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More specifically, system for tracking a characters morals/alignment, like Humanity in Vampire or darkside points in Star Wars. I'm looking for a system that's either designed to be generic, or could easily be adapted to other systems. Any suggestions?

What I want from such a system is two-fold. For systems like Hackmaster or D&D where characters have a stated alignment, I'd like a simple system for tracking if the player is actually playing that alignment. In more generic systems that don't have a concept of alignment, it could still be useful in some settings to have a metric to evaluate how they measure up in the grand scheme of things. For example, if a daemon can't possess a truly good soul.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

To open, an amusing comic.

As a philosopher, this question is extremely difficult. In order to make a philosophically sound system that actually has any kind of utility (D&D 3.5 makes me sad or giant frog.) In order to roll your own, I'll suggest a few simple toggles that you can configure for your game.

First toggle: Relativism?

Are these alignments proximate to the characters, or is there a giant beard (or equivalent) in the sky with a bag of presents and a rulebook?

A relativistic, socially constructed, universe (basically all of them without Omniscient beings (omnipotent is fine, so long as they can't catch you...)) has any given morality exposed from the character's point of view, with the external implications of that being an iterated prisoners dilemma. The point of this toggle is the question of punishment: who or what will punish the character if they deviate from their norms?

Example: In the Polythestic monotheism of 3.5 (it makes my head hurt) every character tends to go to the plane of their alignment after death. As K probably says (I don't have a reference) "You only go to the wrong place if you fail at your alignment." Thus, an evil person who performs good acts is sent to, for example, Celestia, and suffers there. A good character who murders is sent to one of the lower planes and suffers there. But an evil person who murders is sent to a plane matching his/her alignment and fits right in.

::sigh::

Anyways, in 3.5 there is a divine source above the gods that notes whether one is good or evil, because of the presence of "Detect Good" and "Detect Evil." If the gods actually powered the spells it would be "Detect Believer" and "Detect opposing philosophies" as most competent old-time religions define evil as "Not us."

Still, the standards of behaviour in a world with a provable beard-in-the-sky will be quite different than one where beard-in-the-sky is a matter of faith.

The toggle resolves to one thing: if the character commits the perfect crime in a forest where no-one knows, could know, or ever find out (see Plato, Ring of Gyges) is the character punished?

If the character is punished only by evidence of her acts, in a relativistic system, then use a reputation system as the basis. If the character is punished by beard-in-sky, then keep a rap-sheet of her actions, with beard-in-sky acting on the rap-sheet in any way the setting deems fit.

Second toggle: Prescriptive and/or Proscriptive?

Does the philosphical system being modeled encourage towards certain acts (prescriptive?), forbid certain acts? (proscriptive?), or judge acts based on their outcomes?

Exempli gratia: in the D&D 3.5 alignment system, if you don't think too hard about it, the Good/Evil axis is prescriptive: I will go [help|murder] that orphan over there. And the Lawful|Chaotic axis is proscriptive: I [will|willnot] break the laws of the society of which I am part. Just don't think too hard about it. It hurts us...

Any given (useful) philosophical system will have both prescriptive and proscriptive elements. However, it's easier to model interactions with toggle one if you restrict most of the interactions to one of the domains.

Third toggle: purpose

There are many possible ethical and moral philosophies. The final question in this simplified system is: is this designed to constrain or guide player action or constrain or guide character action?

Inflicting XP punishments is a way of constraining player action, inflicting in-game consequences is a character constraint. Rewarding bonus XP is a way of guiding player actions, etc...

It is important to be clear about the purpose of your alignment system. From your comment: "For systems like Hackmaster or D&D where characters have a stated alignment, I'd like a simple system for tracking if the player is actually playing that alignment. In more generic systems which doesn't have a concept of alignment, if could still in some settings be useful to have some metric to evaluate how they measure up in the grand scheme of things. For example, if a daemon can't possess a truly good soul." You want something to track and constrain Player and non-player actions.

I would recommend starting with something taken from the out-of-print RPG Pax Draconis:

Step 1: Have the entity label its philosophy. "Social Darwinism" is one I always cringed at my players taking. Step 2: have the entity come up with 5-6 "tenets" (prescriptive or proscriptive statements which followers of that philosophy try to obey.) Step 3: Have the entity choose 3 or more tenets to follow.

