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Discussion: Can Good Aligned Characters Cast Spells With The Evil Descriptor?

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#1 Hal

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 09:16 AM

Figured it was time to see if I could get some discourse going on the site by asking some gamer type questions :)

 

So - I was talking to Nick this morning about gaming. He was saying a friend was interested in playing a necromancer in a Pathfinder game where evil characters are not allowed. Most of the spells that raise the dead (and basically make a necromancer a necromancer) have the Evil descriptor.

 

So it got me thinking. Normally I might rule that casting spells with the evil descriptor was an evil act but then I figure it is all about context. I did a search around and couldn't really find an official ruling on the Evil and Good spell descriptors. I mean, does casting a lot of spells with the Good descriptor promote an alignment change towards good or does it depend on the circumstances?

 

If a character playing a necromancer took the time to cast Speak with Dead on a body and ask permission to raise it, would that be an evil act?

 

If he exclusively used his raise dead spells on animals rather than intelligent creatures, would that be an evil act?

 

I think a non-evil necromancer could prove to be an interesting character. If a bit of a creepy one with his undead bear and he habit of chatting to dead people. I can see a certain social stigma with the character, especially among clerics, paladins and inquisitors but it might be an interesting thing to play with.

 

What do we think?

 

Hal :hal:


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#2 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 10:08 AM

Short answer: Depends on GM fiat.

Long-ass answer:

Paizo's Pathfinder forums already have some very long and detailed discussions of this topic, with many amusing conclusions, but no definitive rulings:
 

There we go, it's official. I'm in shock.

Enslaving good celestials with planar binding is now OFFICIALLY a good action because it has the "good" spell descriptor.

Or do you wish to amend that statement JJ?


It's been debated on the RPG Stack Exchange, as well.
 

Yes, casting a spell with the [Evil] descriptor is an evil act. Always, by definition, as black letter law in the game rules.

One [Alignment] act does not cause a character to change alignments. A pattern of [alignment] acts will change alignment. How many evil acts are required to change your alignment (or have other effects like removing paladin powers, compromising divine spellcasting, or creeping out the locals enough to get a torch-and-pitchfork mob set on you) is a judgment call for each GM. For non-religious characters, it should take a decent bit to go from good to neutral to evil. I personally would rule that if you just happened across a scroll of this thing and felt like you had to do it once to save your party's life, fine. If you put it into your spellbook and use it from time to time, that's neutral territory. If you use it routinely all the time, you switch to evil (balanced against what all else is going on with the character of course).

Now you can argue "subjective morality" and all, but in the normal D&D (and Pathfinder) cosmology, there is objective good and evil, and yes, cannibalism (especially of the "drink blood to power spells" type) is evil.

The phrase "as a matter of pragmatism" is always a warning sign for evil. People seldom consider themselves evil. Prison is full of "good people." When they rob, kill, etc. they have some "pragmatic" reason for it. His reasoning "well it's just for more power!" is a classic evil justification - heck, worst than most that are at least trying to say "it's for my family!" or some allegedly noble end.

All that having been said, it's not like having an evil alignment is the end of the world - I've GMed many parties who have included evil characters. Usually not "black robe" mmmwah-ha-haaa evil, but "well, I wouldn't normally sacrifice someone to power this spell but it's really important in this case..." I like leading characters down that path to see how bad they'll get; I bet your player would consider sacrificing sentients for spells if you lead him down that path a while. Storytelling gold! Explain to him "sure, your character doesn't think it's evil - but the gods (aka I) do. But that's not me telling you your character shouldn't do it; anti-heroes are a legit thing to roleplay."


They even have a thread specifically about the possibility of playing a Good necromancer in Pathfinder:
 

Of course, depending on your definition of necromancer.

Can you be creating undead as a necromancer and stay good? No, that's an evil descriptor spell.

Can you cast the dozens of other necromancy spells that aren't evil, like Disrupt Undead, Fear, False Life, Blindness/Deafness, etc.? Sure. You will probably find that you can't cast about 30% of the necromancer spell list, but you can cast spells from other schools as well. The locals may not buy your good necromancer routine, but you can sure try.


The idea isn't that preposterous; the hippie tree-hugging races even invented a way to become a Good-aligned lich - err, Baelnorn. ;)

Also, some people made a White Necromancer prestige class, that specializes in keeping the undead in their graves.

WhiteNecromancer.jpg

As an interesting side note, there are some options from D&D 3.0 and 3.5 that let you tinker with the alignment descriptors on your caster's spells:
 

The aligned caster alternative class feature (Dragon 357, p88) adds an alignment descriptor to all your spells in exchange for your familiar.  You can take it for any class that normally grants a familiar.

