It comes with no surprise that the Paladin class is often misinterpreted by DMs and players given the high ideals they represent. You will come across parties who will avoid having a Paladin in their ranks, thinking them to be holier-than-thou, dry and one-dimensional characters. But Paladins come from every walk of life and have to face every kind of danger just like other character types.
Preliminary Notes about Paladin Code & Behaviour:
The biggest issue with paladins is when their comrades' behavior is judged as if the paladin himself had done the deed. The below outlines some methods to avoid such pitfalls...
- A paladin who does not expect non-believers to obey the laws of his faith. He hopes that through his shining example his teammates will come to see the value of his code, but believes that doing Good under threat of punishment doesn't count. He guides the party to consider mercy, but does not expect them to follow oaths they did not swear. Perhaps his own past is not lily-white and he recognizes that true Faith takes time; he is patient with the party.
- It's important to recognize that the values of D&D are not our modern values. Justice is often swift and brutal when you don't have the luxury of modern civilization. Think wild west justice or battlefield trials. As a paladin, you might have the authority to conduct hasty trials; ask your DM to consider this. Remember, there are other methods of punishment that fall between letting criminals go unpunished and killing them: from taking their stuff, to branding or even cutting off a finger or a hand, there are a spectrum of options.
Just as you are considering the enjoyment of your friends in the game, the DM and other players should be willing to meet you half-way. The player characters should do the same for their friend the paladin. This is a mutual storytelling challenge: a group of friends (or at least comrades-in-arms) with different moral attitudes is pretty common in real life and in storytelling. How do they function without coming to blows? That's a cool story for your group to tell.
- A Paladin isn’t about forcing his comrades to conform to his oaths; he is not an evangelist or demagogue. He is an example. An example of everything Law and Good can do for the world. He can respect allies who use other methods to achieve Good; he can respect allies for whom Good isn’t their first goal in life so long as they are not Evil. But for himself, he is the unrelenting, unwavering bastion of Good. He tells you he is coming, he plays with all his cards on the table, and he never, ever quits.
- And ultimately, Paladins are not beholden to any organization, faith, or even god: they may join with others that they find like-minded, they may worship those deities they think are going to achieve the most Good, but ultimately they answer to Goodness itself. If they discover corruption within their church, or secret evils in their god’s plan, they are beholden to leave that church, forsake that god, and continue to pursue Good.
Our own history is an important thing to know when playing a paladin. Not because you will necessarily be incorporating knowledge of Earth-based historical events into your game, but because throughout history we have made reference to paladinesque people, no matter the culture. We have revered them and their deeds, storytellers have regaled crowds with renditions of their legendary quests, and movies have been made depicting them as both human and saintly. Why? Because the paladin is the most romantic, respectable, and courageous historical figure to have ever been presented to the world. Even people who care nothing for the Fantasy worlds that you are so familiar with can name a few paladins.
Some well-known examples of these exist in the legends of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot du Lake, Sir Gawaine and the rest of the Round Table Knights, Joan d' Arc, Ivanhoe and perahps even Robin Hood after a fashion. Then there are the Templars and a host of other fictional fantasy characters like Sturm from Dragonlance or Captain Etienne of Navarre from Ladyhawke. Being familiar with such characters will enable you to understand how a true paladin should be portrayed.
The more you know about your paladin's past and ancestry the more likely it is that you will be able to play him with the carriage that such a noble warrior should be portrayed with. His history can even go a few generations back and not just be limited to recent events.
Creating A Paladin:
As before, creating and being familiar with your Paladin's history is very important. Why is this? Because the knight lives on his heritage more than any other character you will ever play. This will also help set the mood for your character. If your character comes from humble birth, you'll end up with different results than if he grew up in a noble family and his lineage has nobles back as far as the heraldry charts exist. Keep this in mind as you build your character's history, and make sure you run everything by your DM before setting it in stone.
Consider these questions when writing your Paladin's past:
- To whom was your Paladin born?
- What social class was he born into?
- How did he become affiliated with his church?
- Is there a knightly order in that church? If not, will your DM work with you to establish one?
- What kind of childhood did he have?
- What historical events have affected his life?
