IFAQ: War Crimes and Potatoes

I’ve been traveling and haven’t had much time to write. But whenever I have time, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s two that came up in June on clearly related topics: War crimes and potatoes.

What counted as a war crime during the Last War?

Looking to the definition of war crimes in our world is a good place to start. One of the key points is that in principle, the Last War was being fought with the intent of reuniting Galifar. As a result, causing unnecessary harm to civilians or civilian infrastructure was definitely an issue – consider the Geneva Convention’s censure of “taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” NOT JUSTIFIED BY MILITARY NECESSITY is the key point there. It’s understood that there will be a certain amount of collateral damage in military operations—but are we talking about justified destruction or about wanton, extreme actions that inflict avoidable harm on the civilian population?

Likewise, the development or deployment or weapons of war that would cause unnecessary suffering or collateral damage was also censured. Again, the key is MILITARY NECESSITY: is the use of this weapon justified, or is it a weapon that will clearly cause grievous and unnecessary harm to civilians or irreparable damage to what we one day hope will be a reunited Galifar?

The crucial underlying point is that the civilians were ultimately seen as the innocent people of a united Galifar. The monarchs were fighting over the succession, but they were fighting for the right to rule all of the people of Galifar—so don’t butcher civilians. Likewise, there was a general rule that you don’t target noncombatant members of dragonmarked houses (IE Jorasco healers)—though this only applies to NONCOMBATANTS, so a Deneith mercenary or a Jorasco healer who takes up arms would be valid targets.

A highly contentious point was the treatment of corpses. Four of the nations supported laws forbidding the desecration of corpses and gravesites. As a result, under the code of war Karrnathi necromancers could only animate the corpses of Karrnathi citizens. This is a rule that many frontline necromancers violated during the war, and there are active cases based on this—with Karrnathi counselors arguing the point of “military necessity.”

When would war crimes actually have been defined? Were they already on the books when the Last War began? Were they only defined with the Treaty of Thronehold?

The basic principle of the Last War is that the five heirs of King Jarot challenged the traditional succession… But that all sought to reunite Galifar under a particular leader. None of the Five Nations were trying to secede; it was a war about who should rule the united whole. So there was reasonable open communication between the warring powers from the very beginning, and I think the general terms of warfare were established early on; again, the war was fought over the question of who was worthy to rule Galifar, not to destroy any of the Five Nations. So I think basic agreements on the treatment of civilians and prisoners would have been established by the leaders of the Five Nations early in the war. Beyond this, the war lasted for a century and wasn’t going at a breakneck pace the whole time; there were certainly previous attempts at mediation and temporary ceasefires during which the rules of war could be renegotiated, prisoners exchanged, etc. There surely were additional clauses established in the Treaty of Thronehold—such as forbidding the creation of warforged—but the basic laws likely date back to the start of the war.

Would Cloudkill be outlawed under the rules of war? If not, why not?

There are banned weapons of war. And it’s easy to draw casual comparisons to our world: cloudkill is a form of poison gas, we banned poison gas, therefore wouldn’t they ban cloudkill? But with any comparison to our world, it’s important to look at the reasons we made the decisions we made and to see if they actually apply to D&D. Poison gas was banned because it horrified the public. Mustard gas was seen as a slow and agonizing way to die—slowly suffocating while your skin and lungs blister—and notably, had horrific long-term effects on the people who survived gas attacks. It also wasn’t especially EFFECTIVE; heck, if the wind changed it could threaten your own people. Essentially, it was a very traumatizing weapon, causing unnecessary suffering when considering its actual effectiveness.

Cloudkill, on the other hand, is none of these things. It inflicts 5d8 poison damage—even the half damage inflicted with a successful saving throw is sufficient to kill a typical commoner, so it kills just as quickly as a fireball. There’s no risk of wind blowing it out of your control. It has no effect OTHER than damage—no long-term side effects, nothing that indicates that it particularly causes pain; it doesn’t even inflict the Poisoned condition, which would be an easy way to represent debilitating pain. There’s nothing that makes cloudkill any more inhumane than a fireball; one could argue that swift death by gas might be MORE humane than death by fireball, and fireballs are a standard part of war in the Five Nations.

If I was to create an equivalent to mustard gas, I’d make it slow-acting—either 1d6/round or simply to say that it kills through suffocation—while adding additional effects to reflect the agonizing pain and long-term after-effects. Let’s say that it inflicts the Poisoned condition the first time a victim fails their saving throw and makes them Incapacitated on their second saving throw, as well as reducing Constitution by 1 every time they fail a saving throw (incidentally reducing their ability to resist suffocation). This Constitution damage would be permanent unless magically cured. You could also add a risk of blindness, which was another long-term side effect of mustard gas. The essential point is that a weapon like fireball—or, in my opinion, cloudkill—is seen as a valid, effective weapon of war. Weapons that will be banned are those seen as causing unnecessary suffering or which are specifically designed to cause mass civilian casualties.

What are a few specific ways the people of Khorvaire and beyond enjoy their potatoes?

Keep in mind that I myself am not an expert on all the ways one can prepare potatoes, and that someone with a stronger culinary background might be able to present more interesting and exotic alternatives to what I’m going to suggest. With that in mind…

  • While other sources may not agree with me, I’ve always personally seen Thrane as relatively ascetic in its cuisine. I see Thranish life as being largely driven by small farming communities. As a result, I see Thranish country cuisine as being more functional than exotic. So I’d say Thranish potatoes would be floury potatoes par-broiled to cook the outside while leaving the inside nearly raw, providing an immediate carb-hit from the outside, with a longer release of carbohydrates over time as the uncooked core is slowly digested. 
  • By contrast, I’ve always seen Aundairian cuisine as being both more dramatic and subtle, playing off the more widespread presence of prestidigitation. Likewise, I see the Aundairians being more inclined to show off with their cuisine, taking pride in delicate work. So I could see a sort of Hasselback potato with different flavors infused between the slices, or fine croquettes. 
  • Breland I’d lean toward a straightforward baked potato but with lots of extras piled on, with the specific extras varying by region (and also somewhat being a chance to show off one’s wealth). 
  • Karrnath I personally lean toward potato soup and stews. 
  • Cyre would of course borrow from everyone else, but I’d also be likely to make Cyre the place that’s developed the fried potato and dishes spinning off from them. Though House Ghallanda has picked up and popularized thin fried potatoes across the Five Nations—everyone loves dragon fries!

With that said, these are just MY ideas, and a better cook might be able to come up with more interesting options! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for asking these important questions!