The Nature of Evil


The Objective Approach

  • This is the straightforward approach taken in the D&D game. From this frame of reference, evil can be judged objectively. The evil nature of a creature, act, or item isn’t relative to the person observing it; it just is evil or it isn’t. This clear-cut definition allows spells such as holy smite to work. Conversely, an objective definition of evil exists because the detect evil spell works. Want to know what’s evil? Don’t study a philosophy book, just watch who gets hurt when the cleric casts holy smite. Those creatures are evil. The things they do, generally speaking, are evil acts. If your character still isn’t certain, he can summon a celestial creature or cast a commune spell and simply ask, “Is this evil?” The higher powers are right there, ready to communicate. The Player’s Handbook says, “ ‘Evil’ implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualm if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.” This objective approach to evil works well for fantasy roleplaying games. Evil is a thing that a hero can point at and know he must fight. An objective concept of evil allows players (and their characters) to avoid most ethical or moral quandaries, particularly the kinds that can derail a game session. If you run an adventure about fighting gnolls, you don’t normally want the entire session consumed by a philosophical debate about whether killing gnolls is a good thing or a bad thing.
  • The Relative Approach(Variant)
  • A second approach considers evil to be a relative concept that is wholly dependent on the attitude of the observer. This is not the approach of most D&D games; rather, it resembles how many people see the real world. Using this variant outlook changes a game dramatically—at least as far as “evil” is concerned. In the relative approach, evil is not something that your character can point a finger at; it’s relative to each individual. While it’s possible for a number of creatures (an entire culture, for example) to have a similar view on what is good and what is evil, another group might have a different or even opposite view. Of course, conflicting views can also occur if your D&D game uses the objective approach, but in that case, one group can simply prove that its views are right. In a world where evil is relative, a deity might put forth tenets describing what is right and wrong, or good and evil. But another god might have different, even contradictory dogma. A paladin of one deity might talk about the evil, godless heathens across the mountains and eventually go to war with them. If she does, she may find herself battling paladins of a different god and a different culture who look upon the crusading paladin as an evil infidel. If you decide that this is the approach you want, you have some game-related decisions to make. For instance, in a world where evil is relative, how does a detect evil spell work? When two paladins of opposing views meet on the field of battle, can they use their smite abilities against each other? The easiest and best option in this case is to do away with spells such as detect evil because they have no real meaning. Take away the good and evil descriptors from spells (so that any character can cast any of those spells), and disregard any holy or unholy damage a weapon deals. Having to know or determine the outlook of a character casting detect evil is cumbersome and unwieldy, and it leads to confusion and arguments over who should be affected by the paladin’s holy sword or the cleric’s holy smite.
  • In terms of mechanics, the game will be played using the objective approach. Therefore all evil and good descriptor spells and abilities will work normally with specific modifications according to each plane.

  • In Shimring (The Campaign), game mechanics will operate on this level; however adjudication will operate on the relative approach. The Lady of Pain is a true neutral (with a Lawful bias) and all beings are equally welcome on her plane. Characters acting out their alignment in The Cage would do well to remember prudence over dogma. Indeed this approach would be beneficial in other planes as well.
  • Try and keep the bigger picture in mind. You want to prevent destruction of the universe and look to the Gods you worship to guide you. With this in mind, one is quite able to converse with demons, make deals with fiends and collaborate with creatures you might never have imagined doing so with before. Above all, remember most of you have established an unbreakable relationship with each other – the kind of bond that can transcend and even override alignment. (Think of a mother protecting criminal son from the law).
  • Also bear in mind that mercy is not a sign of weakness, and communication over wanton slaying could very well be your ticket to success.
  • Before you attack the lone being standing in front of you for “being evil”— think about whether you really want to kill the only creature that might be able to help you in an otherwise strange and hostile world?
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