PDA

View Full Version : Roleplaying Human Sacrifice and Alignment



mythmonster2
2014-03-03, 02:30 PM
Wow, that's a hell of a title. Basically, I was working on a campaign setting, and I have a civilization that practices human sacrifice. However, some backstory first. They have two main gods, one Neutral Good and one Lawful Evil. The Evil one used to rule over the civilization as a tyrant, until a human made a contract with the Evil god, sacrificing himself and his soul, as well as promising another sacrifice every month, in exchange for the god leaving the civilization. The Evil god accepted, but after the human sacrificed himself, the Good god stole his soul to his heaven. Angry at being cheated, the Evil god changed the terms, demanding that it become one sacrifice a week.

So, now that a precedent has been set, volunteer sacrifices are basically guaranteed a fast-track into the god's heaven, for their self-sacrifice. Because of this, most of the time, the sacrifice is completely voluntary. If, on the other hand, there is a week with no volunteer, criminals are taken from death row: instead of execution, capital crimes are punished by being sacrificed when there is no volunteer. Unlike the willing sacrifices, these criminals are not guaranteed heaven. Finally, if there are neither of these, then even lesser criminals will be sacrificed, although this is a very rare occurrence, maybe once every 25 years. As for the sacrifice itself, it is done quickly, by slitting their throat from behind, before leaving their body open to the sky so that the Evil god can drink the blood and be satisfied.

So, the question I have is this: What alignment would you say this society is, just based on the issue of sacrifice? My interpretation is Lawful Neutral, since although the sacrifice is willing, it's still too much of a black mark to be Good. On the other hand, I'm sure that some people will think this is Evil to the core, so I'm interested in seeing your points of view on this. As always with alignment debates, please try and keep this civil as possible.

obryn
2014-03-03, 02:34 PM
I'd say it's too complex a scenario to try and fit into one of nine ill-fitting boxes.

Ceiling_Squid
2014-03-03, 02:54 PM
LN seems like a workable-enough classification, as long as you can make the proper argument for it. After all, you're the DM. More importantly, though, why do you need to bother?

I don't think you need to specify it or make it explicit for the players to see ("This society is LN.") That opens up another can of worms, and officially classifying an entire society by an alignment is also rather metagamey. DnD treating alignments as universal forces is probably to-blame for this tendency, at least.

As a game master and worldbuilder I've found myself creating societies with their own cultural mores and simply letting them stand on their own and speak for themselves, alignment chart be damned. I can't bother to be straitjacketed by DnD's alignment system, so I don't classify entire social systems by it. It's already hotly-debated on whether alignment even works on an individual-character level -- trying to expand it to cover an entire social system is over-exending an already-broken system. It just doesn't have the nuance to handle complex systems.

I'll let the players judge for themselves what their characters think about these societies. More opportunities for roleplay this way. Having a hard, definitive alignment "on the books" just takes away an opportunity. If you must have a mechanical alignment, keep it "under the hood", where the players can't see it.

mythmonster2
2014-03-03, 03:27 PM
I am aware that alignments are not necessary, and I probably will be keeping it "under the hood", as you said. Mostly, I suppose I was just curious about people's thoughts. Also, any logical challenges or difficulties of such a system would be helpful to consider, to flesh it out some more.

Mewtarthio
2014-03-03, 05:02 PM
Brainstorming:

Have the volunteers placed under an enchanted slumber. Even if they must be conscious for the sacrifice itself, at least they won't suffer fear leading up to the event (plus, you need a way to "save" sacrifices if you get multiple volunteers in a week).
Ideally, the same priest would select a sacrifice, do what is necessary to prepare them (bindings, the abovementioned magical slumber, transportation), and carry out the sacrifice. The goal here is to keep all the "sin" on one person. Even if alignment doesn't work like that, I imagine few people would actually want to bloody their hands; you should try to limit direct involvement.
A heavily honor-based culture works well here. It should be quite possible for someone to end up with such shame that voluntary sacrifice is the honorable way out. Sacrifice should be seen as a redemptive act that allows the dishonored to atone for their crimes, even if the crimes were unknowing or necessary. Think feudal Japan here.


