I don’t think it’s controversial to say that killing is abhorrent. But in my novelette series, particularly the latest story, there is a great deal of cultists to be killed. I don’t particularly want to dive into the protagonist’s slow mental breakdown at the horror of war, but flintlocks do not have a stun setting. They have voiced a distaste for killing, but a belief in its necessity (a message I worry about. Even if sometimes true, it is too often misapplied). But is that enough?
There is also another character who really does not want to kill, because she used to do a lot of killing as the warbeast of a crime lord. I’m worried both that her reluctance to kill will shine badly on those that do, and that just knowing she has killed a lot in the past will turn readers against her despite her self-reformation.
How do you handle protagonists that kill and the killing they have done, are doing, and will do?
Hey Tiberia, great to hear from you again!
First off, I wouldn’t worry about people disliking the former warbeast because she killed in the past. Most of the time, audiences form their opinion of a character based on what they do once the story starts, so even if she killed people who didn’t deserve it, most people won’t care unless she starts killing innocents in the present.
For that matter, audiences don’t tend to view killing as a bad thing in itself. Context is everything, and if a villain is an active and deadly threat, then most people will be okay with the hero using deadly force. Of course if a character goes around killing people for no reason, especially if those people are helpless and nonthreatening, the character will seem evil, but killing is not generally viewed as automatically evil. In fact, characters who go on about how they don’t kill can earn an audience’s ire much faster than their lethal counterparts. This is especially common with characters like Batman, who claims not to kill yet uses obviously deadly methods (Batman owns a lot of machine guns), or Green Arrow in the current CW series, who makes a point about not killing the rich bosses but has no issue slaughtering their hired soldiers.
At the same time, characters who seem to display glee or joy at the prospect of killing are quickly viewed negatively by the audience, unless the character is clearly supposed to be villainous. You can see this in the first Dark Tower book, where Roland gets way too excited about having to mow down a bunch of hostile townsfolk, and in Batman vs Superman, where Bruce murders a bunch of goons who are clearly no threat to him.
For your specific situation, it could definitely get overly brutal if the protagonist has to kill such a large group of people. For that matter, it could just get boring, since doing it with single-shot flintlocks is going to take a while. This could change based on the specifics of your story, but I see three possible solutions.
- The cultists could be captured instead of killed. Perhaps after the protagonist dispatches whatever evil the cult was summoning, the remaining cultists surrender.
- The cultists could escape! Instead of staying to face the victorious protagonist, they flee into the shadows, perhaps to fight another day.
- If it’s absolutely necessary for the cultists to all die, the protagonist could use some kind of explosive. Perhaps they’re all in the summoning chamber, and the hero roles in a barrel of powder with a burning fuse. If you go this route, it’s important that the cultists be an active threat, perhaps in the middle of summoning their elder god; otherwise the hero will look like a monster.
Hope that helps, and good luck with your writing!
Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.
Comments on How Do You Handle Protagonists Who Kill?
This topic is very interesting. Great points, Oren!
I found that Characters who like fighting are much easy to like if they are in for the challenge and not for the killing. They like the thrill of a good fight but are skilled enough to win without having to kill. Well, in most fights at least.
Many of those characters view killing as somewhat unsporting that detracts from the fun they have. I admit it and odd way to think and I might not work in every story.
But I think it’s easier to sympathies with a fighter who does care what he does to his opponents – especially when said fighter has superpowers. It shows that some kind of responsibility.
I think I see a fourth way of delaying with the cultist – if they must be kill of they could insist to go forth with a ritual or spell despite the fact that they don’t have enough people to cast that ritual or spell – that could than backfire and eliminate many of them.
But maybe the cultist step down when they discover their not enough of them left for the ritual – the heroes could call them out on that.
Just my thoughts.
A slight variation on option 4, with the idea of minimizing the number of people both protagonists have to kill AND assuming that the cultists actually want to summon a monster (not mentioned above): The heroes’ attention is drawn to the cult because of some “minor” monsters that they have summoned and let loose. They eventually figure out who and where the cultists are, but not in time for them to stop the big monster summoning. The summoned monster eats the cultists (because it’s not nice and they are not significant to it). The heroes bust in to fight a now fully fed creature. The cultists get their karmic reward and the final showdown has the threat factor kicked up a notch.
