Create for me me some ethical dilemmas

edited April 2007 in Play Advice
The backstory (as I seem to always have to include in my posts): I was a huge Ultima 6 fan. At the beginning of that game you created your character via a series of ethical choices. None of the choices was obviously wrong; there were "right reasons" to do every single one. It wasn't a matter of choosing, say, greed versus charity; it was a matter of deciding whether you preferred charity or honesty. To give an example of that exact conflict:

"You are walking down a street in the poor part of town, littered with beggars. Walking in front of you is an obviously rich gentleman. His change purse has fallen out of his pocket, but he does not seem to have noticed. Do you...
A: Pick it up and return it to him, as honesty compels you to do?
B: Let the beggars keep it, as the rich man will scarcely notice the loss?"

Given no further information or assumptions about the rich man or the beggars, both options are pretty valid choices for someone of good morals. It's just a question of which way you lean. I seem to be relatively bad at making up such things myself, especially on the fly. Given some of the games I've seen from folks here, I'm betting you folks are pretty good at it.

So that's the challenge: write a quick moral dilemma, something that pits one moral right against another, where neither choice would be obviously wrong. Something that you don't solve via logic or examination, but by a sense of virtues.

No-wins and quandaries are also acceptable. :)


  • You are rock climbing and witness a bad fall. The victim is bleeding profusely, is not breathing, and will certainly die without aid. You are a trained EMT and feel confident that you can stabilize her, even though you have no medical equipment with you and scraped your hands raw to reach her. As you approach, the victim's climbing partner calls down, "use gloves and an airway barrier! She's got AIDS!"
  • Your wife (or husband, as the case may be) has gained a bit of weight in recent years and it has affected your sex drive towards her. One evening she asks you, "Do you still find me desirable?"
  • Well, one of the classic moral quandries is "How much is one life worth?" To put it in 'game situation' terms:

    The character's significant other is in trouble. The evil empire has captured her, is currently torturing her for information, and has scheduled her execution in 2 days time. The character has just enough time to make it to the evil fortress/prison ship in time to engage in a (possibly futile) rescue attempt.

    However, the rest of the group is currently on its way to deal with a "big bad" (planet destroyer, necromancer, evil army, whatever...) which is on the verge of destroying some major population center. The struggle against the "bad" will take all of their resources and without the character there they will certainly lose. Moreover, if the group cannot stop the 'bad', it will destroy countless lives.

    Moral quandry: How many 'abstract' lives are worth the life of someone you care about? Should your personal goals override the needs of the group?
  • You see a hungry street child taking bread from the stall of an evidently poor marketkeeper.

    If the PCs are trying to get into a house to get some info, a servant leaves her key out in plain view. You know that if she loses it she will lose her job, do you take it?

    A cop arrests someone you know to be a crook, but then gives evidence in front of you that he saw him stealing when you know he didn't. Do you let the crook go down, given you do know he is a thief generally, or do you expose the cop as a liar earning his enmity and letting a man go who was only innocent of this particular crime.
  • you are lost at sea, and starving to death. a member of your party is elderly and infirm. you have gone countless days without food and will surely die if you do not eat soon. Do you kill the old person to keep the rest of you alive?

    You meet a stranger on a bus and begin having a conversation. You have similar interests and get along well. After you have exchanged phone numbers/made plans to socialize in the future the stranger admits that they are a convicted child molester, who has served time, but is now free. Are you going to call this person who has served their debt to society, or can they never truly serve it?
  • also, there are tons of these quandries in ethics 101 primers, check out your local library, they will surely have some.
  • You are part of an elite anti-terrorist Special Ops force, and terrorist have taken over your base, stolen a nuke and hold your loved ones hostage. You have a choice, rescue your loved ones, but let the nuke explode destroying the nearby foreign city or stop the nuke from exploding, but this will cause your loved ones to die. You have two hours, go.
  • That'd make a cool game, Bryan ;-)
  • This is a repost of something I wrote on Knife-Fight, but it works well here, too. One of those situations where there's no right answer. This is one that's kinda boring if I tell you about it; it rocks if you play through it.

