Does the Golden Hart trample on role-playing?

         Blue Rose in general and the Golden Hart of Aldis in particular have been the subject of a number of rumors -- which may have exceeded the popularity of the game itself. This is my explanation to clarify some of the claims regarding it -- largely aimed at those who have heard rumors about Blue Rose, but may know little about the game itself, its background, or its genre.

         There are rumors that the nation of Aldis is a socialist utopia where the citizens have no freedom to solve their own problems, and/or no particular problems to solve. Also, and not coincidentally, various elements of Aldis are mocked as being girly and/or gay.

The Nation of Aldis

         Without going into great detail, the nation of Aldis is one of four kingdoms formed by the breakup of the Old Kingdom several hundred years in the past. It was formed by an alliance of a set of psychic creatures (the rhydan) and the humans of the region. It was organized as a limited monarchy where the ruler was one of the human races, but chosen by the Golden Hart -- a mystical force representative of the rhydan (see below). The ruler is supported by an bureaucracy of appointed officials, the nobles, who receive their non-hereditary position by passing a set of examinations.

         Aldis is portrayed as generally happy in the sense that it is prosperous, and the people are largely egalitarian and well-meaning. However, it has organized crime, occasional monsters, secret plots by sorcerers, ancient evils lurking about, and a country ruled by an undead sorcerer king just over the mountains. Still, the tone of the book is in the vein of romantic fantasy, and may certainly be viewed as girly. It is intended to emulate the works of writers like Mercedes Lackey, Diane Duane, and Tamora Pierce (cf. my Introduction to Romantic Fantasy). So if you definitely want your fantasy to be dark and/or testosterone-laden, then this is likely not the setting for you. However, that is different than claiming that there is some sort of objective problem with games based on this genre.

The Government of Aldis

         Aldis is a limited monarchy in that laws come directly from the sovereign, but the sovereign can be overruled by unanimous vote of the three councils. The three councils are the nobles, the Merchant's Guild, and the rhydan. The Noble Council consists of 36 nobles, elected from the set of nobles. The Merchant Council (formed in 71 BR) consists of 36 elected representatives of the Merchant's Guild. The Rhydan council is a single representative chosen to speak for the rhydan.

         So compared to real-world history, Aldis is perhaps closest to the traditional rule of China, where candidates had to pass complex tests to be officials in the bureaucracy. It is a limited monarchy strongly influenced, but not directly controlled, by the rhydan and the Golden Hart.

         The nobles are more properly thought of as officials. They are human, and besides tests for skill/aptitude, they must be approved by the test of the Blue Rose Scepter -- an artifact given by the rhydan upon the nation's founding. The scepter senses whether the person is of Light alignment (see below) at the time of their test, though it can only do so once in their lifetime. Each candidate must pass the test before being appointed a noble.

The Golden Hart

         The Golden Hart is the semi-divine force which by tradition chooses the sovereign in the kingdom of Aldis. It is not understood, and its relation to the pantheon of gods or other forces is not known. Hundreds of years ago, the Golden Hart first appeared to aid the rebellion that formed the current Kingdom of Aldis, conferring immunity to sorcery to all those within sight of it. Since then, it has appeared every few years. The tradition of the new nation became to treat the person chosen by the Golden Hart as sovereign. The Golden Hart always has a single chosen person, that it marks the forehead of with a moon-shaped symbol. When the chosen person dies, it appears and picks a new person.

         Described as a semi-divine force, the Golden Hart is powerful when going about its very limited actions. For example, it protects the sovereign during the process of being crowned. It is said that anyone who tries to interfere is temporarily knocked senseless and marked. However, its actions are very limited. In the three hundred years since its appearance, the described actions are:

  1. During the original rebellion against the Sorcerer Kings, it appeared and granted immunity to sorcery to all those within sight of it. The rebels still had to fight all of the Sorcerer Kings armies, though, including undead and darkfiends.
  2. When its chosen dies (a dozen times over the three hundred years), it appears and walks out to mark a new chosen person. It carries this person to palace of Aldis and places its mark upon their forehead. During this walk, it protects the person it is carrying.
  3. Twice in its history, it has appeared and removed its mark when it apparently felt that they have gone wrong. This did no harm other than replacing the mark.
  4. It is said to appear in times of crisis to grant a vision to its chosen.

         The people of Aldis respect the Golden Hart's mark as the mark of legitimacy in their ruler -- much as people in real history would often respect heredity as the mark of legitimacy. However, the sovereign has no special powers. There was a case of a near civil war where many refused to obey the sovereign. In that case, the Golden Hart did nothing to the rebels but rather removed its mark from the sovereign.

