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On the problem of killing orcs, etc.

vitruvian

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I haven't ignored it at all. I'm merely unconvinced that the fact that mindflayers need to kill humans to live and propagate makes them objectively evil, and restating it repeatedly doesn't make the argument more convincing. It does make mindflayers enemies of humanity, yes. It makes it prudent for humans to kill mindflayers on sight. But mindflayers have apparently zero choice about their need to prey on humans, so that in itself is insufficient to make them evil.

(also, given that mindflayers rely on humans for sustenance and reproduction, they aren't a complete existential threat to our species since they'll die out without us)

There's definitely an asymmetry, agreed. I'm not sure it's particularly moral, but if you insist to read morality into the asymmetry then in most moral systems I'm familiar with, and evil act committed due to the need to survive is less objectionable than an evil act committed based on the expectation that the target of the evil act will do bad stuff to you in the future.

Furthermore, if we apply the reasoning that the nature of the mindflayers make them an existential threat to humanity (agreed), and that this justifies humans attacking mindflayers on sight and exterminating them as a species (also agreed), that makes human an existential threat to mindflayers. If exterminating those who are existential threats to you is inherently good or evil, then that makes mindflayers and humans equivalently good or evil (on that count, at least). If there is some sort of differentiation due to mindflayers having no inherent choice while humans are not strictly required to kill mindflayers (i.e. they are obligated by morality, not by satisfying base survival needs), that would tend to make the mindflayers slightly less evil than humans I'd think - at least normally we tend to ascribe less moral approbation to evil deeds done when there is no choice, versus once committed while alternative options were available.

The bottom line is that we agree that the mindflayer eats brains because it has to, and that's as far as it goes. In my eyes that is as morally neutral as any other inalterable fact of nature, that is to say neither good or evil (so maybe it's an evil to be put at the feet of a theoretical creator deity). If we must apply morality to inalterable facts of nature, we can't (at least from where I sit) start with the conclusion ("we are good while they are evil"). If our morality concludes that exterminating existential threats to a species has a particular moral value, then that value should apply consistently.
Let's bring this back to particulars.

Here are some mind flayers. They eat humanoid brains.

Over here are some perfectly unobjectionable humanoids. Maybe they're even children.

If you don't act to prevent it, the mind flayers will eat some of those humanoids, i.e., commit murder. Stopping that from happening is objectively good.

Your means of stopping it doesn't necessarily have to be killing them - if you're a powerful enough mage or mages to put the mind flayers in an enchanted eternal sleep, or turn them to stone, or True Polymorph them and make it permanent and keep them as tchotchkes on the shelf or make them humans or rabbits or something, that's fine - but for most PCs faced with this situation, the means of stopping the mind flayers from committing murder, mass murder over time, is going to be to kill them with the means at hand. True, you could subdue them nonlethally, but even if you have the means to hold them without their powers allowing for a very real risk of escape, that may just be condemning them to a slow death as they starve, so not really doing them any favors - again, unless you have access to powerful magics which allow for rendering them not a threat on a permanent or at least an until dispelled basis.


And whatever means you choose to use to prevent them from eating people's brains, it should be either permanent or close to it, otherwise you're just delaying the problem of mind flayer defense and perhaps shifting it over to another realm that they'll find an easier skull to crack - which means the problem may compound itself as they successfully reproduce by turning humanoid bodies into more mind flayers.
 

vitruvian

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There's always a calculus. You're the sheriff of a town. A mind flayer comes through and says it won't be eating any brains, but refuses to disclose anything further. You and your deputies can engage it and probably die, or take it at its word and not engage. There are a number of possible "non-evil" courses of action here. If the mind flayer says it has a sustainable means to avoid eating brains, that probably weighs on the "do not engage" side- if you believe it. And so on. I would say the appropriate "heroic" course(s) of action depend heavily on other factors of the situation.

Back in the AD&D1 days, I was a DM of the "paladins don't have to throw their lives away" school, and although the rules about paladins have changed somewhat, I'd still take that position today.
Of course, all this is adding the additional element of whether you're realistically capable of taking the thing on at the moment. It doesn't necessarily illuminate much about what your moral position should be on how to treat it if you do have the capability to either kill it or leave it alone depending on what you think is right.
 

ThurstonShadwick

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I created a Lich NPC that had a system for collecting souls and weeding down to only the irredeemably evil. He consumed those because it was denying the Hells and the Abyss warriors.

It was a very complicated process that required some custom modifications to existing spells, but I felt it kept him on the line of neutrality.
 

