Paladin just committed murder - what should happen next?

5ekyu

Adventurer
In the general case it appears we are all in closer agreement than it would seem. On both the moral issue and the playstyle issue.

The points of disagreement are more about which cases this specific dragon encounter example falls under. It seems to me that there are a lot of details that could easily move it from one realm to the other.

For example, if the scenario isn't viewed as a no win scenario then just immediately acquiescing to the dragons request is very problematic. However if it is a no-win scenario where the only choices are either acquiesce to the request or you both die then the paladin chose the moral action.

With that said, there's one principle that hasn't really been discussed much in relation to the moral / not moral question. Moral decisions are always based on impartial knowledge. So the most important part of determining the morality of the paladins action isn't to look at it from the knowledge we have of the whole situation. Instead it's to look at the knowledge he had of the situation and what actions he could have taken to get more knowledge of the situation.

So in our example, the paladin is confronted with a dragon much to strong for him to fight and survive. The dragon gives him a verbal choice, "i'll kill you both unless you give me the NPC." At this point in the scene how can the paladin know that it's a no-win scenario? Is there any reasonable actions a person could do in this scenario to attempt to validate that it's a no-win scenario. Is it okay to give the NPC to the Dragon without attempting to validate it's a no win scenario first?

That to me is ultimate root cause of the paladins moral failure in this example, no attempt to validate that his situation really was a no win scenario before he gave the NPC to the dragon. It's also important to note that this moral failure exists whether it actually was a no win scenario or not and regardless of whether the paladin or his player believed it was a no-win scenario.
Obviously the first and most obvious way to verify he cannot win is to try and win and fail.

Most likely result, two dead.

keeps coming back to an requirement to keep trying in spite of previous efforts to win that failed?
not sure where that train ends.

if he tries to negotiate and that fails, then what? Find another "try a new way to win" to validate he cannot win? keep risking failure again and again and losing any chance of returning to right the wrong... asd infinutum?

or is there a number, some holy figure, minimum number of "risk it agains" after trying and failing before the oath is fulfilled?

Lets look at a similar example - same exact situiation with ONE change - he was carrying two injured victims to safety - a man and a child.

Dragon gives him the same offer, turn over the man and the rest go free.

Now, is it still beholden on the paladin to fulfill his oath to risk the child and himself to keep trying? Since we have established that this world ending quest wasn't enough to warrant the choice to give in to the dragon, clearly this extra child wont sway the oath-breaking repercussions.

Right?

After all, its got to be about the paladin and his oath... that is what heroic means, right?
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
As I see it, this is equivalent to a police officer carrying a wounded citizen, and suddenly a tank rolls up and demands that the officer leave the man or die. The officer has sworn an oath to serve and protect, but he also knows that a nuclear bomb is going to go off soon and he's one of the few people who has a chance to stop it. Has the officer disgraced himself and broken his oath if he chooses to leave the man?

I would say no.

Certainly, trying to negotiate with the tank commander for the man's life would be a noble and heroic act. But maybe he doesn't think of it in the heat of the moment. Maybe the commander's voice over the loadspeaker had such a tone of finality to it that the officer legitimately believes this is not a man who will brook even one iota of dissent. Does not thinking to negotiate, or believing that negotiation will fail outright mean that he has violated his oath?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if the player had thought the dragon would have taken some rations instead of the man, he would have offered the rations.

Placed in an impossible situation, with no hope of fighting back, I don't think that the paladin broke his oath. Is it a good act? No. But I don't think that it counts as an evil act either, particularly given that he did it so that he can continue to save others (the world ending scenario).

As others have said, the player and DM should discuss it out of game. If the DM engineered this scenario intentionally, then they ought to learn from this and not do so in the future. It's one thing to place a character in a situation where you have no idea as to a solution, and quite another where the only "right" answer involves reading the DM's mind. At worst, the paladin should get a warning of some kind, IMO.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
"Gawd: So, you died.
Paladin: Yes, it was a glorious death. I died as a shining beacon of hope.
Gawd: So, the man escaped?
Paladin: No. He died immediately.
Gawd: So, you took the gawd given gifts you had, abandoned your quest to save to world, and threw them away on a pointless gesture that achieved nothing other than to assuage your own ego? We certainly never told you death before dishonor."

Paladin: If I couldn't prevent a dragon from killing an innocent, how exactly was I to save the world from an even bigger menace?.
Umm, by not standing directly in front of the threshing machine? Like, I can save 100 people from a machine gun nest by sidling around and taking it out from the side but still fail to save a single one from being killed by standing in front of machine gun fire.

And you tell me about ego? Ego would be to value my own life over the others! And what do you know about it? you didn't do anything! If you reduce life to a cold calculation I don't see how you can call yourself a good deity. I regret nothing, except trusting an uncaring gawd like you. Now if excuse me, there's a spot in the wall with my name on it..


