The Forge Archives

General Forge Forums => First Thoughts => Topic started by: Bert on February 16, 2009, 02:03:43 PM



Title: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 16, 2009, 02:03:43 PM
I'm working on a magic system and I want magic to have an ethical component. This is intended to impose a great sense of personal responsibility on those who wield magical powers.

In the magic system so far, if you use magic to do bad things to innocent people, directly or indirectly, you run the risk of having it affect you as well. For example, say you send a couple of guards to sleep so you can get by without any trouble. One member of your party, last in line, puts a knife into each of them as he goes by. Suddenly you feel drowsy and stumble.

On its own, this would make evil wizards very short lived, which is not something I want. Evil wizards enter a pacts with a diabolical entities. This allows the wizard to sidestep the ethical payback, so long as they can put up with a few escalating changes in appearance and behaviour. Once the entity has fulfilled its side of the bargain, it releases the tide of accumulated horror and tries to take the wizards soul - or the place of their soul.

My questions about this are as follows:

Q1) How can I avoid hideous levels of GM largesse when defining who is innocent and who is not? What should bad mean and what should innocent mean?

Q2) Should the repercussions affect any person who harms those under magical influence, whether they are the caster or not? It would certainly make people think twice about messing with people under the influence...

Q3) What if somebody uses this effect to intentionally harm a wizard? Should it still affect the wizard? The person who was trying to hurt them? Both?

Q4) Does a magic system with a mechanic for dealing with ethics kill the fun? I don't want to get too heavy...

Bert




Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Callan S. on February 16, 2009, 03:02:52 PM
Well, I wouldn't say it imposes a great sense of personal responsiblity. I'd say it just trains them. Like you might train a dog to be quiet and obediant, or train a dog to attack on command. The 'ethical system' simply trains someone to act in a certain way. It's not really about that person having personal responsiblity, it's about that ethical system imposing it's will on people and training them to behave in a certain way.

And I wouldn't call the rogue stab a 'risk'. The rogues mind isn't an object of chance. That was the rogues personal responsiblity - either that or all personal responsiblity is blurred into a blob. That'd mean under that philosophy somehow the rogues own free will is part of the wizards, because he cast sleep on some guards. Indeed anyone who messes with the sleeping guards is somehow part of the wizards free will.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Sergon on February 16, 2009, 05:31:25 PM
   How does a wizard cast spells in your system? Does he draw power from a mana pool or is it more cast and forget like d&d. If its mana based you might consider lowering the amount of available mana after the wizard commits a questionable act with his magic. If its cast and forget the wizard could loose a spell from memory.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: dindenver on February 16, 2009, 07:04:28 PM
Bert,
  I think the way that yo can make your system work for bad guys is to have them summon a spirit and have the spirit cast the spell. That way the bad consequences happen to the spirit.
  Of course, what price the spirit exacts for that service is another matter...

  I think the idea of unintended consequences is pretty harsh, you might want to scale that back a bit.

  I think if it is an equal and opposite reaction, then that removes the moral judgment from it. So, maybe every time a sorcerer uses magic, they receive the effect (scaled down to reflect how common you want magic to be) as well. Like if they cast a fireball that does 6d6 to 10 monster, maybe they take 6d6, save versus none.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Ken on February 16, 2009, 07:08:36 PM
I like the idea here, but what is your goal? Are you trying to make wizards ultra ethical, with the fear of punitive effects from their spells? Is the punitive effect cosmic justice, or guilt? Would an unethical, but not evil wizard just be knee deep is karmic pay-back here?

As far as what is ethical; if a wizard cast sleep on a couple of guards so he can go about his ethical business, then he shouldn't be responsible for someone else's unethical behavior. Now, if that wizard cast sleep on the guards so he could go about his ethical business, but is being chases by a horde of hungry goblins, or a dragon, or lava, or whatever, then he pretty much knows that he should have just fire-balled the two screws and got it over with. On that note, if an ethical wizard has to sneak past any guards, then they are obviously evil and it shouldn't matter what happens to them.

As far as meters of ethical and innocent are concerned, some sort of alignment type system would probably be in order. At the very least, the common and general beliefs of the wizard should probably be sketched out, so that ethics could be inferred in a given situation. Or, there could just be a wizards code. That would put it straight pretty quick. Break the code at your own peril.

Maybe instead of magic backlash, knowingly breaking the code shakes a wizards focus and makes it harder for them to cast subsequent magic until they can atone. In this case, unethical wizards would be unaffected by the penalty.

Just some ideas. Thought?

Ken


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Vulpinoid on February 16, 2009, 11:50:16 PM
Maybe you need to consider what may or may not be ethical to the wizard.

A believer in the natural cycle of life might deliberately choose to kill the old king who is extending their life through mystical means.

A mystic of law might be helping to preserve the old king, because the king has been a stabilising influence in the kingdom and none of the king's children would continue the peaceful reign over the empire.

Neither of these mystics agree with what should be done about the king, and each of them has a strong moral standpoint for their beliefs about the situation.

In each others eyes, the other wizard is "evil". The first would plunge the empire into chaos, the second would continue the abomination unto the natural cycle.

Just some food for thought...

V


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Finarvyn on February 17, 2009, 07:44:09 AM
Ethics in RPGs can be tricky, and sadly isn't as black & white as we might hope.

For example, in an AD&D game years ago a friend was playing a Paladin and thereby was unable to do any "evil" acts or he would lose his Paladinhood. The party was wandering through an enemy complex and came upon a kitchen and surprised an Orc chef. The chef dropped his meat cleaver and ran in terror. The Paladin leaped forward and hacked the Orc down from behind.

Does he lose his Paladinhood for this action?

1. You can argue that all Orcs are evil by nature and that killing one would ultimately be a good action.

2. You can argue that attacking any unarmed creature from behind, regardless of its alignment, is an evil act.

We argued this for a long time and eventually this discussion killed the campaign becasue we couldn't continue without resolving the issue. We never agreed.

Turning then to your thought about ethics and magic -- I think it has a wonderful notion behind it and it's neat that evil spellcasters can try to beat the system somewhat, but I wonder if you are going to encounter this giant "gray area" such as the situation I described above.

Perhaps the solution to the problem might be to construct a table of examples and say "no matter what your personal ethics might be, here are the guidelines for ethics in this campaign" such that killing certain creature types is okay or attacking from behind is not. As play continues your tables would evolve and eventually you might have a really great list.

Just my two cents.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 17, 2009, 12:02:08 PM
Hi Callan

Well, I wouldn't say it imposes a great sense of personal responsiblity. I'd say it just trains them. Like you might train a dog to be quiet and obediant, or train a dog to attack on command. The 'ethical system' simply trains someone to act in a certain way. It's not really about that person having personal responsiblity, it's about that ethical system imposing it's will on people and training them to behave in a certain way.

Okay, maybe not 'great responsibility' - accountability will do. I agree this would train people to think carefully about how they use their magic. Pavlov's Wizard. Nice. Even so, I think players will still make mistakes, or be forced to make hard choices, leading to some interesting and unforeseen situations.

