Like many American philosophers in my age range, I played Dungeons & Dragons in high school and college. Actually, I still play. Since D&D is all about good, evil and role-playing, it is hardly surprising that various philosophical discussions arise in the course of game play. At this past Sunday’s game, the subject of cannibalism arose. Those who have no idea about D&D will find some of what follows a bit confusing, but the ethical discussion should be fairly clear.
The adventure I was running sent the player characters on a mission of vengeance and rescue: they were tasked with destroying twisted aberrations that defiled the very essence of nature and with recovering a lost soul fragment of a druid. Run of the mill stuff for the typical adventurer.
The first creature the party encountered was an Ogre Pig: a magical blending of an ogre and a pig (a creation of mine inspired by a joke my friend Ron made). The party was a bit shocked when it gurgled “kill kill” as it charged them. After all, giant boars are not known for their conversational skills. After the party hacked the monster down, it burst into flames (ogre pigs are magically self-cooking). One of the players, James, had his character eat some of the Ogre Pig meat, much to the horror of the other players. Even Trent, who plays a necromancer that has his own little undead army, was shocked and dismayed by this. In between the following battles, we had an interesting discussion about cannibalism. Naturally James kept eating everything the party killed, intelligent or not.
Ron put forth the view that James’ character was now a cannibal. Since D&D has intelligent non-humans, Ron argued that cannibalism (as a moral crime) should not be limited to just the consumption of one’s own species. His view is that the consumption of any intelligent being by another counts as cannibalism, at least in an ethical sense. Technically, of course, eating other intelligent species would not be cannibalism in the strict sense of the term, but Ron’s definition seems reasonable. For those who would prefer to stick with the strict definition, another term would be needed in its place. But, I think “cannibalism” nicely describes it.
Unlike real life, D&D has a clear and objective definition of intelligence. Any being with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher is an intelligent being. Creatures with a 1 or 2 intelligence are not intelligent beings but do have minds in the general sense of having mental processes. In D&D non-intelligent animals fall into this category. Creatures with no Intelligence score, like mindless fungi and ooze, lack mental processes altogether. Cannibalism is thus easy to define in D&D: if you have an Intelligence of 3 or higher and you eat something that also has (or had) an Intelligence of 3 or higher, then you are a cannibal. This can also be generalized to include non-intelligent individuals of a specific intelligent species. For example, since humans normally have an Intelligence of 3 or higher, killing and eating a human victim of the feeblemind spell (which lowers the victim’s Intelligence to that of a lizard) would still be cannibalism. Naturally, this can be debated. After all, if Intelligence is what matters, then if something lacks Intelligence then it would not be cannibalism to eat it. Just be sure to eat quickly, before it regains its Intelligence.
Obviously, real life does not have such a clear line between intelligent beings and non-intelligent beings. Part of the problem is that in reality we cannot check the attribute scores of creatures to see if they are intelligent or not. Another part of the problem is that a generally accepted definition of “intelligence” is lacking. Hence, some people think that dolphins and certain primates are intelligent. If so, eating them would seem to an act of cannibalism. This would be especially plausible in the case of our fellow primates. While they are not our species, they are quite closely related. Some people extend the scope of intelligence even more broadly so that dogs, cats, cows, pigs and other animals would be considered intelligent. If so, eating them could be seen as cannibalistic.
Not surprisingly, the discussion of cannibalism soon turned to the matter of the ethics of the act. Cannibalism does seem to be at least morally questionable. Or, as Ron put it, “neutral…at best.” Unlike reality, D&D has an objective system of ethics that is known to be grounded in the metaphysical nature of the game world. In short, good and evil are real properties with causal powers in the D&D game world. For example, holy weapons hurt evil creatures more than non-evil creatures and there are spells for detecting evil and good. As such, cannibalism can be regarded as a clear and objective evil in D&D. In the real world, we do not know whether good and evil are real properties. We do not know if there is an objective moral order or not. This is, obviously, not a problem specific to cannibalism-it applies across the board to all moral issues in our real world (assuming it is, of course, real).
Intuitively, if there are evil actions, then eating intelligent beings would certainly seem to be evil. After all, it is difficult to imagine that someone would be willing to be killed and eaten. So, by using reversing the situation, it would seem to follow that it would be wrong to eat another intelligent being.
In the game, the cannibalistic character is sliding towards evil-as he will find if he gets smacked or stabbed with a holy weapon.
For those who want to use Ogre Pigs in their own 3.5 Edition D&D games, here are the stats:
Large Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 7d10+21 (60 hp)
Speed: 40 ft. (8 squares)
Armor Class: 15 (–1 size, +6 natural), touch 9, flat-footed 15
Base Attack/Grapple: +7/+19
Attack: Gore +14 melee (1d8+12)
Full Attack: Gore +14 melee (1d8+12)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Ferocity
Special Qualities: Dark Vision, Low-light vision, scent, self cooking, succulent
Saves: Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +8
Abilities: Str 27, Dex 10, Con 17, Int 3, Wis 13, Cha 8
Skills: Listen +8, Spot +8
Feats: Alertness, Endurance, Iron Will
Environment: Temperate forests
Organization: Solitary or herd (5–8)
Challenge Rating: 4
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 8–16 HD (Large); 17–21 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment: —
Description: Ogre pigs were created out of anger by the wizard Kertharkan. Kertharkan was incredibly fond of pork and had a vast herd of the most magically succulent pigs. Unfortunately, the local ogres also had a taste for swine and would steal from the herd. Though Kertharkan would slaughter any ogres stealing from the herd, they could simply not resist the taste of the magical pork. Driven to an unspeakable rage, Kertharkan decided to take the ultimate revenge on the ogres: rather than kill the pig thieves, he magically blended them with his pigs, creating the largest, most succulent and most ferocious pigs ever. The descendants of these pigs still roam the lands. While their succulence lures hunters, their significant combat ability tends to kill all but the most experienced. Ogre pigs grow up to 12 feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are often found in the company of wild boars who seek them out for protection. While they are intelligent, they are at the lowest end of the scale-they make ogres seem brilliant. Ogre pigs can grunt a few words in common, just enough to make it clear that they actually are intelligent.
An ogre pig charges its opponent, trying to rip the target open with its tusks. They love the taste of humanoid meat and will try to devour a fallen opponent.
Ferocity (Ex): An ogre pig is such a tenacious combatant that it continues to fight without penalty even while disabled or dying.
Self Cooking (Su): When an ogre pig is slain it will be instantly engulfed in fire, causing 3D6 points of damage to anything within 5 feet. (Reflex save DC 13-this save is Constitution based). The pig will be magically cooked in 1D4 rounds at which time the fire will go out.
Succulent (Ex): Ogre pigs are extremely succulent-simply the best pork ever. There is, however, the little matter of their intelligence.