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Old Screeds


Now Be Good! Part 2 [22 Apr 2016] What to do with all your defeated -- but living -- foes?

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

What to do with prisoners? The question has bedeviled player groups in role play game after game. What if there are player characters in your game who simply prefer not to kill foes? Maybe they have a philosophical objection to ending life. Maybe it simply makes them sad when the blank eyes of the dead look at them. Maybe they just have no desire to become a mass murderer. And the problem becomes worse if you follow my suggestions for not being a murderhobo, because the use of nonlethal options gives you a battlefield littered not with the dead and dying, but with the unconscious and very much alive bodies of your foes. What oh what to do with those helpless enemies?

The prisoner dilemma

In a game modeled after the real world, once could appeal to a higher authority, and put villains behind bars. In urban settings, there is likely a City Guard or other peacekeeping force that will take care of miscreants. This is the superhero model, in which player characters act as caped crusaders, delivering criminals to the police. Heroes in this mode may even get official notice of some kind. But in the wilderness, or in a lonely dungeon, then what? If you retain a real world mindset but lose all central authority, it might seem that the only choice is the Wild West option -- string 'em up and hang 'em high. OTOH, killing prisoners in cold blood seems ignoble and non-heroic; some players dislike that style of play.

I grappled with the prisoner question in 2006, and I went a-looking around the Internet for advice. I came to the conclusion in the end that maybe the only viable option is to kill helpless evil foes, cleanly, mercifully, without torture. That remains a viable option, even for the most good of characters.

But are there other options?

One idea is to expect that if you have defeated a foe and then taken all their gear, they'll be smart enough to realize that they would lose in rematch, especially lacking all their gear, so they cease to be a threat. But they could still pose a danger to weaker innocents and others. Another option is to hope that showing mercy tends to make defeated foes reflect on their failings and come around to a better point of view. If all life is sacred, and what separates good from evil is respect for life, then demonstrating mercy is a compelling argument.

If your Game Master prefers to run a darker, more cynical, arguably more realistic world, then you may find these hopes and expectations quickly shattered against the jagged on-the-ground facts of the game universe your DM creates. Released foes re-arm and come back. Or they slink away from you to go hunt babies and kitties for snacks. On the other hand, if your Game Master runs a lighter, more optimistic world than the one in which you and I currently reside, perhaps defeated foes will be more likely to see the error of their ways. They could be inspired by your example. They might question their former motivation, which has failed them so utterly. Your Game Master may encourage that, and your characters build a reputation.

You might argue characters who hope their enemies reform are living in a fantasy world, to which I would answer, "Yes, and how would you describe your world, the one with magic spells and dragons? It's a Fantasy world!" For example, consider jumping. the current Olympic record for long-jumping is 29 feet, 2.25 inches. Give me a 14 dexterity and five ranks in acrobatics as a class skill, and I'll take 20 to jump 30 ft. Wow! I'm an Olympian! And that's not even adding in an extra 10-30 feet for a Jump spell.

How much realism sauce would you like with that?

On that note, let's pause for a second to consider realism in Dungeons and Dragons.

D&D is a game in which exceedingly unrealistic things happen in order to allow heroic adventures that ignore the gritty reality of the real world. In the real world, wounds take weeks to heal. In D&D, a small wound naturally heals overnight, and magic makes things better immediately. There are no rules for broken bones, scars, infection, etc. This is so exceptionally unrealistic as to be laughable, but we are so very used to it as a convention that it does not even occur to us to challenge it.

Similarly, the rules for falling are absurd. A character with 40 hp can expect to fall from any distance with very little danger of death. Even a "short" fall of say 30 ft at low level is very survivable, and if you have 1 hp left, you can get up and run a marathon. In real life, well, no. We accept these simulationistically silly ideas as game conventions because we want our fantasy world to work that way.

In D&D, we have alignment for similar reasons. There is no alignment in the real world. It is an RPG convention that makes the game more fun to play. We can kill evil creatures with little ethical qualm because they are Evil with a capital E.

What's my point here? It is this: We use magic and game conventions in D&D in order to make the game more fun -- in order to purge the game of the more gritty, unpleasant, and darker consequences that would pop up if the game were a better simulation of reality.

One way we do this is by magic -- "We can fix it with a spell" -- and we do it like this: "I cast Cure Light Wounds." Okay, you're ready to fight again!

Is the prisoner dilemma something you want in your game?

Now we come to it, my friends! I submit that for some players, a core RPG value is this: Life is Precious. That's the central idea behind paladins and some clerics, for example. For player characters who share this value, as I pointed out in my first murderhobo post, there are a number of ways in the game right now to avoid killing, such as the use of nonlethal damage. And this core value ("core" for those who want to play in that mode) crashes into the "gritty, unpleasant, and darker consequences" of simulationism when they are faced with the prisoner dilemma. To which I say, "We can fix it with a spell."

You could play with the mechanics. Does a change alignment spell have a cost or component or focus? Does it always work? Does spell resistance or does a save apply? Is it instantaneous or permanent or something else? All that is nitty gritty. My suggestion is that adding a spell to the game that converts a prisoner to Good would be a great answer to the prisoner dilemma.

After all, magic to change alignment already exists in the game! The Helm of Opposite Alignment is the perfect tool for the job. Just pop one of these babies onto the head of your prisoner, and voila! Problem solved, set that green dragon, ogre mage, or anti-paladin free. Note that this is a transmutation effect, not an enchantment or charm, so it should work just fine on mummies and ghouls too!

Now let's reverse-engineer this magic item. The save DC is a 15. Most items that are based on 3rd level spells have a DC14; those based on 4th level spells have a DC16. So that suggests this magic is in the 3rd-4th level range.