And I wouldn't call the rogue stab a 'risk'. The rogues mind isn't an object of chance. That was the rogues personal responsiblity - either that or all personal responsiblity is blurred into a blob. That'd mean under that philosophy somehow the rogues own free will is part of the wizards, because he cast sleep on some guards. Indeed anyone who messes with the sleeping guards is somehow part of the wizards free will.

I would define a risk in this context as follows: anything that can effect the magic user adversely that is beyond their control or their ability to predict. I don't think this monkeys with free will - its the wizards choice to cast the spell (and be accountable for it) and the rogues choice to stab the guards (and be accountable for it). Saying that, this game has a funny take on free will - but this thread isn't the right place to discuss it.

I do see where you're coming from, though. This obliquely answers one of my questions about whether the person doing the stabbing should suffer the same consequences as the wizard. Perhaps not...

Bert



Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 17, 2009, 12:36:17 PM
Hi Sergon

How does a wizard cast spells in your system?

All magic is based on a dozen or so broad areas of effect called Arts. Sample arts include: impetus and inertia, light and shadow, form and substance, summoning and binding, scrying and divination etc.
There are 5 different approaches to magic, including mysticism, shamanism, sorcery, theurgy and wizardry. Each imposes its own limitations on how you can use the Arts.
Then there are schools, sects and lineages, which determine which Arts you know well, which Arts you know half well and which ones you don't know jack about.
A spell has difficulty based on what you want to achieve, determined using an 'effect points' system. If you can beat the difficulty with your score, you cast the spell.

Does he draw power from a mana pool or is it more cast and forget like d&d.

It uses a mana pool system using something called Harmony Points. The number of points lost is equal to the difficulty of the spell. You can overcast quite a bit and overcasting brings penalties as a result of spiritual dissonance. Usually Harmony recovers at 1 pt per hour, but for every multiple of your usual total you suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to all actions and move 1 step on the harmony regeneration rate ladder: 1/day, 1/week, 1/month, 1/year, 0/eternity.

Usually a wizard can pull off one fairly big spell per day and a few minor ones. Nothing large scale or long lasting. If their need is urgent or they'want something that has a BIG effect or lasts a LONG time, they can overcast as much as they like.

The system separates the weaving and casting of spells. You can weave a spell and leave it floating as an astral miasma around your head, releasing it by fulfilling the conditions set on weaving. This allows it to function as a D&D style cast-and-forget system. Spells cast using this approach are quick, but they don't always fit the situation. Weaving and casting takes a bit longer, but you get to tailor the effect.

If its mana based you might consider lowering the amount of available mana after the wizard commits a questionable act with his magic. If its cast and forget the wizard could loose a spell from memory.

I like these ideas. This would make things a lot simpler than turning the spell on the wizard. Just make the wizard lose even more Harmony. With the overcasting mechanic and weave-and-leave option both would work nicely.

Thanks!

Bert

“Oh, I have slept for nine moons. What I did for you wasn't easy. Now you must pay me. The child is mine. You made an oath.”
Merlin, Excalibur


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 17, 2009, 12:54:31 PM
Hi dindenver,

I think the way that yo can make your system work for bad guys is to have them summon a spirit and have the spirit cast the spell. That way the bad consequences happen to the spirit. Of course, what price the spirit exacts for that service is another matter...

This is the way sorcery works as an approach to magic. Its what makes sorcery the most dubious form of magic in the entire game. Whenever a sorcerer casts a spell its like a temporary compact. While people might not be bothered by other types of magic user, they would happily burn a sorcerer - innocent or guilty, just to make sure.
 
I think the idea of unintended consequences is pretty harsh, you might want to scale that back a bit.

That goes a long way to answering some of the questions in my original post as a one liner.

I think if it is an equal and opposite reaction, then that removes the moral judgment from it. So, maybe every time a sorcerer uses magic, they receive the effect (scaled down to reflect how common you want magic to be) as well. Like if they cast a fireball that does 6d6 to 10 monster, maybe they take 6d6, save versus none.

That's why I had the same spell bouncing back if innocents were harmed, but for every spell - naughty or nice? Now thats what I'd call harsh - but it could be very, very interesting. It would make wizards pay a lot of attention to protecting their own butts. Interesting...

Thanks

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 17, 2009, 02:58:05 PM
Hi Ken,

I like the idea here, but what is your goal? Are you trying to make wizards ultra ethical, with the fear of punitive effects from their spells?

My goal is to make magic users mindful of the consequences of their magic beyond the mere loss of magic points. I don't want to make them ultra ethical, because that would be dull. I'm going to need some pretty clear definitions of 'good' and 'bad'. At present I'm thinking 'bad' is anyone who has intentionally and directly harmed another and not experienced guilt. Too wooly? I think so - and it worries me...

Is the punitive effect cosmic justice, or guilt? Would an unethical, but not evil wizard just be knee deep is karmic pay-back here?

Most definitely cosmic justice, but more of a cause and effect kind of thing. I read about this thing in 'real world magic' called the law of threefold return, which goes something like this: any energy you send out comes back to you threefold. It sounds a bit flaky, but I like the idea. It feels right for my system.

As far as what is ethical; if a wizard cast sleep on a couple of guards so he can go about his ethical business, then he shouldn't be responsible for someone else's unethical behavior. Now, if that wizard cast sleep on the guards so he could go about his ethical business, but is being chases by a horde of hungry goblins, or a dragon, or lava, or whatever, then he pretty much knows that he should have just fire-balled the two screws and got it over with.

The way I see it is this: the wizard is accountable for his actions, not responsible for them. And yes, he could have just fireballed the screws and taken a risk. They might have been a pair of black hearted killers. Its a nice in-play decision to have to make when the dragon and his goblin minions are coming, surfing on a wave of lava.

On that note, if an ethical wizard has to sneak past any guards, then they are obviously evil and it shouldn't matter what happens to them.

Unless the wizard is sneaking past the guards because he's escaping from prison, or is up to something that illegal but which he feels is necessary, or are just millitiamen with families at home and no murder in their hearts, or...ad infinitum.

As far as meters of ethical and innocent are concerned, some sort of alignment type system would probably be in order.

Arrgghhhh!!!

At the very least, the common and general beliefs of the wizard should probably be sketched out, so that ethics could be inferred in a given situation.

Phew!

Or, there could just be a wizards code. That would put it straight pretty quick. Break the code at your own peril.

That's a very tasty idea. I really like the idea of a wizards code. That way I could provide a clear outline of what's 'good' and 'bad' and avoid the subjective grey-zone nature of real world ethics. That's a very neat solution.

Maybe instead of magic backlash, knowingly breaking the code shakes a wizards focus and makes it harder for them to cast subsequent magic until they can atone. In this case, unethical wizards would be unaffected by the penalty.

I hadn't thought of atonement either. Nice.

Thanks for the ideas Ken - they've been very helpful.

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 17, 2009, 03:24:56 PM
Hi Vulpinoid,

Maybe you need to consider what may or may not be ethical to the wizard.

I'd dearly love to avoid subjectivism. A subjective approach would almost definitely mess up compacts and sorcery. All a player has to do is put "Maximinus Thrax has no moral issues with killing people, innocent or otherwise, to achieve his aims" and they'd have a license to print mayhem. I need a clear cut good/bad thing. I think Ken's wizards code idea has legs.

