Earlier, we posted about the nature of good and evil in Aes. Now it’s time to look at one of the core mechanics of the game: the Five Ideals.
When designing Aes, we wanted the game to not only be about action, but also philosophy. We wanted it to represent the best parts of 19th century thought to contrast with the worst parts. So we chose 5 ideals that represent our concept of good in the game world:
Autonomy is the ability to care for oneself and belongings. It’s based on the Principle of Self-Ownership. You own your body and that is your first property. All possessions you have derive ownership from the ownership of your body, being the result of your time and labor investment. Thus, violating private property rights is like violating the sovereignty of your body. Autonomy is a measure of how well a character respects the belongings of others.
Exchange is social grace, the ability to trade ideas and information respectfully and in an intelligent manner. It’s the way you carry yourself in social situations. Since a main focus of Aes is non-combat resolutions, making positive social interactions part of what rounds out an explorer This is how well a character interacts with others, both allies and enemies.
Invention is science and the love of it. Positivism is alive and well in Aes, and many in its game world view science as the solution to nearly all problems. This plays to the steampunk nature of the game. Science is progress, not a hindrance or something to be feared. It lifts up the quality of life for all and a key path for advancement – any clerk with an idea can strike it rich. Someone who loves scientific exploration and uncovering new data – or even just a general advanced curiosity – will have a high score in Invention.
Self-defense is derived from the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). We didn’t want to encourage players to start fights and always solve problems with violence, but we also didn’t want to condemn using violence in an absolute sense (pacifism). Protecting what you own from harm, including yourself, is a fundamental right. Having the ability to do so is important given the relative lack of protection from a central body in Laton. You have to be willing to follow through on the expectation that what belongs to you will not be taken by others. Someone who is a bully or unable to protect themselves will have a low score, while a capable fighter who is also compassionate will have a high score.
Volition is willpower, or the “will to power.” Skill is no good without the will to use it. One must be able to push through adversity and tackle issues to succeed. Explorers in Aes have to be willing to go out and do their own exploring. One of our design hopes with the “Goals” explorers write is that they will determine the path those characters follow. We wanted character centric play on the part of the Invisible Hand, rather than it being entirely about pre-constructed adventures that players follow on a rail. We include Volition to reward and encourage explorers to seize more control on the direction of play. Being passive and allowing the world to happen to you earns the explorer a low score, while actively seeking out quests or determining avenues to walk earns them a higher score.
To measure the ideals, we have a stat for each called clarity. We allow clarity to be positive or negative: a positive value means the person expresses the ideal, while a negative means they work against it. This gives Aes a five variable good-evil scale, as opposed to the common “good vs. evil + lawful vs. chaotic” 2-dimensional plane.
The benefits of using a five point scale over two is depth of character. Instead of being merely good or evil, now an explorer might be reluctant to pick fights (positive self-defense), but struggle to deal with kleptomania (negative autonomy). They might love research and investigation (positive invention), but be very lazy in finding opportunities for it (negative volition). It encourages the creations of explorers who are flawed in a specific manner, but may still have strengths in others. The Invisible Hand is given a framework that supports nuanced non-player characters (NPC’s).
Clarity begins determined by faculties and kindred. Taking faculties aligned with an ideal gives the explorer more points in clarity for that ideal. With kindred, their personalities were largely defined at creation by a positive/negative pair of ideals – an ideal they embodied and an ideal they struggled with. For example, the zhuque are great at social interactions (exchange), but aren’t very keen on scientific research (invention).
Over time, clarity shifts with the choices of the explorer. If they choose to steal, they will lose clarity in autonomy. If they always take command, they’ll gain clarity in volition. It’s a way for the Invisible Hand to recognize the style of play being used. Losing clarity is not necessarily a penalty, either – an explorer could always be choosing to do it on purpose to reflect the personality.
We don’t have explorers use clarity in rolls like with the four core stats. As measures of how well a character expresses philosophy, we wanted to keep them “big picture” in how they affected game play. We based two mechanics on clarity:
- Vending Points
Vending points are special chits that explorers get as clarity in an ideal increases. They can be spent to affect the game world in a way that transcends what the explorer can achieve on their own, such as subtly changing an NPC’s mind or a small alteration to the environment. They allow for an extra external nudge to help guide the story the way the player wants. The more vending points are spent, the more permanent and far reaching the effect can be. The main caveat is that the effect has to be related to the area covered by the ideal it’s from (autonomy for property, invention for research, exchange for social scenarios, etc.). Vending points are a reward for good role-playing, as they give an explorer a reason to pursue some or all of the ideals in how they play their role.
Affinity is the subjective measure of how people see an explorer. The first impression an explorer makes on an NPC is determined by the clarity they have in the ideals. If an explorer has a negative clarity in invention and tries to discuss things with a scientist, they are more likely to be dismissed or ignored than someone with a high positive invention clarity. In this way, the choices explorers make will be reflected in their countenance. Someone who steals a lot will look like someone NPC’s shouldn’t trust with items. Someone who frequently relies on words to smooth relations will appear socially well adjusted.
For the core book, we only really explore the effects of positive clarity. Negative clarity will have a place with expansion materials. Zahnrad, for example, is a land based on the evil opposites of the five ideals (names still TBD). Playing characters from that background will unlock different features for explorers to use.
The five ideals are also not the only possible ideals. At present, we expect Ayaziwa to share Aeneam’s focus on autonomy, exchange, invention, self-defense, and volition. However, Zhengqi, being explicitly east Asian, will very likely have its own set of five ideals that are fully compatible with the original set. These ten overall ideals will then be the full lexicon of the morality of the ancients, the in-world explanation for where the five ideals originate.
Hopefully this provides some clarity (ha) for how we’ve chosen to implement morality in Aes: Brass Revolution. A five number line scale of positive and negative, to finely tune exactly what an explorer values and what they’re flawed in, and to encourage and reward good role-playing.