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I have a player in my current campaign, who is slaughtering captured goblins. He has encourage other players in the group to join him in considering them to be vermin. And has talked about exterminating them whenever convenient. Granted, the goblins are evil, but in the cases where he's advocated their slaughter, the goblins have also been subdued, solitary, defenseless and at the mercy of the group. He spoken to other players about the need to keep them from breeding. How would you handle this character's slip toward evil (assuming genocidal motivations are still considered evil)?

To clarify, I run goblins as malicious in the extreme, but VERY cowardly. They spend as much time running from players as fighting them.

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Can you tell us a bit more about the character in question? If he's just some guy acting evil, there are fewer issues than if it's a Cleric of a Lawful Good Deity, for example. –  Tridus Jul 17 at 14:55
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What's exactly your problem here? You don't want your players to do evil actions? You don't know how to handle an alingnment shift? You want a system to manage alignments, ala Neverwinter Nights? You want to forbid actions according to character's alignment? You want to know how to handle a Paladin or a Good Cleric committing evil acts? ... –  Flamma Jul 17 at 15:51
    
This question is similar (but not close enough to count as a duplicate, I think) rpg.stackexchange.com/a/44613/4398 –  Adeptus Jul 18 at 1:26

4 Answers 4

Barring in mind that in Pathfinder, and D&D as a whole, Good and Evil are not just concepts, but measurable, detectable, fundamentally defined forces of the Universe; such acts will draw attention from extra-planar beings.

Setting aside what the player/character has said to other players/characters, ask the player what his character is truly thinking he is doing. Is it simply because they are evil, and that is how the world works? Is it because he just wants to kill, and evil creatures are justifiable targets in the grand scheme? Or does he actually feel that allowing them to exist will only cause destruction and mayhem, and any blood they spill will be on his hands, metaphysically speaking.

If the first, either explain to him that is not how it works and continuing to do so will have consequences, possibly both through alignment shift and in-game NPC interaction. One example would be shopkeepers and merchants refusing to do business with a cold-blooded killer or anyone they associate with, thus impacting the entire group. Maybe the local constabulary has a "reward" for the character that has to be claimed in person, that is actually a pair of manacles and a jail cell.

If the second, have a devil, or other Lawful Evil outsider, contact him when he is alone; either on watch or in dreams, est. Have them make promises of power and reward for not only continuing his actions, but convincing others to copy him. This provides the opportunity for role-playing an individual with real issues. If you are not comfortable with actually giving him anything, have it be hallucinations to further drive home the point that what he is doing is crazy.

If the third, have a Good aligned NPC or outsider make contact and explain that while they appreciate the intentions, and applaud the effort he is putting in, he may want to dial back the zealotry a tad, maybe include a story or proverb about a historical figure that underwent a similar campaign. Or, instead of requesting him change his intensity, have them ask to change his directed target. Gobins are bad, but nothing compared to the demon-summoning, undead creating, walking personification of Evil that is tyrannically ruling the kingdom to the [pick direction] and is gearing up for invasion of the party's current location.

In summation, talk to the player, and act accordingly to his response.

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+1 for asking the player what he thinks is happening. We as humans have subjective views of morality and ethics; D&D requires that an objective standard exist for its alignment rules to function as written. These occasionally come into conflict - working out where the conflict lies is the first step. –  GMJoe Jul 18 at 4:38

Good, Evil, Law and Chaos are all as real as Magic

They are fundamental planar substances, like chaos diamonds or souls or rods of blasting or Githyanki.

You have to decide what is Evil in your world, if it's absolute, if it's intent-based, what the deal is with it. Ergo with Good. And Chaos. And Law.

And then any time anyone takes any of those actions, you have to increment their alignment a bit. As much as the action is towards that. If they're in the small segment of the population whose allegiance to one of the fundamental planar forces is high enough to shift them from 'Neutral', you tell them that. Otherwise they are Neutral.

How I handle it is to treat self-serving actions as Neutral - those which cost you something or are against your self-interest can be chaotic, lawful, good, or evil - harming someone if it costs you something is evil, helping someone if it costs you something is good, breaking the rules or changing the plan if it's not the best idea/costs you something is chaotic, following the rules or plan if you don't want to/it costs you something is lawful.

This is due to the description of the alignments in the PHB about self-serving interests being neutral and few people being anything but True Neutral. It works well for me, so that's the way I run it.

The Problem with Intent-Based Alignments

Very rarely do people think of themselves as evil, except due to guilt. They think their action is the correct one, even if it's nasty or self-serving. The person they murdered 'had it coming' or 'it was an accident' or 'it needed to be done' etc. So if it's intent-based, clearly evil people will not register as Evil, as they consider their actions as totally reasonable.

The Problem with Absolute Standards

Theft is always wrong is totally fine right up until the starving orphan steals an apple to give to his bedridden sister taking nothing for himself in the tiny gap in the roof they live in after running away from the orphanage run by evil matrons who murder and torture the children living there.

You can build ever more elaborate absolute structures, but there's always some situation that falls through the cracks. No absolute system of rules about what is 'evil' and what is 'good' ever covers every eventuality, and it's even worse for the more labyrinthine motivations of 'law' and 'chaos'.