Questions:

You have a human sacrifice every week, and you only run out of volunteers and capital offenders four times a century?
What happens when a volunteer gets on the chopping block, the knife at his throat, then suddenly shouts "Wait! I don't want this anymore!"

Tengu_temp
2014-03-03, 05:08 PM
Too morally complex to fit the neat and tidy alignment system of DND... But definitely not evil. They're doing this for their survival, and are approaching this issue as humanely as possible. There really is no better way of handing it other than looking for a way to defeat the evil god for good and/or shield the city from him.

AmberVael
2014-03-03, 05:15 PM
So, the question I have is this: What alignment would you say this society is, just based on the issue of sacrifice?

I feel like the question is somewhat problematic. Alignment already suffers from being a vague and complicated label- trying to fit an alignment on an entire society will just exacerbate the issue. It's going to be a lot easier to try and determine the alignment of specific people based on their reactions to the situation.

A person who willingly sacrificed themselves in order to drive away the evil god might be some flavor of good, for example. If there was an overseer who watched over the proceedings, publicized them, profited from them, and tried to ramp up the numbers of sacrifices to higher levels for his own gain, he might be Lawful Evil or thereabouts. One of those poor lesser criminals who was a thief and who tries escaping every chance he gets and protests every step of the way during one of the rare occasions there isn't anyone else to sacrifice might be chaotic neutral.

Suffice to say, this society can have a lot of variation. Just like most other societies.

Honest Tiefling
2014-03-03, 06:06 PM
What if the voluntary sacrifices got some favors from the temple? A grandparent might consent to ensure healing for their sickly, but only grandchild for instance.

Also, what is it about the evil god that makes it so he HAS to be appeased?

Mark Hall
2014-03-03, 07:16 PM
Barring other circumstances, Lawful Neutral. This society has a contract with a deity that they fulfill faithfully. They try to find a non-harmful way of fulfilling it (i.e. Volunteers), but when pushed to it, they take unwilling sacrifices among those who are sentenced to death through the society's laws.

Given that we're dealing with deific level power, you might make an argument for LG, using the same criteria, though I would require something on par with what Mewtarthio suggested; steps taken specifically to make sure that those sacrificed suffer as little as possible, and to take care of those who they may leave behind.

Slipperychicken
2014-03-03, 07:48 PM
1. I don't think organizations and societies should get alignments. Not only are they social constructs rather than people, it isn't accurate or useful to generalize like that (especially since such policies are set by a handful of people who typically aren't representative of the general population). I say just put the society in the setting and let NPCs have their own ideas about it.

2. That evil god's either super chill, or a sucker. I bet could have scored daily sacrifices out if a reasonably-sized civilization. Well okay, I could see the wisdom in keeping the sacrifice rate reasonable.

3. Also, can the civilization pre-pay sacrifices? That would give them a lot more flexibility. Like they could probably pay off a lot of sacrifices in wartime via enemy civilians, their own defectors, and POWs.

4. What happens if the leaders stop ordering sacrifices?

mucat
2014-03-03, 09:05 PM
3. Also, can the civilization pre-pay sacrifices? That would give them a lot more flexibility. Like they could probably pay off a lot of sacrifices in wartime via enemy civilians, their own defectors, and POWs.
That sounds like a fast track to the deep end of the alignment pool. The enemy civilians and (non war-criminal) POWs haven't committed any crime, and as non-volunteers, they're not guaranteed a good afterlife. And somehow I get the feeling that the Evil God is gonna be mean to any sacrificed souls he gets his paws on, in retribution for being "cheated" by the original sacrificed hero.

