The scenario is as old as storytelling. The evil warlord kidnaps the princess. Perhaps he wants to marry her and take the throne. or a dark ritual may require her blood, blood that will open the door to Tartarus/Hades/Cthululand itself. A desperate king calls forth heroes to save the day.
The mission is simple: locate and kill the princess.
That is right, kill the innocent hostage. Before you start ranting and raving about killing the innocent, think about the context. The king, assuming he is not a selfish king, should have his people’s best interests in mind. An evil warlord as next in line to the throne is bad. Bad like black plague bad. Bad like the “Spice Girls” reunion tour bad. To say nothing of the evil warlord opening a gate to Hell. At what point does the life of a single person outweigh the needs of a nation? If the king decides his daughter has to die to save his crown, kingdom and people, then so be it.
I can hear you asking, “Why not rescue the princess?” There are at least two situations I can think of where this is a sub-optimal solution. As a precedent, it indicates that the king values his child’s life more than the safety of the kingdom. Ordering her death certainly makes it unlikely that anyone will grab another daughter. Hard to use the kid as leverage if the king would rather see her dead than rescued. A strong deterrent to future kidnappers. I like to call this the “Keyser Soze” solution. If you do not get the reference, slap yourself and then go watch “The Usual Suspects.”
There are cultural aspects as well. I cannot imagine any situation when a Spartan king or Samurai lord would risk defeat or failure based on losing a single family member. Leverage only exists so long as there is fear of loss. The fearless cannot be blackmailed. The Spartan king would probably rather see the daughter dead for getting kidnapped in the first place!
I offer this solution, not out of bloodthirst, but out common sense. Different cultures and situations demand different ethics and solutions. Drop them into your campaign and watch your players squirm at the ethical dilemma!
Trask, the Last Tyromancer