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Is killing a Goblin who begs for mercy evil?

Donp

First Post
My friend and I are wondering about alignment for our upcoming Pathfinder game. We want to use the alignment system correctly but we differ a bit on the interpretation of the rules. We would like some input from more seasoned players.

My friend says that if he were playing a Paladin, and he were to attack a Goblin village (race with evil alignment) he would probably spare those who surrendered, or those who were weak or children etc. He would feel that if he were to kill those Goblins who begged for mercy that would be an evil act, disastrous for the Paladin (also he doesn't want to do any evil).

I would say (I'm the DM), that based on the rules, I cannot see that killing an evil Goblin would be an evil act under most circumstances. (BTW these are not my personal feelings on the matter, just my interpretation of the rules...let's just leave RL morality discussion out of it). If he were to torture a Goblin, or something, that would be Evil, as it is obviously a sentient being. However, I see nothing in the rules that would make killing a begging-for-mercy Goblin an evil act, as the Goblin is an evil creature, and in the very objective morality system presented in the D&D/Pathfinder world, destroying evil is not evil.

My friend then came up with another example, Paladin detects evil on a shopkeeper, who to his knowledge has not harmed anyone (perhaps he's really selfish and dreams of killing others but is too cowardly to do it). Could he slay the man there and then, without committing and Evil act? There I was not sure.

I sort of see the fact that Goblins are, as a race, Evil, as meaning that they are like intelligent wolves, or like Nazis who were evil from birth. They are Evil, just like a Devil or Demon, or a Necromancer. And that destroying evil is inherently good (again, based on the objective morality in the 3.5/Pathfinder Rules, NOT based on my own RL morality), as Evil creatures have an evil nature, and if you allow them to live, they will go on doing evil things, as they desire to hurt, opress and kill others.

So therefore it should be OK to kill them indiscriminately.

However my friend disagrees, and I would like very much to come to a conclusion. I know that we could just house-rule Alignment away if it is a problem, but we have nothing against it, we just want to run it the right way.

So, long-time players. What is your interpretation of this issue? Please try to limit yourselves to the RAW, and the correct interpretation of them. I'm not looking for your personal philosophies on morality and all that, that is besides the point. :)
 

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Twichyboy

First Post
Actually the races alignment usually just means that's what they're norm is, dwarves are considered a lawful good race and elves chaotic good, but those deviate a lot so as goblin are considered evil I would say that there is nothing that makes them evil forever from birth,

So by killing a surrendering one would be considered an evil act as it's denying that one who fought for his under attack village, the right to repent which is considered the "goodest" thing a paladin could do

So in my opinion yes it's an evil act, especially since the goblin was fighting to defend its village rather then attacking another
 


Angrydad

First Post
Killing a creature that has surrendered and is begging for mercy would always, in my DMing opinion, ruin a paladin's status, even if it is a demon/devil. It may not be an evil act in the case of a demon, but it is definitely not a Lawful Good thing to do and would cause the paladin to lose power for a while. I like my Good guys to actually be Good (with the capital G for emphasis), so showing mercy to surrendering foes to allow them to be dealt with justly or be given a chance to repent is the best way to go.
 

Donp

First Post
The first time we encountered this situation, the goblin ran away and gathered allies and set up an ambush.

The second time we encountered this situation, we slaughtered all of the goblins, including the ones that tried to surrender.

This is basically what I'm talking about.
 

Nightson

First Post
So addressing the goblin surrender. It's fairly likely that the goblin has committed crimes worthy of execution (in medieval society). Generally, long term imprisonment isn't a feasible option, and neither is turning the goblin away from evil, which usually leaves the player short of options except killing them or letting them go.

But I think this can be resolved pretty easily. A player who kills the goblins is not committing an evil act, but a player who goes to the effort of trying to redeem the goblins is doing a good act.
 

af_sky

Explorer
I believe if a Paladin or any good PC attack goblins who are apparently doing nothing, that would be an evil act. Like attacking a goblin village for no reason at all.

I also believe that's the same for goblins begging for mercy.
The right thing for a LG PC to do is retrieving them for local authorities, if possible.
If not possible, that would rely on the paladin's judgement of what would or not be a good thing to do. But that's part of the roleplay.

Although I don't think you could apply that for demons.
 