How to solve this?

I use a combination of both, as I detailed above. You can also just plug this into modern day values - we see certain things as 'good' and certain things as 'evil' - using those values, the world can be strictly defined with little difficulty, and often, this is the default state of the world.

Evil in the Party

Most parties are formed of characters who consider themselves Good, often Saturday Morning Cartoon or Superhero good, Goody Two Shoes Good. As such, having an evil character around, unless that character hides their villainy, can be a source of friction.

Friction is not necessarily bad. People can disagree without necessarily murdering each other - as long as there's a reason to stick together, a mission whose importance overrides smaller disagreements, outright arguments and hatred can even be a good thing. They add interest, a LOT of interest, to the game and the characters.

Of course, it takes a level of roleplaying skill to portray this without taking it to extremes. Often, people will be murdering each other. Whether you want to allow that depends on you. You can initiate circumstances to forcibly separate the combatants somehow, such as via enemy attack, barmaid walking in, etc. Then if there is no reconciliation or way of party staying together, someone becomes an NPC, and that NPC becomes a recurring character working either with or against the party.

I find that players really appreciate having the choice to do actions that take them out of the plot. If so, in my games, something redirects them back to the plot (girlfriend they left with is killed by bbeg - king hires them to shadow party, they find out, he joins mission - they go alone to a monastery and pray and later have a divine revelation), or they simply become an NPC and the player rolls up a new character. It's not necessarily a bad thing - most stories have an evolving cast.

But having an Evil character in a Good party can work - Evil player characters can become bad guys for the party to defeat - and Evil is whatever you want it to be, whatever accentuates the story. That's all i'm really here to say.

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In a D&D/PF alignment sense, I'd say theft is always Chaotic (ie, opposite of Lawful), but not always Evil. Didn't 2e list Robin Hood as an example of CG alignment? –  Adeptus Jul 17 at 23:58
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@Adeptus - the interpretation that 'lawful' = 'laws of the land' is one that I find causes more confusion than literally any other interpretation of alignment ever. I personally parse lawful as plan-following, organizing, and order-following to the detriment of the individual, and chaotic as improvisation, obfuscation, and doing things your own way to the detriment of the individual. Therefore, under my system, the law/chaos alignment of a theft action would depend on how it was carried out rather than the act itself. –  Jack Lesnie Jul 18 at 0:08
    
Yeah, it's important that each group comes to a consensus of what Lawful and Chaotic mean in their campaign, because the definitions in Pathfinder aren't really clear. –  GMJoe Jul 18 at 4:41

Your intent and perspective of evil are important.

It's really a matter of your perspective on what evil is (versus the character's perspective). As they are supposed to be quantifiable energies, you determine what is evil.

Evil is somewhat subjective in society.

I know this will sound contentious to some based on modern day thinking, but is killing them really evil? The average society that might exist around goblins that are attributed to being evil, sadistic, and fast breeding would be exactly as your player is playing his character. They would see them as dangerous vermin, like cunning black widow spiders, cockroaches, or rats.

In this vein, they are a dangerous threat because they will always continue breeding, and when they hit certain population values, they become a danger to everything around them. This is where the general concept of goblins are 'always evil' comes from. With this mindset, exterminating an entire forest of them would be equivalent to ridding the city of rats, only even more highly praised because they are more dangerous. Due to this, I would say most societies wouldn't treat him badly regardless of how brutal he is to those monstrous vermin.

However, some evil is easy to simply classify as such.

On the other hand, you may consider the goblins to have become victims in this scenario. If you consider the evil of goblins to be societal instead of genetic, then perhaps he is committing an evil act. Obviously, you lean more in the direction of his intent of the destruction of all goblins being the most important aspect of it. In this case, he would drift towards evil based on how horrible he is to them. Does he find their villages and kill women and children? That's most likely evil regardless (though it curbs population expansion as mentioned above). Killing the women and children was the same path to descent they used for Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars series. It was towards the end of his descent.

What is the character's reasoning?

With this said, why is the player, and thus the character, doing this? It may be part of his back-story for his character. Does he do this with other races, just evil races, or just goblins? Perhaps the player has made it a point that goblins killed off his family, and one of his great weaknesses is that he now hates goblins and wants to see them exterminated. This makes the character more three-dimensional and realistic, and should be encouraged, even if he's a paladin and loses his powers due to alignment changes. It will help create a better story.

Find his intent.

Help him figure out why his character does it, and work it in to the story as both a positive and negative aspect of his character. Portray good and evil as you want to, but accept that it is his character and he has a dynamic flaw that allows you to make the game better.

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Just tell your player that what he's doing are evil actions and that if he keeps it up, his alignment will change, along with all the mechanics and appropriate character reactions that go with that. The important thing is to go through with it, though. If you make that empty promise and don't follow through, he won't take you seriously in the future.

I also want to add that you probably shouldn't stop them from doing it. If he wants to do it, he should do it, but there will be repercussions, you know? I had a similar experience GMing a couple years ago, and a particularly righteous member of the party actually turned on him because one of his actions finally turned him evil. It'll either work itself out, or you'll find yourself running an evil campaign. Either way, it's your job to keep up with it while trying to keep things fun for everyone.

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