The 10th-level planar wizard substitution level (Planar Handbook, p36) adds an alignment descriptor to all your spells in exchange for the normal bonus feat.


Intriguingly, the alignment descriptors 'stack', in a way, since a planar wizard who has chosen to add the Evil descriptor to all her spells gains a +1 CL bonus against Good creatures; if she casts a spell that would normally have the Evil descriptor, she gets a double whammy, i.e. a +2 CL bonus against Lantern Archons etc.
 

Planar Spellcasting (Su): A 10th-level planar wizard learns to channel planar energy through her spells. Upon gaining this ability, the wizard chooses to make her spells anarchic (chaotic), axiomatic (lawful), celestial (good), or fiendish (evil). Her spells gain the indicated alignment descriptor. The wizard can choose any of the four options, regardless of her own alignment. Against creatures of the opposed alignment, she gains a +1 bonus on caster level checks made to overcome spell resistance, and her spell save DCs are increased by 1. If she casts a spell that normally has the same alignment descriptor that she would apply, or whenever she casts a spell on a plane with an alignment trait that matches the alignment she chose, the bonuses increase to +2. These effects apply only to the character’s wizard spells; any spellcasting ability gained from another class functions normally. For example, the spells of a wizard choosing to cast fiendish spells gain the evil descriptor. She gains a +1 bonus on caster level checks to overcome the spell resistance of good-aligned creatures, and good-aligned creatures attempting to save against her spells do so against a DC that is 1 higher than normal. If she casts a spell that would normally be an evil spell (such as contagion), or if she casts any spell on an evil-aligned plane (such as the Abyss or the Nine Hells), these values would increase by 2 instead of by 1. This benefit replaces the bonus feat gained by a standard wizard at 10th level, as well as the two spells a standard 10th-level wizard learns for free.


It doesn't mention any effects if, say, a caster adds an Evil descriptor to a Good spell, or vice versa.
Again, depending on a GM ruling, this could be interpreted as meaning that it's possible for a spell to be both Good and Bad. At the same time.

WHUT_by_KiwiesRuleXD.gif

Schrödinger would be so pleased. ;)

Unfortunately, that ruling might be opposed by the description of the Aligned Spellcaster:
 

Aligned Spellcaster

Your passions drive your magical abilities, imbuing your every spell with the power of your conviction. Those who oppose your ideals suffer the most from magical energy.
Level: 1st (4th for hexblades).
Replaces: If you select this class feature you do not gain a familiar.
Benefit: Choose an alignment component you have that is not neutral. Spells you cast gain the appropriate alignment descriptor unless they already have the opposite alignment descriptor. For example, a neutral good wizard who selects this ability (and who must choose good) casts all spells that aren't evil spells as good spells.


PS: Who is this 'Nick' person of whom you speak? He appeared in the background of several of the Shattered Star episodes, as well.


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#3 Hal

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 10:28 AM

I knew I could count in you for a nice long reply. But leaving at at GM fiat doesn't really help. If there are spells that have the Good descriptor than an Evil caster would slide towards Good alignment by casting a lot of them even if he was casting them on his evil buddies.

 

I might play with the idea of a moral necromancer and see where it goes. I do not think the raising a skeletal dog from the dead is any more evil than summoning an angel to do your bidding. I think it gets sticky when we are preventing the resurrection of sentient creatures whos souls are floating about in the various afterlives.

 

----

 

Nick is our friend who lives here and occasionally helps Lindsay with her millinery awesomeness. He is a tee total vegan who can be heard on his podcast over at Never Buy A Stripper A Drink where he and some friends talk about crap and swear at each other. Basically like it is here except we try to game at the same time.

 

He likes roller derby and burlesque and long wants with his many guns and knives :)

 

Here he is in a nice picture with the Lovely Lindsay in a corset purchased by good Mr Thing for her Christmas gift this year.

 

933984_10151803754401426_1372141231_n.jp

 

Hal :hal:


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#4 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 10:53 AM


I knew I could count in you for a nice long reply. But leaving at at GM fiat doesn't really help. If there are spells that have the Good descriptor than an Evil caster would slide towards Good alignment by casting a lot of them even if he was casting them on his evil buddies.


Hmm. Plotting_emoticon.gif It could potentially make for a really exciting character concept, if you stick to that interpretation.

