Moral Precepts

edited February 2011 in Game Design Help
So, I'm working on a game mechanic built around moral precepts, where each character would choose a certain moral stricture at the beginning of the game and then work to not transgress it (with the GM of course lobbing hard choices at the players). I thought I'd open the precepts up to some crowd-sourcing here and see what people could come up with that I'm missing.

The tough thing about them is that they have to be sweeping and universal (i.e. any character should be able to take them and have moral conundrums arise because of them), but also precise enough that the GM is able to pinpoint transgressions without fear of contradiction or argument. Here are some of the ones I've come up with so far:

- Innocents must never be left to suffer
- Mercy must always prevail over wrath
- Any wrong performed against you must be forgiven
- No injustice is too small to go unchallenged
- Wealth and possessions must be distributed amongst the poor and less-fortunate
- Untruths must be avoided at all costs
- Thou shalt not kill

Any ideas? Suggestions?


  • 3 and 4 would majorly conflict with each other.

    6 has room for argument. 7 is really good.

    5 would be really interesting if combined with "thou shalt not steal"
  • Words like "innocent," "wrong," "injustice," and "truth" are always subjective and thus it would be impossible for the GM to find transgressions concerning these terms "without fear of contradiction or argument."

    "Kill" is a lot more concrete, so long as the GM made it clear about what could and could not be killed. Do animals count? Plants? Bacteria? The GM would also have to make it clear whether or not more symbolic or metaphorical forms of killing counted.

    "Possessions" is fairly clear, but once again the GM would have to clarify what qualified as a possession.

    Of course, the act of clarifying would make it much easier for the players to avoid committing transgressions in the first place. This could potential become a dilemma, as every step you take to avoid arguments about transgressions will make transgressions less and less likely, potential making the game less dynamic and compelling.
  • I'm not worried about them conflicting particularly, since each player will probably only be getting one (sometimes two, but that's a rare circumstance). Come to that, having them conflict will theoretically make for some interesting in-party interactions.

    And I will possibly put lengthier clarifications in the text itself, though I was trying to find a way around that. I think that clarifications should be sought by the GM from the player before the game starts in order to find out what the player's beliefs are and how far the player can be pushed. For example: "Okay, you chose 'Innocents must never be made to suffer' for your precept. What do you define as innocent?" "Well, it depends." "Would a child born in an enemy nation qualify as innocent?" "Yeah, definitely!" "How about a civilian who's providing the enemy front lines with supplies?" "Hmm... let me think about that."

    As I think more on it, the more I think it should be something hammered out between the player and GM. And that way, if there's some munchin-y tendencies being exhibited during the character creation process, they can be nipped in the bud. ("So, what you're saying is that the only person that qualifies as innocent to you is a newborn from your own country and everybody else is fair game." "Yup." "That's not going to work. Let's have another look at this.")
  • Justice and Innocence are very subjective terms, but I think within any given group there can be a point where their is no argument as to whether or not this person or this action is innocent/just/whatever. I think player defined interpretations with GM approval sounds like a great way to go about making sure people are on the same page.
  • edited February 2011
    Rational thought must be privileged
  • The ten commandments is a good place to start, and then you may go for the virtues and sins too, and you have a full set to work with. But make them your own; reformulate. It may be an idea to make them into a part of your setting too, perhaps with some kind of brotherhood/organization supporting each one of them (makes it easy for the GM to invent moral mentors, f.ex.).

    Good luck with the game!
  • edited February 2011
    This could be a complete tangent, but when it comes to morality you have a lot of interesting ideas to draw on.

    There are three basic camps: deontological, teleological, and virtue. The first (deontology) is the classic 10 commandment stuff, which you seem to be focusing on. Do not kill, do not steal, et cetera. It is duty focused, and tends to avoid the bad, rather than promote the good. The second (teleology) is more or less utilitarianism. It is future focused, and believes there is nothing inherently good or bad about any action. According to this, it is results that matter. "The greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people." The third (virtue ethics) is actually very old indeed, but not many people are into it these days. It's basically a list of virtues - honesty, charity, bravery - which people should embody. This is a really interesting choice for an RPG, as it (sort of) equates people with characters.

    There's an easy way to break these three down. Deontology is concerned about actions. Teleology is concerned with consequences. Virtue ethics is concerned with the actor.

    So take a simple situation - you get home from work one day, and some jackass is in the process of robbing your home. You have a gun, and feel emotionally pulled towards shooting him. Deontology may tell you that killing is simply wrong, and so it doesn't matter who is doing what - you should not kill. Teleology may tell you that killing this guy will lead to a sub-optimum consequence (namely, one person dead, and another in jail). Virtue ethics may tell you that self discipline is a virtue, and this is the perfect time to embody it.

    So these schools of thought may come up with the same answers, but for wildly different reasons. But importantly, they may not. Perhaps your school of deontology says "do not suffer a thief to live." Maybe you believe being vengeful is a virtue.

    I'm a philosophy grad so I tend to jump at the first chance to talk shop. So take from that whatever you want!
  • Oh, and I notice you've set the moral framework around avoiding something - dishonesty, betrayal, etc.

    Perhaps some characters could be framed around trying to attain something - honesty, loyalty, etc.

    But maybe you've already had that thought, and rejected it.
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