Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #13: Scales of Morality

I'm taking someone else's game mechanism this week.

Scales of Morality

It's OK, as you can see in the thread, I told him I was going to steal it.

I actually think that this is a good basis for a morality system, a system that makes sense for a specific character. There are a number of scales that a character can use to gauge their outlook on the world, and if I were going to use it as a character development tool, I'd have players choose two or three of these scales to show what their character values most about themselves, or what they fear they could become.


The simple options offered have a virtue in the middle, while characters who tend toward the extremes of the scale veer toward the traditional sins. It's simple, and it sets a specific in game theme about moderation being a virtue. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, I guess that all depends on the type of theme a game is trying to portray.

The more complex options I find more interesting.

Peace-Justice-Violenceamount of force used to solve problems
Death-Humanity-Lifeone's value and view of life
Naivety-Mercy-Vengeancehow evil is dealt with
Fear-Courage-Recklessnesshow one regards personal safety
Blasphemy-Piety-Fanaticismhow one feels toward religion
Selfishness-Duty-Myrmidonloyalty and obedience of authority
Deception-Honor-Arroganceone's code of conduct
Manipulation-Honesty-Legalisticthe importance placed on words
Passion-Discipline-Coldnessone's measure of self control and emotion
Malice-Charity-Pityhow one deals with the less fortunate
Poverty-Contentment-Greedone's value of the material
Abnegation-Chastity-Indulgenceone's value of worldly pleasures

I find this far more interesting because the central term is "safe", while the outer terms could easily be considered virtuous by one person but abominable by someone else...and it's this interplay of morality within a person, and between people that makes the system far more interesting.

The combined axes of Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic and Good-Neutral-Evil of Dungeons and Dragons don't really do this, because they're applied to everyone and it's really used as a metagame mechanism to justify certain character actions rather than being used as a way to really define the characters interactions with the society around them in a truly meaningful way.

One character is lawaful, one character is chaotic. What to they each do when encountered by a poor person? What would they each do if given $1,000,000?

I guess that this sort of moral dilemma was never meant to be faced in a game about hacking monsters in dungeons. But it's certainly the type of thing I'd prefer to explore in a session of roleplaying.

There's more to it, than that of course. But I definitely think this concept deserves more exploration.


Andrew Smith said…
This definitely fits within your apparent preferences for zero-sum mechanics.

I think it's also interesting to see a mechanism that places moderation as the ideal, the virtue. We live in a world that decries the extremist or the militant - the "moderate" voices are the only permissable ones. Art imitates life?

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