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Why are the Harpers considered a Neutral organizations when they seem to mostly oppose evil?

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  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187

    the NG person should, on average, be the most consistently and effectively Good in practice. They are best suited to utilize both Lawful and Chaotic means to achieve Good ends, and less likely to prioritize the needs of Law or Chaos above those of Good. I think the requirement for Paladins to be LG is one of the things that points away from that interpretation, unfortunately, as they tend to be held up as the best that Good has to offer.

    Yeah we're pretty much on the same page with all of this. Obviously wisdom plays a huge role in this, I think that should determine how consistently and thoughtfully the character actually plays by their own beliefs.
    And I'd add that all three can be VERY good, or more marginal depending on the individual. The biggest Law/chaos divide (I think it was old 1E that was really precise on this) here would be a "greater good" argument vs "individual liberty" stuff. The NG character might be better equipped (again, perhaps based on wisdom) to thread the needle on sticky situations.
    Paladins are again at that top goodie-goodie corner of LG (this part may work better with the more traditional flat grid!). Every DM I played with described Paladins as LG in the "greater good" sense, and maybe big on "law and order". But their "good" was more important than their "lawful" in the sense that if a law (or "the" law) was evil, they would choose good over the law of the land every time.
    And of course this always goes back to PnP worlds. BG is obviously sort of mechanistic in its approach to things. The limitations of a computer dealing with morals...
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    BardsSuck_ wrote: »
    I dont agree with Neera being chaotic neutral at all, to me shes chaotic good, i see nothing in her action remotely evil.... unless im missing something in her storyline.

    I don't think neutral needs to be any part "evil", or any part "good". Neutral can be its own thing. This is where I think Neera is an excellent case in point. For herself, she obviously doesn't care. She has hurt people with her wild surges, she even battered her halfling friend (you meet him by the Ducal Palace in Baldur's Gate) and stole his money before running off.
    She isn't "evil". She didn't maim him or permanently disable him, or chortle with glee over having scammed him.
    Yet she never really cares about those she's hurt either. Her only concern is if she can escape repercussions. This is clearly not good. It is amoral behavior. The only "good" part of her behavior being she could have been worse. Again, I'll call that neutral.

    You seem to want a more neurotic standard for neutrality. And no doubt, some insanity is pretty neutral! But I think neutral can be, should be, more nuanced than that. Just like all alignments.
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    atcDave wrote: »
    Obviously wisdom plays a huge role in this, I think that should determine how consistently and thoughtfully the character actually plays by their own beliefs.
    Well, assuming a player's wisdom is comparable to their character's Wisdom... But yeah, Wisdom is highly relevant. Evil acts performed by a character that should know better, or who actually does know better beforehand, would tend to be weighed a little differently than those by characters who have always been a little clueless.
    atcDave wrote: »
    And I'd add that all three can be VERY good, or more marginal depending on the individual. ... The NG character might be better equipped (again, perhaps based on wisdom) to thread the needle on sticky situations.
    For sure, on all counts. I've edited my hypothetical, replacing "all of whom face identical situations" with "all else being equal", to better reflect that I meant for all relevant variables (such as Wisdom) other than the Law-Chaos and Good-Evil axes to be identical.
    atcDave wrote: »
    Paladins are again at that top goodie-goodie corner of LG ... Every DM I played with described Paladins as LG in the "greater good" sense, and maybe big on "law and order". But their "good" was more important than their "lawful" in the sense that if a law (or "the" law) was evil, they would choose good over the law of the land every time.
    Paladins are certainly among the "goodest" of LG, if not the "goodest", and indeed among the "goodest" of Good overall. Still, the existence of (mandatory LG) Paladins is probably the main reason why the status of NG compared to LG crosses from a mildly interesting philosophical question for me to a systems issue I'd want to resolve at any table I was DMing for. Anyway, your DMs seem to have got it right as far as LG Paladins are concerned. Bad experiences with poorly played Paladins (or DMs with poor conceptions of Paladins) seem to be one of a few common threads among those who dislike the alignment system.
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    It seems like Neera might be moving in the direction of Good (whether or not she actually gets there) in BG2. I played all of her BG1 content, all of her SoD content, and had the intial meeting with her in BG2. I haven't ventured to her starting area in BG2, but the foreshadowing in SoD and the initial meeting give some idea of what she's up to. But, I don't know how her BG2 storyline plays out yet (no spoilers, please), so perhaps my impression thus far is wrong.
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    Ah yes, the player must be able to play wise! (Intelligent and charismatic can present similar challenges!) Although it can be fun for the wise player to be the fool.
    I have seen some of those poorly handled paladins too! We see one in the city of Baldur's Gate.

