[4E D&D] Justifying Murder

edited April 2009 in Story Games
Don't get me wrong about this, I think 4E is a fun game. I'm just looking for a way to look at the whole "kill and loot" concept with a framework that doesn't make me cringe. I have two ideas so far:

You ARE criminals - In a setting where you are members of a criminal organization, murder and betrayal are common. You can only survive by protecting yourself and keeping yourself protected. You can never truly leave this criminal world, and your kill and loot methodologies are considered criminal. This might work best for games where you're mainly facing intelligent races. Maybe Planescape?

Killing Monsters is like Busting Ghosts - Something makes monsters spawn in this world, and it is up to the athletic and adventurous to save us all from them. Each dungeon might be a home built by something alien like:
  • the cracked pieces of a meteor swarm, embedding themselves in the earth, generating a weird, malign magical force
  • either the video game Okami where the environment and humanity poison each other until the source is removed or the DitV idea where pride leads to all sorts of sins that might just manifest into murderous creatures
Other ideas for a fun setting that resolves the dissonance of heroes that murder and loot?


  • I read a series of books where monsters were the leftovers of a wizards war that tore the world apart. Critters like Ogres and Goblins and such literaly were made of ectoplasm, and the main character was a wizard who specialized in capturing/containing/destroying such things.
  • The default points of light setting in 4E is pretty good at addressing this. It’s pretty horrific! I was quite surprised. Essentially the world is ancient with civilizations built upon civilizations. Most of the world is consumed by chaos, evil, and rage. There are few areas of safety, the points of light, where civilized people not consumed by this chaos gather for their own survival. But these points of light are rare, fleeting, and vulnerable.

    Adventurers can be defenders against the encroaching darkness, treasure hunters, or both. Since you’re practically drowning (if it wasn’t for that makeshift raft that’s starting to snap) in an ocean of evil that wants to rip your skin off and wear while it eats your family, it’s not too hard to create situations that justify the D&D experience.

    In general, I try to stay away from monsters like goblins. They feel too civilized in some ways! I try to think of the opposition as cthulhu type monstrosities. And goblins don’t quite fit that for me. And since the outside world is literally kingdom built upon kingdom, treasure is a plenty. Looting bodies is generally pretty fruitless (you acquire so much money so quickly that only magic items tend to be worth your wild) that it tends to be more about finding ancient forgotten artifacts of a time long past.
  • Hmm, maybe that would be interesting ... the tides of darkness, once repelled, could leave behind the ruins or natural areas they were inhabiting allowing the residents of the heroes' village or town to expand and increase their "point of light". Manifest Destiny + magic weapons?
  • You'll hear more about my Metrocalypse thing, because I can't shut up about it.

    In Metrocalypse, a normal city from some time in Earth's past gets sucked into the D&D universe. Monsters swarm the city. Jungle (or desert or your choice of impassable terrain) floods the streets. Lots of people die.

    Then a few special citizens start exhibiting special powers (D&D races and classes). They are the heroes.

    Justification for murder? Survival. If you don't kill these things, you will die. They will kill you, your family, and your friends. Your community is hanging by a thread as it is. A silo of unspoiled grain is a bigger treasure than 10,000 gold pieces. A source of clean water is better loot than a holy avenger +5.

    If you need more justification, realize that you are protecting your home. You didn't ask for the monsters to climb over the walls and start smashing down your house. You didn't invite the undead into your tavern and smithy. You were minding your own business, going to church, making a living, tending your garden. Those fuckers started it, and now you're going to end it.

    I am running Metrocalypse: Oxford 1605 at Camp Nerdly.
  • I like monsters to be crazy demon creatures, chaos beings, humans corrupted by darkness, etc.

    The other idea, which I was thinking about recently, was doing the Redwall thing where PC races are herbivores/omnivores while the marauding villains are carnivores. Conflict is really about trying not to get eaten. Carnivores aren't evil, per say, just hungry and focused on their own survival more than yours.
  • Here's a few non-murder related reasons to throw down in D&D. (Ok, actually some of these are murder, but socially acceptable murder, like warfare.)

    • PCs are a commando military unit engaged in border raids and reconnaissance missions.
    • Same thing, different reason: PCs are freedom fighters.
    • PCs are a search and rescue unit, hired by outsiders or a government.
    • Orcs, goblins, and the like are beings of worth. They hate the smooth-skinned races because they don't have land of their own, and so they are generally enemies of the PCs. Just deal with this in play and establish that murder's not socially acceptable, but warfare is. (Monsters that are unnatural aren't beings of worth: slay the cake out of a beholder. Unnatural beings don't have children.)
    • The world is a giant dungeon that a sadistic, cruel overlord puts creatures of all types into, and only lets the first group who can survive and make their way to the gate out live. Others in the maze aren't evil, but they're your competition. (This gives awesome reasons to have constant fights and then to sometimes team up with enemies.)
  • Since I'm thinking about running a 4E group for Nerdly, the best one-shot rallying point for me may very well be the military/freedom fighter route.

    Thanks for all the good ideas!
  • edited April 2009
    My players deal with it by roleplaying themselves as crazed murderous bastards. Works surprisingly well, although it's not the way to go if you want to avoid the concept of murdering innocent kobolds. (But keep in mind there is no such thing as an innocent kobold- they eat babies you know)
  • Or you could just, you know, not murder anyone.

