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A player of mine in a recent game of Pathfinder was playing a Lawful Neutral Magus and was about to drink blood from a fallen spellcaster to get his prepared spells for the day by using the spell Blood Transcription. This spell has the [Evil] descriptor, but my player mentioned he was Lawful Neutral and it's only an act of pragmatism to get more spells... Thus it's not "Evil" from an alignment perspective.

We argued for a while but his point was that it's act of pure pragmatism to get more spells. As a Lawful Neutral character, it's within the limits of his alignment. I thought it was simply evil and wrong and would earn an alignment change.

Is casting this spell evil either as a result of the [Evil] descriptor, the fact you drink someone's blood during it, or both? Is the act of drinking a fallen sentient opponent's blood evil even if you do it as an act of pragmatism? Should this spell be reserved to evil spellcasters or trigger an alignment change?

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Yet another reason I hate tying alignment to mechanics: differing definitions of evil inside the group. –  Oblivious Sage Jul 26 '12 at 23:34
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Related: One [Alignment] act does not cause a character to change alignments. A pattern of [alignment] acts will change alignment –  C. Ross Jul 27 '12 at 14:18
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Is drinking blood Evil?

Even in the world of "objective morality" created by D&D alignment, drinking blood isn't necessarily Evil. Why? Animals drink blood. To them, it's just basic sustenance, no different from eating meat.

Once you attach a metaphysical component to the act, though — I am drinking your blood in order to steal your courage, for example, or feed on your very soul — then it rapidly becomes Evil.

These are the two basic poles. Everything in between, such as whether non-magical cannibalism between sentient beings is Evil, is pretty much up to the group. Generally, I'd go with this: if you think desecrating a dead body (not the spirit) is Evil, then most forms of blood-drinking should be as well; if you think desecrating a dead body is no different from breaking a lamp, then most forms of blood-drinking should be as well. Either way, it's not something to keep secret; get group buy-in about what the one right answer is, and proceed from there.


Is Blood Transcription Evil?

In the case of Blood Transcription, the answer is provided for you: the spell has the [Evil] tag, which is described as:

Evil: Spells that draw upon evil powers or conjure creatures from evil-aligned planes or with the evil subtype should have the evil descriptor.

So, the game is telling you that Blood Transcription is innately Evil. There's two ways to interpret this:

  1. Blood Transcription involves performing an action that's inherently spiritually violating, so it draws on Evil power to accomplish its effects.
  2. Blood Transcription is a spell based on Evil power, so it accomplishes its effect using some sort of Evil method (likely spiritual violation) .

Either way, using Blood Transcription spell is an act of Evil. The biggest difference is really whether you could create an analogous non-Evil spell using some alternate arcane force.

Note that merely committing an Evil act does not cause an alignment shift. Part of being Neutral is, as you said, the willingness to occasionally do Evil. In the world of D&D alignment, character committing "justified" Evil acts are still doing Evil. That's what supernatural objective morality is all about.

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Yes, casting a spell with the [Evil] descriptor is an evil act. Always, by definition, as black letter law in the game rules.

One [Alignment] act does not cause a character to change alignments. A pattern of [alignment] acts will change alignment. How many evil acts are required to change your alignment (or have other effects like removing paladin powers, compromising divine spellcasting, or creeping out the locals enough to get a torch-and-pitchfork mob set on you) is a judgment call for each GM. For non-religious characters, it should take a decent bit to go from good to neutral to evil. I personally would rule that if you just happened across a scroll of this thing and felt like you had to do it once to save your party's life, fine. If you put it into your spellbook and use it from time to time, that's neutral territory. If you use it routinely all the time, you switch to evil (balanced against what all else is going on with the character of course).

Now you can argue "subjective morality" and all, but in the normal D&D (and Pathfinder) cosmology, there is objective good and evil, and yes, cannibalism (especially of the "drink blood to power spells" type) is evil.

The phrase "as a matter of pragmatism" is always a warning sign for evil. People seldom consider themselves evil. Prison is full of "good people." When they rob, kill, etc. they have some "pragmatic" reason for it. His reasoning "well it's just for more power!" is a classic evil justification - heck, worst than most that are at least trying to say "it's for my family!" or some allegedly noble end.

All that having been said, it's not like having an evil alignment is the end of the world - I've GMed many parties who have included evil characters. Usually not "black robe" mmmwah-ha-haaa evil, but "well, I wouldn't normally sacrifice someone to power this spell but it's really important in this case..." I like leading characters down that path to see how bad they'll get; I bet your player would consider sacrificing sentients for spells if you lead him down that path a while. Storytelling gold! Explain to him "sure, your character doesn't think it's evil - but the gods (aka I) do. But that's not me telling you your character shouldn't do it; anti-heroes are a legit thing to roleplay."