    And yes about Neera. She actually has some charitable motives at the start of BGII. A small, but significant change (especially if her romantic interest is good aligned).
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    atcDave wrote: »
    I have seen some of those poorly handled paladins too! We see one in the city of Baldur's Gate.
    I got the impression that Bioware were going for the straightforward riff on the poorly-played Paladin, to be honest.
    atcDave wrote: »
    A small, but significant change (especially if her romantic interest is good aligned).
    Ah, the awesome power of CHARNAME love...
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    I'm always a sap for a sweet love story!
  • BardsSuck_BardsSuck_ Member Posts: 133
    I never took Neera with me in BG1 admitedlly....so thanks for clarifying some of her misadventures, i will have to check those episodes myself, but for sure her story in bg2 is tilted toward good, she does some heroic deeds that are borderline paladin stuff , and i cant see nothing in her slightly amoral.
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    BardsSuck_ wrote: »
    ....so thanks for clarifying some of her misadventures, i will have to check those episodes myself, but for sure her story in bg2 is tilted toward good, she does some heroic deeds that are borderline paladin stuff.

    Yeah you're right about that! Obviously my take on her is heavily influenced by BG1 (mis)adventures. She is showing much more good behavior in the later game.
  • ZaxaresZaxares Member Posts: 1,326
    Think of the average bandit. Bandits make their victims suffer - suffer from losing their possessions; suffer the trauma of being robbed; and suffer physically if they attempt to resist. Some bandits may even kill their victims, even those that pose no immediate threat. Are they doing it because they want to cause suffering? Or are they doing it for the money? Plainly, it is the latter. Even bandits who kill unresisting victims likely do so as a means to an end - dead men tell no tales, as the saying goes.

    Yes, that's kind of what I'm getting at. What differentiates Evil characters from Neutral characters forced to do Evil deeds in order to survive is that they actively ENJOY causing that pain, death and suffering, and will go out of their way to do it. Using your example, there might be several different types of bandits. You have the ones who are actively rebelling against an Evil ruler or tyrant (think Robin Hood and his Merry Men); they actively target the King's soldiers and tax/good shipments (but not random travelers), and in so doing will definitely cause suffering (through loss of income), injuries and possibly even the accidental death now and again, but by and large this group is not seeking to cause suffering and death and actively works to minimize it where possible.

    Then you may have another group that are bandits because they have fallen on hard times. They will waylay innocent travelers and merchants, but generally they will let their victims go alive afterwards, and they will not use more violence than is necessary to achieve their aims. This group of bandits, despite their unsavory profession, would actually be Neutral, not Evil. (Although there may certainly be specific individuals in the band who are Evil or have Evil leanings that manifest in cruel or violent behaviour that make even their bandit compatriots nervous/unsettled.)

    Then you have a third group which is truly made up of deranged scum. (Or traditionally evil races like Orcs or Gnolls.) Not content with simply robbing travelers, they will make sure to kill or maim every single victim they encounter. They might even choose to take victims alive back for torture or enslavement. In these cases, none of these violent acts are necessary; they already have all of the victim's possessions. They do it purely because they want to see the victims suffer and die, and are thus Evil.

    As for the "dead men tell no tales" thing, I think that's only partially correct. In those days (and in a typical fantasy setting), it didn't really matter whether there were witnesses left alive or not. The accuser's social standing was typically given great weight; a nobleman or a wealthy merchant accusing somebody of lower standing would almost certainly be believed over some commoner, regardless of whether there was any actual proof. And in D&D settings, you have clerics that can magically compel people to tell the truth, so witnesses are largely irrelevant when you can just ask the bandit "Have you been robbing people?" and they have to answer truthfully. ;P Even dead witnesses are no barrier when you have Clairvoyants who can speak with the dead, and spellcasters that can cast spells like Oracle.
  • ZaxaresZaxares Member Posts: 1,326
    I agree that Neera does lean more towards Good than Evil, even though her alignment still remains Chaotic Neutral. She does do some pretty unpleasant actions in the events prior to the first game, although in fairness, none of what she did caused any permanent harm or injury to the people involved. (That I know of, anyway. I'm not sure what happened to the students of her arcane class when her Wild Magic first manifested itself and she burned several of them when a spell went awry.)

    Somebody mentioned the fallen angels/reformed fiends idea. I think that it SHOULD be possible, although exceedingly rare. Outsiders are not like mortals; they are literally thoughts/emotions/concepts made flesh. That succubus is LITERALLY lust personified; it does have intelligence and free will, but asking it to go against its nature is something that should only happen in the absolute rarest of circumstances. (Of course, in an infinite Multiverse, such an occurrence is not only guaranteed to happen, but it will happen infinite times. Still, I think you get my meaning.) In most cases, an Outsider that changes its nature usually spontaneously transforms into another Outsider that better matches its new nature (in fact, some cases of fiends having changes of heart have literally happened because they got too close to a powerful deific being of Goodness and got transformed as a result.)
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    A lot of good stuff Zaxares. I do think a bandit group of any alignment is possible, but naturally good-aligned banditry would be rare and perhaps only possible in areas of prevailing evil and/or corruption.
    I’m not completely sold on the idea law enforcement was ever so wholly influenced by social status; law enforcement itself is rarely regarded as an upper class profession and I think those involved will often have some empathy towards working stiffs or peasants who are victimized. But of course resources and top governmental resources will be more interested in circumstances that affect overall well being, law and order, widespread prosperity; even in a very good-aligned area this could be true.
    But I absolutely agree about the impact of magic on such things. If an outlaw of any sort is being pursued, the authorities have some pretty significant resources for getting the job done. So even if a “Thieves Guild” is a staple of fantasy literature and games, it’s hard to imagine its long term viability if TPTB have taken notice.

