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View Full Version : Under which editions of D&D was it evil to kill prisoners?



hamishspence
2009-12-22, 01:54 PM
Here:

http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=11762&hilit=prisoners&start=75

I see the claim that, in "Gygax D&D" it is perfectly legitimate for good characters to kill prisoners (though several of the posters seem to have been playing it the other way.)

Yet when I looked at a copy of Basic D&D (1978 edition) under alignment, the sample given for "acting in a fashion inappropriate for alignment"- resulting in alignment change and XP penalties, was:

A "good" character who kills or tortures a prisoner"

So, as far back as Basic D&D, there was a general rule that adventurers were not judge, jury, and executioner, and could not kill enemies whom they had taken prisoner.

Just like BoED, as a matter of fact.

So- was it ever changed? Did AD&D 1st ed specific that adventurers could execute people whom they had taken prisoner?

Roland St. Jude
2009-12-22, 02:07 PM
That seems accurate to AD&D 1e as I recall it. It doesn't say anything specifically about allowing execution of prisoners, but it seems to take a utilitarian "greatest good and least woe to the greatest number of decent folk" kind of approach to good. And, as noted in the linked thread, the idea of a paladin was an oath-bound one-man judge who was authorized by both society and deity.

But you have to be careful, part of that thread he's plainly joking.

Kurald Galain
2009-12-22, 02:12 PM
:miko: Apparently not in third...

arguskos
2009-12-22, 02:12 PM
You know, I was expecting Roland to be giving a warning or something when I saw he posted. o.O I forgot that he actually posts! :smallbiggrin:

As for killing prisoners, I do not recall any prohibitions against it in OD&D, though Evil and Good weren't alignments back then. I do think it was mentioned that it was Chaotic to kill prisoners, and that Lawful characters shouldn't permit that.

Aldizog
2009-12-22, 02:30 PM
I do think it was mentioned that it was Chaotic to kill prisoners, and that Lawful characters shouldn't permit that.
Sister Rebecca's Lawful deity wouldn't let her heal the wounds of somebody who slew prisoners, as Morgan Ironwolf (Neutral) was proposing to do.

Best edition ever.

SolkaTruesilver
2009-12-22, 02:33 PM
:miko: Apparently not in third...

What is your meaning? :miko: hasn't killed any prisonners. Maybe she had wanted to, but we all know that it's what you DO, not what you WANT, that can make you fall.

arguskos
2009-12-22, 02:35 PM
Sister Rebecca's Lawful deity wouldn't let her heal the wounds of somebody who slew prisoners, as Morgan Ironwolf (Neutral) was proposing to do.

Best edition ever.
I know! OD&D rocks. :smallcool:

hamishspence
2009-12-22, 02:39 PM
But you have to be careful, part of that thread he's plainly joking.

Which part was that? The "Nits make lice" part seemed awfully seriously phrased.

That page and the page after go into some detail on killing prisoners, and that failure to do so is effectively "stupid good"- which parts are serious and which not?

Aldizog
2009-12-22, 02:40 PM
I know! OD&D rocks. :smallcool:
Well, I never played the true OD&D, but what I was citing was Moldvay Basic. Still pretty far back in the prehistory.

Mark Hall
2009-12-22, 02:44 PM
Sister Rebecca's Lawful deity wouldn't let her heal the wounds of somebody who slew prisoners, as Morgan Ironwolf (Neutral) was proposing to do.

Best edition ever.

Yeah, but Aleena was prettier. :smallwink:

hamishspence
2009-12-22, 02:45 PM
The one I was citing was an early edition of Basic- revised slightly, but still pretty old- 1978.

Its interesting to see the examples of "alignment-changing behaviour".

Back then it was "killing or torturing a prisoner" (says nothing about it being a non-evil prisoner only)

and in AD&D 2nd ed, it was "burning the plague village to save the country" that was suggested as appropriate for an instant alignment shift from Good to Evil.

I think its possible that example may have been present in 1st ed too.

So extreme utilitarianism doesn't fit with at least some versions of the alignment system.

Of course, the "do not kill prisoners" bit says nothing about any requirement to take prisoners, only that, once they've been taken, killing or torturing them is inappropriate for a Good character.

Kurald Galain
2009-12-22, 02:50 PM
Maybe she had wanted to, but we all know that it's what you DO, not what you WANT, that can make you fall.

I'm not sure who this "we all" is that you speak of, but some people consider motives to be very important for alignment issues.

hamishspence
2009-12-22, 02:53 PM
Important, but not the be-all and end-all.