         It seems entirely possible for Aldis to be conquered, or for an internal group to rebel. Within the history, King Valin would ride into battle and was nearly killed when he attempted to close a shadow gate on his own. He later went insane from his contact with demons from there. King Issik had an assassination attempt against him that killed those closest to him. So the sovereigns are not invulnerable, nor do they have any supernatural force to their commands. The only definite limitation is that new ruler(s) could not have the traditional legitimacy of the current line.

         As for what the Golden Hart would do in such a case, there is no definite answer. Very little is known about it. If such were attempted, it would be up to the GM to decide. For example, in my game, I would extrapolate that it represents the will of the rhydan -- a deity, spirit, or perhaps collective unconscious. It care little for the details of human politics, but wants to pick someone that it can respect and that will respect it. However, that is just my personal take on the subject.

Alignment

         The alignments are a part of the background of Aldis in that there is an artifact that tests whether a candidate is of Light alignment before becoming a noble. Within Blue Rose, the alignments are Light, Twilight, and Shadow -- tying them into the mythology of the game-world. This distances them slightly from being strictly real-world morals, though Light is clearly more moral than Shadow.

         Light alignment is described in the core rulebook as follows: "Generally, the Light-aligned believe in community and the good of all over mere self-interest. They seek peace, harmonious coexistence, and the general good; although, there is sometimes disagreement as to what exactly is the best for everyone." This is rather vague, since it refers to believing in and seeking good for all, but not what "good" means.

         This is similar though not identical to other alignment systems. For example, in Dungeons & Dragons, the Good alignments are described by saying: "Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others." These are distinct, but have similar connotations. Light and good characters both care about others rather than caring only for themselves (i.e. "altruism" and "general good"). They prefer peaceful means and avoid killing unless it is necessary (i.e. "peace" and "respect for life").

         However, the description of Light specifically mentions community and the good of all. This does not necessarily mean either lawfulness or obedience, since a character may care about and protect their people without obeying the laws. Vigilantes or rebels may believe in their community, but not accept the law as what is best for them. Within the D&D alignment scheme, lawfulness implies belief in community, but belief in community does not imply lawfulness. On the D&D alignment scale, this might be roughly illustrated as shown on the right.

         In other words, someone who is Lawful Good is definitely Light. Someone who is Chaotic Evil is definitely Shadow. Someone who is Chaotic Good might be Light if they care about the community but simply work outside its laws; or they might be Twilight if they are more loners and drifters.

         The Blue Rose alignments have been criticized as "collectivist", but that is imposing a specific interpretation on a vague sentence. "Belief in community" or "general good" are pretty open for interpretation by different gaming groups. There are no specific guidelines than this, and the range of light and shadow natures are fairly broad. The full rules for alignment for Blue Rose and for D&D can be found from their open gaming content as linked below:

Homosexuality

There are those who have criticized Blue Rose as overly and/or inappropriately dwelling on homosexuality. It is true that Blue Rose is open about homosexuality. One of the features of Aldis (the central kingdom of the setting), is that its culture is accepting of same-sex unions. The treatment of orientation in Blue Rose is similar to treatment of gender in some other RPGs, such as Dungeons & Dragons. Third edition D&D makes a point that women can openly be adventurers, by having frequent and prominent examples of women characters. In a similar vein, Blue Rose notes tolerance of same-sex couples and even includes more than one examples of homosexual characters.

Within the text, there are two sections that directly address sexual orientation.

  • On page 32, there is a quarter-page "Marriage and Romance" section which focuses on explaining the homosexual and heterosexual split (caria daunen and cepia luath). There is also a short note on polygamy in the southern islands.
  • On page 21, there is a third-of-a-page fiction snippet titled "Lovers of the Dawn". It is about a mother telling her children about the god Hiathas, and primarily illustrates the acceptance of same-sex couples within Aldis.

There are also five other passing references to homosexuality within the background.

  • p19: Of the god Braniel, "He is the lover of Hiathas and a model for passionate romance." There are eleven described gods, of which two are gay (i.e. this pair).
  • p20: Of the god Hiathas, "He is the beloved of Braniel, and those who fall in love with someone of the same sex are said to be like the Singer in the Stars, caria daunen (lovers of the dawn)."
  • p26: On marriage among Sea-Folk (one of the non-human races), "Sea-folk occaisionally marry humans and vata and can have children with humans. The children of these couplings take after one of their parents; half are sea-folk, while the others are human. Because sea-folk do not identify strongly as male or female, they are evenly split between caria daunen and cepia luath (see Marriage and Romance later in this chapter."
  • p36: One of the six described NPCs in the chapter is indicated as gay by the statement, "Sharit lives with his husband Dalt, although some joke that he is also married to his duty."
  • p46: In the section on the Jarzoni immigrants in Eastern Aldis, it twice mentions the clash between Aldis and Jarzoni culture, which views same-sex couples as immoral. This intolerance is not mentioned in the short Jarzon section on p48, however.

