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The Paladin: Expanding the Boundaries of Faith

The Paladin: Expanding the Boundaries of Faith

Gerson Krzyzacy, The Teutonic Knights in Poland (Captive)The Paladin. To many roleplaying groups, this character doesn’t even have a name; he, or she, is simply “The Paladin,” as if there is no point in further description or that word is enough to convey the entire personality of an individual. The character’s backstory is irrelevant, the paladin’s physical features are fluff, and the player playing the paladin is subconsciously pigeonholed by friends into the role of ruining the in-character fun of everyone at the table.

I aim to change that.

First, I have to ask: What is a paladin? The shortest answer is “a holy knight.” This probably evokes an image of someone you might see sitting at King Arthur’s Round Table, but in fantasy literature, a paladin is always a warrior in the service of a god; paladins devote their entire lives to the tenets and faith of a god, and in turn that god grants them supernatural powers. Paladins can cast spells granted by a deity, and to sense and smite enemies of their faith. In the standard paladin, this means “evil” creatures.

This brings us around to the logical question here: If a paladin gets power from serving a deity, why are the good gods the only ones who grant these powers to their servants? Evil deities have priests, neutral deities have priests; why can’t they also have paladins? Why wouldn’t they have paladins? If a paladin is the ultimate expression of a warrior’s service to their god, it makes sense that every god should want a handful of these folk to call on when things get hairy.

So far, we a case for why paladins shouldn’t be confined only to a good alignment. But what about the lawful/chaotic axis?

The same argument applies. A chaotic good deity wants somebody in their corner, but why would a chaotic god want a stuffy, lawful servant? For that matter, why would someone who’s so concerned with rules and laws want to serve someone who isn’t concerned with such things at all?

The more learned and astute readers are probably pointing out there’s already a paladin archetype that breaks from the standard knight-in-shining-armor stereotype. Yes, there is the “antipaladin” but everything about it seems just as limiting as the standard paladin—a photo negative of something without room to stretch your roleplaying muscles is still just as limiting, just with a different color palette. I’ve thought about this extensively, and I’m going to provide some new rules and archetypes for the paladin for use in your Pathfinder game. These rules allow a player to fit the general attitude of the party instead of applying a forced set of morals, as well as play a paladin that doesn’t have to conform to the same stereotypical mold.

In my next post I will begin with a simple change: the Paladin of Order, the lawful neutral paladin.

11 thoughts on “The Paladin: Expanding the Boundaries of Faith”

  1. Only 4 alignments are currently in the run, though if there’s enough interest and traffic there might be more added to the series later on. I’m leaving the Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil alignments to their already published variants.

  2. I think a better way would be to think of Paladins as enforcers of divine laws. That’s how “paladins” work in my setting – they enforce laws of gods, while “clerics” propagate them. Clerics are like healers and therapists – they are there to listen to you and help you when you are losing faith, to keep you on the right path, while paladins are there when you proof irredeemable. They hunt you down and cut out your heart as a cautionary tale to those who dare stray from their vows.

    I don’t think restricting paladins to alignment make sense. Instead, I’d rather they align themselves to ideologies, and explicitly state what kind of ideologies run counter to what they believe in (and enforce). Think communist zealot slaughtering republicans after their evangelists failed to convert them.

    Or something along those lines.

  3. I remember with fondness a 1st edition AD&D article in the dragon (106 by Christopher Wood my Google-fu tells me) a Plethora of Paladins. I used it with book wearing regularity in my 1 st and 2nd edition games, bringing back some of them in my 3.5 and now Pathfinder games. I look forward into seeing how this article goes.

  4. Very interesting article. It does indeed remind me of that old Dragon article!

    I have to say, though … to me, a paladin isn’t just a holy knight. It is a holy knight specifically dedicated to law and good. I don’t have a problem with neutral or evil or chaotic gods having thier own divine warriors, but to my mind, those should be some other class, not a paladin.

    Yes, I know this is a very definate sacred cow from the earliest editions of the game. It’s just one of the sacred cows that I’m not willing to give up.

    Now … all you kids get off my lawn and stop having fun wrong! ;P

  5. A holy knight, an enforcer of doctrine…certainly these roles fit. A paladin is the outstretched hand of a deity. The traditional, lawful only, alignment limitation of a paladin should still be kept in place simply because of the discipline it takes for a paladin to adhere to all of it’s tenets. Every rule has exceptions and I think the author should continue to explore them. One request that I make, however, is that the author address the reasoning and role playing for keeping those tenets now that we have removed the alignment reasoning.

  6. @Marc: that is the best argument for limiting the paladin to lawful good I’ve ever seen, and the first I remember seeing that I’ve found remotely convincing.

  7. I agree with Marc, and I have very little experience (read: none) with older versions of the game. I started playing seriously with 3.5 in 2008, and soon after that got into 4th edition (didn’t really enjoy it) and have settled on Pathfinder.

    Point is, I don’t think it’s defending a ‘sacred cow’ to say that paladins should only be lawful good. The alignment is the core of who and what a paladin is. They are defenders and heroes, thoroughly dedicated to their deity’s laws and tenets.

    Think about it: why would anyone dedicate himself or herself to evil? People are evil, certainly, but that’s usually because he/she is dedicated to him/herself first and foremost. And the nature of being chaotic means -not- being beholden to a set of strictures and ordnances. A paladin’s life is one of self-sacrifice, requiring strict discipline and benevolence that doesn’t suit any other alignments.

  8. One can BE lawful and evil without claiming themselves to be so. How many laws are evil? I can think of plenty. If the paladin comes from a society that legislates evil (slavery, theft in the form of crushing taxation for the luxury of the ruling class, rules against free speech, etc) then the paladin can be “lawful” simply by doing anything he wants as long as he ensures the rule of his god and those of his order are upheld- if the law allows him to because of his position. Laws are not inherently moral or good. I don’t believe many would dedicate themselves to the concept of “evil,” but some might. Want to become a creature of evil in exchange for immortality and power? People do choose vampirism. Why not dedicate themselves to evil for power and wealth? Hell yeah, people do that shit in the REAL world, much less fantasy. Just because most evil people don’t admit to being evil doesn’t mean they don’t fully understand they ARE. It’s never simple as just “evil” though. In regards to neutrality, a paladin of lawful and neutral deity would strive to protect the good from evil, the evil from good, and maintain a balance. The only thing I believe that should be kept is the lawful scheme. A chaotic person wouldn’t have the same motivation or method of operation. It would be more like an evil cleric trying to convert without adherence to laws of any kind.

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