    So, for those with some time on your hands (like 30 mins to an hour):

    Play the interactive fiction Voices. The first time you go through the game, it's mostly a romance plot, takes about half an hour. The next time, you can just skip through those bits 'cuz you already know what to say (just hit "g" if you're tired of typing "talk to Pierre") and do the game in, like, three minutes. Try it a few times. There's an interesting theological thing there.

    (It's screwy for an IF game, since you're playing in second person, not first. Here's a page about how to play text adventures /interactive fiction and run Z-Code games. If you've never played a text adventure, you may wish to warm up on "9:05," "Photopia," and "Conan Kills Everything" to get used to the setup and get a cross-section of the medium.)
  • There was a little more to the classic Ultima questions. They weren't just moral dilemmas. You were specifically choosing one of the eight virtues over another. Lord British created a philosophy for Ultima (starting with Ultima 4) which he called "Ethical Hedonism". If I am remembering the virtues correctly, they were Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Honor, Spirituality, Justice, Sacrifice, and Humility. There was a question pitting each pair of virtues against the other to see which you would pick over the other. The example above was pitting honesty verses compassion. This process would pair down the virtues until you had picked one over all others. This determined your class. If I recall correctly:

    Honesty = Mage
    Compassion = Bard
    Valor = Fighter
    Honor = Paladin
    Spirituality = Ranger
    Justice = Druid
    Sacrifice = Tinker
    Humility = Shephard

    They also corresponded to phases of the moon and one of the eight major cities, but it was interesting that this defined your main character's abilities. It mattered too. The Shephard really had nothing going for him or her in a mechanical sense. No armor. Crappy weapons. No magic. The Shephard truly was the embodiment of humility. Some of the other classes' relationships to their virtues were less stark, but it was very interesting that your moral choices defined who you were to start out.
  • This reminded me of playing Final Fantasy IX and how the characters had such strong and conflicting moral values which made the game a much richer experience for me. A little digging and I found this review excerpt:
    The character cast of "Final Fantasy IX" is one of the game's strongest points. The seemingly "childish" characters follow the series' great tradition of presenting types - not necessarily realistic figures, but rather incarnations of certain principles, bearers of moral problems and conflicts. Quite deliberately, all the descriptions of the game's main characters in the manual are formed as questions. Each character has a task, a problem to solve, a goal to achieve. By making all the main characters so clearly different, in appearance as well as in personality, Squaresoft managed to create one of the most colorful and memorable character casts ever.

    Take for example princess Garnet, who is my most favorite video game female character of all times. A girl who spent all her life in a palace, daughter of an arrogant and cruel queen, she maintains in her heart something charming and naive, perhaps a vague ideal, a longing to run away, to experience a totally new life, to meet people who come from an entirely different world. It is to be noticed that Garnet is never careless and light-hearted - she is rather quiet and thoughtful, trying to understand the meaning of her existence. One of the most wonderful scenes shows her cutting her hair with a dagger - a symbolic action that is typical for her impulsive, yet profound nature.
  • edited April 2007
    Yeah, what Eric said there. In Ultima 6 (my favorite of the series, probably. Though 7 and 7.5 were groovy, too*) you have these questions, but they're leading to a set of choices. Almost like one of those internet Livejournal quizzes.

    "What Kind of Avatar of the Virtues are you?"
    "Oh, you're THE DRUID: Believing in justice and balance above all else, you start off with a club and two fire spells". Etc.

    So, I love the above questions. But especially so in their own context, where
    1) There was no right or wrong answer.
    2) However, the questions DID lead you down certain paths
    3) And in fact, those paths ended up defining your starting character

    I'd love to see a character generation system with the stones to set character creation Exactly like that: Based on a few "Radio Button" questions to the player. Even if the player "played the system", thinking "Oh, if I choose X that sounds like it will make me a Rogue Assassin, which is what I want to be anyway. So I'll choose that one", it would still be cool.


