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Author Topic: Detect Evil  (Read 844 times)

Ratman_tf

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Detect Evil
« on: April 06, 2021, 07:39:02 PM »
Let us rehash this old chestnut.

How do you run Detect Evil in your campaign? Does it only detect innate evil? Can it ever be mistaken? Is it used as a justification for slapping some sod in the head?
Are people on the ball about having a spell cast on them, and consider it an invasion of privacy?

I never liked the idea that a pretty low level spell could divine someone's nature, and potentially short circuit a mystery. The Ravenloft setting just threw up their hands and said 'It don't work! Stop that!" Even so, if it does work, is someone justified in killing someone because a magic spell caused a red buzzer to sound off over their heads? Or merely imprisoning them because they're generically "evil"? Does any kind of due process enter the picture? What's to stop a cleric from saying that they detected evil in order to get at someone they don't like?

In looking up how 5th edition does it, I note the latest version only detects supernatural evil. That's a bit more my style.
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Tantavalist

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2021, 07:52:38 PM »
Detect Evil is a relic mechanic from High Fantasy settings inspired by Tolkein. Though I suspect that Tolkein himself would have had a problem with the ability to "Detect Evil" being so trivial to use.

I generally hold that the whole Alignment mechanic is a mistake and would ignore it if I ever ran D&D, along with associated spell effects.

5e has taken a step in the right direction with that implementation of Detect Evil IMO. I'd have it be the ability to detect association with a give Plane- the supernatural servants of your Patron Deity's enemies will show up to the spell, as will anyone granted spells by an enemy power (Warlock or Cleric/Paladin of rival god). This is the only way that makes sense to me- and the name "Detect Evil" becomes an in-charater reference rather than an OOC description of effect.

VisionStorm

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2021, 08:12:47 PM »
I generally hold that the whole Alignment mechanic is a mistake and would ignore it if I ever ran D&D, along with associated spell effects.

This^

In looking up how 5th edition does it, I note the latest version only detects supernatural evil. That's a bit more my style.

Also this^

I don't even bring up the idea of alignment in my games and let anyone do whatever. And either sort of wishy-washy all alignment-specific spells away, or replace them with "deals with supernatural evil only". Not just detection, but Protection from Evil/Good, etc. All that stuff deals only with "supernatural evil/good", as in monsters and outsiders and stuff, like fiends, celestials, vampires, etc.

Ghostmaker

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2021, 08:19:36 PM »
I'm mixed on this, particularly as the Protection vs and Magic Circle spells have no alignment component at all. Magic Circle only targets a specific type of creature: celestials, fey, fiends, undead, or elementals. Protection from Evil and Good gives you benefits against aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. I just find that incredibly irritating.

Perhaps changing 'Detect Evil' to 'Detect Taint' (which lets you detect supernatural corruption and evil a la L5R) might be more appropriate.

This Guy

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2021, 08:29:26 PM »
They're justified, due process is a spook of modernity and why are you using it, and detecting evil or zone of truth on the cleric.
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Pat

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2021, 09:37:41 PM »
Detect Evil is a relic mechanic from High Fantasy settings inspired by Tolkein. Though I suspect that Tolkein himself would have had a problem with the ability to "Detect Evil" being so trivial to use.
Detect evil is far more Andersonian than Tolkienesque. Medieval morality, including absolute good and evil, grace, salvation, and all the uncomfortable consequences. Read The Mermaid's Children sometime, if you're interested in getting into a very alien mindset. Or the more direct inspirations of D&D, like The Broken Sword or Three Hearts and Three Lions.

Shasarak

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2021, 10:32:09 PM »
I generally hold that the whole Alignment mechanic is a mistake and would ignore it if I ever ran D&D, along with associated spell effects.

This^

In looking up how 5th edition does it, I note the latest version only detects supernatural evil. That's a bit more my style.

Also this^

Put me down for the opposite of This, so I guess ↓This
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robertliguori

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2021, 10:34:24 PM »
The current game I'm running is an Eberron game.  Eberron is a very morally flexible setting, with distant gods and explicitly relaxed alignment restrictions, and explicitly the 4E paradigm of divine or warlock imbuement (namely, that just because you got divine or fiendish powers doesn't mean that you haven't changed your mind and outlook).

And it doesn't mean a lot.  In Karrnath, there is a strong tradition of necromancy.  Necromancy is Evil, so a lot of people there are Evil.  They don't have more or less of a crime rate than other similar nations; it just means that certain kind of magic (like the kind used by the state church of their neighboring nation of Thrane) works really well to set things on fire there.

I was upfront with my players that Good and Evil are extant cosmic forces, and that using certain kinds of magic or taking certain kinds of actions will absolutely align your soul to one side or the other.  But since Eberron is explicitly a all-souls-go-to-purgatory-then-the-out-of-game-Great-Beyond afterlife setting, there's no real advantage in trying to powerlevel your Good stat.

But some people do, specifically so that people will make assumptions about them based on divinations, and some other people just shrug and invest in the several available methods to foil said detections.