A believer in the natural cycle of life might deliberately choose to kill the old king who is extending their life through mystical means.

A mystic of law might be helping to preserve the old king, because the king has been a stabilising influence in the kingdom and none of the king's children would continue the peaceful reign over the empire.

Neither of these mystics agree with what should be done about the king, and each of them has a strong moral standpoint for their beliefs about the situation.

In each others eyes, the other wizard is "evil". The first would plunge the empire into chaos, the second would continue the abomination unto the natural cycle.

There's a mighty fine premise in there. I think an important distinction here would be that there are morals and then there is the ethical code of magic - which may not be totally in line with what most people consider to be good or bad. It might be against the code to kill the king, but perfectly in keeping with the morals of the nature mystic. The code is like gravity. If you jump out of a building, you're going to fall and hurt yourself - but what if the building is on fire? Is it right to jump?

Thanks for the brain food.

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 17, 2009, 03:34:36 PM
Hi Finarvyn,

Ethics in RPGs can be tricky, and sadly isn't as black & white as we might hope.

For example, in an AD&D game years ago a friend was playing a Paladin and thereby was unable to do any "evil" acts or he would lose his Paladinhood. The party was wandering through an enemy complex and came upon a kitchen and surprised an Orc chef. The chef dropped his meat cleaver and ran in terror. The Paladin leaped forward and hacked the Orc down from behind.

Does he lose his Paladinhood for this action?

1. You can argue that all Orcs are evil by nature and that killing one would ultimately be a good action.

2. You can argue that attacking any unarmed creature from behind, regardless of its alignment, is an evil act.

We argued this for a long time and eventually this discussion killed the campaign becasue we couldn't continue without resolving the issue. We never agreed.

I sympathise. The ethical payback thingy is going to end up having a fairly major impact on somebody's character, so unless the code of ethics is rigorously defined its going to cause dispute. Subjectivism is a pain in the butt!

Turning then to your thought about ethics and magic -- I think it has a wonderful notion behind it and it's neat that evil spellcasters can try to beat the system somewhat, but I wonder if you are going to encounter this giant "gray area" such as the situation I described above.

Perhaps the solution to the problem might be to construct a table of examples and say "no matter what your personal ethics might be, here are the guidelines for ethics in this campaign" such that killing certain creature types is okay or attacking from behind is not. As play continues your tables would evolve and eventually you might have a really great list.

The gray area problem is why I kicked this thread off. I can feel it in my bones that this is right for this game, so I've got to resolve the issue. Even with a pretty solid code I think I'm going to need to be prepared to let it evolve, as you suggest.

Its amazing what you can get for two cents.

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: contracycle on February 19, 2009, 06:42:52 AM
I'd dearly love to avoid subjectivism. A subjective approach would almost definitely mess up compacts and sorcery. All a player has to do is put "Maximinus Thrax has no moral issues with killing people, innocent or otherwise, to achieve his aims" and they'd have a license to print mayhem. I need a clear cut good/bad thing. I think Ken's wizards code idea has legs.

For a lot of people who lived life informed by magical ideas, the operative concept was "sin",  or something like what we think of as sin.  Doing certain things made you inherently tarnished, and therefore opened you up to the influences of evil spirits.  This does not rely on the subjectivity of the magician or the players as such, and can be used as a form of setting exposition,laying out the cosmological influences of the world.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Vulpinoid on February 19, 2009, 07:23:20 PM
How about this suggestion?

All schools of magic have ethics that link into the types of effect they are able to cast.

In my earlier example of a mystic who believes in the sanctity of the natural order, their beliefs might have been reinforced by a range of spells that focus on the natural world above other concerns.

A mystic who believes in the laws of the state might gain a range of spells that focus on civilisation and law enforcement.

A mystic who performs darker spells involving the dead, or perverting the natural order might have a schools that imposes morals that mark their practitioners as "wrong" in the terms of the outside world. They cling to this "wrong-ness" because it marks them as very different, and therefore able to cast very different magics. Like the old ritual of breaking a taboo to release its power, no one wants you to do it, and you're socially outcast if you do; but once you do so you earn huge amounts of fear among your peers.

Characters who try to learn magics from two or more skills will find that their values come into conflict. One school says to perform a certain action, while the other school says to act in a different way. The character will have to break one of their codes of morals, and they will either lose prestige in the eyes of their school, or suffer some other type of weakness. That's the penalty they get to offset the diversity of magic they're able to cast.

Again...just some ideas...

V


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Callan S. on February 19, 2009, 08:14:36 PM
I'd dearly love to avoid subjectivism. A subjective approach would almost definitely mess up compacts and sorcery. All a player has to do is put "Maximinus Thrax has no moral issues with killing people, innocent or otherwise, to achieve his aims" and they'd have a license to print mayhem. I need a clear cut good/bad thing. I think Ken's wizards code idea has legs.
Perhaps players could write their own list of what their own wizard should or shouldn't do?

Personally I think this has the added benefit that if someone write 'My character doesn't have a problem with anything' then it shows you clear as a bell he just doesn't give a stuff about any ethical level. Just as much as you aren't interested in furries in game, he's not interested in ethics in game (ah, if you are interested in furries...I forgive you ;) and insert something in the example that you aren't interested in).


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 20, 2009, 02:42:13 PM
Hi Callan,

if you are interested in furries...I forgive you ;)

You are obviously more forgiving than me. Bunnies and Burrows has got a lot to answer for. When you really start to think about the kind of world setup that's required its just plain disturbing.

Any wizards code worth its salt is going to have to include something about not making animals sentient, with some pretty stiff penalties for violators. :)

"But I just wanted to ask my horse who tried to steal it!"

"Yeah, and its just a short step from there to having him wear clothes, walk around on his hind legs and smoke a pipe. You're still hanging from the rafters by your feet - and your hair is still on fire."

Bert



Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 20, 2009, 02:44:35 PM
Hi Contracycle,

For a lot of people who lived life informed by magical ideas, the operative concept was "sin",  or something like what we think of as sin.  Doing certain things made you inherently tarnished, and therefore opened you up to the influences of evil spirits.  This does not rely on the subjectivity of the magician or the players as such, and can be used as a form of setting exposition,laying out the cosmological influences of the world.

You make a good point. What we're talking about here are taboo violations, which leave the perpetrator spiritually tainted. In most cultures taints can be removed, or negated beforehand, through ritual acts of purification or appeasement. If magic users were able to take precautions against accidental or unavoidable violations of cosmic law, it might take some of the sting out of unintended consequences - what do you think Ken? Unless I go for the Buddhist option and make it all about intent...

I was initially going to target a few key taboo acts such as murder, theft and rape. If a wizard uses magic to facilitate or perpetrate any of these acts (and I'm still thinking directly or indirectly), they pay the price - whether its spell rebound, a sudden loss of harmony or penalties to magical abilities suggestive a taint. Maybe different approaches to magic could result in different effects? Adding a few peculiar taboos might work well. Eating beans. Not eating you relatives when they die. Saying macbeth while performing in macbeth.

I will ponder some...


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 20, 2009, 03:12:32 PM
How about this suggestion?

All schools of magic have ethics that link into the types of effect they are able to cast.

