“Morality” and Other Dirty Words

Hey, all. So, they let me have posting access here.


Anyway, we’re in the last stages of developing and editing the God-Machine Chronicle. First of all, I’m sure you’ve all had the chance to read and absorb the awesome fiction in the God-Machine Chronicle Anthology, which is good, because it’s required reading for the Chronicle book.

OK, that’s not true. I lied. I should, like, check to see if I lose Morality, yeah?

You might have heard that we’re revising a bunch of the core rules in the GMC. One of the rules sets that we decided to revise was Morality. Really, I think it works pretty well as written, but the bits it gets wrong, I think it gets really wrong.

F’rex, I’m not a fan of derangements. Never really have been. At last count, I’ve run…well, shit, this many NWoD games, and I can count on one hand the number of times anyone’s ever gotten a derangement, let alone when it’s come up in play. Then there’s the ongoing discomfort with the fact that mental illnesses like schizophrenia aren’t the result of PTSD (which is basically what the Morality system tracks, not really Morality).

So, anyway, I’ve uploaded the Morality rules for your perusal. It’s a really quick section because it’s not rewriting them wholesale, just tweaking the existing system.

Two notes: This hasn’t been edited, so if you find typos, y’know, point them out and I’ll tell Michelle, and she’ll say “I KNOW” and glare at me over her editing gin.

Also, if you have complaints, suggestions, or comments, let’s hear ‘em. I can still make changes for a couple of days, if I can distract Michelle long enough to get version control back (Borderlands 2 usually does it).

  34 comments for ““Morality” and Other Dirty Words

  1. Nico
    December 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

    awesome! i love it! especially that it’s now a lot easier to evoke Lovecraftian effects to sanity in this system in a meaningful way.

    great revision.

  2. December 14, 2012 at 10:53 am

    New post: “Morality” and Other Dirty Words http://t.co/co5PlYKc

  3. December 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Dev Blog Post: GodMachine Morality rules by @play_attention http://t.co/pgZgoZjD

  4. December 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I like this new system. It makes more sense.
    One question – how does it work with the alternative morality systems in Vigil?

    • December 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      Good question. Not sure yet. The rules revisions in GMC are going to work with just the WoD core insofar as they don’t specifically reference the other game lines (’cause I only have so much room and time). Going forward, hopefully the authors and I have time to “convert” other systems. Vampire, of course, is already getting this treatment.

      • Nico
        December 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm

        CAS mentioned briefly that Mummy was only part-way compatible with the GMC updates. i hope that a conversion write-up of some kind will come down the pipeline in the near future, either as a section in an upcoming book or perhaps as a small standalone pdf download.

        • December 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm

          Yeah, one of the perils of simultaneous development, sadly. Don’t worry, we’ll be working up conversion stuff. I don’t want to get too specific right now, but know that it’s on our minds.

        • December 15, 2012 at 3:14 am

          And Demon: the xxxxx will be fully compliant with the GMC updates?

          • Dave Brookshaw
            December 15, 2012 at 3:33 am

            Demon will be fully compatible, yeah. Mummy, though, was written long before this (albeit with knowledge of what GMCs goals were) so it’ll need the same kind of conversion as the others.

            Shouldn’t be too hard.

  5. Walker
    December 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Typo: “gruesome realties” should be “gruesome realities”, unless the housing situation really is that much worse. ;)

  6. December 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    This is a damn good start.

    The big problem I’ve always had with the nWoD morality system is that it links mental illness with a set of impersonal, sociological/theological ‘sins’.

    This is a far better approach, in that it shifts the idea of the morality to being an individual set of virtues. That’s a core concept, I can see that here. This has the side-effect of making morality rolls far more personal to the character. I like that point.

    I like that you’ve suggested a few options for suitable penalties. The ones you’ve mentioned are a good set. I’d probably think of including mention of ones that may not be a good idea.

    This is definitely one of the best things I’ve seen for the system in a long, long time.

  7. December 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    OK, a couple of folks have asked about Conditions and Beats, since those were mentioned in the Morality section. As you might have guessed, those are new systems that are defined elsewhere in the book.

    Beats are easy; they’re a revision of the experience system. We decided that the multiplier-based experience system gave enough people hives that we’d like to change it, so now you get Beats. You get 5 Beats, you get an Experience. You can buy things with Experiences. (There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist.)

    Conditions require a little more explanation. I’ll try and get another update up this weekend.

  8. Chris Shaffer
    December 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    I do like this and (like others) I’d be more than a little curious to see how that could be adapted to incorporate some of the material in Vigil (although there’s already a background process in my brain spinning up to conjure ideas).