Donp

First Post
I believe if a Paladin or any good PC attack goblins who are apparently doing nothing, that would be an evil act. Like attacking a goblin village for no reason at all.

I also believe that's the same for goblins begging for mercy.
The right thing for a LG PC to do is retrieving them for local authorities, if possible.
If not possible, that would rely on the paladin's judgement of what would or not be a good thing to do. But that's part of the roleplay.

Although I don't think you could apply that for demons.

Well, I would certainly agree with you if the Goblins were just normal people. But according to RAW, those with an Evil alignment seek to actively hurt, opress, and kill other sentients. So even if they aren't doing anything, they are probably cooking up an evil scheme, or preparing an assault or something. So wouldn't it be like attacking a band of wolves who hadn't done anything, just because you know that they pose a threat to you and would kill you at a moment's notice if given the chance?
 

Urlithani

First Post
Killing a creature that has surrendered and is begging for mercy would always, in my DMing opinion, ruin a paladin's status, even if it is a demon/devil.

I would respectfully disagree. I would never make a paladin lose their status for killing an evil outsider. Evil outsiders have no interest in redemption*.

*In the rare case an outsider does want to be redeemed, there should only be punishment for a paladin if he has no reason to attack that outsider but does so anyway.

One of the Paizo people has stated it on these very forums a while ago, I think it was Erik Mona(but not sure): If you make a villain that forces a Paladin and his friends to go through many trials, pain, and loss, and then have the villain at the very end beg for mercy and the paladin will lose his powers if he does not forgive is a pretty jerk move.

The "I'm sorry because I got caught so please let me have a chance to redeem myself(but I really just want to get away to get my revenge)" doesn't fly with me personally. It's one thing if the evil wizard appears outside his tower and wants to talk about changing his ways; it's another thing if he waits at the very top and only surrenders because he has no other options left; he's exhausted every trap, monster, and spell.

It may not be an evil act in the case of a demon, but it is definitely not a Lawful Good thing to do and would cause the paladin to lose power for a while.

It is not definitely Lawful Good, but neither is it evil. A Paladin loses their abilities if they willingly commit an evil act.

I like my Good guys to actually be Good (with the capital G for emphasis), so showing mercy to surrendering foes to allow them to be dealt with justly or be given a chance to repent is the best way to go.

I agree, and I think some people take the Good alignment for granted, but even Sarenrae believes a swift death is better for those that have no interest in redemption.
 

N'raac

First Post
Well, let's make the Paladin the king's executioner. He is to execute a convicted crimnal. The criminal begs for mercy. If the paladin executes the criminal, we remove his paladinhood for his Evil act, and if he fails to obey his liege, he loses his Lawful alignment. Any more beatings we can inflict for having the audacity to choose to play a Paladin?

I'd say taking a life is never a good act ("respect for life" is listed under Good RAW, and "killing others" under Evil). I'd also say that a plea for mercy needs to be considerd in context. A GM who has the villains beg for mercy, then turn on the characters, is training his players not to honour those pleas, and should not be surprised at the result.

Is the Goblin planning on tricking the Paladin long enough to stab him in the back? Then he has evil intent. Creatures with actively evil intent detect as Evil, per the spell. So the Paladin should be able to pause, Detect Evil on the begging goblin, and assess his sincerity. If his intentions are to turn on the Paladin if spared (whether immediately or by gathering allies), he detects as Evil. It is acceptable to kill him. IOW, I would not consider it an evil act to kill a foe who remains intent on evil. If his intentions are not evil (he truly intends to repent, or at least truly intends to behave to avoid the sword), then killing him is an evil act.

But the Paladin's Detect Evil is accurate. If the creature merits mercy, he will not detect as evil. If his evil intent remains, then he detects as such and can be slain as a non-evil, albeit non-good, act.
 

Epametheus

First Post
If a goblin knows how to say "I surrender, don't hurt me," in common, it probably learned that from a victim that it then killed and ate (or killed by eating).

My group handles this sort of thing as "a Paladin can refuse to accept a creature's surrender."

While goblins are free-willed, a normal goblin is raised to view nearly anything that isn't a goblin as prey.

In other words, if you facing something that views babies of your species as food, your paladin almost certainly has active authority to put it down. Co-existence is so remote an option that it might as well not exist.

