Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holmes on Alignment

Alignment Diagram from the Second and Third editions of Holmes.

Above is the alignment diagram from Holmes' rulebook, in which the interstices between four forces produce five alignments.  The only hint of a continuum here are those segments of the alignment that approximate more closely to Neutral.  (This spacial element may help us interpret the table below.)  Holmes' monsters (p.22-34) appear in the chart below according to the alignment he assigned them.  Surprisingly, the majority of these monsters are Neutral.  At times, a number of LE or CE monsters occur in a row, alphabetically.  While I noted below the order in which Holmes indicated a divergence in a population's alignment by 1st or 2nd, in the absence of a percentage breakdown, I assume that a 50/50 division is indicated.  In one case, we are told merely that "some" elves are neutral (less than 25%?) and that the Displacer Beast, though neutral and not listed as belonging on under one or more of the evil alignments, merits the parenthetical comment, "evil."  (Is this an indication of evil tendencies within a broadly Neutral alignment, heralding the complications to come in AD&D? Or is it an unresolved editorial issue, and later percentages between Neutral and evil displacer beasts, exact alignment to be decided, never came to pass?)  Link to document with table below.

Holmes Monsters
Lawful Good
Chaotic Good
Lawful Evil
Chaotic Evil
Blink Dogs
Dwarf (25%)
Brass Dragon (2nd)
Storm Giant (2nd)
Gnome (75%)
Wereboar  (2nd)
Werebear (2nd)
Pixie (2nd)

Bandit (50%)
Carrion Crawler
Displacer Beast (evil)
Doppleganger (2nd)
White Dragon (1st)
Black Dragon (2nd)
Brass Dragon (1st)
Dwarf (75%)
Elf ("some neutral")
Hill Giant
Stone Giant
Frost Giant (1st)
Fire Giant (1st)
Cloud Giant
Storm Giant
Gnome (25%)
Lizard Man
Wereboar (1st)
Wererat (1st)
Werebear (1st)
Weretiger (1st)
Werewolf (1st)
Pixie (1st)
Purple Worm
Rust Monster
Bandit (25%)
Fire Giant (2nd)
Hell Hound
Wererat (2nd)
Bandit (25%)
Doppleganger (1st)
White Dragon (2nd)
Black Dragon (1st)
Red Dragon
Hill Giant
Frost Giant (2nd)
Weretiger (2nd)
Werewolf (2nd)
None: Black Pudding, Fire Beetle, Gelatinous Cube, Giant Ant, Giant Centipede, Giant Rats, Giant Tick, Gray Ooze, Green Slime, Horse, Ochre Jelly, Shrieker, Spiders, Yellow Mold.  (“If the monster’s alignment is not given, it may be assumed to be an unintelligent beast that will attack anyone who comes near,” p.22.)

     Holmes Alignment Diagram from First Edition. If anyone has a bigger scan they can send me, it would be much appreciated.

Holmes and 4e
I am not very familiar with fourth edition D&D, but I note right away a structural similarity between it's alignment system and Holmes.  If we follow widespread assumptions hinted at in D&D materials before 2nd edition, and list the alignments from LG (purportedly the most good) to CE (purportedly the most evil), we see a striking structural (and terminological) similarity.  This is complicated only slightly the fact that Holmes also left a number of monsters without alignment -- one might be tempted to say, unaligned -- thus hinting that perhaps Holmes saw Neutral as a substantive alignment.  However, since intelligent creatures, including humans and superhumans, are unaligned in 4e, it may be that there is still no significant difference, and that Unaligned may simply cover more alignment landscape, but broadly of similar make-up.  I wouldn't be surprised if 4e's simplification of the two-axis, nine alignment system were directly inspired by Holmes.  The five alignment system does not come naturally to me: from experience, I am much more comfortable with either Law-Neutral-Chaos or the more baroque Gygaxian Nine that went forth and conquered the gaming world,  However, setting the five out on a continuum as below, and assuming that there is an indication of movement from most good to least good/most evil (left to right), then that might make more sense to me than four forces (or dimensions) producing only five alignments, rather than nine.  I'd be happy to hear from anyone who has additional information on Holmes and alignment or on alignment in 4e.

Comparison of Alignment Systems
Lawful Good
Chaotic Good
Lawful Evil
Chaotic Evil
Lawful Good
Chaotic Evil


  1. Cool table! I like seeing the forces of good and evil all listed out: it's an updated version of the original tables in Men & Magic and Greyhawk. The first edition of Holmes has one more monster: Nixie, which are neutral. The second edition adds a number of monsters, the majority of which are unaligned low HD "vermin", which I hadn't noticed prior to your chart, plus two CE humanoids (Gnoll & Trogs).

    The five-point alignment system debuted in an issue of Strategic Review. The first edition Holmes has a different alignment chart which seems to be a condensed version of the one in SR. It has monsters from that table not found in Holmes, like "Demon". I'd guess that TSR added this chart to the rulebook. Holmes mentioned in his article in Dragon #52 that he was not a fan of the alignment system.

    The Monster Manual uses the same 5-point alignment system, with just a few listed as "neutral (evil)" like the Displacer Beast (which is actually changed to neutral). This is one way in which the MM is closer to Holmes than AD&D.

  2. All right! I'm going to do some updating. Do you know where I can find a scan of that original alignment diagram?

  3. So, if I'm reading you and The Strategic Review #6 correctly, Gary actually created the 5-point system on the way to the classic 9. Interesting stuff: was it Holmes' choice to include it instead of L-N-C? It had slipped my mind that Holmes was also a fan of Law vs. Chaos, but upon re-reading Dragon 52, I remembered his comment about Gygaxian abstruseness made me chuckle the first time I read it.

  4. Is this the original diagram? http://retrorpg.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/screen-shot-2011-03-10-at-4-43-37-pm.png

  5. The five alignments in Holmes must also be a direct inspiration for Warhammer FRP's Lawful-Good-Neutral-Evil-Chaotic scheme. Although "Lawful" can be very oppressive, even fascist, there! I imagined 4e might have equally been cribbing that spectrum.

  6. Yes, that wordpress file is the correct diagram; Lammasu, Beholder, Blue Dragon, Demon and Ape are not in the Monster List (but there is an Ape in the Sample Dungeon).

    I haven't looked at that SR article in a long time, but IIRC Gary debuted the 5-point alignment there and then expanded it to the full 9-point system for the Players Handbook, with some development along the way via Holmes/the Monster (e.g. "neutral (evil)").

    It's difficult to say with certainty what choices were made by Holmes. He corresponded with Gary prior to editing the set and this may have included discussions about what to include. Since the alignments are found throughout the Monster List and even in the Sample Dungeon which Holmes wrote (thaumaturgist is lawful evil), my best guess is that Gary instructed Holmes to put the 5-point system in but Holmes worked out the individual alignments (based on the notes in OD&D). There is one residual reference to the original 3-point system: the "lawful werebear" on page 7. In Monsters & Treasure, werebears are listed as "Law/Neutral"; in the Holmes Monster List this was changed to "neutral/chaotic good"