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Setting Design Report, Part 3: Moral Universe, Part 2

Two quick notes:

First, a bit of credit where credit is due.. One of my oldest friends is a PhD-in-training, specializing in the Holocaust. He helped me avoid an ill-advised analogy by tracking down some German-language resources about some obscure WWII events and one of the figures associated with them. It’s AMAZING to be able to occasionally call on an actual historian, so my sincere thanks to you, Chad. Your assistance tonight was greatly appreciated.

Second, if you’ve not played Brutal Legend and have a PC, it’s free on the Humble store for a very, VERY short time. If you remember the first post in this series, that game was one of my sources of inspiration for the entire project. If you see this post the first (or second, I think?) day it’s up, go grab it!

This post was originally going to be something other than another setting design report, but then Doug Hagler commented on the previous post in this series and set off a chain reaction of thoughts in my brain. So: thanks Doug!

For this week’s post, I’m going to discuss the way alignment is going to work in the setting. Brace yourself, I’m going to put my game designer hat on.

The D&D 3×3 alignment grid is one of those venerable gaming artifacts that can be fun when used properly but spawns countless arguments. The biggest arguments tend to center around what defines good vs. evil and what defines law vs. chaos. Fortunately, I have a really good way of measuring good and evil at my fingertips: the Seven Deadly Sins and the corresponding Seven Heavenly Virtues. We covered these in our Virtues and Vices series on the podcast and discussed them more than I’ll be able to in a simple blog post.


For the purposes of this setting, I’m going to call the Good vs. Evil axis of the alignment grid a character’s Morality.

Using this system, each character will have a score in each of the virtues and vices. For each virtue/vice pair, a character will have a rating of Saint, Seeker, Accepter, Indulger, or Monster. A Saint rating means that this is a virtue that the character exemplifies and has consistently demonstrated, even in trying circumstances. They may be tempted in that particular area of virtue, but always resist. For example, a person with a “saint” rating on Greed/Generosity will be unfailingly, self-sacrificingly generous. These are the sort of people who think of what they have as property of the needy that they are merely managing until it can be given away – as soon and as extravagantly as possible.

Conversely, a Monster rating on a specific vice means that not only does someone unrepentantly indulge in that vice as often as possible, there’s an additional, especially destructive and cruel aspect to it. So for example, a person with a “Monster” rating in gluttony may especially enjoy eating lavish feasts in front of prisoners they’re deliberately starving.

A Seeker is a character that’s trying to overcome a particular vice and usually resists it, an Accepter is the human norm – not obsessed with the particular vice, but not especially troubled by it either. People with an Accepter rating in Sloth may be habitual procrastinators or the like, but they won’t complain about how having to put forth effort to not starve isn’t worth it unless it’s been a really bad day at the office. An Indulger is someone who is particularly susceptible to a particular vice and doesn’t even try to resist it a lot of the time. The guy that’s always getting into bar fights is an Indulger in Wrath.

Saint and Monster ratings are mutually-exclusive and limited to three traits at that extreme level per character, but otherwise a character can have a mix of any of the trait levels. (Primal creatures of Good or Evil like angels and fiends aren’t limited by this – an angel may well have Saint ratings in all 7 virtues and a fiend will almost certainly not limit itself to 3 Monster ratings.) By assigning Saint a value of +2, Seeker a value of +1, Accepter a value of 0, Indulger a value of -1 and Monster a value of -2, we wind up with a possible point range of -10 to +10. From there it breaks down as follows: -10 to -5: Evil, -4 to +4: Neutral and +5 to +10: Good. This allows for a wide spectrum of neutrality, flawed good characters and evil ones with redeeming traits.

Just as a refresher, the seven sin/virtue pairs are:
Pride vs. Humility
Envy vs. Kindness
Wrath vs. Patience
Sloth vs. Diligence
Greed vs. Charity
Gluttony vs. Temperance
Lust vs. Chastity


That’s all well and good for the good vs. evil side, but what to do about law vs chaos? Since law vs. chaos is more about how people do things than what they’re trying to do, I decided to call this axis “personality.” It works in much the same way as Morality with a few key exceptions: The ratings are Exemplar, Favorer, and Indifferent toward  the traits on here and they may be mixed and matched freely. For example: On the Efficiency vs. Artistry scale, a character may be an Exemplar of Artistry, but that same character may also be an Exemplar of Tradition on the Tradition vs. Progress scale. (In fact, that sounds a bit like a stereotypical samurai.) The “Law” end of the scale gets +2 and +1 for Exemplar and Favorer and the “Chaos” side gets -1 and -2, respectively. This gives a range of -12 to +12 which breaks down as follows:  -12 to -5: Chaotic, -4 to +4: Neutral, +5 to +12 Lawful.

