... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Problem With Paladins

... Is that many players don't want to play paladins. They just want the powers.

This is the conclusion I've come  to after reading many, many discussions about paladins. Whether you think of paladins as the flower of knighthood, as I do, or the servant and epitome of some god on earth, as many modern fantasy games do, the point of the paladin class is not the powers. It's the the paladin's code, the restrictions on behavior. I've written before about what I think the paladin's code should be, so I won't go into that. The point I'm focusing on here is that there has to be a code, and it really shouldn't be one the player creates. If you want to make up your own code, pick a class like Fighter that has no code and add your own code. If you want powers that come from some god, pick a spell caster class and say your powers come from some god, although even there, there should be some expectation of being judged by your god.

And you shall be judged. None of this "I'll do whatever I want, then retcon my actions as being in line with my code." That's bullshit. If you want to do something like that, play another class and say, "I have a code," but don't say what it is. Make it up as you go along. The point of a class that has strict behavior standards is to challenge yourself to see if you can meet those standards. And the point of taking a moral code is to have your moral code challenged. Saying "I want to be a paladin" is you challenging the GM to test your morality. You're saying "this is what I want my personal story to be about.

And don't get me started about the "Lawful Good, not Lawful Stupid" argument. Critics who bring up the Lawful Stupid charge always provide examples where what's expedient is in direct conflict with most strict moral codes. What's expedient is often not what's good, maybe not even what's Lawful. Again, there are already classes to play if you want to base all your decisions on expediency. Choosing the paladin means choosing to not always do what's in your personal self-interest. You have to choose, sometimes, and know that if you do what is expedient instead of what is right, you may lose your righteous powers,. If you don't want the GM to ever, ever take away or reduce your powers, then the paladin is not for you. Move along.


  1. Same thing goes with the Ranger.
    OD&D Ranger was basically Aragorn with serial numbers filed off. Late editions rangers are all about dual wielding and animal BFF

  2. The problem is mitigated to some degree if you provide some mechanism for a fallen paladin to achieve a state of grace once more. It will give the referee more leeway in imposing punishment if it's not permanent.

    As long as a fighter starts lawful and has the proper stats, he should be able to at some point achieve paladinhood. If he turns into a dick or puts on a helm of alignment change or something stupid, he should fall from grace. If he atones in a specific way, he can ascend again.

    This should be hard and inconvenient, as you say. But it should recognize that (RPG) mortals are imperfect as well.

    1. Yes, and what I'm suggesting is that a player who really wants to play a paladin, as opposed to just lusting after power, is specifically expecting to cross the line and have to atone. Paladins are boring unless they have a transgression and redemption story.

      If you want a religious character who does whatever is expedient, play a witch hunter.

    2. The problem with the paladin's code, assuming the code follows the traditional D&D format for paladins, is that it usually turns the paladin into a giant block for the party to work around. Rather than further the adventure, and open up opportunities, the paladin instead actively inhibits them. At best, the party spends a lot of frustrating time trying to work around the paladin's code; at worst, it's a way for the DM to punish the party for straying from his script. Neither leads to a particularly good experience.

      What is required is a player and a DM who are creative enough to transform the paladin's code and the paladin itself into a method for creating more opportunities for the party, or at least for replacing the opportunities which the paladin's code removes with at least as many equally interesting opportunities. Unfortunately, such players and DMs are very rare, and in any case the exercise is both annoying and unnecessary.

      In general, a class which requires external DM interference for balance is simply a badly designed class. A code which acts as a straitjacket on player creativity is a badly-written code. The two combine in the traditional D&D paladin to create a perfectly awful class which perpetually risks becoming both absurdly overpowered and an enormous damper on player creativity and motivation to do anything more than be led by the nose.

      I've found that it's much better to get rid of the paladin and other classes with similar external "balancing" constraints entirely. If a player in my campaign wants to play a knight in shining armor, she can certainly do so by choosing a standard fighter and giving it whatever code of conduct she wants, or whatever code of conduct her character's order purports to follow. By separating the character's conduct from the character's combat prowess, there is no longer any need to constantly monitor a character's actions and to slap the party on the knuckles every time they suggest some unsavory method for getting what they want solely for the sake of balancing a particular character's combat power.

      As an aside, there's still plenty of room for various consequences if a character performs vile deeds. Just they have nothing to do with power balance.

    3. Perhaps the paladin's better suited for solo play (with the addition of henchmen, of course). I see no problem with that, though it does make that class more of a supplemental one

  3. I've thought since 3x that Paladin should be a Prestige class. You can take it if your heart has been pure or you do a great deed for your church. Also the character has to be the party leader, otherwise you end up, as Homer pointed out, rationalizing around the character.

    1. Before the 3rd edition and the whole "prestige-class-Madness", Mentzer's BECMI rules played the paladins that way ; a Lawful fighter having acheved 9th level could elect to become one.

    2. Yup, and it made sense for the Fighters. But a Cleric becoming a Druid at 9th(?) level... not so much. At least, not in the Druid=nature worshipper model. If one of the 'prestige' options for a BECMI Cleric was 'mystic' or 'hermit', yes, I could see that - even if I'm not sure if it'd make a good adventuring class.