Lawful Good Ethical Question

So the Lawful Good PC is sent to a town to investigate the disappearance of all the inhabitants. Sure enough, when he arrives he finds everyone in the town missing.

He enters a smithy, where he finds a silver dagger lying on table. He takes the silver dagger and leaves. He later uses the silver dagger in a fight. Did he violate lawful good ethics? If so, as a DM, what would you do and/or say?

What if his argument when asked is that “he wanted to remove a weapon that might later be used against him?”
[Cough (B.S.) Cough! :dubious: ]

I don’t necessarily see a problem with his actions. Does he have reason to know or suspect who the owner of the knife is, and if so, what is their circumstance now? If he had walked into someone’s house while they were at the market and taken their dagger, that would surely be theft. But here it sounds like the owner - whoever that might be - is assumed to be either dead, fled the area, or taken captive somewhere; in any case, unlikely to be returning for their possessions any time soon. I don’t necessarily see a “lawful” violation here. Whether or not the act is “good” rather depends on his motives for taking it. If there’s a suspected werewolf in town, it’s probably justifiable…if he plans to melt it down and make a codpiece out if it, maybe not so much.

What are the laws of the land, and what is the personal code of the character? Are the two in conflict in any manner? Just because an action is “lawful” or “unlawful” according to local statutes does not necessarily dictate a LG character’s actions; the “Lawful” descriptor can in theory refer to any set of rules which the character vows to uphold. So even if it was technically stealing when he picked up the dagger, there are many ways he might be able to justify his actions in terms of “the greater good”.
That said, “he wanted to remove a weapon that might later be used against him” does sound like a BS excuse to me, so he should get hit with a punishment for lying…someone should curse him so that something slightly unpleasant happens to him. Like an onion falling on his head.

Agreed that the excuse is pretty much garbage but I wouldn’t hold the initial act against him. The town is completely abandoned and the weapon may assist in his fight (assuming its silver property is meaningful). He’s not shoplifting or looting in my opinion. If he’s taking it with the honest intention of using it to save the town, then that’s still “good” – the smith would probably rather he stab his way to the town’s freedom rather than say “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly…” to himself.

After the town is put to rights, assuming that it is, I would expect him to offer the return of the weapon to its rightful owner. Likewise, I’d expect him to be honest about how he came across it and not sell it mid-adventure or anything.

The excuse is odd, but taking the dagger makes sense to me, so I don’t see a problem.

Seems like looking for an excuse to judge him by a very very narrow definition of Lawful Good. This has been a significant problem since Lawful Good was first defined. For a long time, it was called Lawful Stupid because stupid GMs and players insisted that people basically had to act in extremely stupid ways to fit their definition of Lawful Good, which by no means precludes killing evil, fighting bad people and actually making a gold piece in the process.

Big IMO warning!

If the LG player took the silver dagger because he thought it would be worth a bit of coin, then he had fallen to an impulse of greed. I don’t buy the excuse “I took it to prevent it from being used against me…”. Used by who? Everyone’s missing. He didn’t take all of the knives and forks in town, right? He didn’t throw the dagger down the well, or somehow hide it, he kept it. Was the dagger abandoned, therefore qualifying as salvage? Maybe. Is the player’s expectation or goal that he’ll locate, rescue, and return the townsfolk? If so, then he can’t really consider any of the property therein abandoned.

If that was a Paladin type character, he might need to do penance of some kind.

See? This is why I don’t hold Paladins to such extreme codes of conduct that turn people away from playing them or make their gaming lives hell if they choose to do so.

The game is supposed to be fun, not a nitpicking hell of gotchas.

No ethical question even arises until he has some indication of the weapon’s legitimate owner. If he finds that person, then he should return it, or offer to pay fair price for it, or whatever. Until then, no problem.

EDIT: Think of it this way. Suppose that he went into an ordinary town that wasn’t abandoned. He walked into a blacksmith shop, and saw a fine silver dagger on display there. He picked up the dagger, walked over to the smith, and said “How much do you want for this dagger?”. The blacksmith says “For an honest-looking adventurer like yourself, 20 gold.”. The adventurer pulls some coins out of his purse, pays the blacksmith, and leaves. Was there any alignment violation there? No, of course not: That’s just a perfectly ordinary transaction at the smithy. Well, what he’s doing now is the exact same thing, except that he’s having a hard time finding the smith.

<shrug> I don’t see it as a problem. Don’t pick a Pally to play. Roll up a thief.

Taking a dagger from an abandoned smithy in an abandoned town is fine by me. It would have been a fun role playing affectation on the player’s part if he had his character leave some money when he took the dagger but that would have just been a fun joke.

IMO, context matters in roleplaying.

If the smith happened to be in the outhouse (so that the Pally couldn’t find him), that doesn’t give the Pally the right to walk away with the dagger without bartering for it.

If the Pally walks into a house (or smithy), and finds the smith dead, gore spattering the walls, etc, then the dagger is, essentially, loot.