The trait pairs I’m using for Law vs. Chaos in this game are:
Duty vs. Independence
Efficiency vs. Artistry
Meticulousness vs. Expediency
Satisfaction vs. Excitement
Tradition vs. Progress
Sacrifice vs. Pragmatism

Worked Example

Since he’s easy at hand, here’s how Lambert (my cleric PC in Grant’s game) would break down using this system.

Pride vs. Humility: Seeker (Humility) [+1] – Lambert tends to be very focused on the needs of those around him. He does take some satisfaction in his position of authority and can be somewhat bossy and scolding, however.
Envy vs. Kindness: Seeker (Kindness) [+1] – Lambert is willing to take significant risks to help people around him and is motivated to action by the suffering of others. He is definitely compassionate, if a bit stiff.
Wrath vs. Patience: Seeker (Patience) [+1] – Lambert isn’t perfect in this area, and if I had to drop one of his ratings to “accepter” this would be it – he doesn’t display it often, but he has a temper, as a number of evil creatures can attest to, or rather they could, if they were still alive. But he is trying, and he’s pretty good at not lashing out at party members and those around him unless he’s under significant stress.
Diligence vs. Sloth: Saint (Diligence) [+2] – Lambert is pretty much the avatar of Diligence. He has trouble stopping to care for himself, in fact, something that Rishi forced him to do through chemical means prior to confronting Auntie Bloat.
Charity vs. Greed: Seeker (Charity) [+1] – Lambert is generally pretty giving and helpful, but he is currently in possession of more magical equipment than the rest of the party.
Gluttony vs. Temperance: Seeker (Temperance) [+1] – Lambert is generally pretty good about not overindulging, bordering on a Saint rating for this, but it hasn’t been tested much.
Lust vs. Chastity: Saint (Chastity) [+2] – Lambert really doesn’t have much interest at all in having romantic or sexual contact with anyone in the world; he’s way too focused on his other goals.
Total: +9. Lambert is squarely on the side of good. He’s definitely not perfect, but he is doing his level best to honor God with his actions and he cares deeply for basically everyone he becomes aware of.

Duty vs. Independence: Exemplar (Duty) [+2] – Lambert is basically an extension of the colony and the Church – his personal goals all revolve around society and the protection and nurturing of community in the concrete and virtue in the abstract. He is a walking counter-narrative to the way real-world colonialsim often went.
Efficiency vs. Artisty: Indifferent [+0] – The name of the rating doesn’t really do his viewpoint justice – Lambert believes there’s a place for both and in roughly equal amounts. His appreciation for nature tempers his drive toward civilizing the new island somewhat.
Meticulousness vs. Expediency: Favorer (Expediency) [-1] – This may swing back in the other direction at some future point, but for the moment, Lambert has been strongly focused on just trying to get things done as quickly as possible. His life in the colony has been one of a troubleshooter and he’s basically been putting out metaphorical fires since the ship ran aground.
Satisfaction vs. Excitement: Exemplar (Satisfaction) [+2] – Lambert really would rather everything stay peaceful and calm, but he does have a bit of a drive to get things done and willingly hangs out with Aster and Garm, so there’s definitely some pull toward excitement in his life… …it’s just that almost none of it is internal.
Tradition vs. Progress: Favorer (Progress) [-1] – Lambert is from a large, traditional organization (his monastic order which is part of the larger church) but he’s deliberately trying to shape the society of the colony through example and the limited authority he has. First contact with the Kenku could have gone very differently in terms of their relationship with the colony, but Lambert has stubbornly made sure to acknowledge them as full equals of personhood since the initial meeting and will not let countering opinions go unopposed if he encounters them. He’s not a radical, though – he seeks to shape a good society, not rip the old one down entirely and start afresh.
Sacrifice vs. Pragmatism: Indifferent [+0] – Lambert is willing to give things up in the service of larger goals (particularly his own comfort and sleep) but tries to be smart about it and won’t do it for its own sake. He is a tactician at heart and prefers outwitting his enemy to heroically taking them on one-to-one.
Total: +2. Lambert is neutral with a slight lean toward Law on the Law/Chaos scale.

Would you use this system? Do you think it has any particular flaws (other than complexity, which I’ll freely acknowledge) or strengths? As always, I’d love to hear what you think.


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