Motive can make the difference between a Good act and a Neutral act- acts of benevolence done for their own sake are Good, acts done primarily to get you popularity and thus power, are Neutral.

However, its much harder for it to make the difference between a Evil and Neutral act- in at least some sources, no amount of Good motivation will shift an Evil act into Neutral territory.

There is also context- which is separate from motive and consequences.

arguskos
2009-12-22, 02:54 PM
Ok, so, I just checked my third printing OD&D rules from 1975, and there is all of one table for alignment (telling you what is what usually). It mentions nothing about the complicated issues of alignment, nor does it include Evil or Good. Things are Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic. I would assume however that is is a Chaotic act to kill prisoners, and that a Lawful character shouldn't be condoning such activities. Beyond that guess, it's a mystery.

Athaniar
2009-12-22, 02:56 PM
I'm not sure who this "we all" is that you speak of, but some people consider motives to be very important for alignment issues.

Hm? Nothing in the SRD's section on paladins says anything about "think no evil".

Daefos
2009-12-22, 02:56 PM
What is your meaning? :miko: hasn't killed any prisonners.

He's saying, in response to Roland, that paladins are authorized to be judge and jury but not executioner. Miko was used as an example of what happens when they try to be. It was a joke and had nothing to do with killing prisoners.

hamishspence
2009-12-22, 02:58 PM
The bit I'm talking about mentioned Lawful and Chaotic, but also mentioned Good and Evil.

And mentioned that if players are not behaving appropriately for their alignment, it can be changed. And gave the aforementioned example.

I also recall a four-lobe diagram- with Neutral in the centre, that shows some creatures are more strongly aligned than others.

Elves are mildly CG. Brass dragons are strongly CG. Bugbears are mildly CE. Chimeras are strongly CE.

Maybe the 1978 Basic D&D game was beginning to incorporate bits from AD&D?

arguskos
2009-12-22, 03:09 PM
Maybe the 1978 Basic D&D game was beginning to incorporate bits from AD&D?
That is likely. I'd bet Basic D&D was among the first to start incorporating the Nine Alignments. I wasn't playing then (or even alive), so I can't confirm that.

Roland St. Jude
2009-12-22, 03:10 PM
Which part was that? The "Nits make lice" part seemed awfully seriously phrased.

No, that seemed serious and fits in with the general "greatest good" idea of 1e.

But where he says about killing a recently converted person to keep them from backsliding, for example, that seemed like his dry humor at work.


Yeah, but Aleena was prettier. :smallwink:

*swoon* (Over Aleena, not Mark Hall. :smallredface:)


I would assume however that is is a Chaotic act to kill prisoners, and that a Lawful character shouldn't be condoning such activities.

I wouldn't assume that. A person viewed as a paragon of good and lawfulness might well be authorized to judge and carry out a sentence on the spot. Depending on the society, the goodness and lawfulness of the character need not be a factor. If the villain is viewed as sufficiently bad, they may be wanted "dead or live" - and that may hold true for all fugitives, spies, traitors, etc. Or maybe the government agent is just so important or the mission so important that he has a license to kill.

Government approval of its agents' acting as judge, jury, and executioner in some cases or even all cases during a mission seems likely to me in many settings.

OD&D was quite vague on this as was AD&D 1e. I'm pretty sure there's some general language about how the exact meaning of alignments depends a great deal on how the DM defines them and the boundaries between them.

Optimystik
2009-12-22, 03:15 PM
Yes, but is it morally justified?

*Flees the thread pursued by arrows and rocks*

hamishspence
2009-12-22, 03:22 PM
Yes, but is it morally justified?

*Flees the thread pursued by arrows and rocks*

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Anyway- on prisoners, it seems to be a common trope the good characters can't just kill their prisoners "out-of-hand". They don't have any special sanction- they may be adventurers, but that doesn't make them moral authorities- once they have taken prisoners, they are bound to treat them correctly.

arguskos
2009-12-22, 03:25 PM
*swoon* (Over Aleena, not Mark Hall. :smallredface:)
What, you don't like Mark? :smalltongue:


I wouldn't assume that. A person viewed as a paragon of good and lawfulness might well be authorized to judge and carry out a sentence on the spot. Depending on the society, the goodness and lawfulness of the character need not be a factor. If the villain is viewed as sufficiently bad, they may be wanted "dead or live" - and that may hold true for all fugitives, spies, traitors, etc. Or maybe the government agent is just so important or the mission so important that he has a license to kill.

