489#27489)

This throws me:  why should it be bad to apply modifiers to particularly heinous actions?  Why should all Humanity checks have exactly a 50% chance of passing or failing?

I'd like to ask the Forge for a few opinions, since ruling on Humanity checks seems to be the most important task for a Sorcerer GM.  Suppose we have are using Empathy/Ability to Have Human Relationships as our Humanity definition.  Then which of the following circumstances should require a check?
    A character steals a car.
    A character steals an ambulance.
    ...while the paramedics are pulling victims out of a crashed car.
    A character mugs a stranger.
    A character steals his mother's welfare cheque.
    A character defrauds a thousand pensioners of their life savings.
    A character kills a mugger.
    A character kills an Alzheimer's patient to feed his demon's Need.
    A character kills his own abusive father.
    A character kills his own decent father, for the inheritance.
    A character kills a random stranger, for the fun of it.
    A character blows off his girlfriend when she needs support at her mother's funeral.
    A character sacrifices his girlfriend's dog in a Summoning ritual.
    A character leaves his girlfriend bleeding after a car accident, in order to chase an enemy.
    A character uses a demon's power to seduce a porn star.
    A character uses a demon's power to seduce a schoolgirl.
    A character uses a demon's power to Hold a schoolgirl, while he rapes her.
    [/list:u]It seems clear to me that some of these cases are clearly more inhuman than others, but are nonetheless difficult to resolve into a sequence of independent checks.

    Thoughts?  Farther down in the post from Ron I quoted above, he recommends allowing modifiers for story reasons, such as nailing the themes of a piece.  I'm happy to allow such things to trump more mundane judgements when appropriate, but surely that kind of thing doesn't answer the question all the time.  For instance, in the rising action phase of the story, it may not be clear what the theme even is, yet.  And if part of the point of a Sorcerer story is to explore moral puzzles, a rule that says that all Humanity checks are exactly 50/50 seems strangely restrictive.
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colin roald

i cannot, yet i must.  how do you calculate that?  at what point on the graph do `must' and `cannot' meet?  yet i must, but i cannot.
-- Ro-Man, the introspective gorilla-suited destroyer of worlds
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2004, 05:44:22 AM »

I'm interested to see what some other people think of this one.

My answer is largely mathematical and quite boring, so I'll hold off on it for now.

Best,
Ron
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2004, 06:13:36 AM »

I had an answer last night, and my computer ate it.  Here's the short version...

Apart from the fact that Sorcerer does backflips to try to avoid this line of thinking (lower Humanity makes you less human, certain actions mean more or cost more in terms of Humanity, etc.), I look at it like this: It's about player resource management.  That is, the players know what Humanity is, they know their odds of making or missing a roll, and they know what's at stake.  Muddling with any of it, at best, discourages the players from doing some of the mondo crazy shit that makes Sorcerer so intense (and occasionally controversial), and at worst, lessens their impact as co-authors of the story.  The GM already has a great deal of power in that he alone calls for loss/gain checks; to give him even more means taking some from the players.

- Scott
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Fabrice G.
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2004, 06:18:16 AM »

Hi Colin,

I would like fisrt to point toward one rule that may be relevent to your point:

In the case of sumoning, the sorcerer can make a sacrifice to gain bonus dice on the ritual roll. He gains a number of bonus dice equal to the stamina or will of the victim, but also has a negative modifier on his humanity check equal to the humanity of the victim (that is, if the victim is a person). -- Sorcerer p.87

So, I don't know if by the rules this is an exemple of heinous act generating malus to Humanity check or if it's intented to be restricted to the case of Sumoning exclusively ?


Also, about the 50/50 change in the Humanity check, I think that's because Humanity tracks the stability of behavior, and isn't an act-by-act kind of tracker.

So yes, you could commit one atrocious act and not suffer HUmanity loss, but if you stay on this road, sooner or later you'll loose those precious point. The same being true for Humanity gain.


Fabrice
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2004, 09:51:14 AM »

The examples will all vary by context. Car stolen from an old lady so she can't get groceries? Or car stolen to go rescue someone in need of help? And who stole it - "a character" isn't much help.

