D&D is a mess. Glorious, perhaps. Hot and steaming, certainly. But a mess.
I will say this about Wizards of the Coast…by putting an emphasis on combat they at least attempted to straightjacket the thing into some semblance of coherence and order. A valiant effort and a practical tact, it’s just unfortunate that too much gets left out (and too much, crunch-wise, gets added in) to make those later editions anything I want to play.
But, hey, this post isn’t about WotC, it’s about paladins. I’ve waffled on this ridiculous class almost as badly as the barbarian over the last couple years. With regard to B/X, I’ve stated on more than one occasion that the cleric is about as paladin as you need (just let ‘em use a damn sword…jeez, all weapons do D6 damage anyway!). I’ve also derided the paladin as being redundant in AD&D (being simply a “souped-up fighter”), and talked about how the class NEVER graced the character sheets of my old campaigns, seeing as how we took our alignment restrictions seriously and the goody-two-shoes didn’t fit our roguish-reaving style.
On the other hand, I discovered a new interest in the class when I saw the original version in Supplement I (Greyhawk) and had planned to include this diminished version in my particular version of D&D Mine. And tonight at the Mox I shall be running a paladin character of my own for the Very First Time (having decided that I’m just not “feeling” the gnome assassin enough to carry on with the little guy).
[yikes! We’ll see how that goes!]
[***EDIT: This post was written earlier in the day...it is now after midnight and, yes, I did indeed play a paladin for the first time in my life. More on that later***]
But so anyway, here I am considering carefully how the paladin works into a D&D campaign, especially hot-on-the-heels of my recent assassin reflections (and realizing that I may need to junk that particular subclass as unworkable) and realizing that the paladin is almost equally bad for a “standard” D&D game.
Now for tonight, Randy is not running a “standard” LL game. There’s a heavy-handed premise and plot driving the thing, such that ANY type of character would work in the adventure. It’s a bit like Marvel Secret Wars (or the recent movie PredatorS) in that a bunch of random characters have all been thrown together in this prison-like environment, branded with a curse, and are working (cooperatively) to free themselves from the curse and the dungeon. As I said: heavy handed. And unfortunately there’s not much freedom of choice of action (there are no towns to rest/shop at, monsters are either hostile and attack immediately or social and designed to provide certain info-bites or services), which isn’t all that surprising in light of it being based heavily on a computer game. It does make role-playing worthless for the most part (except as self-amusement), but I’m not sure that matters to anyone else at the table besides me.
In a “standard” D&D game, the idea is that a group of 1st level adventurers outfit get together, outfit and provision themselves, and then head to an adventure site (generally underground) looking to win fortune (and thereby glory) from the depths without getting killed. It’s more than a bit like an Indiana Jones movie (including bad guys and traps and occasional party conflict), pulpy and entertaining. And fun…who doesn’t like Indiana Jones movies? Well, the first two or three anyway!
Characters might be basically “good at heart” (like Indy or his buddy Sallah), or they might be more mercenary and selfish (like Satipo or Marion or Indy in the Temple of Doom film), or they might be out-for-Number-One, ready to use and abuse at a moment’s notice (like Belloq or the Austrian chick in the 3rd film). All sorts of folk might band together for the adventure, and if everything goes well, they’ll all make a healthy profit out of it.
So now we look at the paladin class: here’s a type of adventurer that has a very strict moral agenda. In exchange for following this ethical code, the paladin receives a few extra abilities one might find in such a saintly soul.
Um…so why would this joker EVER go into a dungeon?
Why would he ever raid someone’s tomb or desecrate a temple? Aside from ethical considerations (personally, I don’t feel paladins are the type to say “the end justifies the means;” they KNOW when they’re doing bad and they need to hold themselves to a higher standard), what exactly is their motivation?
I mean, shouldn’t they be out riding that warhorse, protecting the town and championing the weak? They don’t seek after money or treasure…hell, they give away everything they find to poor and charitable institution, save for the bare minimum they need to support themselves. And they don’t associate with (i.e. “hold themselves aloof from”) the standard mercenary adventurer. Why would they ever choose to join such a group of rogues?
As with assassins, it just doesn’t work to put them in the treasure-hunting, reaction-type adventure. Paladins are PROACTIVE: seeking to right wrongs and mete out justice and protect the poor. They’re not going to invade some ancient ruin “just ‘cause it’s there.” Is it threatening anyone? Doing harm to anyone? Because there’s sure to be better uses of the paladin’s time (i.e. in action that HELPS people) than kicking in doors looking for a Holy Avenger Sword.