Actually killing helpless goblin babies is more complicated. They can be functional if they're brought up in a sane society that spare the resources to raise a bunch of midget pyromaniacs. But putting them down probably isn't any worse an act then putting down a litter of skunks born under your house. It's a distasteful task, but sometimes that just how it pans out.

Now, actual evil outsiders are, in essence, malicious spirits given flesh and form. Accepting surrender from a demon has about as much meaning as accepting surrender from a rabid dog. The best thing to do is to take them down fast and hard, before they can pull something their innate magical powers. Another way to put it - you really shouldn't accept the surrender of a creature that could mind control all the guards in any prison you kept it in.
 

ComradeGnull

First Post
The alignment system has a lot of wrinkles around the edges. I wouldn't be too hard on a player for making either choice. A lot depends on the players justification for making the choice; if he is killing the goblin to protect other innocents, great. If he kills it because he is annoyed with goblins, not so great.

It also matters how goblins are depicted in your particular campaign. Pathfinder tends towards depicting goblins as irredeemable sociopaths, whereas Eberron depicts them as more civilized and liable towards reform. In the first case, killing them seems more like killing an evil outsider than like a regular mook.

Lawful characters judge their actions by an external, consistent standard. Depicting what they set of ethics is would help it be clearer if their actions were lawful or good.
 

af_sky

Explorer
Lawful characters judge their actions by an external, consistent standard. Depicting what they set of ethics is would help it be clearer if their actions were lawful or good.

I completely agree with you on that. He must judge by his "church" or god's law. Not by a innate sense of justice.
 

Mad Hamish

First Post
Welcome to a topic that has been debated for around 40 years in RPGS (and thousands of years in philosophy)

The short answer is really "it depends on the game you're playing" games can vary between
"game of hats" to "extremely complicated shaded morality"

In a game of hats game then unless there's a reason to believe that a particular goblin isn't evil you can probably hack it down with a free concience.

In a lot of other games it would depend on the answers to various questions
a) why was the village attacked?
is it a case of "we ran into some goblins so we attacked" or "these goblins have raided the human village and they killed the women and children"

b) is there anything to suggest that this particular goblin did anything evil?

killing an armed combatant is different from killing an unarmed non-combatant and killing a warrior who you recognise from a raid on a human village where children were killed is different again.

It also depends on how the individual campaign runs the type of monster, killing a standard pathfinder goblin would be less likely to cause problems than a pathfinder kobold for instance.

In a lot of campaigns being evil isn't enough to justify killing somebody. Somebody can be evil but not actually have done anything justifying killing them (a villager who delights in spreading malicious gossip, will cheat or steal if they think they can get away with it etc, would betray people to save themselves or for enough money) but unless they have seriously hurt people killing them wouldn't be justified.

Also note that you only detect as evil if you've got a link to an evil force of the universe or you've got significant personal power (5HD or more) by the rules a goblin could be intending to prepare Human Baby Tartare and still wouldn't detect as evil.

Note that the comments on alignment on page 5 of the bestiary makes it pretty clear that there is a difference between outer planar aligned creatures and standard intelligent creatures with alignments.

For what it's worth I'd recommend that you just discuss it with the players how you see things and try and ensure that you don't screw the PCs over by stuffing them around on alignment. If people want to take more care than you think necessary that's fine, the problem comes when the players think they can get away with more than you think they can.
 


RigaMortus2

First Post
I think intention is just as important as action. Why is the Paladin attacking this Goblin village to begin with? Just for the hell of it? Does he personally know of these Goblins wronging someone or some society?

I would be more concerned with a Paladin indiscriminetly attacking a Goblin village for no reason other then "well, the Monster Manual says they are evil" then I would for the Goblin begging for mercy.

"Good" implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings.

Notice, this is respect for ALL life, not a respect for "only neutral and good creature's lives"...

So simply ask yourself:
1) Is the Paladin being altruistic to these goblins?
Altrusim: The principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.
2) Does he have a respect for their life?
3) Is he concerned with their dignity? Or to but this another way. Is killing a creature that is begging for its life dignified?

As for your shopkeeper example... In a world where magic can detect a person's aligment, I think the Paladin would be well within his rights to arrest the evil shopkeeper. I do not think he can wantonly kill him for the hell of it, for the reasons I gave above for the goblins.