VisionStorm

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2021, 11:25:25 PM »
I generally hold that the whole Alignment mechanic is a mistake and would ignore it if I ever ran D&D, along with associated spell effects.

This^

In looking up how 5th edition does it, I note the latest version only detects supernatural evil. That's a bit more my style.

Also this^

Put me down for the opposite of This, so I guess ↓This

NO, ↑That! :P

Stephen Tannhauser

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2021, 02:58:26 AM »
I'd say that the big issue with Detect Evil as a spell/ability is that in practice its real function, in game terms, is to detect danger -- i.e. it's a way for players to find out if an NPC/creature with whom they're interacting poses a risk if you turn your back on them. It's in the extremely natural and subtle jump to the conclusion that "Evil" means "dangerous" where the interesting ambiguities lie, or that "not Evil" means "not dangerous".

The idea that being Evil-aligned -- which, for non-supernatural sapient beings, I'll define briefly as, "willing, and habitually prone, to personally and actively hurt other sapient beings for a purely selfish benefit without feeling any serious remorse" -- is necessarily a danger to specific PCs in specific contexts is, of course, not a given. One of my favourite red herrings in fantasy murder mysteries is to make sure that the murderer is not the NPC who Detects as Evil, although that NPC may well play a vital role in the mystery in another way.

Another ambiguity I'd include would be to rule that even a Good or Neutral NPC, if seriously thinking about taking an action that would change his alignment (for even Good people can seriously consider doing appalling things in exigent circumstances), can temporarily Detect as Evil if scanned right at that moment. This is another way that PCs becoming over-reliant on the spell can trick themselves. Alternately, a character can be a thoroughly malicious a-hole who leaves a trail of wrecked lives behind him without ever actually being violent or dangerous to the average PC: again, Evil, but not a threat, or even necessarily a criminal.

Certainly one of the ways I would play any serious, conscientious social or religious scheme of Good is that its fundamental desire is to redeem or prevent Evil in ordinary people, not just stamp it out wherever found, so only particularly stifling or self-righteous theocracies would treat merely detecting as Evil to be a crime in itself if no actual lawbreaking actions can be proven to go with it.
Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. -- Mark Twain

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S'mon

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2021, 03:10:58 AM »
Detects supernatural evil. That's how 5e does it, and 1e too (it's not Know Alignment).
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HappyDaze

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2021, 06:19:45 AM »
Let us rehash this old chestnut.

How do you run Detect Evil in your campaign? Does it only detect innate evil? Can it ever be mistaken? Is it used as a justification for slapping some sod in the head?
Are people on the ball about having a spell cast on them, and consider it an invasion of privacy?

I never liked the idea that a pretty low level spell could divine someone's nature, and potentially short circuit a mystery. The Ravenloft setting just threw up their hands and said 'It don't work! Stop that!" Even so, if it does work, is someone justified in killing someone because a magic spell caused a red buzzer to sound off over their heads? Or merely imprisoning them because they're generically "evil"? Does any kind of due process enter the picture? What's to stop a cleric from saying that they detected evil in order to get at someone they don't like?

In looking up how 5th edition does it, I note the latest version only detects supernatural evil. That's a bit more my style.
If detect evil works without fail (no false positives) then nobody that wasn't evil would view it as an invasion of privacy. That would likely be hard for us to really accept because it would create stark lines and eliminate a lot of gray areas. It's actually far more fantastic than slinging fireballs, because it would fundamentally change the way people interact with one another (and even see themselves if they couldn't deny that what they were doing was evil).

Slipshot762

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2021, 07:10:28 AM »
I have it detect what is inarguably evil only; not someone's alignment; but like undead devils demons beholders etc. I generally always do, when not fiddling with FR and I have not in a great while, play on a psuedo historical earth, so there are no naturally occuring orcs and goblins, such are always men twisted by magic and thus always evil, I generally have it so nothing native to the prime material is defined as evil even if its alignment gives it evil tendencies, natives of the prime can do good or evil but are not either inherently despite alignment. In some cases I'll have it detect chaos instead of evil, like if cast on a non traditionally evil creature like a mermaid or centaur (natives of fairy). So in that way it functions to tell you the target is either from another plane, unquestionably tainted by evil, or mundane.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2021, 08:37:10 AM »
It's pure setting element to me.  I change it around with each setting.  I've run it as straight alignment check.  I've run it in most of the variations discussed by others, including "detects supernatural evil" and "detects active evil".  I've also run it where it "detects evil miasma", which in play is a lot like "detects supernatural evil" + any more mundane, sustained accumulation of evil acts. 

I've also run D&D campaigns where I ditched alignments and detect evil/good entirely. 

I prefer the rules be structured such that I can do any of those things with minimal house rules.  While I'm wishing, I'd also like a free bag of gold. :D

ScytheSong

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Re: Detect Evil
« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2021, 03:00:16 PM »
I used the "Detect Evil" spell in one of my 2ed AD&D games as, rather than anything more complicated, a "My Deity says Smite!" check. The goddess of the harvest would show a food thief or a Ratkin as evil, but ignore a Harpy, for instance.