Yes, paladins are like assassins: they need specific missions to really make sense in the D&D game. Paladins, of course, have no need to plot or plan like an assassin…a crusader with a sword has a fairly straight-forward game plan when it comes to “fighting evil.” But they still need OBJECTIVES, and objectives beyond the normal D&D party motivations:
You can see how I can justify playing a 1st level paladin in Randy’s LL game: here’s a guy who would be out seeking to fight demons and work the local soup kitchen if he hadn’t been spirited away and given this Dark Soul curse. NOW he has an in-game objective that has nothing to do with the standard adventurer motivations: he’s got to find a way to lift the curse (on himself and his companions) so that he can get back to fighting demons and working soup kitchens. He has fellow party-members in the same dire straits that require shepherding through this valley of darkness.
My gnome assassin just wasn’t working for me…it wasn’t a character designed for mutual cooperation but for individual action (which kept getting me into trouble). The paladin does have a motivation: to aid the folks in his party as best he can, to be a CONTRIBUTOR to the group’s (shared) success. That is to say, success in lifting the curse and getting out of the dungeon.
See, that wouldn’t work in a normal adventure. Yes, the paladin’s all about being a “team player,” but why would he ever want to contribute to a team of looters and brigands? Answer: he wouldn’t.
Look, even a Lawful (or Lawful Good) cleric can find some motivation for going down into a hole looking for loot. Institutionalized religion has a loooong history of going out into the world and taking questionable action all in aid of glorifying the church or a particular divinity. And greed and corruption and less-than-kind doctrines have been a part of ALL world religions, with the possible exception of Buddhism (which interestingly doesn’t possess clergy in the usual sense). But Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (eye-for-an-eye justice) have all had their moments of intolerance that can justify “non-good” actions for the sake of their doctrine…and the various “pagan” religions have histories just as bad, if not worse!
Now you can give your paladin players the option of “lip-service morality” of the type found in the cleric class…probably many DMs do just because it’s an expedient way of overcoming the issue I’m talking about (i.e. that paladins don’t work for the D&D game’s basic premise). They may allow the end to justify the means, or allow paladins to go on normal dungeon adventures “just because” or without too much thought one way or another…so long as the character is behaving “nice-nice” while on campaign.
For ME, I want to hold paladins to a Higher Standard. Otherwise, what’s the penalty for playing a paladin over a fighter? What…that they can’t use more than 10 magic items at a time? How many magic weapons and suits of armor do your fighters carry? Experience points needed? After a certain amount, all fighter-types become equal anyway (with regard to saves and attacks, that is); and hit points are always a crap-shoot.
No, I make paladins “walk-the-walk,” not just bandy about a lip service morality. The character class is required to have a 17 Charisma. Why? Because they’re not supposed to solve conflict simply by fighting, duh! They should be trying to work things out peacefully whenever possible (i.e. through negotiation and diplomacy) before resorting to violent force of arms. At least as originally designed, all paladin abilities were given for healing and defense. It’s only in 3rd Edition that guy starts being a “smiter of evil” (perhaps in an attempt to justify a high Charisma for the class?)…but then, as stated, WotC put the game’s emphasis firmly in the realm of combat.
So, yeah, here’s the bottom line(s):
- I intend my version of D&D Mine to be very “traditional D&D” right down to a possible mega-dungeon as part of the campaign setting (mega being a relative term in this case; the PCs are expected to come out of the dungeon at SOME point, round about 4th or 5th level).
- I would like to offer some variations on the four basic classes: cleric, fighter, thief, and mage. Ideally, the variations would be minor and flavorful and based on the campaign setting. My original intention was to include a single subclass for each: monk, paladin, assassin, and illusionist.
- I do NOT want these subclasses to be “prestige classes” (i.e. only available at high levels); while I can see them being specialties of the main classes (“only the thief that specializes in killing,” or “the fighter that proves his worth,” etc.) I really want them to be available from the very beginning (i.e. 1st level). I want the variation to already be on display…I don’t want subclasses to be a “prize” for making it through 20-odd game sessions.
Maybe I should change up the whole damn thing…something like this:
- Subclass Paladin
- Subclass Assassin or Monk
- Subclass Monk or Assassin
- Subclass Illusionist
Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea. I’ll have to decide which class between monks and assassins needs to be more “mystical” to fit under the magic-user heading (there’s historical precedent for either, depending on the stance I decide to take). I’m going to mull this one over for awhile and see what I come up with.