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My group is looking for a fantasy RPG that has a strong element of character progression related to internal struggle (i.e., about moral growth), specifically one that goes two ways (that is, a character can advance and become stronger and more virtuous or he can regress as the effect of corruption, negativity, and vice).

Is there a good fantasy system out there that expresses this tension between characters trying to grow (and gain mechanical benefit from it) and characters trying not to fall into evil?

Some pitfalls to avoid in such a system:

  1. The moral weight of every action the characters do is scrutinized and agonized over – the moral component should be present and important, but it would suck if it bogged down play.
  2. Dice are 100% deterministic about a character's moral action – dice can (and probably should) be involved, but a system where the dice completely control the character with no room for player choice about fighting against the evil within is going to be rough, I imagine.
  3. The inevitability of evil – games where characters, in the end, eventually all go crazy or evil (Cthulhu stuff) doesn't fit the heroic fantasy genre we're looking for.

I'm really looking for stories of YOUR experience playing the game. Did the morality bog down the game? Did you feel the internal conflict of your character? Did it add or subtract from storytelling and gameplay? Etc.

PS. I've already heard of Pendragon, but it seems to lack a strong element of growth about the virtues and vices and character actions seem like they're really swingy, depending on what you roll. Ooops, you rolled bad and just betrayed your best friend, committed adultery, and ruined your kingdom (Lancelot). Better luck next time! However, I have never actually played Pendragon and am very open to being proven wrong about my characterization of it.

A Note on Narrowing It Down

I understand that there are probably a lot of indie games that deal with these concepts in some way, but but I'm not asking for the huge list of games that include X feature, I'm looking for more than that. What we're looking for is a game where this concept is mechanically central or is strongly represented in the game, not merely as a side feature.

Additional Criteria

Here are a few additional requirements to help narrow the focus:

  1. The game should have, or be able to support, an objective standard of morality. The setting we are trying to find a game for has an objective evil that is trying to corrupt the world, and an objective force resisting that evil. It is not enough that characters make moral decisions and wrestle with the results; they should do definitely do this, but it should always be done in light of the bigger narrative.

  2. Non-dualistic. The light side vs. dark side dynamic of the Force seems to paint the two sides as equal styles, whereas in our setting, the Shadow (let's call it) always corrupts and worsens the characters that grow closer to it, while the Light (let's call it) always builds up and betters the characters. Players therefore always want their characters to get better, and may sometimes be at odds with their characters' tendencies.

  3. To make explicit what was in 2, Corruption makes characters worse and virtue makes them better, in some mechanically (especially narrative-impacting) way.

  4. Room for personality. Characters should be able to have different problems and strengths in the moral realm; all characters on a single slider of more good and more corrupted would be pretty boring, if that were the only scale.

  5. The game should be able to support a traditional RPG, specifically a fantasy one. This precludes games that only work for one-shots, games that are highly minimalistic, games that don't have room for mainstream fighting, magic, and so forth. This doesn't mean the game has to have magic (or whatnot) in it (we are very willing to hack in other systems to the game to meet our other needs), it should just have room for these mainstream elements that you would expect to see in DnD, GURPS, FATE, etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are lots of games like this in the "indie" or "Forge" tradition. I'm not sure that you really can, but can you try to narrow this down? (If you can't, this question might just not work here and be better asked on an RPG forum, where people can just throw out ideas and personal recommendations.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 17 '14 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like a Star Wars RPG might fit the bill, especially a Jedi-focused story. \$\endgroup\$ – Josh Sep 17 '14 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any specific recommendation on a particular Star Wars game? We are looking for a fantasy game, but are comfortable lifting a good mechanic from another genre. \$\endgroup\$ – doctorw0rm Sep 17 '14 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Star Wars is fantasy. It just uses Wookiees and lightsabers instead of werewolves and magic swords. Jedi characters constantly have to toe the line between following the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. Just about any of the Star Wars RPGs out there have mechanics relating to this. If I had a more-specific suggestion I would post it as an answer, but I don't have all that much direct experience with those RPGs. \$\endgroup\$ – Josh Sep 17 '14 at 19:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ By "narrow it down", I don't mean get more specific about your central requirement—that's plenty clear already—but to narrow down the field of answers by telling us what else you want from a game. The point of the exercise is to prevent all games that put moral growth/corruption front-and-centre from being thrown at the page until something sticks. Other preferences can eliminate unsuitable games, and also provide a specs for voters to judge good answers and bad answers. You've already drawn 11 suggestions, all quite different. That's "too broad" for the site. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 17 '14 at 20:22
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(Edited to meet revised question: all of the systems I've left listed allow you to add an "objectively evil" aspect into the setting and deliberately frame the morality mechanics around it as needed.)

