On the problem of killing orcs, etc.

DarkStarling

Brilliantly Crazed
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This just...doesn't track with how I, at least, run Good and Evil.

You aren't allowed to obviate the nuance and still call yourself "Good." Crossing that line--declaring that you never need to do any deeper checking, any even cursory effort to ask, "what here is evil"--axiomatically makes you non-Good. It doesn't necessarily make you Evil, but I'd argue it enormously increases the probability that you are. Because unreasoned violence on minimal justification is, itself, an Evil thing.

So yes. Vampires are Evil. But even knowing that, you treat your foes with respect, dignity, and efforts to redeem. Because that's just what you do. If it succeeds, great. If it fails even at the start...sad, but not unexpected. Woe betide one who takes advantage of this generosity and compassion only to happily continue their evil.

(Note, I do allow for *some* amount of "I'm struggling, it's *hard* to fight my innate urges and I fail sometimes but I'm *trying.*" But recidivism is a very serious thing with beings like devils and vampires, which can be cunning and manipulative beyond the abilities of most mortals--meaning they often must be held to extremely high standards. Not impossible, and making the effort to ensure the standard isn't impossible is a Big Deal. But when balancing the amount of harm that a failure of vigilance could cause against the amount of harm caused by excessive judgment, the former looks like a much bigger problem in too many cases for me to be comfortable with more than the bare minimum of leniency. Justice without mercy is tyranny, but "mercy" should not mean "idiocy.")

So...where do I fall in this analysis? Absolute good and evil exist. Absolute good is really easy to lose your connection to, if you fail to uphold the pretty serious requirements. Even an angel can do so--it's just that doing so changes the essence of their being, their very "material," because an outsider's body and soul are not separate things, they are one unit, and a failure to act in keeping with that nature reveals that the nature is not what it had been before (or never was what it appeared to be). "Triangle" is an absolute category, but easy to fail to properly belong to: and to act or have un-triangular features *is* to lose one or more of the exclusive traits that define a "triangle," like having more or less than three sides, or being a closed figure.
I have the same approach. Good and evil being complicated at ground level, and that people can be flawed, does not mean that absolute good and evil don’t exist.

Half-baked idea inspired by a post elsewhere:

All orcs are born evil, because they're the karmic reincarnation of evildoers from various species. But if you kill them as babies, you're denying them the chance to redeem themselves. And if you wiped out all orcs, the cosmos would lose that channel for redeeming evil souls, as they would lack a chance for rebirth.
That’s an interesting idea. Though I’m actually reminded that that’s how some versions of hell work in Buddhism. And some other entities as well.

The issue is that there is a "Detect Evil" spell. Does that spell pinging on someone only tell you that they are selfish and callous to some degree or does it show that they are in the same league as the tyrant?

If a demon is inherently evil, does that mean that they range the full gamut of selfish and callous behavior or are they all monstrous beings that need to be neutralized for the good of all?
I say that it shows that they have a strong affinity to evil. So they may have have good points, just like a good person can have flaws, but overall they’re still a very unpleasant person. Now, if that evil is petty day to day nastiness like the Dursleys or someone who secretly murders someone every few years and is good at faking being normal, well, more information is needed to find out.

So what's the relationship between evil societies and fiends? Do, say, orcs find them friends? Dangerous allies? Monsters to be slain on sight?
I’d say they’d view them as dangerous potential allies. They certainly know they can be useful and may understand their mindset better than they would an Angel. But because of that, they also know that they’re likely going to get screwed by them in the end. On the other hand, they have agendas and desires. Fiends are everyone’s enemy, and they know it. But you might still have shared interests for a while before it inevitably goes pear shaped.

Is it being ridiculous to feel like this topic can really easily slide into the "well, really, it's never "okay" to kill anyone, especially as you're the ones typically intruding on their homes and they're the ones acting in self-defense" territory? I really think that if you drill down too much, you rapidly reach a point where you have to acknowledge that no adventurer who kills sapient beings routinely can aspire to the "Good" alignment.

Put another way, I think that there's a fair bit of tension between "detect evil works like it used to because this is a game and we don't want to feel guilty about our gaming," and "is being okay with killing things really how we ought to spend our leisure time?" That's leaving aside the frequent undercurrent of DMs who dislike detect evil for ruining their plot where the PCs get suckered by the evil official because one detect evil and the game is up.

Personally, I am sympathetic to the idea that anything can be good or evil, (well, there are probably exceptions, but I've seen too damn many "clever" inversions to say for sure) but when you are dealing with the intersection of good vs evil vs selfish and lethal force, it feels like I rapidly end up in the mindspace of "you know, I actually don't want to play this game anymore, because this is a Big Deal, and that's kinda not what I'm here for." That may be related to me really preferring to play the role of a paragon, of trying to play one, and "there is no good, and there is no evil, just people" really tends to undercut that severely.