    When you reduce an enemy to 0 HP, you get to choose if they are unconscious for the rest of the fight or if they are dead. So you're only murdering if you the player choose to murder. In some of the games I have played we really have taken this decision seriously: murdering someone is a significant moral act, and has consequences, while keeping them alive has different consequences.

    In other games, we just followed the tropes of heroic fiction, wherein Luke can murder dozens of stormtroopers without a moral qualm, but killing Darth Vader would be a significant moral failing and such.
  • I hadn't thought about the faceless stormtrooper part of it. I guess the descriptions that people have been making at the game table about visceral slicing and dicing have made it too real to think of faceless harmless knock out.
  • The Wire

    Oh, Nick jogged my memory.

    Remember a while back, when I talked about my "The Wire" hack for 4E? We just heavily leaned on that much-forgotten rule that you can choose to incapacitate, rather than kill, an opponent when you reduce them to zero hit points or less. The D&D detectives and cops "incapacitated" (read: slammed up against walls and shackled) a lot of perps that way, and if they killed anyone at all, it was purposeful (at least at the metagame, story-telling level).

    The challenges of not-killing

    The problem with not-fatal defeats is that it leads to a prisoner "problem." If you're in the dungeon, it's tactically difficult to leave enemies behind. They come back to get you. Or they dehydrate and starve to death if you leave them there. Or other monsters get them and eat them. There are additional moral dilemmas imposed on players who don't want to kill.

    I've seen some hand-waving techniques to solve these problems. Captured enemies never escaped, never got hurt or starved, and were easily transported back to town for trial and jail. Some DMs supplied magic items that tossed captured enemies into a pocket dimension -- a sort of stasis -- for safe and easy transport. Or a magic item that could forcibly change a monster's alignment ("curing" them of their evil -- this might tweak the moral buttons for some people, though, and rightfully so).

    You can also make captured enemies very valuable to PCs. Make every captured enemy give up useful information willingly (without torture! geez!).

    Ultimate Justification

    I don't think anyone has really said it though. Why justify? D&D comes with its own built-in justification: Evil. In the Good vs. Evil sense. Evil creatures (especially the non-humanoid kind) are irredeemably Evil. There is no fixing them. They will not stop committing Evil acts. Not stopping them will result in death and despair, and failure to try to stop them is morally questionable in itself. They cannot be reasoned with, and violence is the only answer to their violence. They must be killed.

    Of course, murdering Unaligned monsters so you can take their stuff is pretty Evil, right?
  • I think the real problem is not me having trouble with the murder, exactly, but more that since the system is geared towards the murdering, *I* need a mindframe where I don't internally beg the players to choose some other way of dealing with the scene.

    Does that make sense?
  • I know in DC Heroes you would only enter Killing Combat if you suggested it, and you automatically lost half of your Hero Point award for the adventure if you initiate Killing Combat yourself. If someone initiated Killing Combat on you and you refuse to enter Killing Combat in retaliation (there was no penalty for defending yourself by trying to kill someone trying to kill you) you actually gained a bonus to your HP. However, if you killed someone, you gained no HP for the adventure... you simply weren't considered heroic in your actions.

    Now, later that was modified to allow GMs to set the genre of the game. Obviously guys like Vigilante and the Punisher could kill people and still gain HP, so you could tweak those controls based on the morality of your game setting.

    It is an interesting approach, but if you really want players to look at different ways to handle combat and conflicts, I would look at giving them bonuses for not killing opponents as opposed to penalties for killing opponents, more of a carrot-than-stick approach. You can influence your players actiions to a degree simply by building those rewards into the game.

  • Mark, I don't really say this very often, but you might be better off with a different game.

  • Mark,

    Don't award XP for killing. Award XP for overcoming challenges without killing.
    That stops the begging. That doesn't change your internal mindframe, though.
  • It's more like I just want a mindframe I can step into to allow the game to flourish.

    War-time is a great way of doing it.
  • edited April 2009
    I use two "set aside morals" justifications in a campaign that is generally about "grey moral issues in between".

    - wartime a big part of it - the PC's are all soldiers in a military unit and some encounters are formal military missions, the other side is "the other side" so sneaking up and opening fire is just fine (though generally surrenders are to be accepted)

    - a major monster menace is some sort of "crazy goblins" with a few other types of creature afflicted by same "madness" that makes them cooperate with each other but be ruthless vs others, never surrender, never break under interrogation (what this is all about/who what drives this is a mystery the players created in campaign set up). [though they're not, think of them as the "zombies" in zombie movies or the 'ghosts of mars' menace]

    - some other villains are evil cultists.

    Otherwise, moral quandries are expected.

  • I don't know if this helps, but historically, medieval and ancient people really didn't flinch much at torture and murder. Maybe a bit of Sim?
  • Posted By: Adam Dray

    Justification for murder? Survival. If you don't kill these things, you will die. They will kill you, your family, and your friends. Your community is hanging by a thread as it is. A silo of unspoiled grain is a bigger treasure than 10,000 gold pieces. A source of clean water is better loot than a holy avenger +5.
    It's The Road done in D&D.
  • Posted By: jenskot
    Adventurers can be defenders against the encroaching darkness, treasure hunters, or both. Since you’re practically drowning (if it wasn’t for that makeshift raft that’s starting to snap) in an ocean of evil that wants to rip your skin off and wear while it eats your family, it’s not too hard to create situations that justify the D&D experience.
    See, reading PoL in the D&D books, I felt like that's what they were trying to go for, but they didn't push it far enough. They need to hire you to write! This makes me want to do some slaughterin'.
  • I pretty much deal with two ways.