Therefore, when distributing rewards, it is possible for you, the DM, to examine if the entity's actions correspond with its stated philosophy.

With this and a simple reputation tracking system with different factions, it should be possible to model any given philosophical framework. This also has the advantage of being an explicit social contract of permissible and impermissible actions on the part of the player.

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1  
+1 for Dungeons & Discourse. I'd upvote even more for such a thorough answer if I could. –  chaosys May 20 '11 at 20:27
    
There are arguments against K's interpretation of the alignment/afterlife situation, and alternative interpretations proposed that aren't so cringe-worthy. That aside, though, this is an excellent answer. +1. –  GMJoe Mar 4 at 4:50

I don't know of an official "system" for this, but the concept of reputation used in many games seems to fit well here.

Reputation can be split into individual ratings between different groups of people if that's what your campaign requires, or a general reputation observed by all common factions in your world (this would be more of a fame concept).

Think about the end goal you'd like the players to be able to achieve. Is it the favor of a powerful noble? The right to a powerful magic item? The devotion of worshipers/followers?

Assign some arbitrary number to that end goal and allow the actions the party completes to add to their reputation or fame total. Assign varying amounts of reputation based on the scale of the task completed. Have landmarks along the way that are stepping stones to the end goal.

An example using global reputation:

End goal: Party X is attempting to win the attention of King Y in order to gain access to his renowned library of spells.

Let the reputation goal be 5000.

  1. Party spends time in the city and makes a donation to the temple. 250 rep gained.

  2. Party defeats an infestation of giant rats in the city sewers. 500 rep gained.

  3. Party discovers that kobolds were behind the infestation. 500 rep gained.

    • The party has reached 1250 reputation. The king sends a messenger asking them to track down the source of the kobolds.
  4. The party returns from clearing out the kobold encampment. 1000 rep gained.

  5. The party tracks down the family of a body they discovered at the encampment. 250 rep gained.

    • The party has reached 2500 reputation. The king summons the party to thank them and give them a new quest.
  6. ...

    • The party has reached 5000 reputation. They are invited to the king's personal library. Meanwhile a powerful demon has now heard of the party's fame..

etc, etc.

You can apply scalable perks as reputation increases. Better prices at market, more helpful NPC's, free travel services, etc. Be creative!

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If you liked some elements of the Humanity system in Vampire, you can use the Morality system found in the World of Darkness for the Storytelling System — it modifies the chart for use with ordinary humans and applies it to other creatures in the World of Darkness games.

If you're hoping for a system more like alignments in D&D, I recall that the Megaversal system from Palladium (used in games like RIFTS and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness) has eight alignments with extensive lists of what characters of those affiliations would and would not do; that would make a fine checklist for behavior and verifying whether a player is portraying a given alignment correctly.

However, one of the best implementations I've seen was in Unknown Armies, with its madness meters. It measures a character's exposure to five different types of stress: Violence, Helplessness, Isolation, Unnatural, and Self. As you find yourself in more extreme situations, you either gain Hardened notches (which means you're inured to the circumstance) or Failed notches (which means you have developed some kind of "coping mechanism" that's probably unhealthy). Fill up all your hardened notches and nothing bothers you any more. You're also more of an automaton than a person.

The madness meter system was adapted for use in a free ORE game called Nemesis, which you can download here. (Here's a more extensive discussion of the effects of varying levels of stress.)

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I would check out the personality mechanics from Pendragon. The specific ten pairs of opposing traits can be adapted to the setting and genre, but the basic mechanic of your actions affecting the balance of those pairs, vs making rolls against those traits when you want to act particularly cleverly/piously/worldly/etc. is one that could probably work for you. The traits do eventually become proscriptive (i.e. forcing certain actions) at very high levels, but that can only happen if the player actively chooses to have a trait go that high.

you can find a brief description here

and some examples of how they might be used in play here

I think you would need to have a set of actual character traits rather than alignments per se, however. I don't think just setting up Good/Evil and Law/Chaos as the two pairs of traits would work well. But just as Pendragon used certain traits to measure how chivalrous a character was, you could use the sums of certain traits to rate your paladin or whatever. I've seen discussions on the net of how to use this system in all kinds of games, including D&D, Star Wars, Harnmaster, etc. So if you're interested, do some Googling!

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I don't think there can be a "generic" answer to this.

