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. Previous editions typecast them as lawful good killjoys! In reality, paladins and their religious orders are an important part of fantasy settings, filling critical roles within society.
Second, the role of paladin orders is poorly explored in 5th Edition. A paladin’s order is equivalent to a cleric’s church, providing guidance and support for 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.
Dirk is creating an order using the Oath of Thunder from the Midgard Heroes Handbook. He wants to create a sneakier paladin to match a stealthy party, and he suspects that the Aura of Alacrity can improve the party’s initiative results. Finally, he thinks throwing a handaxe infused with elemental lightning in a 60-foot line is cooler than most Channel Divinity options.
Question 1. How old is the paladin 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 to bring to bear, 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.
Dirk’s order dates back to the beginning of recorded history, when humans, elves, and dwarves fought back weird creatures from beyond space and time. This order slowly transitioned from a cluster of warriors fighting for survival to an organization of cavaliers dedicated to protecting the world from the unnatural.
Question 2. Which tenet is most important?
While they follow each tenet of their oaths, the 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 Is it outdated or unpopular, or perhaps favored by a corrupt government?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?
Dirk’s GM has been talking about how Tome of Beasts 2 is filled with aberrations that are nightmare fuel. Dirk is a good player and wants to give his GM an excuse to pull out these monsters, so he focuses on the tenet to crush the abomination.
Because his order focuses on aberrations and fiends, its paladins find themselves at the borders of civilization. Commoners are frightful when the order comes around, because it means there’s horrible trouble afoot. However, those who’ve experience these horrors first-hand take comfort in the order’s presence.
Question 3. Who founded your order, and why are they renowned?
Many paladins grow up hearing tales of the 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?
Dirk decides that the banneret, Dafydd Apcryf, is the most famous early knight and best known for driving an aboleth invasion back into the seas. While the order insists that Apcryf is the first warrior to impose an oath on the order, outside scholars believe that Aprcyrf is an amalgamation of teachings and stories by warriors of that epoch.
Dirk decides that Apcryf taught his paladin that there’s no limit to where you can go to keep civilization safe—even the briny, deadly deep.
Question 4. Why is your order (still) relevant?
Paladin orders that don’t remain relevant can’t attract new adherents. Perhaps more crucially, the order can’t get support from citizenry, wealth donors, or the government — 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?
Dirk decides that the order’s relevance waxes and wanes with the frequency that abominations invade civilization. While aberrant activity is high, the order is well funded and recruiting is up. When aberrant activity is uncommon, the order struggles for support, viewed as paranoid templars of a bygone era. Dirk decides he’ll leave it up to his GM to determine where the order is in this cycle.
Question 5. What is a relic of your order?
Each order has a number of relics that have been 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, Dirk decides that high-ranking members of the order wield mountain hewers—greataxes that strike fear into the hearts of the largest, mightiest monsters. The order has eight among their current leadership, but more of them were lost in ancient battlefields and deepest dungeons.
Question 6. What is the order’s darkest secret?
Like any organization, your paladin order has skeletons in its closet. It will use any means necessary—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?
Dirk decides that the order’s current leadership has been implanted with tentacles after being defeated by aberrant foes. These well-hidden tentacles make the leaders susceptible to schemes beyond the stars, making the world more susceptible to the next great invasion.
After this, give your order an evocative name and provide it to your GM for comment and use in your game.
Dirk names his order “The Bolts Protectorate” and hands it to his GM (who thanks Dirk for an excuse to use all these fun monsters that have haunted his dreams).