Thursday, March 29, 2012

Original Sin In An RPG?

Here's a random deep thought I had today. It may not be fully fleshed out, but I thought it was interesting enough to share. I'm assuming if you're reading here, you've probably played some sort of RPG somewhere along the way. Could be an MMO. Could be single player. Anything that has you build a character, really.

At least one of these games probably had some sort of morality system. Sometimes it's clearly evident, other times it might be hidden. But it's there. My most current example would be the Light Side/Dark Side system in SWTOR. Bioware has been using a system like this for a while now. WoW doesn't really have a morality system (rep doesn't count), but there are a lot of other examples out there.

The one constant, as far as I know, across all of these is that the player starts with a "blank slate." We start neutral, gray, morally ambiguous. My thought was: what if we didn't? What if we had original sin?

You could take this deeper. Do people start basically good, or basically evil? Likely, it completely depends on the world and character you're building. But why not? Why do Sith and Jedi alike start off neutral? Are we to believe that they've never made a choice until the very moment that we rolled them? Is this sort of the Bioware "age of reason" doctrine?

Now, I get it. It's a game. Starting off neutral makes good gaming sense. Then you can create a simple system that revolves solely around the choices of the player. But I would argue that you could still do this with the original sin concept. Instead of grinding "good points" until you "become good," why don't we just average the summation of all currently made choices? That means, if you create a character and only make one good choice, you're fully good. Over time, you might progress to gray. Also, the more choices you've made, the harder it becomes to overcome your previous choices. You've developed a reputation, it seems.

Wouldn't this be more realistic? More fulfilling? And it doesn't seem hard to implement. Today, most choices are worth some sort of points, and they are additive. Just make all choices worth "the full bar," and then average them. Done.

Syp over at Bio Break inspired this idea. He's writing specifically about LOTR's virtue system, and mentions several things. I'm not familiar with the Ultima X system, but it sounds like it was a bit different from what we're used to. Maybe there are other examples I'm not aware of as well. Feel free to point them out in the comments. I guess all I'm saying is that I'd like to see more thought given to these systems in general. The current "grind to good" (or evil), is growing stale, and I'm not sure it even makes sense.


  1. Interesting concept. I think the problem with it is that nobody is completely "good" or "evil" in WoW, and that's the way (ahah ahah) I like it (ahah ahah). I also like the way reputation with one faction often decreases your standing with another, which is very much what it's like irl too. You're not "good" or "bad" per se, it depends on the viewpoint and goals of the person you're talking to.

    Or did I miss your point completely? In which case apologies, and ignore this - it's morning here in Europe and I've only had one cup of tea so far ;-)

  2. I know you said rep in wow does not count, but is is similar to aldor/scryers if you are a belf/draenei.
    You start out friendly with the group that is the same race as you, and if you decide that you want to go the other way, there is a bit of a hurdle to get over.

  3. @Sibylle - That sort of supports my point, actually. Except for the "rep" thing (more on that in a moment). The point with the systems I'm talking about would be that, given a normal person (not being RP'ed as like a saint)... they would likely trend to "gray" over time.

    @Anon - On the whole rep thing... the mechanics may match, but the reason I excluded it was because rep in WoW doesn't really effect the narrative. Rep systems could still probably be improved, but I was focusing more on things that deal with character (though the argument could be made that choosing against your race is sort of RP... it's just not very well presented, IMO).