The Daredevil Paladin

The Daredevil Paladin

Albrecht Dürer - Knight, Death and the DevilThere is no class more stereotyped and pigeonholed than the paladin. They are, after all, iconic. Noble defenders of good, they are the men and women through whom true divinity shines. They serve as a shining force for all that is just and right in the world, and almost universally we picture them as chivalrous knights in gleaming armor. Part of the reason for that is the word ‘paladin’ refers to one of the 12 Peers of Charlemagne, some of the most legendary knights outside of Arthur’s round table. The other reason is that, more often than not, we simply accept that the iconic representation of a class is the way it’s supposed to be.

However, what if I told you a paladin didn’t need shining armor? That your champion of good might choose to wield a rapier and a dueling cloak, instead?

The Mechanics

Paladins, mechanically, are fighters with perks. Their smite ability allows them to gain a significant advantage against evil foes, adding to their attacks, damage, and Armor Class. They become immune to disease, they gain spells, and they add their Charisma modifier to all their saving throws. Although paladins can choose to stomp around in heavy armor while carrying a slab of steel as a shield, nowhere is it written that they have to do this.

At its most basic, these dexterous paladins utilize speed and skill over brute force. That may mean taking feats like Weapon Finesse and Slashing Grace to add to your attack, and feats like Dodge and Mobility to increase your Armor Class. A paladin relying on Dexterity may also find that building up to Spring Attack is useful, allowing the paladin to charge in, smite a creature, and then leap back out of its threatened area. Fast, high-crit weapons like the rapier or the scimitar can pay off big when it comes to damage as well, multiplying damage from Smite, or even Power Attack, allowing your fast-moving paladin to deal truly crippling blows before dancing out of reach once more.

You can also dip into other classes to add abilities to your daredevil. The swashbuckler is perhaps the most appropriate, since panache is also based off your Charisma modifier, and even low-level deeds can be life-saving in combat. The rogue, or even the slayer, can also put an additional edge on a paladin who relies on precision and skill over brute force. The condition you have to watch for when multiclassing, though, is that many of a paladin’s abilities are based on the character’s paladin level. So while 2–3 levels of another class can be helpful, more than that may be a bigger hindrance than it is a help.

The Flavor

We’ve all seen paladins before. They come from the church, and they’re typically a part of that church’s martial branch. They were trained with other holy soldiers, and sent out into the world as knights errant to combat darkness wherever it rears its head. They’re Knights Templar, without all the baggage.

Sure, that’s one option. But what about others?

Say, for example, your paladin lives in a city. That would explain why impractical armor and a heavy shield aren’t something he or she would carry. After all, in the narrow confines of back alleys, speed and skill often count for more than a steel shell. But what is the urban paladin’s calling? Is he a member of the city watch, pledged to help defend it against enemies from both within and without? Or is this paladin not associated with any organization? She might be a neighborhood champion, standing up for what’s right on a small-scale by dealing with street toughs and crime lords instead of fighting demons and battling lich kings.

Other locales lend themselves to the daredevil paladin. For example, paladins who lead a seafaring life may need to depend on their reflexes instead of armor, particularly if they’re swinging on ropes or swimming to safety. The same is true of paladins from the desert or the jungle, who might find the elements tax anyone who insists on wearing anything beyond light forms of protection. Traveling paladins may also forego the heavy protections found on organized battle fields, simply because hauling around and caring for such a weight of steel is a great burden to someone constantly on the move.

Lastly, some paladins may embrace a more acrobatic fighting style out of a cultural preference instead of sheer practicality. For example, does the paladin come from a place where braggadocio is more than just social posturing? In that context, would someone wearing armor and hiding behind a shield be considered a coward? Alternatively, is the paladin from a place where steel has not been readily available, and thus fighting styles have evolved in such a way that fighters are assumed to be wearing no more than light forms of protection? Samurai, for example, wore lacquered wood, and even the infamous katana was forged from pig iron, because that’s all that was available to the smiths. Or, for those who want to keep a paladin’s faith first and foremost in the character concept, has the character foresworn armor as a symbol of faith, showing that they are armored in righteousness?