In general, though, I agree with most of the other posters here. Alignment is already an imperfect tool for describing an individual sapient creature, let alone an entire society.

And if we were to try to assign this whole culture an alignment, we would have to know a lot more about it than this single (albeit rather gruesome) detail.

veti
2014-03-03, 09:55 PM
2. That evil god's either super chill, or a sucker. I bet could have scored daily sacrifices out if a reasonably-sized civilization. Well okay, I could see the wisdom in keeping the sacrifice rate reasonable.

I vote 'sucker'. Or possibly just 'not nearly evil enough', but that amounts to the same thing if you're an evil god.

I would have gone for "occasional, but mass, human sacrifices". Make it a spectacle, a holiday, something people take their kids to see. Make people enjoy it, at least if they and their family have escaped the knife (this time). That's the obvious track to corrupting as many individuals as possible in the whole society, which is surely the goal here.

Erik Vale
2014-03-03, 11:17 PM
By rules, I would say the volunteers would be good, and the sacrificer would be LE [Even if it's for a good cause your dedicating souls to a evil god, even if they're being snatched up by the good god], those that choose/enforce the forced sacrifice are evil for the same reason.
However, if the society normally keeps the sacrifices to those within it's ranks, it'd be LG/LN in general due to upholding the bargain and general self-sacrificing nature.

Props for the sleep idea.
Also questioning the ability to sustain the population [need 1 birth/week minimum, assuming perfect conditions and that's the only cause of death] without warfare for captives [which would force the civilization down to LE], as if they were just hypergood at defending themselves for capturing goblins the goblins would have probably just left [and it'd still be pretty LE].

Of course, I am definitely thinking there would be state supported maybe LE adventurers who sink a feat into Merciful Spell or Subduing Strike [Subduing Strike basically making all weapons merciful - the damage bonus... Might only affect ranged weapons]. Golem foundries may also be a thing.
Oh oh! How about summoning evil outsiders [of the god or not] to sacrifice to the evil god? That could also help maintain/grow the population. I would suggest a human sacrifice have being on hand in case the Evil God didn't think that counted, but that would be awesome rules twisting... Probably still LE though.

Slipperychicken
2014-03-04, 12:13 AM
Also questioning the ability to sustain the population [need 1 birth/week minimum, assuming perfect conditions and that's the only cause of death] without warfare for captives [which would force the civilization down to LE], as if they were just hypergood at defending themselves for capturing goblins the goblins would have probably just left [and it'd still be pretty LE].


Taking one measurement of the real world birth rate (source here (http://www.indexmundi.com/world/birth_rate.html) 255 per minute, for 7 billion people), means we have 2,570,400 births per week (I'll call this BPW for now) in real life.

If we assume that people in our vaguely-defined civilization have a similar ratio of population to births per week (7 billion people / 2,570,400 BPW = 2,723.31 people for 1 BPW), that means we only need 2,724 people to maintain 1 BPW. Every ~3,000 above that should add 1 to BPW.

Now, as far as I know, entire civilizations tend to have populations that vastly exceed 2,724. Ancient Greece (according to Wikipedia) had ~800,000 people in 800 BC and 10-13 million in 400 BC. The persian empire which Xerxes I ruled had an estimated 50 million people, and the Aztecs have estimates ranging from 5 million to 10 million. At 221 BC, Qin China apparently had 20 million people. To get BPW (assuming modern fertility rate), just divide population by 2724. This will return BPW in the thousands.

So I feel it's reasonable to conclude that, even if this civilization were similarly peopled (and half as fecund) relative to its real-world counterparts, it would still have BPW in the thousands: more than enough to absorb one sacrifice per week.



Of course, I am definitely thinking there would be state supported maybe LE adventurers who sink a feat into Merciful Spell or Subduing Strike

Taking captives alive is a relatively easy matter in D&D: Just use a sap. Even if you somehow can't find willing sacrifices, detaining ordinary civilians against their will is relatively easy for most states.