The item itself is a one-use magic item. The formula for making those is spell level X caster level X 50. An Elemental Gem, for example, has caster level 11 for a 5th level spell, so it should cost 11 X 5 X 50 = 2,750 gp. The book value is actually 2,250 gp, so we're pretty close.

The Helm of Opposite Alignment costs 4,000 gp and has caster level 12. So 4,000/50 = 80, and 80/12 = 6.66. At caster level 12 you cannot cast a 7th level spell, so we can assume that the Helm operates on 6th level magic.

Not that the Helm does not lose its magic unless you fail your save. If you put it on and make your save, the next person to put it on has to save too. The magic only ends when someone is affected. On other words, the Helm, based on 6th level magic, always works, so long as you can take 20, since if you try it on 20 times, odds are one of those times you will roll a 1 and be affected, no matter what your Will save bonus.

A spell that changes a captured foe's alignment? Why not?

So the hypothetical Opposite Alignment spell that the Helm is based might work in one of these two ways:

Opposite Alignment
Transmutation
Level: Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S
Casting Time: two minutes
Range: Touch
Target: target touched
Duration: instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: None

When this spell is completed, the alignment of the target is radically altered to an alignment as different as possible from the former alignment good to evil, chaotic to lawful, neutral to some extreme commitment (LE, LG, CE, or CG). Alteration in alignment is mental as well as moral, and the individual changed by the magic thoroughly enjoys his new outlook. Only a wish or a miracle can restore former alignment, and the affected individual does not make any attempt to return to the former alignment. (In fact, he views the prospect with horror and avoids it in any way possible.) If a character of a class with an alignment requirement is affected, an atonement spell is needed as well if the effect is to be obliterated.
Touch of Opposite Alignment
Transmutation
Level: Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: target touched
Duration: instantaneous
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes

This spell, delivered by touch, radically alters the alignment of the target to an alignment as different as possible from the former alignment good to evil, chaotic to lawful, neutral to some extreme commitment (LE, LG, CE, or CG). Alteration in alignment is mental as well as moral, and the individual changed by the magic thoroughly enjoys his new outlook. Only a wish or a miracle can restore former alignment, and the affected individual does not make any attempt to return to the former alignment. (In fact, he views the prospect with horror and avoids it in any way possible.) If a character of a class with an alignment requirement is affected, an atonement spell is needed as well if the effect is to be obliterated. If the target resists the magic, either by a saving throw or by spell resistance, the caster may continue to make touch attacks until the spell affects one target.

An unfortunate aspect of both the spells above is that you have to be 11th level or higher to use them. Is there any way to make these spells less powerful? I have two ideas: Impose a cost, and restrict the usage:

Lesser Tug Heartstring
Transmutation
Level: 2 (all casters)
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: two minutes
Range: Touch
Target: willing target touched
Duration: instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes

When this spell is completed, the alignment of the target is altered by 1d2 steps on the Good-Evil Axis and by 1d2 steps on the Law-Chaos Axis toward the caster's alignment. The Game Master rolls the d2s and does not reveal the results. Alteration in alignment is mental as well as moral, and the individual changed by the magic thoroughly enjoys his new outlook. Only a wish or a miracle can restore former alignment, and the affected individual does not make any attempt to return to the former alignment. (In fact, he views the prospect with horror and avoids it in any way possible.) If a character of a class with an alignment requirement is affected, an atonement spell is needed as well if the effect is to be obliterated. The material component of this spell is 10 xp per hit die of the target; the caster can divide this cost among up to 10 willing allies by holding hands with them as the spell is cast. Note that only willing creatures can be affected, and per the standard rules on magic, unconscious creatures are treated as willing.
Greater Tug Heartstring
Transmutation
Level: 4 (all casters)
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: one round
Range: Touch
Target: willing target touched
Duration: instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes

When this spell is completed, the alignment of the target is changed to that of the caster. Alteration in alignment is mental as well as moral, and the individual changed by the magic thoroughly enjoys his new outlook. Only a wish or a miracle can restore former alignment, and the affected individual does not make any attempt to return to the former alignment. (In fact, he views the prospect with horror and avoids it in any way possible.) If a character of a class with an alignment requirement is affected, an atonement spell is needed as well if the effect is to be obliterated. The material component of this spell is 10 xp per hit die of the target; the caster can divide this cost among up to 10 willing allies by holding hands with them as the spell is cast. Note that only willing creatures can be affected, and per the standard rules on magic, unconscious creatures are treated as willing.

Note that a new alignment does not mean the target is charmed or even friendly. His friendships, family ties, desire to retain his own possessions, and to do his job all remain unchanged, except if they are in opposition to his new alignment, and a period of adjustment is quite reasonable.

I suspect these spells will be used mostly by good casters, for three reasons. First, as I just mentioned, the spell does not turn enemies into allies. Changing a good enemy into an evil enemy is probably a negative, since the newly evil enemy has no noral or ethical qualms restraining them. On the other hand, an evil enemy made good may be convinced to sue for peace or to go away. Second, given the experience point cost, evil casters will not want to weaken themselves to make good enemies evil, while good casters may see it as a noble sacrifice. And third, be definition Good characters are more inclined to value life, while death is both easier and a desirable end in itself to Evil. Characters who have gone to the trouble of using merciful weapons and spells, for example, are likely willing to go the extra final step towards reforming prisoners.

In the end, Game Masters have to set the flavor they want for their games. Do they want gritty realism? In that case, characters with a commitment to Good may find their quest ultimately fruitless, or fraught with situations in which there are only bad choices and worse outcomes. Or do they want heroism and magic that can solve the problems we face in the real world? These Game Masters may be pleased to offer players worlds in which you can cure both mortal wounds and evil alignments with magic.


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