Sunday, September 15, 2013

Vampire 30 Day Challenge: Day 7 Paths of Enlightenment

While I like Humanity (even if I’m still not sure how to run the damn thing), I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the Paths of Enlightenment. Most players I've seen tend to prefer to ignore Humanity as much as possible, or at least get as low a score as needed so that “the Storyteller will stop bothering them.” Paths of Enlightenment tend to appeal to a lot of those players, since in game they often tend to become the “Paths of Do Whatever The Hell You Were Going to Do Anyway.”

Which is a shame, because objectively I find the Paths to be fascinating. The idea of utterly replacing your moral code, your very perception of reality, with something alien is bizarre, and ripe for exploration. I mean, by definition, everyone on a Path would be perceived to be incurably insane, and they would consider everyone NOT on their Path to equally mad. Playing through that in a game could, and should be, an amazing experience.

See, when you have Humanity, no matter how low it might be, you still fundamentally view the world as a human. You see interactions and relationships as a human would. You might be a remorseless killer who wouldn't think twice about cracking someone’s head open if it came to it, but you still see the world the way that normal people see the world. Humanity is more than just a religion or a philosophy or a set or moral precepts. It is a way of understanding and interacting with the world around you. It doesn't matter what country you were born in, what religion you practiced, or even what year you were born—Humanity is the default way all humans approach the world.

With the Paths though, it’s different. Someone on the Path of Power and Inner Voice doesn't see a bar full of college kids socializing, they see a complex social hierarchy and a need, in fact a moral compulsion, to dominate or control the environment around them. And in fact, having abandoned their Humanity, they won’t even really understand how anyone else in the bar can see it as anything else. In fact, “Do Whatever the Hell You Want” shouldn't be a Path, but a radically low Humanity score while being on a Path and following it should be significantly harder road to take.

It’s the reason why the Sabbat sends people with Humanity ratings of 1-3 to infiltrate Camarilla cities. Dudes on Paths are just freaking WEIRD.

I would love to run or play in a game that really got into the nuances of the Paths. But, most games don’t, and I think I know why. In most games that I've been involved in where people are on Paths, you are dealing with multiple Paths. I mean, you might have one or two PC’s sharing one, but the rest would still be scattered about. It’s hard enough wrapping your head around Power and the Inner Voice and how they fundamentally see the world differently that any human ever has; combine that with another player following the Path of Caine, one on Path of Cathari, and a third on Death and the Soul and, yeah, I’d throw my hands up at the whole mess too.

There’s also the case that really exploring morality, ethics, and social behavior is complicated, awkward and messy. Some people just don’t want to deal with it--they want to have fun and blow off some steam and enjoy themselves while they game, not get involved in a philosophical argument. Which is one of the reasons why I don’t push it in my games--my players are generally fairly ethical people who don’t get too my thrills out of being horrible, and so I don’t worry about it all that much.
The other issue is fundamental disagreements on what the “Sins” of each Path actually mean, and that different sins should be at different ratings. I’m sympathetic to this notion--I mean, I doubt the writers at White Wolf have advanced degrees in Theology, Philosophy, Ethics, or the like. And even if they did, I never put the authors of a game above the Storyteller and the group playing the game--all the rules are merely guidelines, after all, and house ruling is a long and established tradition. I would be completely willing to rewrite or create new Paths based on player input, if it wasn't for the fact that their perfectly reasoned arguments always seem to make the Path easier for them to do.

I’m not sure if its odd, or not, but this tendency to want to “house rule” the Paths to be “easier” or to have one for each players tends to come up most often with more experienced players. It seems like if anyone is really going to “get” a Path and play it to the hilt, no matter how many problems it causes for them, it’s going to be a new player. I guess it’s because they tend to be more willing to embrace the spirit of “improv” inherent in a gaming, or maybe they just don’t understand enough of role-playing to “power game,” but it’s another reason I often hold new players as being superior to old timers.
Anyway, I would really love one day to run a small (2-3) person game where everyone one was on the same Path of Enlightenment and we could really delve into what this alternate moral code was about, but at best I think that would work for a really brief Chronicle.

Of course, when I do play a character on a Path, I try to use the same +/- system to determine my own role-playing. It's generally something of a minor thing, and I doubt most of my Storytellers even notice what I'm doing. They'll comment that I'm "playing the Path well," but otherwise it doesn't really seem to come up. It's fun for me, though.

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