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Is killing a Goblin who begs for mercy evil?

MattW

Explorer
Everything in RP games is dependent on the relative maturity of everyone involved and what sort of game they enjoy.

How old are the Paladin player and his friends? 12 years old? Are they just playing as murder-hobos in a video game? If so, then nobody cares.

Are the Paladin and his friends (allegedly) adults? Do they have an interest in Role Playing? If so, they should be able to discuss things like morality and how disturbing it would be to actually kill a sentient being who was begging for mercy. (The DM should carefully describe the scene. The panic and then the agony as the goblin painfully dies of blood loss and how its last words were something that translates as "At least I'll be with you soon, Mother.").
 

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Doug McCrae

Legend
JRR Tolkien, writing in 1959 or 1960, thought that orcs deserved mercy. JRR Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien, Morgoth's Ring (1993) (emphasis mine):

Though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they [orcs] must be fought with the utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty and treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost. This was the teaching of the Wise, though in the horror of the War it was not always heeded. (pg 419)​
 

socialevil

Villager
Accepting a goblin surrender: honorable and good.

It reminds me events of Postknight 2 (you can find it on apkworlds) Refusing a surrender from/killing a known evil race: not so honorable (unless we're using Samurai instead of the chivalric code), and possibly bordering on chaotic, but not evil.

If the Paladin accepts the creature's surrender, then turn around and stabs the creature when he's not looking: not honorable, definitely chaotic, and probably evil at that point.
 
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TheSword

Legend
The race is irrelevant… what has the goblin done? If it’s been kidnapping and raising local villages as in Burnt Offerings. Then irrespective of whether it surrenders or not I don’t believe summary execution is evil. Not in a world without prisons and rehabilitation and an extensive criminal justice system.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
It is always a good thing to accept a surrender you believe is being offered in good faith. Knightly orders of chivalry or hospitality might not even allow their members to decline, or to judge for themselves whether or not a plea of surrender is in good or bad faith until it is clearly broken.

It is never a good thing to inflict cruelty on a helpless person under your power, nor to give your word in bad faith to anyone you could challenge openly instead.

If you don't accept these as moral absolutes, you have nothing to say to me on the topic of objective morality.

A goblin begging for mercy doesn't mean their surrender is in good faith. Goblins beg for mercy as a battle cry. On the battlefield, and in the aftermath, a clean death is also considered a mercy. If you don't have the means to protect the goblin prisoner from your allies, you don't have the moral authority to accept a surrender. It's a difficult choice and honorable either way.

Once you've accepted the surrender, you are morally and honorably bound to the goblin's protection. Once you've made your choice, there is no more choice to make.
 


mewzard

Explorer
It's probably worth noting at this point that in Pathfinder now, Goblins are a core ancestry and are more and more starting to turn away from old Goblin stereotypes (though not entirely).

Hell, you want to talk about the absolute of Alignment, look at Nocticula. She was formerly the Demon Lord of Assassins, Darkness, and Lust. The first Succubus.

Now? She's Nocticula, the Redeemer Queen. A Chaotic Neutral goddess of marginalized artists and protector of the exiled who tempts even those of the Abyss towards redemption.

It was teased as a possibility back in 1e, as one reason she might want to ascend to full godhood.

Morality is so much more complicated than "Elf Good, Goblin Bad", and I'd say it's for the better of any story and adventure to have such struggles. Sometimes you'll make the wrong choice, or even if you make the right choice, you might get burned for it. But being good is often the more difficult, and rewarding, road.
 
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MaskedGuy

Explorer
Now? She's Nocticula, the Redeemer Queen. A Chaotic Good goddess of marginalized artists and protector of the exiled who tempts even those of the Abyss towards redemption.
Chaotic NEUTRAL goddess thank you very much.

I like to point out that people seem to forget that Nocticula is very pragmatic sort of god.

