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On the problem of killing orcs, etc.

SuperG

Active member
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Since he did not make any such promises, no it does not.

"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".

I didn't quote Demonsbane for whimsy's sake. If it's saying that it will leave Kingdom A alone, but attack people in Kingdom B - it's not addressing "those you're trying to protect" at all.
It's not saying that. Our original sunset illithid only said precisely what I quoted. If you're prepared to discuss things with it further to gain clarification rather than immediately killing it as soon as it finishes saying "I am sated for the evening and mean you no harm. I plan on moving out of your territory before I feed again.", then you are doing exactly what I said should be done;

You are talking and investigating the situation first.


Again, let's use the Orc: "I will not attack you. I leave your lands. Go kill the other humans. Okay?" *splick*

...when he was trying to negotiate and mistakenly assumed you were at war with Kingdom B?


There's a non-aggressive and unusual NPC. Jumping to conclusions and killing them based on that seems really really dodgy. Especially in the context of a campaign, where if the DM just wanted you to fight an illithid they would't bother with the bit about sunsets... but we'll ignore that for now.
 

Elfwine

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Again, let's use the Orc: "I will not attack you. I leave your lands. Go kill the other humans. Okay?" *splick*

...when he was trying to negotiate and mistakenly assumed you were at war with Kingdom B?
The orc that the DM has carefully explained is not the kind of creature that is usually evil and threatening to those who I might be trying to protect, because some orcs are part of a group that my people have traded with, married with, and fought with (depending on occasion), and even allied with against the common enemy of the Lich Lord of the Northern Wastes six hundred years ago?

I don't know this specific orc, but I do know that the orcs of the civilization we haven't named yet are no worse than the humans or dwarves. There might be orcs that are part of the kingdom I belong to, even, this one just happens to be from another one.

Because - well, that's very significant to whether or not "You see an orc. He's not harming anyone." is "He's not harming anyone this instant." or "My PC speaks (language). Addressing him in his native tongue would be polite, right?"

If the DM wants to indicate that illithids "should be treated the same way as people from (kingdom).", but gives no information on illithids past what's in the Monster Manual and the usual D&D sources , and expects "this illithid isn't attacking you this instant, in fact he's saying he won't attack anyone in your territory" to be enough...

It's certainly a much more unclear and fraught way of going about it compared to establishing that illithids are "alien and mysterious, but not necessary evil", I think. And a game where the PCs are meant to be thoughtful and curious (perhaps skeptical, but definitely curious) about aberrations and outsiders as well as humanoids and giants really needs to establish that, IMO.
 
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Gallowglacht

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Some of this is getting into the realms of social contract for the specific game table.
If the players think the DM has flagged Orcs as "evil, don't think about it too much, it's just a game" then it's kind of a dick move to have orcs-as-humans, innocent victims of Human xenophobia, complete with wailing infants in the next room, now orphaned and helpless. I swear half of the old Dragon magazine arguments about Orc babies mainly stemmed from DM laying a sudden guilt trip on players doing exactly what the DM had been encouraging them to do all campaign.
If the theme of the campaign is to make peace by bringing different races together by overcoming their prejudices and realising they all ultimately want a safe world for their children, it is a dick move for the players to have Gimli and Legolas type deathcount competitions as they bag little 15 point units of xp. By the same token, it is a bit of a dick move if the Orcs the players negotiate with instead of killing turn around and burn down a village while laughing at the gullible chump PCs.
 

Elfwine

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I think Gallowglacht put it better than I did.

I would say that for me (very your mileage may vary) having a specific group of orcs (or individual orc) turn around and (try to) burn down a village, in the sense that even if most orcs are can be approached that there are individual orcs (etc.) that will betray you can work without a hitch - but that needs a context of either "this is normal" or "this isn't normal" or the response is going to be about being betrayed by the DM.

The DM doesn't have to tell me everything, but this is necessary.
 
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Dagor

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I think Gallowglacht put it better than I did.

I would say that for me (very your mileage may vary) having a specific group of orcs (or individual orc) turn around and (try to) burn down a village, in the sense that even if most orcs are can be approached that there are individual orcs (etc.) that will betray you can work without a hitch - but that needs a context of either "this is normal" or "this isn't normal" or the response is going to be about being betrayed by the DM.

The DM doesn't have to tell me everything, but this is necessary.
What I find a bit curious is that...well, one could pretty much make that sort of statement about any sort of NPC in general. I mean, nothing exactly stops a hypothetical mixed human/dwarf party with their token elf buddy that the players have encountered from trying to put that village to the torch either. So why is it that the argument always seems to end up getting narrowed down until it can be framed in terms of specifically orcs, or mind flayers, or some other form of explicitly playing the race/species card?
 

