No Good Deed

Is it just me?

I’ve seen mentioned in various forums that the key to World of Darkness games is that they represent a character’s struggle to remain a good and moral person in the face of horrific circumstances. Then I sit in front of my players and… I just don’t see it.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a great time gathered at the table, and nobody can make an entire bar break into “The Time Warp” like a Mastigos… but the fact of the matter is that the loss of morality isn’t only not much of a threat, most folks see it as an advantage. Once you’ve lost that Morality Dot it’s gone and you don’t have to worry about getting that potential derangement again, so commit all the petty crime you like! Heck, some folks commit the crime for no particular reason just to get that pesky Morality Dot out-of-the-way thereby preventing it from sneaking up on them from out of nowhere later on.

Now I’m all in favor of playing the character as an immoral scumbag if that’s what the character happens to be. I’ve had some shining player moments playing scum (quite literally), and as long as the player doesn’t take that as license to ruin the game session for everyone else present I say have at it. I’m pretty lucky to have the group that I have in that they know how to walk that line to the point of throwing their own characters into fugue states if it seems like they should be, or starting the game with mild narcissism because it would make for a good story element. (In fact, in this case it does.)

The pity of it is that as I sit there looking over the GM screen at my PC’s I realize something quite shocking. No matter how utterly disgusting and abhorrent a situation I throw at them, no matter how sanity blasting I craft it to be… the only one being driven insane is me. And that happened when I tried to decipher the “Mage the Awakening” Core Book!

Hell, that happened when I agreed… nay offered… to run the infernal game. That however is a tale for another day.

What I’d like to see is a sanity loss system akin to “Call of Cthulhu”. Yes, sure, you’re Mages and Werewolves and Vampires (Oh my!), but if you aren’t disturbed by seeing some poor guy have his innards replaced with modelling silicone by a bunch of stop motion puppets then I submit to you that you may actually already be deranged. In game terms though, since it has nothing to do with any particular immoral action committed by a PC there’s no chance of winding up a tad tweaked by the experience. Fortunately for me my Acanthus Mage knows how to craft a brilliant reaction to these things which generally leaves her a gibbering mess in the corner for a bit, and which in turn is highly enjoyable for me as GM.

As a side note: this has also turned Post-Cognition from being my most dreaded spell in the entire Mage core book into my absolute most favorite spell EVER!

Post-Cognition FTW!

Yet, I know they’re out there. I know some of my fellow GM’s build nightmarish visions of epic proportions only to have their players say “Oh gross! My character hasn’t eaten in a bit so I think she’s gonna go grab a slice of pizza.” What’s up with that?

And don’t even get me started on the many dumb things that will cause a character to lose morality. “Such as?” you ask? How about losing morality for casting ‘Evil Eye’ on someone who’s trying to shoot you in the face, with the intention of making it harder for said person to shoot you in the face? It’s perfectly OK to shoot them back provided you don’t actually kill them, but make it harder for them to hit you? Be prepared to roll Wisdom loss and possibly pick up a derangement. Doesn’t make much sense when you put it that way does it?

It’s all good though. There are those who say that the best way to punish a character for their actions in the World of Darkness is to make them roll for Morality loss. They seem to think that this will bother the player, and make the player think about what they did. That one didn’t work on me when I was a kid being sent to my room by my parents, and it certainly doesn’t work on me as a Player Character.  Players tend to deliberately lose morality until they reach a point where they can do what they want without worrying about it any more. This is why my Co-GM and I just came up with the best plan for player punishment in a WOD game ever. It is a plan that is elegant in its simplicity. It is a plan so brilliant that many of the players believed that we had bestowed upon them a gift! What kind and benevolent Game Masters we are!! At a monumental moment of the campaign, a moment when they could have been corrupted but instead remained steadfast and pure, we gave them each 1 Permanent Dot of Morality.

Now if they so much as think unclean thoughts we can hit them with a possible derangement for it. Squee!

I guess it’s true what they say:

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Sometimes it’s good to be the Game Master.


Posted on May 20, 2011, in Mage Awakening, MtAw, RPG, White Wolf, WoD, World of Darkness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Here I am playing a career criminal/petty thief turned Mage and you give me a point in morality/wisdom?!? Do you know how painful that is? Just because I was compassionate by doing everything in my power to keep my associates alive and because I was not corrupted by offers of vast wealth? You know damn well I’m stealing a car next session and looting a hotel room while disguise as a tiny Hispanic cleaning lady just to get rid of it now! 😛

  2. Morality/harmony/wisdom/humanity/clarity is applied in an utterly inconsistent way in the World of Darkness and doesn’t have enough consequences.

