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I would like to know if there is a hard-and-fast rule indicating that one creature is "intelligent" enough to be considered too sacred to slaughter, for D&D 5e in particular, and for other systems if necessary.

My group is a little curious about the moral implications of slaughtering certain kinds of monsters, and would like to refrain from killing "sentient" or "intelligent" creatures unless absolutely necessary. (After all, they're good aligned)

My question: Is there any resource for D&D 5e or any D&D derivatives that indicates the ethics of animal slaughter for sport and/or food?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This isn't the kind of alignment question we can cover - see rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5357/…. It's opinion-based - there are thousands of games and campaign settings out there, some certainly define moral rules around killing animals (if only modern setting games that inherit the various real-world religions and ethical structures that speak to this). But it's really just a subjective discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 1 '17 at 2:12
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The short answer for 5e D&D: No hard and fast rule on Animal Slaughter/Sport/Food.

  1. Animal treatment isn't a matter of alignment (in the RAW Alignment sense) but of cultural norms, customs, beliefs, and ethics.

    The broadest moral/ethical guidance is Alignment, but that isn't granular enough for the animal treatment topic. 5e Alignment is flexible in terms of the boundaries the DM will set or accept. As applied to characters, it indicates ideals you aspire to and what your general world view is. The same applies to NPC's, beasts, and monsters.

    Alignment (Basic Rules p. 33 and 34) A typical creature in the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons has an alignment, which broadly describes its moral and personal attitudes. Alignment is a combination of two factors: one identifies morality (good, evil, or neutral), and the other describes attitudes toward society and order (lawful, chaotic, or neutral).
    --snip--
    Most creatures that lack the capacity for rational thought do not have alignments — they are unaligned. Such a creature is incapable of making a moral or ethical choice and acts according to its bestial nature. Sharks are savage predators, for example, but they are not evil; they have no alignment.

  2. Within a given world (our real world) the ethics of killing animals for sport or for food are cultural (differing from country to country) rather than absolute. For example, in American society there is no single agreed ethical standard beyond animal cruelty laws that mostly cover pets and livestock. The ethics debate over food/sport is ongoing.

    Ethical animal treatment / what you eat: take a look at the differences in raising beef cattle in Australia versus raising them in Japan, and compare both of those to how Hindus in India treat cows.

    With the above in mind, you could have differing customs and ethics in each different country of your world as a DM. Quite frankly, based on my experiences as a DM, you should have differences like that to make each land unique and flavorful.

  3. As players you can establish your own ethical baseline, either as a group (collectively) or as individuals. This choice is a way to make you and/or your group unique. Discuss it amongst your party: do you want to take a unified approach to this? Do you want each character to outline how he/she feels about how to treat beasts and animals? Beyond that, the DM's setting informs the customs and norms in the world's regions, so your code of conduct and ethics of beast-slaying can help flesh out the characters and give them depth.

Why ask the DM if a character should slay beasts? Ask yourselves.**

  1. Some sample 5e intelligence values for animals/beasts:

    Allosaurus: 2 Ape: 6 Baboon: 4 Badger: 2 Black Bear: 2 Bat: 2 Mastiff: 3 Mammoth: 3 Mule: 2 Octopus: 3 Pony: 2 (Horse): 2 Shark: 1 Tiger: 3 Wolf: 3

    Minimum Intelligence for a humanoid/human is 3. (Roll a 1 an each 3d6). Using intelligence as the criterion for lethal encounters between beasts and humanoids is a red herring. You were right to contest it. The Int score isn't a valid basis for a "yes/no" decision on killing. There's more to it than that.

  2. Which of the above animals can you hunt, and why? The answer is often culturally dependent, might be situation-dependent, and could be informed by your groups agreed code of conduct.

