Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hunter: The Vigil - Why "The Code" Is An Awesome Idea

I've always had some issues with games which have a Morality stat/Alignment/whatever. Human morality is such a flexible thing, and so many terrible actions can be justified in so many ways that really, there's no way to measure or codify them without forcing your views on the subject onto other people.

As an example (and a great way to start a dinner table fight), is rape worse than murder? What "numbers" do you put on either of those? Remember, killing is not the same as murder - the premeditation, the lack of mitigating factors...

It's a slippery slope to get started on, and not one I want to get drawn into today. What I wanted to look at is the World Of Darkness Morality track, and why Hunter: The Vigil introduces one of the best ways to run it.

You see, Morality is ranked on a scale of 1-10, as are certain severity of acts. Should you commit an act that is at the same severity as your current Morality, you need to roll dice - if you fail, your outlook on life is irrevocably changed, and your Morality falls by one. After that, you need to check to see if you gain a Derangement - a mental illness, phobia, etc. It's a slightly clunky system, which suffers from a somewhat arbitrary list of crimes (burning down a building is almost as bad as killing someone, Grand Theft isn't as bad as burning down a building), as well as the fact that shoplifting once can net you a minor mental illness due to the Derangement system.

For a game of dark, personal horror, where you are expected to go mad and plump the depths of depravity to achieve your goals, to push your characters (and players) to see what they are really capable of, then go for it. See you on the other side, as you push your way out through the filth and despair to find your true self. But I want to run a game of Hunter where it's okay to kill a monster. Where the biggest problem with burning down a building is someone catching you doing it. Where you know these things are necessary, and don't want to go crazy from doing what's right.

So, I'll be using a couple of the suggestions from the Hunter book, but most prominently - The Code. Using The Code allows you to "swap out" Sins on your Humanity meter with others you define, making the Morality track that little bit more relevant to you, and re-enforcing one of the game's central themes - that The Vigil is an incredibly personal quest; that everyone might come to the same path from very different perspectives. However, each time you move away from this "standard" Morality, you find it a little bit harder to understand why people do the things they do, and why they can't see that what you are doing is okay.

To steal an example right out of the book - say you're a Hunter to has to scrape together the last of your paycheck to pay your bills, your healthcare, your kid's private tuition, and you need to eat on top of that... that doesn't leave a lot of cash to buy supplies for the Vigil. So, you might need to shoplift some stuff from the local DIY store, to build a zip-gun to stake a bloodsucker from a distance.

Under the normal system, if you were at Morality 7 (the average for a starting character), you would need to make a test to see if your Morality drops, and possibly acquire a Derangement. Under The Code, however, you could use this as a Trigger Point - a time when you use The Vigil to justify acts that separate you from regular humanity. You could substitute "Minor Theft" with "Not Sharing Resources With Team-mates" at this point, or even "Letting My Family Go Hungry" - whatever the ST agrees to. From that point on, shoplifting isn't a concern for you - but not feeding your children, or leaving your Cell without proper support, is.

For taking a Trigger Point, you gain a Tell - pretty much a Vigil-specific Derangement (like Paranoia, Hypochondria, or starting to find the Vigil to be a little too... arousing). Each one of these you accrue nets you -1 die to all your Social rolls.

... what? So, I shoplift to feed my family, I gain a specific problem, and that affects all my attempts at interacting with the world? What about people I don't know - do they know that I need to jack off after I beat a monster to death? Am I incapable of hiding my hypochondria about catching supernatural cooties when I'm chatting with my friends? There are well-documented reports of people who seem "like such a nice guy", then they find all the bodies stuffed into his fridge.

People lie all the time, but they can hide it. Why can't a Hunter? Are they that far removed from the human condition, just because they can take an objective view of what they do?

I call shenanigans.

For my campaign, you will get Tells from Morality 5 Sins and lower, for breaking one of your new Morality Sins, or for repeatedly breaking a level 6 Sin.

At least, that's the plan at the moment - we'll see how it pans out in-game.

Props to Subject to Stupidity for the awesome picture!

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