Posted by: allhailthoon | April 14, 2010

Paladins: an Argument in Favor of the Moral High Ground

In the name of complete disclosure I’ll admit that when I first started playing D&D (about 7 years ago), I really didn’t like Paladins. Like many new players, I wanted to be able to act on whims, blur alignment, and generally just jackass about in ways not befitting a pillar of righteous strength. It wasn’t until about 8 months ago when I first tried actually playing a paladin seriously that I really started to love the class.

While Clerics represent absolute faith and divine power in a similar way to Paladins and honestly have a much higher potential for destructive force, they lack some of the sense of legend that Paladins carry.

They are the quintessential knights in shining armor, bringing to mind images of Roland and the Peers of Charlemagne, Sir Lancelot, and the Crusades.

My problem initially was that while I always loved King Arthur and his ilk, I felt as though the Paladin was too one-note and that the concept as presented in the rules was just too limiting. Having played several now, I can assure everyone that that just isn’t the case.

However, being a class with a fixed set of abilities and limited number of spells, most real customization (unless you want to go into prestige classes, but that doesn’t really become an issue until you’ve already gone through a decent number of levels) really needs to come from the character itself. Fortunately, there are plenty of fun options!

The Boy Scout: Especially at low levels, there’s something to be said for playing the wide-eyed idealist. These are the characters that genuinely want to see the best in people, seek out opportunities to help wherever they can, and put real effort into building strong and lasting friendships with the other members of their party. Nobody beats a boy scout when it comes to promoting team spirit and it’s a great concept if you want to evolve your character in reaction to the world (eternal optimism or eventual disillusionment are both viable options).

The Holy Warrior: Great at any level. The world is black and white. The only true path to peace and justice is unity under one god. Yours. While this outlook is likely to cause some turmoil within the party, as long as everyone is pretty cool, it can lead to some interesting inter-player interactions.

The Court Knight: Your loyalties lie more with a Lord or chivalric code than with a god. You are tied very closely to the specific campaign setting you’re playing in and probably lean a little closer to the lawful than the true good. Concepts like this tend to work the best when playing with a GM that wants detailed character backgrounds that will come into play during the course of the game.

The Jaded Zealot: To quote my personal favorite vampire movie, “We’ve all become god’s mad men.” You’ve seen at the world and everywhere you’ve looked, you’ve seen evil. Probably better at mid to high levels, this kind of character is inflexible and unrelenting. You show little mercy and would rather die than compromise your vows (they’re the only thing standing between you and the gaping maw of hell that’s swallowing the rest of the world). Good concept if you want to go for something like Gray Guard. Or just play a character that’s a little unhinged without going chaotic.

The Doubting Thomas: With every day that passes, your connection to your god grows stronger and more people look to you as a champion of hope. Yet in the back of your mind, there’s always the seed of uncertainty. No matter how many dictator’s you topple of dragons you slay, there’s always the question of, “What if I’m wrong?” Mind you, this is no excuse to get mopey, but the occasional second guess, lapse in judgment, or self flagellation are always interesting.

Another way to keep things interesting is to keep an open line of communication with the GM and work together to create a unique code for your faith or order. Rather than just saying, “Any evil act causes you to lose your abilities,” try to put in some specific conditions. On one hand, you may have the Knights of the Glowing Boar who consider positive feedback from their Detect Evil to be ground enough to straight up kill the hell out of someone and fully expect you to do so, but on the other, Chartreuse Brotherhood requires you to give everyone you fight the chance to repent and have their life spared.

This is also a good way to create tension between factions that otherwise fall on the same side of the alignment spectrum.

(And yes, I do know that Paladins of Freedom, Slaughter, Tyranny, etc. exist, but they’re something I prefer to wrestle with another time.)

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Responses

  1. For those interested in playing a “paladin” (aka a man in heavy armor who fights for justice) but don’t necessarily enjoy the class features, here’s some alternative options for 3.5:

    Crusader (Tome of Battle) – my favorite alternative to the paladin. A holy warrior who’s divinely granted random kickass powers by her deity.

    Knight (PB II)a class devoted to playing a tank with vary ways to “Call out” an opponent.

    Cavalier (Advanced Player’s Guide) – Technically Pathfinder, but this is a nonmagical mounted warrior who gains powers based on her order.

    Cleric – Just say you’re a paladin! Seriously, a LG Cleric is about as close as anything else.

    Fighter/Cleric/Prestige Paladin (Unearthed Arcana) – this takes the paladin class and makes it into a prestige class which you grow into.

    In 4E, I’ll submit the Warpriest and Cleric as alternatives to playing the actual paladin class, which frankly bores me to tears.

    • AHT (AllHailThoon) was saying to me today that you could pretty much do the cleric thing with any class, Need a rogue? Cleric of Mask, Fighter? Cleric of Tempus. Mage? Cleric of Mystra, etc… I then came to the conclusion that that would be the most kick-ass party ever. not sure how effective, probably very, save the hit to arcane casting, but easily ignore in the face of the sheer amount of divine casting. Also could make an interesting party dynamic with all the various devotees of the gods all glaring at each other for being infidels.
      I should make a post on this concept….


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