Hi Vulpinoid,

I really like these ideas. For some unknown reason its made me think about of Azimov's laws of robotics. Maybe ethical codes could be arranging in tiers, with each tier overriding the one below. Maybe I could have one tier which applies to magic as a whole, one based on the approach and another based on the school / sect / lineage. That would certainly enrich play. The entire code, based on magical laws of cause and effect, could be a reflection of subtle differences in a given approach to magic. For some the three major taboo acts I mentioned in my post to contracycle might be fairly low on the list.

Following your previous post I've also given some thought to extending ethical codes for magic users to mundane actions. It would make sense for most of the approaches to magic. Contracyle has also got me thinking about taboo acts in general as magical acts, whether you're a wizard or not.

Meaty stuff.

Thanks

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: DWeird on February 20, 2009, 04:01:03 PM
Hi!

I'd like to caution you against relying on codified stuff or its evolution too much. Writing stuff down doesn't elimante gray areas, it pushes them deeper - if that weren't the case, lawyers wouldn't be able to make a living. Basically, methinks you need to acknowledge, on a system level, that there's gonna be a degree of moral uncertainty no matter how the "wizard's code" is written. RPGs do have a way of dealing with uncertainty, though - roll for it!

I.e., whenever a magic-user performs something that is kinda-sorta immoral, you flip a coin to see what the cosmos thinks. If it didn't like the spellcaster's actions much, the GM gets a token. And when he gets enough...

...a demon accountant appears, adjusts his spectacles, says "I'm sorry, your account has been overdrawn" and rips the sorceror's soul out...

...anything close to edible turns to sludge as soon as the druid who toyed with nature's way touches it...

...the corrupt little mage of order gets imprisoned unjustly and scheduled for execution...

And so on. Give those bastards a little (well, whopping, really...) taste of their own medicine. Which is what the great big cosmic scales are all about, right?


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Chronologist on February 21, 2009, 06:50:59 AM
Heroes of Horror from D&D has rules for taint; maybe when a wizard uses a spell in an unethical way, they gain a corruption point (or more than one, depending on the act). As I remember, corruption points give you mental and physical depravity, which can give you horrible nightmares or yellow skin to name just a few examples. It has 3 ranks, Mild, Moderate, and Severe, I believe, and each tier had its own unique drawbacks. This worked in a campaign of mine a few years back, forcing the Sorcerer to think twice before he cast his spells. It's more of a deterrent to bad behavior than anything else.

Have you thought about some kind of positive reinforcement for characters who only practice "white" magic? Maybe they can use it more often or are more resistant to the magic of corrupted mages.

Chronology


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 21, 2009, 02:21:03 PM
Hi Chronologist,

Heroes of Horror from D&D has rules for taint; maybe when a wizard uses a spell in an unethical way, they gain a corruption point (or more than one, depending on the act). As I remember, corruption points give you mental and physical depravity, which can give you horrible nightmares or yellow skin to name just a few examples. It has 3 ranks, Mild, Moderate, and Severe, I believe, and each tier had its own unique drawbacks. This worked in a campaign of mine a few years back, forcing the Sorcerer to think twice before he cast his spells. It's more of a deterrent to bad behavior than anything else.

This is pretty much the way things work for magic users operating under compacts to sidestep the cosmic balance. The more nasty stuff they do, the less able they are to function normally in society - either because they have a grotesque appearance or horrific appetites. In other words, there's still balance. Should taints be the universal consequence of evil magic? My current feeling is that I need to separate compacts and evil magic, but I'll think on it.

Have you thought about some kind of positive reinforcement for characters who only practice "white" magic? Maybe they can use it more often or are more resistant to the magic of corrupted mages.

I have considered making this a two way street. Oddly, I didn't even think about it until I wrote the the stuff on the threefold law of return a few posts back. I think the whole three fold law thing is meant to apply equally for positive acts of magic.

The problem is I'm not sure how to manage it. Reduce or negate the harmony cost for using magic for good?

What a can of worms!

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 21, 2009, 02:28:59 PM
Greetings DWeird,

Basically, methinks you need to acknowledge, on a system level, that there's gonna be a degree of moral uncertainty no matter how the "wizard's code" is written. RPGs do have a way of dealing with uncertainty, though - roll for it!

I.e., whenever a magic-user performs something that is kinda-sorta immoral, you flip a coin to see what the cosmos thinks. If it didn't like the spellcaster's actions much, the GM gets a token. And when he gets enough...

It feels like a cop-out, but it would be something of a relief to settle for this kind of option. Maybe the easy option is going to be the best. Still, the fat lady hasn't sung yet.

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 22, 2009, 03:57:33 PM
Okay, after re-reading all the posts on this topic, doing a little bit of research (into buddhism) and thinking long and hard about how to make an ethical magic system work effectively, here's where I'm at. If anyone can see any flaws, limitations or the need for more clarity in what I'm going to outline below - please keep posting. Magic is SO important to a fantasy game, I've just got to get it right. Here it is...

All magic users are bound by a code of ethics referred to as the six pillars of light and shadow.

The three pillars of light
Each of the three pillars of light is associated with an action that is unequivocally positive and brings with it the blessing of the light.

This blessing of the light can manifest in either of two ways. Where appropriate, the magic user will be subject to the same spell that incurred the blessing of the light. Where this is inappropriate, the magic user will gain as many harmony points as they lost in casting the spell.

The three pillars of light are as follows:

•   To save an innocent life; that carries the blessing of the light
•   To ease suffering; that carries the blessing of the light
•   To mete justice; that carries the blessing of light

In cosmic terms justice is very much an eye for an eye, and applies to those who have perpetrated unethical acts or are attempting to do so. Furthermore, innocence is defined as one who has not carried out an action under the three pillars of shadow.

If there is any ambiguity over the active auspices of the pillars of light and no consensus within a group of players can be reached, the GM must roll 1d6. A result of 1-3 is positive and result of 4-6 is negative.

The three pillars of shadow
Each of the three pillars of shadow is associated an act that is unequivocally negative and brings with it the curse of the shadow.

The curse of the shadow can manifest in either of two ways. Where appropriate, the magic user will be subject to the same spell that incurred the curse of the shadow. Where this is inappropriate, the magic user will lose as many harmony points as they lost in casting the spell.

The three pillars of shadow are as follows:

•   To harm the innocent; that carries the curse of the shadow
•   To take that which is not honestly gained; that carries the curse of the shadow
•   To engage in sexual misconduct; that carries the curse of the shadow

The mark of shadow is negated if the act also carries the blessing of the light, although no blessing is received. It is possible to protect against the curse of the shadow using the art of Warding and Negation.

If there is any ambiguity over the active auspices of the pillars of darkness and no consensus within a group of players can be reached, the GM must roll 1d6. A result of 1-3 is positive and result of 4-6 is negative.

The role of intent
Intent is of fundamental importance to all magical acts.

A wizard is not responsible for any unintended consequences resulting from their magic, positive or negative, and will receive neither the blessing of the light or the curse of the shadow.

However, acts of magic are intended to facilitate an act that falls within the bounds of the six pillars of light and shadow do carry the blessing or curse, as appropriate.

