Friday, February 20, 2009

The Moral Compass

So, life has been getting in the way a lot recently. But I promised that I would update ESNA, and so here it is. The latest version of Epic is up with some rules clarifications, new cards, new quest types, and a new topic to discuss!

(Of course, I should note that I haven't really had a good chance to fully playtest this version. So while I've clarified things that has bugged people, I'm sure that the new added rules have just as many holes in them.)

And on to the topic...

At this point, I need to comment that I am not a student of philosophy of any size or shape, so I'm sure I'm using terms in the wrong way; hopefully the drift of my words is clear.

Dungeons and Dragons used to have this thing called Alignment back in version 1 days, I have no idea what the equivalent is, if any, in today's version. Anyway, it was a compass of sorts that described the way your character should act, making a cross between a Good/Evil axis and a Lawful/Chaos axis.

And in a lot of ways, pretty useless. Since you just played the game the way you wanted your character to play. Or at least that's how we did it. It was a game of heroes doing heroic things, not villains performing evil deeds.

And so, I bring up "morality," or the basic thinking of good actions versus evil actions within a game. This is something that to my limited vision never seems to be covered in games too much. Goals of games are hard wired into "best way to win" or "best way to collect the most points as fast as possible." And while these are all choices that players make, aside from a mere point-collection perspective, there is very little consideration with regards to which path is the "right choice" versus the "evil choice."

Just how far you can veer off the "most point laden path."

In fact, there is seemingly very little outside of RPGs that allow for a player to truly make a moral choice, even down to a simple childlike level of good versus bad. Even in shame such as Battlestar Galactica, where there's a "good" side (the humans) and a "bad" side (the skinjobs), it's not a player's choice; it's merely a card draw of fate that determines your goals.

Then you can take it a step farther; what is really good or evil; one's view of what is good is certainly different depending on which side of the fence you are on. Once you are a Cylon in BSG, getting rid of the humans are a good thing. The victor of a war decides who the patriots are, and revolting peasants are the losers.

So, the next step in this is, is there a way to define a good or bad aspect in a game, derived from a player's choice of actions? Something more than just a logical quest of point accumulation?

What I will contend here is that actions are only decided to be good or evil based on the defining conscience and responses around those actions. In fact, what makes actions somewhat compelling in an RPG is that the NPC, being run by the DungeonMaster, have a memory of how the characters treated them previously. And it is the "memory" of past actions that ultimately define the view of a character's action over the course of time as to whether they are good or evil. Without that memory, there is no justice to return in kind, and no remorse for following a different path.

Or something. As I said, my screw around time has been short. Hopefully this makes sense.

And so, I've imparted some rules into ESNA that attempts to capture this. I've given Settlements a simply memory of past actions where those who live in the Settlement feel they've been slighted by the player, and actions are altered based on those previous actions. Conceptually, I like this a lot; since my playtest time has been remorsefully short, mechanically, I don't think it's implemented as fully as I'd like, and in fact, probably doesn't come into play too much at all.

But it does allow you to go off to rape and pillage an entire Village, at the cost of spreading the news that you are, at best unstable, or at worst, someone that the other Settlements should not be dealing with.

And in some cases, late into the game, pillaging Villages is a good thing for you to personally do; it reduces the cost of building your Keep while gaining some extra gold. If you can live with the crummy reputation throughout the land.

Anyway, it's up for review. I'm always interested in comments and suggestions.

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