Sorcerer

Sorcerer is one of the strongest games to deal with morality in a pretty interesting fashion. First, you define "humanity" as the moral aspects you want to deal with for this game story - a game based on samurai might deal with loyalty and duty, or a game about obsessed mystics might deal with human connections.

When character do things that affirm the value, there's a chance their Humanity score might go up When they do things that break the value, there's a chance their Humanity score might go down. The score itself doesn't dictate what you might do, or how your character IS, but rather is like the equivalent of moral hitpoints.

When you hit zero, you basically have two ways things can go (determined by the campaign you're running):

  1. Character is lost (dead, corrupted, etc.)
  2. Character is horribly changed for the worse - GM completely rewrites your stats and situation, reflecting your harrowing transformation/experience.

The GM is supposed to use intelligent judgment about what counts thematically as triggering a roll, the randomization sets up enough uncertainty to really create tension - you might be a really "good" person but get hardly any points, you might be a terrible person and never lose Humanity. Generally the behavior pushes you one way or another, but it's never guaranteed.

Tenra Bansho Zero

TBZ has a Karma system which works in a very interesting way. Your character has goals, relationships, and ideals known as Fates. As you play pursuing these things, you use your Fates to create Karma points which you can use for bonus dice or character improvements. Your Fates, however, are limited by a bit of math - you eventually have to commit more to one or two, and let go of the other ones - either giving them up entirely or changing your attitudes about them.

It's a fun way of implementing the Buddhist idea of detaching and letting go of attachments as a character mechanic.

Now, characters who choose NOT to do so, become Asuras - or basically "obsessed demons". This sets up this fascinating set of options for characters and morality in TBZ:

  1. You stay stuck on a set of goals/relationships, and become an Asura
  2. You stop spending Karma, and become a static character without much growth
  3. You change your attitudes, views and let go, continuing your process of growth as a better person
  4. You change your attitudes, views and let go, continuing your process of growth but with equally negative or worse views in it's place.

Primetime Adventures

Every protagonist in PTA has an "Issue". These are typically personal issues as a person, character flaws, although social/power issues tend to bring your character into the same fields of conflict even though they're often more outwardly focused.

Scenes are set often aiming at one or more of the character's Issues, and good roleplaying is rewarded by the group with "Fanmail" (AKA, hero points), so you have good reason to wrestle with these things. Each character gets a spotlight session to really try to resolve the Issue as a focus.

Although the rules are very light, PTA has been one of the best, consistently interesting games for me over the years. Often the "Issue" players start with isn't exactly the real underlying focus for their character, but it serves as a great signpost and you dig up really meaty play this way.

Burning Wheel, Riddle of Steel, Blade of the Iron Throne, Shadow of Yesterday

I'm lumping all of these games together because they deal with Ideals based mechanics - each character has several ideals, relationships, or goals which directly give them bonus dice and XP or advancement points. These can change over play, and ultimately what you see in terms of morality is a longer term aspect of how a character changes and grows (or falls) since the systems reward the pursuit of these ideals regardless of whether they're good or not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Reading the question, TSoY is the one that jumped immediately to mind. +1. \$\endgroup\$ – João Mendes Sep 18 '14 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Done and done. A bit of pruning. \$\endgroup\$ – user9935 Sep 18 '14 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bankuei. Thank you for the revision. Could you say a little bit more about TSoY in terms of how ideals change with play? \$\endgroup\$ – doctorw0rm Sep 19 '14 at 3:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Shadow of Yesterday uses "Keys", which give you XP based on different goals/ideals. These range from things like romance, vows, loyalty, etc. A key part of TSOY is that you can trade these in for new ones, though a specific rule is that once you give up a Key, you can't take it again, so characters have a built in end to their story arcs after a point. Part of the trade in is when you can't live up to the ideal anymore, so natural character growth forces it. \$\endgroup\$ – user9935 Sep 19 '14 at 4:11
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Dogs in the Vineyard is the first game I think of when asked for an RPG that brings moral choices front and centre. The mechanics push for character growth, and moral issues is something the GM is pushed towards to challenge the players.