Three stripes of magic user
Some magic users have lofty ideals and strive always to work their magic under the auspices of the three pillars of light. Such magic users do not try to protect themselves from the curse of the shadow. Some schools of magic use binding spells to render their adherents subject to more extensive and exacting codes.

Some magic users are rather more pragmatic and find themselves having to work in an ethically grey world. Such magic users often protect themselves from the curse of the shadow with warding spells. Others, most notably sorcerers, use spirits to exploit loopholes in the six pillars. Sorcerers are generally mistrusted because their approach to magic provides more options for exploiting such loopholes.

Some magic users flout the six pillars of light and shadow. They have no moral basis for their actions. They use magic to protect against the curse of the shadow or form compacts with entities that to negate or at least defer its effect. Again, sorcerers are more likely to pursue this course of action, as their approach to magic lends itself to working with entities of dubious moral fibre.

Thanks to everyone for helping me get this far! And keep it coming!!!

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: DWeird on February 23, 2009, 05:58:42 AM
Hi again!

A little bit about intent... What about the cases where fireballs and poor aim produce grilled villagers? The wizard in question didn't mean to fry them - he was aiming for the bandits that threatened the very same villagers. Pushing this a little bit further, maybe the wizard in question would even get a lil' blessing of the light - just 'cause, y'know, his intentions were pure. Good-hearted, yet unable to forsee or control the long-term effects of one's actions...

"Well, I did summon that Ten-Ton-Tengu, but I never thought it would bring about the destruction of man and beast alike!"

Doesn't really fit the archetype of a wizard, does it? Might want to scribble in some sort of requirement for "wisdom" or some such. Screwups being frowned upon, but allowed - just as long as a caster does her best to mop up the problems she has inadvertedly caused).


Ohh! And I just remembered... Have you played any Ultima game? It's a CRPG, so it has limited depth... But it does focus on the protagonist honing moral virtues, such as Justice, Compassion (which your three pillars already cover, it seems), but also Honour, Humility, Honesty, Valor (and so on), and with them, the characters' abilities. All of these virtues have different codes of conduct required - so you could be just and honourable but not at all compassionate or honest (like Hamlet... or a vengeful action movie hero), but no relativism is promoted, as it is certainly possible for one person to embody all of the virtues.

What "virtues" are appropriate to a spell-caster for your game, and whether you want to call them virtues at all, would of course be for you yourself to devise... But methinks taking this route would allow for morality to enter your game less as a legalistic system that can be gamed and more as a thing worth striving for.

Though, uh, that may be not at all what you want. Just my two cents.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Seth M. Drebitko on February 23, 2009, 07:57:11 AM
  I would probably advise checking out Clinton’s Paladin rpg for a good look at putting in a moral code system. I think that an example should be in place but a strong frame work supplied this way it can jive with what ever group is playing; lest you end up with a d20 style alignment system which is often used when convenient.
 It also might not be a bad idea to purposefully leave grey areas this way you can have cunning/conniving characters trying to loop hole their way through casting. With a clear black and white you simply create a list of do’s and don’t to adhere to but with a mildly vague system you have the characters actively working to use the moral system to their advantage, or another’s disadvantage.
Just my 2 cents
Regards, Seth


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: dindenver on February 23, 2009, 09:06:56 AM
Bert,
  One thing I noticed, Your light side has very vague and hard to interpret guidelines (mete out justice, what does that mean?). While the shadow side is very specific, steal, rape and hurt innocents.
  I can sort of see why you did it that way, I mean, it is easy to tell when someone is being evil, if the evil conditions are more specific.

  But, from a practical stand point, it seems counter-intuitive. So, you are good, as long as you don't steal, rape or cause suffering of innocents.
  Its seems like what it takes to be good is less defined in your system. Save a life, ease suffering and mete justice. With the exception of save a life, it is hard to define. And subject to interpretation.

  I struggled with this issue when I decided to run a Star Wars:KOTOR campaign using non-Star Wars rules. I decided that good vs. evil can be determined with two tests:
1) How much does the action in question benefit your character?
2) Who benefits from this action besides your character, and how much does it benefit them?
  This is a little simplistic and slightly subjective. But, I explained it to the players at the beginning of the campaign and it worked out pretty well. In fact, there were times where players assumed one thing or the other and I just said (when they voiced their doubts), who benefits and by how much? And that usually set them on the right track.

  I think it is a great idea you are shooting for and I hope you hit the mark, because it sounds like a cool game.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 23, 2009, 04:17:54 PM
Hi dindenver,

So, you are good, as long as you don't steal, rape or cause suffering of innocents.

No - you're not good, you're just not evil.

Its seems like what it takes to be good is less defined in your system. Save a life, ease suffering and mete justice.
With the exception of save a life, it is hard to define. And subject to interpretation.

Saving the life of an innocent is pretty clear cut, as you say.

Easing suffering is not so hard either - no harder than 'do not harm the innocent'. Suffering is pretty easy to define as the product of harm. It's equally easy to identify an act that eases (or prevents) it. Food to the hungry. Healing to the injured.

It's meting justice that's really the problem. The general idea was that people who violate the pillars of shadow without justification are fair game - no curse of shadow incurred. Hunt 'em down, make em pay - whatever you feel matches the crime. The GM can toss a die if they think you've gone too far and might be more in the realm of shadow than light, using 'an-eye-for-an-eye' as a basic rule of thumb. Still, its far from satisfying - but then again, real world justice is seldom satisfying either. And then you've got the old 'two wrongs don't make a right' adage to consider. Arrgghhh!!!

Another way of looking at the pillars of light is not as something that defines what is good, but something that provides justification for acts that fall under the pillars of shadow. The idea being that so long as a characters actions fall under both the pillars of shadow and of light, there is no curse of the shadow.

I struggled with this issue when I decided to run a Star Wars:KOTOR campaign using non-Star Wars rules. I decided that good vs. evil can be determined with two tests:
1) How much does the action in question benefit your character?
2) Who benefits from this action besides your character, and how much does it benefit them?
This is a little simplistic and slightly subjective. But, I explained it to the players at the beginning of the campaign and it worked out pretty well. In fact, there were times where players assumed one thing or the other and I just said (when they voiced their doubts), who benefits and by how much? And that usually set them on the right track.

This is a pretty neat idea. I'll have a think on it. Ta!

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 23, 2009, 04:54:18 PM
Hi DWeird,

A little bit about intent... What about the cases where fireballs and poor aim produce grilled villagers? The wizard in question didn't mean to fry them - he was aiming for the bandits that threatened the very same villagers. Pushing this a little bit further, maybe the wizard in question would even get a lil' blessing of the light - just 'cause, y'know, his intentions were pure. Good-hearted, yet unable to forsee or control the long-term effects of one's actions...

"Well, I did summon that Ten-Ton-Tengu, but I never thought it would bring about the destruction of man and beast alike!"

Doesn't really fit the archetype of a wizard, does it? Might want to scribble in some sort of requirement for "wisdom" or some such. Screwups being frowned upon, but allowed - just as long as a caster does her best to mop up the problems she has inadvertedly caused).

"So let me get this right. You blew up the orphanage while trying to kill a demon?"