Note: I am specifically focusing on D&D type Paladins. Other classes, IMO, don’t have the same level of “code of conduct” to be adhered to.

No, it’s not lawful good by the oldschool D&D definitions. Since the PC doesn’t know what happened to the inhabitants of the town, he doesn’t know if the knife was abandoned. He doesn’t know anything about the knife at all. Maybe it’s not meant for fighting at all. Maybe it’s a family heirloom, and drawing blood with it for a cause other than its purpose was a grave act.

There are a million “maybes” about why it would’ve been bad to take the knife, but that’s kind of the point of LG. If you don’t want to care so much about those things, you can play NG or CG instead. At the end of the day he took something without paying for it.

This really clinches it. That’s a bad reason. If it had been something like, “It looks valuable - I’ll keep it safe until I can return it or else looters might take it,” and then he never used it? That would have been fine.

I don’t play with the nine-point alignment system anymore because I think it’s unnecessarily constricting. But if I were running a game with a paladin (or other character with noble purpose as their core conceit), I would’ve called bullshit on his reasoning and encouraged him to come up with a better one, and I would’ve pushed again when he used the knife in a fight. If he used it in a fight anyway, I would’ve come up with something like the “may never draw blood” thing I mentioned above and then turned it into a quest line.

Eh, the 1st edition LG description was:

Leaving the dagger – especially if he sincerely believes it will assist him – does nothing to improve the common weal or benefit society. Arguably, it does the opposite since he is trying to rescue the town. I would expect him to be honest about how he got it and why he’s using it, which would include ensuring its return at the end of the adventure (assuming there’s anyone to return it to).

It’s not really “Is this a lawful good action” but “Does this action oppose my alignment and, if so, how much?” Even if you believe that taking the dagger to sincerely use in the town’s aid isn’t LG, it’s still not the same as looting or stealing. It shouldn’t have any impact in the character’s alignment or divine retribution or anything like that.

It sounds like a generic scenario description that doesn’t account for ethics at all. The silver dagger could have been there for use later in the scenario, like against a lycanthrope that attacks the PC when he enters the “dark forest.”

This does provide several role-playing scenarios. The LG could have left a note promising to return the dagger, or left some gold. The GM could always have something bad happen to him later. The dagger’s original owner could meet him and demand it back. The LG’s god could steal something the LG possesses and put it where the dagger was before. The dagger could lose its silver and turn into a normal dagger when he tries to use it. Otherwise, there’s no need for harsh repercussions. It’s just a dagger.

And maybe the dagger’s ancestral purpose was to avenge the lost of the smith’s family, and so not taking it to use against those who attacked the town would be a grave act. You can’t let yourself be ruled by maybes.

In a pre-written scenario, you’d be a moron to leave Chekhov’s Dagger sitting there. So again, it comes down to gotchas against a paladin character. Lighten up, Francis.

Leaving some gold on a table in an abandoned town doesn’t seem as though it would do anyone any good. Better to make your “payment” for borrowing the dagger your sincere effort at saving the townspeople. I can’t imagine a deity taking offense at that given the circumstances.

As noted above, you can take LG into Lawful Stupid easily enough: Those kobold copper pieces don’t belong to you, they need to be relocated with the families of waylaid travelers. You can’t pick up a pipe to clonk some guy about to murder a basket of infants unless you successfully negotiate terms for borrowing the pipe with its rightful owner, etc.

In the original scenario, I would agree that the player’s stated reason is a weak one at best but he may just be new to playing that sort of character or just had a dumb moment. I’d give him the opportunity to retcon his motivation into something a bit more logical/noble provided this isn’t an every day occurrence with him.

Wouldn’t the real test be when he eventually (and probably inevitably) runs across the person (or his heir) who owns the dagger? If he doesn’t buy it (or return it, depending on circumstances) then he’d be in trouble.

Thanks for all the thoughts and opinions!

Chimera, this Francis is plenty light. Haha.

For the record, I did not penalize his PC but we did have a short discussion about motivations and whether the act was a possible minor violation of alignment. Our discussion ended with: “OK I will ask on some forums and see what other people think.” Hence the thread.

Once again thank you!

I’ve been gaming for 30+ years. A PC is supposed to take everything that’s not bolted down, and if it’s bolted down roll a strength check or ask the mage for advice.

All kidding aside, it depends on his intentions. If he’s actively pursuing the investigation and potential rescue of the dagger’s owner, and that dagger would help in that, he’s practically obligated to take it. If he finds the owner and is able to return it once done then he should. If the dagger’s owner then offers the dagger as a reward/thank you for the rescue, then the PC can keep it and use it in his pursuit of justice.

And in settings with interventionist gods - which includes most settings with paladins, and definitely includes D&D - a paladin has to take in account the possibility that its presence was *arranged *by his god. Either because it’s necessary, or as an omen warning him something that needs silver to hurt is involved.

He doesn’t want to end up in the afterlife with his god haranguing him about “How did you get killed by that werewolf? I made sure there was a silver dagger* right there* for you to use!”