Dogs in the Vineyard is all about asking moral questions. The default setting of the game is something like this: Out just barely in the settled regions of a slightly fantastic American Wild West, a religious order has the practice of dedicating certain young folk as "God's Watchdogs" or "Dogs" for short. These people travel from town to town, primarily acting as mail carriers and messengers, but with near limitless authority in matters of the church. The GM sets up the towns with some level of sin infesting it- ranging from simple envy to full blown murder and deals with demons. The players, taking on the role of the Dogs, have to ferret out the sin and fix it before it gets bad enough to destroy the town.

That sounds like it'd take a lot of the moral choice out of things- you are all basically playing wild west paladins- but the genius is in giving you so much power over matters of the church. Let me put this plain; If Bob is envious of Joe's girlfriend Sally, and you think the best way to fix this is shooting Joe in the head and conducting Bob and Sally's wedding yourself, you technically have the right to do that according to the minimalist doctrine provided. Sally or the other townsfolk might totally disagree with you, as might the non-religious authorities in town. (Say, the sheriff.) Honestly, the most common impediment to doing whatever the heck you want is the other players. Three Dogs working together to succeed at any cost is pretty close to unstoppable. The clever GM divides the protagonists, working to create a conflict between the Dogs.

The conflict system is where this shines. First off, there are four levels of conflict you can be operating at: Just Talking, Physical but not Fighting, Fighting without Guns and Gunfighting. Note that you can be operating at a different level than the other guy; I can be trying to talk you down while you're shooting at me. A mechanical bonus is offered for escalating, so if I can't talk you out of it then there's a strong temptation to force you to do what I want. We trade back and forth until we run out of dice or bow out; last man standing gets their way.

Damage is in the form of Fallout Dice. Assuming it doesn't kill you, Fallout can do several things, most commonly adding something to your sheet. Lost a knife fight with your brother? You might pick Fallout like a trait of "Angry at my Brother" that would give you a mechanical bonus when acting on it. The dice decide the severity of the results, but you decide the description, so "I forgive what my brother did to me" might also be fair. (GM does get to make sure it's reasonable. I've never had more than a few minutes debate over what Fallout is reasonable, and it doesn't get assigned until the fight's over.)

DitV is pretty hackable. By default, it runs from light fantasy (demons are real but subtle, prayer works sometimes but always invisibly) to high fantasy (Demons possess heretics and grow lots of nasty tentacles, shouted prayers become visible light that stops bullets.) Most of my time was spent in a Star Wars hack of it; all we did was change the setting and the articles of faith, and play jedi. No mechanical tweaking needed. (Okay, the Dogs all have to have a coat of office, and we used lightsabers instead. Does that count as a mechanical tweak?) I've also seen it used for Roman centurions in fantastic Britannica, and hit men working for the mob in a very Harry Dresden-esque world, so setting isn't really much of a barrier.


In regards to your edited in criteria;

1. Objective Standard of Morality, check.

There are rules of the Faith. Vanilla DitV lets the players make up quotes from the holy book that their characters retroactively always knew, but if you have an objective standard just make sure the players know it. (Or not. It wouldn't actually be against anything for a Dog not to have read the Book of Life, but just have been chosen by the elders anyway. Aaaaand now I want to play that character.)

Regardless, there is an objective evil force trying to corrupt the world, and every town you go into detail in will be in the process of falling into corruption. There's even a nice neat slider from "Mildly acting in discord with the scripture" to "Murdering the sheriff and consigning his soul to Baal" you can play with. If the players mess up and everything gets worse, just advance the slider to where ever makes sense.

2. Non-dualistic, check.

Last game of DitV I played, the players encountered a town that had a problem with Pride. The preacher's son thought he was ready to take up the robes, and his father was just holding him back so nobody would know how much better the kid was than the old man. The players screwed up hard, the dice hated them, one thing lead to another, and at the end of the session the church had burned down and the surviving townsfolk were being used as auto-cannibalistic hand puppets by the demon possessed youngest daughter via demonic shadowmagics.

That might have been unusually bad, but the best outcome of the demons winning is a lone serial killer murdering their way through the population until everyone dies of drought and disease brought about due to God abandoning them. No, I'm not joking. Assuming your players do not intervene, that is the eventual destiny of any town where even a single soul is taken in by the sin of pride. It may take a while, but it's going to happen. Good thing you guys are here to help, right?