Anyway, I do think threads title is kinda telling because it kinda comes across as "well if it was human bandit, would you answer differently?" :p
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Anyway, I do think threads title is kinda telling because it kinda comes across as "well if it was human bandit, would you answer differently?" :p
Yep. Replace the word "goblin" with something unspecified like "humanoid" or "opponent," and the question hits very differently.
 
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mewzard

Explorer
Chaotic NEUTRAL goddess thank you very much.

I like to point out that people seem to forget that Nocticula is very pragmatic sort of god.

Anyway, I do think threads title is kinda telling because it kinda comes across as "well if it was human bandit, would you answer differently?" :p

You're right and I even knew that. I don't know why I typed Chaotic Good. I'll be sure to fix that. And yeah, if changing who the question is about turns it into something horrifying, it was already probably pretty bad.

Yep. Replace the word "goblin" with something species-neutral like "humanoid" or "opponent," and the question hits very differently.

It really SHOULDN'T hit different though. Whether it's Goblin, Human, Dwarf, etc, it's super messed up to just murder someone begging for mercy.

It's one thing if your PC has to kill in self defense, or to stop some immediate evil act, but yeah, just assuming a race is evil and going for the kill when they seek mercy is not what I'd throw under the Good alignment.

Maybe you'll face them again on the battlefield, or via some sort of ambush...or maybe, you might have changed someone's life for the better. Your act of mercy may inspire one to attempt to better themself. Who knows?

I think it's at least worth trying.
 


DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
It really SHOULDN'T hit different though. Whether it's Goblin, Human, Dwarf, etc, it's super messed up to just murder someone begging for mercy.
It really shouldn't matter what kind of person they are... but it matters a whole lot what they were doing before they started begging for mercy. It matters a lot, what you think they're going to do after you lower your weapon and whether or not you have the power to stop that.

The Comics Code Authority isn't any kind of moral authority. Spider-Man is a hero for all the times he's spared the Rhino or Sandman; for all the times he's spared Norman Osborn, or Miles Warren, or Carnage, he's a very flawed hero. A fascinating character, an example of Good, but not the perfect example of Good.
 

MaskedGuy

Explorer
It really shouldn't matter what kind of person they are... but it matters a whole lot what they were doing before they started begging for mercy. It matters a lot, what you think they're going to do after you lower your weapon and whether or not you have the power to stop that.

The Comics Code Authority isn't any kind of moral authority. Spider-Man is a hero for all the times he's spared the Rhino or Sandman; for all the times he's spared Norman Osborn, or Miles Warren, or Carnage, he's a very flawed hero. A fascinating character, an example of Good, but not the perfect example of Good.
When it comes to super heroes, its still silly logic to apply it though.

Like why exactly is it Batman's responsibility to kill Joker? Joker isn't some sort of supernatural being that can be only killed by Batman. In modern society vigilantes shouldn't execute people(that just opens massive Punisher shaped can of worms), if Gotham really wanted to get rid of Joker well they live in part of america were execution(as distasteful as it is) seems to be legal.

Second thing is that in real life, prison escape isn't as common as in comic books :p Like is it really superhero's fault that superhero comics run on "Okay, this villain is popular so bring them back for another issue! Yeah yeah just say they escaped or something" logic? Like from in universe perspective, if people keep escaping from prison then there is something severely wrong with prison itself. Like why DO they don't just destroy Rhino's suit or keep it located in another facility?
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
Like why exactly is it Batman's responsibility to kill Joker? Joker isn't some sort of supernatural being that can be only killed by Batman.
Rule .303. Batman has the capacity to find, thwart, and apprehend Joker on multiple occasions and he knows, canonically, what is going to happen each and every single time he apprehends the Joker. That means that he bears some degree of the moral responsibility for the inevitable consequences of taking Joker in, alive, and allowing Gotham's "justice" system to fail at its job.

