The Quality of Mercy

I have an alternate identity. She’s not a secret, exactly, but not many people get to know her. Most Tuesday evenings for the last few months, however, I have picked up my dice to turn into a roving ninja monk who has skillz with a quarterstaff and very little patience with nonsense.

My traveling companions, a half-elf druid and a barbarian warrior, have once or twice talked me into some nonsense they call “mercy.” After battling fiercely for our lives, when we have finally beaten a foe into mewling submission, they hear the pleas of our enemies and ask, ever so reasonably, “Do we really need to kill them?”

Now, I’d like to think that in real life I’d be reasonable and merciful, but the truth is that in my experience, games, no matter how complex, tend to break down into a fairly reliable dichotomy: good guys are good and bad guys are bad. Sometimes the guys you think to be good turn out to be sneaky bad guys, but it’s pretty rare that you find a sneaky good guy pretending to be bad out in the field, so I ask you: is it so unreasonable to slaughter those who have tried to kill you in a game and loot their corpses?

I don’t think so. In fact, having seen our “mercy” in action, I wouldn’t be surprised if our foes preferred not to receive it. One recipient we left trussed and dangling from the edge of a cliff. The other, potentially valuable for her academic skills, we smothered in iron and dragged, half-conscious, through a wide variety of battles where she was essentially defenseless. When she inevitably escaped from us, she fell to a gory death, being unable to spring nimbly over a vicious trap between herself and freedom.

Now, in game, mind you, I find “mercy” to have some pragmatic use. Dead men tell no tales, after all, so there is some potential utility in leaving alive one or two of the villains responsible for the sacking of a town I care about. In real life, however, I’m finding that my tolerance of mercy is nearly as ruthless.

Lyra found a mouse this morning, under my favorite chair. It caught my attention with its terrified squeaks and I hollered for John. I expected him to ride to my rescue and destroy the foul little disease monger, but instead, he cooed and aww’d and protested fiercely when I demanded, in no uncertain terms, that he expose the tiny rodent on the rocks, so to speak. He, the fearless layer of traps and disposer or corpses when we lived in the city…he, the battler against the hordes of mouse feces we’ve found in our walls…he was worried the little creep would die if left outside to fend for itself.

Now, to be fair, the mouse was a baby and barely had its eyes open. It moved with the fumbling awkwardness of a half-developed nervous system. We have also recently taken to letting the cats spend their days outside. His chances in the great outdoors are not particularly promising.

Any and all sway John’s argument may have had with me went out the screened door with a fury, however, when the SECOND tiny mouse made its stumbling way out from beneath my favorite chair. I don’t care how cute and innocent they may seem–if they’re old enough to be venturing away from mama mouse, they’re old enough to be spreading disease and getting into my pantry, which means they are old enough to take their chances outside, even if there is a snake living under the garden shed.

In other news: John is starting a mouse farm and I would recommend investing in humane trap stocks.

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