- How did he take to cloistered life in the church?
- How did your Paladin feel and respond about these events to this point thus far?
- What led him to become a paladin instead of a common priest, or a warrior who revered that god? Why not just a cavalier or a King's armsman?
These questions must be answered before you can effectively play a paladin and the reason behind it is that to represent a character well, you must understand him and what he stands for. Be picky, and don't let anyone force you into a particular faith. A Paladin has a split role within his society. He is a representative of his faith and ideals, a missionary, and a person who is turned to in good faith by all who are of good heart. Sure, there is the black paladin, as in the evil paladin or anti-paladin, but we will discuss that later. So, make sure the religion that you chose to represent with your paladin is one you can identify with so that you will have no problem playing the role of a representative for said religious organization. Also, make sure it is fleshed out, and I mean really, truly fleshed out.
A Paladin versus A Fighter:
One of the things that set a paladin apart from the rest of the fighter subclasses is that they follow strict guidance and mandates on how to live their life. Daily rituals, holy days, ceremonies, how he is to treat ranks within the religious order, what is his place in the theocracy? Delve deeply and you will have satisfaction in your character's responsibilities. Don't be stingy either, remember, these are the most faithful and holy of individuals. One might even say above that of the standard priest. These strictures will help define your paladin even further.
Define Your Paladin:
How does the paladin view his constraints? Is he the willing subject of religious fervor? Is he reluctant because he feels repressed? Is he the martyr? How does he view himself? What does he believe his role in society is? How does his up-bringing affect the way he views Lawful Good ideals? This is tricky because this is where you can wind up with a stiff-necked jerk that comes across as holier-than-thou. These are feasible paladins mind you, but not many will want to be around your character. Make notes on all of this as you will frequently have to reference them at the beginning of play, or after a long hiatus (You can create a vivid history in the form of either a short story, or a bunch of journal entries, but how you keep notes is entirely dependant on what works well for you).
Player's Handbook, Dungeons & Dragons® Core Rulebook I© states that, "…No one ever chooses to become a paladin…" This is not always true. According to them, being a paladin is a holy calling. However, there is no reason to limit the membership to those called by divine representation. If a character has proffered themselves before their god and desires to be a paladin, accepting their strictures and such, then there is very little problem in assuming that the god will respond favorably. After all, what god would not want someone who will fight with dedication after his or her cause? However, the paladin may have been called to the position, and that is something you should work out with your DM as it most definitely should influence the play of the character.
If your Paladin has been called to the role, this presents a particular dilemma for your DM. He is now burdened with keeping your Paladin on a constant Holy Quest. If a god or goddess actually reaches out from their plane of existence and touches an individual saying, "You shall serve me as the holiest of warriors, come be my Paladin." Then don't you think they would keep their warrior fairly busy working on major issues the faith has encountered? This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and Paladin's generally view every adventure they are on as a quest, but whether it is a Holy Quest or not is something that you will have to work out with your DM because it is more work overall, and a little more difficult to fit other classes into the Holy Quest.
A Paladin's Honour:
That thing that has most people believing a paladin must stay and fight to the death in any combat. Those rules that make the Paladin so difficult to understand and cause most young Paladins to find an early grave. The reason that a high-level Paladin has earned so much respect, after all, if a Paladin survives to high levels living those strict rules then there is certainly reason to second guess insulting him. However, it is with honor that most people sign their character's death warrants before even entering the character in play, and it doesn't have to be this way.
A Paladin's Code of Honor is not that of an Eastern Samurai. As a matter of fact, though the general concept of the two classes are similar, they are very different. One simple difference is that a Paladin would be dreadfully embarrassed to be presented in ceremony before a noble without his best armor brightly shining upon his person. A Samurai would be dreadfully embarrassed to be presented before his Diamyo wearing any armor at all, and would definitely be presented with a redeeming quest by his lord for such an affront. These two respected warriors are from two very different cultures and that should be kept in mind when creating and playing a Paladin.
No where in the histories, or fictional writings, does it ever have a Paladin committing ritual suicide. The worst that happens to a Paladin is that they become "Fallen", but we will get into that in more detail later. Please, for the sake of your own role-play, do not mix Eastern and Western philosophy unless the world where you play does so for you.