    It’s funny about Neera. Although I pretty always take her in BG1, I only rarely do in BG2 (and I never have in SoD). So no doubt that does impact my perception of her. That said, I agree with saying she has developed more good tendencies by BG2. Her charitable acts at the start of BG2 are of a very personal nature, which perhaps keeps her from full-on “good”. But that’s a pretty petty sort of distinction, and perhaps using EEKeeper to change her alignment to CG is not that hard to justify!
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    edited April 2023
    I certainly agree that bandit groups can be Good, Neutral, or Evil, with individual bandits not matching the alignment of their fellows. I also agree that your examples are broadly accurate descriptions of the motivations of different types of bandit groups, with the first example describing Good bandits and the third example describing Evil bandits. Although I agree that the bandits in your second example are notably less evil than those in the third group, I disagree that they are Neutral.

    However, the wider discussion about bandits and Divination is something of a tangent. I specified that I was referring to "the average bandit", whom I characterised as participating in banditry in order to make money, killing only as a means to that end. More importantly, I only cited banditry as it provides an example of behaviour – a willingness to cause suffering as a means to a selfish end – that your definitions of alignment did not account for. Let’s consider each of your alignment definitions and cross-reference them to your hypothetical bandit groups:
    Zaxares wrote: »
    1. Good characters aim to ease suffering, help people, and will actively go out of their way to do this.
    (1) Your Good group of bandits (Robin Hood-style bandits) plainly fit this definition because their banditry helps common citizens suffering under the rule of an Evil tyrant. Your Neutral group of bandits do not fit this definition; their banditry causes severe suffering for no reason beyond the bandits’ desire to alleviate the "hard times" they were experiencing.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    2. Evil characters aim to CAUSE suffering, hurt people, and will actively go out of their way to do this.
    (2) Your Evil group of bandits (the "deranged scum" or "traditionally evil races") plainly fit this definition. Your Neutral group of bandits do not fit this definition; their banditry is no more than a means to "achieve their aims" of alleviating the "hard times" they were experiencing.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    3. ... As a general rule, Neutrals will help only their friends and family, and will only hurt those they view as their bitter enemies, but generally they will not go out of their way to help or hinder if it involves more than socially expected customs or duties.
    (3) Your Neutral group of bandits plainly do not fit this definition either, which means that they are left without a home. Random merchants are not the bitter enemies of bandits. Robbing and killing people, or even just robbing people and threatening violence, is a damn sight more than a hindrance. Moreover, "not robbing people" is an important social custom, and "not killing innocent people" is literally the most important and most commonly held social custom that there is – yet your second bandit group does both of these things, for mundane and ultimately selfish reasons. Finally, banditry isn’t a spur of the moment error, a crime of opportunity, or a temporary lapse in judgement; it means going out of one’s way to choose a career in which robbing is normal and killing is likely unavoidable.

    I only commented on your definitions because they don't account for people who are willing to cause suffering as a means to a selfish end. For me, that's an important thing to highlight in a thread about alignment in which my position is "the alignment system is fine; the problem is that people tend to offer overly restrictive definitions that exclude swathes of people". I actually assumed you'd agree that such people were Evil, but that was foolish of me... I've seen enough discussions about alignment that I should have known better.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    What differentiates Evil characters from Neutral characters forced to do Evil deeds in order to survive ...
    Zaxares wrote: »
    Then you may have another group that are bandits because they have fallen on hard times. They will waylay innocent travelers and merchants, but generally they will let their victims go alive afterwards, and they will not use more violence than is necessary to achieve their aims. This group of bandits, despite their unsavory profession, would actually be Neutral, not Evil.
    Forced? Hard times? Generally? Exactly what do you mean by that? There’s a film in which two soldiers are captured by the opposing side. One is told that he must beat the other to death, or they will both be killed. Yet the one is not "forced" to kill the other – he has a choice. In my view, the Good act is to say "kill me instead", the Neutral act is to refuse to kill your comrade, and the Evil act is killing your comrade. For the record, I wouldn’t say that a person who chooses the Evil act automatically becomes Evil; they are acting in extremis, and they deserve compassion, unless of course they literally don’t care (anyway I am very wary about labelling anyone "evil" in real life).

    The point of this is to illustrate that you have a long, long way to go before you can convince me that those poor bandits were just "forced" into a career of robbing, flavoured with murder, because they fell on "hard times". Let's agree to disagree about what constitutes Evil in D&D.
  • ZaxaresZaxares Member Posts: 1,326
    (3) Your Neutral group of bandits plainly do not fit this definition either, which means that they are left without a home. Random merchants are not the bitter enemies of bandits. Robbing and killing people, or even just robbing people and threatening violence, is a damn sight more than a hindrance. Moreover, "not robbing people" is an important social custom, and "not killing innocent people" is literally the most important and most commonly held social custom that there is – yet your second bandit group does both of these things, for mundane and ultimately selfish reasons. Finally, banditry isn’t a spur of the moment error, a crime of opportunity, or a temporary lapse in judgement; it means going out of one’s way to choose a career in which robbing is normal and killing is likely unavoidable.