    1. The vast majority of monsters are just that: monsters. They're not another kind of people, they're something that can't be reasoned with, can't be negotiated with, and wants things that are fundamentally inimical to civilization. In some cases, I refluff aggressively to get to that point - for example, my "orcs" are humans who have been corrupted with demon blood and turned into insane horrors. Killing them is a mercy.

    2. For other cases, I just go with the general note concept that this is a world without the same attachment to due process, rights, and dignity as ours, in which an enemy left alive is a terrible liability. It's wrong to just march into a random kobold warren and start slaughtering, but 95% of the time, the only reason you'd do it is because you're at war, or there's a specific reason to do so. Random violence is unacceptable, but organized violence is pretty much par for the course for all but the most virtuous and civilized. For one thing, it makes deciding to put that "Lawful Good" on your character sheet really mean something.
  • I'm in on the "war" boat. I get the ookies whenever I need to kill a goblin who is talking to me, especially if it's in the goblin's own home. If that same goblin is a soldier of sorts, then I can still channel that angst, but I know he's the enemy. When I run D&D I almost always "civilize" my baddies (at least in the case of intelligent monsters) and either make them over-the-top-mwahaha-EEEEvil, or else make them just as sympathetic as the enemy soldiers in any well-crafted war story (eg: All's Quiet on the Western Front, Full Metal Jacket).

    But, as said, it's easier to treat the monsters as rampaging forces of nature. There's no moral difficulty slaying a savage animated plant, nor rooting out a fortress filled with Death Titans. I mean, come on: Death Titans? No way they are up to anything good.
  • Posted By: Mark CauseyI think the real problem is not me having trouble with the murder, exactly, but more that since the system is geared towards the murdering, *I* need a mindframe where I don't internally beg the players to choose some other way of dealing with the scene.

    Does that make sense?
    Yeah, it does.

    It might put certain typical varieties of D&D campaigns permanently out of reach for you, though.

    Like you said, wartime's a good justification. And if you can distance yourself from modern 21st-century morality and start with the premise that in D&D, gods are actually real and communicate with people, then "My god said it was cool to kill these dudes and take their stuff" is more than a justification: it's a holy mission to do exactly that! I don't imagine that there's a lot of room for moral doubt in a world where gods really and truly tell their clerics what they want done in their name. (Bonus points if the god of your enemies is one that says they ought to kill YOU and take YOUR stuff. That's basically a holy war, right there.)

    Although honestly, nine times out of ten my solution was similar to Mark W's: I stuck with pure-and-simple monsters and didn't fiddle around with villages full of goblin babies or kobolds who were willing to negotiate or any of that stuff. I put the PCs up against things that HAD to be fought, that could ONLY be fought, because (and this may be a telling point) I had no intention of using D&D to run a "serious" game. Moral quandaries just didn't fit with our game's agenda...we wanted the PCs to fight evil and find treasure and do the whole old-school adventuring party shtick, we didn't want to dwell on scenes where the PCs angst out over what they ought to do with a captive gnoll or debate the morality of raiding ancient tombs. (If we're going to play a game where issues like that are at the forefront, I'd just as soon do it where my modern day hippie liberal sensibilities are going to be less anachronistic, not to mention in a setting which I actually like...which rules most fantasy settings out.)
  • edited May 2009

    "Moral quandaries just didn't fit with our game's agenda..."

    That may be the key issue right there.

    [edited to snip out useless material]

  • edited May 2009
    For intelligent monsters, implementing morale rules of some kind helped soften things for my group when we had a bit of a problem with it once. They'd surrender, the group would take them prisoner, and let the authorities deal with them. There were essentially monstrous prison stockades where some were rehabilitated and others warehoused depending on how evil they were. And sometimes there were prisoner trades.
  • Posted By: Mr. TeapotOr you could just, you know, not murder anyone.

    When you reduce an enemy to 0 HP, you get to choose if they are unconscious for the rest of the fight or if they are dead. So you're only murdering if you the player choose to murder. In some of the games I have played we really have taken this decision seriously: murdering someone is a significant moral act, and has consequences, while keeping them alive has different consequences.
    I think that this point has been overlooked. You don't have to kill anyone at all when you play D&D. The rules explicitly enable you to define 'reducing someone to zero HP' as 'taking them prisoner' or 'knocking them out' instead. So you can do saturday morning cartoons, disney swashbucklers, and aikido just as easily as you can do Conan, LotR, and mass murder.
  • I guess it depends on the type of game you're going for. As others have mentioned, war is a good approach. It comes with a built-in justification as well as room for a moral quandary or two.

    If the focus of the game is treasure hunting, then you might want to adjust the reward system. Such that PCs get experience for overcoming challenges. So the fights won't be about killing a roomful of monsters. Just getting past them. Whether the PCs hack-n-slash their way through, negotiate safe passage or just sneak around them is immaterial. I like this approach because it encourages the players to think about more than just combat and it forces me to give a reason for a combat to take place. So combat is never about just combat. There's some goal. This also happens to be something that enhances 4e in general.

    In most of my games, monsters are monstrous. There is no negotiating with them. For example, kobolds are a monster race that has gotten a bit too cutesy over the years. But not my kobolds. My kobolds are a race of genestealing planar lice. If they catch you, they will not negotiate with you but hold you down while a "queen" injects hundreds of tennis ball sized eggs into you. You will be bound and paralyzed while these eggs incubate. Then you will die while they hatch from your body and eat you. But some of them will carry a bit of resemblance to you. Maybe your eyes or haircolor. Because, after all, you're their "parent" too.

