The Background: So, running a NG ranger in a 2e game. Our party is tracking gnoll activity and made it to a town that had been attacked earlier, which the paladin in the party is from but hasn't been back to in a few years. Upon arrival we found almost all of the inhabitants have fled in advance of another humanoid attack, with the members of a dodgy "union" of sailors and dock-workers known to engage in piracy, smuggling, etc ... We tell them what we're doing and offer our help defending the town. The leader is pretty dismissive and even once he accepts our help is trying to extort money from us for the "food we'll be eating" and makes clear that everything in the town belongs to his organization, and we better not "steal" anything. We ask after the paladin's father, the blacksmith, and they say he fled with the others. We go to his smithy and hole up. Having left (hiding all our cash) to gather info at the tavern next door, we return to find that a "patrol" has picked the lock and searched smithy. I go off on the patrol leader, who is one of the organization's lieutenants, basically daring him to start something. He backs down and leaves us alone. In the morning the humanoids make a probing attack from two sides, and we basically show up and lead the defense, beating it back.
I plan on pushing the leader of the "sailors," if I don't like his plan of defense, trying to override him, using whatever status we have already gained in leading the defense. My goals in doing this are two-fold. 1) I want to save the town, and 2) I want to undermine his position of authority because I'm convinced that if the attack is repulsed and the townspeople return, the sailors are going to try to extort them for everything they can. If that happens, I plan on killing him.
The dilemma: At what point can I kill this guy? Do I need to actually wait for him to lay some demands down on the returning citizens, or can I act on the him insisting that everything in the town belongs to them. If I do kill him, does it need to be a straight up fight or are there any circumstance I can assassinate him under. To my thinking, if he does demand exorbitant payment from the townspeople, letting him get away with it would be the greater evil to seeming to go along with it, and then killing him by surprise, and within the bounds of NG, although pushing pretty hard on them, but I wanted to get some opinions on this.
I like ethical dilemmas. They make for great role-playing opportunities and also determine just how true to an alignment the player is running his/her PC.
Your ranger almost strikes me more as a CG character in this scenario (does he have a Rune of Pursuit? ), but a pre-emptive strike is not necessary a chaotic action, but perhaps a smart tactical one. Sometimes the best defense is a STRONG offense.
I realize the situation you are describing is largely out of context, but a whole bunch of nuance you couldn't possibly describe to us in a post without any one of us actually present in your game. I try not to make alignment a straightjacket, except perhaps in the cases of clerics and paladins (but more so hold them to their respective codes of religious conduct and ethos), but rangers do have to follow a similar 'good' code.
That being said, I suppose if your ranger has reason to suspect the powers-that-be are 'evil' or oppressing the commonfolk, or if he acts in general self-defense from a perceived threat upon his person, that of his allies, or the people he is defending, you could make the claim he is acting 'in alignment.'
Again, not being there in your campaign, that is my answer.
So, the PCs will have to pay for their own food. As is usual anywhere. The PCs don't think they should have to? Instead it is extortion? Let me get this straight:
* There is a town.
* It has been attacked, and more attacks are coming.
* The only people sticking around to keep the town from being wiped off the face of Oerth by gnolls is a "union' of sailors and dock workers.
* All of the other townsfolk have chosen to run away, abandoning the town to its fate.
* The PCs (mostly strangers) show up and demand to be included in the defenses, and not only that but be included in command decisions that affect the community as a whole when they are (mostly) not even part of the community.
* The PCs are allowed to stay and help, but are outraged when they are expected to pay for their food...food that is a more valued commodity due to the fact that most of it has already been carried off by the rest of the townsfolk, and because the resupply of the town is probably not assured due to gnolls running amok in the countryside. Yeah, the "union" is sounding like a real bunch of tools.
* The PCs are of the opinion that any returning townsfolk should only be required to say "Thanks, bro." to those who chose to say behind and defend the town, risking their lives to do so, let alone actually have to pay anything for such services. Which is what they would have to do if they were to have hired mercenaries to defend their town while they ran away an hid. But they simply abandoned the town to its fate. You abandon something, you give it up. By right of defense, the town should belong to those who were willing to die for it- the "union".