    ...

    I only commented on your definitions because they don't account for people who are willing to cause suffering as a means to a selfish end. For me, that's an important thing to highlight in a thread about alignment in which my position is "the alignment system is fine; the problem is that people tend to offer overly restrictive definitions that exclude swathes of people". I actually assumed you'd agree that such people were Evil, but that was foolish of me... I've seen enough discussions about alignment that I should have known better.

    ...

    Forced? Hard times? Generally? Exactly what do you mean by that? There’s a film in which two soldiers are captured by the opposing side. One is told that he must beat the other to death, or they will both be killed. Yet the one is not "forced" to kill the other – he has a choice. In my view, the Good act is to say "kill me instead", the Neutral act is to refuse to kill your comrade, and the Evil act is killing your comrade. For the record, I wouldn’t say that a person who chooses the Evil act automatically becomes Evil; they are acting in extremis, and they deserve compassion, unless of course they literally don’t care (anyway I am very wary about labelling anyone "evil" in real life).

    My original definition of Neutral characters was more to serve as a general benchmark of "regular people" with regards to what they would normally do in everyday society. To use a better example for those, a Good person in a city would probably do things like volunteer to help the homeless, donate money to Good churches, participate in urban renewal projects etc. Most of the time they will do this for no monetary reward; the deed is its own reward. Neutral people would more likely just do their day-to-day job, collect their pay, and aren't concerned about the welfare of others aside from themselves and their immediate friends and family. They may attend church and tithe and everything, but this is either out of a sense of social obligation or a desire to remain in their deity's good books, not out of a true sense of compassion. The key differentiator for me is "what is the person's underlying motivation for their action?"

    Thus, going back to the bandits, what differentiates Neutral bandits from Evil ones is that the Neutral ones don't use excessive violence and death unless they have to. If their victims surrender without a struggle and hand over everything, then the bandits will just let them go on their way, albeit poorer. If their victims put up a fight, then yes, the bandits will hurt or kill them, but hurting or killing them was not their main goal. They just wanted the victim's loot. And here again, the differentiator is WHY do the bandits want that loot? Do they want it because they're greedy and selfish or they like beating people up and taking their things? Or do they want it because it's been a disastrous year for the harvest, everybody in their village is starving, their local Lord is deaf to their pleas for help (either because he doesn't care about some "unwashed peasants", or because he genuinely has nothing to spare), and so the only way they and their families are going to survive is by becoming bandits?

    You are absolutely correct, of course, that choosing banditry is not something done for a lark or for a career. I just feel like perhaps you did not consider all of the possible extreme circumstances that might push somebody into banditry in order to survive. And yes, I also agree with you that truly Evil (as well as truly Good) people are actually fairly rare, both in real life and in D&D. The vast majority of humans are actually Neutral, with perhaps leanings towards one or the other.
    Let's agree to disagree about what constitutes Evil in D&D.

