Friday, March 2, 2012

Dammit Paladins! (Change-Up)

…you don’t work either!

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 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:
  • Curiosity
  • Greed
  • Power/Glory
Paladins are supposed to be purer than that, more virtuous than that. If you want to play a knight with a Code of Honor that still succumbs to these listed motivations, you should be playing a fighter. For a paladin, succumbing to these base temptations is a quick way to losing one’s paladin status!

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):
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
You know what? Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way…maybe I’m adhering too closely to early edition D&D tropes, specifically OD&D. Perhaps I’m thinking too much “inside the box.” Arneson’s Blackmoor lists monks as a subclass of cleric, but other than the name and the Wisdom prime requisite, they bear no resemblance to clergy at all; they’re much more of a martial order. And paladins as holy champions would seem to fit better under the cleric class than the fighter.

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.

Cheers, folks!


  1. The way I see it, the subclasses are a convenient way to get rid of the whole multi-class idea but appease those players who may desire a certain mixed play style.

    I usually see them something like this:
    Fighter/thief = Assassin
    Fighter/magic-user = Monk
    Fighter/cleric = Paladin
    Thief/magic-user = Illusionist

    I don't see the need to have a cleric/thief or cleric/magic-user covered so they don't need a subclass. I'm also not sure the Monk works as a Fighter/Magic-user but it could be made to.

    1. Yeah...I'm beginning to look at it a bit like this too. Here's my latest take:

      Cleric with fighter "skills" = Paladin
      Fighter with thief "skills" = Assassin
      Thief with magic-user "skills" = Illusionist
      Magic-user with cleric "skills" = Monk

      ...which works for ALL the subclasses except the monk. My answer to that problem is (ta-da!) to completely reinvent the monk as something other than a Kung Fu master...instead, he'll be closer to a fakir or dervish.
      ; )

  2. Following bholmes, in my homebrew classes, the "cleric/thief" is the Bard class. "Cleric/magic-user" is the Druid. It works well enough, but lately I've been feeling that I really don't need all the sub-classes and should ditch them.

    At the same time, I'm considering switching to LL and the AEC as my go-to rule-set. What to do, simplify, or go all out? Only time will tell!

    And I can't wait to read about your experience playing a paladin. I just played one for the first time myself in Pathfinder, and it was a fun experience, but it would have been hard to justify simple dungeon delves in search of loot. Dungeon delves in search of specific treasures (like holy relics or what not) would have made sense, though.

    1. Yeah, it really depends on your class setting. I see a "cleric/magic-user" as the epitome of the Witch...but druids and witches share a lot of historic similarities (as pagan religious figures with a knowledge of magic and a tendency to be persecuted).

      Unfortunately, for MY campaign setting (more Arabic in flavor), neither the witch nor the druid are very appropriate. And ALL characters have a tendency to recite poetry and verse, but little propensity for singing (i.e. no bards).
      ; )

  3. *sniff* Ah, the smell of creativity! Once more I admire the output and deep thoughts on game theory, and am jealous! This is really exciting to watch someone develop their own spin on D&D from the ground up! Can't wait for more!

    1. @ Drance:
      I really appreciate your positive attitude and high praise. But don't be TOO's not all wine and roses, man.
      : )

  4. We had a cavalier-based Paladin in my last AD&D game, back in high school. We didn't really need a lot of justification for the paladin to go into dungeons. We gave him Roger E. Moore's article in Best of Dragon III and he re-read Three Hearts and Three Lions and went to town as the best damn holy warrior I've ever seen played. He was LG to a degree above reproach, but neither stupid or arrogant or obnoxious as so many people seem to interpret that. He held to his code and held himself to exacting standards to present an example to those around him.

    But the point is that a paladin - he's a holy crusader, chosen by his god to smite true evil. Yes, there might be bandits up on the surface, and you could feed people at the soup kitchen and patrol the village with your warhorse. But any commoner can do the soup kitchen bit and any common soldier can do the patrols. They can't go down into the very lair of evil and destroy it. They can't recover the lost and stolen wealth of the upper lands. The paladin can - and the stat limitations should make it clear there aren't a lot of them. They can risk their life but they should do it where others cannot, not by fixing the first social woe they come along. They need to use that immunity to fear, that immunity to disease, those special anti-evil powers and their fighting ability and go find evil where it lurks and smash it back down to hell. And if you as the GM put evil in a big hole in the ground, that's where they will go find it. Or if you put a holy avenger down in that big hole, held by some powerful monster who keeps it from being used to smite evil, that's where paladins will be sent.

    So yeah, we never had issue one with paladins in dungeons. We did have issues with paladins in a party of guys who felt Conan was too lawful, but that's an issue with LG fighters and CN thieves, too.

    1. Excellent thoughts were incorporated in my latest post.
      : )

  5. we always had similar problems integrating Paladins into the standard murder-hobo party. I think where a Paladin would really work is in a one-on-one campaign (what we used to call "solo adventures", although there were actually two of us). To my mind, that 17 CHA is for inspiring FOLLOWERS and winning over potential allies. The Paladin wouldn't join a party, he'd have his OWN, made up of people inspired enough to follow his lead. Hard to reconcile with the typical gaming group dynamics.

