On the problem of killing orcs, etc.

DavetheLost

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There is something I am wondering about. What makes an intelligent, social, humanoid in body plan, non-human creature acceptable or unacceptable to kill on sight in D&D? People seem to be arguing that even if declared intrinsically evil by nature orcs should not be morally acceptable to attack and kill on sight as this is problematic. I can however think of at least two types of intelligent (sometimes more intelligent than humans), social, often humanoid in body plan (two arms, two legs, head at the top), generally declared intrinsically evil by nature, non-human creatures that are universally viewed as acceptable, if not imperative, to attack and kill on sight. Can anyone name them, and more importantly explain why it would be nonproblemattc to attack and kill them on sight, but not to attack and kill orcs that were defined to be intrinsically evil on sight?

This is especially germane to D&D where the alignment system makes it possible to declare an entire class of creature to be Evil or Good.
Yes, I know 5e says that the alignments given in the Monster Manual are the default alignment and individual creatures may vary. This leads to the rather interesting possibility fo a Lawful Good Death Knight or Lich, or a Chaotic Good Beholder. Just accept that for the purposes of argument I have declared that all orcs in my campaign world are intrinsically and irredeemably evil from the moment of creation.
 

vitruvian

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There is something I am wondering about. What makes an intelligent, social, humanoid in body plan, non-human creature acceptable or unacceptable to kill on sight in D&D? People seem to be arguing that even if declared intrinsically evil by nature orcs should not be morally acceptable to attack and kill on sight as this is problematic. I can however think of at least two types of intelligent (sometimes more intelligent than humans), social, often humanoid in body plan (two arms, two legs, head at the top), generally declared intrinsically evil by nature, non-human creatures that are universally viewed as acceptable, if not imperative, to attack and kill on sight. Can anyone name them, and more importantly explain why it would be nonproblemattc to attack and kill them on sight, but not to attack and kill orcs that were defined to be intrinsically evil on sight?
I assume this is in the fiction of a D&D setting, not in the real world? If going by general categories, my guesses would be fiends and undead; if individual species or types, maybe mind flayer would be in the running.

As to why some might feel these were okay to attack and kill on sight where even intrinsically evil orcs might not be, for undead you always have the dodge that they're not really alive so it's not actually killing them. For fiends, you just have the greater assurance that they are really, truly intended to be evil by definition and nature, unless you want to get into the concept that oftentimes killing them really just banishes them from this plane. Given the possible counterexamples that start coming to mind, though, I'm not sure either argument really holds up universally.
 

DeathbyDoughnut

a.k.a. Mr. Meat Popcicle
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The main separation of D&D alignments with our reality, is that in D&D law, chaos, evil, and good are forces, just like gravity is in our universe. Evil acts create evil energy, evil creatures committing evil acts creates and continues to create more evil energy, which typically feed evil beings, and even evil realms we call planes. You can read about objective versus subjective alignment in the first section of chapter one in the D&D 3.5 supplement Book of Vile Darkness.

I'll add that another fundamental difference is that death in our reality is generally considered by humans to be evil. Life is good.

Where as in D&D death is a neutral state, dying simply transfers a being's existence from one objective reality to a measurable objective afterlife where the being continues to exist.

This difference is due to the objectivity of D&D. In D&D gods exist. The average mortal can see the works and results of direct godly influence everyday. A mortal may pray to a deity and that mortal may directly receive powers beyond mortal capability. The planes objectively exist that are made up of alignment energy where souls go in their afterlife. This is an objective system. It exists in D&D, mortals know it exists. And even if mortals dont want to believe it exists, they are still subject to these fundamental objective laws of the D&D multiverse.
 
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YojimboC

Thunderball Fists!
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What does "on sight" mean? Like, you stumble upon an orc just smoking his pipe staring off into the distance and its okay to shank him in the appendix because he's a filthy orc? Does anyone actually play like that? Usually when I stumble across an orc, he's already in the middle of doing something evil (like ambushing me) or working for someone evil or otherwise living up to his alignment in some unsavory way.

Even so... I don't think I've ever "killed on sight" anything. I usually have to roll initiative first.
 

DavetheLost

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My contention is that orcs defined as intrinsically evil as part of the reality of a D&D setting are different to orcs in a D&D setting that are only evil because the come from an evil society, serve an evil master etc.

