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February 12, 2014, 1:17 pm

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The moral compass


What’s the difference between good and evil?

Long time ago lived a most pious paladin named Marcus. His strength with the sword was unmatched and his shield never faltered in battle. Many evils fell by his sword and the people loved him.

Marcus, simple in mind (not stupid thought) and with a strong heart, passed his time traveling from place to place aiding those in need.

One day he arrived in a city, ruled by a wise king whose daughter he've saved from an evil curse some years ago, only to discover that the king was dead and that the city was ruled by the princess. He immediately decided to offer his condolences to the poor princess, a chaste and timid girl.

While walking to the castle an heavy cloud started to take form in his heart; many shops were closed, the city was dirty, there were beggars at almost every corner, many of them were children. What once was a rich city was now a slum.

Arrived at the castle he easily obtained audience with the newly appointed queen, he hoped in some explanation, maybe the sickness of the father took his tool on the city management... but there was no hope left after seeing the princess; the reek of evil was just too strong. While most of his people were suffering the queen was sitting on a gold throne, wearing an elaborate ( and far too provoking ) silk dress and delicate elven jewelry, the whole room was a hymn to hedonism and it was just too clear where all that wealth was from.

He tried to reason with her, but without success, the little wench even tried to seduce him… He! who protected his purity from the claws of succubi and sirens.

But, just when in his fury he was going to draw the sword and slain her, a thought come to his mind. What it the next ruler was going to be worst than her? What if her death was going to bring even more chaos to the reign… what if he was wrong again? What if his actions end up siring more evil than they slain in the long term?

And so the seed of doubt was planted in Marcus heart.

He left the city with a warning to the queen to change her ways or be ready for divine punishment, but his word sounded empty even to himself. Before taking action to cleanse the city Marcus decided to shatter his doubt and visit some of the people he helped to see if this was just a one time coincidence or what.

It wasn’t.

He found about the brutal murder of the innocent family of a criminal he brought to the justice, about a whole forest, that he cleansed of an infestation of evil beasts, burned to the ground and turned into a mine and many other evil things that apparently sprouted after his actions.

The seed of doubt had growth strong roots in his heart and the seed name was “what if I'm wrong again”, he stopped wandering the lands and mostly stayed at his home in the wood, thinking and thinking about what was good and was evil.

At the peak of his desperation markus was visited by an old man. He was a monk sent by marcus friends (he said) worried about his mental state, after hearing of it he meditated a lot upon Marcus dilemma and then said: “perhaps i can help you” he took out from his sack a small object and gave it to Marcus, it was a compass.

Then said: “This item helped me a lot in my younger days, maybe now it can help you. As you can see the background of the compass is divided in colored slices that go gradually from white to black. Everytime you have to decide what to do and want know how good will bring the action you’re gonna take, you just have to think about your plan while watching the compass, the red arrow will move and the more it will be close to white the more the action will have a positive outcome to the people involved. "

" But beware that no action is absolutely good or bad for everyone involved, so you'll always have to chose the lesser evil.”

While it was a very strange item Marcus had seen stranger things in his adventures, and this could have solved his problems and ended his torment! So he said “thank you wise monk! Before you go, why does the blackest slice lie so near to the whitest one?”.

To that the monk replied “That’s a clever question, the more prosaic answer is that is because the compass was built to moves clockwise and it’s basically moving on a gradient scale of white to black” – Marcus felt a little stupid – “ but there’s another… more philosophical, answer. I hope that, how it was for me, using the compass will make you wiser and wiser, if so it will come one day when you know the answer, and that day you’ll know that you don’t need the compass anymore”.

Then the monk went away.

Exited Marcus put on his adventuring gear and departed for new adventures. He often used the compass and found it a great asset, that item often helped him avoid wrong decision and the few times he decided to not follow its indication he was forced to admit that his action caused much more damage than he thought they would.

So with the passing of time Marcus started to rely more and more on the compass to make decisions, sure sometimes he had to do some little “evil thing” but it was all for the greater good, a necessary evil.

With time he started to find really liberating the knowing that some evil was necessary for the greater good, finally killing evildoers, even if they surrendered, was an option, and it make so much sense! Furthermore with his experience he could (at least he though it could) easilly found out when someone will probably evolve into a force of evil, and take preventive action.

People started to fear him.

A team of heroes, former friends of Marcus, reluctantly decided to dispose of this rising menace and went to kill him, but he was just too strong, in fact much more stronger than before. While killing the last of his once friends Marcus finally understood, there was no objective morality, what’s good for someone is bad for another, what’s evil for one is sacred for another… Evil is good, black is white and he was free.

Later in time, the now fallen paladin Marcus became well know for his cruelty and sadistic sense of humor, he became a crazy lunatic alternating incredibly good deeds with evil action even a pit fiend would have admired, sometime he would save people from peril just to kill them himself.

It’s said that he've asked the same question to everyone desperate enough to ask for his help …

What’s the difference between good and evil?

As for who the monk was, well, that’s another story :)

Item description

The moral compass is similar to any other compass, only he doesn’t have indication for the cardinal points, instead his background is a gradient scale of colored slices starting to white and going full circle till the last slice, which is black.

The compass is a powerful magic item with strong divination powers. He’s also able to read his user’s mind and extract data of the situation from his knowledge.