Again, I am only guessing about the summoning of a monster. Maybe I read too much Lovecraft as a kid. The cultists could be doing some other not nice acts, but I’m guessing that those actions would have to be pretty bad for the heroes to think they have to die.
I think this is a really interesting topic.
Deadpool became an instant hit with his killing spree. First, because he’s off hunting down bad guys in a search for the one that destroyed his life. Second, because he does it in a VERY humorous away. And third, because he invites us in his revenge as soon as he breaks the fourth wall.
That makes me think that him preventing Fire Fist from killing his captor because he’s a kid sounds weak. Sure, he’s a kid. But he’s faced prejudice, imprisonment, torture… I think he’s way past the point of “killing will change everything in your life” argument.
And, as Oren said, characters that keep going on and on about how they won’t kill become just annoying to me, specially in gritty/ dark/ survivalist settings. It’s even worse if they have a poor excuse for doing so. Off the top of my head, I think about Morgan Jones, from TWD. With his obsession about redemption, he beats Father Gabriel in naivety, who had a good reason for not wanting too kill, being a priest.
I have a main character who is trained for killing (both versions of her), but it’s clear she doesn’t just kill for fun and she doesn’t go after helpless or innocent people. She takes great pains to make sure those are protected instead. I make it clear her targets are far from innocent (on-page kills so far were professional killers, underworld bosses, or henches who did pose a threat to her). I also tell the story of her first kill in a flashback, where it’s clear that she did it to protect herself and two other people (she was 13 then) and that she ended up going into shock afterwards. She’s not hesitant to kill and more often than not rather has to hold back and not do it than to push herself to do it, but she’s not a loose cannon and she doesn’t kill without good reason.
Concerning the ex-warbeast character, is the reason, that they don’t want to kill, because they killed a lot of innocent people or that they killed people so that someone else could profit from their deaths (i.e. eliminating the crime boss’ competitors)?
I’m not sure if either case would matter, I don’t think the ex-warbeast would really feel too bad about killing a bunch of people who are doing such bad things that they have decided that they should die. I’m guessing that they didn’t come to the decision easily or lightly. I think they might worry that the decision was not properly motivated or they don’t feel worse for killing them or they are worried that they might come to enjoy the killings they are now committing. I don’t see them as really being grief-stricken over the cultists deaths. Unless there are dozens or hundreds of cultists and the cultists have families that have *absolutely* no clue of their activities. Then maybe I could see them feeling bad. Not about the cultists’ deaths, but the collateral damage.
Either way, I’m guessing that bad (or at least, not very nice) people working for a “good cause” will take a little bit of solace in the knowledge that they are making the village/province/country/world a better place.
Okay, I reread the original questions because I think I may have gotten confused.
Tiberia, if there is a full scale shooting war AND the cultists are, at minimum, a faction of the opposing forces; then showing that your protagonist has stated that they have a dislike for killing and that their mental health is deteriorating, because of having to kill these cultists and the other facets of war, should be enough.
Are you worried that the reluctance that the ex-warbeast character shows is going to somehow make other characters in the story less likeable? I think that would depend on the context.
Is the ex-warbeast character involved in the war? If so, then I doubt that their reluctance to kill will make anyone else look bad, especially with their background being known.
If the ex-warbeast isn’t involved in the war AND is involved with characters that do kill, it may make those other characters look less nice. It would mainly depend on how those other characters are written and the situation. A scene where the characters are on a job, something goes sideways, and the ex-warbeast has to be saved because they don’t want to kill anyone, would make the other characters more sympathetic to me. A scene with the characters randomly acosting and deciding to kill someone in a dark alley doesn’t make anyone look good.
There’s some pretty jaded attitudes around here toward casual violence, from reading the posts.
You could say that the cultists are all enthralled by the cult leader and with his death, the spell is broken and they all want to leave and go back to their normal lives. That would let the body-count lower considerable.
Another option is to show that lethal force is frequently unwarranted.