Government approval of its agents' acting as judge, jury, and executioner in some cases or even all cases during a mission seems likely to me in many settings.

OD&D was quite vague on this as was AD&D 1e. I'm pretty sure there's some general language about how the exact meaning of alignments depends a great deal on how the DM defines them and the boundaries between them.
Well, if you think about it, we're looking at this sans trappings. I personally agree that, in most cases, there are going to be other factors, as you've brought up here.

However, sans all that, just looking at definitions and thinking about it, I would posit that a Lawful character would, in the absence of anything to say otherwise, probably spare prisoners until a legal authority can pass judgment on them. A Chaotic character would most likely do what they felt was justified. That seems to be a reasonable way to interpret Law/Chaos in the given context.

hamishspence
2009-12-22, 03:43 PM
Going by the way that particular paragraph was written,

I was thinking that, whether Lawful or Chaotic, a Good character should not consider summary execution of enemies justified, in the absence of factors other than "they fought us, lost, and surrendered"

Other factors might justify it, but not simply "being an enemy"

One might say that one of the guages of morality, is how people treat their defeated foes.

Its a common trope that good guys are merciful (while still careful) and evil guys, less so.

this particular alignment website:

http://easydamus.com/alignment.html

lists as "dishonorable" for all three Good alignments "Unjustly slaying a prisoner or unarmed opponent who has yielded"

Some people might have their own takes on what counts as unjust, and say that any killing of an Evil being is by definition not unjust.

Others say, even if a being is Evil, there are still certain standards that must be met for such a killing to avoid being "unjust".

Either way, the point to be made is, there was a "good characters don't kill prisoners" recommendation very early on- 1978. So, its not just a case of "alignment shifting away from what it was originally intended to be"- it goes right back almost to the beginning.

Mark Hall
2009-12-22, 05:23 PM
*swoon* (Over Aleena, not Mark Hall. :smallredface:)


Probably good. I'm WAY too much man for you. :smallwink:

Temotei
2009-12-22, 05:27 PM
Probably good. I'm WAY too much man for you. :smallwink:

Watch out for the brainwashing. :smallsmile:

Matthew
2009-12-23, 04:28 PM
But where he says about killing a recently converted person to keep them from backsliding, for example, that seemed like his dry humor at work.

Gygax reiterated that stance a few times over the years; my feeling was that he used it as an extreme example purposefully to upset standard notions of good and evil acts. He wrote several controversial articles on the subject of alignment, but the gist of things was always that it was up to the individual game master to judge what is good and evil based on their own societal norms or else on invented norms applicable to the campaign world.

hamishspence
2009-12-23, 04:38 PM
BoED gave a similar example as what not to do- once someone has truly achieved redemption- they should be forgiven- and their past acts not held against them.

In the same way, "swordpoint conversions" were described as utterly pointless, and smacking of evil.

Even the hardline LG Silver Flame, are described as taking a similar approach- you can't force someone to convert to Good- they have to choose it.

Devils_Advocate
2009-12-23, 04:56 PM
Something I find interesting is that on the next page of the thread (http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=11762&hilit=prisoners&start=90), Gary identifies CG as the Good alignment that might enslave enemy noncombatants. I think that in 3.X Chaotic Good would be the alignment least likely to do that, but maybe CG meant something different in AD&D.

It's enslavement for the purpose of changing their behavior, not just as a source of cheap labor, that he's talking about. But CG still strikes me as the 3.X alignment least likely to do that.

hamishspence
2009-12-23, 05:03 PM
I recall that even in 2nd ed, chaotic good was "selfish but basically good hearted"- it suggested Chaotic Good characters were far more concerned with their own interests than Lawful Good characters- and would be happy to refuse to help others if they thought what they were doing was important- whereas LG was much more likely to help others.

3rd ed chucked that out- with Chaos being associated with individualism rather than selfishness per se, and "aiding others" being considered fundamental to Good alignments.

Aldizog
2009-12-23, 05:04 PM
Something I find interesting is that on the next page of the thread (http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=11762&hilit=prisoners&start=90), Gary identifies CG as the Good alignment that might enslave enemy noncombatants. I think that in 3.X Chaotic Good would be the alignment least likely to do that, but maybe CG meant something different in AD&D.

Not sure if it was ever part of Gygax's design, but D&D did tend to present Lawful as more Good than Chaotic was.

