[Serpent’s Nest] Morality and reality are one and the same

I was idly thinking about how Planescape had towns that could get sucked through from one plane to another if they became too lawful or evil or something. While doing so, I came up with an alternate setup for Serpent’s Nest that does sort of the same thing, without the predefined moral alignments of Planescape’s Great Wheel. It’s not exactly the same, but it gets a similar feel and makes moality and belief a real and relevant part of the game. Here’s the rough plan:

A Realm has Principles. A Principle is a statement about how life works or about how morality works. You might have “The ends justify the means” or you might have “life is made out of cages that we’re all trapped in. The lucky ones just get to choose or make prettier cages for themselves.” These Principles are the core of your Realm. The rest of the Realm is just a reflection of an a physical manifestation of these abstract moral Principles.

(The GM’s job is to make these principles true. When introducing a new NPC or detail of the Realm, identify one or more Principles that they represent. When players act, use the Principles to determine the results of those actions.)

More example Principles:
-Nobody likes their job, but they do it anyway.
-Slow and steady beats quick and careless every time.
-No pain, no gain.
-Luck rather than hard work determines your success.
-Beauty is truth and truth is beauty.
-If you serve a master, then you’ll never get what you want, just what he wants.
-Nobody in this world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.
-Hard work and dedication will be rewarded in the end.
-Everybody lies, but the wise man knows that everybody lies.
-The moment you’re born you start dying, so you might as well have a good time.

It’s quite possible that a Realm will have two or more Principles that disagree with one another. A realm with conflicting Principles will probably be chaotic and unpredictable. Different parts of the Realm might be in conflict or opposed to other parts of the Realm.

Principles and Realm Creation:
Everyone (GM and players? Just players, not the GM?): Draw a card (two?) and interpret it to make a principle. Look at the card’s imagery, title and prescribed meaning. Come up with a way that card is represented in your moral or ontological statement. (If you need, you can always ask other players for ideas, but this Principle is ultimately your responsibility.)

Then each player defines how that Principle is made concrete and mythical. Each principle will have obvious, magical manifestations throughout the Realm. Write down one now for your Principle now (more will be defined as we play). If you have a principle about hard work, define who does the hard work or what sort of fantasy labors they perform. If your Principle is about how the real currency of the world is secrets and knowledge, maybe you define something about how the Spymaster knows how to crystalize secrets into solid tears, and so that is used as money throughout the Realm. Make sure that your fact doesn’t directly contradict someone else’s, or work out how those two facts fit together. Maybe both are partially true, or maybe each is true in a different part of the Realm. (Eg., if your Principle is that the Realm floats high over the clouds while another player’s is that the Realm is always overcast, perhaps the realm floats through the cloud banks. Or maybe the Realm floats on a cloud, and the poor and oppressed live on a series of platforms underneath, and so never see the sunlight directly.)

These Principles lead into constituencies: each constituency is representative of two Principles. (Possibly, these two Principles replace the dramatic poles of standard Dramasystem. Details still to be worked out.) Then we define what each constituency wants to change, and another constituency declares why they can’t possibly allow that change to occur, and we go from there.

Principles act also as the determiner for popular opinion in the Realm. Whenever you have a public referendum (like when you go to vote to change reality), each Principle adds votes in favor or opposed to the referendum, based on whether the proposed bill fits with the Principle’s overall ethos. (The GM determines this.) Principles can be changed, by having the Council (the PC statesmen) take it to a vote, but every Principle opposes its own changing. (The GM should evaluate the votes based on the principles, not simple on trying to influence the vote result. This might be a sticking point here.)

When you change Principles, you shift your Realm’s place in the multiverse. Each Realm connects to a few other Realms via planar portals. You only can change connections between your plane and neighboring planes by rewriting a principle. So many planes remain neighbors to planes they hate because both are too stubborn to relocate.

It’s unpredictable what planar connection will change when you rewrite a Principle, too. No sage can predict what portal will be severed when the principle is struck down, nor can they predict what plane will find new connections to your Realm when a new Principle is put in place. In play, this means that when a Principle is changed, the player(s) that voted against the change get to choose one planar portal and replace it with a new planar connection. They pick which connection to a neighboring plane is now severed, and they pick a new plane to be connected to the Realm. (If all the PCs voted for the change, the GM handles this change.) This is in addition to the standard rule of Unintended Consequences (see elsewhere).

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