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Old Screeds

Now Be Good! [3 Jan 2016] You do not have to be a murderhobo any more.

Remember the Star Trek episode in The Original Series in which aliens force Kirk and Spock to team up with Lincoln and Sarok to fight big bad evil guys from Earth's history? Doctor Google informs me that this was the one called "The Savage Curtain."

The aliens wanted to know how Good fought differently from Evil. Kirk made a point about motives rather than means, but I never thought the episode really had a solid answer to the question. On the other hand, I like the idea that there CAN be an answer in D&D, that you can mechanically use different but strategically viable options to show how Good (respect for life) fights differently from Evil (delights in death).

One option for the forces of Good is to find non-combat solutions to challenges. Diplomacy, deception, and stealth seem like natural answers here, both based on skills and on magic that can achieve the same results.

But what about when combat cannot be avoided? For an unprepared adventurer, or one inured to death, killing an enemy in the heat of battle seems like the only choice. I suppose you can debate the merits of the standard "killing foes in battle is okay" mentality that is typical of your stock D&D character. After all, you are in a fight! Killing foes is what you do!

In fact, prepared adventurers have something else to do. Faced with normal living foes (set aside undead or constructs, or those immune to nonlethal damage), there is no reason for an adventurer to kill anyone! How can Good "fight different? Here are some ideas.

  • Use weapons that do nonlethal damage, such as unarmed strikes, saps, whips, nets, and bolas, which are available in both D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder. PF also adds blunt arrows, snag nets, and lassos; and salt shot cartridges for use with the firearms rules. And you do not have to put deadly poison in your poisoned sand tube.
  • Use standard weapons, but accept a -4 penalty on attacks in order to use nonlethal damage.
  • If you can afford it, use only merciful weapons. These magic weapons inflict nonlethal damage without the usual -4 to hit, and add an extra 1d6 nonlethal damage as well. But at 8,000+ gp, the cost is high. A merciful amulet of mighty fists costs half that, and it applies to all of the wearer's natural and unarmed attacks.
  • There are also alchemical weapons, such as tanglefoot bags, thunderstones, and (in extra Pathfinder books) a ton of other alchemical options, a number of them being nonlethal.
  • Do not neglect special attacks and combat maneuvers! Trips, sunders, grapples, and more are all great options, and the feats and abilities intended to enhance them are myriad.
  • As a caster, you have many effective nonlethal options, from charms and enchantments (Command, Calm Emotions, Suggestion) to buffs (Heroism) and debuffs (Ray of Enfeeblement). In fact, you can simply limit yourself to only non-damaging spells and have a very effective caster. In The Wold online Pathfinder campaign, there is a homebrew base class designed around this concept (and others), called the Blood Witch. Even if you do not want to adopt a new class, consider the Blood Witch spell list for ideas.
  • And for casters who love fireballs and magic missiles, Pathfinder added the Merciful Spell metamagic feat in its Advanced Players Guide. With no extra cost (other than taking the feat), you can convert all your lethal damage into nonlethal. The feat specifies that "You can alter spells that inflict damage to inflict nonlethal damage instead." Does that apply to Black Tentacles? Spiritual Weapon? Summoned creatures? Personally, hoping to encourage the use of nonlethal damage, I say yes. Alternately, impose a -4 on attacks by summoned creatures and spells that themselves attack (Mage's Faithful Hound) to allow them to inflict nonlethal damage.

Finally, I want to offer an idea for a feat ...

Nonlethality [Combat]
Prerequisite: Good alignment
Benefit: Whenever you make any attack, you may choose to inflict nonlethal damage at no penalty. Ability score damage you inflict is temporary, if you so choose. The effects of this feat extend to your bound companion, such as a familiar or animal companion. This ability also extends to any Merciful spell you cast, even those that summon or call creatures and those that create effects that themselves have attacks, such as Black Tentacles, Spiritual Hammer, Mage's Faithful Hound, Clenched Fist, Mage's Sword, etc.
Normal: You take a -4 penalty on attacks to convert them to nonlethal damage.
Special: This feat may be taken in place of any bonus feat offered by any class, organization, or PrC

Yes, this covers a lot of ground for a feat, but there's no game balance issue. It also requires Merciful Spell for full effectiveness. It does not give any extra ability to defeat foes -- just to do so without killing.

So tell Kirk and Spock that there is a difference between how heroes and villains fight. And hand them them each a phaser set to stun.

This is the first part of a two-part series. here is the second part.

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