Erik Vale
2014-03-04, 01:06 AM
-Snip-

1: I stand corrected on birth rate, I did consider the place more of a largish city than anything else but even that would be pretty survivable apparently. Also, Birth rate would probably be slightly higher due to lack of contraception/families starting younger, however that will be counted to some level by increased disease etc.

2: Saps are a little low damage, and I like the idea of impaling a goblin with a lance and all the damage somehow being non-lethal. Also, detaining citizens would make the government severely NE/LE.

Friv
2014-03-04, 01:52 AM
Also, if many of the volunteers are older people, they may have already had their children, and sacrificing themselves won't alter your death rates at all. As long as there are enough of these older people in the civilization, 1/week would be really easy to manage. There could even be a faint cultural pressure for anyone who reaches 60 or so to consider signing up (or a pressure for people who do a lot of bad things to go for it as an escape hatch as they see death approaching).

Slipperychicken
2014-03-04, 06:04 PM
There could even be a faint cultural pressure for anyone who reaches 60 or so to consider signing up (or a pressure for people who do a lot of bad things to go for it as an escape hatch as they see death approaching).

You could be slightly more ethical and offer a good sum of money to the sacrifice's relatives. So an older person who sees death approaching might sign up to do his/her family one last favor. In addition, people who are suicidal or have terminal illnesses might (or might not. I can't say I'm familiar with that mindset) see sacrifice as an honorable/convenient way to to die.

Also, it would be pretty cool to have a memorial somewhere (near the main sacrifice location, perhaps?) bearing the names of all the sacrifices.

Devils_Advocate
2014-03-04, 07:16 PM
Doesn't basically every government kill in sufficiently extreme circumstances, and don't nearly all people support this? If only evil people do that, then humanity in general, not just this particular society, is evil, right? Unless I'm missing something. So to the dubious extent to which at least a large minority of human beings are not evil, for this practice to be indicative of evil alignment, there'd have to be either something insufficiently extreme about the circumstances or something unusually bad about the consequences.

(Replace all instances of "evil" with "non-good" in the above paragraph to get another paragraph much like it.)

Obvious questions:

What would the Evil god do if not appeased? Well, "rule over the civilization as a tyrant" once again, presumably, but what would that entail? Would it be worse than killing someone once a week?

What does this god do to the souls he gets to keep, and how does that differ from what would happen to them otherwise? Would they normally go on to their own gods, and would their own Evil deities treat them any better? How exactly does this Evil god benefit? Do the souls empower him, making him more dangerous? Would they pose as much or even more danger if not sacrificed, by empowering other gods, becoming fiends, or whatever?

More pertinently, what does this civilization think the answers to the above questions are, and why? How confident are they that they're correct?


That sounds like a fast track to the deep end of the alignment pool. The enemy civilians and (non war-criminal) POWs haven't committed any crime, and as non-volunteers, they're not guaranteed a good afterlife.
Also, consider that mortals are, well, mortal, and have a fairly strong tendency to die sooner or later one way or another. Killing people, as a rule, just causes them to die sooner than they would have otherwise. So killing captives sooner than you need to raises a lot of the same ethical issues as homicide in general. Yeah, you were going to kill them eventually anyway, but everyone is going to die eventually. And -- particularly if you make the way they die better than would normally be expected -- hastening their deaths is the objectionable part of killing them at all, right?


Anyway, I was going to go into a whole spiel about this, but it built up into enough that I decided it warranted its own thread. But long story short, suffice to say that what you really need to do -- the generic you, with regard to alignment questions in general -- is seriously just to bite the friggin' bullet and actually decide what you want Good, Evil, Lawful, and Chaotic alignment to represent. Do that, and it becomes pretty clear which things are of which alignments! Don't do that, and not only is any answer to "What alignment is X?" basically meaningless, but the question itself is basically meaningless, so why even ask it?