3. Corruption worsens a character and virtue strengthens them, half right

There is no mechanical morality meter, just traits that change or get added or lost. These traits give a summary of the mechanical (and narritively powerful) characteristics of your character. Theoretically, no rule stops you from using every trait, no matter how weird, in every conflict. Likewise, you can take whatever makes sense as new traits, without a whole lot of rules oversight. Practically, you're limited to what the GM will buy, so acts of corruption should get corruptive sounding traits which can only be used when doing corruptivish things, and likewise for virtuous things. This means that your characters will usually get better and better at whatever they consistently do, until changing course is going to hurt a lot.

The Jedi in the Vineyard game, one of the party had a trait that started as "The ends sometimes justify the means 1d4." Then it was 2d4. Then 2d6, 3d6, 4d6, 4d8. He added a trait of "we are the judges 1d6" and shortly boosted it to 2d6. Nobody was really keeping track, you know? And man, he was dang good with his lightsaber. Best duelist in the party. Then, the inevitable; We needed a senator to change her vote, the woman's daughter was unattended at a party. "Sweet talk her, maybe ask her to talk to her mother for us!" someone suggested. A lousy roll- the man really didn't have much Acuity, and his Heart was only so-so. (The social stats.) He looks at the dice and goes "Hey, if I escalate and just kidnap the girl, that's Fighting, right? I'm better at that." The whole conflict, his traits kept pushing him to be more dangerous, to reach for his weapons, to justify his actions. In short, he fell, and hard , precisely because he was more mechanically stronger the closer he edged to the dark. By the time of the showdown, the only trait we had that could keep up with him was "My life for the good of the republic 5d12."

In short, DitV mechanically encourages you to be more of what you are. You can change course , but turning from dark to light will mean you get slowly weaker as you reduce your dangerous traits and build more rightious ones. It fails to make vice mechanically punishing, but I think it isn't an entirely meritless failure.

4. Personality, check.

Is a trait of "The ends justify the means" an evil thing? The fallen Jedi certianly misused his, but that phrase is at the core of utilitarianism, which is generally a pretty "good" philosophy. At the very least, there can be as many different takes on Good in your game as your objective faith allows. Or there can be characters who aren't really attached to Good and Evil- maybe all your traits have to do with how much you love roving the wilderness and how awesome you think your master is. My jedi's biggest trait was "Shoes are prisons for your feet." A moral philosopher I was not.

5 Traditional RPG, probably check.

I feel really weird calling DitV a traditional RPG. It's not even remotely balanced, talking things out comprises a whole quarter of conflict and actual murderization is only half, it is leaning towards minimalism (the whole rulebook, including fluff, is 150 pages, and you could probably fit the conflict rules on two sides of paper) and it is crazily narrativist, enough to send my simulationist tendencies gibbering into the corner.

Nevertheless, it has fighting and magic as a core part of the rules, it is often about going into a new place and punching things until they stop being bad, there's one GM and a bunch of players who each control a single character, etc. I don't know exactly what constitutes "mainstream elements" but if FATE counts, DitV probably also counts. The main thing I would warn you about is the high likelyhood of PvP, which may be unusual in traditional games. (I wouldn't know, having died by 'friendly' fire more often than I've died by GM powered dangers in my traditional play.)

Final score, 3 and two halves stars out of five.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While Dogs is a very interesting game, I don't think it has the mechanization of morality that the OP is looking for. Actually, I think the reason Dogs -works- is because it DOESN'T have any mechanical 'morality meter'. You just do stuff and deal with the consequences. \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Sep 17 '14 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Airk I'd say that a game which is designed to challenge a character's morality and interpersonal relationships is still a constructive answer even if it doesn't implement a morality meter per se. Dogs still meets the requirement of a game in which morality is "mechanically central or is strongly represented". \$\endgroup\$ – Aiken Sep 18 '14 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I've ever heard of a more American-sounding game. \$\endgroup\$ – Miles Rout Sep 18 '14 at 11:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Airk I think morality is mechanically central in DitV, even if there is no literal light/dark side slider. The escalation mechanic is a large part of the tactics of the game, and IMO the question "I disagree with this guy over X and can't talk him out of it, does that mean it's okay to shoot him?" constitutes a sizable chunk of morality. And after all, D&D gets decidedly more morally complex when you remove the morality meter. \$\endgroup\$ – IgneusJotunn Sep 18 '14 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MilesRout Er... On behalf of my country, I apologize? Don't look at me man, I was raised in Canada. Though I always thought the most American game was stargazergames.eu/games/badass \$\endgroup\$ – IgneusJotunn Sep 18 '14 at 16:35
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Pendragon has personality as one of the central mechanics. There are 13 pairs of traits that represent opposite sides of some dimension of personality (e.g. Chaste / Lustful). There are various ways game mechanics use these traits - for example there is a system for verbal conflicts where strength of personality determines the winner, and players use whichever trait they can reasonably roll-play as the basis for their roll.

