PART 3 OF 12
The section on hiring retainers is pretty normal and quite solidly written. Interestingly, it says "Subdued monsters will obey for a time without need to check their reactions, and such monsters are salable." Nothing like casting Charm on a subhuman individual and then selling the creature into slavery! Or for spare parts! We're the good guys, right?
Well, that depends on your alignment, and Holmes Basic presents an infamously unique take on that very topic. HERE is the alignment chart from the book - the link was taken from HERE. That blog post and the discussion below it have a lot of interesting information on the subject. I'm not going to go quite so in-depth here, but this is the gist of it: Instead of the three alignments of OD&D (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic) or the nine alignments of AD&D (just...take your pick), Holmes Basic has FIVE alignments. There's Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, Neutral, Lawful Evil, and Chaotic Evil. It's actually very similar to the alignment system of D&D 4E, and I've read secondhand that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1E has a similar system as well. Essentially, it's just the AD&D system without any of the Neutral alignments besides True Neutral.
Oh boy. Now it's time to talk about my feelings regarding D&D-style alignment on the Internet. Surely no one will disagree with me to the point of ridicule and/or death threats.
Frankly, I just don't like codified systems of morality in fantasy adventure RPGs. Plain and simple. I have two main complaints about alignment. One, I think that such games are more interesting (and less headache-inducing) when the characters' behavior is rewarded/punished/acknowledged/shown to have consequences in an organic way. For example, a nice person could make friends more easily but also be taken advantage of more easily, while an unhinged murderer could be treated like a dangerous animal by the public at large but be sought out as a hitman or mercenary by certain unsavory groups. A person with strong religious beliefs could be treated as a guest among like-minded people and face prejudice among those with strong faith in a competing belief - or face well-deserved wrath if they violently try to impose their beliefs on "heathen foreigners" in a far-off village and rile up an angry mob of said "foreigners." Imposing XP penalties or forced class changes when a character acts "out of alignment" too often doesn't appeal to me at all. I understand the idea of Clerics and Paladins having to follow specific codes of conduct and stuff, but even then I'd rather base such penalties on specific oaths the characters have sworn based on their personal or institutional doctrines, rather than a catch-all alignment which applies equally to multiple religions and to secular life. And even then, I'd rather just not impose those kinds of penalties at all, but that's just me.
Second, I'm not a fan of including objective, provable, magically-backed, universal ethics in the games I play. I like using moral ambiguity in fiction. I find it more interesting and more applicable to my real-life experiences. Now don't get me wrong: I understand that this is fantasy, and it does not have to mesh with real life at all. That may be the appeal of fantasy, to some extent. But I like it when fantasy is a little grounded, so that the differences between the fiction and reality stand out more, and so that the fiction can help me consider aspects of mundane reality in new, fantastical ways. I think that objective, verifiable morality in fantasy can be very interesting in theory, but in practice I haven't seen it accomplish much in RPGs at the actual table besides restricting player freedom in annoying and sometimes arbitrary ways.
If an intelligent magic sword is only supposed to allow itself to be wielded by a Lawful individual, I think it would be more interesting for the sword to arbitrate its wielder's behavior based on what it believes is Lawful conduct, rather than what objectively counts as Lawful. My favorite alignment system in a D&D-style game so far actually comes from Lamentations of the Flame Princess - it has the same three categories as OD&D, but the rulebook notes that these alignments have nothing to do with morality and are based solely on what kind of supernatural beings, powers, or forces would ally with you or oppose you. It's not an ethical system, but more like the magical equivalent of the continuum between acidic and alkaline chemicals.
All that said, I kind of like how Holmes Basic breaks alignment down into these five categories instead of the nine I'm used to. I think the AD&D system is too ambiguous about what each category entails, even though it presents the categories as if they were fairly separate and clearly codified. The Holmes system at least cuts out the four AD&D alignments that I find the most troublesome. A Neutral Good person just seems to me like someone who goes back and forth between acting Lawful Good and acting Chaotic Good. In other words, they only believe in Lawfulness when it suits them and ignore it otherwise...which just sounds like Chaotic Good to me. Likewise with Neutral Evil.
Lawful Neutral seems absurd to me - why would someone be utterly loyal to the law in every shape and form unless they either believe the law facilitates moral correctness (in which case they would be Lawful Good, although they may be foolishly following bad laws because they incorrectly believe them to be good laws), believe that the law facilitates their desire to selfishly get an advantage over others (in which case they would be Lawful Evil), or merely believe that they are unwilling to face the consequences of breaking the law (which would probably make them True Neutral).
And Chaotic Neutral just seems to be the philosophy that one should do whatever one wants without concern for what is right or proper...which sounds evil to me. Chaotic Evil. And don't get me started on the theory that the True Neutral alignment is supposed to reflect a desire for an even distribution of Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil. That's not how those concepts work!
To be fair, I could kind of see the classic Lawful Neutral and balance-style True Neutral alignments working for creatures with very alien (and possibly illogical) outlooks, like the Inevitables from D&D 3E, but for creatures with human-like viewpoints, I don't think such philosophies are coherent. I'd rather see players put down stuff like "Liberal Protestant" on their character sheets instead of Lawful Whatever, kind of like what I've seen in some LotFP fan-made materials (like The Undercroft #3).
Just as I feared, this turned into a lengthy rant. Anyway, that's my opinion. I certainly respect other opinions on this subject, and people are obviously entitled to run their games as they like without judgement from me, provided everyone at the table is treated fairly and ethically IRL. My point is, I'm not fond of alignment at all, but as far as such things go, I think the approach taken by Holmes Basic is fine.
One more alignment-based thing: Holmes Basic includes alignment languages. These are most definitely not unique to this version of the game, though. I've never seen alignment languages come up in any game I've played in, but if you're going to include magical, objectively-demonstrable systems of ethics, you might as well include mystic alignment languages that somehow everyone knows. At least that's a delightfully weird concept.
Also, the LANGUAGES section is deliberately vague in a way I find endearing, referring to the "common tongue" and the "continent" in quotations. The way D&D generally treats languages is oddly specific while pretending to be vague. What if my campaign setting doesn't include continents and everyone lives on the backs of giant kangaroos in space? Well, I guess that kind of setting wouldn't be very "Basic," now would it? But you see this kind of thing in Advanced and modern D&D rulebooks too, so...whatever. It's easy to houserule. Still, I find the assumptions about languages in D&D really interesting.
Next time: Time, Why You Punish Me?
(Now these two songs are going to be stuck in my head. Thanks, Dr. Holmes.)