"During the pre-lslamic period of ignorance I saw a she-monkey surrounded by a number of monkeys. They were all stoning it, because it had committed illegal sexual intercourse. I too, stoned it along with them." (Bukhari, vol. 5, bk. 58, no. 188)
A punishment - specifically a form of execution - by which the criminal is put to death by his or her community throwing stones at him. Depending on the tradition, the offender may be tied to a post, staked out on the ground, buried up to the waist or placed in a pit to make him an easier target.
As means of execution go, it is neither humane, nor efficient but it has a long pedigree for some of the following reasons:
- All members of the community participate in the killing, which is important in societies that maintain concepts of blood-feud or blood-guilt. If the dead person's family were to claim a feud, they would be forced to feud with their entire community - possibly even their own relatives. This may also be important in a setting where the undead have a tendency to seek revenge on those who killed them.
- By participating in a stoning, the whole community reaffirm their support of whatever law the offender had broken - and quite possible excercise their anger at them for breaking it. If, for example, a village stones a man to death for rape, every man in that village who throws a stone is making a de-facto statement that he knows that it is wrong to rape, supports this position and understands the penalty.
- As a corrolarly to that, no-one can say later that they disagreed with the sentence unless they were visibly absent from the stoning, thus making it hard to change sides on the matter retroactively.
- The punishment requires no professional executioner and/or professional law enforcers: very important in traditional societies who cannot afford such luxuries.
All that aside, stoning is fast going out of fashion - governments tend not to like leaving capital powers in the hands of the population in case they get funny ideas about who they should be used on and people don't like getting their hands dirty … far easier to devolve the job to someone else.
Stoning does remain popular in the Islamic world, particularly where theocratic power is unmoderated by civil government, but is as likely to be used as a form of lynching as it is to proceed from the judgement of a sharia court.
A variation on this form of execution - sometimes used in the ancient Hebraic tradition - was to throw the person being executed from a cliff. If they survived the fall, one or more large stones - traditionally stones large enough that they took two men to lift - would be dropped on them until they were pronounced dead. From the victim's point of view this would appear slightly preferrable to traditional stoning, but lacks the audience participation element.
"Stoning" may also refer to the technique of pressing to death, due to the stones that were used as press-weights. However, this is not a common or typical usage.
Game and Story Use
- The PCs can be present in a community when a stoning begins - if they are foreigners, they will probably not be expected to participate (and may not be allowed to attend), but if they are locals - or at least belong to the same culture - they may be called upon to join in. Refusal may well offend.
- Self righteous players who insist on rescuing the stoning victim (and suceed) may not be please to find that they just saved a rapist or child molestor and are now pariahs - at best.
- Depending on setting, the GM might want to do a roleplaying check on his players before they intervene, just to make sure that they are aware of the cultural aspects. If their characters are from a culture that stones people, they should have a clear reason for interfering - something better than being driven by an inner voice with the prejudices of a 21st century westerner…
- Conversely, PCs may be faced with the dilemma of an innocent victim (or at least one due for disproportionate punishment) - they might be able to spring the stonee, but word of what they have done may follow them, or even outstrip them, leaving them at constant danger until they cross some kind of cultural boundary - and possibly with a bad reputation even then.
- Not only that, but force may be required to save the stonee - how many lives can they justify taking in the rescue attempt?
- The consequences may be wider than they think - in a modern campaign, even if the PCs and their protegee escape to the free world, they may be followed by extradition requests, charges of racism, colonialism and religious hatred or just television footage of rioting and their nation's embassy being attacked. If any of the stoners were harmed, the PCs may face charges themselves. You could make a whole (rather sordid) campaign out of it.
- For GMs that don't like moral ambiguity in their campaign, the stoning can be at the order of some suitable BBEG or his agent. The stoning community can then be unwilling participants who are relatively happy to see the victim rescued and will only make a show of intefering. As long as the PCs are relatively competent about their work, the only people they'll need to kill will be the BBEG's mook enforcers, who don't count1, particularly if they happen not to be humans.
- In …certain RPG systems … the high hitpoints of powerful characters (like PCs) and the paltry combat skills of practically everyone else could make a stoning very long and dull.
- Fantasy settings might have more exotic (and possibly nonlethal) forms of community punishment. A curse can be a truly nasty thing when everyone in the community lays it.