So, the townsfolk have completely abandoned the town to the humanoids. The only ones who are making an effort to save the town at all is this surly "union", who are probably going to be utter jerks by demanding some sort of payment for their services from everyone else who purposely chose not to defend the town. Seeing as all of these people would have to pay to rebuild their homes if the gnolls were allowed to rampage through the town, is a price equivalent to everything they could have lost acceptable? How about half the cost of their abandoned homes/possessions? Should the number of "union" members killed in the defense of the town factor into how much the townsfolk should feel obligated to pay the "union" members for saving their homes/possessions? Would it be unreasonable to expect the "union" members to be rather pissed off at the townsfolk for having abandoned the town, and them, and maybe ask for a bit more payment because of it?
And you are wondering when you can kill the guy? I think there must be some "blacker villains" than this somewhere in existence that you should be worried about finding ways to kill.
When you can kill the guy is when you catch him doing something that overtly threatens the PC's lives or those of others. Like making a deal with the gnolls, or seeking to murder the mayor and take over, or something similar. "I just don't like the guy." is no reason to kill him. Neither is it if the union "extorts" money from the townsfolk for saving their property/possessions- things they would have had to fully pay to restore if they had not.
Basically, you are treating the very people who were brave enough to stick around and fight like garbage and taking the side of those who fled...and it is you who expect everything to given back to them at no risk to themselves. Have you deviated alignment already, or what? If you were good, what you would be doing is convincing everyone else in town to come back and help defend the place. If that doesn't happen, it is very right for the townsfolk to be beholden to the only ones willing to stick around and defend anything, that being the "union". Any of the PCs should be fine with that- even the paladin. Paladins do uphold charity, but they also uphold fairness. If you don't think the townsfolk will owe the "union" anything for saving their homes/possessions/livelihoods, you have as strange sense of fairness.
So, the only thing you need to keep an eye on is the "union" doing anything outwardly wrong. Even if you catch them, it doesn't mean you have a free hand to start lopping off heads. They really need to be caught, and then threaten you with physical harm, before you can kill them. If there is rampant corruption, there are ways to fix that, but they usually require time, and that is the route good guys take. Dismantling an organization that is not outright evil, just opportunistic, is only done using a sword (i.e "Just kill them all. That'll fix it.") by those who are not good. Good people do it other ways, because if they don't then they will no longer be good.
So, catch them in the act of doing something wrong. If they draw steel, the PCs do have the right to defend themselves. Oh, and when the gnolls attack, make sure the PCs keep an eye who is at their backs. You don't want to "accidentally" get shot with an arrow during the battle. _________________ - Moderator/Admin (in some areas)/Member -
Lookout Greyhawk! There is a NG Ranger on the loose just looking for a way to murder you all...but still remain NG. Go ahead, just give him an excuse. I triple dog dare you. _________________ - Moderator/Admin (in some areas)/Member -
In addition to my support of Cebrion's concerns I'll address your plan to supplant the 'Union' leader.
You said that the Union is made up of "... dodgy... sailors and dock-workers known to engage in piracy, smuggling, etc." That should be enough to tell you that, even if you take down the leader(s), there is no way the others (likely being evilly aligned) are going to follow a NG ranger, let alone a LG paladin. If they don't gang up and attack you immediately, you'll wake with a dagger across your throat within a few days. This is a group of men that don't follow good guys - mostly because those good guys will require of them behavior that they aren't interested in following through with. Their likely motivation for protecting the town is loot! In this case, it's in the form of real property and the plan to charge a high tax and tariff on the returning townsfolk. The concerns you raise demonstrate that your PC(s) plans are in direct conflict with the plans of the Union.
So, I say, work with them to protect the town as Cebrion suggested, then deal with them as goodly folk would do (according to the law of the land) when the immediate danger is over. You and your party could do well acting as mediators between the Union and the returning townsfolk if you take to heart some of the arguments Cebrion offered and help convince the townsfolk that the Union are heroes who deserve a reward while at the same time convincing the Union that a lesser monetary reward (say, let the folk keep their homes, for example) is made up for by the public accolades and position of sheriff/deputies offered to them by the grateful townsfolk. This works better if the Union is mostly LN, of course. If they are, but the leaders are LE, you may have to deal more harshly with them if they are unwilling to bend. Challenging LE leaders to a duel might work best since victory by your PC would leave the LN members free to choose a new leader and accept your mediation.
We went into the town perfectly willing to work with the union if they were really there just to defend the town, but it is pretty clear they're there to loot the town, and the only way to keep from losing what they looted is to defend it from the gnolls. They've already been stripping valuables from the town and stockpiling them. We show up, tell them everything that happened, sharing intelligence on the movements of the humanoids, and offer to help defend the town, and the first thing out of the leader's mouth is you're going to have to pay us for the food you're going to eat before you come into town. We answered that we brought our own food, and since we've been there we've been paying for meals at the tavern across from the paladin's father's smithy. Then, when we're out, one of the leader's lieutenants breaks into the smithy and ransacks our possessions, looking for valuable because they "... own everything in the town." That's the point where we started getting hostile, and really only toward the leadership of the union, since that's who we see as being the drivers behind this behavior. We fought side by side with some of the rank and file union members and some of the few townspeople who didn't remain behind. The leader and his lieutenant? Nowhere to be seen.