How about a Necromancer who's determined to do good, but has decided that the most efficient means available is to use Evil/Necromantic spells to fight undead and other gribbly nasties? There's tons of books, movies, manga and anime* that feature protagonists who are, in one way or another, re-appropriating the tools and weapons of demonic and necrotic enemies, to use them against the bad guys. "Fight fire with Fireballs", as it were.

If the GM made a (house) ruling re: aligned spells, specifically that casting an Evil spell nudged your alignment an iota further south along the Good-Evil axis, the Good Necromancers would have to make sure they did lots of good stuff, saving kittens from Undead trees and so on, to make up for their Evil spellcasting. Would probably be facilitated by some sort of numerical system, i.e. every time you've cast 100 (or 20, or 1.000, whichever number the GM decides on) Evil spells, you're forced to make an Alignment adjustment and suffer all the consequences. This kind of Karma system could then allow the characters to continually redeem themselves, by doing nice stuff that cancels out their Evil deeds. It would require a bit of number-crunching, quantifying the relative good-/badness of various actions, but there's probably several RPGs out there that already have mechanics for this.
 

I might play with the idea of a moral necromancer and see where it goes. I do not think the raising a skeletal dog from the dead [...]



 

[...] is any more evil than summoning an angel to do your bidding.



 

He likes roller derby and burlesque and long wants with his many guns and knives :)


Fingers crossed that you meant 'walks', and not 'arrest warrants' or 'wanted posters' :O
 

[...] a corset purchased by good Mr Thing [...]


So who's this Good Mr Thing? Is he related to @Thing - who is, by all accounts, a Bad Man? ;) (See? Totally on topic! Even the gossip is alignment-based.)






*Finished the Chrono Crusade series yesterday, and wept like a kicked puppy. Those darn Japanese sure know how to twist an emotional response out of their readers.


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#5 Aethyr

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 10:59 AM

I think it comes down to context and frequency for some of the spells. Overall the spells with the evil descriptor seem to be rather nasty, usually inflicting harm on another. Sure there might be instances a good guy needs to be use Protection from Good, or even raise a skeletal dog for some help, but if they do it all the time or they are willfully inflicting pain on another (like some of the other spells do) that tends to mean the will behind the spell is on inflicting pain. After all there are plenty of other spells for killing things that don't have the Evil descriptor. And this does still leave room for a Necromancer who does good, especially if they only Evil spells they use are infrequent and not harming living beings.

 

Now on the other hand if you have a baddie who keeps healing people or smiting all the evil they find and consecrating their lairs, is that person really evil anymore? There are plenty of other spells that can't get rid of a rival villain without resorting to good.

 

Just my 2 copper from the peanut gallery.


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#6 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 11:18 AM

What if the GM allowed the player to play a Good Necromancer with the Aligned Spellcaster background? (See above.) Even though the character might cast the occasional Evil necromantic spell, it would be outweighed by the fact that every single frickin' one of their non-Evil spells counted as a Good spell.

Yes, it's a technicality. Yes, it's rules lawyering and min-maxing. But that doesn't mean you couldn't come up with an in-game rationale for it. For example, since the Aligned Spellcaster background comes at the cost of giving up your Familiar, you could argue that the normal Familiar has been replaced by a spirit or Outsider of resoundingly Good alignment. The character's backstory could explain how the Necromancer had made a pact with an Archon or a friendly ghost (who may or may not be called Casper) to provide guidance and advice; the Necromancer might go around talking to himself, being the only one who could the see the spirit that had been bound to the caster's soul.

That way, you get a game mechanic that allows the character to Animate an occasional zombie dog without having to worry about alignment shift (because all the Good spells that the character is casting is effectively leaking the shiny wholesomeness of the Archon/Friendly Ghost/Whatever into the world, spreading sunshine and butterflies and rainbows everywhere); AND, you also get a roleplaying opportunity for the GM to regulate the player, if they try to abuse their ostensibly Good character's license to anti-kill. The Good spirit that's lodged in the Necromancer's brain would raise an almighty ruckus every time the PC attempted to Animate some corpses, and the player would have to argue their case as to the necessity of casting that spell.
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#7 Hal

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 11:23 AM

Pulling from the SRD

 

 

 

Most of these descriptors have no game effect by themselves, but they govern how the spell interacts with other spells, with special abilities, with unusual creatures, with alignment, and so on.

 

 

 

Evil: Spells that draw upon evil powers or conjure creatures from evil-aligned planes or with the evil subtype should have the evil descriptor.

 

I would think as a GM I would be happy to have unrestricted characters cast spells with the evil descriptor as long as their intentions were not evil. I still think that animating actual sentient races is an evil act as it prevents them from being raise or resurrected so it is clearly fiddling with their soul in some fashion.

