In briefly surfing through the Paizo messageboards I stumbled upon this highly contentious doozy of a thread: Is torturing intelligent undead an evil action? The resulting thread is a microcosm of the murky debates that surround good and evil in a game that recreates a moral universe radically different from our own, but my position falls on the side of the anti-religionists everywhere: Paladins, while good in the framework of the game, are your classic evil bastard when viewed through the prism of modern morality. One commenter sums up the perverted morality of the Paladin quite nicely on the first page:
It’s also hypocrisy like that, that causes no one to feel bad at all when a Paladin bites the dust
Yep, count me in with that position.
Of course, in a world of intelligent undead and actually evil gods, the Paladin’s vengeful “goodness” suddenly makes perfect sense. We should all say a prayer of thanks to the Flying Spaghetti Monster every morning we wake up and find ourselves not in that world.
From a DMing perspective though,the thread raises one interesting question: how to handle players who lie during torture. The OP claims that
The party melee unceremoniously decapitated the magus the same way they had his vampiric predecessor. (The players lied and said they would spare him if he sold his master out)
I hate it when players do this, because you have to act your way through a situation where they get the information and don’t have to worry about a prisoner or potentially vengeful future enemy. Also, realistically it’s the only way you can trust the information you receive from torture: if a prisoner knows they’re going to die they’ll just fess up any old shit as quickly as possible to avoid another round of burnt-poker-rogerings. When players then do the coup-de-grace anyway, it’s like a cheap exit clause for them with no penalty.
So I came up with a new rule that I carry across all campaigns: players can use the old “promise them their freedom if they tell the truth but then kill them anyway” routine, but if they do it repeatedly they’ll get a kind of nasty light in their eyes that every enemy will recognize: the “I don’t really mean these platitudes I’m telling you” light. Once this light gets in their eyes, torture becomes permanently useless. I tell my players this early on, and from then on they only use this technique very sparingly, when they’re in desperate straits (i.e. really can’t risk letting the guy go) or the torturee is really so evil that slaughtering them is a favour to the universe, and lying to them beforehand just the icing on the cake.
This rule, I have found, makes players much more willing to find alternatives to torture when they deal with low level minions, and much more aware that every person they let go may be a knife in their back later, or an evil they haven’t slain. It also makes torture and taking prisoners a much more complex undertaking.
But in either case, I don’t think I’ve ever run a campaign world where undead can be tortured. Except maybe vampires. The rest of them will just laugh it off and sneer at the players as they refuse to blab. If you want to find their secrets, you have to dig a little more carefully than severing a few digits and casting a few cure light wounds. They’re liches, not mercenaries with a skin problem!