But the "criteria" that I use is in every case is "whenever I feel that it's bad." That is, it's a player-GM thing, not an in-game thing. There is no hard line. It's a way of making what's happening a statment of some sort. When we need to punctuate that statement, I call for a roll. "Look, he did something bad!" Since it's not in-game, there's no reason that the dice have to represent anything in particular - no need to match up the "badness" level.

If you're on the edge of whether something is bad or not, make em roll, and let the dice decide.

The Math answer is (I think) that even just a couple of dice rapidly slant the contest towards losing. Which means that it becomes more of a standard expenditure resource than a gambling resource. This isn't a problem in other contests where the difference becomes also about "by how many dice" you lose by. But Humanity, in order to make it not so volitile that it's meaningless, only has a loss of one at a time.

Therefore, it breaks down if you award bonus dice to one side. Players will note that certain actions will almost always cause the loss, so they'll avoid them. The idea with Sorcerer is to allow players to always risk any action no matter how heinous. We don't want characters that are skirting bad behavior, but who are indulging in it to get what they want.

Mike
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colin roald
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2004, 04:12:46 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
The examples will all vary by context. Car stolen from an old lady so she can't get groceries? Or car stolen to go rescue someone in need of help? And who stole it - "a character" isn't much help.


That was more or less my point, that there are many shades of grey and many degrees of badness.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Therefore, it breaks down if you award bonus dice to one side. Players will note that certain actions will almost always cause the loss, so they'll avoid them. The idea with Sorcerer is to allow players to always risk any action no matter how heinous. We don't want characters that are skirting bad behavior, but who are indulging in it to get what they want.


Aha -- I think I begin to get it.  We don't want characters who are tepid about their offences; we want Evil Midnight Bombers. ("So he says to me, 'You wanna be a baaaaad guy?' And I say yeah, baby! I wanna be bad! I SAYS, SURF'S UP SPACE PONIES! I'M MAKING GRAVY WITHOUT THE LUMPS! Aaaaaa-hahahahaha!")  And making the penalty for murder the same as the penalty for blowing off your daughter's recital certainly does provide for a radical moral framework.

Hm.
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colin roald

i cannot, yet i must.  how do you calculate that?  at what point on the graph do `must' and `cannot' meet?  yet i must, but i cannot.
-- Ro-Man, the introspective gorilla-suited destroyer of worlds
Bankuei
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2004, 04:20:51 PM »

Hi Colin,

It may help to also recognize that some actions may have greater "emotional" meaning than others depending on the group, and the genre/setting of the game.  Shooting down a hundred mooks may have no humanity consequences, but missing the birth of your son for work may have immense implications.  Even the same action under different circumstances may yield a Gain roll in one case, a Check in another.

Second, morality in Sorcerer is not a solid, fixed thing.  You could succeed every Humanity Check and get away with heinous acts.  You could miss the only 3 Checks you get and get damned.  Just like the real world, karma isn't 100% predictable and reliable.  All you know is that when you do certain types of actions(pissing people off), its only a matter of time and probability before some form of reaction occurs(getting your rear kicked).

Chris
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2004, 11:06:46 AM »

Hiya,

For me, it's a matter of intensity per instance vs. frequency of instances.

It turns out that frequency of instances, even with 50/50 individual outcomes, sets a consistent context for changing or evaluating behavior, across those instances.

That's different from what most of us were taught about learning and changing, that it's consistency of feedback (in this case, the worse you do, the worse you get) that sets that context. Consistency of that sort might help, somtimes, but it's not the key, and often it's actually obstructive.

Or, to put it differently, risk-per-instance is one variable, and number-of-instances is another. I think letting both dials spin at once is inelegant design, which also means confusing in play.

Either you run a single Humanity check (and a single Humanity gain roll) at the end of each session, modified for severity based on how heinous or how great you were, or you run it the way it's written, with a check or gain per action, always at the same risk.