After blowing the cultists to bits, the constable asks the protagonist; “What happened?”
The protagonists says; “It’s all okay, I killed them all! Even the girl cultist who thought she could reason with me. They’re all good and dead now.”
Then the constable asks; “That was after you helped my undercover operative escape?”
“Whatta ya mean?”
“Young women, dressed in cultist robes…we had an undercover operative working inside the cult.”
Killing people is a dreadful waste of resources. Even the compulsive necrophiliac cattle mutilating buggery enthusiast…can work in the prison laundry cleaning blankets for the children’s hospital:- if he’s still drawing breath.
The idea that there are people who can’t be controlled and therefore must be killed:- is usually a product being sold, by people who don’t like paying taxes…which would in-turn, keep the jail staffed.
Sounds more like the argument of someone who has shares in a private prison system which only racks up a lot of earnings if enough people get put into jail.
Characters in novels, comics, TV series, or movies tend to live extreme lives, compared to your regular citizen. In those lives, ‘to kill or not to kill’ is often a question of survival.
In addition, cultists are by definition very fanatic. If you’re not fanatic about a cult, you don’t become a cultist. Getting those to give up their old beliefs and become regular citizens again is very difficult and may, depending on the cult, be impossible. It’s more possible for people forced into a cult, but for people who wholeheartedly have decided to become cultists, it’s impossible or close to that. In which case, if the cult teaches killing is good or human sacrifices are necessary, they’re too dangerous to be kept alive.
And what, for instance, if a little child is chosen as the next sacrifice and to reach it in time, you need to cut through the mass of cultist between the protagonist and the child? Should the protagonist still try to talk each cultist around? While they attack the protagonist and time for the child is running out. Not killing easily and not killing at all are two different things entire and more so in the world of storytelling than in the real world.
We all “own shares” in public prisons.
The investment is called “taxation”.
The dividend is called “a safer public.”
But basically we are each as responsible for our criminal justice system as share holders are of their company.
“In those lives, ‘to kill or not to kill’ is often a question of survival.”
I’m not sure if Linda Seger said this was the first rule of storytelling telling but I’ll say it even if she didn’t…
The first rule of storytelling:- sell the stakes.
What about specific non-lethal options like knocking the opposing force out? I mean, I know most heroes don’t have a wave-effect sleep spell, but maybe something like that might work?
It depends a lot on the setting, I would think. If technology (or magic) for knocking out large groups of people non-lethally exists and your protagonist doesn’t want to kill, if at all possible, that would be the route to go, even if it’s more difficult and, perhaps, more dangerous for the protagonist.
Most dark and grim settings, however (and those are the most likely settings for a character who kills regularly), are devoid of such technology (or magic). From the question above, I would guess that the world the story is set in doesn’t have any kind of technology (or magic) for knocking out large groups of people without killing them (thus the protagonist is faced with the question whether in this case it’s morally acceptable to use lethal force). As written in the question: “flintlocks do not have a stun setting.”
Mythcreants should do an article on knocking people out. It happens so often in stories, with such a broad range of causes and effects, that it’d be nice to have a template or at least some loose guidelines on what can or can’t actually make someone go unconscious. Not to mention what the consequences of knocking someone out the old-fashioned ways (chloroform, bonk on the head, blood loss, etc) are and which knock-out methods should be put to rest (har har). I imagine lots of storytellers would find a post like that useful.
That would definitely be a useful article. Not sure if we have the expertise to write it, but I’ll put it in the ol idea drawer.
Well, if you talk to an Anesthesiologist the first thing they’ll tell you is that there’s no General Anesthetic that doesn’t involve some risk of death.
That’s why there are Anesthesiologists, i.e., doctors who are there to do the anesthetic and nothing else.
For resources, I recommend checking out the books of Samantha Keel. She writes about injuries in fiction a lot: https://www.amazon.com/Samantha-Keel/e/B072K3LT68/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
You can also check out her (sadly defunct) tumblr: Script Medic.
Thanks for the link … just started reading the 10 BS injuries not to use one. It was cheapest and I think it’ll be useful for me and my agent.
oh, hey! It’s me!
