Rage against the God-Machine
The Morality system described in the World of Darkness Rulebook provides a workable system for measuring the effects of characters’ behavior upon their psyches, but it has a few problems. Most of those problems stem from terminology. The system doesn’t measure morality so much as behavior, and the consequences (increased willingness to transgress the “hierarchy of sins” and, potentially, derangements) are more akin to post-traumatic stress disorder than the actual effects of the crimes on the list.
The Morality system is designed to evoke the Gothic/ Victorian ethos in which a person’s sanity was thought to be a function of their morality. It was also designed to be mutable enough to change and provoke a moral or spiritual framework for the various supernatural beings. When a mortal becomes a vampire, therefore, “Morality” becomes “Humanity” and measures how much of the Man has fallen to the ravenous Beast. If a mortal undergoes the First Change and becomes a werewolf, the trait changes to “Harmony” and reflects whether the character is living with a lycanthrope’s spiritual duty.
A human being stolen by the Fae tracks Clarity, measuring how well he can trust his own senses and to what extent he has become like the Gentry, and so on. In this respect, the Morality system works quite well. Unfortunately, in emulating the Victorian ethos, we wind up implying that one can commit murder and become schizophrenic. This isn’t the case.
The system suffers from inconsistent and inappropriate terminology and from trying to signify too much within the game. To revise it, though, we need to consider what a Morality system should mean to a World of Darkness game. The underlying thematic push here is that what a person does has an effect on their mental state, which is probably fair.
However, better representations for that effect than derangements are possible, especially with the rules revisions in this book. And besides, Morality has never really measured Morality — it measures functionality within society. It measures how well a character copes with what she has seen or done. With all of that in mind, the following rules replace the Morality and degeneration rules found in the World of Darkness Rulebook.
The notion of breaking points replaces the notion of “sins” and therefore removes the need for a “hierarchy of sins.” If the action would cause a character psychological stress, it’s worth considering whether the action constitutes a breaking point. Note, too, that the character may experience breaking points that do not stem from his own actions. Witnessing the gruesome realities of the World of Darkness, supernatural or otherwise, can do it. The player should make some decisions about the character’s breaking points during character creation.
Determining a Breaking Point
If the player has completed the five questions here, the Storyteller should have at least a baseline for determining breaking points for the character. Even so, the player is welcome to decide that any event during a game is a breaking point and the Storyteller is likewise within her rights to make that choice for any character. If a player feels that a given event should not count as a breaking point, he is free to argue the matter with the Storyteller. If it’s important to the player, it’s best to let the matter go — the player has a better sense of his character than anyone else. Obviously, the Storyteller shouldn’t let this guideline allow for abuse, but that’s where the player-guided definitions of breaking points come in.
When a character experiences a breaking point, the player rolls Resolve + Composure with a modifier based on the character’s Integrity rating:
- 8–10 = +2
- 7–6 = +1
- 5–4 = 0
- 3–2 = –1
- 1 = –2
The Storyteller can also impose modifiers based on how heinous the breaking point is, relative to the character’s experience. The chart below gives some suggestions, but again, the Storyteller and the player are encouraged to develop the character’s moral framework and life experience to the point that modifiers can be customized. Modifiers are cumulative, but the total modifier from circumstances should not exceed +/–5 dice.
Breaking Point Modifier
- Character is protecting himself +1
- Character is acting in accordance with his Virtue +1 Character is protecting a loved one +2
- Character is acting in accordance with his Vice –1
- Witnessing the supernatural (non-violent) –1
- Witnessing the supernatural (violent) –2
- Witnessing an accidental death –2
- Witnessing a murder –3
- Committing premeditated murder –5
- Killing in self-defense –4
- Killing by accident (car wreck, e.g.) –4
- Causing visible serious injury to a person –2
- Torture –3
- Enduring physical torture –2
- Enduring mental/emotional super-natural attack –2
- Enduring physical supernatural attack –2
- Witnessing a supernatural occurrence –1 to –5, depending on severity
Dramatic Failure: The character’s world view has been damaged, perhaps beyond repair. The character suffers from traumatic stress. Lose a dot of Integrity and choose from the following Conditions (or create a new one with Storyteller approval): Broken, Fugue, or Madness. Also, take a Beat.
Failure: The character’s world view has been shaken and he probably questions his sense of self, his ability to relate to people, his own moral worth, or his sanity. Lose a dot of Integrity and choose one of the following Conditions (or create a new one with Storyteller approval): Guilty, Shaken, or Spooked.
Success: The character has come through the break-ing point intact. He might feel guilty or upset about what happened, but he can cope. Choose one of the fol-lowing Conditions (or create a new one with Storyteller approval): Guilty, Shaken, or Spooked.
Exceptional Success: The character somehow man-ages not only to survive the breaking point, but to find meaning in it, to reaffirm his own self-worth, or to pass through fire and become tempered by it. The character takes a Beat and regains a point of Willpower.