Moral and Ethical Ambiguity, Part 1 of 4 – Intro

For this month’s Blog Carnival, I thought I’d throw some different ideas out there about an alternative to the simple alignment grid…

Though I understand the attraction of a simple alignment scheme for some games, I’ve always been fascinated by the gray area. Rarely will you find anyone who has a perfect moral compass. As Citizen G’Kar said once in an episode of Babylon 5 – “The universe is run by the complex interweaving of three elements. Energy, matter, and enlightened self-interest.”

yinyangIt’s that “enlightened self-interest” that motivates even the most well-intentioned individual.

What is alignment? A character’s alignment generally describes how the character perceives moral choices in their world. Are they really good? Really evil? Or somewhere in-between?

Though extremes may be interesting experiments in roleplaying, I find that most player characters tend to fall in the Chaotic or Neutral camps, using their judgment to decide whether to do good or evil or obey the laws. It’s that gray area between good and evil that most of us reside in – using the context of the decision to help us make those crucial decisions.

It’s in the spirit of the “gray” that for the Moebius Adventures system we created an alternative to the traditional good, neutral, and evil alignments – Morality and Virtue – to measure character behavior a bit differently.

Morality indicates how a character views right and wrong. Virtue reflects a character’s attitude to pain – do they ease pain or cause it? Together the two scales help define how a character can gauge decisions.

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopyWhat are morals? Morals are principles or standards relating to a system governing right and wrong behavior in the universe. Codes of morality provide frameworks that benefit an individual or group if used properly.

What is Virtue? Virtue represents the mortal drive to ease or cause pain and suffering in themselves and others. Someone’s virtue isn’t determined by how they perceive the pain they inflict or receive, but in how they deal with that pain.

So by now you’re wondering how the heck any of this could be playable… And I agree, it gets a bit philosophically deep. But as with alignments, we’re talking about rough guidelines for PC behavior. Evil may be just another way of saying that an individual is immoral and likes causing pain.

But what happens when a character (PC or NPC) strongly believes in their morality, is ok with a certain amount of pain caused to others, and yet is opposed to the social or natural order of the world? Does that make them evil? Or does it make them good? It all depends on the context of a particular decision, doesn’t it? The player or GM has to weigh the decision of the character based on the circumstances around them – just like in life.

It makes things a bit more interesting anyway.

The next couple of posts will go into more detail about how we use Morality and Virtue in-game and then how to work through some different situations.

Until next time,


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