    That is fair. :) One thing I probably should have mentioned earlier too; D&D as a general rule has an objective view of morality. There are certain actions that are always Good, and there are certain actions that are always Evil. (The creation of undead, for example, is ALWAYS Evil, even if the created undead are used for a good purpose like defending a town from orcish raiders.) I, on the other hand, prefer to use a subjective interpretation of morality where, as I mentioned above, the intent behind the action matters a lot as well. People doing Evil acts out of necessity are not COMPLETELY off the hook, either. Going back to those bandits, they might still be Neutral, but the stain of Evil deeds would still hang upon their souls, and there would still be a reckoning come the afterlife unless they were to undertake acts of atonement and redemption. There are more Outer Planes than there are 9 alignments, after all, so while those Bandits might stay out of Baator, Hades or the Abyss, there is still a decent chance that Gehenna, Acheron, Carceri or Pandemonium might get their claws on their souls if they remain on their path for too long.
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    Zaxares wrote: »
    My original definition of Neutral characters was more to serve as a general benchmark of "regular people" with regards to what they would normally do in everyday society.
    It did a good job of describing the average commoner. The problem, as I said, was that neither your Neutral nor Evil definitions accounted for people who cause suffering not for its own sake, but as a means to a selfish end – which describes most people who cause suffering. If I apply your definitions to real-world roles, a manager who bullies their subordinates for their own amusement is Evil because suffering is their goal, whereas a mafia hitman is not Evil because suffering is merely a byproduct of how they conduct their “business”.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    If their victims put up a fight, then yes, the [Neutral] bandits will hurt or kill them, but hurting or killing them was not their main goal … they want [the loot] because it's been a disastrous year for the harvest, everybody in their village is starving, their local Lord is deaf to their pleas for help ... and so the only way they and their families are going to survive is by becoming bandits
    The distinction is important, but insufficient to change the bandit from Evil to Neutral. Your hypothetical can be distilled to the following: I am an innocent who is going to die, so I will kill another innocent so that I may live. That is plainly Evil, in my view. If you play around with factors such as how the bandit chooses their victims, and the lengths to which the bandit will go during a robbery, you could end up with a bandit who I will agree is Neutral; however, we’re far enough apart at the outset that it’s not really a discussion that I want to have.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    D&D as a general rule has an objective view of morality. There are certain actions that are always Good, and there are certain actions that are always Evil. (The creation of undead, for example, is ALWAYS Evil ...) ... I, on the other hand, prefer to use a subjective interpretation of morality where, as I mentioned above, the intent behind the action matters a lot as well
    It’s fine for a game to deem something supernatural as always Evil. Of course, D&D should be able to explain why creating undead is always Evil… I’ve heard some decent explanations, but I have the feeling that they are house rules. In contrast, if D&D wants to tell me that something non-supernatural is always Good or always Evil, and what it is telling me is garbage, then it’s time to reach for the house rules. Some D&D material has handled this atrociously. So, yeah, I agree that intent matters.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    There are more Outer Planes than there are 9 alignments, after all, so while those Bandits might stay out of Baator, Hades or the Abyss, there is still a decent chance that Gehenna, Acheron, Carceri or Pandemonium might get their claws on their souls if they remain on their path for too long.
    Sure. But it wouldn’t matter to me if Archeron and Pandemonium didn’t exist. D&D is welcome to create a fictional universe with afterlives that don’t distinguish between thoroughly Evil and Evil that is only just not-Neutral. Fictional afterlives don’t have to be fair.
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    I’m not completely okay with the not-evil hitman example. Apart from a case of no-win coercion, I think the task itself is so plainly evil that I think anyone doing on-going business of that sort is almost certainly evil. Now, just as when we were talking about good a few days back, I think there is a range of evil behaviors. That is, not all evil is diabolical. Some may be pretty mild. Like habitual rudeness or failure to leave a good tip. Just little things that show someone is always putting themselves first, not considering others. Just like only a few very good types might qualify as a paladin, only a few mortals would ever be diabolically evil. But someone who chooses to kill (again, apart from being coerced) is almost certainly somewhat evil.

    I also wouldn’t dismiss “house rules” on the matter. Most PnP gaming involves World building. Or at least it used to (more recent rules sets may encourage more use of published materials?). But when I was gaming more regularly no DM wanted to use published modules or game settings. It was a cop out! Almost every DM did so because they wanted to tell their own story. And that almost always meant having to deal with the nature of good and evil, in their own setting. The game itself may explain why an act is evil (If I recall, raising undead has something to do with pure Negative Energy, which is definitionally Evil); but every DM is lord of their own universe (!) and is free to affirm or refute the “official” answer to things.
    Not to say such an answer exists for everything! But if such a thing is answered in any given world, that will always take precedence over what Ed Greenwood, or David Cook, or Gary Gygax thinks on the matter. And often times the amateur has a much better thought out answer than the professional game designers did.
    Sorry. I’m sure you know all that. I just didn’t want to let it pass without clarification!
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    In case there is any doubt, let me clarify that I absolutely would file the mafia hitman in the Evil bracket. The existence of the non-Evil hitman together with the Evil managerial bully is just something that I extrapolate from Zaxares' definition of Evil alignments (on the previous page); in citing them, I was saying that the definition didn't work for me.
    atcDave wrote: »
    I think there is a range of evil behaviors. That is, not all evil is diabolical. Some may be pretty mild. Like habitual rudeness or failure to leave a good tip. ... Just like only a few very good types might qualify as a paladin, only a few mortals would ever be diabolically evil.
    Most definitely, albeit that I think that habitual rudeness = Evil is a bit much!
    atcDave wrote: »
    I also wouldn’t dismiss “house rules” on the matter. ... And that almost always meant having to deal with the nature of good and evil, in their own setting. ... And often times the amateur has a much better thought out answer than the professional game designers did.
    Agreed. If I sounded at all dismissive of house rules, that wasn't my intent. The only thing I'd add is that a DM who defines alignment very differently to me is probably not a DM whose table I would want to play at. The difference in opinion isn't a problem in of itself, but it makes me wary that bad times lie ahead (DM: "Right, so your Paladin has fallen then"; Me: "WHAT?!"). But that applies only to actions that could be taken IRL; handling undead differently, for example, is fine so long as players are made aware of the change.
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    Agree with most of this…
    Although Rudeness not evil? Geez, next you’ll be soft selling jaywalking…
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    I notice you didn’t argue with lousy tipping however!
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    edited April 2023
    atcDave wrote: »
    I notice you didn’t argue with lousy tipping however!
    I was a paperboy several decades ago ;)

  • ZaxaresZaxares Member Posts: 1,326
    It did a good job of describing the average commoner. The problem, as I said, was that neither your Neutral nor Evil definitions accounted for people who cause suffering not for its own sake, but as a means to a selfish end – which describes most people who cause suffering. If I apply your definitions to real-world roles, a manager who bullies their subordinates for their own amusement is Evil because suffering is their goal, whereas a mafia hitman is not Evil because suffering is merely a byproduct of how they conduct their “business”.