So still need to finish the story that is the topic of this question. A cyberpunk alternate canon story that averaged 3.3K words for ten days straight pulled away all my writing attention. Now school keeps me occupied. Cest la vie.
After getting this answered I didn’t drastically change anything, but it gave me a clear mindset of how to walk the course and assuaged various concerns that were distracting me. So thanks again :)
I’m very conscious of the content I write and want to make sure I don’t create irresponsible media. some call this oversensitive, but to me its just an acceptance of the power words and stories have.
My own thoughts on some of the comments-
I would be careful so readily discarding the humanity of people, even in fiction. I think there is a far greater leeway (ever notice that Indy used an Egyptian market crowd as backboard?)
For example, the method of recruitment and indoctrination for cults is an insidious process where the question of consent and willingness on the individual’s part becomes blurred. That’s one of the things that makes them scary.
NOW, I did pick cultists who sacrifice people to accelerate the growth of their sacred trees (Blood timber) specifically to have an acceptable target, so I’m not in whole disagreement with Cay Reet. I drank the kill-cultists kool-aid too ;)
But I think its always important to ask ourselves if its right.
also, not relevant here, but cult can also mean a small religious group. For example- Mystery Cults of the Roman empire. But also the imperial cult of Rome. which was not small. Not sure where the connection is there (fun fact- the lead character used to be in a Dragon’s imperial cult)
As for the warbeast (Her name is Kret by the way), her main motive is that she killed a nobleman in front of his children and that snapped her to her senses. She ran away shortly after that to get away from killing any more people, innocent or vicious.
An earlier scene where one of the characters saves Kret would help round out things actually. Danke!
And… because, why not, a short excerpt of a fight.
Cult has begun a culling, sacrificing ‘surplus’ population to their sacred tree. The cultists are referred to as roots. They are aided by organized crime thugs
our protagonists are-
Sek- Kobold, Trans, packing pistols and shadow magic. Central lead.
Baze- Kobold, master archer and hunter
Kret- Kobold, former murderbeast, can spit and summon acid at will. practicing illusions as a non-lethal option
Four days into the culling
The sacrifices marched out of town, tied neck to neck with thorn laden ropes. Bystanders watched through cracked windows, each with fury in their heart, but too afraid to ask. Men and women glanced to either side, waiting for someone to start, to rise up, and stop the horror. But all the vocal people were bleeding in thorns, taken before the people were ready.
Armed roots and thugs escorted the condemned to the mountain ridge. As they reached the town gates a woman ran out. She begged mercy for her elderly father but was rebuffed. He was another mouth to feed, and the community faced famine. They marched on, leaving the weeping woman behind.
The moaning, weeping column came to a halt as they began to ascend the ridge. The path ahead looked broken and washed out.
“We’ll have to go around.” The lead root shouted to the column.
“Wait! No! This is how we got ambushed on our way here.” A survivor of the criminal reinforcements shouted to anyone who would listen.
“They had felled the trees last time. They couldn’t have washed out the whole path you daft bastard. Calm yourself.”
The ambush survivor punched his finger at the road ahead. “I’m telling you, they found a way. I can smell it.” he squealed and fell down the steep hillside with a crimson shaft buried in his side.
Incense driven roots scrambled up the ridge, giving into ecstasy. Thugs fired arrows and bolts at their unseen attacker. Arrows flew back upon them. Too many arrows for a single archer. Those on the other side of the bound sacrifices ran for cover or fell bloodied. The sacrifices bent low to avoid the deadly crossfire.
Unnoticed by most, the illusion on the path ahead faded away, as Kret focused on maintaining the numerous fake arrows, that flew alongside the real.
Sek and Kret crept up the ridge and began cutting and dissolving away the thorn ropes. They gestured for the freed people to wait, but one did not, and sprinted down the path as soon as his bonds were cut. A bolt struck him between his shoulders. The rest of the sacrifices scattered into the woods.
Thunder! Hauberk mail links burst and became shrapnel upon their wearer.
“Laufen!” Sek shouted, falling back on her native draconic to get the captives running. Her shadow blade met the sword of an enforcer, knocking her lighter frame back.
