If character morality has no mechanical effect in your game, then do not put a spot for it on the character sheet.
|We get enough people micromanaging our alignments in real life, thank you very much.|
How To Tell When Your Game's Morality System is Useless
Now, before any readers start crowing about how the alignment system (prominently featured in Pathfinder, Dungeons and Dragons, and other games) is a blight on RPGs, I'd like to point out that we're not talking about alignment here. Because, like or or loathe it, alignment has a purpose in games like Pathfinder. Paladins, clerics, inquisitors, and other classes use alignment as a way to gauge how well they're following their teachings and codes, which has a mechanical effect on the game. The same is true of spells, magic items, and traps which react differently to people based on their alignment.
Another candidate for bashing might be the Virtue/Vice system commonly used in White Wolf, but again, that system has a definite purpose in the game. It's meant to refresh your willpower, which can make a huge difference in what your character is capable of achieving. It's an integral part of the game, so it gets a pass as well.
|So what are you talking about?|
What I'm talking about are games that cling onto vestiges of morality systems, like alignment, but where those systems have no actual impact in a mechanical sense. For example, I recently read through a system that went into 9-point details of personal morality... but then never explained why it was necessary to apply it to your character. Your morality wasn't a test to see whether a god would grant you power, or to figure out whether certain forms of magic would treat you differently. It was a classless system, so your character's morality clearly wasn't to maintain any class features. It served no purpose aside from adding another label to a character during the generation process.
Fewer Labels, More Characterization
If you have a game that doesn't require a morality system (Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, etc.) then a change happens in the character creation process. Rather than picking a morality label, and then asking how this character fits within that label, players instead focus more on the gray areas of who this person they're piloting is. They ask what this character finds morally wrong, and what actions that person thinks are right and proper to take in response. They focus on their history, their knowledge, the places they've been, and the things they've done. Morality emerges as part of the process, but it does so without a label being attached to it that often limits the way a player thinks about right and wrong within the game world.
|This can lead to terrible, terrible ideas.|
What I am not suggesting is removing parts from your game's engine if those parts have a necessary function. Like them or hate them, many times a morality system is a part of how bigger, more complicated mechanics function. If, however, the parts are purely for looks, or entirely vestigial, then tear them off the same way you would a spoiler on a station wagon. It will smooth out your flow, lead to more thoughtful character creation, and free up a lot of space in the rule book.
Even better, you could fill that vacant space with helpful hints on making better characters. Things like fleshing out your character's family, job experience, their motivations, and all the other things that make them step, fully-formed, into the game world.
As always, thanks for stopping in to check out my Moon Pope Monday update this week. If you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? As little as $1 a month can make a big difference when it comes to getting more content straight to you. Even better, it comes with sweet swag just for being a patron! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, then what's stopping you?