    Negotiate with that.

    Goblins in my games are like the Picts in Hyperborea. They hunt you down. They eat you. They overrun human settlements. Because they eat humans.

    My orcs are like either the monsters in Feast or the Reavers in Firefly. They won't talk to you. They won't be all cutesy or even qualify for henchmanship. They will either kill, rape, mutilate or burn you. Conveniently, I can use a 1d4 to determine which approach they take.

    The only humanoid monster race I have an issue with currently are Hobgoblins. They're like Orcs. They're like Goblins. They're like Orc-Goblins. But not. I guess I just haven't hit on the right nastiness for them yet.
  • Posted By: smathisMy kobolds are a race of genestealing planar lice.
    OMFG that is awesome.

    Your post just made my brain explode. I will be stealing the general direction of this for my own campaigns.
  • Making the monsters monstrous is a good solution, as are all the other fictional backgrounds. It's just that I've only had this problem with murdering people in D&D when the GM and the group in general have failed to make the effort to create an imaginative context for the action. This is especially a problem for me with 4th edition, which is so much of a boardgame that often nobody is trying to justify anything at all about the action: you're just supposed to run the dungeon crawl experience on automatic. This leaves me in a strange half-way point between a strategy game and a roleplaying game, a place in which my character apparently wants to kill lesser peoples of the earth just to steal their gold. The problem goes away if I just block off the fiction or actually usurp the GM's position and start laying out some real fiction with a real context for what the characters are doing.

    So what I'm saying is that all these solutions based on the fictional context work swimmingly well if the group is capable of creating a fictional context in the first place. If they aren't, then you might get stuck in the place where all those WotC modules are created, which is a pretty awful place in my mind. I still don't understand why all that "human rabble" in Keep on the Shadowfell had to die.
  • Hobgoblins are tough. The best I ever did with them is that they're bred to be soldiers. They don't have much in the way of empathy, and they're conditioned pretty much from birth to an authoritarian, comprehensively militarized society. They're the darker flip side of the "Proud Warrior Race" trope - a whole species selected for "just following orders" right into atrocity.

    Which actually makes them really interesting as sympathetic characters or PCs, in the right circumstances.
  • I find this thread interesting for what it spawns in my own thoughts.

    I prefer the "humanoid / goblinoid" monsters in my campaigns. The occassional Neo-otyugh is a nice change of pace, but primarily I want to fight goblins and ogres and giants and the like.

    And I don't want them to be monstrous. I want them to have societies and cultures and farms and babies and goblin schools where little goblins learn to do gobliny things.

    And then I want to kill them and take their stuff, for no better reason then through great historical accident they happen to possess some stuff that I want and I have the means to take it from them. And if they had the sense to just give me the stuff I wouldn't have to kill them, but since they won't I'll just butcher them and take it anyway. And its really cool if some goblin winds up following us around and carrying our gear and then we can give him a nice nickname like Stumpy for that time when we had to cut off his hand for stealing some food.

    I don't know. I guess I like my fantasy games to feel more historical...
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenThis leaves me in a strange half-way point between a strategy game and a roleplaying game, a place in which my character apparently wants to kill lesser peoples of the earth just to steal their gold.
    Hey, it worked for Genghis Khan.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenThis leaves me in a strange half-way point between a strategy game and a roleplaying game, a place in which my character apparently wants to kill lesser peoples of the earth just to steal their gold.
    Well, a persistent problem is one of the main assumptions of the D&D reward system. Namely, that you kill the monster THEN you take it's treasure.

    4e helps with this in that there are treasure "parcels". And while I don't care much for the treasure system in general (and haven't since the mid-80s), treasure parcels do lend themselves nicely to tweaking when and how players get those sorts of rewards.

    For instance, one parcel could be an objet d'arte found in a room of the dungeon. Like a statuette or a big gem of the sort that Conan might find. No looting of bodies here. Just an overlooked little bauble that somehow wound up in a dark corner of this dungeon thing. Another is setting up the treasure as a reward.

    So the dungeon needs to be cleared out? Well, the duke offers the party treasure parcels 5,6 and 7 if they can do it. No looting the hobgoblins in this instance. Just a good ol' mercenary genocide.

    I find it also helps to think of the threats in the terms represented in Storming the Wizard's Tower. Namely, that this dungeon or kobold infestation or goblin horde is somehow threatening the livelihood of the community. And the PCs are (usually) the only ones who can pull it off.

    And, while I appreciate the desire to give the humanoid monsters their own societies, I don't really see the moral dilemma of genocide/murder in that sort of game as a problem. It's more of a feature. There's always the option to make the societies themselves monstrous. Just pick an ugly aspect of human society (historical or not) and turn it up to 11.

    Instead of Orcs being mindless engines of destruction (as I tend to portray them), maybe they see themselves as the most perfect of the world's creations. And have therefore tasked themselves with wiping out the other races and interbreeding with the women of other races (at least those deemed worthy enough to carry the Orc blood) because all other races are a blight on creation, whatever that means for Orcs.

    That's at least the seed of a monstrous society that will not negotiate and will lend itself to a built-in justification for war and such.

    But if what you want is a game where you can negotiate with the monsters on a rational level. Then I think the moral dilemma of, say, slaying a schoolhouse of chirpy, kobold spawn is more something to be explored. So the PCs slaughter sentient races indiscriminately. Run with that. Use it. There have got to be repercussions or consequences. Even if it's just the Good Fairy coming down and turning them all into Goons. Because basically, despite their internal justifications, the party is playing an evil party.