Kret called acid into the last of the knots binding people, just in time to see the reality of Sek’s blade break, and disperse. The enforcer went in for the final blow and screamed clutching at his eyes. The sword fell beside Sek, who picked it up and swung it into the man’s leg. Kret lowered her shaking hand and ran into the bush. Sek followed close behind. Baze broke off her merry keep-away soon after.
This is such an amazing way to start a fight scene! I love the way the tension builds, and how you weave your MCs into the action. This is definitely a book I want read! Is it a series? Are you going to publish it? I’m intrigued by your description. Why are they growing the trees? Does ‘blood timber’ (wow, talk about a chilling name!) have magic powers? Does the cult function under some kind of a higher (maybe government) power which is allowing it to take ‘surplus’ people away? Are the MCs familiar with this village – do they have emotional ties to it in some way, maybe (ties which could justify anger killings or revenge killings)? And what does Kret’s spit do? That’s an interesting power to have.
And super-kudos for putting this excerpt out here in the open! It takes a lot of courage to share your work – that’s something I struggle with – and you make it look so easy! Bravo.
I was wondering if you’d be willing to see a few of my suggestions? They’re tiny things, nitpicks really – mostly punctuation. If you don’t I totally get it. And don’t feel obligated to answer all of my questions if you don’t want to – I don’t want to seem like I’m prying (but your world sounds so cool!). But I do have a few suggestions if you’d like to see them.
PS – we should totally start a “school gets in the way of everything, argh!” club.
I am forever starved for feedback, and answering questions about my work is air beneath my wings.
It is part of a novelette series. This is the third story. I’m unsure about publishing. The 2nd story would need to be radically rewritten with a near complete change in content if publishing is to be even considered
-the cultist’s are actually a heretical branch of another cult. Blood timber is sacred to them. The orignal cult was a cult in the “small localized reigion” sense. They would bleed themselves to grow small groves of blood timber, but didn’t kill people. Blood given freely. The heretics, the roots, do sacrifice people, and grow large amounts of blood timber. their central holy tree is a redwood.
– They are also growing it to sell to a criminal gang. Blood timber has many uses; Healing, alchemy, rituals, narcotic
-the roots took over the small isolated town and ARE the government.
-Kret was a member of the cult. Being rather lost in the world she was overjoyed to find acceptance and family. The night she was made a full member, the cult threw her into the thorns to die and feed the blood timber. The other two rescue her and that’s how they become party.
-Her spit is also acid. Kret does Acid ad Acid accessories. This is notable because normally magic takes time and preparation to do, but she can just do it on a whim.it’s like a machine gun to a musket.
Lay your suggestions on me
Awesome! Here it goes then!
– Is “four days into the culling” a chapter heading or other heading of some kind? Otherwise it should be on the same line as “The sacrifices marched …” (this might just be a formatting thing that didn’t transfer properly into comment format)
– It’s not clear whether the “men and women” who are glancing from side to side are bystanders or sacrifices. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, but maybe that’s something to clarify?
– “But all the vocal people were bleeding in thorns, taken before the people were ready.” Great visual, but maybe find a synonym for “people”? Maybe “outspoken ones”?
– It would be nice to have a visual (or whatever a sound descriptor is called) of the moaning and weeping before the third paragraph, since up until that point I’d just imagined the roots marching in silence. Maybe you could have some creepy description of the way the wailing stays the hand of anyone who would otherwise help, or the way the moaning seeps through the town, sending chills down every spine, or how nobody hears the marchers coming until they’re right beside them.
– “‘We’ll have to go around,’ the lead root shouted.” I’m pretty sure that when the verb directly after the dialogue relates to someone speaking, the dialogue has to end in a comma. “‘… This is how we got ambushed on our way here'” would also end that way. I could very much be wrong, though – grammar people, correct me please!
– “‘They couldn’t have washed out the whole path, you daft bastard.'” You need a comma between “path” and “you” since the speaker is now addressing someone.
– Is the ambush survivor a cultist or a thug? I can’t tell. (This is probably just context.)