    Just as requiring a morality roll for using the Evil Eye in any situation is ridiculous, so is applying the “do not kill other werewolves” rule to the Pure. When an enemy is psycho enough to not stop coming after you and slaughtering your loved ones, a player character often doesn’t have another option.

    That said, morality, et al, should have other applications that would give players incentive to maintain a decent one.

    For werewolves, harmony should be added to the dice pool to resist Death Rage — that would encourage players to maintain a high harmony.

    To be fair, though, the werewolf players in our game haven’t trashed their harmony. I’m the only one who was harmony hindered and that was the result of a bad dice roll after another player induced lunacy and the affected NPCs ran past my character while not in human form. Even though I hadn’t consciously done anything wrong, bad timing, a bad dice roll and another character’s actions penalized me.

    For all types of WoD characters, morality, etc. could be added to dice pools that affect willpower.

    For example, in a recent game when we were exorcising a demon, rolling morality, etc. to resist willpower drain or some such would be logical and a good incentive. After all, someone with high wisdom/morality/etc. *should* be able to better withstand willpower drain.

    I’m all for characters being played properly, and I’ve played my share of fairly amoral characters in other game systems, though they’ve always had their own rules.

    A game system that seems to care enough to establish guidelines for morality, etc. *should* incorporate better incentives to maintain it and hindrances for those who decide to sacrifice it.

  3. This is why I think I’m going to drop Wisdom from the game when I run it. I’m toying with the idea of using some of the alternate systems for morality that are presented in Mirrors. I think my big objection to a lot of the morality tracks in WoD are that they don’t take context into account, and so you get silly things like shooting someone being totes cool, but hexing them to make their aim bad is cause for a degeneration roll.

  4. Exactly! There needs to be something, but it needs to make sense, and it needs to reward those who strive to be more moral while hindering those who don’t.Right now it does the opposite which really doesn’t help at all.

    I have Mirrors, but haven’t read all of it yet. (Honestly I’ve only had a chance to glance through it) If the alternate morality tracks are better than what’s presented in the core books I’m going to have to make some time to go through them.

  5. They have a system for sanity in Mirrors, but it’s a little unwieldy. Everybody’s got to pick their most important belief, and then whenever that is seriously challenged, they roll for degeneration. So, you believe in God, well you find Him and it turns out He’s a cosmic squid: roll for degeneration. The problem with the system is that it requires the ST to keep in mind everybody’s most important belief, which might be difficult to keep track of with everything else going on as well.

  6. Of course, if you believe in God and have always known deep down inside that God is in fact a cosmic squid, then everyone else rolls degeneration just for being nearby. This sounds promising…

    It feels unwieldy at first, especially since I have 7 players, but to be honest I think I have a pretty good idea of what the most important belief for each character might be. It boils down to this: every time my Acanthus Mage does something sane, or my Guardian of the Veil does something subtle, everyone around them must roll for degeneration.

    The problem is that it won’t come up very often. 😉

  7. [i]When an enemy is psycho enough to not stop coming after you and slaughtering your loved ones, a player character often doesn’t have another option.[/i]

    I don’t have a problem with forcing characters to make decisions that put them at risk of a degeneration roll. It’s totally within bounds to force a mage to decide which is more important to them: their code of ethics or their mission.

    What I have a problem with is the utter wackiness of the current morality track, where attacking an NPC with a gun (that might [i]kill[/i] him) is less of a sin than using non-lethal magics or mind control. It’s the utter lack of context that upsets me. If a mage is going around mind controlling people into giving up their account numbers and PINs, that’s one thing. If the mage is using mind magic to put guards to sleep, as opposed to killing them with silenced pistols, then that’s quite another. The current morality system doesn’t have the contextual adjustments required for that kind of thing to work out in a way that makes sense.

    • I agree completely with the context argument.

      Similarly, altering someone’s mind to help them in some way is different than making them say yes to sex when they want to say no.