Batman's also a good example, though, because canonically he also knows-- to some fair degree of certainty-- that the long-term consequences of him, personally, killing the Joker would be worse than the Joker's cumulative lifetime of rampages. He knows that an obsessive billionaire who dresses up as a rodent to beat up the mentally ill is only a thin red line from belonging in Arkham himself, and that his powers and training would make him more dangerous than any of his terrestrial enemies if he crossed it. He's not wrong. He also knows the kind of heat that would bring down on his "batfamily", who are mostly normal human beings operating by the grace of the same corruption that makes them necessary.

It's an interesting moral argument, born out of a Doylist need to justify a faintly ridiculous Watsonian character trait that was imposed upon the entire genre of superhero storytelling by external moral hypocrisy. (And, you know, marketing.)

On the other hand, when he threatens to suicide-bomb an entire planet full of sentient non-combatant aliens to stop Darkseid, neither his allies nor Darkseid himself is willing to call his bluff-- because they all know, to the last person, that Batman is not bluffing. This is also the right call; Earth is not the only planet full of sentient non-combatant beings that Apokolips is currently/always a clear and present danger to.

Doesn't really apply to Spider-Man, whose technical pacifism is frequently expressed in a way that makes it look like narcissistic martyrdom. Marvel's bent over backwards to give it the Thermian explanation that Spider-Man is attuned to the Web of Life, and that failing to uphold his commitment to always saving everyone possible would mean spiritually losing his capacity to save lives. It's kinda hokey, but I use it myself in some of my own Marvel storytelling. However, that's a relatively recent development that is largely not held in high regard by other hardcore Spider-Man fans.

And in a fictional universe where Spider-Man's magic powers weren't attached to a load-bearing pillar of morality...

In modern society vigilantes shouldn't execute people(that just opens massive Punisher shaped can of worms), if Gotham really wanted to get rid of Joker well they live in part of america were execution(as distasteful as it is) seems to be legal.
I'm not talking about execution here; conversation started with refusing to accept the surrender of a goblin combatant. Most of what comicbook vigilantes do is highly illegal-- looking for and beating up people planning to engage in crimes breaks all sorts of laws, and even by the laxest legal standards of self-defense, no individual has the right to kill another individual.

It's funny how comicbook fans can watch their heroes commit violent crime after violent crime, maiming other (only sometimes) violent criminals who have a right to a judge and a jury, and it's only when they do what is perfectly legal and moral-- using lethal force in direct defense of their own, or another's, life from clear and present danger-- that we, as comic book moral philosophers, kick up a fuss.


Second thing is that in real life, prison escape isn't as common as in comic books :p Like is it really superhero's fault that superhero comics run on "Okay, this villain is popular so bring them back for another issue! Yeah yeah just say they escaped or something" logic? Like from in universe perspective, if people keep escaping from prison then there is something severely wrong with prison itself. Like why DO they don't just destroy Rhino's suit or keep it located in another facility?

Well, point blank, Batman doesn't have the means to fix Arkham Asylum or Gotham City's notoriously corrupt police department. He's not capable of making everyone else involved do the right thing. He does not bear more responsibility for the Joker's third-and-subsequent crime sprees than the Joker himself does, or Gotham PD, or the faculty and staff at Arkham Asylum. He's just the only person who ever has the capacity and the authority to do so at the same time.

He chooses to take the Joker down non-lethally, when this presents more of a risk to the Joker's victims, and it's only because the writers bend over backwards-- for good reasons!-- to avoid calling attention to this that... well, we aren't constantly having our attention called to it. In a "more realistic" adolescent power fantasy, Barman and Spider-Man would have watched countless innocent people die while they were walking on eggshells to protect people literally in the act of committing murder.

I'm not suggesting that we change the conventions of the superhero genre, though that's already happening on its own. I'm just saying that we shouldn't mistake them for real-life moral principles or worse, apply them to genres or heroic storytelling that lack all of the modern and/or historical context that made those convenitions apply to superhero stories in the first place.
 