I like the job it does of not forcing the players to base actions on die rolls. Occasionally it does so (magic might force you to make a particular trait roll, for example), but mostly your trait scores are a reflection of your choices - choosing to act bravely might earn a player a roll to see if their valorous trait improves. (Which might help mechanically since some scary creatures require a successful valorous roll to have the courage to fight them).

Your question seems to imply a system with an unambiguous definition of growth and corruption. Pendragon doesn't quite have that - in that world Christians consider Chaste a desirable trait, while Pagans believe its opposite, Lustful, is preferable.

I read your characterization of Pendragon, and when I played it wasn't remotely as you describe. I suppose someone could run a game that way, but it wouldn't be fun. The personality mechanics in Pendragon are right at the top of my favorite RPG mechanics and I've only had good experiences with them. They even pretty much get out of the way for players that don't care about them. They also aren't swingy (as I've played it), but the numbers are pretty much an accurate summary of your character's historical choices.

There is another personality element, Passions, which are more powerful and can cause a dice roll to force you to act, but you get to choose your passions, as a rule. They specifically represent emotions far too powerful for you to always control. Game mechanics-wise, Lancelot would have a huge Love (Guinevere) passion that out-rolled his huge Loyalty(King Arthur) passion. You take passions if that's what you want to roll play (or for potentially huge mechanical bonuses, but it's designed to backfire horribly sometimes, as frequently happens in the genre Pendragon is based on). Note that in the literature, what happened to Lancelot isn't all that unlike a bad die roll - he didn't really want to betray King Arthur but at some point he couldn't help himself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget that if you are asked by the GM to make a specific personality trait roll, and you succeed (but do not critical it) but you didn't want to succeed, you can choose to ignore it and get a check (to increase) the opposite trait. Thus, your personality can be changed the way you want without railroading you. The trick the GM can play is to ask you to make a roll on a trait you are trying to improve, but don't want to succeed in this particular situation... Do you do what you didn't want to do, or do you risk losing some of the trait (and associated bonuses)? \$\endgroup\$ – Monty Wild Sep 18 '14 at 8:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Pendragon is mentioned in the question as already known and not what they're looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 18 '14 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Yes. The reasons for excluding Pendragon are incorrect based on the stated desires in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – psr Sep 18 '14 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @psr Yes, but you have to get people to read it first. Saying that it's not what the OP thinks is a contextual hook that brings a reader in, while ignoring the context of "not Pendragon please" invites readers to skip past the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 18 '14 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I added a line in the part on Pendragon stating that, if I am wrong about Pendragon, and it actually does what I want, then please prove me wrong! \$\endgroup\$ – doctorw0rm Sep 18 '14 at 21:05
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The Star Wars: Force and Destiny RPG from Fantasy Flight Games has a good mechanic for Force users, which could easily be adapted to other systems. Every Force-using character has a Morality rating, which can range from 0 (fully dark-side) to 100 (fully light-side). New characters start at 50 Morality (neutral), though players have the option of starting at 30 or 70 if they choose. In addition to a numeric value, characters pick a specific morality trait that defines their character; each trait has an associated "flip side of the coin".

For example, one combination is Justice (the character tries to make the world a better place and make the objectively right choice every time), with the flipside of Cruelty (when justice is no longer tempered by mercy, it can become harsh and cruel). At various times during the session, the character will be presented with a moral choice that plays to their code of morality. Will they choose the hard path, or the expedient path?