      I have no problems with tough character choices either but in regard to The Pure, the game puts werewolf PCs into an absolute no-win situation across the board. World of Darkness is fine but World of You’re-Screwed-No-Matter-What-You-Do becomes a disincentive to playing.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’ll toss players difficult situations that really make them question their beliefs. I ran an espionage game once where my character (we rotated who GM’d and our characters were sort of NPCs when we ran) was set up as bait to be kidnapped by terrorists, knowing she’d be tortured. Her lover, a gung-ho Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant, had no opportunity to talk her out of it and was torn between his fear for her and what was needed for the mission, with national security at stake. The mission also slammed the reality of their work into the face of another character who had been treating it like a big game.

      Tough choices are great game fodder *BUT* it helps of the game system has consistent mechanics for adjudicating the actions/choices. Sadly, White Wolf falls down in that area and I really doubt it’s going to be fixed in any reboots/new launches/etc. in the near future.

  8. Oh, come on. The Acanthus mage does something sane at least once every three sessions, and the Guardian… well, never mind about the Guardian.

    Really, though, the main thing is that you want actual rewards for going up (and punishments for going down) in morality. The only things I’ve seen in the books are that mages with 9 or higher Wisdom get a +1 bonus on social interactions with spirits and those with a 1 or 2 get a -1 penalty. Oh, and older mages are more willing to take as students younger mages with high morality, except that doesn’t make sense at all – mages should be more inclined to accept as students other mages with morality similar to their own. A Tremere lich wouldn’t want a Wisdom 8 mage as his student…

    • Agreed. Higher harmony werewolves have a small bonus to learning gifts from spirits, which makes sense, but the trade off isn’t sufficient. To maintain harmony 9 or 10 (I forget which) a werewolf has to hunt and kill all of its own food. Do that living in NYC and you’re stuck living on pigeon and squirrel. Even then, considering the amount of food a werewolf needs to eat for their metabolism (while in game we did a picnic and regularly go to a bar together, we’ve never dealt with meals that much. Let’s just say all-you-can-eat-buffets are probably a frequent suggestion from the folks on my side of the table), the sudden decrease in Central Park squirrels and pigeons over all (OK, maybe no one will complain about less pigeons) is going to attract notice.

      Pete commented that really, anyone in a World of Darkness game with 8+ morality/wisdom/harmony/clarity/etc. is essentially a paragon of virtue. He’s got a point.

  9. The Tremere Lich might want that student if it made his soul extra tasty. 😉

    I’m also all in favor of the choice between your morality and your mission, but whereas the Mages have a wide variety of ‘main antagonists’ to choose from, some of whom might actually be right in their views, the Werewolves only main antagonist (that I know of) is The Pure. The Pure are basically psychotic and must be put down, but it costs you a morality degeneration roll to do it. Keep that up and you won’t have very many sessions in your campaign before all your PCs are drooling sociopaths.

    Waitaminute… what am I saying? They’re Werewolves! They already are drooling sociopaths!! 😉

    And yes, in fairness the Acanthus Mage does suggest saying screw it and going to the bar to get blitzed at least every third session.

    • No, you’re right. For werewolves, their main antagonists are (a) The Pure; (b) rogue spirits and (c) spider and rat hosts which are just a variant of B.

      Rogue spirits of any kind are bad because they overdo things even if they’re not inherently dangerous, like a spirit of self-destruction.

      Ideally, spider and rat hosts can kind of balance each other out. One strengthens the Gauntlet, which isn’t all bad. The other rends it, which isn’t good, but if spiders take their weaving to an extreme, both the spirit and material world suffers. They try to take to extremes because it’s their nature. And both types of hosts are dangerous to humans when they take them over, feed on them, etc.

      But it would be better if The Pure were a bit less psycho, had a viewpoint that was less extreme and didn’t pretty much force the Forsaken to kill them out of self-defense and protection for humanity. The Pure do, after all, view humans as prey/sheep who should be enslaved.

      There’s a hint of that in the game text. The Pure *do* have a point in that the original children of Father Wolf murdered him. It’s the werewolf version of Original Sin and every Forsaken bears its burden if they really roleplay, but by making The Pure so extreme and bloodthirsty, their argument that the Forsaken are unfit loses credibility. They’re almost like werewolf Daleks howling “Exterminate!”

      It would have made more sense from a story angle if instead of rejecting Mother Luna when she turned her back on all werewolves, if The Pure were trying to get back into her good graces. Then they could be competitors with the Forsaken — violent competitors, but still competitors rather than murdering psychos.

      *THAT* would create some nice, juicy morality/harmony issues for werewolves and give GMs more subtle schemes for werewolf antagonists.

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