Trying to do both at once - roll per action, but adjust for risk, results in an inconsistent context for evaluating and reflecting on behavior. All of the above responses so far represent various expressions of this principle from different angles.

Note that the above concept only applies for ethical aspects of the Humanity system, not for the demonic ones - those are built to be a function of demon Power and current Humanity, working off a very different mathematical model, brinkmanship.

Best,
Ron
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2004, 12:08:10 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Either you run a single Humanity check (and a single Humanity gain roll) at the end of each session, modified for severity based on how heinous or how great you were, or you run it the way it's written, with a check or gain per action, always at the same risk.


Hey, Ron. Does this mean that the rollover mechanic for turning victories into bonus dice does NOT apply to Humanity Checks & Humanity Gains? I always thought it did, but now I'm not so sure.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2004, 01:23:30 PM »

Hi Michael,

This issue was previously discussed in the same thread that zmook is quoting me from: Rules question: bonuses to Humanity check/gain. Check it out and let me know if it answers your questions.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2004, 02:15:33 PM »

Rollover has to have some sort of reasonable in-game linkage between the success of the one roll, and the new attempt being made. As such, I can't think of much that would apply. That is, I think that I agree in theory to allow rollover, but I'm not sure I ever would allow it.

Can you think of a compelling example, Michael (or Ron)?

Mike
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2004, 04:47:35 PM »

Thanks for the link, Ron. That clears things up nicely. As does Mike's "In theory, sure. In practice, when?"

Thanks, guys.
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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2004, 04:54:24 PM »

Quote from: Michael S. Miller
"In theory, sure. In practice, when?"



Hmmm.  

Humanity is defined as empathy for the needs of your fellow human beings.  

A demon is being summoned using a sexual act with a partner as part of the ritual.

Being sure to completely satisfy your partner before continuing with the ritual...Humanity Gain roll.

What?
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colin roald
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« Reply #13 on: January 22, 2004, 06:17:06 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
Humanity is defined as empathy for the needs of your fellow human beings.  
A demon is being summoned using a sexual act with a partner as part of the ritual.
Being sure to completely satisfy your partner before continuing with the ritual...Humanity Gain roll.
What?

Demons are supposed to be defined by whatever is the opposite of Humanity.  So if Humanity is empathy, then rituals make you do things that are alienating to your fellow man.

I suppose sex rites would still be an option, but they'd have to be degrading ones.

Also, it seems to me that the bar for Humanity checks and gains has to be set fairly high.  Because normal people have Humanity, and they have sex and do good turns for their neighbours and take advantage of their girlfriends every day, but I don't think their Humanity varies very much because of it.  It almost seems part of the definition of "ordinary joe" -- you can't tell a very interesting story about them.

[edited for punctuation.]
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colin roald

i cannot, yet i must.  how do you calculate that?  at what point on the graph do `must' and `cannot' meet?  yet i must, but i cannot.
-- Ro-Man, the introspective gorilla-suited destroyer of worlds
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2004, 08:34:01 AM »

Hi Colin,

Regarding Ralph's (Valamir's) example, you're thinking perhaps a bit simplistically. The rituals would indeed including non-empathic or even empathy-damaging actions ... but if loopholes exist which permit actions that get you Humanity increase rolls as well, that's fine.

This is a very interesting and important factor in playing Sorcerer; in some games, a set of actions might result in a whole array of Humanity checks and Humanity gain rolls, even though from the character's point of view, they did relatively few things and in a fairly linear-sensible sequence.

Quote
Also, it seems to me that the bar for Humanity checks and gains has to be set fairly high. Because normal people have Humanity, and they have sex and do good turns for their neighbours and take advantage of their girlfriends every day, but I don't think their Humanity varies very much because of it.


Whoa ... I really think that actual play is going to alter your thinking about that. That bar should be set among you and the group, relative to the protagonists (player-characters) for that setting and situation, and that's all. If you try to imagine "the whole game-world" all humming along operating by the rules of the game, and using "how the world would work if" as your standard for utilizing the rules ... well, that's a fast track to missing some of the real strengths of the game.

Best,
Ron
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