Morality systems are designed to have a specific outcome, a specific effect on the game. There's the "good/evil axis" D&D alignment kind of stuff that is purely a descriptive result of play. There's Pendragon virtues, which are something you often roll against. There's ablative meters like Call of Cthulhu Sanity or Humanity in V:tM. There's Unknown Armies' five madness meters of Violence, Unnatural, Helplessness, Isolation, and Self, where you can be Hardened or Failed in various degrees. There's Passions in The Riddle Of Steel, which are basically the primary driving mechanic. There's relationship mechanics like Reputation or relational mechanics a la Smallville. Each of these is designed to measure a specific kind of moral or personal or social framework.

Moral frameworks can be descriptive, prescriptive, or currency, and your theory on how to treat them can be varied. As a result, I don't think there is such a thing as a generic mechanic possible - and if there was one, it would be awful.

Consider what moral framework you want and why, and the effect you want it to have in play, and then pick a tracking mechanic that implements that.

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Whilst not a strict moral/alignment system, Mouse Guard uses the Burning Wheel's idea of Nature. I'm sure there is a more complicated version in Burning Wheel; however, the way Mouse Guard handles it is really good and could easily be expanded on.

In Mouse Guard your Nature attribute is, for mice, how mouse-y you are. Extremes on either end are implied to be institutionalised, either for being too mouse-like to function as a guard or too weird (read: human-like) to survive. (You end up trying to stare down a snake and losing).

Your Nature is then used to add to or replace skills as appropriate. (For a mouse, I believe the associated skills are Escaping, Climbing, Hiding, Foraging.)

You could easily adapt it to fit a wider range of topics, such as Good (skills of Diplomacy, etc.); Evil (skills of Forgery, Bluff, etc.); a Deity (anything fitting to the tenets); an Agency (fitting to a contract, etc.)… the list goes on.

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If I flesh out these rules, I'll edit this post. Otherwise take this as inspiration for now! –  Pureferret Dec 17 '11 at 23:30

I absolutely love King Arthur Pendragon's system of Traits and Passions. They're designed for a roleplaying in an Arthurian mythological context but translate pretty easily to other settings. What I like is that they allow for heroic ideals to coexist with earthy characters who struggle to overcome their flawed natures, and of course complex and interesting villains, and to make all of these archetypes and their interactions with each other relevant to the mechanics of the game.

Traits are pairs of opposed personality traits, totalling 20 and showing where the character balances the two:

  • Chaste / Lustful
  • Energetic / Lazy
  • Forgiving / Vengeful
  • Generous / Selfish
  • Honest / Deceitful
  • Just / Arbitrary
  • Merciful / Cruel
  • Modest / Proud
  • Pious / Worldly
  • Prudent / Reckless
  • Temperate / Indulgent
  • Trusting / Suspicious
  • Valorous / Cowardly

In KAP the left hand traits are knightly virtues, while the right-hand ones are corresponding vices (but depending on setting, religion, profession that might differ). During character generation you set your starting trait values, but they also evolve during play. Any time you want to exercise a trait in game, you roll d20 against it. Success means it happens, failure means it doesn't. Through using traits, you accumulate checks, which eventually allow you to increase them: no matter how vicious, the harder a character tries to be virtuous, the more virtuous he eventually becomes.

Passions are things like Love, Hate, Honor, and Loyalty, which can offer a bonus when the character acts in accordance with them or must be resisted when a character wants to ignore or act against them. Will a loyal knight undertake a false flag operation that will disgrace his name for the good of his country? What are the consequences of him trying to do so? Bringing dice in adds drama by making it unpredictable: neither the knight, nor the knight's liege, nor the knight's player nor the GM can be certain if he will carry it out or not. If other PCs or NPCs are also staking something on the plot, it can add a lot of tension to the situation.

The obvious downside with the KAP rules as written is that they often strictly constrain character behavior, and not every player is okay with that. How you and your group deal with this is up to you. You could simply leave it at that, perhaps noting that trait rolls are like a generalization of attack rolls, or you could say the player following through with an action in spite of failing the required roll simply suffers some kind of penalty - a mechanical penalty that reduces rolls for some time in the future, a religious penalty from the displeasure of one's god(s), an emotional penalty to be handled through role-playing, or a social penalty for acting erratically/"out of character" in the eyes of his or her peers.

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