ezekiel

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What I find a bit curious is that...well, one could pretty much make that sort of statement about any sort of NPC in general. I mean, nothing exactly stops a hypothetical mixed human/dwarf party with their token elf buddy that the players have encountered from trying to put that village to the torch either. So why is it that the argument always seems to end up getting narrowed down until it can be framed in terms of specifically orcs, or mind flayers, or some other form of explicitly playing the race/species card?
Well, keeping clear that I didn't pick the mindflayer example, I just responded to it:
I think this sort of thing happens because it's trying to establish a common foundation, find a place where the interlocutors agree about the moral situation, so that from there, differences can be discussed, compared, and contrasted. Unfortunately, 99.99999999% of the time, this approach will fail because humans are just like that, we quibble and disagree. (Full disclosure, even though this is one where I'm generally on the "guys this is pretty cut-and-dried" side, I'm usually the one to quibble about damn near everything, so I feel justified in calling my own antics 'quibbling.' :p) So instead of being a useful tool that establishes a nice baseline people can work with, it creates, as we've seen here, an interminable argument over definitions, intuitions, and principles that simply rides on top of the previous one.

So, yeah. I'll state for the record, as I did for one of my players earlier when discussing this:
If mindflayers actually do exist as they're usually described, as literal and genuine obligate sapient-humanoid-brain eaters, where no alternative solution exists, e.g. either humanoids get their brains eaten so mindflayers can live, or mindflayers cease to exist as a species (whether by destruction, magical transformation, or presumptively-magical imprisonment), then peace is impossible. There is no middle ground. There is no genuinely living in peace with mindflayers; their physiology is incompatible with it. Their continued existence is at great cost to humanoids' continued existence, while humanoids' continued existence is at no cost (and, in fact, a significant boon) to theirs. Every self-consistent* ethical framework I can come up with--not utilitarianism, subjectivism/sentimentalism, nor deontological ethics--eventually leads to "it is not moral to permit mindflayers to feed on humanoids," and therefore "it is moral to prevent mindflayers from feeding on humanoids." Worthy of note, I'm claiming that these apply equally to both humans and mindflayers; the assertion is that the only moral choice for a mindflayer is, in fact, to starve to death or seek some means of incapacitation or transformation so it may live without eating brains.

This is, of course, a conditional: it requires that mindflayers actually do need to eat brains, and actually do need only and specifically sapient humanoid brains, and that no other substitute can or will suffice. However, if there really are alternatives, it doesn't seem that very much changes about the given hypothetical. Flayers that do still eat brains when they could eat moss have committed an evil act, or at the very least a distinctly non-good act. E.g. if a flayer's only choice is "kill a humanoid in the next 24 hours or starve to death," because the moss is hard to get or something, they still do an evil thing by killing a human in order to eat its brain. It's an evil thing done in desperation, which makes it..."understandable," albeit not forgivable, in much the same way that a crime of passion killing is considered a lesser form of murder but is still murder, and still punished accordingly.

So that means sunset mindflayer has already confessed to murder. Again, I don't know of any moral value system which says that you definitely should just let a confessed murderer go free simply because he was nice to you, after the murder was already over and done with. Particularly when you have every reason to believe that said murderer will kill again. Yes, it would in fact be true that you should be cautious and not instantaneously assume "oh you're an obligate serial murderer," but you absolutely should be suspicious and cautious. Even if sunset mindflayer didn't actually confess to murder--whether by answering evasively, or by saying (truthfully or not) that they've eaten Soylent Moss instead of an actual brain and thus pose no threat--caution is still warranted. Asking for evidence, such as their supply of moss, or offering (with forceful politeness or polite forcefulness) to escort them to their destination if doing so is at all practical, would very much seem to be warranted.

The aforementioned player in one of my games highlighted an example from a story I've told, one I believe I mentioned earlier in this thread (or maybe it was the other thread): the clan of vampires that my Paladin worked with, who became if not "good" then at least "neutral" and capable of integrating into society. But part of doing that, the absolutely vital part, was discovering a way to sate their needs without causing harm to the citizens. People could petition to become vampires, so no more forced conversion. And the vampires could do work for the city, in exchange for receiving blood tithed to the local temple, because freely-given blood was a gajillion times more enjoyable/nutritious than forcibly taken blood. In effect, our party discovered the vampire equivalent of brain-moss, except it tasted AMAZING instead of bland, so everyone had a REASON to want to work together and work out a solution. And we had a nice, clear break in who was and wasn't a "good" vampire--the ones who fought back against this change were, quite clearly, the ones who wanted to retain all their power and control over the city, while the ones who fought with us (the larger group, I'd like to note) were clearly wiling to make a change.

So yeah. People keep harping on this "you have to learn more, you have to be sure," but my problem is, with "classic version" mindflayers, you are sure. They are all brain-eating monsters who can only live if lots and lots of people (over time) die. Having just looked it up: a minimal-starvation-avoidance mindflayer diet is 1 brain per month, an ideal diet without excess is 1 brain a week, and a typical diet is about a brain every two weeks, plus the occasional splurge when brains are plentiful; further, their lifespan from tadpole on is about 125 years, and they stay in tadpole form for about 10, so you're looking at minimum 12*115 + 1 = 1381 people dead per flayer, more typically 52/2*115 + 1 = 2991, so about 3k people consumed for every flayer, or more than 6k for a gluttonous one--by any human standards, hardcore mass murder.