    Although is ‘spiritual duty’ really the best way to express what Harmony tracks? I always thought of it as struggling with a set of instincts stemming from their spiritual half (not entirely like how Synergy works for Sin-Eaters). I dunno, just might be worth playing with the wording there a bit.

    I know some gamers around here would probably be pleased to hear about a revamping of the experience system. As many of them cut their teeth on cWoD MET, multiplier-based systems do in fact give them hives. I’ve seen it. (Although that may be because multiplier-based systems also mean they can’t buy up an attribute or ability score every session willy-nilly. But I don’t claim to be a mind-reader.)

  9. Michael
    December 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I really like the new direction you’re taking here with Morality.

    While you’re revising Morality to be more realistic, is there any chance of giving us a character personality system not based on Christian virtues and sins?

    I have nothing against the Judeo-Christian overtones of the setting (it’s Gothic after-all) but I find the system of Vice/Virtue to be not only unrealistic, but creatively uninspiring. I would very much like a way to define my character’s personality in ways that don’t conform to a specific moral system.

    That’s what Morality is supposed to track, after all.

    • December 14, 2012 at 10:09 pm

      Way ahead of ya, brother. :)

      • Michael
        December 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm


        I can’t wait to see what you have in store :D

  10. ipsi
    December 15, 2012 at 2:12 am

    I like this – provisionally, depending on what conditions turn out to be, and how it works when you wind up with multiples of a given condition (which is very likely for some characters). I haven’t given it a huge amount of thought yet, but it’s definitely interesting.

    It did always feel wrong that ‘sins’ were sins in all situations for all characters, and so a more nuanced approach like this, where each character has, effectively, their own ‘hierarchy’ of sins, will do a lot better in play.

    Also, is there any effect once a character reaches zero morality? Obviously, the supernatural splats have their own effects, but what about mortals? I mean, it’s theoretically possible for a character to wind up on Mortality 0 without *any* conditions, if they roll really well, so how does that work?

    • December 15, 2012 at 10:11 am

      I had really intended for a character reaching 0 Morality to work pretty much as described in the WoD core, but maybe that deserves a little more discussion in this section, since the focus of the stat has changed.

  11. NeoTiamat
    December 15, 2012 at 2:27 am

    From one of my players:

    My thoughts (and quibbles):

    -Morality, as it seemed to me, was a major case of being mislabeled – which these new rules seem to acknowledge. Morality originally was something closer to “personal innocence”. The new rules seem to be going for that, but seem to be trying to add “sanity” on top of this. I think you can have a sanity meter based on external things that happen to you, like Call of Cthulhu, and that’s fine. Or you can have a Morality meter, based on your personal actions, and that’s fine. But combining them seems like a bad idea. I’m not saying they’re not connected, but I think it muddies up the clarity of purpose for what the bar is supposed to do.

    -Making the Morality check a Resolve+Composure roll means it doesn’t measure Morality, it measures how awesome your defense stats are. That might be fine for Sanity checks, but if you’re throwing in checks for actions involving crimes you personally committed, it seems a bit silly. Between that and the concerns up above, the stat doesn’t seem to measure anything, except PC luck.

    -One of the things I liked about old Morality is you could become inherently hardened to your crimes. You can’ seem to do that here. In fact, as Christian A points out, the exact opposite occurs.

    -I’m assuming this is a serious work in progress, but it half seems like the storyteller has to handle everything there.

    -I hope you’re changing the name. You’re never going to be able to argue “that Morality 3 guy isn’t really immoral” with a straight face.

    • December 15, 2012 at 10:10 am

      WRT becoming hardened: Remember that something can become not a breaking point anymore, so you can become hardened. If you’re, like, killing people every session, then sure, you’re going to become non-function in short order, but I’m actually OK with that. If you want a more murder-iffic game, then just assume that a character becomes hardened to killing and it’s not a breaking point for them.

      I see your point about it being a barometer for personal actions and sanity, but really, it’s all the same thing – it’s how your psyche is affected by what you do and what happens to you.

      • NeoTiamat
        December 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        From my player:

        I understand what you’re going for here – it all adds up into one big “sense of self”. But what I mean by “clarity of purpose” is that you are combining two distinctly separate things into one big thing, and that means you have wound up with mechanics that make sense if this is a measure of sanity, and which make less sense if this is a measure of personal morality. For instance, the fact there are penalties to Morality checks if you have low morality. This makes perfect sense for sanity: a sane mind is more likely to recover from a nasty shock. It makes a lot less sense when you toss personal actions on there. Why is someone more likely to be troubled by the fourth crime they commit than the first? Why is a hardened criminal way more likely to freak out over a monster attacking them than Joe Average? Using a Resolve+Composure check to shrug off a sanity breaking point makes perfect sense, using it to shrug off a personal code violation strikes me as a trend I don’t like.