BECMI had text similar to "'Lawful' behavior is often what would be called 'good.'" And only a very few monsters that were described as being generally good despite being Chaotic, or evil despite being Lawful. The paladin, generally held up as the foremost champion of good in 1E-3E, was Lawful Good (in BoED, aren't they the only ones considered Exalted by default?). I understand that 4E seems to have returned part-way to the BECMI model, with Lawful Good being "really really Good" and Chaotic Evil being "really really Evil."

hamishspence
2009-12-23, 05:07 PM
no- anyone can be Exalted in BoED, though paladins, who have a "may not commit an evil act" clause in their code, start off a bit closer.

The term "exalted" isn't actually a rules term- but an informal term for someone with one or more exalted feats (which can only be taken by Good characters, and are automatically lost if you perform an evil act or change alignment to Neutral)

You could be a paragon of Goodness, who never does Evil, and never take an exalted feat.

On 4E- I think it suggests LG and CE aren't "really really good/evil" in the PHB- though I'm not sure.

Thanks to the design of classes though, it appears clerics of each of the four alignments are more accepting of Unaligned characters, than of those right next to them. You can't start of as a Good cleric of a LG god, or a LG cleric of a Good god, but either can have people start off as Unaligned clerics.

jmbrown
2009-12-23, 05:28 PM
In case it hasn't been mentioned, Basic D&D was a "mainstream" version of the rules with a bent towards light hearted fantasy. AD&D retained the morally ambiguous sword and sorcery feel. While the alignment system existed in 1st edition, it was still pretty basic IE good people respect life and evil people debase it.

The context of the situation is what's important. If a good person doesn't have the resources to hold an evil, unrepentant prisoner then he has every right to execute him. It's not cruel, it's preventing further events from happening. Basic made the divide between good/evil more clear and 3E is more or less a combination of all aspects from Basic/Expert/Rules Cyclopedia and AD&D.

hamishspence
2009-12-23, 05:35 PM
"Not having the resources" wasn't given as an example, just:

"Example of character not acting according to their alignment: a "good" character who kills or tortures prisoners"

That said, an element of context can apply- but I saw nothing that indicated "this only applies to non-evil prisoners"

The general rule, appeared to be that good characters avoided killing prisoners under normal circumstances.

Its a pretty general rule of war, going back a long way- a prisoner might be executed by a duly constituted authority, but they aren't just killed out-of-hand. Their captors have a certain basic responsibility.

Now taking prisoners, its less clear on, but once they have been taken prisoner, rather than, say, being knocked unconscious, or killed, the rules apply.

3rd ed BoVD mentioned "killing preventing further acts of evil"- but in the context of "creatures of consummate, irredeemable evil"- as a reason why killing certain monsters for profit was not evil.

Similarly, BoED states that "execution for serious crimes is not evil"- but is "being evil" a serious crime? Or do you need more info than that?

Devils_Advocate
2009-12-24, 12:19 AM
Similarly, BoED states that "execution for serious crimes is not evil"
Well, given that execution is killing of prisoners, I guess that killing prisoners isn't Evil, according to the BoED, if what they did was serious enough. So, basically, it's just that some crimes aren't bad enough to warrant killing a prisoner.

The notion that "legitimate authority" has any special right to do anything is, of course, a Lawful attitude.


- but is "being evil" a serious crime? Or do you need more info than that?
"Having an evil alignment is not a crime (except in some severely theocratic cities, perhaps, with the magical power to back up the law); only evil deeds are against the law. (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/wilderness.htm#urbanAdventures)"

hamishspence
2009-12-24, 04:42 AM
"Having an evil alignment is not a crime (except in some severely theocratic cities, perhaps, with the magical power to back up the law); only evil deeds are against the law. (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/wilderness.htm#urbanAdventures)"

Something that a lot of players don't seem to grasp.

That said, there is the intermediate category of

"evil, but not exactly illegal- even in the most Good of normal societies"

Such as the guy who indulges in every opportunity to be spiteful to others, but never actually crosses the line into criminal behaviour.

Also- there is a difference between "execution" and "vigilante killing"- is a mobster "executing" his minions for failing him a non-evil act? I wouldn't say so- this is a case of the term "execution" being misused.

Even in a Chaotic society- the soldiers have to answer to the leaders of the society. In book 1 of the Return of the Archwizards D&D trilogy, the elf tomb guardian catches adventurers breaking into a tomb- an offense that can carry the death penalty. Yet, his obligation, once they have surrendered, is to take them to the elven Elders, for judgement.