Look at it this way: There's a hurricane on the way. You evacuate with your family. There are no authorities in the aftermath to defend against looters. When you get back, that guy who deals drugs from a couple of blocks over and his cousins from out of town are living in your house. They say it belongs to them now because they defended it from other looters; really bad guys, y'know the type. They'll do you a solid though and sell your house back to you for what you bought it for.
Those guys are the good guys in this situation? Might makes right? Also, you seem to have a lot of scorn toward people who aren't warriors for fleeing for their lives from an army of humanoids instead of hanging around and probably getting killed. You should try role-playing a Hextoran, Ceb, you'd probably be pretty good at it.
If they are the only thing protecting the town from obliteration, they pretty much are, or is fighting the gnolls which will enslave/eat all of the townsfolk somehow not a good thing?
Might makes right?
Obviously not, but then the "union" didn't use its Might to force the townsfolk to leave, did they. And the townsfolk better hope that the "union's" Might is a bit better than the gnoll's Might, because I am thinking that the gnolls will not treat with them so amicably as the "union" will, and given the choice the townsfolk would be more than happy to be dealing with the "union" instead of the gnolls.
Also, you seem to have a lot of scorn toward people who aren't warriors for fleeing for their lives from an army of humanoids instead of hanging around and probably getting killed.
No, I just have scorn for those who would do so...and then expect not to pay for it dearly to those they have abandoned and who were under no obligation to protect them or their property. These aren't soldiers whose job it is to protect their community and its people, but townsfolk who were abandoned to stand on their own. That they are sleeze balls doesn't change what the townsfolk did to them.
You should try role-playing a Hextoran, Ceb, you'd probably be pretty good at it.
I have, and I was quite good at it, but none of that background even remotely applies in this instance. War profiteering doesn't exactly require one to serve some dark power (those who are not fans of **** Cheney and Halliburton might disagree ). LOL!!! The forum word filter strikes!
A few points though:
1. How does the town have NO authorities to do anything? A town is a rather large group of people, but there is not a single authority figure that answers to any sort of further authority figure in the land? That sounds pretty sketchy to me. I guess the town is supposed to be helpless to a great degree...a soft underbelly just waiting to ripped open by the gnolls?
2. If the townsfolk abandoned their homes, they probably didn't leave much behind. You can't compare them to modern families who own a heck of a lot more in their homes than will fit into a single car, or cart/wagon in the case of these townsfolk. There are likely only a few larger pieces of furniture left behind, and surely nothing of use/value that is easily portable. So, the "union" appropriated some large/not so valuable stuff. I can't much blame them, as some of them will be dead soon enough, and a "Live while you can." attitude does not exactly equate to blackest evil, such that I would feel some great compulsion to find the merest excuse for my good-aligned character to murder them.
3. If a whole town bailed and left only a small group of people behind with their butts hanging out in the breeze, even if they are not the nicest of folks, if they weather a storm of gnoll attacks then I am not all that sympathetic to the townsfolk. There is apparently no agreement between them, such as "Please protect us from the mean gnolls, "union". We will reward you!" Instead I get their impression that it was "So long suckers! Oh, and we'll be back once the attacks are over and some of you are likely dead. Don't expect any thanks though, you jerks."
And you can't compare the gnolls to a hurricane. A hurricane can't be stopped by killing it. Gnolls can be. The "union" didn't invite the gnolls to attack, did they? If not, yes, they really are the only ones seeking to keep the town from being wiped off the map. The "union" members are literally putting their heads on the block. That they have the ulterior motive of protecting their stuff (and isn't this what the rest of the townsfolk should be doing too?) doesn't negate the fact that they are the only thing standing between the gnolls and the obliteration of the community and everyone's property, not just theirs. The rest of the community simply gave up and left. That's not exactly worth much, so payback will probably be a bit harsh. And what if the "union" were to fail? They are running that risk, so what then? They would all be trapped in the town and killed. And then what? The gnolls would now be happy and leave? Hardly. They would next hunt the cowardly townsfolk for sport. Then they might leave. Or they might take the town and use it as a base for further raids.