    The problem is that "being selfish" (i.e. looking out for one's own interests above those of others) is in and of itself NOT an evil act. It is merely self-preservation, and self-preservation cannot be Evil. This was explained very succinctly in the 3E supplement "Lords of Madness", where it asks the question "can a mind flayer ever be Good? It must kill and eat the brains of sentient beings to survive, a clearly Evil act, yet it must do so in order to survive. And clearly wanting to survive cannot be a bad thing." The reason why mind flayers are almost universally Evil, however, is because for many of them, they see themselves as superior to the humanoids they devour, and many begin to take active delight in the fear and pain of their victim's final thoughts, turning them Evil. In your example of the mafia hitman, such a person would more than likely be Evil, because unlike the earlier example of the bandits, the hitman entered his lifestyle without duress. (He might not be able to leave the Family he serves, but from what I've been told you can actually spend your entire life in a mafia family without ever killing anyone. Only those who wish to rise in the hierarchy are often assigned these "tests" to prove their loyalty, and even so, you would kind of have to show an "aptitude" for killing to actually become a hitman. Most gang members may have a kill or two to their name, but it's not something they are called to do on a regular basis. So the ones who wind up being hitman are those who demonstrate a skill, and most likely a willingness, for the task.)
    The distinction is important, but insufficient to change the bandit from Evil to Neutral. Your hypothetical can be distilled to the following: I am an innocent who is going to die, so I will kill another innocent so that I may live. That is plainly Evil, in my view.

    This might be where we are dissenting. I don't disagree that choosing to kill an innocent so that you may live is an evil act. Where I DO disagree is that this act on its own is enough to make a person Evil. Ravenloft is one of my all-time favourite D&D settings, and it deals in this kind of scenario all the time. It even has its own special rules and mechanic (Corruption) that tracks this. Were an innocent truly in such a dire strait (for example, there's even a monster in Ravenloft that looooves to do this by cornering a child and threatening to eat the child unless the child agrees to bring their younger sibling to be devoured in their stead), the game does not forgive the innocent for their heinous deed entirely, but it does take note of the mitigating factors leading to that decision. However, what normally happens over time is that, after the first deed, the person's resistance to further deeds of Evil grows weaker and weaker, and eventually they stop caring, or even start enjoying, the acts of Evil they're committing, and thus their conversion to the side of Evil is complete. Going back to my bandits, those forced into banditry may still be Neutral, but if they're not careful (and abandoning their trade at the earliest possible opportunity), they could indeed wind up being Evil sooner than they think.
    It’s fine for a game to deem something supernatural as always Evil. Of course, D&D should be able to explain why creating undead is always Evil… I’ve heard some decent explanations, but I have the feeling that they are house rules. In contrast, if D&D wants to tell me that something non-supernatural is always Good or always Evil, and what it is telling me is garbage, then it’s time to reach for the house rules. Some D&D material has handled this atrociously. So, yeah, I agree that intent matters.

    The D&D rules on that are unequivocal though; the creation of undead is ALWAYS an Evil act. No exceptions. It's mentioned not only in the PHB, but also a few times in the Book of Exalted Deeds and other supplements. But yes, why exactly this is so is more vague and was probably left up to individual DMs to define on their own. In my campaigns, the reason for this is two-fold; the first is that the creation of undead uses the Negative Material Plane as the energy source for the undead. Over time, the negative energy powering the undead will seep out into the world around it, killing, twisting and corrupting the living and natural world around the undead. An individual skeleton might only create tiny amounts of corruption, but it is corruption nonetheless. Meanwhile, extremely powerful undead like banshees will eventually create entire dead zones around their lairs where nothing lives. Second, the creation of undead, even mindless ones, pulls back a portion of the deceased being's soul or spirit and traps it within the corpse. (Mindless undead only possess a tiny shred of the soul, but more powerful undead may wind up bringing the entire soul back.) This existence is agony for the unfortunate soul, trapped in a rotting, decaying husk of your former body, and it is not something they consented to, making it an irredeemably Evil act on all fronts.
    Sure. But it wouldn’t matter to me if Archeron and Pandemonium didn’t exist. D&D is welcome to create a fictional universe with afterlives that don’t distinguish between thoroughly Evil and Evil that is only just not-Neutral. Fictional afterlives don’t have to be fair.

    Hehe, they actually don't! There are many reasons why a soul that is not Evil could still wind up in the Lower Planes upon death. The first, and most common, reason, is that the person signed a contract with a fiend that promised their soul to the fiend after death. That contract supersedes the normal process whereby the soul of a deceased person travels to the Outer Plane that most closely matches their alignment. Another way is if the soul belonged to a person who was unfortunate enough to be sacrificed upon the altar of an evil deity or archfiend. The souls of sacrificial victims are also sent to the realm of the evil deity/archfiend to whom the cultist serves, which is why Good heroes are always so appalled and horrified by such acts. (Depending on the edition of D&D you're playing, however, the cultist may need a special spell, feat or weapon in order to accomplish this.)