– I feel like you could make the ambush survivor getting shot a lot more sudden and tense. Like maybe he doesn’t get a chance to finish speaking, maybe he gets cut of. As is, it feels like the arrow was polite enough to let him finish speaking before killing him. Maybe you can have him get cut off after “smell”?
– “Incense-driven” needs a hyphen
– What purpose do fake arrows serve? Can they do damage or do they just look menacing? Also, who’s attacking if not the MCs? There are real arrows in there too, right?
– “Thunder! Hauberk mail links burst and became shrapnel upon their wearer.” I’m very confused about this. Did someone summon thunder or did it just happen naturally? If it just happened naturally, is there a storm nearby? How did it cause the mail links to burst? Who’s wearing mail links? The prisoners are bound with thorny rope; is it the cultists? The thugs? And what’s Hauberk? Is it a brand? Again, these might all just be lack of context things.
– “Her shadow blade met the sword of an enforcer, knocking her lighter frame back.” This makes it sound like she attacked the enforcer, not the other way around. Switch it up, maybe: “The sword of an enforcer met her shadow blade, knocking her lighter frame back.” That way it reads like she’s on the defensive.
– “The enforcer went in for the final blow, and screamed, clutching at his eyes.” If you keep this, it needs the two commas I added above. But I’d suggest changing it up a bit, because it’s a little jarring. Right now it reads like the enforcer dealt the blow, /then/ screamed, or maybe he went in to deal it but the act of going in caused him to scream for some reason. Either way, it’s confusing. Maybe “then” would be better than “and” or maybe you could change it up a bit. What if Kret raises her hand before the enforcer screams? Then it would make logical sense, chronologically.
– Where was Baze this whole time? Was she the one who was attacking?
– A few overall things: Maybe make the lead root silent? In my experience, things are creepier when they’re quieter. It subtracts from the mystique when a dark and powerful force starts howdy-doo-ing. Maybe an inferior root could do all the talking for the lead root – it would be especially creepy if nobody knows how the lead root communicates with the inferiors, and the inferiors just know what orders they’re being given. And regarding protagonists who kill: Kret would have a valid reason, since she was betrayed. Maybe it can be some kind of trolley problem: maybe they’re fighting or something and Kret gets the leader in a position where they need to be saved, and then decides not to save them (doesn’t kill them, doesn’t save them). That could also provide some ethical fodder for Kret to struggle with later on and you could use it to develop her character further. The trolley problem in general would be a great obstacle for Kret in particular to face (since she’s committed to non-lethal solutions) – do you save the many but sacrifice the few, no matter what? What do you do when you can’t save everyone? Moral dilemmas are always great.
Whoops, so this is a bit more than a few. I kinda got carried away, sorry! It’s all super small things, though, really nitpick-y. Was this helpful? I really hope I wasn’t being /too/ nitpick-y. And I really am curious about the questions I asked!
Such a fun fight scene! I really do hope you decide to publish. I want to know what happens!
Thank you for letting me edit this! Editing is so weirdly cathartic and fun for me. If you – or anyone on the site – needs a quick section edit like this I’d be happy to do it. I love reading peoples’ works. In fact I’ve kinda been wondering whether Mythcreants offers (or would be willing to offer) any internships . . .
I’d say that what most pisses people off about no-kill heroes is when they completely ignore the consequences of adhering to their rules, especially when the Cardboard Prisons trope is in effect. The classic example is why Batman not killing the Joker.
Maybe he knows that dead super-villains return in fewer issues than ones that go to jail.
With Batman, what I find goes worse with his ‘no killing’ principle than letting the Joker live (because, let’s be honest, that’s more about the comics than about Batman himself – the Joker draws a huge audience and thus he gets to live), is fighting people and then just leaving them behind with severe injury. How many henches have already died after a fight with Batman, just because they weren’t found and treated in time? Worse than a clean, quick kill.
this is a good point. It’s a bad look for a no-kill hero to only be so on technicality. it makes them seem irresponsible at best, slimy at worst. If they honestly believe they are not responsible for such deaths then they are operating in bad faith because they are denying their own responsibility and choices.