A Paladin's Faith:
A well-played Paladin strives to be a shining example, an ideal. This does not necessarily mean he has attained it yet. A Paladin is only interesting if he falters, second-guesses himself, and so on. A quote from the TV series "Firefly":
Outfitting the Paladin:Book: I've been out of the abbey two days. I've beaten a lawman senseless. Fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect. And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong.
Inara: [softly] Shepherd...
Book: I believe I just... I think I'm on the wrong ship.
Inara: Maybe. Or maybe you're exactly where you ought to be.
Part of the reason that Paladins are so difficult to play is not least down to the mundane details of their equipment. When possible, your Paladin will outfit himself in full plate armor of the finest quality, shield, and a great sword. However, that isn't always possible. Consider the rules if you will; 3E states that in order to get completely armored in full plate it will take your character four minutes! That is forty rounds. Do you honestly think that as the ogres are bearing down on your campsite early that morning and your Paladin is scrambling to get into his armor, he'll succeed before the fight is over? What's more, you will need help to get it on or else you have donned your armor hastily and that means you don't get the full effect of the armor class. Even a good friend's patience may be tried helping a paladin into and out of his full plate every morning and night. Unless your character has a squire to assist him, a suggestion is not going above chain mail or a breastplate and a shield. Your character has to think about appearance, where other's can get away with wearing that tattered cloak and the patched armor. It is unbecoming for a paladin to follow suite. Consider this when outfitting yourself; appearance is a matter of honor for a paladin, and will affect how you play the character. Of course, all of this is based on the common perception of a knight and holy warrior.
The region in which the paladin was raised will greatly influence their preference in appearance. After all, you can't have a holy warrior passing out because it is so hot in their armor that they get juiced every time they move! Consider the Arabic Paladin. He may be more prone to wear fine silks and such for presentation than be caught trying to roam the desert in full plate. Be realistic with both costs and choice, but remember, these things are partially what make up your character's personality and should be influenced by the history and location of birth you have already created.
A Paladin's Steed:
More than just a war horse, the value of the Paladin's steed cannot be underestimated. Whether bestowed as a gift or acquired in the wilds, the Paladin's steed has a special bond with its knight. The questing life of a Paladin can be a lonely one, even when surrounded by other characters. The Paladin's War Horse may be the only creature that truly understands what drives your Paladin. This is the only creature that accompanies him into battle for many, many years. It takes a special relationship between man and horse to be able to have the animal obey the Paladin's directions in battle.
Interacting with Society:
How do you successfully interact with other players who don't wish to be restricted? It is quite simple really, if you follow a few guidelines. First, not everyone is going to want to play a Lawful Good character and that seriously treads upon one major standard in a D&D game that is 2E or earlier. Paladins cannot continuously travel with any but Lawful Good characters. Well, 3E takes care of that for you. Page 43 of Player's Handbook© states: "…While she (a paladin) may adventure with characters of any good or neutral alignment, a paladin will never knowingly associate with evil characters…" So as you can see, you are no longer limited by alignment except in the case that makes sense; evil. However, this doesn't suddenly free you of all constraints.
What about the thief in the group, or a priest of another religion? What about that statement about being a missionary for your church? You have all encountered the standard "Converting Priest". You know, that player who believes that the only way he is playing a devout cleric is to try and convert all of the player's characters. Don't do it. One of the most blessed attributes of a paladin is their humility. Sounds contradicting doesn't it? A paladin demands respect from those beneath his station, but he's supposed to be humble? Two different things, and in this case, being humble means that the paladin respects the belief of others. If the paladin makes an attempt to convert another player character and that character falls over backwards in their attempt to escape the paladin's efforts, don't try again. In the case of the priest from another faith, that could make for some very interesting character interaction.
A thief might be put out at having to work incognito around the paladin, but then, isn't the fun in the game supposed to be partially derived from figuring out ways around things like that?
