|Kaushal Avan Spellfire|
Seeing as the article was published in Forest of Spirits I think the Jade Regent thread should be the most appropriate place to post this. If there is another (better) thread, please do tag this for a relocation.
While reading up on the ninja clans of Minkai, I stumbled across a curious decision made by "The Way of the Ninja" article's author to make the Black Lotus Clan a primarily lawful neutral organization. For background, the Black Lotus is a clan of spies and assassins that favors poison and kills almost anyone for the right price.
Such a characterization of lawful neutral is, to me, problematic, and I think it would be more appropriate to label the Black Lotus as lawful evil due to their willingness to destroy intelligent, peaceful life.
The Black Lotus ideology is, in many ways, similar to the ideology of the Red Mantis Assassins, the most obvious parallels being their absolute commitment to their task and their association of monetary gain with the assassination (although for the red mantis this is something of a sacrament and not actual payment).
As near as I can tell, the only major differences between the Black Lotus and the Red Mantis Assassins are:
1.) The Red Mantis Assassins use magic, whereas the Black Lotus do not
2.) The Red Mantis Assassins kill their mark if he is resurrected, whereas the Black Lotus stop after the first death.
It would seem, therefore, that what makes the Red Mantis "evil" and the Black Lotus "neutral" is how they treat the victim after the assassination. It is "evil" to repeatedly kill the target, should he or she be resurrected, and it is "neutral" to only kill them once. But this does not fit with the description of evil as defined by others of identical roles to the Black Lotus.
Looking at the Assassin prestige class, we can see in the alignment section it is written "due to its necessary selfishness and callous indifference toward taking lives, the assassin class attracts those with evil alignments more than any others." Such a moral outlook could also be applied to the Black Lotus- they possess a "callous indifference" toward taking lives which necessarily makes them evil.
But now we come to the definition of lawful evil itself.
A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order, but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He is loath to break laws or promises.
This reluctance comes partly from his nature and partly because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped). They imagine that these compunctions put them above unprincipled villains.
Some lawful evil people and creatures commit themselves to evil with a zeal like that of a crusader committed to good. Beyond being willing to hurt others for their own ends, they take pleasure in spreading evil as an end unto itself. They may also see doing evil as part of a duty to an evil deity or master.
Lawful evil represents methodical, intentional, and organized evil.
The problem arises because the moral outlook of the Black Lotus does not fall squarely within this definition of lawful evil. The Black Lotus views each assassination as "a singular loyalty in and of itself," not the intentional propagation of evil, and they condemn all to death equally. To the Black Lotus, it is only a matter of payment.
However, this fails to reconcile the fact that killing for no other purpose than to kill is a necessarily evil action. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook defines evil as "hurting, oppressing, and killing others" and states that "evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms." This would make the Black Lotus evil, as their organization concerns itself with the cold destruction of life, devoid of compassion. As the clan description states: "No job is too despicable for the mercenaries."
From these considerations we may state that the actions of the Black Lotus are obviously evil, due to the morally wrong nature of murder, and the clan's views on such. Furthermore, the argument can be made that while the definition of lawful evil does not create a perfect fit because the Black Lotus do not serve an evil deity or master, their willingness to perform evil (cold-blooded murder) and their preoccupation with honor create a strong fit within the alignment's definition that help distinguish it from the vaguely defined lawful neutral.
Therefore, we may conclude that the Black Lotus ninja clan should be considered Lawful Evil rather than Lawful Neutral, as such an alignment is more appropriate to the moral outlook of the organization and its members.