IMO, If you are not trying to be heroic, then you are a paladin in name only. Obviously, you cannot save everyone, but you still have to try, especially if they are under your direct protection. It is ok to fail because you got defeated, because you cant be everywhere or because you got outmaneuvered. It is not ok to outright sell the innocent you are protecting to save your own fleece.
And this is why many groups tend to not want paladins or the equivalent. Not because the players or PCs feel diminished or unworthy by their shining example, but because strategically, operationally, and tactically they cause problems and get people -- themselves and more importantly those around them -- killed without value.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I remember a comment about how courage and resolve should not be considered virtues or "hood" out of context of their application.

It's like praising "tpyup, he drove us headlong into that fatal crash, but he never blinked, not once."
 

GameOgre

Explorer
One thing that escaped my notice earlier is the wording of the thread Title.

Paladin just committed murder - what should happen next?

I don't think anyone,even those like myself who see the possibility but for sure not the inevitability of the Paladin being in the wrong, would see this is MURDER.

MURDER it certainly was not. The fact that the DM worded it is such a way means something to me. Either he is interested in more Paladin angst threads or he has serious issue with how he perceives Paladins.

I'm leaning more towards the second because I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
One thing that escaped my notice earlier is the wording of the thread Title.

Paladin just committed murder - what should happen next?

I don't think anyone,even those like myself who see the possibility but for sure not the inevitability of the Paladin being in the wrong, would see this is MURDER.

MURDER it certainly was not. The fact that the DM worded it is such a way means something to me. Either he is interested in more Paladin angst threads or he has serious issue with how he perceives Paladins.

I'm leaning more towards the second because I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Several people In the thread agree that the paladin should be considered a murderer or at a minimum an unindicted co-conspirator. I see the paladin as effectively a mugging victim.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
I’m not sure that’s really their position.
I am not victim blaming. I am blaming an un-indicted co-conspirator.
<Snip lots>

But for this specific example, the title of this thread is "Paladin Just Committed Murder, What Should Happen Next?" So let's accept the fact that the DM has already decided that the paladin's actions amount to murder in this context...it's right there, in the title of the post. The paladin/warlock is guilty of murder in this game world, so let's start there.

Where I live, murder is a felony offense that is punishable by life in prison. In other states, it can get you the death penalty. So before we ever start worrying about the paladin losing his special powers, he might need to worry about facing charges for negligent homicide (assuming negligent homicide is a crime in this world. It could be like Skyrim, where you can slaughter dozens of people in a cave and nobody bats an eye.)

<snip lots more>
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Umm, by not standing directly in front of the threshing machine? Like, I can save 100 people from a machine gun nest by sidling around and taking it out from the side but still fail to save a single one from being killed by standing in front of machine gun fire.



And this is why many groups tend to not want paladins or the equivalent. Not because the players or PCs feel diminished or unworthy by their shining example, but because strategically, operationally, and tactically they cause problems and get people -- themselves and more importantly those around them -- killed without value.
Which is why I don't play or like DMs that enforce lawful stupid paladins.

They only cause issues if you put them in an artificial straight jacket or constantly throw no-win no good option scenarios at them as "moral dilemmas".
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Third, I disagree with the (prevailing) sentiment that you should get the player's permission to impose divine punishment on a paladin who violates his oath. That's the whole point of the oath- he has to live up to it or fall.
Not really. He has to live up to it or seek absolution. It's only for willful violations with no signs of repentance that the paladin will fall.

This paladin had no choice, so the violation wasn't even willful. It's not like he walked up to the man and hacked him down of his own volition.

I do agree with you that you don't need the player's permission, though. Or put another way, you already have the players permission by virtue of him picking a which comes with requirements and penalties.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
An analogous scenario, at least as far as I see it.

Let's say that the PC has a ring that they inherited. Something they thought was just a normal ring, maybe a signet ring, but just one of those trinket things you roll for. The DM decided that everyone should start having some minor magical item and decided that the ring is a Ring of Feather Fall. The PC does not know this, never having fallen more than 10 feet.

An NPC is falling off a cliff, the PC paladin could jump after him. The DM knows they will both be okay, he's decided that anything the paladin can carry will also be covered by the feather fall magic.

Instead, the PC lets the NPC plummet to his doom and DM accuses the paladin of murder. After all, the PC could have saved the NPC.

Is this an unlikely event? Sure. So is a relatively low level PC "staring down" an adult dragon.

I don't see any moral difference in the two scenarios. In neither one did the player know that there was a chance to save the NPC.

If this scenario come up and it's this critical to the PC, it's time for a sidebar. I try to avoid these in game, but once in a blue moon I just have to stop the action and make sure the player knows the consequences of their action. Because maybe I haven't communicated the scene or the ramifications clearly enough. Maybe the player just doesn't grasp the seriousness of the situation. In this scenario I would have at the very least given the player an insight or nature check to know that it might be possible to talk their way out of the situation.

