Vow of Peace from Book of Exalted Deeds expressly forbids causing damage or killing anything other than undead or constructs. However, damage dealt to or killing of a summoned creature has no effect since all is reverted when the spell ends.

The context for this question has to do with a planned NPC character that the players will have to escort for a specific quest. I know that the DM can wave his hand and say NPCs can do whatever they want, but I prefer not to cheat for my non-player characters in my campaign.

Ultimately, I need to know two things: firstly what the NPC can do to assist players in its own defense, and secondly what the players can do to defend the NPC while preserving its vows. Prerequisites should also be preserved.

I realize that mention of some of the vows from this book, especially vow of peace, trigger some people. Please rest assured that I am not torturing my players. There is a specific, plot-driven quest for which this will be relevant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is from the Book of Exalted Deeds, right? I want to make sure I am reading the right page. \$\endgroup\$ – Shadow Z. Mar 29 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowZ. Definitely. \$\endgroup\$ – J. Mini Mar 29 at 22:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you care about the prerequisite feat, Vow of Nonviolence? Its limits apply to a different set of creatures than Vow of Peace. \$\endgroup\$ – J. Mini Mar 29 at 22:18

RAW, you cannot deal lethal damage to a living creature regardless.

The text is pretty clear.

However, you could deal nonlethal damage or incapacitate them and let your allies do enough lethal damage to unsummon the summoned creature.

You can't weaken a creature and then let your allies kill it. To be more clear, you cannot do hp damage or kill things, but your allies can. The only restriction is that you cannot weaken something and then let them 'kill' it, not 'do lethal damage to', 'kill'. Summoned creatures aren't 'killed' when they take enough hp damage to kill them, merely returned to their home plane. Ergo, RAW, you're fine doing that. There's 0% chance they die from this process. It's effectively the same as Planeshifting them, which would also be allowed.

As an aside, it's very strange to me that the text forbids harming creatures with the Evil subtype who are literally incapable of changing their ways or otherwise being brought to good or neutrality, but presumably you're meant to intern them until they die of natural causes, or forever, and the text does not even hint that you can hurt them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Creatures with the Evil subtype aren't "literally incapable of changing their ways or otherwise being brought to good or neutrality". D&D history has quite a few creatures that made the jump for one reason or another, with Eludecia the Succubus Paladin being one of the most classic examples. I don't recall if an explicit clause exists for D&D 3.5, but at least on 5e those alignment shifts are explicitly stated as part of the things a DM can do with their stories. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Mar 30 at 11:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Check this question for several of examples of redemption of fiends, from 5e and back. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Mar 30 at 11:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Moreover, Book of Exalted Deeds itself goes on at length about redeeming all evil creatures, including fiends, and talks about how the most ardent devotees of peace may consider it necessary to do so. Its implementation of that is awful, but the idea of redemption for fiends is very much an intended part of the “waging peace” rules. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 30 at 23:26

Dealing Damage While Under Vow of Peace

Well, you can deal damage while under the Vow of Peace. This damage however can only be non-lethal damage and this damage not be used to weaken or incapacitate enemies with the intention of letting your allies do the killing.

Summoned Creatures

That being said, reading about Summoning on d20SRD.org leads me to the following:

A summoning spell instantly brings a creature or object to a place you designate. When the spell ends or is dispelled, a summoned creature is instantly sent back to where it came from... A summoned creature also goes away if it is killed or if its hit points drop to 0 or lower. It is not really dead. It takes 24 hours for the creature to reform, during which time it can’t be summoned again.

Summoned creatures do not die though it can be killed. The act of "killing" them just sends them home to recover without dealing permanent damage to them.

Reaching a Verdict

While summoned creatures do not die, they are still alive. I would consider them alive for the sake of Vow of Peace, thus meaning you would have to treat them as such.

My personal take would be that the Vow of Peace would be broken if they attempted to use lethal damage to defeat a summoned creature. In the opposite vein, I would let them defeat summoned creatures using non-lethal damage without breaking their vow.

That does bring another question into the spot-light, which was hinted at in the first section: "... with the intention of letting your allies do the killing."

With the above personal take I have given, letting your allies use lethal damage to defeat enemies would break the vow. Though, that being said, as long as enemies are being defeated with non-lethal damage, everything should be fine.

This conclusion was reached from information read about Injury and Death, Spell Descriptions, and Vow of Peace.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your allies can deal lethal damage without ever necessarily killing the creature or intending to kill the creature. As long as you’re dealing nonlethal damage, the creature will likely fall unconscious before it dies even if they’re dealing lethal damage (and if it doesn’t, that’s either a freak accident or you didn’t do enough nonlethal damage). While Vow of Peace is absolutely the kind of unforgivably-awful game design to put precepts on the entire party for one person’s sake, it isn’t quite that bad. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 29 at 22:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan made a slight edit to that statement in question. And yeah, this Vows seems quite... constricting to the party as a whole for the sake of the people under the vow. I guess a full party of Vow of Peace would probably function similarly to a party with only a single Vow of Peace. \$\endgroup\$ – Shadow Z. Mar 29 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Anyway, forgot to actually check your edit—I still disagree with “to defeat” here. If someone dealing lethal damage knocks a foe out (thanks to the nonlethal damage you had done previously), they have “defeated” that foe “using lethal damage,” but it should not break the vow. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 30 at 2:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I might have misread something while doing research. Does nonlethal and lethal work as following: If an entity has 30 hp max and takes 15 lethal damage, they have 15 remaining. If they have 15 nonlethal damage as well, they would be unconcious? \$\endgroup\$ – Shadow Z. Mar 30 at 2:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, no—they are staggered, since remaining hp equals nonlethal damage taken. However, if someone with 30 hp and 15 nonlethal damage then takes 20 lethal damage, resulting in them falling to 10 hp with 15 nonlethal damage, then they fall unconscious, because their remaining hp is less than the total nonlethal damage they have taken. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 30 at 2:52

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