Competing Goods: Cavalier Virtues

A giant robot in classic computer game Ultima IV. It's going to stomp Lord British's castle! Oh no!

Ultima IV plus Robot by Creative Stall from the Noun Project

GearHead Caramel will not feature the Heroic/Villainous morality scale used in previous GearHead games. Typically, games that feature a good/evil scale use it to divide up the content: play a hero and you get one story, play a villain and you get a slightly different story. The moral choices you get to make tend to be boring and come down to which route you’re trying to play. Never mind the fact that the game designer and player might not agree which choice is the moral one and which is the immoral one.

I never intended for GearHead to have separate heroic and villainous paths. Instead, heroic points were supposed to be an optional reward for going above and beyond the call of duty, while villainous points were meant as an easy way for me to kill off player characters who act stupidly. So, moving forward, the heroic/villainous scale is out.

Instead, for GearHead Caramel I intend to use a virtue system as in Ultima IV… though for now the virtues will just be a design principle rather than formal game rules. There are several advantages to using a system of virtues rather than a good/evil scale. First, there’s no need to tailor game content for Stupid Evil alignment. Second, different virtues can contradict one another, leading to much more interesting moral choices than yet another variation on the trolley problem.

Here are the five virtues of the cavalier code:

  • Duty: A cavalier must honor their mission contracts and other obligations. Your word is your life.
  • Fellowship: We’re all in this together. A cavalier should treat civilians and other cavaliers with magnanimity. This virtue covers loyalty and empathy.
  • Justice: It is necessary to act in a just manner. Cavaliers are expected to protect those in need and bring punishment to the guilty.
  • Peace: A cavalier should act to minimize harm, which is not easy when you’re piloting a fifty ton death machine.
  • Glory: Finally, a cavalier must keep striving for greatness. This virtue covers courage and honor.

There are numerous ways these virtues could conflict. Do you pursue a criminal through a crowded city (justice) or let them get away to avoid civilian casualties (peace)? Stand guard at the bridge (duty) or take down the enemy leader who has been separated from their group (glory)? Ideally, each of these choices should take the story in different directions.


    • Turkot on January 17, 2018 at 2:41 pm
    • Reply

    So, will the player be able to only be able to be in the shades of “good” and choose between one good and the other good? Or will the player be able to act selfishly or maybe fanatical if for example the player is roleplaying “justice” AKA lawful character who will blindly obey the law and country he lives in and he sees a poor family stealing money from others to get food will that character kill the family because they break the law or be very power-hungry and use EVERYTHING that is allowed by law in order to advance in ranks ?

    I’m really interested in you answering the question because I think that there should be the ability to play “smart”, “misguided”, “knight templar” and honorable kind of evil (or maybe just shades of grey) instead of the so well known “chaotic stupid evil” that is all about killing

    1. It’s not that every character will be “good”, it’s that different characters (and players) have different opinions about what “good” even is. “Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories.” – George R. R. Martin.
      So this system will involve more shades of grey and hopefully more interesting choices/consequences.

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