    * warning: By all accounts, Ultima 8 and 9 were utter crap. Never played them myself, though.
  • For another purpose, I'm working on an unfolding online form which asks you further questions based on your answers to earlier ones. I've been trying to think how to apply it to gaming as well.

    Thanks, guys.
  • edited April 2007
    Morrowind (the third or fourth Elder Scrolls game) is another CRPG that kicks off your character creation (class assignment, although classes work more like Storyteller's archetypes) with a series of leading moral questions. They're definately written in such a way as to make it very hard to "get the class you want", and both the order they're presented in and the particular questions presented change with each instance of the game. Unlike Ultima, however, the questions are as much about how you accomplish things as *why*. (So, action based classes rather than moral ones.)

    I agree, though, that an rpg/story-game - even d20 - with classes/archetypes based on *moral choices* - that is, classes defined by *morals* - would be awesome. (I'd be tempted to try it, but my d20-fu is weak, weak, weak...)
  • Knights of the Old Republic does this, too. When you're picking your Jedi class on Dantooine, the Masters ask a series of questions about your preferred mode of handling problems to decide whether to recommend Guardian, Sentinel, or Consular class.
  • One of my favorite ones I've ever gotten to play was one Eric made for us in a Mage game.

    A group of run aways live in an old abandonded house. They call themselves the Rusties. One by one, a bunch of them go missing. Only girls. All about 10-13. A lead on one of them brings us to a photographer. He had been paying her a quite fair wage for posing. She did nothing sexual but it was all nudes of her. She chose to do it herself, he never forced her and in the photos it looks like she is having a genuinely good time and not being hurt at all. (We found her later and she told us all these things.)

    By shutting down this photographer, we take away her hope and financial backing to get out of the situation she is in which is starving to death or freezing to death in this old, abandoned house or being left to fight off the pimps and the drug dealers. When we do research we see that a lot of other missing girls went through him. All are living well and doing just fine elsewhere in the country (my character was in the police department so I was able to research this info). But of course, he is breaking the law so my character -has- to shut him down. One of the other PC's wants him dead since she believes he's nothing more than a pedophile. The other PC, thinks he's done nothing wrong. She believed maybe he could have gone about it better but in her opinion, he was offering them good money to do things they didn't mind doing in the first place. They were well fed and taken care of which was more than what they had before. He kept them away from drugs and the pimps.

    So did we shut this guy down and let those girls fend for themselves between the pimps and the dealers? Or did we let it pass and let a guy dealing in kiddie porn keep up his brisk business?

    It was a pickle.

    Lisa P
  • You guys have hit on part of the reason I asked this question. I'm hoping for not just a general resource, or something for use in other games, but something for use in a Ultima-style game where your virtues really make a difference - something where the world is at peace, but you still have interesting things to do. I was looking at the idea more for in-game purposes, but character creation is an excellent place to start.

    These are some good ones so far, though most of them seem to be in the no-win category in my mind. More are definitely welcome.

  • I think they use no-wins because they have more punch, but the general system of the questionaire should also be able to support win-win propositions if you want to mix things up with a little light-heartedness!

    (It's been too long since i played Ultima, so i don't know whether everything was lose-lose there...)
  • edited April 2007
    You know what just occured to me?

    (...and i don't know how i missed it, someone probably even mentioned it upthread...)

    If you take these sorts of "moral questionaires", and you weave them into the actual fabric of ongoing play... get Dogs in the Vineyard...

    ...That is what the "how about now? even now?" is all about! It's just all a little more subtley disguised in the mechanics and play structure than what i've been looking at...
  • Absolutely. That's the fruitful void in DitV, I think, since those choices have no mechanical weight. The mechanics are just a way of asking and answering them.
  • Perhaps I don't know enough about Dog's mechanics to understand that comment. Can someone give me the quick version? I don't own a copy myself.
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