Combat and the Paladin:
The paladin is confined within a set of rules and strictures, he has a code of honor that won't let him participate in certain activities without there being consequences, and his honor won't let him do some things that other players will gloat over. However, the character is still supposed to have feelings: love, hatred, envy, anger, joy… everything that a human being can feel. They aren't stupid, they have common sense, and they know that in order to continue their duties to their god they must live to fight another day.
Most people feel that a paladin is supposed to have this overblown sense of honor that won't allow them to disengage combat and retreat should things be going poorly for them. Is honor truly that restricting? Not necessarily. Do you think that the knights of old survived danger by brashly standing when they should have fallen back? Do you think that Ivanhoe would have ever successfully freed Richard the Lionheart had he not retreated from a few battles first? Unless you have a pushover DM you are never going to be able to wander the world in your search to free it of evil and only encounter creatures that you can defeat! The only times that a paladin should feel restricted to hold his ground until the end is if the life of another is in jeopardy, if the holy quest is at risk, if the temple is about to be destroyed - you get the idea.
Don't throw your paladin's life away on something as pathetic as a random encounter because you don't feel it honorable to retreat from battle. Turning tail and running in a cowardly fashion, yeah, that is unbecoming, but setting a tactical retreat to better face the foe strategically is not a breech of conduct. If your DM thinks it is, then you may have a problem.
Some people view a Fallen Paladin as the end of the road. "I failed." "All of his powers are gone, he's just a fighter now, and disgraced on top of it all! What's the point in playing him anymore?"
When a Paladin falls - for whatever reason - that adds a new element to that character's personality, a new trial to overcome. How would your Paladin respond to such a blow? Depending on their history they may take it lying down, but not likely.
There are a lot of ways to handle Falling. You can try to abolish it from the mechanics entirely: a Fall occurs only when narratively appropriate, and this is done in consultation with the Paladin’s player. A Fallen Paladin is always picked up by some other great power, typically the Evil that corrupted him.
But that’s not the only approach. Another approach to Falling is likening it as going-for-broke. The Paladin is, by definition, holding himself back, and Falls when he stops doing so: but when he does, he is a terrible thing to behold.
An example of how Falling might pertain to a Paladin in the context:
The key is that Falling is not a trap and it is not a punishment for bad roleplaying. The Fall is a narrative construct that is supposed to be the height of drama. It needs to accomplish something big: stripping a PC of his ability to do anything does not accomplish that. This is one of the biggest failings in 3.5, in my opinion, and you should talk to your DM about how to rectify that.It was our 11th hour, we'd hounded the streets for days trying to round up cult agents and get information out of them.
We found out the plague was already in most of the food and water, as they had been at it for months, but a ritual needed to be completed for it to become active.
The cultists were hard to break, and our group (generally not the nicest folks) wanted to torture it out of them. Naturally, Sir Peter was opposed.
"We can't preserve freedom while denying it to others. It's not right, we can't do it, and I won't allow it."
Chris wasn't being a ****, he was just playing the character. As much as our characters might not have liked it, we as players were having lots of fun. The added drama really worked.
We managed to capture a high priest of the cult, someone responsible for conducting the ritual in this part of the land. It turns out the ritual needed to be conducted at the same time in several parts of the kingdom at once, in order to deliver the maximum effect.
We need to know the other locations, or else all our efforts would have just saved one northern barony and not the whole land. He gave us no choice but to beat it out of him.
Sir Peter wanted no part of this: "If you're going to treat a man like some animal for the slaughter, then don't expect me to sit by and watch." He then stormed out, and let us carry on in our work.
We'd been at it hours, and we couldn't get the guy to crack. He just wouldn't tell us anything. He was covered in cuts, had lost a toe at our hands, was dripping in his own blood, but still won't give us want we needed. We were going to give up and try another method, when all of a sudden, our doorway darkens and in walks Sir Peter. He's wearing nothing but his tunic and pants, unarmed, bar for a half drank jug of some form of strong booze in hand.
In he steps into the room and announces:
"If you're going to do this, do it right..."
He walks over to the bound cultist, tosses aside his bottle, lifts the chair and sits in front of the beaten man.
Sir Peter: "I don't want to hurt you, I just need to know the locations of your brethren, then this can be all over for you, I will make sure you are safe and cared for."
