Friday, March 2, 2012

The Paladin Calling

So as I posted early this morning (well after midnight), I decided to change my character in the weekly Labyrinth Lord game from a gnome assassin-illusionist to a human paladin (for those who are confused, we are using the Advanced Edition Companion, or AEC, rules which adapts the AD&D PHB, MM, and DMG to the B/X rule set which Labyrinth Lord clones so admirably).

I rolled up the gnome in the first place because Randy (the DM) had jokingly said I HAD to be a gnome in order “to keep me out of trouble.” I went ahead and took the gnome anyway and decided to see just how much trouble I could get into (I can be a bit of a contrarian). Besides, I really wanted to try playing an assassin, and the wide-open multi-classing of the LL/AEC rules meant I could supplement my skills with some phantasm, something I thought was a pretty hot idea.

The problem I ran into over 4 weeks was two-fold:

  • The adventure was not very conducive to the optimal play style of a 1st level assassin; i.e. it has many of the elements of a straight dungeon crawl and a lot of undead and is often linear in progression…all of which hinders the abilities of an assassin. For example, what good is it to disguise yourself when everything just attacks you anyway? What good is your ability to stab kidneys and slit throats when you’re fighting skeletons with neither kidneys nor throats (not to mention an ability regenerate and reform almost instantly)?
  • The circumstances of the adventure (large group, specific quest, limited path choice) led to me using my default method of play, for which the assassin-illusionist is NOT a particularly well-suited class selection.

My “default method of play” is kind of a take charge (or at least ‘charge ahead’) balls-to-the-wall style: walking point, interacting with NPCs, getting ‘stuck in’ with melee, taking things fast rather than slow. Anyone ever play the video game Mass Effect? Think “Vanguard” character class…that’s MY personality. Ever play Warhammer 40,000? I’m the guy with the all Khorne Berserker and rampaging dreadnought army. I’m not very patient and I’ve only limited amounts of caution…usually just enough to work out an angle or (simple) advantage. I hate dithering. I’m kind of an ass.

Anyway, with the gnome I was basically acting as a leather clad fighter with minimal hit points: 5 in fact (maximum of the average of assassin + illusionist). I’d use an illusion to provide me with cover and charge the opponent, and then do a bunch of damage…and then get killed. Fortunately, in Randy’s game there’s a lot of resurrection and healing within the dungeon.

Well, maybe NOT fortunately…the fact that we couldn’t get “perma-killed” just made the game feel even more like playing a vid; and led me to continue using the same tactics, which really ISN’T playing an “assassin-illusionist.” I would’ve been better served playing a fighter-illusionist (at least I could have worn the gnome-sized plate armor we found). And the whole point of choosing those classes had been to experience and experiment with a style of play (assassin) I hadn’t gotten much opportunity to try. But I wasn’t doing that, see? There’s been no call for disguise or setting traps or using poison or assassinating anyone. This was the wrong game for trying this particular class.

[the only time I got to really commit “murder” was on my fellow player characters a couple-three times…but even that was unsatisfying. I mean, they just come back anyway…]

So ANYway…I told Randy I wanted to make a new character, even though it meant chucking all the XP, gold, and equipment I’d picked up over the last month of play. Seeing as how our characters begin the game with NOTHING (not even normal equipment!) that’s a fairly ballsy move on my part. On the other hand, it should go to illustrate just how dissatisfied I was with the experience IN PLAY. And since I’m not quite ready to start running my own game again (still writing up D&D Mine), I wanted to continue playing with Randy & Co.

So enter Sir Harold the Tall, 1st level paladin.

What a difference a change can make!

Playing Sir Harold was a MUCH more satisfying experience. My actual style of play changed very slightly, but it fit so well with the character that I felt much more “in tune” with the game. My character could lead from the front…because he’s a fearless paladin, and he wants to lead by example. My character can attempt to hail and talk to opponents…because he’s a lawful paladin and he’s not all about bloodthirsty combat. My character can freely pick up and redistribute loot…because he’s a trustworthy paladin and isn’t looking for his own financial gain (my character took none of the gold we found). My character was welcome to a helm and shield and suit of scale armor we found…because my character’s a battle-worthy paladin and has the “oomph” to get stuck-in and hold-the-line for the others.

