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Not really sure how to word this, but I was wondering if there were any situations in an Adventure Path/Module/PFS Scenario/Source Book (PF 1e or 2e) that discusses using alignment damage to determine the alignment of a character? A situation came up in my game where my players met a stranger, and wanted to use Divine Lance to determine if the stranger was evil. They asked for consent from the stranger first (which, good on them), but that brought up an interesting question. Is this an normal ask within Golarion? Have there been other situations where alignment damage is used to determine the alignment of a person? Do the books cover this in any way? I had assumed most people would be kind of offended at the notion, but it hardly seems like my players would be the first people in Golarion to have had this idea, so it'd be nice to have a lore example.

(Something similar could be accomplished with Holy Smite in PF1, and probably a slew of other spells)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you supposing that alignment is something that exists within the world of Golarion? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 22 at 0:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @indigochild Spells like "detect alignment" exist, even in 2e, so it pretty much has to be something that those on Golarion know about, even if maybe not as abstract as we as players know it outside of the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Jul 22 at 5:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alignment is clearly an objective thing. The average citizen might not now the term, but it certainly is an in-universe concept. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 25 at 20:25
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I have an adjacent example

Of course there may be a more direct answer, but it is suggested in the Ruins of Azlant adventure that the party might want to... (moderate spoilers for the first Book or two)

hit villagers with bludgeoning weapons to determine if they are faceless stalkers, who are resistant to such damage (DR5/slashing or piercing).

This suggests that resistance is intended to be visible, and that the designers assume that such tactics may be used by the party to ferret out enemies of a given type.

It is pointed out that NPC's so tested might take offense to this, and that the party would have to convince the people to be checked in this way. For the alignment spells, I would point out that NPC's may not be magically literate and would not necessarily know/believe the spell is what the party says without reassurance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The writers of one adventure are not the same thing as the designers of the whole system or setting, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 25 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ OP asks for "any situations in an Adventure Path/Module/PFS Scenario/Source Book (PF 1e or 2e) " \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Jul 25 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this actually suggested in the AP, or is it a player solution? Is the suggestion from the author, or an in-universe source? \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 26 at 3:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ had a chance to look at my own copies of the books, and...that is the author's suggestion, not from an in-universe source. AND it calls out the method is reliable, but not safe... \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 26 at 5:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is the most relevant answer so far, but the tricky thing with alignment damage is that it's more like testing an immunity than a resistance; if you "are what you say you are", so to speak, you stand no risk, instead of, well, getting punched. That hurts to us non <spoilers redacted>. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Jul 26 at 21:07
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Whether it's acceptable to damage someone to determine their alignment comes down to what damage and hit points represent in your game's fiction.

In my campaigns, hit points represent how robust and healthy a creature is (because that's how they're defined on page 12 of the Pathfinder 1e core rules), and lethal damage represents a potentially-deadly attack (because, again according to page 12, NPCs without player class levels must roll their first hit die, so even the "measly" 1d4 damage of a dagger could potentially kill a level 1 NPC).

Thus, in my campaigns, NPCs tend to interpret any attack that could reduce an ordinary member of their race to 0 HP or less as a potentially-deadly attempt on their life, and therefore will not submit to being stabbed just so you can see the colours of their insides.

To the best of my knowledge, all official Pathfinder material makes this same assumption. Admittedly, I haven't been able to find any published references that explicitly say "this NPC is unwilling to be stabbed," but I imagine that's because most authors thought it was too obvious to be worth mentioning.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any examples indicating that any official pathfinder material makes that assumption? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jul 23 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's sort of the approach I argued in session as well, but I was hoping for a lore example. It might not have ever been addressed, and that's okay. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Jul 23 at 15:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you cite that NPC's roll their first hit die? Every NPC statblock I've seen assumes full for their first roll (not counting creatures that are not humanoid) because they are at least a commoner for 6+Con(if any). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Jul 23 at 20:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden It's hard to prove a negative. "This character is unwilling to be stabbed for any reason" seems like it would be the default assumption in most cases, and I couldn't find any explicit references stating the opposite. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jul 24 at 1:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso Sure thing: Just look at page 12 of the Pathfinder core rules, which says "Creatures whose first Hit Die comes from an NPC class or from his [sic] race roll their first Hit Die normally." I notice I made a typo and wrote 14 instead of 12 in my answer above - I'll fix that now. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jul 24 at 1:05
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Unfortunately, I do know of an example. It’s unfortunate because it is, to my mind, one of the most indefensible things Paizo has ever wrote, but it does land adjacent to this question. Spoilers for near the end of Wrath of the Righteous, but considering what I’m spoiling, you may be better off forewarned and avoid the adventure altogether.

Also note that this scenario was written by James Jacobs, Paizo’s creative director, and he has defended it at length—so it would seem that this is very much considered canon by the person who is in charge of the setting’s canon.