Cultist: "Ha! I know who you are, Sir Peter Fairgrave; kingdom breaker, runaway child, father slayer. You can't threaten me: I know what you are. Your order, your God won't allow you to lay your hands on me, otherwise you'll fall, and you won't be able to help a soul."
Sir Peter: *sighs* "You seem to be under the misconception about what I am, what I do. I am a paladin, that is true; but as a paladin I don't fear falling... I look forward to it."
The cultist shot a nervous look at the rest of the party, we were all looking at each other, not sure what was about to happen. The cultist opened his mouth to speak, but Sir Peter cut him off.
Sir Peter: "As a paladin, I walk on a razor's edge. Not between good and evil, I could never be something like you, but between "law" and "justice". The "law" I follow doesn't permit me to harm you, but I could be "justified" in anything I did to you in order to save innocent lives. ANYTHING!"
"You don't know what it is like to be me. You don't know the pain of having to store all your anger, all your fury, all your sense of justice, and hold it inside you, all day every day for the rest of your life. Doing the right thing doesn't mean I get to stop all evil, I just get to trim it when it becomes overgrown. The path I walk is not about vengeance, or what's right; it's about moderation in the face of power, restraint and compassion for scum like you.
"This is why paladins don't fear falling. We don't spend all day looking for ways to prevent ourselves from doing evil and giving in to the darkness -- we actively seek it out. Every time we face evil, we ask ourselves, 'Is this the threat that I'm going to give it all up for? Is this what I am going to give up my ability to help others in the future, in order to bring it down now. Is this the evil that I am willing to forsake my God and my power to stop?!'".
At this point, he stands up suddenly and swings his arm against the chair he was sitting on. Sending it flying and shattered against a wall, he then kicks over the chair the cultist was sitting on, he leaps and straddles his chest, flinging him about for a few seconds in pure rage, before calming once more.
He looks the cultist straight in the face, both their noses just inches from each other.
"What you should be asking yourself now, what you really need to be thinking about, is: 'Is what I'm doing something that will make this guy want to fall?' Because you should know that once I fall, all those rules which protect you from me are gone. No longer will I be able to be stopped by you, or by my order, or by my God. If I give everything, and I mean give everything, I will never stop. If you escape me today, I will hunt you down and grab you into the pits of hell myself. Even if that means that I have to invoke the wrath of every demon in creation, just so they throw open a pit and drag me down where I stand, because when they do drag me down, I will make sure that my fists are wrapped firmly around your ankles and you go down with me. I want you to listen to me now, and I mean really listen, because Hell truly hath no fury like a paladin scorned."
"So I ask you, one last time: tell me where the other rituals are being held, or I swear to all on high that I will fall, and fall hard, just so I can show you what it is that paladin truly keeps his code in order to hold back..."
At this point the player, Chris, just stops talking and looks at us. We are all kind of stunned by his speech, naturally.
He just picks up a D20, looks at the DM and says "I wish to roll intimidate."
~ Read the full story here: "Giant in the Playground" post
There are often times where you and the DM don't see eye-to-eye concerning the ethics and credo that your paladin must follow. Remembering that the DM has the final word in all such debates it is always beneficial to make sure the two of you understand each other's opinions so you know just how far you can go without falling out of favor with your god. However, as stated above, don't discard the character if he does Fall! One of the best paladins I ever played spent a good deal of time as a fallen paladin, and that was one of the largest growth periods the character had by way of personality and reputation. If handled properly, your paladin will never be far from adventure, intrigue, conflict, and character-building experiences.
With this in mind, what denotes a successful paladin? Is it the ability to remain true to his edicts? Is it the ability to never step out of line? In part, but overall, the most important thing is the ability to roll-play a "PERSON", and that means struggling with his values, struggling with his restraints, while still managing to live life. If you are lucky enough to be able to pull this off without ever falling down, then either your DM is too lenient, or you are, or, just maybe, you really are able to play that Paladin the way they are supposed to be played. To play a successful paladin, PLAY THE PERSON, WITHIN THE CLASS, NOT JUST THE CLASS!
- Bromern Sal at the Red Dragon Inn
- BESW, KRyan from the Pathfinder forums on RPG Stackexchange