"Yes. Well, I think it was a demon. It had horns and everything. Coming to think of it, it did look a little bit goaty...oh bugger."

Har de har!

Originally I thought only end results should matter, not intent. That way you don't have to deal with the blurry garden of intent. Several people thought unintentional consquences were harsh and unfair, but maybe they were talking about unintentional consequences that are not a direct result of a characters actions. I may have to do a little back tracking on intent...

Ohh! And I just remembered... Have you played any Ultima game? It's a CRPG, so it has limited depth... But it does focus on the protagonist honing moral virtues, such as Justice, Compassion (which your three pillars already cover, it seems), but also Honour, Humility, Honesty, Valor (and so on), and with them, the characters' abilities. All of these virtues have different codes of conduct required - so you could be just and honourable but not at all compassionate or honest (like Hamlet... or a vengeful action movie hero), but no relativism is promoted, as it is certainly possible for one person to embody all of the virtues.

What "virtues" are appropriate to a spell-caster for your game, and whether you want to call them virtues at all, would of course be for you yourself to devise... But methinks taking this route would allow for morality to enter your game less as a legalistic system that can be gamed and more as a thing worth striving for.

I don't want people striving to be virtuous! I'm after a simple set of rules that define what things the cosmos gives you a slap for and which ones it doesn't. If lying, cowardice, dishonourable conduct etc. causes harm to the innocent, it falls under the pillars of shadow. Ker-slap!!! While people might read moral messages into how the cosmos works, its no more moral than gravity. There's no judgement in it. I don't think of cosmic justice as something enacted by an intelligence.

Traditionally there are only two things which were generally frowned on in magic: using it for personal gain or to harm living things. I think I've got those two covered, and maybe been side tracked by broader ethical frameworks.

Thanks for the ideas - and the laughs!

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 23, 2009, 05:07:54 PM
Hi Seth,

I would probably advise checking out Clinton’s Paladin rpg for a good look at putting in a moral code system. I think that an example should be in place but a strong frame work supplied this way it can jive with what ever group is playing; lest you end up with a d20 style alignment system which is often used when convenient.

Where is this at?

It also might not be a bad idea to purposefully leave grey areas this way you can have cunning/conniving characters trying to loop hole their way through casting. With a clear black and white you simply create a list of do’s and don’t to adhere to but with a mildly vague system you have the characters actively working to use the moral system to their advantage, or another’s disadvantage.

I like providing loopholes for cunning players. I've got plenty of techniques magic users can employ to try and beat the system, but they mark you as somebody of dubious moral fibre if they are detected. That way I don't have to leave grey areas (although I've already got them in spades) for people to exploit.

Saying that, I want people to be forced to violoate the pillars of shadow for personal reasons, rather than any lofty cosmic code. For example, say a wizard needs to steal the statuette for personal reasons, but can only do it with magic. If they do it, they're probably not going to be able to work magic for a month or so. Do they really want it that bad?

Bert



Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: otspiii on February 23, 2009, 07:17:59 PM
What do you mean by "innocent" in this context?  If a wizard kills a guard in front of a gate how is it handled?

Is the guard "innocent" if he's working for an honorable cause at the moment of his death, regardless of his life choices?

Is the guard "innocent" if he has personally lived an honorable life.  Is there some method of determining this, or is it completely based on GM snap-judgment?

Is the guard "innocent" if he hasn't done anything dishonorable in front of the player, regardless of how good or bad he's been in life?

Innocent is a really vague concept, and tends to come out as a trait that's either really situational and subjective or impractical for the PCs to actually know.  The subjective approach seems to be the standard, but it sounds like it's something you really don't want.  How are you going to handle this.

Also, I'm curious about the "sexual misconduct" section of shadows.  What qualifies sexual misconduct?  Does a wizard get shadow-points for only really harmful things like rape or does magic backfire on you for things like premarital sex, homosexuality, or getting blown by a woman on her period?  I can understand the idea of a universe getting all up on a wizard for harming others, but sexual morality tends to be a lot more culturally based rather than damage-prevention based.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: DWeird on February 24, 2009, 02:46:22 AM
Hi again!

When I was talking about virtues, I had in mind specifically wizardly ones - wisdom/prudence, the ability to forsee the long-term effects of your actions, curiosity, the need find out the truth about things, restraint - dealing with vast wizardly power in a proper way. Justice, ambition, gravity, discipline, yadda yadda. You could peg specific attributes of magic (uh? mana regen, number of spells that can be bound, spell duration, spell potency? Dunno.) to specific virtues virtues and these to specific schools.

That was more of a clarification of what I meant... Don't really expect you to find it useful, but one can never know.


Now, this is actually supposed to be helpful:

I think I got a grip of the main effect you want your morality system to produce in-game: and that is to make the moral grey zone inbetween two extremes more interesting to explore. Extreme good is to be ignored 'cause it's so damned boring, and extreme evil is to be made extremelly inconvenient (probably because it usually is disrupting to play?).

Does that sound right?

If so, I think we should suspend the discussion on morality as a working, coherent system ('cause that one's misleading and immensly interesting, which is never a good combination), and focus on how "cosmic justice" produces wiggle space in the grey zone.

For that effect, I think a contrived, somewhat self-contradictory system would actually work better, especially if coupled with somewhat absurd atonement rituals... A mage accidentally steps on a puppydog's tail and causes the poor creature pain - so now he has to go and give his enemies a big hug as atonement for the deed. Given the genre, said enemies are likely to be angry and armed in some proportion, so hugs'd be absolutelly impossible without first paralysing the guys in question... or something like that. Carrying out the instructions of the code to the letter, twisting them in the process would be a fairly regular event for most mages.

Not sure how far towards the absurd you'd want to push it ("You sexed up that corpse, so now you have to marry it!") - possibly not at all. However, a thing to keep in mind is that it's perfectly possible to aproach such events with some amount of seriousness (thus getting some unholy combination of Kafka and Pratchett), and pretty much depends on how the GM sets the mood.

For instance... A necromancer warden, reanimating the corpses of convicts so they could serve out their 799 year-long sentences in full could be the epitome of justice in your current system. PCs meeting such a guy can be either a sad and unsettling or cheery and creepy moment, depending on how it's played.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Seth M. Drebitko on February 24, 2009, 07:11:33 AM
You can find the free html version here [url}http://files.crngames.com/cc/paladin/paladin.html [/url] but I would suggest the free pdf version here http://www.crngames.com/crngames/store (http://www.crngames.com/crngames/store). A beta well worth tossing some money into the tip jar for.
Regards, Seth


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 24, 2009, 12:44:04 PM
Hi Otspiii,

What do you mean by "innocent" in this context?  If a wizard kills a guard in front of a gate how is it handled?

Is the guard "innocent" if he's working for an honorable cause at the moment of his death, regardless of his life choices?

Is the guard "innocent" if he has personally lived an honorable life.  Is there some method of determining this, or is it completely based on GM snap-judgment?

Is the guard "innocent" if he hasn't done anything dishonorable in front of the player, regardless of how good or bad he's been in life?

Innocent is a really vague concept, and tends to come out as a trait that's either really situational and subjective or impractical for the PCs to actually know.  The subjective approach seems to be the standard, but it sounds like it's something you really don't want.  How are you going to handle this.