In all, there are four cases of homosexual couples within the book: the pair in the fiction snippet, the two gods, the NPC Sharit, and there is a couple who appear prominently in the sample adventure. All are men, with no examples of lesbians in the text -- although there is an illustration of two women casually embracing in the section on social interactions. This is quite prominent for a game book. However, please note there is nothing more explicit sexually than hand-holding and mention of love and/or marriage.

Is this too much? Obviously, that is a matter of taste. If a handful of mentions in a 192 page book is too much, then obviously this is not the game for you.

Questions

Is Aldis a socialist utopia?
Not at all. Politically, Aldis is a limited monarchy. Economically, it is not described as having any social programs or intrusive laws. People buy goods with wealth. There is no mention of receiving anything from the government unless you are a knight or envoy. In addition, the Merchant Guild is described as being extremely powerful, with an direct voice within the government.
 
Doesn't the Hart trample of the people's freedoms?
From the point of view of the governed, the Golden Hart is no different than any other monarchial succession schemes -- such as having the current ruler designate their successor, or be the current ruler's offspring. It is slightly different than strict heredity in that heredity technically allows a coup where a bastard child or other rebellious member of royal family is installed on the throne and still have a limited claim to legitimacy. However, even when they exist, such coups with claims to legitimacy rarely give greater freedoms for the people. They almost always just substitute one autocrat for another.
 
Doesn't Blue Rose have freaky sex stuff in it?
There is nothing in the Blue Rose book about the act of sex. There is background material about marriage practices of the different nations. Notably, the nation of Aldis is explicitly described as accepting homosexual unions. There are several examples in the background fiction of homosexual couples who are married and/or in love; and two of the gods are a homosexual couple. However, this is no more about sex per se than having a merchantman and his wife appear in an RPG scenario, or having a king and queen. Some people may object to having a homosexual couple appear at all, but that has nothing to do with the act of sex.
 
Does Aldis represent modern liberal values?
Aldis certainly doesn't present a practical suggestion for modern politics, unless there is a psychic-animal political party somewhere. It does have a culture that allows players to create a variety of heroes without requiring extensive excuses to justify having a woman or a homosexual (or both) in the party. However, generally speaking it is not very different from other fantasy kingdoms. There is no bill of rights or social programs, and law proceeds from the sovereign.
 
Isn't every animal in the world intelligent and psychic?
This is completely false. There are rhydan counterparts to a handful of ordinary animals (cat, wolf, horse); but the vast majority of those animals are mundane. In other words, there are a few rhy-horses that are intelligent and have psychic powers, but the vast majority of horses are ordinary animals. This is very similar to Tolkien's Middle Earth, which includes intelligent versions of animals like worgs and eagles. In Blue Rose, there are another handful of creatures which are always rhydan, including griffins and unicorns as well as dolphins and whales. In all, there are 11 types of rhydan, of which 4 are given stats for use as PCs -- namely horses, wolves, cats, and dolphins.
 
Did the Hart choose two insane sovereigns out of eleven? Isn't that bad judgement?
There were two sovereigns who went insane after being chosen. King Valin destroyed a demonic gateway in battle, but in the process was psychically exposed to a demon. As a result, over the next two years he became increasingly paranoid and started replacing nobles with those personally loyal to him, and sidestepping the councils. This caused unrest which nearly erupted into civil war when the Hart appeared to choose another. Queen Larai, always eccentric, slowly slid into dementia in her old age after decades of rule. She talked to imaginary people and neglected her duties, after which the Hart appeared to remove her and choose another. Both were fine rulers at the time when they took the throne.
 
Do the alignment rules really advocate communism / collectivism?
See the section on alignment above. BR is distinct from other alignment systems in mentioning the community, but the overall drift is the same: good means making sacrifices to help others. There are those who would interpret "belief in community" as meaning blind obedience; and "good of all over mere self-interest" as meaning that individuals should be sacrificed blithely. However, that is a matter of interpretation. Even if you believe that the authors intended such a subtext, the descriptions are vague enough to allow a variety of interpretations for different GMs -- like most alignment systems.
 
So why are people complaining about this?
I can't say for certain.

         If you have any other comments, you can email me at jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net, or post on my LiveJournal, jhkimrpg.livejournal.com.

 


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Fri Aug 8 12:41:14 2008