Even though Sir Harold is a less effective fighter than the assassin (the Paladin only had a 15 strength while the gnome’s was 16, giving the little guy an extra bonus to attack and damage), Sir Harold was a complete badass in combat. It helped that my dice were rolling hot most of the night (a lot of 18, 19, and 20s, a lot of max damage rolls…and I didn’t roll less than a 6 out of 8 for damage all night!). Of the ten or so “evil” soldiers we encountered, I managed to deliver the death blow on at least half of ‘em myself…and all the while I was offering them mercy and giving them the chance to throw down their arms and trying to be a “good guy” (unfortunately…for them…they were only programmed for fighting not surrender or negotiation).

But I think I just “felt better” playing the character. It was like my basic inclinations all “made sense” in light of the paladin archetype. When one party member was so horribly cursed that he could do mostly nothing the during the session (including hold a weapon or even walk), it made sense that Sir Harold would strap the character to his own back and work his ass off to get him healed. It didn’t feel like I was “metagaming” to organize the PCs to pool their gold so we could buy enough “magic rocks” to remove the curses afflicting three of our party members…that’s just the kind of thing a paladin should do!...whereas the same action from my gnome would have felt “forced” and “artificial.” I mean, as a PLAYER I’d want the other PCs to get healed and back in the game, but why would the sleazy cold-blooded assassin give a shit about the other party members? I mean, they’re just a means to an end, right? And once they’ve lost their usefulness (due to debilitating curses), well that’s the time to loot their incapacitated forms and leave ‘em to rot!

And just by the way, playing cutthroat games like that can be fun, too…with the right GM and fellow players on the same page. But for this game, there’s a much more cooperative-camaraderie thing going on…I mean, we’re ALL cursed in this game (the Halfling strapped to the paladin’s back was just “double-cursed”) and we’re ALL just trying to find the magic objective that will break the curse and let us get back to whatever we were doing before ending up in this godsforsaken realm of skeletons and apparitions and exploding corpse-heads and fast zombies and evil (if slightly catatonic) soldiers.

And goateed necromancers. Can’t forget those dumb-dumbs (we’ve killed three so far).

So, in light of the group AND the adventure AND my personality the paladin is a pretty darn good fit. I enjoyed playing the character, and the session was (for me) the most satisfying one we’ve played in five weeks. It felt like a lot got accomplished. It felt like the group worked well together. It felt like I got to role-play a bit (which is one of the reasons I play these damn games, after all). And I got some good experience playing a class that previously I hadn’t.

And it’s a GOOD class, and yes, plays very different from a normal fighter so long as you keep the whole “goody-two-shoes / Boy Scout” firmly in the forefront of your thought process. Always act polite and try to negotiate with sentient beings. Always offer quarter and be willing to grant mercy. Spurn material goods and wealth save that which is absolutely necessary to your mission. Apply no attachment to the items acquired for they are only transitory (the cursed Halfling loaned me the magical holy shotel (a curvy sword) that he was unable to use…as soon as he was cured it was back in his possession along with my appreciation for the loan).

Detect evil as a class ability is VERY useful for this type of play…it helps you to decide how gently one deals with a potential opponent. On the other hand, it’s kind of an “easy out;” paladin PCs that DON’T have a detect evil ability (like the OD&D version I was adapting for D&D Mine) are FORCED to actually “talk first, kill second” to make sure they’re not unjustly murdering someone with whom they might otherwise come to an accord.

I like that a lot. The standard fighter is a much more practical, pragmatic archetype, regardless of whether they’re honorable or completely mercenary in temperament. A fighter starts out as a 1st level VETERAN…the implication is the character has “been around.” He’s an “old campaigner” (in the going to war sense). The regular fighter knows that if you catch an orc with its back turned, you don’t bother to ask what he’s doing in the area, you just run him through! Same with other potential opponents you come upon…if they fall between you and your objective, it’s better to err on the side of “taking them out.” The only place negotiation has is when you’re out-gunned or need more intelligence on the opposition (finding out how strong they are). War is hell…and the fighter is a warrior that has few illusions or romantic notions about combat and the martial arts.