MaskedGuy

Explorer
I mean, I do consider it to be different thing to "Kill someone about to kill an innocent", but when people talk about superheroes killing villains they seem to kinda frame it in form of "they should hunt them down" or "not give them mercy". Like I haven't really seen many scenes of "civilians die because batman didn't shoot joker in the moment", though let's face it wouldn't be much of superhero story if it was "man I really should have brought sniper rifle instead of my fancy gadgets"

Either way though, it is still kinda annoying considering that superheroes are pretty much younger audience's genre that authors keep trying to make them dark and edgy. Like trying to write scenario where superman has to kill someone in order to save people kinda misses point of genre to me. But that is getting really on sidetrack.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
Either way though, it is still kinda annoying considering that superheroes are pretty much younger audience's genre that authors keep trying to make them dark and edgy. Like trying to write scenario where superman has to kill someone in order to save people kinda misses point of genre to me. But that is getting really on sidetrack.

Mostly my point is that superhero genre conventions about the morality of continuum of force don't really have much basis in real-life ethical considerations and definitely should not apply to sword & sorcery fantasy adventures.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
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. :)
I think Evil in the game is something that you do, rather than what you are. So unless the shop keeper or the goblin were doing something evil it would be undetectable.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The race is irrelevant… what has the goblin done? If it’s been kidnapping and raising local villages as in Burnt Offerings. Then irrespective of whether it surrenders or not I don’t believe summary execution is evil. Not in a world without prisons and rehabilitation and an extensive criminal justice system.
I was about to post that the race is possibly the most relevant thing.

If, in the lore of the setting, the race is irredemably evil. Demons and devils in most settings as an example, perhaps mindless, uncontrolled undead, then it can be killed without regard. A plea for mercy from them cannot lead to a net positive.

On the other hand, races whihc can be redeemed it's important. Perhaps even if this particular individual orc can't be swayed the knowledge that it is possible to be treated as a person may affect the actions of other of that race or other races.

And it's really per setting - if in my setting all gnolls are tainted by Yeenoghu while in yours that isn't true, it can vary there. If in 13th Age Orcs literally are evil bubbling out of the earth, they may be irredeemable.

Basically, races is a common divisor between "this ca't be redeemed" which is where it's okay to kill. Much like 80s cartoons often had robot foes because it was okay to destroy them, there are some things that, based on the setting, may be okay not to show mercy to. Everyone and everything else needs to be considered.
 
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TheSword

Legend
I was about to post that the race is possibly the most relevant thing.

If, in the lore of the setting, the race is irredemably evil. Demons and devils in most settings as an example, perhaps mindless, uncontrolled undead, then it can be killed without regard. A plea for mercy from them cannot lead to a net positive.

On the other hand, races whihc can be redeemed it's important. Perhaps even if this particular individual orc can't be swayed the knowledge that it is possible to be treated as a person may affect the actions of other of that race or other races.

And it's really per setting - if in my setting all gnolls are tainted by Yeenoghu while in yours that isn't true, it can vary there. If in 13th Age Orcs literally are evil bubbling out of the earth, they may be irredeemable.

Basically, races is a common divisor between "this ca't be redeemed" which is where it's okay to kill. Much like 80s cartoons often had robot foes because it was okay to destroy them, there are some things that, based on the setting, may be okay not to show mercy to. Everyone and everything else needs to be considered.
Sure if something is elementally evil or fundamentally inimical to life then it should/could be killed irrespective of what it’s done… demons, demonic gnolls, mind flayers etc.

For most creatures capable of free will, rational thought and self determination let the punishment fit the crime.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Sure if something is elementally evil or fundamentally inimical to life then it should/could be killed irrespective of what it’s done… demons, demonic gnolls, mind flayers etc.

For most creatures capable of free will, rational thought and self determination let the punishment fit the crime.
Exactly. In other words, race is one of the very few identifiers where you know if you can kill without hesitation. I'm glad you see that your statement that race is irrelevant was incorrect.
 

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