Morality is integral to Vampire. “A Beast I am, lest a Beast I become” has been an iconic phrase for the game, and summarizes the struggle between morality and monstrosity. The curse of vampirism can strip away the character’s mortal nature, and the character’s Humanity is a vital part of the game. Even those Cainites who have shed their human morality to follow a new Path of Enlightenment often do so as a specific refutation of Humanity. A vampire without any form of morality is nothing more than a mindless killer enslaved by her thirst for vitae, so Humanity and Paths are an intimate part of every Vampire character. Humanity and Paths, unlike most other Traits, are rated on a scale of 1 to 10.
Despite all efforts to the contrary, a vampire is going to succumb to moral failure sooner or later in his unlife. Willfully or otherwise (ethics are particularly hard to maintain in frenzy), a vampire occasionally commits an atrocity and risks losing to the Beast. If the character feels remorse for his actions, he knows that his morality is still intact. If he commits a wrongful act and callously disregards it, however, his resistance to the Beast is obviously waning. One of the most important themes of Vampire is the Kindred’s struggle to retain their souls and avoid the clutches of the Beast. Thus, it is extremely important to use morality in a consistent, dramatic manner. If the Storyteller allows the players to (sometimes literally) get away with murder, the story will suffer as one of the tragedies of vampiric existence vanishes. If the Storyteller is too strict with the morality rules, though, all the characters will be ravening, blood-gorged maniacs by the end of the first session. Keeping a handle on morality is a hard thing to do, but the degeneration system is designed to help that.
The system is simple: Whenever a character takes an action that the Storyteller decides is morally questionable, the character may suffer degeneration — a permanent loss of Humanity. If degeneration is a possibility, the player whose character commits the act should make a Conscience roll for that character. The difficulty is 8 — reprehensible acts are hard to justify — though the Storyteller may modify this. Willpower may not be spent for an automatic success on this roll — all the ego in the world won’t protect a character from guilt. If the player makes the roll with even one success, the character loses no Humanity — he feels enough remorse or somehow manages to justify his transgression. If he fails the roll, the character loses a point of Humanity. If the player botches, the character loses a point of both Humanity and Conscience, and also gains a derangement, decided upon by the Storyteller. Obviously, morality is not something a Kindred can afford to take lightly. Remember that a vampire whose Humanity drops to zero becomes a character controlled by the Storyteller.
Using Hierarchies of Sin
Degeneration checks may seem arbitrary or ill defined. To some degree, they are, but this is intentional. Moreover, degeneration checks are not random so much as they are subjective. A Storyteller has carte blanche to monitor character morality in her chronicle. This is a huge responsibility for the Storyteller, but one that ultimately makes for a great deal of tragedy and horror, as the characters gradually descend into a state of utter monstrosity though they desperately rail against it. Storytellers, beware — players should never feel that you are screwing them out of Humanity or, consequently, their characters. Use degeneration checks consistently but sparingly, lest the tragedy erode to an incessant series of failed die rolls. Whenever a character commits a dubious act, see how that action relates to the hierarchy. If the action is at or below the level of the character’s Humanity rating, a roll is warranted — as a character falls further down the Humanity scale, she becomes increasingly callous, and minor peccadilloes cease to bother her. The use of the term “violation” in the hierarchy is deliberately vague, to aid the Storyteller. A violation may be anything questionable, and is presented to avoid inclining the scale toward any single transgression. Violation may be killing, callous injury, rape (what do you think taking blood by force is?), or any other villainy.
It seems hard to slide to the lowest echelons of the scale, but consider the prominence of the Beast as Humanity falters. Sooner or later, the character will be committing depravity outside her own volition. The Storyteller is free to decree that characters of low Humanity (4 or less) occasionally act according to various urges and impulses that must be resisted with Conscience rolls or Willpower expenditure. This is the crux of Vampire — how closely can the character walk with the Beast before it drags her into damnation?
Just because a vampire follows the Path of Humanity doesn’t mean she is a friendly, congenial saint. Vampires are predators by nature, and Humanity only gifts them with the ability to pretend they’re not. It is an internal charade that protects a Kindred from herself, much as the Masquerade protects vampires from the mortals outside. Unfortunately, the very nature of existence as a vampire is anathema to one’s Humanity. As the centuries wear on, the Beast takes hold, and Kindred become less and less concerned with the wellbeing of the kine (after all, they’ll die eventually, anyway). As such, characters are likely to lose Humanity over the course of the game. Mortals also typically follow the Path of Humanity, though this is largely out of ignorance: They don’t know they can be anything else. As such, this mechanical system for morality rarely comes into play for them. Certainly, some mortals — rapists, murderers, and the like — have low Humanity ratings, but they have no Beast roiling within them, as do the Kindred. It is possible for a vampire with a high Humanity rating to be more humane than some mortals are.
Effects of Humanity
A Kindred’s Humanity rating reflects how much of a character’s mortal nature remains despite the curse of Caine. It influences how well a character may deny her vampiric state, as well as how effectively she may pass for mortal.
- Vampires sleep unnaturally deeply and are loath to rise even if presented with danger. Vampires with higher Humanity rise earlier in the evening than vampires with lower Humanity ratings. Also, if a Kindred is forced to act during the day, the maximum dice pool he may employ for any action is equal to his Humanity rating.
