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.
Toshi is creating an order using the Oath of Justice from the Tome of Heroes. They want to explore the paladin’s role as a faithful arbiter of the law. They also think that the oath’s broader spell selection could be beneficial for the party, and they think that the Tether of Righteousness—a holy lasso—makes for a fun Channel Divinity option that could see regular use at the table.
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.
Toshi’s order was founded within the last five years. The founder funded this new order as part of his will, although the order struggles to access designated funds. Paladins who are willing to stick out this process finding themselves promoted up the ranks.
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 Is it outdated or unpopular, or perhaps favored by a corrupt government?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?
Toshi wants to focus on the tenet that the punishment fits the crime. They are curious to see how their paladin metes out punishment against foes miles away from civilization and courts.
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?
Toshi decides that the order was founded by Gabel Easterling, a famous judge renowned for devising inventive punishments for those he found guilty. The judge was independently wealthy, and he left a sizable sum in his will for the founding of an order of paladins to carry on his vision.
As part of their education, squires must learn the Easterling’s Two Score Holdings, which are the judge’s forty most influential rulings. Toshi’s favorite ruling was against the thief who, instead of losing his hand for stealing bread, was required to bake a dozen loaves each morning and distribute them to the indigent.
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?
Toshi decides that the order is not always viewed favorably by society, who seem to prefer simple, repeatable punishments—even when harsh. Paladins commonly receive additional funding from outside the order, but the Arbiters are less popular. Their salaries are often lower than their those of other orders.
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?
Toshi looks through the Vault of Magic and decides that the judge had commissioned six lanterns of judgment prior to his death. These lanterns were given to the Righteous Gavel, the title for the order’s leader, and the Five Fingers of Adjudication, who run the different sectors of the order.
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?
Toshi decides that, despite the hefty initial funding from the will, the order is nearly bankrupt. Stipends and salaries have not been delivered, and paladins can only work for free for so long before they seek out new orders with greater support and less ridicule. Leadership has debated selling the order’s assets to cover the funding shortfall—including (gods forbid) the judge’s relics.
After this, give your order an evocative name and provide it to your GM for comment and use in your game.
Toshi names his order “The Untouchable Arbiters” and hands it to his GM (who thanks Toshi for providing a source of villains and discord for the campaign).