What Does “Morality” Mean In Your Game?

For kicks, I just took the “Dante’s Inferno Hell Test,” which I found out about from the Morbidgames blog.  Yay, I ended up in Purgatory! (If you’re a gamer, you may consider the personality disorder identification quiz instead.)

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very High
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Low
Level 2 (Lustful) High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Low
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very Low
Level 7 (Violent) Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Low
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Low

Anyway, this brings up an interesting question as I plan to run a cleric in our next campaign, which will be a Pathfinder Beta playtest running through the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path.  Real-world moral systems have a lot of weird fiddly bits in them, but they are taken quite seriously by large numbers of people.  It’s not all about “do I kill the baby orc,” but what you do with your money, what you eat, et cetera.  D&D has tried hard to shed even the limited amount of this it contained (paladin poverty, etc.) over time.  But in a living, breathing world, this should be part of it (I know, many of my fellow gamers, being inherently amoral, prefer a world without anyone but maybe a couple bad guys that have any kind of serious moral code…  We all do a little wish fulfillment in RPGs but I’m not so into that.)

IRL, there are a host of moral rules in terms of dealing with the dead.  In D&D, even party members are lucky to get a burial with their looting.  The simplistic domains of most D&D deities don’t provide a lot of help – “I’m the God of Wrasslin’!”  Uh, so in everyday life I…. Wrassle?  I don’t know.  This leads to the common stereotype of the paladin being the only guy who ever has a moral code, and his is so restrictive that it’s annoying.

One of the things that attracts me to games like Legend of the Five Rings is that they do have a strong societal code that impacts the game substantially – I guess it escaped the chopping block on the grounds that “it’s cool cause it’s Asian”.

What games have you been in that have had reasonably realistic moral codes, and how did that play out?

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3 responses to “What Does “Morality” Mean In Your Game?

  1. The most effective moral code that I used in a game was when I chucked out alignment from a 3.5e D&D game I ran (and still run occationally). I just told the players to cross off alignment, react the way they envisioned their character reacting and figure things out from there. Note that I have very good players so I can trust them when dealing with these issues.

    Needless to say, this led to my favourite comment ever from D&D: “Steve, I’ve never felt bad about killing anything in D&D before now… you’re a bastard.”

    This reaction is one of the main reasons that I’m a little confused by the concern that alignment was changed in 4e. Unaligned is essentially what I assigned to all my players whether they knew it or not.

    I’ve just found that all the ridiculous things about specific gods or pantheons in D&D get worked out better when the players are forced to take the initiative to create their characters’ morality within the context of the game world rather than having to wrap their alignment around the morality system of the game world.

    I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the humanity system used in the World of Darkness games, since it’s difficult to put some “sins” on a linear scale… somethings are just bad and need to be at the bottom of the scale, but then it’s hard to fill the rest of the scale out 🙂

  2. One of my favorite versions of moral compasses was the Virtue and Vices system from the old Pendragon RPG. Sometimes it took narrative control out of the hands of the player but it made for interesting stories.

  3. I was always fond of Unknown Armies. With a madness meter and emphasis upon normal people getting stuck in bad situations, it was quite easy to become an emotionally hardened sociopath.

    And yes, there were rules for that.

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