This sort of thing is not solely the purview of Lawful societies- any D&D society is going to put restrictions on when and how people can be killed.

jmbrown
2009-12-24, 04:56 AM
"Not having the resources" wasn't given as an example, just:

"Example of character not acting according to their alignment: a "good" character who kills or tortures prisoners"

That said, an element of context can apply- but I saw nothing that indicated "this only applies to non-evil prisoners"

The general rule, appeared to be that good characters avoided killing prisoners under normal circumstances.

Its a pretty general rule of war, going back a long way- a prisoner might be executed by a duly constituted authority, but they aren't just killed out-of-hand. Their captors have a certain basic responsibility.

Now taking prisoners, its less clear on, but once they have been taken prisoner, rather than, say, being knocked unconscious, or killed, the rules apply.

Like I said, Basic D&D took a light hearted approach to the system. Basic is the equivalent of Adam West's Batman or Roger Moore's James Bond. Badguys are supposed to die or run away, there are no noncombatants, and it's okay to rob graves because that's what adventurers do.

hamishspence
2009-12-24, 05:02 AM
In which case, why did it discuss prisoners, and mention some groups that specifically did not take prisoners or surrender like Human Berzerkers, to contrast with those who do?

Maybe that particular edition, while being called Basic, was actually a AD&D 1st ed starter set? It had a slightly different statblock layout, and 5 common alignments- LE, LG, CE, CG, N. It covered only adventurers of levels 1-3.

I've just checked and it was this set:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_Basic_Set

Which is, technically, Basic- and yet, seemed like a AD&D starter.

Similarly, in descriptions of the groups of creatures you can run into, like orc tribes or goblin tribes, it specifically mentions noncombatants, and that they "do not fight"

Though it did mention that some of the time, when the bad guys are losing, they run away rather than fight to the death.

Also- in the 2nd ed starter game, it discussed dealing with "harmless evil beings" like kobolds- and pointed out that slaughtering them is not heroic, and it is possible to negotiate your way past them.

In general, from the game books I've read, it seemed to me that evil noncombatants certainly exist, and that it is "not heroic" to just slaughter them.

jmbrown
2009-12-24, 05:29 AM
Of course it's not heroic to slaughter unarmed, helpless beings but when is a prisoner a threat and when is he repentant are things the books don't discuss. You don't kill prisoners without reason but that's a fault of the vague descriptions and no other version of D&D (that I recall) uses that particular example.

I really wouldn't give Basic too much thought because a level 8 elf if I recall is literally called Superhero Necromancer.

Aldizog
2009-12-24, 07:56 AM
Maybe that particular edition, while being called Basic, was actually a AD&D 1st ed starter set? It had a slightly different statblock layout, and 5 common alignments- LE, LG, CE, CG, N. It covered only adventurers of levels 1-3.

Moldvay (1981) was a significant revision from Holmes, but it did retain the discussion of taking prisoners (the gameplay example, the Berserker monster entry, the morale section) as well as noncombatants (well, in Keep on the Borderlands, which came with the boxed set). It just had 3 alignments (L, N, C). At this point Basic was becoming its own game.

And it was (and is) a fantastic game.

hamishspence
2009-12-24, 11:42 AM
I've got two editions of Basic (a very late Moldvay one, and an early Holmes one)- and the differences are striking.

Come to think of it- might 4E be compared to Holmes Basic? 5 alignments, 2 of which are variants of Good, 2 variants of Evil, and Neutral/Unaligned?

Devils_Advocate
2009-12-25, 02:28 PM
Also- there is a difference between "execution" and "vigilante killing"- is a mobster "executing" his minions for failing him a non-evil act? I wouldn't say so- this is a case of the term "execution" being misused.
I didn't mean that all punitive killings, nor even all punitive killings of helpless individuals, are executions. And I certainly didn't say that all executions are non-Evil.

I simply note that an established authority's endorsement of an act makes it, if anything, more Lawful, and an established authority's condemnation of an act makes it, if anything, more Chaotic.

In particular, I can't see how government endorsement would be necessary to make killing a prisoner non-Evil.


This sort of thing is not solely the purview of Lawful societies- any D&D society is going to put restrictions on when and how people can be killed.
It's not entirely clear to me what it means to describe a society as doing something (or having an alignment). My feeling is that replacing such statements with statements about individuals makes claims much less vague and abstract.

Chaotic societies aren't characterized by a lack of anyone trying to restrict behavior. They're characterized by individuals avoiding having their behavior restricted. Avoiding restrictions on one's behavior is the central Chaotic trait, if I'm not mistaken.