Moral and Ethical Ambiguity, Part 3 of 4 – Virtue

Ok, so we’ve chatted a bit about Morality and moral codes (back in part 2). Now let’s change our focus to Virtue and bring some pain into the equation…

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.

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopyRules-wise, we use that same -10 to +10 scale. For Virtue Alignments, “Light” is 10 to 6, “Gray” is 5 to -5, and Dark is -6 to -10.

Let’s use the example of a gym teacher ridiculing a student for not being able to do enough push-ups. The teacher may feel that ridiculing the child in front of others will make them work that much harder at improving their performance. The adult teacher may truly feel he’s helping the child by forcing them to perform. However, the teacher’s behavior shows that their virtue is firmly set in the gray, not the light or dark areas of the scale. Regardless of whether the child’s performance improves, the teacher inflicting the pain is encouraging a potential change in behavior. Both may be changed by the process.

Not all pain is easily identified, but the result is the same – someone suffers. Some pain manifests in an individuals psyche or soul and may never be seen by others. Other pain is physical and more immediately apparent to others.

Prolonged exposure to the effects of pain and suffering may lead to permanent changes in a person’s mind, body, or soul. Physical pain may cause damage creating deformities, bodily weaknesses, or even death. Mental pain may manifest itself as insanity, depression, or an altered state of consciousness. And soulful changes may change a person’s faith in the divine, their will to live, or change how quickly they can recover from repeated abuses.

A Virtue Alignment reflects how a character views pain and suffering. Do they want to inflict pain or stop it? Virtue is more than just thinking about pain – it’s what a character will do when confronting a situation involving pain in themselves or others.

Characters with light virtues will attempt to ease the pain in others and not cause pain themselves. However, they may kill someone to ease the pain suffered from a terminal illness. And when interrogating a prisoner they might try to give the person hope of life without pain in exchange for information. They would never force an individual to watch others being tortured.

Characters with gray virtues might use torture to further a higher goal or achieve something important to them. They might watch a horde of barbarians enter a city and slaughter citizens, never raising a hand to stop the massacre. They aren’t necessarily inflicting the pain themselves, but they still have the ability to stop it or at least a portion of it if they choose.

Characters with dark virtues will use pain readily. They might torture a prisoner before asking any questions simply because they feel the prisoner deserves it.

When you consider villains from the standpoint of Morality and Virtue, I find that you end up with much more realistic bad guys. Everyone has a story. So you have an evil wizard that wants to destroy a kingdom. Why? What happened to that person to make them willing to commit evil acts?

Is it that they were in conflict with Society or an individual? Perhaps severe mental or physical damage was done in the process?


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