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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