    I once put together a campaign where there was a tentative truce between the monsters and the humans. The humans were a new race to the world, having fled their last one. And they were vastly outnumbered in this strange new world. But some humans (often PCs) threatened to violate that truce. Elves, dwarves, etc., had their own agendas depending on whether or not they approved of the human interlopers.

    But wiping out a den of Gnolls just because they were there? The PCs had better cover that one up or the monsters might come back and wipe the humans off the map. Of course, there were monsters who wanted that anyway and would try to frame humans for breaking the treaty...
  • edited May 2009
    The D&D justification is pretty much the same as the real world justification, i.e. dehumanisation. To a certain extent it doesn't really matter whether this is real or apparent. Just look at the games of 3:16 we play. We kill because we're ordered to and in many of the games it seems that the killing is almost entirely unjustified, bur our enemies are dehumanised and our soldiers inhuman. It works.

    If you don't want to kill stuff, you could play a game with less rules for killing things or a game in which killing is meaningless (like in the Culture).
  • edited May 2009
    Mark, I like your Criminal solution the best. It makes the moral ambiguity clear. I generally like the options that say: it's not OK to kill, but you have to anyway.

    I'm less keen on the idea that it's OK to kill these guys because they're aliens, monsters, evil, out to get us, German and so forth. Like Steve says about dehumanisation.

  • For what it's worth, Siegfried invades the Niblung land (by himself) in order to conquer them so he can have an army to conquer someone else.

    The questions are rooted deep within the source material. The Niblungs (dwarves) are a kingdom. They've got an army of 3000 men, of which Siegfried takes away 1000. He leaves 1000 families fatherless, in other words. And unlike in Tolkein, there are women and families, though the poem's more concerned with Siegfried's awesomeness than their plight.

    Beowulf goes to kill Grendel because it will make everyone say that he looks awesome. He goes on to kill Grendel's mother because it makes his legend bigger, not because she's evil. In fact, Grendel seems like a natural problem more than an antagonist. The scribe says that he's a descendant of Cain, along with elves, phantoms and orgres, but that's pretty clearly a late addition, sorta trying to say why this is OK in the light of Christianity being about love, and all.

    In fact, it's the same problem being addressed here: there's a moral system being glorified in the source material. The source material is compelling, but it's obviously contrary to what we think is acceptable.

    Lord knows, it's interesting to see in fiction what a character does when they kill because you want to see why they'd do it. But D&D doesn't offer you that opportunity.


    I think, what you do is remove all moral dimension from the game. There can be no consequences but strategic ones. It has to be played, at most, as a black comedy. Making the monsters simultaneously superhumanly powerful but subhumanly impersonal is a good way to do that (not that it's totally morally unproblematic thing to do). In our upcoming 4e game, I'm playing a "Lawful" character, which I see as a huckster, a tent revivalist out to bilk the townsfolk for their GPs and find out where there are more under the mountain. I don't think it's possible to play a good character in D&D. The definitions of morality in the system don't map to any moral understanding I have of the Universe and how the people in it treat each other.

  • In a short-lived Planescape campaign, one of the PCs found a cursed weapon called The Martyr Blade. It was a kick-ass weapon with one drawback: The user realized the effects of every life he or she took, saw the repercussions for that person's family, friends, society, every ripple.

    The players couldn't wait to get rid of that sword.
  • edited May 2009
    I was running this one game*, and I had this Snickers bar behind my DM screen. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I came back, the candy bar was gone and Bob had this shit-eating grin on his face, and smelled of chocolate and nougat. I choked him to death right there in his seat. The group had to go without a cleric till we let his little brother Russell play the next week.

    I think eating someone's candy bar justifies murder.

    *none of what follows is true
  • I'm less keen on the idea that it's OK to kill these guys because they're aliens, monsters, evil, out to get us, German and so forth. Like Steve says about dehumanisation.

    Yeah, and like Eco says. "It's OK because they really are evil subhumans" is the same argument made for real life democide, too.

  • I was running the orphanage this one day, and I had little anna sat behind the father's desk. I got up to go to outhouse, and when I came back, Little anna was gone and bael, a goblin with this shit-earting grin on his face , was covered in blood. I chocked him to death right where he lay. The orphanage had to go without my cleric until the magistrate let me rejoin them the next week.

    I think eating babies justifies murder.

    It honestly surprises me that considering western society has produced so many moral philosophies that are the equivalent of 'life is nasty, brutish and short' that it is utterly alien to some people that murder happens over the most plebeian of reasons, let alone involving monsters themselves.
  • I didn't read the whole thread. Maybe this has already been said.

    Look to Pokemon for an example of how to do the whole "run around attacking monsters and increasing your power without murdering anything" schtick.

    Or maybe like, when you kill a "monster", have it poof into magical white flakes of dust, which then scatter in the breeze.
  • Logos, the thing is, you're making a lifestyle out of being around when the girl gets eaten. After a while, you're going to be like Jessica Fletcher: why does all this murder happen around me?

  • The most fun AD&D campaign I was involved no monster fights at all.

    We were all freedom fighters rising up to protect our families against the totalitarian fascist oppressors who were seeking to subjugate us.

    Of course the Totalitarian Fascist Oppressors were the Empire of Light, worshipers of Bahamut the God of Justice and all had Lawful Good alignments and we poor rebels who just wanted to be left alone to live how we wanted were all had Chaotic Evil alignments...cuz if you go around killing lawful good characters...you must progressively become more chaotic evil.