Towards the end of the adventure, the “Lawful Good” goddess of justice and valor, Iomedae, teleports the player characters to an undisclosed location where they are nearly blinded by her presence, and begins to question them about their intentions. Each of these questions is explicitly a trick question, and Iomedae has extremely specific things she is expecting in how the characters answer. Anything but those answers results in a blast of no-save sonic damage. If they are disrespectful, she makes them deaf and mute and beyond all mortal healing. If the characters make an attempt to defend themselves, she forces their alignment to Chaotic, or Chaotic Evil if that defense includes any physical or magical attack on her, and then flinging them each to separate random corners of the Material Plane.

This is not exactly the same as using alignment-specific damaging spells, and as a goddess, she doubtless knows the characters’ alignments anyway. But it does show that a character who is supposed to be “justice incarnate” has absolutely no objection to damaging, and even mutilating, characters of other alignments, outlooks, or opinions.

On the other hand, this scene involves “justice incarnate” kidnapping, interrogating, and potentially torturing characters for no other reason than their disagreement with her. It would absolutely be a violation of the Geneva Convention in the real world, and the adventure labels the victims as the ones that are “chaotic” and/or “evil” if they have any objections. According to the adventure, the torturer here literally defines what it means to be good and lawful and just—in other words, according to the adventure, torturing people for mere differences in opinion is good and lawful. In short, if we accept this precedent, we have to accept that in Golarion, “good” and “evil,” “order” and “chaos” have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any real-world notion of those concepts.

The nominal purpose of this exercise is to determine the characters’ suitability for a mission. There are high stakes, and timelines are tight, which might have otherwise arguably justified some unpleasant behavior, but with the resources the torturer otherwise has at her disposal, that all flies out the window. According to this precedent, using damage to determine alignment is acceptable even when other alternatives are available or even more convenient.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One piece of bad writing, for one 'character', should not define the reality of the setting. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 25 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno I agree with you—but James Jacobs, Paizo’s creative director and the author of this nonsense, vehemently disagrees with both of us. His defense of this entire thing focused heavily on how Iomedae literally defines what these words and concepts mean in Golarion, because she is literally living, breathing, law, good, and justice. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 25 at 20:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno Anyway, it’s an example of a character using damage to ascertain alignment-related opinions, which to me makes it a rather relevant—if terrible and ought-to-be-ignored—precedent as requested by this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 25 at 20:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ except that's NOT what the example is even doing...as described, the being is applying (possibly unwarranted) consequences for answers to questions. I don't see the equivalency there at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 26 at 1:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess this is becoming less appropriate to discuss here, but I disagree that these are the same thing. A character's commitment or adherence to an alignment or code is not the same thing as their current, objectively-measurable, alignment. Applying consequences afterwards as punishment is not the same thing as applying potential harm to see how the victim reacts, at least to me. So, I guess we have to agree to disagree on this one. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Jul 26 at 4:04
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Purity Tests have been a common part of many belief systems in our world, which the world of Golarion is based on.

It is therefore logical to assume that many religions, states, or even individuals would have their own trials of 'goodness', which could range from elaborate ruses to test character traits, debates or trials, arbitrary tests (length of middle vs index finger say), tests of fortitude (torture), tests of endurance (climb the mountain to prove you didn't commit the murder, god will make you fall off if you are guilty), so on.

Golarion has things our world lacks, like provable extraterrestrial beings (planar beings), magic, and 'monsters'. Those could, or would, easily be used in many types of purity test. Whether those tests are actually accurate (using alignment mechanics in some way, or some other form of divination) would depend on the circumstance, and whether the potential testee would know that such a test is accurate (rather than bullshit) would depend on their arcane (or potentially religious) knowledge.

I'm unaware of any specific use of alignment damage in pf1e or pf2e sourcebooks to determine alignment, although my knowledge of the various adventure paths/modules is not encyclopedic. As it is a common negative fantasy trope, i'd imagine the 'unfair test/trial' would be the most likely form to find it in.

n.b. Alignment is one of the most argued-about things in the entirety of DnD since always. It tends to work better the less it is examined. I have personally had great success making it 'unreliable', such as having Lawful Good angels killing off innocents because the Divine Law requiring it outweighs the (brief) suffering of the innocents. And i've seen people have terrible times trying to play it 'straight', as it often leads to weird situations (such as this one) and odd contradictions.

Therefore my basic advice for this specific circumstance would be to allow players to use this spell, and then have the target not show any pain or damage from the spell, later turn out to be Evil (or Lawful or whatever) and simply have hidden the signs of pain/damage from the spell in some manner (which the party can roll against as normal ofc).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Question was "Are there any instances?" This does not answer that question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Jul 23 at 13:01

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