In the current edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game, paladins get the short end of the stick in two ways.
First, paladins don’t have the greatest reputation with the player base. This is likely due to past editions having typecast them in as lawful good killjoys. In reality, paladins and their religious orders are an important part of fantasy settings, often filling critical roles within society.
Second, the role of paladin orders is poorly explored in 5th Edition. While the orders should be emphasized just as much as churches with clerics, the paladin is primarily focused on their sacred oath. This ignores the order’s importance in providing guidance and support for their adventuring adherents.
Fret not, brave adventurer! By considering the six following questions, you can create a compelling paladin order for your players or for your own character to join.
In this article, Heather is creating an order using the Oath of Devotion from the core rules. She wants to make a knight in shining armor. As her GM is running Empire of the Ghouls, she suspects that the Channel Divinity option for Turn the Unholy will be handy when fighting undead.
Question 1. How old is the order?
The order’s age and longevity may inform your interactions, as well as create tension in the story that you tell with your fellow PCs and GM. Consider the following:
- Older orders may have more resources, while younger orders may struggle to support their paladins in the field.
- Older orders may focus on the way the things have always been done, while newer orders are less entrenched in their practices.
- Older orders may have experienced, powerful leaders, while newer orders may have room for rapid advancement through the ranks.
Heather’s order was created in the wake of an undead invasion in the previous decade. While her order was very important during the invasion, its prominence recedes as the years pass. Heather’s character was one of but a handful of springtime initiates in her year.
Question 2. Which tenet is most important?
While they follow each tenet of their oaths, an order exemplifies one specific tenet. Consider the following:
- How does society view this tenet? Is it outdated or unpopular, or perhaps favored by a corrupt government?
- How does this tenet influence how your order operates in the community?
- How might you struggle to uphold this tenet as a paladin adventuring in the field?
Heather decides that her order focuses on courage, as it takes a noble audacity to stand against hordes of undead. However, she decides that the common folk view her order as having become overly cautious, unwilling to roll up their sleeves and save lives.
Question 3. Who founded your order, and why are they renowned?
Many paladins grow up hearing tales of the great heroes who founded and sustained the order. More seasoned paladins derive inspiration from the founders’ trials and tribulations. Consider the following:
- Was your order founded by a single paladin or a group?
- Are the founders alive? If not, how did they die?
- What are the founders renowned for? Had the founders already established the order, or did this precipitate the order’s founding?
- What lessons can you learn from the founders?
Heather decides that her order was founded by a cadre of knights who defended a mountain pass during the invasion. Against all odds, these knights delayed a horde of zombies from reaching the farmlands on the other side of the mountain, allowing the tillers precious days to flee the oncoming conflict and saving hundreds of lives—including her own.
Heather’s character has learned that she can’t fully understand the value of her sacrifice for others.
Question 4. Why is your order (still) relevant?
Paladin orders that do not remain relevant cannot attract new adherents. Perhaps more crucially, the order can’t obtain support from citizenry, wealthy donors or the rulers—all of whom the order relies on for support.
- Does the order maintain purpose by meeting a critical societal function, such as education or proselytizing?
- Does the order derive relevance by filling an unmet social need, such as soup kitchens for the hungry or orphanages for the parentless?
- Has the order struggled to remain relevant? If so, how might you breathe new life into the ranks?
Heather has already decided that the order’s relevance is waning. However, she decides that the order fights for the safety and legal rights of refugees of the invasion, in whatever land they find themselves.
Question 5. What is a relic of your order?
Each order has relics that were used by past paladins and maybe even the founder.
- What does the relic do? Is the relic magical or mundane?
- Has the relic been lost? If yes, when and where was it lost?
- What would happen if the relic fell into the wrong hands?
After reviewing the Vault of Magic, Heather decides that the original knights had five breaker lances at the pass, which they used to summon walls of fire and halt the march of the unliving. The order has two such lances still in their possession, but the other three have been lost. Anyone who could recover a missing lance would be renowned in the order, and the current leadership would likely be forced to forgive a host of misdeeds.
Question 6. What is the order’s darkest secret?
Like any organization, your paladin order has skeletons in its closet. It will use means at their disposal—from intimidation, skullduggery or Turn Undead—to keep them out of the public eye.
- What is this secret?
- Is the secret confined to the past or is it still ongoing?
- How great is the shame if this secret came to light?
- How might the secret be rectified?
Heather decides that all but three of the knights who died during the invasion are interred in the order’s hallowed mausoleum. Those missing three were reanimated as undead foes of the order—whether a ghoulish darakhul from the Tome of Beasts, a deathspeaker from Tome of Beasts 2, or even a mere zombie. These brave knights can’t find peace until their bodies are put to rest.
After this, give your order an evocative name and provide it to your GM for comment and use in your game.
Heather names her order “The Preservers of Spring” and hands it to her GM (who thanks Heather for all the adventure hooks she’s offering up).