Unless something isn't clear the OP is doing a "gotcha".
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't see any moral difference in the two scenarios.
Because you are focusing on the wrong element of the scenario. The moral failing of the Paladin is that they entered in to the agreement. They put someone else's life ahead of their own, and allowed someone else to die in their stead with no agreement from that person. As someone else put it, "A wounded man, a dragon, and a paladin took a vote on which would be eaten."

The paladin didn't resist evil. The paladin didn't even try to negotiate the terms - for example offering his own life in the man's stead. Everything about the paladin's philosophy screams utilitarian self-centeredness.

It's not that the paladin is required to throw his life away. He doesn't have to jump into a river to try to save a drowning man while he's wearing platemail, or jump off a cliff in the hope a miracle will happen. But he does have to resist evil and not enter into a bargain with it.

I've already in this thread given what I thought the equivalent scenarios are.

Steve Rogers would not have stood by and done nothing. Arnaud Beltram would not have stood by and done nothing.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
Which is why I don't play or like DMs that enforce lawful stupid paladins.

They only cause issues if you put them in an artificial straight jacket or constantly throw no-win no good option scenarios at them as "moral dilemmas".
DMs enforcing lawful stupidity/comic book philosophy encourages it, but it's when they turn up on the player-side where these sentiments burn group trust.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Anything can be justified with the greater good argument.
Not really. What matters is whether or not a violation is willful. If the paladin comes up with a mental justification for why he is going to willfully do something, he's still violating his oath and needs to repent or lose his powers. With the dragon, the paladin was forced by virtue of death if he doesn't, to hand over the NPC. That force makes the violation an unwillful one, since the will of the paladin would have been not to hand over the PC.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
My party members were not able to escape either, so it is pretty similar. If my character would have been killed, then my party members would have died all the same. But the paladin was given an option to either save himself or die heroically... he decided to live. My character decided to die bravely without being given an ultimatum.
Yes, a PC can choose death. However, not choosing death isn't the same as a willful violation of the oath.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Because you are focusing on the wrong element of the scenario. The moral failing of the Paladin is that they entered in to the agreement. They put someone else's life ahead of their own, and allowed someone else to die in their stead with no agreement from that person. As someone else put it, "A wounded man, a dragon, and a paladin took a vote on which would be eaten."

The paladin didn't resist evil. The paladin didn't even try to negotiate the terms - for example offering his own life in the man's stead. Everything about the paladin's philosophy screams utilitarian self-centeredness.

It's not that the paladin is required to throw his life away. He doesn't have to jump into a river to try to save a drowning man while he's wearing platemail, or jump off a cliff in the hope a miracle will happen. But he does have to resist evil and not enter into a bargain with it.

I've already in this thread given what I thought the equivalent scenarios are.

Steve Rogers would not have stood by and done nothing. Arnaud Beltram would not have stood by and done nothing.
Then there should have been a sidebar. A brief chat about the scenario because it's clear that it didn't ever occur to the player that they could talk their way out of it any more than they would have known that they had a ring of feather fall and could save someone falling to their death.

Suicide is not heroic.
 

happyhermit

Explorer
A man and his injured wife are walking down an alley when confronted by a group of armed guys. They demand he give her over, and say he can go if he does. Knowing she will die, his response is;

"Ok.", and he pushes her forward. Without even a "Sorry honey, but I have to save the world, you know how it is." No attempt at bargaining, intimidation, persuasion, appeal to a higher power, stalling until help arrives. Even for an average Joe this seems... . An average Joe wouldn't be expected to say "Take me instead" for instance, but to not try anything would be a tough one to explain to friends and family unless he claimed to be overwhelmed by fear.

Now, for someone who has sworn an oath that deals with courage, protection, standing up to evil, etc. in a world where gods exist, and that oath has literally granted them tangible magical abilities damn... that's hard to justify.

god: "Woah, you had to give her over to be killed and eaten? The monsters wouldn't even talk about it? That's rough but I'm sure you had absolutely no choice."
PC: "Well, no they did talk. They offered me a deal. I took it."
god: "Wait, what?"
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Because you are focusing on the wrong element of the scenario. The moral failing of the Paladin is that they entered in to the agreement.
No. There was no agreement. The paladin was FORCED to hand over the NPC by a death threat from a being that could back it up. It was not a willful violation of the paladin's oath.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I can make the argument that the paladin choosing to die is in willful violation of his oath.

"Preserve Your Own Light. Delight in song and laughter, in beauty and art. If you allow the light to die in your own heart, you can’t preserve it in the world."

If the paladin chooses suicide, he is willfully allowing his own light to die and failing to preserve it in the world. By handing over the PC to the dragon FORCING him to do so, he is upholding the above tenet of his oath. If he instead refuses and dies, he is willfully choosing to break his oath and dies unrepentant, and therefore dies a non-paladin oathbreaker(I think I may have channeled @lowkey13 )
 

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