Elfwine

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Sure. But if it's really just passing through, you have to at least acknowledge the possibility of letting it go because that's the "least worst" choice open to you. You don't have to like it, of course. But if you're, say, a 2nd level fighter, and you've got four 1st level deputies, I don't like your odds against a mind flayer. If it attacks a passing citizen, you have to try to stop it anyway. But if it says it's going to behave, behaves, and leaves, I can see an argument for just letting it go.
If it doesn't attack a passing citizen, I might still inform those stronger than myself who are part of the protectors - passing paladins, for example - that an illtihid is in the area, with the expectation and hope of them doing what I can't.

Is that "let it go"? Asking to make sure we don't argue over a quibble there.

The thing I feel I'm not communicating is that sure - it's not really acceptable to just let them go kill some other dudes. That's passing the buck, heroes don't do that.


But if he's willing to compromise that far - and that's a big step for a gosh darn illithid - that's a sign that either this specific illithid, or maybe even all illithid, are not as bad as they are in a standard universe's portrayal of them.


Like sure. Tell them "No. Not cool." and take it from there. But use words, not swords, to tell them that.
In a word? No.

This isn't like if an orc who worships A and my dwarf who worships B both approach a site that for different reasons is sacred to both of us, and I know that A-worshippers and B-worshippers have intermarried and fought and traded and - all the various things that mean that we might be able to come away from this with a new friend or a "I hope we do not meet as foes next time." "As do I." but unable to end whatever conflict is going on at this time.

Picking this because I find tragic conflict where both sides can respect the other as honorable enemies to be more interesting than "It's a monster, kill it kill it kill it!" if I had to pick the default tone for the kind of characters I like playing and the kind of challenges I like facing.

I like having some beings that - either highly immoral humanoids, or demons and such - don't fit into that, but I'd be thrilled if someone set up a orcs (and others) vs. dwarves (and others) that had more of that kind of struggle and less of "the dwarves are good, so what they do is okay/the orcs are evil, what they do is wrong." and no potential for these things.

Of course, facing evil sorcerers who deal with demons is good too, but it works best when that' represents something both A and B can find abhorrent, IMO, rather than the conflict of A and B above.

*looks them up*

Cool song, and now I suddenly want to read some Lackey.
There are a bunch of cool songs related to that, and now that you mention it I should read some myself. I know the music better than the novels.
 
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rakehell

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If it doesn't attack a passing citizen, I might still inform those stronger than myself who are part of the protectors - passing paladins, for example - that an illtihid is in the area, with the expectation and hope of them doing what I can't.

Is that "let it go"? Asking to make sure we don't argue over a quibble there.
If you have the opportunity to do that, that sounds prudent.

What I'm trying to argue against is the (strawman) position that, if you're a good person, it's morally incumbent on you to lead with your face, because I don't believe that. More importantly, it can make for some unpleasant gaming.
 

SuperG

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If it doesn't attack a passing citizen, I might still inform those stronger than myself who are part of the protectors - passing paladins, for example - that an illtihid is in the area, with the expectation and hope of them doing what I can't.

Is that "let it go"? Asking to make sure we don't argue over a quibble there.



In a word? No.

If this is a "big step for a gosh darn illtihid" - I don't think you could make it clearer that there is no scenario in which it could be reasonably treated as a non-threat.
We now examine two parallel worlds:

One where our noble hero immediately draws their sword and cleaves the monster in twain.
XP is received, encounter ends.

One where our noble hero keeps their sword sheathed for one minute longer and says "No. That's not acceptable."
The illithid replies "It's not?"
The Hero says "Really, it's not."
The illithid replies "Really? The last gentleman I asked said he was fine with that."
The Hero says "Really, it's not. Killing people just to eat them is wrong."
The illithid says "Really? Even if they're that gnoll army that's invading your lands?"
The Hero says "...it might be okay to eat the gnolls, but eventually you're going to need to eat innocent people and that's morally unacceptable."
The illithid says "...I am? That's frightfully rude. I'll have you know I'm a committed militarian; I only eat people who attack innocent people unprovoked."
The Hero says "...you do realize you're going to starve to death eventually, right?"
The illithid says "I find that unlikely and am prepared to roll those dice."
The Hero says "Really. You're prepared to starve to death for your principles?"
The illithid says "In the past twenty-four hours on the surface of this Prime I've discovered seventeen bandits, two ogres chasing a small child and a remarkably delicious grell. Honestly, I'm more worried that my stomach will explode. But yes."
The Hero says "...well you're still a threat to my survival."
The illithid says "...you're the one who's been thinking about cutting me in half for the entire duration of this conversation. I know this, because I'm telepathic."
The Hero says "...you EAT people!"
The illithid says "...well if you're going to fixate on that, I suppose we could quest to find a cure or something."
The Hero says "...really?"
The illithid says "Hey, you've gone this long without trying to kill me. I estimate a 75% probability I would be justified in trusting you to not stab me in the back. As it so happens, there's rumours of a plant called brain moss... here, I've been collecting scrolls and maps on the topic. Let me lay it out."
The Hero says "...you do realize you're utterly unlike any other illithid I've ever heard of, let alone met, right?"
The illithid says "Not terribly surprising. The Elder Brains usually execute anyone who deviates far enough from our cultural norms to adopt what you would term a
'Good Alignment'. Which is a very bad thing, and I actually have some loosely sketched out plans for how to overthrow them... but shhh. Brain Moss first, right?"