I guess what I would do, if I were faced with sunset mindflayer in an actual game, is ask for a break and talk to the DM privately. Because I need to know if peace is in fact possible, in a meta sense, as a player. Call it metagaming if you want, but I'm not going to waste my game time on a wild goose chase to save what cannot be saved. And I take on face value that mindflayers really cannot actually be saved. Damn near anything short of that--even vampires--I'm willing to at least try, give them a chance. But mindflayers are just so far out there, so deep in the "their lives are literally predicated on serial murder," that I can't work with it unless I, as a player, know there's a meaningful shot at it working. It doesn't have to be guaranteed--I'm fine with a DM who is open to both being able and not being able to "save" the mindflayers, allowing play to determine which path is real within that campaign. But I need to know that it's not a fool's errand to try. I get rather...upset if being a Truly Good Person is inherently a fool's errand in general, because I genuinely go out of my way to save lives in any game I play, but with mindflayers? They're just so deeply hard-coded as "true evil incarnate."

*I'm excluding hardcore moral relativism in this, because as with hardcore alethic relativism, I find it self-refuting.
 
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DavetheLost

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Validated User
Some of this is getting into the realms of social contract for the specific game table.
If the players think the DM has flagged Orcs as "evil, don't think about it too much, it's just a game" then it's kind of a dick move to have orcs-as-humans, innocent victims of Human xenophobia, complete with wailing infants in the next room, now orphaned and helpless. I swear half of the old Dragon magazine arguments about Orc babies mainly stemmed from DM laying a sudden guilt trip on players doing exactly what the DM had been encouraging them to do all campaign.
If the theme of the campaign is to make peace by bringing different races together by overcoming their prejudices and realising they all ultimately want a safe world for their children, it is a dick move for the players to have Gimli and Legolas type deathcount competitions as they bag little 15 point units of xp. By the same token, it is a bit of a dick move if the Orcs the players negotiate with instead of killing turn around and burn down a village while laughing at the gullible chump PCs.
That is why the Keep on the Borderland Orc babies have always felt like an unfair trap to me. The game (D&D), and the module up to that point, really set Orcs out as "monsters to be killed", suddenly they are people with babies. Babies aren't monsters to be killed. It is a bait and switch. here is nothing inherently wrong with posing the moral koan of the orc babies, but for it to be fair there should be some foreshadowing in the campaign that this sort of question might come up. The same really with sunset Mind Flayer. I have played with plenty of people who would shank him before he got the first word out, because Mind Flayer.

Context matters. Is it a game of black hats and white hats, and heroes kill monsters, and monsters are always bad? Or is it a game of monsters are people too and can have complex motivations? In the former type of game both sunset mind flayer and orc babies do not really fit, especially if they are being presented as moral puzzles. In the latter type of game they are what should be expected from the setting.

It is also worth noting that mind flayers do not actually pose an existential threat to the existence of humanoids. No more so that humans pose an existential threat to the existence of cattle or wheat. Mind flayers need humanoids to feed on and thus continue their own existence, so mind flayers will always assure that humanoids continue to exist. What is not assured is the continued existence of any particular humanoid. Anyone could become lunch at any time.
 

ezekiel

Follower of the Way
Validated User
It is also worth noting that mind flayers do not actually pose an existential threat to the existence of humanoids. No more so that humans pose an existential threat to the existence of cattle or wheat. Mind flayers need humanoids to feed on and thus continue their own existence, so mind flayers will always assure that humanoids continue to exist. What is not assured is the continued existence of any particular humanoid. Anyone could become lunch at any time.
I did specifically exclude "enslaved cattle status" as a valid form of (independent) existence, in my opinion.
 

ZeroSum

Senior Agent
Validated User
It should be noted that any character born in a campaign world where orcs are a regular problem would know from either experience or common knowledge that:

A) Orcs have babies.
B) Said babies are just as psychotically evil as their parents, they just can't do as much about it.
C) Trying to raise them to be Good eventually results in tortured, dead and eaten foster parents (not necessarily in that order) when they are old enough to be able to do something about it.

Little murderous pig-faced humanoid facehuggers, the lot of them.
 

Ithaeur

Relic Unicorn
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If there are any creatures in D&D that it's okay to kill on sight, the mind flayers are that. As mentioned, they're evil in a thousand different ways. And as such, I feel they're something of a distraction here. Sure, we can have a discussion about moral absolutes and conditionals for those who like that kind of stuff, but they seem like an entirely different issue than fighting orcs and such.

Also, I kind of agree with Afterburner Afterburner and others above, that this whole discussion seems more concerned with hypotheticals and thirty-plus year old stuff from the early days of D&D. Modern D&D and Pathfinder are hardly perfect, but "always Evil" orcs, goblins etc. haven't been a thing for close to twenty years if not more (can't remember how the alignments worked in AD&D monster manuals any more), and at least personally, I have neither seen nor heard first-hand accounts of the stereotypically bloodthirsty, "How many XP for the orc babies?" genocidal players in ages.
 
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