- Humanity also affects a character’s Virtues. Whenever a certain Virtue is called into question, a player may not roll more dice for a Virtue than her character has dots in Humanity. Obviously, as the character sinks ever more deeply into the arms of damnation, questions of morality and self-preservation mean less and less. As Humanity depletes, the character creeps slowly toward the night when she loses all self-control.
- The length of time a Kindred spends in torpor relates directly to his Humanity rating. A vampirewith low Humanity remains in torpor for a longer time than a vampire with a higher Humanity rating.
- Humanity determines how human a character appears and how easily she may pass among the populace. Vampires with low Humanity acquire unnatural and disturbing features like sunken eyes, perpetual snarls, and bestial countenances.
- If a character’s Humanity rating ever drops to zero, that persona is no longer suitable for use as a player’s character. Completely controlled by his Beast, the character is mindless and falls under the Storyteller’s control.
Humanity ratings fluctuate based upon the Hierarchy of Sin — if a vampire accidentally or purposefully commits an act rated lower than her Humanity rating, she must roll her Conscience Trait to see whether she accepts the act (and thus loses Humanity) or feels remorse and maintains her current level. Humanity may be raised only by spending experience points on it.
Vampires are monsters, and even a Kindred with the highest of Humanity ratings is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Nonetheless, as Humanity erodes, vampires not only become capable of, but also actively pursue, ever more depraved acts. It is in a vampire’s nature to hunt and kill, and eventually every vampire finds himself holding the corpse of a vessel he had not intended to murder. It is important, then, to know how vampires change as their Humanity ratings deteriorate. Vampires’ behavior, even under the auspices of Humanity, may become so utterly depraved and alien that the very thought of her causes discomfort in others. After all, a low Humanity rating indicates that very little connects the Kindred with her mortal origins.
Kindred with Humanity ratings this high are, ironically, more human than human. Many fledgling vampires sometimes adhere to codes more rigorous than they ever held in life, as a reaction against becoming a predator. Older Kindred scoff at this practice, laughing at the thought of newly whelped neonates cowering beneath fire escapes and subsisting on the foul blood of rats, vainly rebelling against their murderous natures. In truth, vampires who maintain high ratings in Humanity are rare, as every Kindred must kill sooner or later. Vampires with high Humanity are almost unbearable by their peers, who find frustration in their perceived naiveté and self-righteousness; most Kindred prefer to suffer through unlife without kicking themselves. High Humanity ratings indicate aversion to killing and even distaste for taking more vitae than is necessary. Though not necessarily passive or preachy, Kindred with high Humanity uphold excruciatingly exacting standards, and often have very clearly defined concepts of moral right and wrong.
Most human beings have Humanity ratings of 7 or so, so vampires at this level of Humanity can usually manage to pass for mortals. Vampires with 7 Humanity typically subscribe to “normal” social mores — it’s not acceptable to hurt or kill another person, it’s wrong to steal something that another person owns, but sometimes the speed limit is just too damn slow. The vampire is still concerned with the natural rights of others at this stage of morality, though more than a little selfishness shines through.
People die. Stuff breaks. A vampire below the cultural human norm has little difficulty with the fact that she needs blood to survive, and she does what needs to be done to get it. Though she won’t necessarily go out of her way to destroy property or end a victim’s life, she accepts that sometimes that’s what fate has in store for some folks. Though not constantly horrid, Kindred at this stage of Humanity are certainly at least mildly unpleasant to be around. Their laissez-faire attitudes toward others’ rights offend many more moral individuals.
The vampire begins an inevitable slide into urge indulgence. A Humanity of 4 indicates that killing is acceptable to this Kindred, so long as his victim is “deserving.” Many vampire elders hover around this level of Humanity, if they haven’t adopted some other moral code. Destruction, theft, injury — these are all tools, rather than taboos, for a vampire with Humanity 4. The vampire’s own agenda becomes paramount at this point, and screw whoever gets in the way.
The lives and property of others are irrelevant to a Kindred this far gone. The vampire likely indulges twisted pleasures and aberrant whims, which may include any manner of atrocity. Perversion, callous murder, mutilation of victims, and wickedness for its own sake are the hallmarks of a Kindred with very low Humanity. Few vampires maintain ratings this low and lower for very long — their damnation is all but certain at this point. Physical changes show up at this stage; while not hideous in the sense of the Nosferatu or certain Gangrel, the vampire acquires a pallid, corpselike, and noticeably unwholesome aspect.
Only nominally sentient, Kindred with Humanity 1 teeter on the edge of oblivion. Little matters to vampires this far gone, even their own desires outside of sustenance and rest. There is literally nothing a vampire with Humanity 1 won’t do, and only a few tattered shreds of ego stand between him and complete devolution. Many who attain this stage find themselves no longer capable of coherent speech, and spend their nights gibbering blasphemy in their gore-spattered havens.
Must sleep. Must feed. Must kill. Players may not run characters with Humanity 0. Vampires at this stage are completely lost to the Beast.
Hierarchy of Sin
10 Selfish thoughts
9 Minor selfish acts
8 Injury to another (accidental or otherwise)
6 Accidental violation (drinking a vessel dry out of starvation)
5 Intentional property damage
4 Impassioned violation (manslaughter, killing a vessel in frenzy)
3 Planned violation (outright murder, savored exsanguination)
2 Casual violation (thoughtless killing, feeding past satiation)
1 Utter perversion or heinous acts