And so began a campaign.


Edit: I've never argued for anything more than "you should keep talking and investigating because that situation sounds weird, and withhold stabbings until you know the full story unless you have access to resurrection spells that could bring back the friendly aberration that's peacefully chatting to you in an unusually chill manner".
 

Elfwine

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If you have the opportunity to do that, that sounds prudent.

What I'm trying to argue against is the (strawman) position that, if you're a good person, it's morally incumbent on you to lead with your face, because I don't believe that. More importantly, it can make for some unpleasant gaming.
I would probably broadly agree.

I do think it's important that heroes are willing to take chances - but there's all the difference in the world between "If it would save the lives of the villagers, I'm willing to do it." and "Did someone say suicide mission?"

We now examine two parallel worlds:
Pass.

I'm not terribly interested in the world of "you should assume that the being making no effort at compromise, who thinks actively indicating it will commit harm to those you're trying to protect is a big step towards 'common ground', has bent over backwards and inside out for you", whether it's the illithid or the halfing merchant who is trying to sell me silk at a price higher than his half -orc rival with the handsome son that I've flirted with when his mother (the second silk seller) isn't watching


I mean, one of those involves being cheated. The other involves comparing forms of poetry between the two kingdoms, maybe getting a kiss, and getting a much better price for silk.

It's not really much of a decision.


The illithid says "...I am? That's frightfully rude. I'll have you know I'm a committed militarian; I only eat people who attack innocent people unprovoked."
To be more on topic: If your hypothetical illithid introduced himself with "Peace, I'm not going to attack you or those you're trying to protect, I only attack those who have attacked the innocent." , I might have different feelings about this. Especially if it's been made clear to me as a player that the DM likes having gray areas and complications and few invariably evil monsters (even if he's made no specific statement on illtihids).

"Him talking to you at all is a huge compromise on his part" doesn't sound much at all like a fun campaign, which is why we have the otherwise irrelevant silk merchants.

I can't speak for everyone else's idea of interesting or engaging, let alone "delightfully in depth" as opposed to mind numbingly over-detailed, but I can speak for my own feelings about how little the illithid has offered besides "not being rash" as of the point of "What do you do in response?"
 
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kenco

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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.
I'm with you there. It makes sense to me that they might be defined as one or the other. So might elves. So might humans. That might change how PC alignments work - even possibly bar some classes in some editions - but... why not?
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.
Gotcha. I'm not even certain that real world individuals can be absolutely and irredeemably evil, let alone societies.
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.
Yep. There are probably other intelligent, evil humanoid categories in D&D too. To me the humanoid form is not that essential. Intelligent self awareness and agency are the criterion for me, and D&D has this kind of entity in abundance.
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.
Also there is the technicality that you are arguably not killing anything if the thing you are 'de-animating' is already technically 'not really living'.

It doesn't, by the way, strike me as persuasive that just because something is unnatural it should be eradicated. To me the issue seems more likely to hinge on the question of whether the entity was capable of good. I think the argument is that because of its (un)nature, undead are not capable (even perhaps their positive intentions notwithstanding) of 'doing good'. But it might be that the mere existence of the creature leads inevitably to 'more evil in the world'. Problems abound... :oops:
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.
Gotcha. Although there is always the question of who in the universe is doing the 'defining' of evil by nature. As players we can define them from outside the universe, but can the moral actors in the universe claim the same kind of knowledge?

In our own real world it is people who do the defining of people's 'alignments', and such defining by interested parties is always suspect. In the game, the definitions are imposed from outside, by the players. How the players' definition relates to characters' various definitions of the same terms is not much explored. I guess the existence of spells like 'Know Alignment' might contribute to answering this question.
I recognize that not everyone may want to play in a world of such black and white morality and moral predestination.
Yep.
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.
Arguably player characters do not choose their own alignments? They are born or raised with them?

As an aside, I seem faintly to recall OD&D allowed a variety of alignments for a few 'monsters' (e.g. centaurs? spring to mind). But since OD&D expressly allowed the possibility of playing monsters as characters, perhaps that is the same case.
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.
Although it doesn't answer your question about why some intelligent types get a 'choice' and others don't.