Thanks to his powers the compass can make a pretty accurate estimate of the outcome of most situations and how a specific course of action will end for the involved parts. The user just need to think what he intend to do, just like when you are planning something, and the compass will move with his thoughts indicating how much “ goodness ” or “ badness ” that plan will bring.

And that is pretty much it, at least for most ordinary magician that examine it.

Unknown to the user the compass has a will of his own and his programmed to estimate what range of “evil things” the user may accept to do in order to solve a situation, and then always make the most damaging course of action in this range pass as the best one.

Generally, especially if the user is very good at heart, this start with very little destruction and problem, almost imperceptible. In this first stage the goal of the compass is to gain the trust of the user and soften the rigidity of his moral code, little by little. If the user is particularly rigid about his moral code the compass may even decide to really help him without downsides for a time, until it gain his trust.

Slowly but surely the user will start to rely more and more on the compass, approving his decisions without even evaluating them (after all the compass never failed, unlike the user), at this point the poor soul is basically lost and the real process of corruption take place. The compass will push his user to do more and more violent and/or damaging action “for the greater good”, until the user will have totally lost all sense of morality. Usually this process drive people crazy.

The compass is not stupid and will carefully select (especially at the start) the quests that can be corrupted, even in the slightest, without the user noticing. If there’s no way to do it, it’ll pass and wait for another occasion.

Possible variants:

The compass seems to feed on the suffering he push the user to inflict.

The user may even start using the compass to find out what course of action will bring more suffering. If he do so the compass will reward him giving him some of the power it gains from the suffering it devour.

It is said that the compass was created by a peculiar and terrific entity that feed upon mortals suffering, in order to simultaneously augment the suffering of humans and reduce the ranks of do-gooders.

The compass actually contains a fragment of the essence of a long forgotten deity of clairvoyance, who’s gone mad in his prisony inside the compass.

Original image by Ulvgar

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Comments ( 10 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Morte
February 12, 2014, 15:16
Only voted
Voted Dozus
February 12, 2014, 18:39
Oh man, I love little things like this. The background story is great, and the subtle effects of the compass are the perfect thing to throw into a campaign. I can see a player coming to rely on the compass to see what's considered "moral" for a campaign, only to discover her alignment and actions slowly turning darker over time.

The grammar and spelling are a little loose here and there, but I gather English isn't your first tongue and let it slide. It's a great piece, especially given that it's your first. Great work, and I can't wait to see more from you.
February 13, 2014, 14:33
Thank you!

Yes English isn't my first tongue, so thanks for being patient with it!

Actually, aside the fact that the site concept is great, one the reasons I'm doing it is to improve and practice my English (while i study it) so hopefully I'll only get better from now on.
Voted Stork
February 12, 2014, 19:03
Very interesting idea. I personally am not a big fan of items that change core values of characters in a gaming situation. That said, this would be a good item to add in a novel/story.
Voted Scrasamax
February 12, 2014, 20:53
Fantastic submission, there is a good moment displayed where the compass is used, an NPC tied to it for a story, and there is an origin behind it that fills in the basic questions but leaves it open enough that it can be easily adapted and fit into whatever setting needed. This is a fantastic and devious item, and something I would love to use in a game. I can see it being problematic for classes with ethos dependent powers, because once a paladin or cleric goes against the ethos of his deity, there is generally a denial of powers and innate abilities.

Good work, nice graphic.
Voted PeteBain
February 13, 2014, 20:24
Certainly an interesting idea, but I have to agree with Stork. I suppose it depends on how it's played, though. If given a fair chance, the right PC may embrace or reject the corruption.

Does the compass always generalise, though? Does it always show the path that results in the greatest good or most suffering, or could it be used by a selfish PC to see the best and worst outcome just for them?

And on that note, does the compass fully detail the path ahead, or just show the destination if the PC continues down the road they're on? For example, might the compass tell a PC they have to sacrifice a comrade for the greater good, or would it just show a vision of the greater good having been achieved and the PC has to spot that they're comrade doesn't have a place in that picture?
February 14, 2014, 4:36
I'm not 100% sure i really get the first question.

Anyway let's say that potentially the compass have the clairvoyance powers to do so but it wouldn't do that (and it wasn't build with that use in mind, his meter go white to black not to "most useful" to "less useful"). Mostly because his purpose is to corrupt not to give advantage to the local thief that want to know what's the best way to enter the bank. Secondly that kind of character is of little use to the compass, since it's not really "corruption material" and will always be more interested in petty advantages that may or may not cause real suffering.

Or maybe the compass will led him to belive that it can be used that way only to trick the selfish user into having to do always more "evil" things to gain this advantages, if it belive the user can be used that way.

Basically it all depend on the character and how well he could fit into the compass "use", also on how much the DM is willing to distance himself from the original concept.

As for the second one, the compass can't talk to the user (and even if he was able to he wouldn't, since that would reveal part of his true nature as a sentient object). He also don't deal in visions or similar things, hes just a compass that move move with the user's thoughts. Basically his thing is to led the user belive it's just a mere instrument. That way is more easy to gain his trust.

Anyway the vision thing could fit well using the "long forgotten deity of clairvoyance" variant! B
Voted Cheka Man
February 15, 2014, 8:30
Not something to be overused.
Voted Kassy
February 19, 2014, 8:05

A nifty little item with a good backstory. Also one that I'm surprised hasn't risen to the surface here before. (Or has there?)
Voted valadaar
August 19, 2014, 19:46
Heh, an immoral compass. I like :)


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