    A third way is what I alluded to in my previous posts; some deeds are so heinous that, even if your alignment isn't strictly Evil, have darkened your soul so much that the weight of them pulls you into the Lower Planes regardless. This can happen even if the person truly repented before their death, but was not able to properly atone for their crimes. (In the BG series, I suspect that this fate is what awaits Sarevok, unless he manages to pull off some truly heroic deeds in his remaining years.)
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    Ah, but we can have more than one problem! To repeat myself:
    I only cited banditry as it provides an example of behaviour – a willingness to cause suffering as a means to a selfish end – that your definitions of alignment did not account for.
    The problem, as I said, was that neither your Neutral nor Evil definitions accounted for people who cause suffering not for its own sake, but as a means to a selfish end – which describes most people who cause suffering.
    For me, that's an important thing to highlight in a thread about alignment in which my position is "the alignment system is fine; the problem is that people tend to offer overly restrictive definitions that exclude swathes of people".
    Funnily enough, despite the fact that this discussion about bandits is very much a tangent, it nevertheless serves to support the central point that I made in my initial reply to the author of this thread:
    The source material is at least partly to blame for [gregorsama’s] confusion regarding alignment. … The issue is that the descriptions tend to focus on extreme examples and/or overly specific examples of a character of the alignment in question, with the result that the nine alignments, as described, don’t even come close to capturing the breadth of behaviours and personalities out there.
    How so? Well, if the alignment descriptions weren’t so incompetently written, then this debate would swiftly and easily be settled (for the most part) simply by checking the alignment descriptions for TN, NE, CN, and CE to see which one of us is correct. Obviously I think that they tend to support my position, on balance, but they don’t explicitly refute your position. As for the tangent, Zaxares, I'll reply fairly shortly.
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    edited May 2023
    Zaxares wrote: »
    The D&D rules on that are unequivocal though; the creation of undead is ALWAYS an Evil act. No exceptions. It's mentioned not only in the PHB, but also a few times in the Book of Exalted Deeds and other supplements. ... In my campaigns, the reason for this is two-fold
    Right. It looks as if you think you’re arguing against me here, but I certainly didn't say that the D&D rules are equivocal about where the creation of undead falls on the alignment scale. I've seen those house rules of yours in the past, by the way, and I like them.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    … some deeds are so heinous that, even if your alignment isn't strictly Evil, have darkened your soul so much that the weight of them pulls you into the Lower Planes regardless. This can happen even if the person truly repented before their death, but was not able to properly atone for their crimes.
    If someone’s alignment "isn’t strictly Evil" then their alignment must by definition be either Neutral or Good! In a system in which deeds are important, a person can potentially be Evil even if their current outlook and behaviour are consistent with that of LG Paladins. The progression would be as follows: (1) Evil; (2) Evil, but repentant; (3) Evil, but beginning to atone; (4) Neutral.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    ... self-preservation cannot be Evil. This was explained very succinctly in the 3E supplement "Lords of Madness", where [Mindflayer stuff]
    If we’re citing D&D source material, how about we turn to the (3ED) Book of Vile Darkness? According to WotC, it represents "a detailed look at the nature of evil", which seems more on point than comments about mindflayers in a book about aberrations. The BoVD says this:
    In a world of black-and-white distinctions between good and evil, killing innocents to save yourself is an evil act.
    That seems dispositive, but let’s carry on.
    EVIL ACTS
    What follows is more than a list that defines evil as opposed to good.

    ...

    MURDER
    Killing is one of the most horrible acts that a creature can commit. Murder is the killing of an intelligent creature for a nefarious purpose: theft, personal gain, perverse pleasure, or the like.

    ...

    USING OTHERS FOR PERSONAL GAIN
    Whether it’s sacrificing a victim on an evil god’s altar to gain a boon, or simply stealing from a friend, using others for one’s own purposes is a hallmark of villainy. A villain routinely puts others in harm’s way to save his or her own neck—better that others die, surely.
    BoVD is clear that murdering for personal gain is one of the most horrible acts a creature can commit. It is similarly clear that killing another to ensure one's own life constitutes personal gain and is Evil. Recognising the nuance between "does Evil" and "is Evil" is welcome, but both the source material and the real world are clear that killing people to further one's own interests is just about the worst thing a person can do – so, if that doesn't make a person Evil most of the time, the system no longer makes sense.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    The problem is that "being selfish" (i.e. looking out for one's own interests above those of others) is in and of itself NOT an evil act. It is merely self-preservation, and self-preservation cannot be Evil.
    Yes, selfishness is not in and of itself Evil, and self-preservation is not inherently Evil. However, neither "being selfish" nor "self-preservation" actually constitute an act; the former merely characterises an act, while the latter describes motive. Sure, self preservation is generally a reasonable motive, and everyone, including Good characters, is entitled to be selfish sometimes. But it is a matter of degree – one cannot necessarily determine the alignment of an act without considering its specifics.