You can weave this concept a lot of different ways, but all of them will make for a memorable take on what so many players consider a boring class.

For more unusual character concepts, check out Neal F. Litherland’s gaming blog Improved Initiative!

7 thoughts on “The Daredevil Paladin”

  1. I have always found myself avoiding paladins and this may be what I needed to change my mind. A Paladin splash for my beloved Bard could be fun or vice versa.

  2. I haven’t played Pathfinder in a couple of years (something I quickly realized with the mentions of Feats), but I’m sure there’s an archetype or two that would let you trade-off the heavy armor that you’re not using anyway for some other neat perk. I’ve never been into the Paladin of past editions, but ever since the Paladin was unhitched from the Lawful Good alignment, the class became a lot more interesting to me! While maybe not optimal, the Paladin/Monk give you incredible Saving Throws and they would also have complimentary ethos depending on the deity. -Nerdarchist Ryan

    1. Nerdarchy, the paladin is still firmly hitched to the lawful good alignment, at least as far as Pathfinder goes. While there was a prestige class in 3.5 that let you act outside that alignment, paladins are still required to have LG on their sheet. They don’t necessarily need to worship a lawful good god, but one could argue that was never really the case.

  3. Have you considered the Inspired Blade archetype? You can get dex to hit and damage at first level with that and the “piercing grace” feat – if you’re human you can add “flag-bearer” feat to be truly inspirational (bonus to hit and damage for nearby allies). The background then might be that of a pirate-type turned religious and righteous…

    Or you could leave that element entirely in his backstory and say he traded his rapier for the weapon of Sarenrae when she forgave him/he redeemed himsmelf, and have dex to hit and damage at level 2 at the cost of a few skill points in dance with the “dervish dance” feat, while going pure Paladin.

    If you’re willing to splash bard, there’s two dervish dancer based archetypes, but the one that grants the feat for free early makes the bardic inspiration only apply to yourself (though even more so) – should stack with smite, so should aid in self-buffing efforts. Also the added spell-list and UMD as a class skill (and a few skill points to throw around) are nice benefits. If you wait a few levels with the dip (assuming you’re not taking the dip for the dervish dance feat) you could put many skill points into UMD at once, if that’s relevant.

    Anyway mechanically interesting

    Straight Paladin (with Dervish Dance)

    Inspired Blade 1 -> Paladin 19 (with Piercing Grace)

    Bard (few) -> Paladin (rest) or other way around (if dipping only for great saves, little healing and 1/day smite…)

    are all viable and can be interesting.

  4. Perhaps it’s time to get past the idea of Lawful Good paladins and go instead to the ‘Holy Warrior’ ideas, one style for each god.

    1. I believe that’s what they were going for with the Warpriest. The idea of the paladin, I’d argue, is that they are a force of pure good (or at least as pure as mortals can get). In much the same way the Blackguard (because I hate the class name antipaladin) is meant to be someone who is pure evil (or at least as pure as mortals can get).

      For those who want holy warriors that aren’t LG, there’s the warpriest, the oracle, the ever-trustworthy cleric, the shaman, the druid, and dozens of other classes besides. If you’re more into moral shades of gray, there’s the inquisitor. I’d argue that once you start saying paladins don’t have to be lawful good, you’re not playing a paladin anymore, as that restriction and ideal is part and parcel of the class.

  5. Thats why the way D&D 5E does it, is nice, nor tied to an alignement or God, but to a Vow, and Ideal.

    You can be a goody two shoes paladin, that wants to protect the Orphans and Widows , with a Vow of Devotion.

    or be the unstoppable arm of Cold nd Blind Justice with the Vow of Vengeance.

    Or be one who serve a cause, even if its not seen as good by others, Vow of Conquest.

    And for those who like to turn all Lich King, the oathbraker…

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