To continue with the Justice/Cruelty example, the character may come across a group of slavers in the process of capturing several farmers to sell at the slave auction. The right thing to do, of course, is to attack the slavers and free the slaves -- but what will the PC do when some of the slavers surrender and beg for mercy? If he gives in to his tendency to Cruelty and kills the slavers, his character will earn Conflict points. Conflict points accumulate per session: you always start at 0, and various "dark" actions earn varying amounts of Conflict. Small actions like lying for personal gain might earn just 1 or 2 points of Conflict (lying to save the rebel agents from the Imperial stormtroopers, though, would earn no Conflict points), whereas big actions like murder would earn 10 Conflict points or more, even if the murder victim was clearly guilty, like the slavers (murdering an innocent would earn even more, like 15-25 points of Conflict).

Note: the GM should always tell the player when their action is about to earn Conflict points, and how many, before the player acts. This is not meant to be a mechanic by which the GM ambushes the players; this is meant to be a mechanic where the PCs knowingly choose the easy/expedient path or the hard/altruistic path.

One other thing gives Conflict points: every time the player wants to use Force powers, they roll a Force die, which is a special d12 with some white circles and some black circles. White circles represent connections to the Light Side of the Force, and black circles represent connections to the Dark Side. Either one can be used to pay for their Force powers... but if a Force user uses Dark Side results, they gain 1 point of Conflict per Dark Side circle used. (Unless, of course, they've already fallen to the Dark Side.)

Then at the end of each session, the player rolls 1d10 (counting a 0 result as 10), subtracts the number of Conflict points earned in that session from the 1d10 roll, and the result, whether positive or negative, is added to the player's cumulative Morality score. If the player had earned 3 points of Conflict and rolled a 1 at the end of the session, their Morality would go from 50 to 48. If they rolled a 7, it would have gone from 50 to 54. If the PC goes below 30 Morality points (i.e., 29 or less), they have fallen to the Dark Side of the Force, which has a variety of mechanical effects. If the PC goes above 70 Morality points (i.e., 71 or higher) then they have become a Light Side paragon, which has other mechanical effects.

The result of this system is that the players are always tempted to take just 1 or 2 points of Conflict during a session. After all, your 1d10 roll is expected to average about 5, right? So even if you take a couple points of Conflict, and lie to the merchant to haggle him down just enough on that "worthless" old datacube so that you can afford it... well, it's worth it to get the information stored on that cube. And then you're tempted to take just a couple more points of Conflict when you really need that Force power to work right now. Just a couple of Dark Side points won't hurt too much, right? But now you're at 4 Conflict, and maybe that 1d10 is going to be high, but maybe it's going to be low. You never know.

With a system where "more than X Conflict points makes you lose Morality", many players would skirt the line, staying just barely on the side of Light. But when the line is fuzzy -- it could be 1, it could be 10 -- it makes every moral decision more interesting.

Adapting this Morality mechanic to other game systems would involve deciding what effects happen when the player gets very low or very high. Instead of becoming more connected to the Light Side or the Dark Side, perhaps the PC becomes seen as a shining example of knighthood, the entire Order of the Round Table looks up to him, and he is invited to go on the quest for the Grail. Or the PC continues to present the surface ideals of knighthood to hide the rot in his heart, but secretly he's begun spying for Mordred -- and once per session, the GM can force the player to choose a dark action.

This is a very versatile system, and could easily be adapted to many systems. But the Morality mechanic is central to the entire Force and Destiny system, and is expected to drive most of the character growth and development. (I say "is expected to" because the system just entered beta-testing, and most campaigns in the system are just getting started.) This sounds like the sort of thing you're looking for.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My reference was KOTOR, but I was looking for a Star Wars answer to upvote. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Hall Sep 18 '14 at 15:49
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Well, while not exactly fantasy you can go with the old "Vampire the Masquerade" (if you prefer the medieval background there is "Vampire the Dark Ages"), where each of the Kindred has to keep his Humanity intact or they will turn into monstrous beast... and at the same time they have to feed. And beast is hungry... always hungry.

Besides such thing can be done in every system - I remember I had a power-player in good old Warhammer Fantasty Roleplay who was always looking for better, stronger equipment to "kill stuff". Slowly I've started to give him tainted equipment i.e. good stat sword that has to be covered with blood at least once a day. Any blood. Well, his character is wearing now black plate armour and yells "Blood for the Blood God!" as one of the Khorne's champions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Black Crusade fits a surprising number of the question's criteria, from a certain point of view. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Medinoc Sep 19 '14 at 9:24

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