Donp said:
Well, I would certainly agree with you if the Goblins were just normal people. But according to RAW, those with an Evil alignment seek to actively hurt, opress, and kill other sentients. So even if they aren't doing anything, they are probably cooking up an evil scheme, or preparing an assault or something. So wouldn't it be like attacking a band of wolves who hadn't done anything, just because you know that they pose a threat to you and would kill you at a moment's notice if given the chance?

Emphasis on the underlined above... If this is your justification for determining if a sentient creature should live or die, you might as well have the Paladin kill everyone he comes across, because everyone has the possibility of doing something evil at some point in their lives.

The killing of wolves is different because more then likely the wolves are attacking you first, based on instinct and not evil intent, and you are just defending yourself.
 

Mad Hamish

First Post
Killing a creature that has surrendered and is begging for mercy would always, in my DMing opinion, ruin a paladin's status, even if it is a demon/devil. It may not be an evil act in the case of a demon, but it is definitely not a Lawful Good thing to do and would cause the paladin to lose power for a while. I like my Good guys to actually be Good (with the capital G for emphasis), so showing mercy to surrendering foes to allow them to be dealt with justly or be given a chance to repent is the best way to go.

I'd say that's going a bit too far.
Demons, Devils, evil high priests who perform sacrifices, necromancers who raise and an unleash armies of undead etc have all done huge amounts of evil and draw power willingly from evil. They're evil and killing them shouldn't
cause any problems
 

RigaMortus2

First Post
Well, let's make the Paladin the king's executioner. He is to execute a convicted crimnal. The criminal begs for mercy. If the paladin executes the criminal, we remove his paladinhood for his Evil act, and if he fails to obey his liege, he loses his Lawful alignment. Any more beatings we can inflict for having the audacity to choose to play a Paladin?

This is a good one, thank you for this scenario...

When we consider the Lawful Good alignment, so much emphasis gets put on the Good part. There are a lot of conflicts the DM can throw at us where doing the Good thing is not the Lawful thing, and vice versa. More often then not, the choice is made on the side of Good.

Your example is a great scenario where I think picking the Lawful option is the right thing to do.

Sparing his life would be Good.
Not sparing his life would not be Good, but it also would not be Evil. His crimes were obviously heinous enough to warrant a death penalty. Unless he is dying for an unjust reason (something silly, like being executed for cheating on his wife). But since you did not go into detail as to what he was convicted of and why he got a death sentence, I will assume it was just.

Not sparing his life and fulfilling your duty would be the Lawful act.
Sparing his life would be Unlawful... Or a Chaotic act from a D&D standpoint.

I think it is more clear cut and precise when you look at the Lawful/Chaotic options and more grey or lenient from the Good/Evil options.
 

RigaMortus2

First Post
I'd say that's going a bit too far.
Demons, Devils, evil high priests who perform sacrifices, necromancers who raise and an unleash armies of undead etc have all done huge amounts of evil and draw power willingly from evil. They're evil and killing them shouldn't
cause any problems

It really all depends given several factors. Each situation is different. I don't think you can make a blanket statement either way. The Paladin needs to make that decision based on what is happening (and has happened) in the campaign.

You can't just make a blanket statement "killing all evil demons is NOT an evil act, no matter what" just as you can't make a blanket statement "the good thing to do would be to spare a surrendering evil creature".
 

Mad Hamish

First Post
Well, I would certainly agree with you if the Goblins were just normal people.

What about an evil society?
A country that worships devils or demons?

But according to RAW, those with an Evil alignment seek to actively hurt, opress, and kill other sentients. So even if they aren't doing anything, they are probably cooking up an evil scheme, or preparing an assault or something.

Or maybe if you deal fairly with them they'll stick to their deal with you if you make it worth their while?
They might be willing to give up their favoured foods if out of it they get relieable food and in return they will let people through to access some resources and alert people of observations.

So wouldn't it be like attacking a band of wolves who hadn't done anything, just because you know that they pose a threat to you and would kill you at a moment's notice if given the chance?

Sentient creatures are different from unintelligent creatures.
(also note that wolves aren't actually overly likely to attack humans in most circumstances)
 

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