    I was a Ranger with whatever the 2ed Ranger Kit was that made you a bad ass tactician and sniper...and for my racial enemy...I picked humans...

    Course we all died eventually trying to assault a dwarven stronghold that was being built near our homeland to pacify us. The Empire of Light celebrated the death of many vile terrorists.

    It was great fun.
  • So in otherwords, I'm going to respond to the fiction in genre appropriate ways with more than a small dollup of meta reflection built in?

    Man that's a blast from the past, I had to google Jessica Fletcher. I surpose the real problem is that this whole meek morality thing has pretty much caught on in the last two thousand years, but the genre (fantasy) still takes reaps and heams of influence from before christ (the whole strength morality was basically a lifestyle of violence where you went arround organizing violence to bring to your foes for the glory of your gods and family )

    As was said before, this all works a bit better with the whole points of light thing because the asnwer to the question "why does all this murder happen arround me" is that life is nasty brutish and short and that we are living in area full of monsters who even if they intelligent and have culture, still see us as something appropiate to eat half the time and to war upon the other half.

    And hey its not for everyone, but I think trying to fit modern day appreciations into the ancient mythos of the big bad ass hero is about as fruitful as trying to put world simulationist aspects into dogs and wondering why everyone is not doing it.
  • edited May 2009
    I'm gonna just start dumping copypasta at this point, because this topic is so well-tread that there are entire genres of discussion dedicated to it. Some of this ground has already been covered via the Grendel and Siegfried examples.

    Posted By: Frank TrollmanThe Socialomicon: Heroes in the Greek Sense:
    "Can I kill the baby kobolds?"

    When people are asked to name a historical point that D&D most closely represents, they'll usually say something like "The Middle Ages", or perhaps a date between 1000 AD and 1500 in Europe. Truth be told, to find a historical period which has a social setup anything like D&D, you're going to have to go back. Way back. D&D represents a period in history that is most closely identifiable with the Iron Age: the landscape is dotted with tribes and aspiring empires, the wilderness is largely unexplored, and powerful individuals and small groups can take over an area without having a big geopolitical hubbub about it.

    The source material for the social setting of D&D is not Hans Christian Andersen, it's Homer's The Iliad and Caesar's The Gallic Wars. In the backdrop of early historical empire building, crimes that modern humans shake their heads at the barbarity of are common place – even among the heroes. D&D at its core is about breaking into other peoples' homes, possibly killing the residents, and taking their stuff home with you in a sack. And in the context of the period, that is acceptable behavior for a hero.

    Living With Yourself After a Raid

    The goblins have gone and conducted a raid on your village in full force. They rode in, took a bunch of the sheep, killed some of the people, set fire to some of the cottages, and rode away again with Santa Sacks filled with this year's crop. And they laughed because they thought it was funny. And now that your elder brother has been slain you want to dedicate yourself to the eradication of the Goblin Menace and begin the training necessary to become a Ranger so that you can empty the goblin village from the other side of the valley once and for all.

    Par for the course D&D, right? Wrong! Killing all the goblins isn't just an Evil act, it's unthinkable to most D&D inhabitants. This is the Classical Era, and actually sowing the fields of Carthage with salt is an atrocity of such magnitude that people will speak of it for thousands of years. In the D&D world, goblins raid human settlements with raiding parties, humans raid goblin settlements with "adventuring parties", and like the cattle raiding culture of Scotland, it's simply accepted by all participants as a fact of life.

    When your city is raided by other groups of humanoids, it's a bad thing for your city. Orcs may kidnap some of your relatives and use them as slaves (or food), and many of your fellow villagers may lose their lives defending lives and property important to them. But that's part of life in the age, and people just sort of expect that sort of thing.

    Razing Hell: When Genocide is the Answer:

    Sometimes in history there would come a great villain who just didn't get with the program. The Classical example is the Assyrians. Those bastards went around from city to city stacking heads in piles and levying 100% taxation and such to conquered foes. They became… unpopular, and eventually were destroyed as a people. That's the law of the jungle as far back as there are any records: if a group pushes things too far the rules of mercy and raiding simply stop applying. Goblins, orcs, sahuagin… these guys generally aren't going to cross that line. But if they do, it's OK for the gloves to come off. In fact, if some group of orcs decides to kill everyone in your village while you're out hunting so that you come home to find that you are the last survivor, other humanoids (even other Evil humanoids like gnolls) will sign up to exterminate the tribe that has crossed the line.

    Cultural relativism goes pretty far in D&D. Acceptable cultural practices include some pretty over-the-top practices such as slavery, cannibalism, and human sacrifice. But genocide is still right out. That being said, some creatures simply haven't gotten with the program, and they are kill-on-sight anywhere in the civilized world or in the tribes of savage humanoids. Mindflayers, Kuo-Toans, and [Monster] simply do not play the same game that everyone else is playing, mostly because their culture simply does not understand other races as having value. And that means that even other Evil races want to exterminate those peoples as a public service. Like the Assyrians, they've simply pushed their luck too far, and the local hobgoblin king will let you marry his daughter if you help wipe them out of an area.