Also, a variety of alignments within a 'named kind' doesn't necessarily mean that individual members of that kind (including PCs) have any choice of alignment. It might be (as you allude) a matter of pre-destination: me? I was just born Chaotic, you know. (I can also imagine a sage arguing that 'men' [sic] are really three distinct 'races' - 'lawful men', 'neutral men' and 'chaotic men' - that are mistaken for one because they happen to look exactly the same (except for their objectively verifiable alignment and behaviour) and interbreed in unpredictable ways.)

Your main point stands. PCs do seem to be a special case, in that they are able (in some editions?) to change their alignment by their decisions. But do they really have any choice about this? Or does it only seem so? A Girdle of Alignment Change... what does THAT do?
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".
This partly relates to the kind of sophistication you want in your game, I guess. It seems to me that D&D has always had a tension between the fantastic and the naturalistic. It's quite noticeable with monsters and the concern about their 'ecology' or their economics and other cultural aspects. But also with e.g. how traps work in practice. The game becomes richer in a certain way if you attend to these things. But people still want their characters to cast spells, meet 'monsters' and get more powerful by 'earning experience' in a way that is hard to explain in a naturalistic way.

Black and white morality is simple and suits a certain kind of tale. The more world-like I want to make the game, the less satisfying that model becomes, because it accords less with my experience of the world, in which that moral certainty is not available to me and the real people I know don't see it that way. And I don't want real people to think that I might really think about 'others' in that way.

These are primarily out-of-game concerns, about my experience as a player.

I suppose the main in-game problem is with the idea of a certain kind of Good-aligned character slaughtering possibly innocent (i.e. not Evil) individual orcs. I see no problem with an Evil-aligned character doing that: the slayer is evil, after all. If you take 'Chaotic' to its logical limit, no conduct is out of bounds (although a law-like 'ALWAYS kill on sight' might seem aberrant). Certain lawful characters ('I made a solemn vow') might do so. Certain 'neutral' characters might too - for example for the sake of honour, glory, winning approval, vengeance, fear, prudence, greed or ecological balance.

Alignment and its interpretation is always a complex area in D&D, and the published guidance seems to have varied from edition to edition. If we were thinking AD&D, I can imagine a Lawful Good character killing orcs on sight based on the balance of probability. Nearly all orcs are evil. Why place at greater risk the lives of individuals you know to be good for the sake of the small probability that one or two members of this group might NOT be evil. Heck, some Lawful Good characters might be able to make an argument for killing other Lawful Good characters based on their visible and different affiliations. This requires an unsophisticated reading of Lawful Good, which might might seem wilful, I suppose.
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 see what you mean. Once you humanise an orc, it seems less humane to kill it out of hand. But perhaps if orcs were truly and always evil, you would never find one sitting on a boulder by the side of the road etc.?

Strangely, I can imagine a vampire or certain kinds of fiends doing the same wistful smoking act, without it detracting from my sense of their evilness. A certain smooth and clever kind of evil creature can easily have a humane appearance. Since the stereotype of orcs is not smooth and clever, it jars. But if you change the stereotype (can you do that without changing the orc into something else?), so that orcs are a romanticised, sophisticated evil, like some versions of a vampire, the wistfully smoking orc might seem no less evil than any other.

If you can't change the stereotype without making the orc into something else, then imagining orcs as more complex than just plain evil also makes them into something else: not the same kind of 'orc' at all.

But that was the starting point of your post. Two kinds of orc-definitions.

I'm not sure what I think about this issue. I suspect you're right, the simple kind of orc is less interesting in the long run than the complex kind.
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.
Hah!

I really do think it hinges, as you said, on whether your campaign has absolutes of good and evil; and if it does, whether orcs are believed to have agency in that, and which side they fall on.

It's also important whether your characters have direct and absolute knowledge about these topics, or whether they believe they do, and what they do know or believe about them. Even if all your characters believe all orcs are absolutely evil and it is morally best to kill them on sight, they might all be mistaken. Or vice versa.
 
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SuperG

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Point of order: the original hypothetical:

He tells you that he's sated for the evening and means you no harm, and plans on moving out of your territory before he feeds again. So he's not going to hurt you or anyone you care about.
So

who thinks actively indicating it will commit harm to those you're trying to protect is a big step towards 'common ground'
is false; the sunset illithid has already said that it won't commit harm to what it presumably considers those you're trying to protect.
In fact, that's pretty much literally the only thing he's said to you.


Does that change anything for you?
 

Elfwine

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is false; the sunset illithid has already said that it won't commit harm to what it presumably considers those you're trying to protect.
In fact, that's pretty much literally the only thing he's said to you.


Does that change anything for you?
"I'm going to move out of your territory before feeding again." is not even in sight of "I'm not going to harm those you're trying to protect".

If he's saying that he will leave Kingdom A alone, but he may feed on the people in Kingdom B...well, I think Vanyel remains relevant.

Edited a little to focus on the basics, and to snip something snarkier than intended.
 
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