Innocence is defined as those who have violated the pillars of shadow and incurred the curse. See my earlier post. Dindenver has already got me thinking hard about this kind of thing. More to come on this.

Also, I'm curious about the "sexual misconduct" section of shadows.  What qualifies sexual misconduct?  Does a wizard get shadow-points for only really harmful things like rape or does magic backfire on you for things like premarital sex, homosexuality, or getting blown by a woman on her period?  I can understand the idea of a universe getting all up on a wizard for harming others, but sexual morality tends to be a lot more culturally based rather than damage-prevention based.

I'm surprised nobody has picked up on this one earlier. The pillars of light and darkness are based, to a limited extent, on the 5 panacsila of buddhism. More research might help me shore these up. The panacsilas include:

   1. I undertake the rule to refrain from destroying living creatures.
   2. I undertake the rule to refrain from taking that which is not given.
   3. I undertake the rule to refrain from sexual misconduct.
   4. I undertake the rule to refrain from incorrect speech.
   5. I undertake the rule to refrain from intoxicants which lead to carelessness.

I just dropped 4 and 5, but they are kind of covered under causing harm - which could be the consequence of incorrect speech and carelessness due to intoxication.

I am defining sexual misconduct as any sexual act performed without consent or due concern for the consequences - such as pregnancy or syphilis. I found I couldn't throw this one out because it seems to be a fundamental ethical concept in so many cultures.

If a PC facilitates sexual misconduct or uses magic to perpetrate it (date rape with sorcery), then yes - they will pay for it big time. However, sexual misconduct is more helpful in defining the moral fibre of evil adversaries than a general concern for magic users. Think of it as a damn good reason to take a villain down.

Its vitally important to understand that this isn't an overarching ethical code. Nor is it about what is actually 'right'. Different cultures in the game world will have different ethical systems. They might think its fine to toss sickly babies off cliffs or knock off your elders when  they cease to be useful. Different strokes for different folks.

Bert







Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Callan S. on February 24, 2009, 01:00:04 PM
Can't you just play out this thing as some sort of cosmic character in itself, that dishes out whatever according to whatever it happens to think is right at the moment?

This doesn't appear to be a game system, it appears to be a character (with the power to punish wizards).


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Vulpinoid on February 24, 2009, 01:49:14 PM
This doesn't appear to be a game system, it appears to be a character (with the power to punish wizards).

Almost like paradox spirits in "Mage: the Ascension"...

If the majority of people around you think that an act is immoral, you get punished for it. And that's why most sorcerers work their craft in private.

V


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 24, 2009, 03:25:30 PM
Hi DWeird,

When I was talking about virtues, I had in mind specifically wizardly ones - wisdom/prudence, the ability to forsee the long-term effects of your actions, curiosity, the need find out the truth about things, restraint - dealing with vast wizardly power in a proper way. Justice, ambition, gravity, discipline, yadda yadda. You could peg specific attributes of magic (uh? mana regen, number of spells that can be bound, spell duration, spell potency? Dunno.) to specific virtues virtues and these to specific schools.

Ooo. I like. More to think about for schools/sects/lineages etc. Not sure how to work them into the system though. Hmm.

I think I got a grip of the main effect you want your morality system to produce in-game: and that is to make the moral grey zone inbetween two extremes more interesting to explore. Extreme good is to be ignored 'cause it's so damned boring, and extreme evil is to be made extremelly inconvenient (probably because it usually is disrupting to play?).

Does that sound right?

On point 1, most definitely yes. Good and evil are the bookends. They define the limits of actions without consequences. It can be fun to see how far you can stretch the limits, but what's in between is also really interesting. Mix black and white and you get grey. That's the whole point behind setting up the pillars of light as justification for otherwise ethically dubious acts. That in itself gives you plenty of fun in the grey zone.

On point 2, yes - but it can be fun to play a character trying to function in a generally unethical world, where a blasphemer might get stoned to death, with an overly demanding set of personal morals.

On point 3, yes - but it can also be fun to play a character who is duty bound to perform acts others may consider evil or antiheroes who have performed evil acts in the past but seek atonement.

If so, I think we should  suspend the discussion on morality as a working, coherent system ('cause that one's misleading and immensly interesting, which is never a good combination), and focus on how "cosmic justice" produces wiggle space in the grey zone.

That sounds like a good idea, so long as there's nothing more that needs saying on tightening up the six pillars. Should 'wiggle room in the grey zone' be a new topic do you think?

For that effect, I think a contrived, somewhat self-contradictory system would actually work better, especially if coupled with somewhat absurd atonement rituals...

Yarp. I've been thinking about interlocking grey zone strictures that make life difficult for magic users and their general behaviour bizarre and wizardly. I have this idea that schools/sects/lineages demand that students/initiates/apprentices be bound magically to a number of strictures - lesser pillars of shadow if you like. I suppose these could consequences that can only be prevented with ritual acts of atonement rthat would function as lesser pillars of light. I want players have to try and work within the strictures without violating the cosmic biggies.

Love the examples as well.

Thanks!

Bert

“Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.”
Sigmund Freud


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 24, 2009, 03:54:03 PM
Hi Callan,

Can't you just play out this thing as some sort of cosmic character in itself, that dishes out whatever according to whatever it happens to think is right at the moment?

I'd rather not pin it down to a 'cosmic character', certainly not a capricious one as you seem to suggest. Saying that it would be interesting to have various factions squabbling about which deity is behind it all. People have been personifying impersonal forces for a long time...

This doesn't appear to be a game system, it appears to be a character (with the power to punish wizards).

A d20 isn't a game system either, but it does have the power to punish wizards (and everyone else) and is innately capricious, as I know to my cost. I have lived in fear of the wrath of the Grim Icosohedron for decades. :)

Thanks for the thoughts.

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 24, 2009, 04:10:39 PM
Hi Vulpinoid,

Almost like paradox spirits in "Mage: the Ascension"...

If the majority of people around you think that an act is immoral, you get punished for it. And that's why most sorcerers work their craft in private.

Now that is a nice idea...

If it was an absolute necessity I'd prefer a bunch of non-intelligent entities as the enactors of cosmic justice rather than an super-intelligent uber-being. It could create interesting possibilities for creating loopholes as well.

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: scarik on February 24, 2009, 04:33:19 PM
It seems to me the Consensual Reality of Mage: the Ascension is really on the mark here.

When you work magic you suffer consequences based on what the general feeling of the locals is. Thus sexual misconduct (to pick on criterion)can be 'simply having it' if you're in an abby of pious celibates, all the way to 'no one cares' because there aren't any locals to have an opinion. The sexual habits of many animals would qualify as rape in many human societies, for instance, but out in the deep woods you have only the Lynx's morals to go by.

Points in the appropriate cultural knowledge would be tremendously important for a traveling wizard.


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Callan S. on February 24, 2009, 04:41:01 PM
Hi Callan,

Can't you just play out this thing as some sort of cosmic character in itself, that dishes out whatever according to whatever it happens to think is right at the moment?

I'd rather not pin it down to a 'cosmic character', certainly not a capricious one as you seem to suggest. Saying that it would be interesting to have various factions squabbling about which deity is behind it all. People have been personifying impersonal forces for a long time...

