Friday, May 27, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Alignment Redux

Over the past couple of days I have been musing about alignment. These musings have garnered some excellent commentary and food for thought. From it, I have come up with a hypothesis as to why alignment (especially in a multi-axial model) seems to be so clunky:

  • As can be seen by my initial attempt at pulling a working alignment system out of Holmes & Cook, there is more than a little ambiguity between alignments and between axis. For example, not only is Neutrality difficult to differentiate from Chaotic, but Lawful is difficult to differentiate from Good.
  • This ambiguity makes it difficult to understand the necessity for, the process of and the means by which mechanics such as the Protection from Evil spell work (especially given an alignment system that does not define evil).

Thus, in order to come up with a better alignment system with more than one axis, these axis need to be clearly defined. Once that definition is in place, there needs to be a means by which to understand why such things as a Protection from Evil spell are efficacious.

Keeping in mind that I am still in the midst of my thought experiment with Holmes & Cook, I am going to try and cast my net a little further out, taking into consideration some of the conclusions I have made about the implied culture and civilization of Holmes. I say this because I believe that one of the problems of the two axis alignment system (especially as presented in Holmes and Cook) is that both axis delve into ethics and morality. This should properly be limited to one axis — Good and Evil.

In order to differentiate the Law/Chaos axis from the Good/Evil axis, I think it necessary for it to represent an allegiance or loyalty to a certain concept, culture, and/or set of behavior. An excellent example (postulated by J.D. Higgins) is honor. Rather than an ethical system, honor is an adherence to a set of behaviors. Thus, it is possible to be amoral but honorable (the Japanese Yakuza can be understood this way, for example).

Implied in this hypothetical amalgam of Holmes & Cook is an ancient human culture that was steeped in powerful arcane magic. This civilization came crashing down, most likely from the collapse of a slave economy and a revolt by those very slaves. Some of these were very likely dragons and giants.

There is also a classical civilization that existed prior to the modern civilization. I postulated a number of possibilities for what this classical civilization might have looked like. For the purposes of this exercise, I will be opting for a pagan civilization which was either led by dragons and giants or that sees them as liberators.

Given that arcane magic is dangerous, that divine magic is relatively new when compared to arcane magic and that there is an implied move from paganism to a psuedo-Christianity if not Christianity itself, we can set up the modern civilization in opposition to the classical civilization.

Thus, Law is a loyalty to the modern, Christian-leaning civilization that marshals in the use of divine magic and Chaos in an adherence to the classical, pagan civilization that seeks to restore the arcane might of the ancients. Tied in with this is the idea that the classical civilization sees non-human monsters as liberators/leaders. Modern civilization, in contrast, sees humanity as proper leaders. Since the former wants to re-discover the power of the ancients and the latter holds the ancients up in opposition to the monster-led classical civilization, both have a reason to go delving into ancient ruins to find their magics.

In terms of mechanics, both Cook and Holmes equate Evil with enchanted monsters in some of their spell descriptions. Since these creatures are inherently magical and since Clerics (practitioners of divine magic) have the most resistance to this inherent magic, it follows that Protection from Evil and Dispel Evil ought to be renamed Protection from Chaos and Dispel Chaos — due to the strong association that Chaos has with this ancient magic. Neither spell is reversible — they purely represent the resistance afforded to those who align themselves with the Church over the influence and consequences of the ancient arcane magics.

Does this, then, mean all magic-users must be Chaotic? Though thematically it may very well make sense, it is certainly possible to have magic-users who see the advancement of the modern civilization over the classical as absolutely essential. They could understand, for example, that arcane magic by itself is inevitably corruptive. Bolstered and aligned with divine magic, however, arcane magic can be properly used without being corruptive.

Detect Evil, on the other hand, deals primarily with ethical and moral behavior. Therefore it can remain as written — able to detect thought and intention.

To summarize, my hypothetical alignment axis would look something like this:
  • Lawful Good: Supports the modern civilization through a strong moral and ethical behavior. A typical Christian would be a good example.
  • Lawful Evil: Supports the modern civilization by any means necessary. An Inquisitor would be a good example.
  • Neutral: Animal
  • Chaotic Evil: Seeks to restore the classical civilization to glory by any means necessary. Most dragons and their followers are good examples.
  • Chaotic Good: Seeks to restore the classical civilization by using arcane magic for the benefit of all/the group. Elves are a good example.

This set-up answers some conundrums and has some interesting implications:
  • Holmes has the displacer beast with a neutral (evil) alignment. This, then, could mean that despite having animal intelligence, displacer beasts display enough guile to appear to have amoral and unethical behavior.
  • Several dragons are listed with both a chaotic alignment and a neutral alignment. This implies that either there is a larval stage in a dragon life cycle that merely has animal intelligence or that being so closely associated with ancient magics has cursed entire dragon populations to be nothing more than animals. The neutral/chaotic evil alignment for white dragons seems to indicate this latter option and that these dragons were more affected than other dragon populations.
  • Holmes lists fire giants as Lawful Evil while Cook gives them a Chaotic alignment. Storm giants in holmes are Chaotic Good while in Cook they are Lawful. This suggests that the giant population is split. For some reason, there are some fire and storm giants that have rebelled against the classical civilization and now support the modern one.


Unknown said...

I like this very much. Where would the stereotypical Thief fit into this structure though?

FrDave said...

Given that the primary function of Thieves in Holmes (based on what they are mechanically capable of) appears to be that of sneaky door opener (as opposed to the steal-from-my-own-party-thief that Holmes seems to describe outside of mechanics), I'd say the thief falls where ever you it want to...

Roger G-S said...

You then have one axis that is culture/civilizational and one that is moral (ends vs means.) Very interesting!

John said...

I really like the Law vs Chaos axis meaning the Christian world vs the Pagan world - that works really well for games using that kind element, and meshes well with the "Three Hearts and Three Lions" vision of Law vs Chaos.

Oh - and as Roger said - I like that Civilization vs Wild could use the axis in a non-Christian setting.

Matthew Slepin said...

Still finding this cosmos very interesting.