    Solitary intelligent monsters often get into the same boat as the Kuo-Toans. Since the Roper really has no society (and possibly the most obscure language in Core D&D), it's very difficult for it to understand the possible ramifications of offending pan-humanoid society. So now they've done it, and they really haven't noticed the fallout they are receiving from that decision. Ropers pretty much attack anything they see, and now everyone that sees a roper attacks them. In the D&D worlds, ropers are on the brink of extinction and it probably never even occurs to them that their heavy tendrilled dealings with the other races have pushed them to this state.
    From http://www.tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?t=28547
  • Of course, how bad the bad guys are strongly affects how much justification the good guys need. Again, there's been some coverage already in this thread.
    Posted By: Frank Trollman and K.Morality: How Black is the Night?

    Those readers who have been following this series will remember the basic moral question regarding Necromancy: namely the fundamental decision for each game as to whether to treat Negative Energy as an objective force or an ultimate moral indictment. The central question surrounding fiends is less obvious, but in no way less important to your game. We know that a Gelugon is Evil, he's got a subtype that denotes him as being specifically Evil, that's not the question. What we don't know is how Evil he is. That's a central question that has to be addressed within the context of each game. Let's face it, a lot of people really aren't comfortable with villainy more pernicious than the antagonists in a Saturday morning cartoon. Other people have a different and equally valid hang-up: they aren't comfortable having their characters stab enemies in the face repeatedly until they bleed to death unless those enemies are extremely bad people. As so frequently happens, the rules for Dungeons and Dragons are written to accommodate both play styles, which in reality ends up including nothing. Perhaps unfortunately, you must come to a table-wide consensus about what your gaming is not doing before you can have your game do anything at all.

    Keep in mind that none of these play styles are "worse" or "better".

    Moral Option 1: A Worthy Opponent
    "Fools! You have interfered with my plans for the last time!"

    For many games, the fact that the bad guys are bad is pretty much sufficient. Like the villains in Saturday Morning Cartoons, their villainy requires – and gets – no explanation. Actual villainy is fairly upsetting to contemplate, and a lot of people don't want to do it. I don't blame them, cannibalism, deliberate infliction of pain, and exploitation of the innocent are unpleasant. Talking about secret prisons where torture is conducted night and day without respite or reason is super depressing.

    Implications: The biggest implication here is that since Evil and Good are basically just political parties or ethnic hats, it is perfectly OK to have mixed alignment parties or to ban mixed alignment parties. You're never going to have a serious discussion about what it is that Evil people do, so it's actually not important how you handle them. You can even switch how you're handling it in the middle for no reason. One day, the Atomic Skull can just chip in to save the world from Darkseid. Another day you can go kill the Atomic Skull without feeling bad. It's very liberating, because you can tell a lot of stories – so long as none of those stories involve actual evil actions happening on camera.

    Pit Falls: While it is certainly a load off the mind to not be constantly reminded of child abuse, torture, and sexual misconduct, bear in mind that this is Dungeons and Dragons – your foes are more than likely going to be killed with extreme stabination. Possibly in the face. Possibly more than once. If the villains aren't doing anything overwhelmingly bad, it's entirely possible that it won't seem like they deserve being killed. If subjected to enough analysis, one might even find that your own "heroes" appear to be the villains in your cooperative storytelling adventure. Certainly, He-Man never took that sword and chopped Skeletor into chunks. Star Wars: Episode One was such an unsatisfying movie in no small part because the villains never did anything bad.

    Glossing over the villainous activities of the bad guys should go hand in hand with all of the players acknowledging and understanding what you are doing and why you are doing it. As long as everyone is making the active and informed choice to not deal with the heavy moral questions – it's all good.
    From http://www.tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?t=28828
  • edited May 2009
    Continued from above.
    Posted By: Frank Trollman and K.Moral Option 2: The Banality of Evil
    "It's 9 O'clock, time to get back to some Evil."

    Many DMs will want to play their fiends pretty much like Nazis – their agenda is hateful, but in their off time they go hang out at the pub just like everyone else. You could even sit there with them and drink together unless you happen to be a Jew. This is the default assumption of a lot of Planescape literature, for example. An Evil creature is Evil because it ever does Evil things, not because it's necessarily doing any Evil right now. Darkness and light are, in this model, pretty ephemeral concepts – characters who wish to save their own sanity will end up either paying perhaps too much attention or ignoring them completely often as not.

    Implications: Since bad guys (and presumably good guys as well) spend most of their time being regular guys and only infrequently perform acts worthy of praise or scorn, it's extremely easy for heroes to fall to Evil and extremely easy for villains to be redeemed for full value. People on both sides of the Good/Evil axis are doing pretty unexceptional stuff most of the time, so the allegiance that even Evil Clerics have to darkness is pretty tenuous.

    This way of handling things is so much better at handling mysteries than are other morality systems that it may as well be a requirement if you ever want to play a "who-done-it" adventure. Since the good guys and bad guys spend most of their day being actually indistinguishable one from another, it makes distinguishing them actually difficult – and that has to happen if there is to be any question of who the PCs are supposed to stab.

    Pit Falls: Be wary of over-humanizing the villains. In many stories, the bad guys are a lot more interesting than the white hats; and that can seriously derail a campaign if it happens in a role playing scenario. Beware also of the fact that if the Evil Overlord is mostly chillin like a villain with his family and having brews with his bros, it's going to be pretty hard to justify it when you inevitably stab him right in the face. Also remember that while The Banality of Evil is great for mysteries, it's actually so good for mysteries that the game can bog down. Players can get caught up in the minor goings-on of characters you don't even care about. Paranoia can be paralyzing when any scullery maid could really just go Evil at any time and poison your food to try to get your wallet. It can be realistic, but realism takes place in real time. That's not good if you're trying to raise hippogriffs as steeds.
    From http://www.tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?t=28828
  • Continued from above.
    Posted By: Frank Trollman and K.Moral Option 3: The Face of Horror.
    "I think I have Evil sand. In my pants."

