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Humanity and Audience Sympathy

Started by sirogit, January 20, 2004, 12:11:24 PM

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I've been wondering this for some time: How correlatable are Humanity and audience sympathy?

Naturally, there's some disconnect that's perfectly functional... there's plenty examples of doomed heroes. I've always thought that Humanity seems natural as part of the ingrained belief "You don't follow rules, you go to hell."

Specify those rules as speicific, very-widely-and-tightly held moral rules, and peeople find the concept undoubtable, even if they don't believe in a judgemental theistic structure or a supernatural hell.

Now, I would say with the surface-level fallout of traditionial church-based judeo-christian-values(Not nessecarily the number of christians), you see in drama the idea that "When someone does something really against the rules, he can be sympathizable, but there still must be some backlash."

So, I assumed that Sorcerer was based on this, the idea that "In real life, we never made the rules of reality. Therefore someone can bypass those rules in drama and we'd still consider them sympathizable for it." Of course, this is only for certain situations... I know people that'd say, "you kill someone under 18, in any circumstance that isn't legal, and you are evil incarnate."

In playing Sorcerer, that idea is "We made the rules, but we made them to be broken so a character can and we'd consider them sypathizable for it."

Now, I imagine it's perfectly imanigable to make a powerfull moment out of a character dropping to 0 humanity out of an action that the audience sees as the ONLY symapthizable action... for example, say that we've declared that you kill anyone, you lose Humanity, and the PC kills someone to stop that person hurting hundreds of people. They've given away their sanity, their identity, whichever is the outcome of 0 humanity, in order to do the right thing, in the opinion of the audience. I think this is a good dramatic outcome.

But what about if you have humanity loss rolls for circumstances that are not so clearly set up? Say, you'ev set Humanity as Concern for others, losing Humanity is failing to show a concern for others.

So, say through a series of hasty actions and demon-dealing, a character is at Humanity 1. At the time, they choose to abandon their friend who is crying because she got dumped in order to chase after a rogue sorcerer who just took off. So he makes a Humanity loss roll for not showing concern for his friend, and loses it. Now he becomes devoid of concern for anyone and unplayable.  

This just feels wrong to me... If people are completely sympathetic with a characters actions, but he is considered "doomed" to some extent, for not meeting a general guideline of "Concern".

This would make me think, that more clearly defined cases of lost humanity(I.E. killing someone) makes the story more about "what you would do if it might mean that cosmic order will crucifiy you"
(The theme most prominently mentioned in the book.), while less defined cases of humanity loss would be more about "How do you keep your Humanity/How far is too far?(Much more minorly addressed themes)

I would think in the latter, Humanity should be very correlatble with symapthy, while in the former, not nessecarily, in order to keep the story meaningfull.

Do you think so?

Mike Holmes

I don't know. I think that I can come up with counterexamples just as easily. I think that there is no link to sympathy at all.

That is, if your character does something that makes them go to zero humanity and unplayable for doing somthing that one can have sympathy for, that creates it's own interesting theme. In any case, the player knows what they're doing, and are complicit in the process.

Which is to say that I wouldn't "blindside" a player with a roll in such a situation. I'd say, "Y'know, if you go off after the sorcerer, then you'll have to make a roll." We can even argue about it. The point is that the decision has to have the appropriate weight for the player. So if they don't expect to have to make a Humanity roll in a particular case, then that probably means that they're not on board with the definition of humanity. Or, if they are, then they'll realize that the potential theme of loss that they're creating is meaningful. In any case, it works.

From another POV, the GM is free to call for rolls as he likes. So if he's slanting things towards the sympathetic, then that's about his contribution to the game. He's making a statement of his own about the definition of Humanity. It's interesting to note that in lots of cases players will "nudge" the GM into calling for Humanity checks as well. There's a constant negotiation of what Humanity is during play in terms of what gets rolled for, and anybody can affect things on either side. So sympathy will or will not be part of the equation depending on how everyone feels about it. Which is to say that your expectation of what works best will tend to occur where that's true for the players without planning it in any way.

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