    • Can you hunt the tiger if it is eating your village's sheep? Can you hunt it for sport?
    • Do you leave the bears alone since they are sacred to your tribe, or do you hunt them and eat the hearts so that your warriors are more mighty?
    • If you live in a coastal village, you might eat Octopus as a matter of course, it being seafood. IT might instead be a taboo for local reasons.
    • You might or might not eat horsemeat ... what is the local custom?
    • You might or might not eat mammoth meat, preserved and traded by the mammoth hunters farther inland.

    Customs and norms that cover this area of behavior is part of what makes a given society or group unique.

Bottom Line

Alignment doesn't enter into it. Comparative intelligence is a poor criterion. Customs, ethical values, and norms of a given society govern these decisions. That level of granularity -- social customs, values, norms, and taboos -- is at the campaign/DM level to determine, but isn't covered in RAW. Developing your own code of conduct on this topic, if it's important to your group, adds depth to the characters.


Is there another scale that people should use to determine when monster slaying becomes "evil?" Perhaps it depends on the alignment of the monster?

This looks like a separate question, as it is about monsters not animals/beasts, but "alignment wars" is an overly simplistic way of looking at the D&D world. The ethics of "which monsters do I slay" is beyond the scope of a simple answer, and has to include multiple variables: why? That band of pilgrims led by a dervish is in a generic sense a "monster." Engaging in lethal combat with them is situation dependent in a huge way. What are they doing to warrant engaging them in combat ... or not?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @PremierBromanov The Code of Conduct established by players was folded in. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 13 '15 at 14:01
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I'll set aside the considerations of ethics, and write a bit about the meaning of the ability scores.

I've not seen 5e spell this out, but you can derive it pretty easily.

The beast creature-type covers non-magical animals. Going through the monsters in the back of the PHB, we find that most beasts have an Intelligence score of 1 or 2. Smarter beasts (mostly dogs and cats) have Intelligence scores of 3, and the giant eagle alone has an intelligence score of 8.

Given that the giant eagle is a fantasy creature, I would feel comfortable giving a rule of thumb that what we typically refer to as animal intelligence falls in the range 1 - 3.

Human intelligence is a little trickier. It is clear that a score of 8 is somewhere within the realm of human intelligence, because a lot of player characters have that score (8 is the minimum possible with the point-buy system).

On page 13, a score of 12 is referred to as part of "a set of numbers that are above average and nearly equal."

To me, this implies that a modifier of +0 (10 and 11) is an "average" score. This is, however, likely influenced by my experience with past editions. Exactly where the line is between "a little dense" and "there's something not quite right with him" is undefined.

Also, don't forget the influence of the Wisdom score when determining a character's mental health.

In D&D 3.X

Animal intelligence is explicitly declared to be 1-2.

A 10-11 was considered an "average" ability score.

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I am unfamiliar with 5th edition, but in Pathfinder and 3rd edition D&D, the threshold is as such:

Intelligence score of 1 or 2 (no creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher can be an animal).

http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monster-listings/animals

The absolute minimum intelligence for people is 3.

Also keep in mind - intelligence has nothing to do with 'mental health'. You can have someone with intelligence 25 and 'poor mental health' (mad scientist), and someone with intelligence 3 who's stable as a rock (Gentle Giant). Intelligence has to do with book learning, for the most part.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Intelligence is pretty well defined and book learning is only a very small part of it. That does not invalidate the rest of the paragraph though. \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Nov 10 '15 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt - you linked to wiki's Intelligence, which barely has any association with the d20 system ability score of Intelligence. d20pfsrd.com/basics-ability-scores/ability-scores is a much better link. \$\endgroup\$ – Wolfman Joe Nov 10 '15 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Granted, but at the time of answering, I thought it was a Pathfinder question, given that I had clicked on the list of 'pathfinder' questions and this one, at the time, had been marked as asking for help for Pathfinder. And my answer designates it accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Wolfman Joe Nov 10 '15 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed, it would appear that lore or examples from other editions might be helpful as well. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 10 '15 at 18:24

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