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And do the local authorities care? If this is in Cheliax, for example, they'd tell the paladin to STFU (or maybe the magus would have to pay some bribes, if he did stuff more sordid than the blood drinking). And if the paladin killed him for "evil acts," guess who would actually be on trial. Using alignment as a "straitjacket" - a character "can" or "can not" do something - is always stupid weaksauce. Using it as a guideline to how others, the gods, and the primal forces of the universe perceive the character is the only mechanical part needed, the rest is roleplaying human interaction. –  mxyzplk Jul 27 '12 at 15:20
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Fair point, it depends how the Paladin ranks "good" and "lawful". But if the Paladin prefers good to lawful and the Magus starts slaughtering innocents just to power spells, there comes the Paladin's dilemma "Do I stop the evil, or let it slide and commit evil by NOT acting?" –  Pulsehead Jul 27 '12 at 15:41
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Yes, exactly. Great stuff. What's the problem? –  mxyzplk Jul 27 '12 at 16:12
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Casting these spells is a supernaturally evil act. You can argue that in a certain case you need to in order to achieve a good end, but that doesn't change the act - the phrase "necessary evil" exists for this. And it's why one act doesn't change your alignment. It is evil but under duress for a good reason might be forgiven. –  mxyzplk Jul 29 '12 at 14:02
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I wish I could give another +1 for this sentence: " His reasoning "well it's just for more power!" is a classic evil justification - heck, worst than most that are at least trying to say "it's for my family!"" –  TimothyAWiseman Aug 21 '13 at 21:00
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Evil: Spells that draw upon evil powers or conjure creatures from evil-aligned planes or with the evil subtype should have the evil descriptor.

So the PC is specifically channeling evil powers. It seems quite reasonable to call this an evil act.

But the character isn't good -- he's neutral. Does it really matter if he performs the occasional evil act? You can keep watch and see if, on the whole, the evil he performs outweighs the good, but simply casting this spell occasionally won't cause the PC to fall into evil.

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Drinking blood from your species is a minor act of cannibalism. Drinking blood in general, not so much. (Various herders, over the ages, have drunk blood from their cows.)

So is cannibalism of dead enemies Capital-E Evil? Probably yes, but you can argue it either way. You're the GM, so you get to declare what Evil is. Either way, a single act of drinking blood is not enough to change alignments.

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I think the necromantic aspects are far worse than the cannibalism. D&D defines drawing power from death as inherently evil. –  Loren Pechtel Jul 29 '12 at 4:04
    
-1: Did not answer the question. The original question didn't ask if drinking blood was evil. That's relevant to the original question, but it's not the question itself. The question is whether casting this specific spell is evil. –  Matthew Najmon Mar 11 at 23:48
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Drinking blood as an act of pragmatism? Amusingly, this leads us to the deep waters of moral and philosophical discussions.

It could be a long answer, but I'm going to cut it short: the whole question was asked in manners favoring pragmatism. To rephrase the riddler: "this is a game with clearly defined rules and boundaries; and in such a game, what does such an act stand for?" The logical fallacy in this thought is like preparing a trap and then being trapped by it.

Pragmatism has the tendency of becoming a bit calculated, cold-hearted, ruthless, and even evil. The opposite, i.e. the "squeaky clean", paladin-ish deontology can be childishly pure ... and tragically blind, inflexible.

In my book, the characters have to answer this on their own. Anyone above the age of about 12 years can recognize there's context to everything. Things can be though of considering partial context (as seeing the whole context is illusive) or no context - that is a matter of choice. But rest assured, no context vs some context usually leads to conflicting views. By the way, there's a great soup made out of boiled pig blood.

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Based on my read of both the spell and the class, no dice.

You LEARN the spell, the end of the description says, "Once you have learned it, you may prepare the spell normally." You need to prepare the spell once you've learned it. A sorcerer could pull this off without preparing it in advance, but Magi must prepare spells ahead of time, so no dice on the new spell.

Morally speaking (regardless of pragmatism), casting an evil spell is an evil act. I don't think it would cause a change in alignment, especially if it is an isolated act. We all have sinned (talked in the theater, sped on the highway, etc.) but it does not make us all evil. I'd watch for more evil acts from the character and pull him aside for a quick chat before he does anything that would force a change of alignment.

Finally, committing an evil act in front of a Paladin is an exceedingly stupid idea. Sure, it wont' change his alignment, but it's a painfully stupid action. Most DMs I know would bovine-bombard the offending character for such an unwise action.

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What does whether you prepare or cast spontaneously have to do with any part of this? –  Matthew Najmon Nov 15 '13 at 2:08
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Here's what I generally do with my characters... I have them write down their character's personal moral code, and their character's alignment. I then judge based on what they listed their moral code as.

In addition, I also list the moral codes of a few other major individuals/organizations. This makes for an interesting balance.

If, for example, you're a cleric of some kind, and your actions are considered by your god's to be of a certain alignment, but different than yours, it affects your spellcasting appropriately. (So you may perform an act that's evil by your morals, but good by your god's morals... then you can use clerical magic that's in the [good] category, you can use it, but magical items (unless their sentient) have no mind, and so have to judge you by YOUR morals.. so if your god's idea of "good" is killing his enemies, but in your personl morals killing is evil, and you slay all men, women, and children of an enemy village, the player would not be able to cast magic that had the [evil] descriptor, but he could cast [good] magic, but he could wear magic armor with the [evil] descriptor, but couldn't wear [good] armor. (More complicated, if their personal morality and view is one of balance between good and evil, they may required to wear equal amounts of [good] and [evil] equipment and accessories to be able to wear them.)

I generally instead of trying to mix mechanics into morality, I instead mix morality into mechanics, usually with really cool results.

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Welcome to the site, Iijoshu, remember to read our FAQ. Excellent start of the answer. Could you expand it to explore the moral implications of the querent's spell? –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 28 '12 at 23:42
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