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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Magic and Ethics  (Read 6150 times)
Callan S.
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« Reply #15 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 Wink and insert something in the example that you aren't interested in).
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Bert
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Posts: 58


« Reply #16 on: February 20, 2009, 02:42:13 PM »

Hi Callan,

if you are interested in furries...I forgive you Wink

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. Smiley

"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

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Bert
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Posts: 58


« Reply #17 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...
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Bert
Member

Posts: 58


« Reply #18 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
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DWeird
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #19 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?
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Chronologist
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Posts: 22


« Reply #20 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
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Bert
Member

Posts: 58


« Reply #21 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
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Bert
Member

Posts: 58


« Reply #22 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
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Bert
Member

Posts: 58


« Reply #23 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<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<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
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DWeird
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #24 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.
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Seth M. Drebitko
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« Reply #25 on: February 23, 2009, 07:57:11 AM »

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dindenver
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« Reply #26 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.
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Bert
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Posts: 58


« Reply #27 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
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Bert
Member

Posts: 58


« Reply #28 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
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Bert
Member

Posts: 58


« Reply #29 on: February 23, 2009, 05:07:54 PM »

Hi Seth,

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