 

But I have no issues with skeletal dogs and things. It might lead to some interesting social situations or issues.

 

Hal :hal:


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#8 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 11:54 AM

But I have no issues with skeletal dogs and things.


Although the druid might object. ;)

druid.jpg


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#9 Nick T. Vegan

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 12:36 PM

I think the main questions would be why they are necromancing. If it's for the greater good then is it really so wrong? What if they reanimate evil characters corpses? FIght evil with the evil allowing your own good party to avoid damage doesnt sound too bad does it? There are spells that allow you to make an enemy attack his own is this really so different? Are their souls coming back to them or is the necromancer merely putting magical energy into a shell to make it dance for him like a puppet master. Would you consider hell boy evil? what about john constantine? Both these characters (and likely many more) are usually considered good but did deal in necromancy. So I say yes a necromancer can be a good person atiquated alignments be damned.


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#10 Hal

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 01:35 PM

Even evil characters souls so to their resting place when they are dead. I would argue that the act of animating even an dead evil character is still evil as it denies the potential that they could be resurrected and somehow redeemed.

 

This was always the issue with alignment tagged spells. Honestly I think it can work as long as there are some considerations taken with regards to what is being raised. Also it is really only 30% or so of the necromancy spells that have the Evil descriptor so there are other paths to choose from.

 

Hellboy and Constantine are acting withing their own world rules. Neither are evil as I see if but they can both be immoral.

 

I think the call I would make as a GM if a player were to suggest a non-evil necromancer is that it would depend on the situation whether the spells with the Evil descriptor actually constituted an evil act that could damage alignment. I am happy with animated animals but it may cause issues in towns and the like.

 

Nice to have you aboard Nick :D

 

Hal :hal:


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#11 thad

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 01:49 PM

In a game I was in, one good priest character got hold of an evil symbol which allowed him to command undead... which (according to him) as he did so to help the party was a good thing... we let him get away with it, but everyone (but him) considered it right dodgy...


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#12 Hal

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 02:33 PM

I think that might be a little shady - why is the priest of a good god using an evil holy symbol?

 

From a story perspective I may have had fun there as he slowly spiraled towards evil :)

 

Hal :hal:


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#13 LightPagoda

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 07:06 PM

In my non ootak game of shattered star that we finally finished my gm heal-bot was a true neutral bone oracle.  He (eventually she) started a collection of PC skulls.  No real reason other than she was into death and those skulls (s)he had a connection with.  Early on he raised some undead and I explained it as selectively interpreting his various gods of death.  If I remember correct 2 of the 3 gods a bone oracle gives respect to are evil.  I stopped doing it for mechanical reasons, it became just too much work to run them along with all the baddies rather than because the oracle was becoming evil particularly.  Just reeeally creepy.  I think canonically the reason it is evil is that it is a mockery of the natural processes of life.  Whether animal or intelligent creature.  With that in mind resurrection spells would also be a mockery, but they ask permission.  I think the character might be able to create a non-evil (not good) version of the raise dead spells that asked the souls permission first and simply failed and ate the material components if they didnt give it.  Speak with dead technically only talks with the remains not the soul.  The body would have no idea whether the soul with its celestial/demonic perspective would want something or not now.  I would also say they would have to have a really compelling in character reason to be committing acts of horror and heresy and still consider themselves good in Golarion.

 

Outside of Golarian, or if you are houseruling the morality of the world I would say take a look at Dominic Deegan.  There are a number of evil necromancers in that webcomic, but late in it's run one is introduced who is actually a good person.


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#14 Dungnmaster001

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Posted 18 January 2014 - 06:15 AM

I think a good aligned character would have issues with evil spells but I'd be more okay with neutral characters using them as I see neutral being more about the end result rather than good/evil.

 

For some reason an altered version of the quote from Army of Darkness just popped in my head: "Good ... Bad... I'm the guy with .... a horde of skeletons at my command."  Okay maybe it's because I've been awake for 22 hours. Going to bed now.


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#15 BigJackBrass

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Posted 18 January 2014 - 08:41 AM

This is one reason why I like Tékumel. There is no "good" or "evil" per se, there are gods of Change and Stability. A worshipper of Sarku, cavorting with the dead and hoping to achieve physical life beyond the grave, might be viewed with distaste by a follower of a different god, but he is not evil purely because of it. If a religion demands human sacrifice then performing such is "noble action," respected by those who nonetheless follow a different path and would never do such a thing themselves. Anyone can, of course, commit evil acts, so the question shifts from a rather blunt game convenience to a nuanced case by case basis, more like real life.