    I’ll illustrate this via reductio ad absurdum: a human in Faerun has been captured by an elf. The human is innocent, both in general and in matters relating to the elf. The elf begins to cast Power Word: Kill on the human. The only way the human can save himself is by using a wand of "Genocide Elves" that he found. He has no desire to harm even a single elf, but he doesn’t want to be murdered, so he uses the wand – genocide in the name of an individual’s self-preservation. Do you stand by your statement that self-preservation cannot be Evil?
    Zaxares wrote: »
    The distinction is important, but insufficient to change the bandit from Evil to Neutral. Your hypothetical can be distilled to the following: I am an innocent who is going to die, so I will kill another innocent so that I may live. That is plainly Evil, in my view.
    This might be where we are dissenting. I don't disagree that choosing to kill an innocent so that you may live is an evil act. Where I DO disagree is that this act on its own is enough to make a person Evil.
    No, we aren’t dissenting here, at least not as a matter of principle. It would have been better had I said "That is plainly an Evil act, in my view". That said, I think my position was already clear from my earlier comments in this thread. On the first page, in reply to atcDave, I said this:
    A mortal's alignment is the net balance of their true values and actions - and the underlying intent of said actions - over the course of their lifetime. Acting outside of one's alignment may or may not result in an alignment change; it would depend on the nature and the intent of the out-of-character act, and on how close they were to the border between alignments beforehand.
    On the second page, in reply to you (Zaxares), I said this:
    …. and the Evil act is killing your comrade. For the record, I wouldn’t say that a person who chooses the Evil act automatically becomes Evil; they are acting in extremis, and they deserve compassion, unless of course they literally don’t care
    Clearly I agree that an Evil act does not necessarily make a person Evil, and that an innocent who chooses to kill another innocent so that they may live does not necessarily become Evil on the basis of that act. Where I disagree – and disagree very strongly – is on the amount of latitude such a person should receive before they are considered Evil. Your example from Ravenloft is persuasive. Your bandits remain unpersuasive.
    Zaxares wrote: »
    In your example of the mafia hitman, such a person would more than likely be Evil, because unlike the earlier example of the bandits, the hitman entered his lifestyle without duress. (He might not be able to leave the Family he serves, but from what I've been told you can actually spend your entire life in a mafia family without ever killing anyone.)
    You say that self-preservation "cannot be Evil", but even mafia hitmen are merely "more than likely be Evil"? I also note that you said that the mafia hitman "might not be able to leave". I'm no expert, but I’m confident that never in the history of the mafia has it ever been true that a mafioso is unable to leave. It might be difficult; it might be dangerous; it might even be invariably fatal… and yet, the choice remains. I’m all for nuanced morality, in D&D and in life, but you seem remarkably willing to downplay acts and behaviour that I consider Evil in D&D and very bad in real life. I will say again: let’s agree to disagree about what constitutes Evil in D&D.
  • BardsSuck_BardsSuck_ Member Posts: 133
    edited May 2023
    If summoning undead is evil canonically, which i agree, why can good priests summon skeletons and satanic fiends from hell ?

    This is what Orwell would call double thinking.
  • atcDaveatcDave Member Posts: 2,187
    edited May 2023
    Yeah I agree that should be a complete nono for good guys. Call it an oversight.

    Pretty much all summoning should be off-limits for good characters. The PnP write-up specifically says summoned creatures don't like being summoned. That makes it bad.
  • DinoDinDinoDin Member Posts: 1,581
    OP's point could be expanded to so much in the BG series and in lots of other related D&D stuff. Neutral characters are often basically just a weaker version of good. A whole bunch of the series companions that are ostensibly neutral behave closer to good, imo. Jaheira is the most obvious one. But Branwen, Garrick, Xan, Quayle, Neera, Cernd, Haerdalis and Jan all behave pretty close to good.

    It's just the nature of the writing in this genre imo, especially at the time BG came out.
  • BardsSuck_BardsSuck_ Member Posts: 133
    DinoDin wrote: »
    OP's point could be expanded to so much in the BG series and in lots of other related D&D stuff. Neutral characters are often basically just a weaker version of good. A whole bunch of the series companions that are ostensibly neutral behave closer to good, imo. Jaheira is the most obvious one. But Branwen, Garrick, Xan, Quayle, Neera, Cernd, Haerdalis and Jan all behave pretty close to good.

    It's just the nature of the writing in this genre imo, especially at the time BG came out.

    Haer Dalis literally joins raelis shai to murder you if you refuse to give the gem, (after saving his ass) he is everything but good. Tbh it fits his chaotic neutral alignment.

    I also loosely remind Xan trying to murder me for no reason. Neutral really is the middle, it can go both ways.
  • The_Baffled_KingThe_Baffled_King Member Posts: 147
    DinoDin wrote: »
    A whole bunch of the series companions that are ostensibly neutral behave closer to good, imo. Jaheira is the most obvious one. But Branwen, Garrick, Xan, Quayle, Neera, Cernd, Haerdalis and Jan all behave pretty close to good.
    Jaheira is shoehorned into True Neutral because it was the only alignment Druids could be in 2E D&D. Branwen and Garrick plainly both should have been Good (and Coran should've been Neutral). Quayle is a bit difficult to comment on because Neutral is the best fit for BG Quayle, while BG2 Quayle effectively has a complete personality replacement. The rest are fine as Neutral (there's already been discussion of how Neera's acts trend more towards Good in BG2).

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