CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

To Kill or Not to Kill That Is the Question

Illustration by Luis Perez
Many, not all obviously, but many RPGs have strings of encounters where players are confronted with situations where they end up killing a large number of creatures. Now we all know about murderhobos who will just wander from town to town, but even with players who don’t seem like wanton killers, taking a life appears to comes to them with ease. I find this an odd conundrum, especially in games with a morality system; whether it be palladium, pathfinder/D&D, white wolf, or any other game with a system that dictates morals. How do supposedly good creatures reconcile the fact they are effectively mass murderers?

Now there are some obvious situations where killing a thing is better for the world as a whole. Most undead are abominations to the world that have already stepped outside the bounds of the circle of life. There are other mindless creatures that, although not evil, are pure killing machines and destroying them may be the only way to save dozens of innocents. Demons, devils, and other assorted evils that are basically made up of nothing but the pure essence of evil. In some cases like undead it’s like putting down a rabid dog. In the case of outsiders you are banishing what is truly evil. So what about everything in between?

What does it take to decide to take another being’s life? How long does one contemplate before killing another living creature? These are difficult questions. Having been in more than my fair share of fights in my lifetime I understand that real combat is quick, dirty, and often kill or be killed. One doesn’t have time to think about the motives of the other person when they’re throwing a punch at your face. But still if you have the opportunity – the obvious upper hand, or a retreating foe – do you consider not killing the enemies in question.

Now I get the assumption is that the creatures you’re facing are for the most part evil, but does just being evil mean you should be murdered? Good characters especially, I think should face this moral debate when there is the option to take their foe alive and they choose not to.  I’ve lucked out with my current group of players. They are all playing good characters and from the beginning they’ve decided unless forced to they will try not to kill any non-undead, non-evil outside creatures. They will go so far as to take the penalty for a non-lethal finishing blow. The cleric uses admonishing ray – a non-lethal bolt of force damage – and a merciful metamagic rod quite often.

There are some issues with taking prisoners, of course. What do you do with them? You’re in the middle of a dungeon or on the road somewhere and turning back to take them in could jeopardize the quest. I think these are hard choices that make things interesting. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing or the quick thing. Choosing expediency because it helps you isn’t exactly what I would call being good.

Although in Pathfinder’s setting there are two minor deities, one who has vengeance and one who has executions in their portfolio. I’ve never seen these things as being good, particularly revenge which is an utterly selfish act. But then I think about how hard the decision must be for these good characters who are tasked with taking these acts upon themselves so others do not have to.

I don’t think there’s any one answer to the question of when is it right to kill. Your morality and my morality might be vastly different. Our lines in the sand could be inches or miles apart. And although this particular article doesn’t have any definitive answers I hope it provokes thought amongst you and your players. For me I favor killing to happen less frequently than it does in many games, and I would hope my good guy characters think twice before taking a life.

How often do your players kill? How about just sentient creatures? Do  your players take prisoners often? Do they see themselves as the law in uncivilized countryside? To you see a difference in how often good guy characters and bad guy characters take to killing?

With every death comes a new appreciation of life. Hopefully with every article comes a new appreciation of the depth of the gaming experience. If the CRB has helped you in your gaming life please consider donating to my Patreon. Doing so helps me keep the lights on while I produce the content you enjoy. You should also come join the fun in the CRB online community. We are on Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, and Twitter. Come by make a comment, drop me a line, my inbox is always open on all platforms.

The opening illustration was created by the fine artist Luis Perez. You can find him on TwitterTumblr, and on Instagram at luisperezart.


  1. Great thought fodder. I agree that "being evil" is insufficient excuse to be killed. Look at Lord Vetinari from the _Discworld_ novels. The iconic definition of "lawful evil," and yet every same creature agrees Anhk-Morpork would be in serious dire straights if he was dead.

    Conversely, Commander Vines is practically the definition of "Lawful Good," and yet he sometimes uses dirty tricks when it serves the greater good, and has committed premeditated murder on at least one occasion (although he did try to warn the evil bastard werewolf who had just chased him across the countryside about it).

    1. I'll take any Discworld reference on my posts any day of the week.