“It’s torture, and I wanted something!”

The party explored about 1/2 of the mines, finding them to be inhabited by crab spiders, skeletons, kobolds, and some very ornery dwarves, as well as riddle-asking living statue (n.b.: a small 2-minute hourglass timer adds a lot of tension to riddles. But be sure to read through your whole list riddles before springing them on the party, some of the “authentic” medieval riddles I found online are just ridiculous).

Their initial foray had them going left and running into a trio of crab spiders, which surprised the party (as they do on a 1-4, ouch!) and Swinlow the thief took a bite and failed his save. I’m playing that “Save or die” results just take a PC to zero hit points, but they don’t roll on the “Death & Dismemberment” chart unless they go below zero. The spider’s venom doesn’t take effect right away so, I just described a disturbing swelling and necrosis on the bite area. The party’s amateur doctoring (“It’s swelling? Lance it!” “That didn’t work?!? Slice it off”) could well have killed the thief but they managed to get him to town and Neutralize the poison. Because they didn’t have the 1000 GP it cost, they put the thief’s Ring of Invisibility in hock (despite the bishops’ suggestion of taking an oath of service to the Church instead, I guess the party didn’t want to be tied down).

Then a debate ensued about whether to return to the “Spider dungeon” or try their luck again in Namcap’s maze, but when they heard that the other known guardians were mostly 5th level or higher monsters, they changed their minds. Back at the mines, a teleporting pool proved to be one of bigger hazards, as one character after another waded in and the second was teleported directly on top of the first: telefrag! Another “save or die” is missed and this time the dwarf Grumble is partly squibbed on the floor. He used healing potion to get up to 2 HP and spent most of the rest of the session firing his cross bow from the rear, which worked out well given the narrow halls of the mines and the fact that two fighters and an elf could more than cover the front.

The bulk of the session was spent arguing about the treatment of defeated foes (or it felt like it anyway!). Swinlow the thief began torturing a captured dwarf, asking him where he found the vast hoard of platinum coins they found in the dwarves’ possession. (The dwarves were apparently miners, and accused the party of jumping their claim as they attacked, and the dwarves’ treasure type, even when scaled down from a full lair, was really big — 600 PP!) In the end the thief had chopped off the dwarf’s foot before the other characters could stop him, and this led to a running argument (which I felt was just as much an argument among the PCs as among the players, so they basically alerted every monster they encountered with their arguing). Later on the dwarf PC slew a bunch of sleeping kobolds, which the rest of the party felt was unnecessary as they were more concerned with getting out of the mines ASAP.

Ordinarily I really enjoy ethical debates (my first degrees were in philosophy, before I sold out for the mad money and prestige of librarianship), but the session had started late due my long commute through a big storm, and as DM I didn’t want to intervene too much in something everyone seemed to be enjoying… But two of my players just love debating anything, and both have what I perceive to be a bad habit of changing their positions throughout the debate. So the thief player began by arguing that torturing captives was ok since no one in the party objected when he began, then moved to the position that the captives were evil and had no rights, just like the sleeping kobolds. No one was buying this proposed moral equivalence between torture and killing (he’d cut of the dude’s foot!), and the thief finally said, in an exasperated tone, “It’s torture, and I wanted something!” Oh, well ok then, what was the problem?

The Dwarf player on the other hand argued (correctly) that torturing captives is evil, and that asking miners where they got their mineral wealth was a little silly anyway, but also that killing the sleeping kobolds (rather than, say, tying them up, disarming them, or leaving them alone and getting out of Dodge!) was the Lawful thing to do (“Kobolds are our enemies and inherently evil”); he later argued that he just felt that tactically it was best to kill the downed foes since he had no way of knowing when they’d wake up, which is an argument with some merit (ask Henry the V of England at Agincourt!) but was blatantly not the reason he had begun slaying the sleeping monsters.

Oy. Anyway I don’t think there were any hard feelings, although I guess next time I’ll try to explain the alignments a little more so the players will at least know what their characters’ alignments mean.  I didn’t mention it above but Swinlow was also the first PC to die — as in completely dead — and the party was aghast to learn how much a Raise dead would cost (Swinlow was already 2nd level so the player really didn’t want to make a new PC), and there was plenty of squabbling over spending so much of the loot recovered on healing and raising the thief; no doubt his foul treatment of prisoners affected the party’s attitude.  But hey — that’s my first PC kill in D&D!  I killed lots of GURPS characters DMing that back in the day but I’ve finally broken my DM cherry.

Still, I think the session went pretty well and I’ll have to make sure I get another map keyed, since the party did get through most of the map…if they don’t debate the morality of torture and killing sleeping foes next time, they’ll finish it in no time.

On the other hand they did not map it at all, so they may be stumbling blindly. Should be interesting.

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 11:00 am  Comments (5)  
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  1. I don’t think that I changed my argument. I just added to it. People do things for more than one reason.

    It was tactically smart to kill the kobolds too for a variety of reasons.