    Many DMs will want to make their Evil as Evil as possible. That can get… pretty Evil. It can actually get so Evil that people who overhear you playing the game will get a very bad impression about your group and the things you talk about. The starker the contrast between Good and Evil, the more righteous the acts of heroism the players commit. Tales of monstrous action are fascinating and the horrid and disgusting can hold people's interest indefinitely. By having the forces of Evil disembowel people in loving detail you can capture the imaginations of your players with actually relatively little creative work on the part of the DM. There have been over 10 Jason movies because those things practically write themselves, and people keep watching them because they genuinely are as intriguing as the are revolting.

    Implications: With the forces of Evil running around doing actual stomach churning crime, having Evil and Good "team up" is essentially implausible. In fact, having Good and Evil characters in the same party is pretty much a non-starter. When playing with The Face of Horror the universe is essentially a cosmic battle between Good and Evil, the forces of Law and Chaos have some fights too, but essentially that's just crime compared to the world shaking conflict of darkness and light.

    Further, while Good and Evil being as immiscible as Rubidium and Water makes for a well defined party demographic, it also has other far reaching consequences. When you go to the Abyss, the sand itself is Evil. Once you've made the determination that this means more than that Paladins can find every grain – you've bought yourself into the determination that beaches in the Abyss are themselves morally reprobate somehow.

    Pit Falls: While The Face of Horror ends up making Good and Evil a much more important distinction than Law vs. Chaos, that's not really a problem. Sure, it's not reciprocal or equivalent and that's a breach of the Great Wheel tirade, but that's not really important to the game. Let's face it, when was the last time you saw a statted up enemy prepared to cast dictum? No, the problem is that if you make Evil as nasty as it can be made, it's really nasty. It makes other people in the game uncomfortable, and it disturbs people who hear portions of your game out of context. People like talking about stabbing their sword into an evil monster, that's all heroic and crap, but actually looking at sword wounds is icky. People don't want to do it.

    Evil, if defined as "things we don't like", is pretty much exclusively composed of things we don't like. That means that the more we focus our attention on the details of what's going on, the more we'll want to clean our eyes out with soap. And while skirting that line can make a story grimly compelling, remember always that different people have different tolerances for this sort of thing. Just because something is gross enough to catch your prurient interest without wrecking your lunch doesn't mean that it isn't so nasty as to drive other people away. Tolerance for discussing child murder in the context of a story is not a virtue, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the people who don't enjoy watching movies in the splatter horror genre.
    From http://www.tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?t=28828
  • Finishing up this bit.
    Posted By: Frank Trollman and K.Moral Option 4: Perfection in Balance
    What use is the light that casts not a shadow?"

    In this model, evil is a force that sits diametrically opposed to good. In order for one to exist, the other must exist as well. Evil is what gives good its meaning, and in fact one can simply define one by the other: to be good is not-evil, and to be evil is to be not-good. When playing with this option, evil plays a vital role in society and cannot be eliminated without dire consequences. For example, when the Jedi eliminate the Sith Lords, they set themselves up for an even more powerful Sith Lord to rise and kill them all, ushering in a new order of Evil, which is in turn later demolished by the calling out of a powerful Jedi who can defeat it. Neutrality is the rule of the day in this model, in the sense that evil and good will always be in the midst of trumping each other in an effort to “win”, a goal that is as meaningless as it is impossible.

    What does that mean for your game? In this model, evil will always be the fly in your ointment and the piss in your cheerios, and good will always be the silver lining in the stormcloud and the complementary bag of nuts in your red-eye flight. Even the most powerful and good organization of clerics in your world will have a cruel inquisitor, and even the most death-hungry cabal of necromancers will have a guy who is kind to puppies and little children. Organizations and people will be “mostly” one thing or the other, but not all of anything, and people will be OK with that. Kind kings will be mostly good, but will have no problem massacring an entire generation of goblinkind in an effort to keep the roads safe, and liches who eat souls will defend the land from rampaging chimera without reward in an effort to keep the peace.

    Implications: In a sense, this is the easiest of moral options, as you won’t need to really keep track of what’s going on with alignments. People will occasionally do things out of character, and that’s fine. Society will be quite tolerant, as they completely think its OK for there to be a Temple Street with a shrine for Orcus worshippers competing for space with a hospital sponsored by the clergy of Pelor. When one organization for good or evil gets stomped down, another one will pop up to replace it in an endless game of cosmic whack-a-mole.

    For character with alignment related class features, atonement is a far easier process. Occasional deeds that violate your alignment are tolerated, as long as attempts at acts of atonement are made in a reasonable time frame. The Paladin that kills an innocent to defeat a powerful demon may have to visit the innocent’s family and make restitution after the battle, and the Cleric of Murder who defends the king from an assassin may have to seek out several of the King’s loved one’s in order to rededicate himself to his dark god.

    Pit Falls: It can be pretty cool to have a party that has an assassin, a druid, and a champion of light in it – there's a lot of early D&D that has that as virtually the iconic party – but if the great game between Good and Evil is an inherently pointless game, that can make the story of your characters seem pretty banal. It's a line that can be hard to walk. It's just plain difficult to simultaneously have any individual attempt to destroy the world be important while having it be built into the contract that there will be another one tomorrow.
    From http://www.tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?t=28828
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