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Author Topic: Humanity and Society  (Read 2102 times)
Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« on: January 06, 2010, 02:33:45 AM »

Check me on this. I have this understanding of Humanity as something that, within the setting, is generally thought of as something good/right. So when someone does things that warrant Humanity checks, those things would be considered bad/wrong by society, and someone at Humanity zero would be an outcast at the very least. I donít know if it says so anywhere in the books but this is just how all Sorcerer settings Iíve seen were laid out, and I was assuming this is a key feature.

Context: I just read a discussion on a German board where people are playing & Sword and in the setting, society is built on oppression, slavery and corruption. Humanity is ďbeing civilizedĒ, as in Western philosophy civilized (Categorical Imperative etc.) I donít want to dismiss the idea, but Iím trying to wrap my head around how this could work. Now acts that would warrant a Humaniry check would often be considered normal/expected by people, whereas Humanity gains would seem weird/unexpected. Does this work? How does it affect the game, especially in the light of addressing premise?

- Frank
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James_Nostack
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Posts: 726


« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2010, 11:10:49 AM »

Hi Frank,

The only people who need to care about Humanity are the people playing Sorcerer.  It's the core of the value system at work in the play of the game itself, but it doesn't have to be valued by any fictional characters or cultures. 

Dictionary of Mu presents one example of this: "heroism" seems to be generally derided and not a major part of the brutal cultures of Marr'd, but that only makes heroism more important to the story.

Personally, I think this does a decent job of addressing premise, as the sorcerers are all about moral alienation from their society (and from us as well), basically through play creating and testing an ad-hoc individual ethic.

But that's just my view.
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jburneko
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Posts: 1429


« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2010, 11:24:16 AM »

I just want to back James up.  Humanity is a player-only meta concern.  It provides the emotional focus of the story.

That said, it's true that often a given setting's color is built to directly support the Humanity definition.  For example, for my & Sword games I use this Gothic Literature inspired world where everyone is boiling over with passions.  My Humanity definition is Love because to me the setting, as judged by me an outside observer, is all about the line between when functional love turns into dysfunctional obsession.  But the people in the setting?  Not a clue.  Not an issue.  They just do what they do.

The Dictionary of Mu example is a REALLY good one because I actually had this issue come up when I ran Mu.  A player did something and I called for a Humanity check and they asked me why I was doing that since the action was perfectly in line with the culture values of the society.  I had to remind them that the Humanity definition for Mu is Hope and that what they did wasn't very Hopeful.  It was a Humanity check precisely because it was in line with the cultural values of the society which are, pretty Hopeless.  The lack of Hope within the societies of Mu is precisely it's problem and precisely what the game is about fighting against.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2010, 08:07:13 AM »

Hi everyone,

Frank, I started drafting this reply before the other replies were posted, so there are probably some redundant parts left in it.

The touchstone for Humanity checks and gain rolls is never anything more nor less than the GMís personal sense of right and wrong, and to the extent that the group interacts about it, that sense as it exists among all the people playing. That sense may be nuanced or focused by the fictional setting, but the fictional setting cannot replace the real-world, real-personís role.

It is not functional to play Sorcerer using a Humanity definition which is disconnected from the ethical standards of the real people playing. ďThatís how they see it in the settingĒ is not sufficient.

To pick a possibly confusing example, in The Sorcererís Soul, I spent a lot of time in The Day of Dupes example, outlining Humanity as Honor as found in the novels of Alexandre Dumas and similar authors. This may look at first as if itís contradicting my point Ė arenít I defining Honor as those characters see it, and calling it Humanity? But if one looks again at my phrasing and the rhetorical points of each paragraph, I think itís clear that I draw parallels between ďmusketeerialĒ Honor and some subtypes of modern-day morality, to the extent that the modern reader can at least see where this focused form of Humanity is coming from.

Quote
Ö people are playing & Sword and in the setting, society is built on oppression, slavery and corruption. Humanity is ďbeing civilizedĒ, as in Western philosophy civilized (Categorical Imperative etc.) I donít want to dismiss the idea, but Iím trying to wrap my head around how this could work. Now acts that would warrant a Humaniry check would often be considered normal/expected by people, whereas Humanity gains would seem weird/unexpected. Does this work? How does it affect the game, especially in the light of addressing premise?

It works fine. The developing story and its (for lack of a better word) moral consequences regarding the fates of the main characters are being created by people who (apparently) share a moral/ethical priority concerning the westernizing of other societies. It doesnít matter that not one single character in the story knows this.

Consider any number of historical novels and stories (or for that matter set in the future) in which the morality of the modern authors is being expressed or even self-critiqued, effectively, through critique of the overt and acknowledged morals of the fictional society. In some cases, the protagonists are openly anachronistic in their values.

I consider this feature to have lots of risks, but the issue is whether it can work and be good, and I think it can.

Best, Ron
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Frank Tarcikowski
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Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2010, 07:55:03 AM »

Thanks for your replies, everyone! I have to admit Iím struggling a bit with Humanity when itís not something entirely intuitive. I would want to avoid any debates on, e.g., what Mr. Kant would have to say about act X or Y in the context of, say, Melnibonťan society. Is this the kind of risks you are talking about, Ron?

- Frank
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2010, 12:04:21 PM »

Hi Frank,

That's about right, although the risks I was thinking of were a little simpler, I think. I'm referring to a lot of modern 'historical' Hollywood dramas in which the protagonists' viewpoints are all too obviously thoroughly middle-class American or otherwise extremely modern. I'm also thinking about a medieval dragon-killing fantasy novel from the 1980s in which the hero openly talked about how a father-son conflict (two other characters) was composed of love twisted into dominance. As a reader, I lost touch with the book at that point.

I'm thinking about the barbaric, primal, fantastic setting, not much more than a step up from the unrealistic-but-fun caveman stereotype, that we briefly utilized in our game in Berlin. From [Sorcerer & Sword] Dinosaurs and Zebra Women:

Quote
... my concept for Humanity in that game would be, in English, "the rule of law," meaning that a society's members are subject to a system of judgment, and principles-based laws with some flexibility built in, rather than merely the rule of the fist at any given moment. As I saw it, the tribes were mainly run by might and deception, and thus true law was just struggling into existence for our story.

No one in the setting itself had to understand a word about that. In fact, I think we did quite well at seeing Humanity as a principle in action strictly as an imposed thematic mechanic from players-to-fiction, and I also think we would have done spectacularly if we'd turned that game into an ongoing long-term game. When I'm talking about risks, I'm talking about not trusting ourselves as authors and not imposing the mechanical consequences of Humanity unless the characters somehow "agree," which would necessitate one of our characters becoming somehow able to articulate Humanity as stated above. Which I think would be annoying at best, and more likely outright stupid-bad.

Best, Ron
edited to fix the link title - RE
« Last Edit: January 11, 2010, 12:07:46 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Judd
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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2010, 02:46:04 PM »

When a player fails a roll, definitely do not make it just a wiff where they can safely try again.  Once they fail, something happens and it should be concrete, dramatic and change the context of the entire situation.

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