"But they asked us to pay for food right off the bat!" Exactly who wouldn't in such a situation? Did you have to pay after letting them know you had your own food? No? But they were blunt and to the point, perhaps to the point of rudeness because exactly who the heck are the PCs to them? The audacity! "But they broke into on the paladin's dad's home!" Yes, they are really seeing what they can get away with, but are the PCs really the law in the town now? There are apparently no authorities anywhere, and surely breaking and entering is a crime of such a heinous nature that any person of good alignment would consider capital punishment to be the properly moral and ethical solution...as long as it includes the special circumstance that the perpetrator was a sleeze ball. But that isn't the moral and ethical solution, is it, so I guess it is time to find a way to ramp things up such that your character can murder them and still remain neutral good (that being pure good, mind you), if possible. Seriously?
If profiteering (and a dislike of an individual) is all you've got to pin your pure good character's hopes of murder on, you are going to end up deviating alignment as best, and maybe being hung as a murderer at worst. Okay, maybe not the latter, as there are apparently no authorities in existence to do the hanging. A PC hanging actually happened once in a campaign I played in. For some reason, some players think their characters can kill with impunity. Go figure.
So, be a good guy and defend the town (and perhaps find out a bit more about the town, the "union", and other things) before going Judge Dread on everyone. After that is done you can worry about breaking the "union's" stranglehold on power, if they still have one. The gnolls will probably do part of the job for you. Psst! Not knowing this for a certainty because I can't read your DM's mind, this might actually be a large part of what the situation is about, so you might try not derailing the train before it has left the station. _________________ - Moderator/Admin (in some areas)/Member -
So, SirXaris and anyone else other than Ceb and MS, who I'm gonna put down as a solid "noes" in the do not kill this guy unless he tries to kill you camp, if this leader does turn out to be what I consider, and I'm about 100% sure my DM does too, evil, by trying to take the townspeople for everything they have, would I be justified in pretending to play along and killing him by surprise. Like I said, I consider that would be pushing the bounds of NG, but would that go too far, as opposed to a stand up challenge and fight?
Killing is killing, whether a straight-up, toe-to-toe, "honorable" battle (a la Heironeous), or a dagger in the back, from the shadows (a la Kurell). It is the motive that matters here, not the method.
I think you need to play your character as you intend, but, generally speaking, "Good" alignment means you have the overall well-being of the townspeople in mind when you act.
If you want an "in print" reference, let us go to page 47 of the 2e PHB where Neutral Good is explained:
"These characters believe that a balance of forces is important, but the concerns of law and chaos do not moderate the need for good. Since the universe is vast and contains many creatures striving for different goals, a determined pursuit of good will not upset the balance; it may even maintain it. If fostering good means supporting organized society, then that is what must be done. If good can only come about through the overthrough of existing social order, so be it. (is this what you intend?) Social structure itself has no innate value to them. A baron who violates the orders of his king to destroy something he sees as evil is an example of a neutral good character."
Does this help?
Last edited by Lanthorn on Fri Jun 27, 2014 10:46 am; edited 1 time in total
Thanks for the in-print reference. That example helped out a lot. I intend to give the leader as much chance as possible while the siege is going on and in the immediate aftermath to deal straight with the townspeople, although if I can bring the authorities (a representative of the Duke) into it, that might help the situation getting out of hand. Unfortunately, they're tied up elsewhere so that's probably not an option, and also why this group has been able to take advantage of the situation. From everything I know about the leader up to now he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who is going to back down, but we'll have to wait and see, although I'm still going to put me in the best position possible to take him down if I need to.
...would I be justified in pretending to play along and killing him by surprise. Like I said, I consider that would be pushing the bounds of NG, but would that go too far, as opposed to a stand up challenge and fight?
Yes, it goes bit beyond too far. The ranger can't also say "I challenge you to a duel. Please accept so that I can kill you without any real justification other than I don't like you." You are talking about whether assassinating somebody would go beyond NG, but maybe overtly murdering them wouldn't be beyond NG? The target is not responsible for any overtly evil acts, at least according to what you have mentioned. Some of his men might be overzealous, but you need to have proof that the reason they did so was due to orders from him. The leader may very well be evil, and may even have some evil plans, but until he shows his hand, "he and his goons annoy me" is not reason enough for the ranger to do what you are contemplating. I think you already know that it is evil people who kill others "because they are annoying" (or for money).