Then again, I've also seen situations where making what felt like the right choice at the time is shown later to have been unambiguously the wrong choice, and I hate being made to feel like a piece of shit, which is what happens when it's pointed out.
I think this comes down to, essentially, different constructions of morality and how you believe it works. There are constructions of Good where fighting can be acceptable, even admirable, if there’s no other option.

The one that works for this basically comes down to motivation. Why are you fighting? Is it because you hate your enemies, or to protect your friends? Did you try to avoid this, and are you merciful when you can be? Those are the kind of questions you have to ask.

If anyone’s interested in finding a discussion of this in a really odd place, there’s the mlp fanfic Memoirs Of My War. It’s pretty short but it’s all about the idea of morality, war, and how it affects people. I’d recommend it just because it’s a perspective you don’t often see.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/422174/memoirs-of-my-war
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
Validated User
Why are you fighting? Is it because you hate your enemies, or to protect your friends? Did you try to avoid this, and are you merciful when you can be?
Some of this was what I was getting into with my "remorseful killer" post. And then when enemies that can be categorically stated to never be redeemable come up the choice to be merciful can feel like it doesn't really mean anything. Not everyone has to feel that way, but at least it applies to me.
 

ESkemp

Registered User
Validated User
There are a lot of different ways to determine what you think makes for a meaningful decision in-game. For some people, it's character lethality -- the choice of whether to do the risky thing or not loses meaning if death isn't a specific potential failure condition. For others, it can be resource tracks -- if the only thing worth spending your gold on is equipment upgrades, then spending gold is more of a rote process than a meaningful decision. The question of dealing with potentially redeemable foes can easily be another potential track -- if you just fight enemies that you're supposed to kill and that will never respond to a nonlethal approach, that also disables a track of potentially meaningful decisions.

I'm a strong advocate of going up against enemies that aren't automatically kill-on-sight irredeemably evil, because I also like the question of "what if we try to reach these guys?" Now, of course, for that to be a meaningful choice there should probably be times when it's a bad idea -- sometimes because it costs you extra time or resources to make the effort, sometimes because there are enemies that aren't going to respond to that. Even then, there's nothing wrong with a campaign where lethal force is always the right answer (like, say, demon invasion) or where it's never the right answer (like, say, four-color Comics Code superheroes), as long as the players feel their choices matter on a regular basis on some track or another. For overall D&D, though, I personally think you get the most out of having the regular option to try showing mercy -- if for no other reason than the paladin whose armorer is a redeemed fire giant is a little more interesting than the paladin who has a trophy from a dead fire giant on his wall.
 

Elfwine

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There is definitely the question of "attempt to use lethal force, but accept surrenders."

If every fight you go in using the lethal side of the blade ends with the lethal side of the blade, that's a lot simpler (and less about mercy, sympathetic foes, or redemption) than if someone has the option mid-fight to say "I give up, you take prisoners right?"/to offer quarter when further killing would just add to the death toll but not change that the objective has been met.

Just thinking aloud here on how much one has to commit to "violence is the only solution" to truly eliminate mercy/redemption scenarios.
 
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DarkStarling

Brilliantly Crazed
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And part of that, of course, involves having a reputation of actually TAKING prisoners. One more reason to keep a bard, make sure everyone knows you prefer the 'Or Alive' part of the wanted poster.
 

Elfwine

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Depending on what the PCs are, you might not even need a personal reputation there - if that's just assumed of Knights of the Blue Rose, you don't need to be known individually at all (though it won't hurt to be known for exempifying their ideals).

Setting building concerns matter a lot here, IMO.
 

Shade the Lost

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Depending on what the PCs are, you might not even need a personal reputation there - if that's just assumed of Knights of the Blue Rose, you don't need to be known individually at all (though it won't hurt to be known for exempifying their ideals).

Setting building concerns matter a lot here, IMO.
One of which concerns is a justice system in the setting that is more aimed at rehabilitation than the more, uh, classic options. That is, if the penalty for most criminal activities is hanging or worse, it's unsurprising if bandits will take and give little quarter.
 

Elfwine

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One of which concerns is a justice system in the setting that is more aimed at rehabilitation than the more, uh, classic options. That is, if the penalty for most criminal activities is hanging or worse, it's unsurprising if bandits will take and give little quarter.
Also, pardons are a thing. It would not be ahistorical (so far as that means anything in a fictional world) to have criminals offered pardons if they agree to fight for the Crown, or have done some great service to the kingdom, or...whatever you can come up with, even if bandits who refuse to accept such terms are hung if captured (and convicted) and can be killed in battle without it being legally murder.

If one is going with the classic options, its good to consider that it makes perfect sense in the day to offer a pardon for pirates who cease their crimes and fight their former colleagues or other nations.
 
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