In the real world I don't believe there is a hard wired alignment as a "natural law". There for there are not any races that are intrinsically evil. There are evil people, and can be evil societies, not whole classes of people who can be defined as evil for no fault other than the color of their skin or their national origin. Even people living an evil society may not themselves be evil.

Fiends, specifically demons and devils from older editions (before they were lumped together as fiends) is what I was thinking of. Vampires and other intelligent undead fit the case too.

For undead there is the argument that undeath is fundamentally unnatural and a perversion of life, so it should be eradicated on sight. I can think of words where this might not be the case though.

5e even opens the door to fiends of Good alignment, however unlikely that might be.

I think Vitruvian ht on the crux my argument saying "For fiends, you just have the greater assurance that they are really, truly intended to be evil by definition and nature". I am positing extending this definition to hypothetical orcs.

I recognize that not everyone may want to play in a world of such black and white morality and moral predestination. It also raises the question of why player characters, and by extension, player character races get free choice of alignment, but no other sentients do.

The Basic D&D one axis Law-Neutral-Chaos alignment system that leaves Good and Evil out of the question certainly solves a lot of the problems with alignment.

Much though I like the simple freedom of "orcs are evil, so slaughter them at will" it is hard for me to sustain such a campaign for the long term. It works for a quick, mostly mindless dungeon crawl to blow off steam. Think of dungeon orcs as Space Invaders. But once the game goes beyond that it becomes harder to sustain "all orcs are evil, because they are orcs", "all elves are good because they are elves".

As soon as you can come upon an orc sitting non a boulder by the side of the road, smoking his pipe and staring off int the distance, they become "people" and it is hard to characterize "people" as always being evil. I have a fondness for Tunnels & Trolls which has a whole city populated by the monsters, where they are just people, and it is humans and elves who are viewed as the dangerous outsiders who seem to want to kill decent citizens for no reason.
 

Elfwine

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Just my two cents (hopefully written clearly enough), but:
I think "When is it acceptable to kill another being?" is relevant to this.

If one could play a character who hunts down outlaws (from a kind of creature not "intrinsically and irredeemably evil" by nature) with a "dead or alive" bounty on their heads, there's going to be the potential to run into such outlaws in a situation they're sitting on a boulder and smoking a pipe - is attacking said outlaw "attacking on sight" as far as being problematic or not goes? Or is the fact the outlaw is a known* murderer and so forth different?

Same with "intrinsically and irredeemably evil" orcs, IMO.

* "How do you know he's guilty?" is a lot easier to answer with divination spells and so forth that bring forth true answers instead of just acting on the belief that the authorities aren't lying, too.
 

Marc17

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Depend on the campaign setting. Most of mine, orcs are just like humans and while cultures may have alignments, races do not. In the current one, there is a horde of evil goblins and other humanoids led by orcs, yet there is a half orc NPC in the party (while traveling with dwarves no less), and the party is friends with his father, a full orc. However, even in those campaigns, Evil does not mean Vile. The old farmer with a bad siposition who hates his neighbors and chases after kids on his lands with a stick might be evil, doesn't mean society is just going to let some paladin come along and extrajudicially execute him for no other reason. Even evil creatures can usually be reasoned with.

However, sometimes, you just want color coded dragons and all the lack of responisiblity that comes with it. So in another setting, my orcs are evil, undeniably evil as explained in campaign specific spirtual reasoning. When orcs come into the room, assume its to fight. A lone orc on a rock smoking a pipe would be like a lone SS soldier off smoking a pipe after a day working in the camps. Of course, in the same setting, I switched elves and dwarves alignment axis of importance to law/chaos. Good and evil are just matters of personal taste and localized cultural quirks. It is law and chaos that drives them and how they decide who can be killed without consideration.
 
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Raveled

Hail Tzeentch!
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You could make the argument that there are certain creatures, like liches and vampires and mind flayers, whose diet or life cycle are parasitic. Even a Lawful Good lich Paladin is going to have to eat souls to keep crusading around; leaving one active who is merely sitting around researching spells means that it is, at some point, going to go out and eat someone's soul. And as an adventurer, you had the chance to stop that and didn't.
 
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