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Introduction: In certain genres (cultivation), people regularly undergo judgements as a way of getting stronger. Once they reach a certain break point, they are struck by lightning, and if they survive, they progress, or else they are seriously wounded and stalled, or killed. There are several break points.

Using a generic RPG as an example, the judgement happens every 5 levels and the baseline judgement grows stronger each time since your level is higher.

World: I have a slight variation of that cliche where the "judgements" are split between trials of conscience and tribulations of karma.

  • Trials of conscience are inner affairs where you come to terms with regrets and guilt.
  • Tribulations of karma are divine retribution for bad things you've done (in Heaven's point of view), and the worse things you do, the harsher the punishment is. Ordering a massacre also gives you bad karma, so you can't just wash your hands of it just because you didn't directly do it.

Question: Given that bad people are punished and the heaven sees all, I have trouble justifying why powerful bad people exist apart from those that "recently turned bad." After all, if the divine authorities of the world disliked bad people enough that they are intervening through the judgement system, no bad people (committing bad acts) should exist. The judgement system does not bother with mere mortals and only affect people above a certain level of power (since more powerful people are closer to influencing the fabric of reality, so to speak).

I need help thinking of an in-universe justification for the existence of powerful bad people that isn't bad people rule-lawyering themselves out of punishments. Or why the system doesn't kill some supervillains and not others.

Summary: Heaven punishes bad people directly. Why do powerful bad people survive to continue doing bad things when they should've died on their way to power?

Edit: The question is probably too opinion-based as is. I don't know if this will make it any less opinion-based, but I'll pick the answer based on what seems most plausible (to me) as a reason why a "good" system acting on a benefit analysis of karma would spare bad people. While this does invalidate some answers, it may be helpful for anyone else browsing the site.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 29 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ I'm certain that in a world like that, a whole industry with the purpose of gaming the system would emerge. Let's call it JEO (Judgement Engine Optimisation). $\endgroup$
    – kapex
    Jul 30 at 8:23

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Power protects

The more evil (or good) someone does, the more divine they become themselves. Once a person commits more and more evil acts, people start to fear them more and "belief" in their evildoing, so the same energy / power fueling the divine punishments now shields the bad people. (A king or high priest may be protected the same way, because many people acknowledge their importance.)

In other words: Small acts of wrongdoing only cause slight retributions, which do not kill them or dissuade them from the evil ways (most people might stop / repent after the first time, but this does not work for everyone), but once someone is further down the road to "true evil-doing", their "reputation" protects them.

Optional addition: A community (believers) or a deity (if they exist as sentient beings in your setting) may decide a certain, powerful evil-doer must to be punished, but this expends a larger amount of their belief / power, meaning not all "very bad people" can be punished that way, but some villains will be smited by heavenly wrath.

Think of it as an extension of (among others) Terry Pratchett's Power of Belief, where mortals may be powered by belief the same way as gods.

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Don't Mess With My Toys!

Everybody is "claimed" by at least one deity. You only "judge" your own people because to do otherwise would invite war between deities (which is known to be bad for all participants; mortal and deity alike).

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