“All the fears, the small evils, the sin and rage in our hearts when we were mortal are only made stronger by our Embrace. To fight against the darkness in our own soul is the struggle of eternity… such as only the angels must know, or Our Lord Himself.”
—Monsignor Francesco Dantini, Clan Lasombra
First: what the Paths of Enlightenment really are. They’re a gaming system mechanic introduced as an ‘alternate’ system of scoring morality for Sabbat vampires who (at least in theory) eschew Humanity as a standard. Humanity itself is a game mechanic (hey, it IS a game, and all kinds of intangible abilities and concepts must be quantified—it’s how a game is played). In this case, Humanity is intended to measure how much moral/ethical self-control a vampire has when it comes to doing monstrous and nasty things. This is important because the less control a vampire has, the stronger their inner Beast becomes, and the harder it is to resist Frenzy (which is a violent lack of ALL control over one’s actions). Dropping too low can result in the Beast totally taking over, which generally reduces the vampire to a vicious, indiscriminately bloodthirsty killing machine that even other vampires fear—and will destroy, to protect themselves and to keep humans from finding out about them.
When the Sabbat vampires were originally introduced, they were sort of like the Orcs of the Vampire setting—the monsters it was okay for your monsters to kill, without risking any loss of Humanity in doing so. (Because what fun is it to have really great super-powered combat abilities if you risked losing Humanity every time you used them?) Sabbat were supposed to be inhuman monsters (much as vampires often are portrayed on TV), because the terrible blood rites that created them totally burned out their humanity, soul, or what-have-you. Then White Wolf decided (probably by popular demand) to make it possible to play Sabbat characters too. So to maintain that continuity, they had to come up with something else to substitute in for the Humanity trait, and hopefully make it kinda fun and interesting and good for creating playable-but-definitely-more-nasty characters. Since Sabbat were self-admittedly monsters, these had to be morality/ethics standards that took that into account. Hence, the Paths of Enlightenment were born. Or spawned, or maybe even hatched. One’s never clear on these things.
Overall, they’re not that bad, if you get into philosophy and ethics in different flavors for undead monsters of the night striving to keep their inner Beast under some kind of control. They’re playable. They represent a number of interesting alternate ways of thinking for players who get into that kind of thing, or for Storytellers who are going to ride herd and keep track of whether a given Sabbat’s latest rampage or night-on-the-town is in keeping with his/her current ‘score’ on the ethics chart for their Path. They measure just how monstrous a character is becoming, and impose a penalty for those who slip too far.
That being said, I just totally ignore them. We don’t play Sabbat as monsters who totally lost their humanity. (Though one can’t deny that a lot of Sabbat are on a very slippery slope when it comes to retaining much of it. It’s the bad company they keep – ie, other Sabbat.) We aren’t (usually) playing Sabbat characters who are trying to be monsters anyway. We just stick to the original Humanity scale (when we bother to track it at all), and let roleplaying determine the rest.
We do that with a lot of things that are measured with dots and points on the character sheet, actually. Our focus is on the characters and the story—bookkeeping is distracting. Half the characters have no stats at all, or only have the most important ones where we need to know what a character can and can’t do. I can estimate their relative humanity/vulnerability to the Beast by how they behave, how they hunt, how they regard the others around them, particularly the mortals. They have their internal codes of what’s proper behavior, what’s honorable, what’s ethical and right. Not always the SAME codes, but they do have them. And sometimes they have been known to falter and break them, too.
This is one of the fun parts of playing vampire characters—the ethics/morality deck is stacked against them from the start, since they must steal blood from the living to survive. The Beast can arise in moments of anger or fear, but it can also creep up on them over time through emotional distance and coldness of heart. Those situations are what the Humanity score and the Paths of Enlightenment are designed to measure. We don’t keep score, but we do play them out. The characters, of course, do not LIKE having their frailties and weaknesses exposed, or being reminded about how far they’ve fallen from the ideals they hold (or wish they did). Which is why it is important, in the course of a story, to do exactly that.
“I am not perfect. I am still what I am. I am a vampire, and must feed on the blood of the living. I am Lasombra, forever tainted with the eternal darkness of the Abyss. I can be the most horrifying of monsters… far worse than any mortal man can understand. If I am to ever reach Paradise… it will be a miracle indeed.”
– Monsignor Francesco Dantini