    1. @ IG/Heron: These are ALSO excellent comments...but I didn't read them until AFTER my second post.

      I think there's a lot of validity to this approach of the cleric class (i.e. intended for solo play, build your own army). On the other hand, I seem to recall paladins having restrictions on when they could acquire henchmen or hirelings (and I KNOW they're restricted in what types of hireling they can retain...pious, sycophantic do-gooders!).

  6. Firstly, I generally agree that a paladin is just a subclass of a cleric (that uses swords). I always thought clerics should have differing weapons/equipment/spells etc. based on their object of worship. The paladin is just a special case of cleric (an especially martial priest--trading some of the cleric's spell facility for greater martial ability).

    Paladins make sense in a campaign world where LAW and CHAOS are opposing cosmic forces. If the megadungeon or the mythic underworld are manifestations of chaos, then combating the creatures of chaos by descending into the dungeon is, ipso facto, advancing the cause of law and civilization--which is the paladin's raison d'etre.

    The paladin likely sees his more mercenary comrades as serving the cause of LAW despite their imperfections and impiety. In the fight against CHAOS, every strong arm and sharp blade is needed--there are few with the guts or mettle to combat the creatures of CHAOS-- and Paladins cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good, lest the whole world be unmade.

    As long as the paladin is spending his gold to "carouse" for pious purposes, and returns magical items to the Church rather than selling them for personal gain, and has a suitable moral code, I think it's workable.

    1. Mmm...that makes sense, but I still see the class requirements as more restrictive than just "fighting to preserve order/civilization." They just get too many bennies to go easy on 'em.

  7. I agree with valiance, I'm still in the camp that believes that a paladin is basically a cleric with a sword. And the motivation of different characters for cooperating need not be the same. The thief goes down into the mythic underworld for the fabled treasure, the magic-user for the buried secrets, the fighter for glory (and gold!), and the cleric for vanquishing demons and ridding the world of otherworldly horrors (at least, that is a serviceable set of reasons). I think the paladin can easily use the cleric justification.

    The problem comes when PLAYERS decide to use the paladin's code as an excuse to stop cooperating with other players, in my experience.

    with the possible exception of Buddhism (which interestingly doesn’t possess clergy in the usual sense)

    This is a misunderstanding. Buddhism certainly does have clergy. Or, I should say that many strains of Buddhism have clergy. And warrior priests too. Check out the history of Mt. Hiei and Enryaku-ji in Japan. What did Hideyoshi do when he unified Japan? He put the temple to the torch because it possessed too much military power.

    I like the fact that you make the monk a subclass of fighter, assuming you are going for the martial arts archetype. It fits much better than the cleric/priest category (NOD did a fighter type monk in issue #1, I think).

    1. It's not very original of me to put the monk in a "fighter" category...after all, wasn't it the 3rd Edition splat book "Sword & Fist" that first put the two together?

      The original introduction of the monk (in Supplement II, Blackmoor) put the class firmly as a subclass of cleric: only clerics with the proper ability scores (WIS & DEX of 15, STR of 12) could be monks, gaining special abilities (like unarmed fighting, spell-like abilities, etc.) in exchange with some limitations (no armor, no spells).

      Interestingly, nothing in the class description indicates the monk doesn't have the same ability to turn undead as a normal cleric.

    2. My knowledge of 3E is very spotty. Between 1999 and the summer of 2011 I played almost almost no RPGs, so I almost entirely missed the Third Edition years. I bought the core books some time around 2006 and 2007 just out of curiosity and read them lightly, but ended up selling them because I was not really using them. Most of my 3E knowledge has come recently from comparing the online d20 SRD to other rule sets. Thus, it is unsurprising that I didn't know about Sword & Fist.

      If I was using the Blackmoor monk by the book, I could easily be persuaded to allow the turn ability. It actually fits many East Asian fantasy stories (where Buddhist monks fight demon spirits). See The Legend of the White Snake for a Chinese example:

      Or the Inuyasha anime for a modern Japanese take.

      By the way, I'm really looking forward to seeing what you come up regarding an Arabian-flavored D&D. Back in the 90s, I remember really enjoying the Arabian Adventures TSR softcover, though I think we basically used it as a splatbook for the new classes, spells, and equipment lists. It might be worth checking out as you are working on your D&D.

  8. I see paladins as a subset of clerics, followers of Law. They are part of fighting temples, or are devout followers who have taken up the sword. I have been reinterpreting the whole crazy ass dnd world as a time of massive conflict, warlords and basically chaos with all the petty barons (I.e. despots). The Arab spring and more specifically what has been going on in Syria reminds me of the middle ages. People flock to the lords That protect them or they have some extra privlleages even if not good. The paladins are the guys trying to bring some order to the whole crazy mess. They go in the dungeons because that is where the baddies are. The are with other non pally's because they share a common goal, and there is a good chance the other adventurers aren't exactly supporting the regime.