    But more importantly killing inherently evil creatures is the right thing to do. D&D is a fantasy game with real distinctions between creatures. Not all things are equal. Not all life is capable of free will or change. The most fowl demi-human or human is capable of change, not so with undead, dragons, or humanoids. Their very nature compels them. Do you spare a Vampire once you defeat it . Maybe if you are chaotic but a lawful character wants to protect life so he stakes it. Why? Because a vampire is a monster. Monsters kill people. You know what? humanoids are monsters too. Humanoids partake in cannibalism, torture, bulling, and murder; it is their nature. Sure some monsters are good (Kirin for example) but they are just as incapable of changing their nature as evil ones.

    The only compelling argument to not kill the kobolds was John’s, and it was weak. I can’t recall exactly what he said but it was something like “If we kill chaotic we are no better than them.” In the real world I would agree about killing other human beings. But for the reason above this is not true in D&D. Not all intelligent things are created equally. Lawful is not stupid spare a kobold today and someone somewhere will regret it. Actually thinking about it, not kill evil is a neutral position. But there are lines Lawful creatures should not cross and it is torture for one. Sacrificing others and putting your own gains before the greater good. Lawful does not mean Buddhism.

    One of the things I like about D&D is that there is no moral relativism. Evil (chaotic) is evil and must be destroyed before it can harm innocents. Torture is evil. No one is going to be sitting down with an orc to have a veggie burger. Orcs eat meat (and people), kill, and bully. Parley at your own risk.

    So what about the dwarves? Humans and demi-humans can be of any alignment which is to my belief that being capable of any alignment thus can change their ways. Clearly they saw us as wanting to rob them. We had to defend ourselves. They were belligerent yes. Evil? I don’t think we can say for sure yet but we will have to find out. If we can reason with them we should make restitution. Not just me either all of us.

    • You have a mostly reasonable (if absolutist) stance but it is not the definition of good & evil (or lawful & chaotic, rather) in B/X D&D, which is what I’m using. “Lawful” characters in B/X feel an obligation to all living things, not just humans and demihumans. Being Lawful does not mean you are supposed to hunt & preemptively kill everything that is not Lawful. Defending yourself is not the same as destroying all possible threats.

      Intelligent monsters can be of any alignment, although many, perhaps all, will be of the listed alignment. It is not as if everything in the world carries a card stating it’s alignment, or can act only in accord with its alignment. Nurture and nature. If there can be Chaotic dwarves there can be Lawful kobolds, but both are presumably very rare.

      Killing defeated foes is ruthless and possibly cruel but still Lawful, under the circumstances. The tactical soundness of staying to slit all the throats of downed enemies can only be judged from a position of knowing the possible and probable outcomes of that action and as a player you don’t know if a delay of a few rounds will make escape impossible or if the sleeping kobolds would get right back into the fight. You took a chance and were lucky; it was not the only option open to you.

      Massacring a nursery full of kobold babies sounds perfectly acceptable to a Lawful character in your view of alignment, I guess. As DM I don’t plan on throwing orc babies in your path, but if you feel justified in seeking out humanoid civilians to kill them in your war on humanoids generally, I wonder where it ends?

      Regarding the undead, demons, and such, of course you can & should destroy them. There could be some ghosts etc. that could be “laid to rest” by other means but you are not obligated to find out why they are ghosts or whether their grievances against the living have some validity.

      BTW “monster” in D&D refers to all non-player characters, including but not limited to humanoids and “monsters” in the everyday sense. Every human in Skara Brae, apart from the PCs, are “monsters” too. 🙂

      • Again I don’t think that “cares about all living things” means that inherently evil things should not be killed in order to protect the weak you have to defeat evil. Defeating evil does not imply releasing it to kill again or taking chaotic creatures by their word. It is the whole point of adventuring. Does Grumble care about all life? Sure does that is why he wages war against the chaotic. Where does Molday say any monster can be any alignment? Under monsters it says :

        “Alignment shows whether the monster is lawful, neutral, or Chaotic….The DM should be careful to play the alignment of each monster correctly.”

        Monster entries clearly states when monsters can be a variable alignment. Kobolds are chaotic. NPC parties vary. Dwarves are lawful or neutral. Halfling are lawful.

        Is killing sleeping kobolds bloodthirsty? I guess it depends how you kill them. Killing them swiftly is merciful. As far as the whole baby kobolds a lawful character might not kill them but it would not be unlawful to eradicate evil.

        Now, if we are playing nonstandard alignments for Monsters I will have to rethink the whole kobold thing. What alignment would I have be in order to play a character that wages a war against evil with none of this pussy footing around with evil creature.

        If that is not Lawful, I have to think about whether I want to continue with my current characters if we are going to play with this moral relativism stuff. I really don’t want to play a Lawful character the way you and john define them.

        I know you and I have very differnet views on Heroic fantasy character goals/purpose.
        I can make a character more like Slicer if you perfer.

  2. I would have taken a different tack. Whether it was evil or not doesn’t matter, the players can work that out on their own as they were. The fact that they are debating it in a dungeon means, wandering monster checks! That should hasten them to a conclusion…

    • I just made every encounter aware they were coming as long as they argued. A wandering monster might have been more effective at at getting their attention.

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