Maybe that’s why Batman is a fugitive of the law (as opposed too Superman, even though he is always destroying buildings in his fights), and depends on Gordon to alleviate things with the Justice for him. I’m not sure, but I think a remember a story where Gordon retires and a new zero-tolerance chief takes over, vowing to put Batman being bars.
“On Killling” by Dave Grossman seems like an appropriate read for anyone interested in this subject matter. The author is a former Army Ranger and psychology professor. Be forewarned, it’s a hard-to-swallow read. Even though I think I understood the message, I can’t say I finished it, and I truly don’t think I want to.
I have been thinking about this lately in a general context. To me the biggest problem is about how to handle violence in stories without glorifying it. Brutal realism vs less violent escapism is an interesting dilemma with respect to this question. The fact that there really is no such thing as a true anti-war movie because soldiers will always think it is awesome is a major example of this problem.
A large part of this problem is really about guns, as people are far less likely to kill with fists in reality because it is actually quite difficult. The problem is that guns proliferate in fiction for the same reason as in reality, they are simply too effective not to be used. They are also an effective equalizer, as while they do require skill to some degree, skill does not dominate in the same fashion it does with bows or swords.
A related idea is that of giving alternatives to guns that actually hold up to scrutiny. The Legend of Korra almost pulled this off with the logic that powerful benders oppressed the development of guns, but it still felt rather odd for an army to be walking around without regular weapons of any kind(not to mention that it gives the Equalists another point in their favor). Powered armor is another future possibility, but has serious problems with energy storage and the consequence of virtually limitless energy that this implies.
A related issue: TSTW (too stupid to win). This is where the hero talks at the villain rather than take action, especially if action does not happen _right now_ the villain will win. In an episode of the “Night Rider” remake, the final scene has the villain is on top of a camper, the hero below. The villain has a shoulder mounted guided missile that he’s about to shoot at a nuclear power plant, which will cause a million deaths. What does the hero do? He waves his handgun at the villain, tells him to stop, and then the two have a 1-minute conversation about useless crap. The villain fires the missile and K.I.T.T. (the intelligent car and hero’s partner) has to hack the missile’s guidance system and save Los Angeles. Just shoot the damn villain! (In the leg if you cannot kill.) The writers could still do K.I.T.T. hacks the missile thing, but at least the hero wouldn’t come across as a useless wuss. Show canceled before the end of the 1st season.
The evil hero: Back in the James Bond hey-day there were several spinoffs (Flint, Matt Helm, etc) and a James Bond parody. In the parody the faux Bond fully used his “license to kill” by personally shooting to death 2-dozen people, half of whom were not menacing him at the moment. 1 was running away and faux Bond shot him in the back. Okay, I get it. The movie was some kind of social statement about flawed heroes or something. But gawd was it annoying.
My story has a slightly different issue. The hero will enjoy great personal gain the moment the villain dies. The law is after the villain too, but prefers arrest and trial. So I wrote in not 1, but 2 witnesses (1 friendly, 1 neutral) to the final battle. Clearly if the hero had not struck the deadly blow against the villain, the villain would have killed him and both witnesses, escaped the law, and gone on to murder more innocent victims in the coming months.
For the superhero genre, I’ve come to understand that killing villains is harder to justify. Nevertheless, I believe that asking whether superheroes should kill villains is worth exploring. Admittedly, that question would make the story darker, especially if the villains keep breaking out of jail all the time.
The cycle of getting caught, breaking out, causing havoc, and getting caught again is integral to quite some comics, which is why it has become such a mainstay in the superhero genre. Even though it originally had more to do with not having to invent new villains every week and with keeping interesting ones around, it has also become part of the superhero identity that they don’t kill.
That doesn’t go for all superheroes of course. Darker ones like Punisher or Spawn kill. Anti-heroes like Deadpool or Wolverine do as well, if perhaps not so often. It’s the ones most people start out with, the regular rooster of DC or Marvel, who are less likely to kill.
Especially DC’s flagship heroes, Superman and Batman, who for many are the epitome of superheroes, don’t kill. There are some comic runs where they break with that tradition, especially in very grimdark stories, but usually they keep tightly to their ‘no kill’ policies.