        Sure, there are scenarios where it can make sense – someone shaken by a supernatural attack then breaks their moral code, and is more shaken by it then normal. But that’s a best case scenario, and can’t be guaranteed to work out that way in play.

        I’ll put it another way, I think this is asking for trouble. If it only measured sanity, I think people would be happy with it – I know some Call of Cthulhu players even enjoy having a “race you to the bottom” competition with it. If it only measured personal actions, there is at least some hope it matches up to how the character acts. If you combine the two, you keep the “X has low morality and is a bad person” – you’re never going to rebrand this as “not morality” when breaking points specifically trigger off actions unacceptable to society and self. Now, toss in the fact the roll to fail it is based off your stats, and what you told the storyteller your personal background is. So you have a Sanity bar that has all the stigma of a Morality bar, and which is much less likely to affect some players than others. This seems like a recipe for player discontent, to me.

        Now, there’s a lot of mechanics involved here that we haven’t seen, so maybe this all will change. But right now I feel like I’m seeing a system for “Fear Checks” that I like, and a system for Morality that I like, and it’s all been mashed together into some horrible Frankenstein creature that I really don’t like at all.

    • Michael
      December 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      I have to agree about Resolve + Composure. Perhaps one of the worst mistakes in the nWoD rules set is placing Attributes into the second axis categories of power, finesse, resistance. This creates situations like what you’re describing: Composure is the “resistance” trait for the Social Attributes, so it becomes an aspect of rolls to resist Morality loss by virtue of it’s place on the grid, not because it makes sense in terms of what the Attribute actually represents.

      Composure is thematically about maintaining control of your emotions under tense situations. Functionally, though, it ends up being like a combination of Appearance, Perception, Self Control, Courage and, Conscience from the old World of Darkness.

      As a trait, I love the idea of it, but not the implementation. It seems as though the rules use it as a go-to trait when the orderly and pristine organization of Attributes in the game breaks down under the demands of actual game play.

      How does being able to keep your emotions on lock down make it easier to maintain your grip on Morality? If anything, people who are detached and who fail to empathize (i.e. allow outside events to influence their emotions) are less moral: we call them sociopaths and psychopaths.

      As you said, in terms of avoiding psychological trauma from shocking or horrifying events, Composure makes sense. However, in terms of preventing a slide into amoral detachment, Composure isn’t applicable. One of the hallmarks of the serial killer, for example, is their tightly controlled Composure. They aren’t usually raving lunatics, they’re charming, well composed and generally unflappable.

      This isn’t something you can just pawn off on Willpower, either, because Willpower IS Resolve + Composure.

      So what it comes down to is that, much like with the game’s lack of functional Perception traits (what does Composure have to do with attention and sensory acuity again?), the game lacks traits to adequately represent moral introspection. As Wits is a good starting place with Perception, so to is Resolve a good place to begin with resisting moral decay. But Composure applies to neither situation, and is applied as a quick-fix for the system’s insistence on internal consistency over the functional needs of game-play.

      • December 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm

        Well, I don’t agree with a lot of that (I think Composure makes sense in Perception, for instance) but I do think maybe Composure gets a little over-used. I’ll noodle it.

        • Michael
          December 17, 2012 at 9:10 pm

          How do you feel Composure works in terms of Perception? I’m genuinely interested to hear your point of view on this :)
          From my perspective, Composure is about keeping one’s cool under pressure. I can see how that could perhaps be translated into Perception under tense situations, but what about when you’re not under pressure?

          Actually, if I could make a suggestion – rather than fiddling with Composure, what if you simply change Resolve to “Focus?” (You don’t really even have to change the name – you could just make Perception rolls into Wits + Resolve, but Focus seems to convey both a sense of perceptive ability and mental fortitude).

          Focus would be a character’s Mental Resistance stat, just like Resolve, and would cover almost everything Resolve does (I would suggest folding courage in the face of danger into Composure – it just seems neater).

          As Focus, the stat would allow a character to maintain his concentration in the face of confusion or distraction. It would deal with attention, situational awareness and powers of directed observation (where as Wits is more about alertness and reacting to sudden changes, Focus is about staying aware of what’s going on and not getting distracted or letting your mind wander). From Resolve, it inherits the qualities of mental determination: the ability to stay on task and follow through with your goals. Really, this is just Resolve under another name, but it gives more of a sense that the statistic includes Perception in it’s purview.

          Focus could function exactly as Resolve in terms of pairing it with Composure to determine Willpower, which is essentially you’re ability to handle stress combined with your ability to stay focused on a goal through it’s completion.

          It could also be paired with Wits in order to handle Perception rolls (which makes perception wholly a function of Mental attributes rather than a combination of Mental and Social). Now, Perception becomes a character’s ability to quickly assess his situation and his ability to direct his attention.