 

In such a world the "good" character wanting to use an "evil" spell, ritual et cetera (assuming he has access to it: the temples do not like to reveal such things to outsiders!) has to ask himself what such methods mean in terms of his own religion and beliefs. There will be cases where it is perhaps not perfectly acceptable but at least an honourable, correct choice. Much more interesting dealing with the problem in this manner, for me at least, rather than it ending up in the same basket of absolute rules such as "clerics can't use edged weapons" and "magic users can't use anything bigger than a knife." 


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#16 Chewzter

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Posted 18 January 2014 - 03:29 PM

I think the "evil" descriptor is there in order to clearly establish what is "good" and what is "evil".

 

While there are still grey areas, which are not so easy to clear, this at least gives some form of constant framework. Magic seems to distinguish between some form of values which we have arbitrarily called these names (see items that work differently for different alignments).

 

Philosophically however, I think the alignment system is utter garbage.

 

There is literally no difference in the motivations of a lawful good and a lawful evil character, when both of them act on the will to do the best for everyone. It just so happens, that one of them is a follower of asmodeus (for example)

 

Similarly, chaotic evil and lawful evil are also very similar, they just differ in the amount of power the individual has.

After all, a goblin who subordinates himself to a stronger person is acting "lawful" isn't he? And a goblin chief suddenly is the leader, so shouldn't he be lawful (as in, everything he does is righteous by definition?)

 

This might actually be total nonsense, I just tried to look at it from another angle.


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#17 Slartibartfast

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Posted 19 January 2014 - 12:42 AM

Going back to one of PM's points earlier on, if there are too many hurdles stopping Nick's friend playing a Good necromancer, why not let him have a level of self delusion, believing he is a good person, acting like a nice guy. 

Slowly over the story arc his character's good intentions mixed with the forbidden lore he wields corrupts him as he finds himself debasing himself for the greater good. 

He would start out Good. 

He would probably believe he was a good person until the end. 

He could use necromancy to defeat evil, and it would make a great story!


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#18 Hal

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Posted 19 January 2014 - 04:28 PM

There are a lot of conversations about similar topics on the net and I think the crux is really in the intention of the spell descriptor. From the quote I posted earlier it really seems that it is designed as a system mechanic rather than an indicator that hooks into the alignment system. The more I think about it it is really no different than the Fire descriptor or the Mind Affecting descriptor. It is used so that something can have resistance or vulnerability to it or that some other rule can hook onto it.

 

I think at this point I would rule that the intention and the actions that led to the casting of the spell (as well as the target, with respect to the animating of the dead) would have more effect on the alignment of the character than the descriptor on the spell. I have yet to really find anything official that says that spells with the evil descriptor are evil to cast. There are things that say the energy that powers them is negative energy but then again, is that inherently any more evil than electricity for example?

 

I think it might be a good character. One that starts out with intentions of using necromancy in a good way but who has to constantly guard against the temptations of using the power in ways that would erode his moral values.

 

Hal :hal:


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#19 Slartibartfast

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Posted 20 January 2014 - 12:01 AM

Sounds good.


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#20 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 20 January 2014 - 10:29 AM

I am happy with animated animals but it may cause issues in towns and the like.


This leads to a different problem: What constitutes an animal? If a druid had Awakened a camel and given it human intelligence, would it still be okay to animate it after it died? What about a wizard's familiar? If you define 'animals' as 'creatures with an Intelligence below 3', then what about people who've suffered Int damage, and dropped to Int 2 or Int 1? Would it be okay to animate their corpses?
 

In a game I was in, one good priest character got hold of an evil symbol which allowed him to command undead... which (according to him) as he did so to help the party was a good thing... we let him get away with it, but everyone (but him) considered it right dodgy...


Is it even possible, R.A.W., for a cleric to use a holy symbol dedicated to a different deity? (Let alone a deity of a radically different alignment.)

There's a specific magic item called a Malleable Holy Symbol that's designed to allow a user to re-dedicate it to whichever god they worship.

Assuming this was a Pathfinder (or D&D) game, then even if the GM allowed the cleric to use an Unholy Symbol, the cleric's power would presumably still be granted by their patron deity, and not the evil deity of the symbol; hence, the cleric shouldn't be able to switch to channelling negative energy instead of positive (or vice versa) just by swapping out their Holy Symbol, as though they were changing the nozzle on their Dispenser of Godliness.
 


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