Without some egregious offense committed by the leader, he is off limits. Evil leaders tend to be slippery that way, don't they? They usually have toadies to do their dirty work, so you will probably have more obvious reasons to get into a conflict with the toadies. You will likely prevail against the toadies, they being toadies. That ought to put more pressure on the leader among his own group even, such that he will eventually be forced to act more directly if you prove to be more than a passing annoyance. When he does, then you have your reason to unleash the fury.
Also, what would you consider "being treated fair" to mean? If these "union" members survive, they are going to make demands, and rightly so. To what degree they go remains to be seen, but you are probably right in that they will ask for too much. Think of what most PCs would get for doing such a service. They would get monetary rewards, perhaps land grants, free services from the grateful townsfolk, etc. Much of that can't be given by the absentee government though, so it falls to the townsfolk themselves to do it, and they shouldn't feel too put if if asked to do so. Some of them might have to give up property. They may not like it because of who they have to deal with, but it would be the fair thing to do. They would just like doing it better for the PCs in this case than the "union."
You really do need to find a good reason to kill the leader. The evil baron example in the cited alignment passage implies a person of total power. A baron rules over his people with absolute authority. Such a person doesn't have to finagle things from people- they take them because they have their right to take them. The "union" leader is in no such position of authority. Such a baron's rule could be harsh, but not evil, depending on what they do (i.e. the peasants always pay their taxes, even in years of hardship). It could be outright evil as well, but the signs of that would be more obvious (i.e. "Hmm. We keep finding dead peasants, peasants afraid to talk to us, and families missing their daughters/sons/first born.") If the "union's" practices are seeing townsfolk homeless and starving to death in the streets, sure, they've gone to far, and you can then work more overtly against the organization. If they are bleeding people of their wealth, but not to the point of homelessness/starvation, they are being harsh, but still really haven't gone too far. They are just taking their pound of flesh so to speak. That doesn't mean you still cannot work against them though.
Of course the "union" does sound thuggish, so they will likely start shaking people down, hassling the women, etc. You might have to catch them in the act, but when you do you will have a good reason for conflict with the union's' minions. If the "union" were to escalate the conflict, then you have your reason to dismantle the "union" from the bottom up. Be aware that reprisals might not just be made against the PCs, but against some of the townsfolk too; the paladin's father or childhood friends being very likely targets (always great when things get personal for the PCs! ).
I am pretty sure you will be able to force the issue, but it will require the right circumstances. "But I want to kill an Oompa Loompa now, Daddy!" Sorry, Veruca. You gotta do some work to get to kill that Oompa Loompa (but you should have a good bit of fun leading up to it!)
Be sure to keep us apprised of how things develop. _________________ - Moderator/Admin (in some areas)/Member -
I would say you can kill the guy as soon as you have indisputable evidence that he is on the side of evil to play it safe or at least you are convinced the evidence is there.
Does your character want to kill him now? Maybe you should, that would be very interesting, very interesting indeed...
I think for the DM, they need a bit of flexibility here too, I mean, if your character is convinced that the guy is bad and can make a strong case for such even if the hard evidence is a bit "light" shall we say, it could open up some very interesting RP opportunities and future adventures without necessarily endangering your role as a ranger. only a LG character would wait to act based upon the perponderance of evidence. CG or NG is where the fun begins....
I've decided I need more hard evidence. Apparently I misjudged the composition of the current inhabitants of the town; the non-union natives are still the majority, though the union makes up a slim majority of the fighting men, and has cowed the natives into letting the union leader and his lieutenants be in charge. I've kind of established authority by just leading and giving people orders (both union and non-union).
Last session, immediately after defeating a probing attack by the gnolls, followed by a probing attack by the orcs and goblins from the other side of the river, I organized the defense of a strong attack by the gnoll force (When I asked who was in charge at that point of the line, the answer was "You are.") It was a really close fight and didn't look good at first, but our mage managed to slow down and disrupt their charge with a wall of fog, allowing the paladin to get around behind and flank them with small group and also take out the gnoll shaman. I don't know if we'll be heroes or they're going to hate us for getting so many people killed and wounded, although there was no way the line would have held if we hadn't organized the defense. From the looks of things right after the fight, there may have been an attack on the bridge, which was the last place we saw the union leader. We're not sure how big the gnoll force is. They could withdraw, or they could overrun us. It's pretty chaotic. They're not allied with the orcs and goblins. In fact we just came from seeing a battle they were fighting against each other up the river. It's pretty chaotic and could go anywhere. We'll have to see how it turns out. Hopefully we've caught a little breather so we can assess the bigger picture.
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