          Anyway, that’s my suggestion. In most places where Resolve + Composure is called for, I believe Focus + Composure would work just as well conceptually. I think it kills a lot of birds with one stone without sacrificing anything inherent in the system: Willpower becomes a more distinct trait, Perception is now covered in such a way that you don’t even have to mess with Wits + Skill rolls, and Composure even gains some more traction by taking on a few aspects of Resolve (Composure could now be considered Courage as well as Self Control, which I think is appropriate since Composure is already about handling stress without losing your shit).

          Again, if changing stat names is too much of a pain in the ass, consider just making Perception into Wits + Resolve (a character’s ability to detect things in his environment and his ability to remain focused on doing so without becoming distracted or giving up).

          In any case, I wanted to thank you about being open to a dialogue about this stuff.

          • December 18, 2012 at 9:13 am

            Changing Attribute names is too big of a switch, yeah.

            I see your point, I really do. And if this were a complete redesign, it’s something I’d consider very strongly.

            But like I said, I think Composure is fine for Perception. Composure is, as you say, keeping yourself cool and, well, composed. In order to notice [whatever], you need to be able to do that. Does Resolve make sense, too? Sure. But I see Resolve as more of an internal thing, while Composure is an external. And since, in Perception, you’re noticing what’s outside of you, Composure (being able to filter distractions and external stimuli) makes more sense to me.

            I will note, though, that Perception can key off of Skills if there’s a relevant one, at which point Composure matters less than knowledge (the Skill in question).

            The way I usually describe the difference between Resolve and Composure to new players is that if you open a door and see Yog-Sothoth (or the God-Machine, for that matter), Resolve is what keeps you from going crazy. Composure is what keeps you from screaming and gibbering. You can do one without the other, though. :)

        • Chris Shaffer
          December 19, 2012 at 3:38 am

          I think Composure is a little overused, but that said I have trouble imagining how one’s ability to control one’s emotions _wouldn’t_ factor in to one’s ability to maintain one’s worldview. I don’t think making a roll involving Composure means necessarily locking down one’s emotions any more than coping with fear is as simple as not being afraid.

          Now, that said, I can see Resolve + Composure being the roll for coping with breaking points outside of one’s control (getting a glimpse of the full glory of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young) while maybe coming up with something else for breaking points directly triggered by one’s actions (deciding to run down an old lady with one’s car to get at that Mage).

  12. December 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    “Morality” and Other Dirty Words, by Matt McFarland: http://t.co/SBuCEqD1. Teaser for the upcoming God-Machine… http://t.co/ugkFr95R

  13. Steven J
    December 19, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Provisionally I love it, though i need to hear more about Conditions before I know for sure.

    Matt, I would also like to see a quick mention of things that specifically can’t modify the Breaking Point roll. Frex, would any of the following not be allowed?:
    * Spending Willpower to add +3 dice
    * Having some effect granting X-again or allowing for Rote actions
    * Having one or both of your stats increased by magical means, via Discipline, Arcana, or what not.

    • December 19, 2012 at 8:53 am


      I do think that you can spend Willpower on the roll, since it’s not really a measure of how your “soul” deals with it so much as how well your psyche does. You can will yourself into being a better person, but you can will yourself into thinking you are, if that makes sense.

      Following that logic, if your stats are increased or altered, yeah, it should still count for purposes of breaking points. The question is, really, if once the power wears off whether you have to make another breaking point roll because the reality (not realty) of what you did crashes down on you. I talk a little about this concept in WoD: Asylum.

  14. Ventrue
    December 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Considering how succesful Rein-Hagen’s original Vampire 2E was, I don’t think Morality or Humanity is a dirty word. Same with the fairly easy to understand scale of 10 to 1.

    I’m a huge fan of what you’re trying to do with Onyx Path, bringing back the old success stories. I just worry that future products will cater too much the White Wolf hardcore, meaning too much darkness, more relativism, and sandboxing. Above system revision is just a further step in the wrong direction, I’m sorry to say.

    I recommend you read The Innovator’s Dilemma. While written by a Harvard professor primarily for the manufacturing and tech businesses, it fits the rise and fall of our favorite RPG company perfectly.

    Don’t make the same mistakes again. Vampires, fae, and wizards are selling books, movies, games, and merchandise by the billions. We’re disappearing. Haven’t you ever wondered why?

  15. crimfan
    March 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Just to note: Psychological trauma can certainly lead to the development of things like full-on schizophrenia in individuals prone to it. PTSD is comorbid with many different conditions. For instance, a classic progression is PTSD -> depression -> substance abuse.

    I wouldn’t totally sell the old morality rules short, though I agree that morality is perhaps not the right word for them.

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