This doesn't appear to be a game system, it appears to be a character (with the power to punish wizards).

A d20 isn't a game system either, but it does have the power to punish wizards (and everyone else) and is innately capricious, as I know to my cost. I have lived in fear of the wrath of the Grim Icosohedron for decades. :)
A d20 punishes about as much as a bear trap punishes a bear. It doesn't. It merely acts according to physics. Even if pain happens, to say it punishes is to personify an impersonal force, as you mention above.

Perhaps you've personified rules and dice so much you assume the can be made to punish, rather than to merely act according to physics and logistical set up?

Or in other words, only a character can punish...



Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 25, 2009, 01:19:00 PM
Howdy Callan,

Urk.

Perhaps you've personified rules and dice so much you assume the can be made to punish, rather than to merely act according to physics and logistical set up?

I? The fourteenth Earl of Wendleshire? Personify?

I'd rather not pin it down to a 'cosmic character', certainly not a capricious one as you seem to suggest.

I think not. In the post before last you seemed to be keen to personify what I was presenting as an impersonal metaphysical 'bear trap' and how to avoid it. Let me introduce you to Pot - also known as Kettle in some circles. :)

Can't you just play out this thing as some sort of cosmic character in itself, that dishes out whatever according to whatever it happens to think is right at the moment?

The whole 'Grim Icosohedron' thing was simply a reductio absurdam response in good humour.

A d20 isn't a game system either, but it does have the power to punish wizards (and everyone else) and is innately capricious, as I know to my cost. I have lived in fear of the wrath of the Grim Icosohedron for decades. :)

I mean, the Grim Icosohedron???

This doesn't appear to be a game system, it appears to be a character (with the power to punish wizards).

The moment you think about the consequences of 'bad actions' as punishment, you personify it. I intentionally based this on Buddhism because the concept of karma is just cosmic law. Nobody enacts it. Its just the way things are - from a Buddhist perspective.

In game terms, what would be the benefit of regarding the supernatural consequences of a character's actions as the actions of some cosmic being? Why does this system appear to be a character to you? Is it because you see the consequences levied in the system as punishment? Is it because there are similar systems, like mage, where the consequences of subjectively naughty actions are meted out by spirits? In what way do I portray it as a character? Do you think it would be neat for it to be a character? Would it improve the game? I'm keen to understand where you're coming from - you clearly want to make a point, but I don't quite see what it is.

Bert


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Callan S. on February 25, 2009, 04:24:11 PM
Quote
If lying, cowardice, dishonourable conduct etc. causes harm to the innocent, it falls under the pillars of shadow. Ker-slap!!! While people might read moral messages into how the cosmos works, its no more moral than gravity. There's no judgement in it.
Quote
In what way do I portray it as a character?

Are there going to be atoms, for example, which are classed as 'innocent' ones or such, then somebody could be composed of a certain amount of 'innocence'?

Or is it that rather than there being innocence, there is merely the idea of innocence? And it takes a mind to hold an idea in it. A character.

Which way are you choosing, as game designer? I can't think of a third way, so if there is one, hit me with it. Either innocence and cowardice are physical, mechanical properties in your universe, or they are merely ideas. And for some cosmic ethic system to work, there would have to be a mind holding those ideas in it. Not a justice vending machine - vending machines can only work with physical properties (which would be fine if there were 'innocence' atoms). There has to be a mind that judges, if there are no innocence atoms or whatever atoms/waveforms/whatever. The idea of innocence or cowadice doesn't just exist somehow - it only exists in someones/somethings head.

I'm not interested in personifying it, rather I see you knee deep in personifying the universe yourself and suggested using a character so you'd cut to the chase and save yourself alot of head scratching over how to make this game (and not to argue pointlessly on the net for intellectual turf. Said it to save you time). Unless A: you've decided your universe has innocence atoms and similar in it or B: there is a third method of handling it that right now I can't see. In the case of A, okay, I'd grant your not talking about a character. And in the case of B, I really can't imagine anything in that direction right now...hit me with it!


Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 26, 2009, 10:49:00 AM
Hi otspiii,

Here's what I'm thinking on those questions you posed:

Is the guard "innocent" if he's working for an honorable cause at the moment of his death, regardless of his life choices?

I'd say that if he is under the shadow curse it doesn't matter if he's working for an honorable cause at the moment of death.

Is the guard "innocent" if he has personally lived an honorable life.  Is there some method of determining this, or is it completely based on GM snap-judgment?

I'd say yes - if he'd lived an honorable life and hadn't incurred the shadow curse. If things were ambigous I'd follow DWierds advice and roll a die rather than make a snap judgement. Saying that, it would be easy to just note for each NPC if they were under the shadow curse or not.

Is the guard "innocent" if he hasn't done anything dishonorable in front of the player, regardless of how good or bad he's been in life?

If he was under the shadow curse it wouldn't matter how the players percieve him.

Innocent is a really vague concept, and tends to come out as a trait that's either really situational and subjective or impractical for the PCs to actually know.  The subjective approach seems to be the standard, but it sounds like it's something you really don't want.  How are you going to handle this.

I agree that 'innocence' needs to be tightly defined.

I think the whole point with this system is that the PC's won't know if somebody is bad or good. Otherwise, what would the point be? However, there should surely be some form of magic that lets you find out.

Whatever the case with killing the guard, if the players objective in killing the guard is not to save lives, ease suffering or mete justice for known crimes, their actions can hardly be described as good. They are gambling, and dice would reflect that nicely. This kind of thinking is very similar  to Dindenvers 'who does it benefit and by how much' idea - maybe I need to revisit that.

Your questions have made me think about the idea of atonement, which has come up several times. What if a the guard had incurred the curse of shadow and the curse of light? If a guard has murdered in cold blood, but also saved an innocent life, is he good, bad or neither. More to ponder.

Bert



Title: Re: Magic and Ethics
Post by: Bert on February 26, 2009, 01:41:41 PM
Hi Callan,

Thanks for your constructive criticism, probing insight and positivity.

Lots of people have provided creative ideas, sage advice, valuable criticism and thought provoking questions. They've really helped me to think carefully about the kind of problems I'm going to encounter on working this into my game (plenty), but also how it might be used to provide some very interesting in-play experiences. There are some fine minds and engaging personalities here at the Forge. I think the last post by DWeird was the clincher for me and I'm pretty much wrapped up - this post is so over. I have a new found respect for the alignment system in D&D which I previously regarded as utter crap.

I won't try and explain the rationale behind the mechanistic enaction of ethical consequences. When somebody repeatedly demands that you 'hit' them with something they don't believe is possible, you know you can make them feel as happy as a proverbial pig by saying 'gosh, I'm stumped - you are so right, how could I have been so dumb'. :P

Interestingly, the theory of matter proposed by Leibniz in his New System, penned in 1696, was based on these little particles called monads. The monadic system was developed with the view of solving the mind body problem and providing a mechanistic rationale for morality. As this is a game set in a fantasy universe, I guess I could just assume it operates under Leibnitzian mechanics.

Thanks again for your contribution.

Bert

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy."
William Shakespeare