The paladin, on the other hand, is COMPELLED to be idealistic. At least, he should be (I’m sure there are campaigns where paladins are given a little more “free rein”)…in my own campaigns I have close-to-zero leniency for players who take the paladins restrictions lightly. If you want the bennies, you better be playing by the book! And as long as I’m playing a paladin, I’m going to try to hold myself to the same standard.

But regarding my own game and my inclusion of the paladin subclass: well, I was starting to think that I would best be served by doing away with the “paladin,” per se and just making the character a templar or temple knight. In other words, remove the alignment restriction and make the character a more martial version of the cleric, restricting the character’s “holy powers” in exchange for improved fighting ability. In that way, the subclass might be better served in motivation for “going into the dungeon,” as the templars would still be serving the interest of their church or faith or whatever.

That’s what I WAS thinking, but now I’m not so sure I want to do that. After having the chance to play a paladin (admittedly, in a non-standard adventure and thus one more conducive to the class), I find I have a newfound respect for the archetype…which I see modeled in the figures Joan of Arc, Galahad/Percival, and Charlemagne’s Roland.

[NOT Holger Carlsen/Ogier the Dane by the way…I’ve read Three Hearts & Three Lions and see nothing of the paladin archetype in the protagonist (other than his mysterious “smart horse” perhaps)…that guy is Lawful fighter, sure, and one with a high charisma, but still a more pragmatic warrior and certainly bereft of any supernatural powers]

ALSO, Peter commenting on my prior post makes an excellent point about paladin’s motivation to go into dungeons: paladins have been gifted with certain abilities that make them supremely talented for fighting evil that other (good-aligned) folks can’t. They have a responsibility to use those abilities in their proper service…not just defending towns and working at the local soup kitchen. I agree with Peter and I retract any earlier statements to the contrary.

However, that doesn’t mean a paladin will just delve ANY dungeon. There should still be some hint that a place contains a threat or ancient menace of some sort, before a paladin is ready to join an expedition. I guess I still stand by the sentiment that while most adventurers need no more reason to go to a site than “because it is there,” paladins need some form of unselfish motivation. There are captive hostages. The place is the abode of demons or an evil cult. A warlord is extorting the local townships. An artifact of purity and righteousness was lost somewhere in the depths and needs to be recovered.

Money and power and glory and “adventure” should NOT be the motivation of a paladin. But there are plenty of other reasons a DM can offer a paladin PC for going on an adventure. Assuming it’s not “invading the Keep of Glenda the Wise to slay the gold dragon Pureheart” you can probably find some sort of bone to throw the guy.

; )


  1. I'm glad my comments helped. And that you're enjoying the paladin.

    They get a lot of hate, it sometimes seems, but well-run they're just a treat. You just have to embrace that team ethic and the heroic path.

  2. Damnit, now I want to make a paladin class for my homebrew. The roleplay restrictions actually seem like a fun challenge. I have never played in a game where someone made a paladin but described like this I think I could get in to it.

  3. @ Peter:

    "Team ethic?" "Heroic path?" Barf!
    ; )

    @ bholmes:

    See, I NEVER had any interest in the paladin class at all until I read the original version in Supplement I. Prior to that, I found it more of an affront than an option. Like an unwanted growth on my PHB.

    I mean, the alignment/behavior restrictions are a bit severe, but NOT compared to the juicy powers and spells you get. I mean, +2 to saving throws across the board? That's like a halfling...and halflings have severe restrictions when it comes to fighting and wielding weapons. Add spells and turning ability and other healing goodies and supernatural powers on top of THAT? All in a D10 hit die fighter package?! As a DM it makes me just want to stomp the player that chooses the class. And God help him if he has exceptional (18+) strength to boot...

    Down at 1st level, it's not all that over-powering (at least not in our setting where he have to scrape and pray for any single piece of equipment), but in MY own homebrew, I intend to take the class abilities down a notch or two...again, more like the original version found in Supplement I.

    1. Heh, as you demonstrate a team ethic and follow the heroic path. ;)

  4. I've been wanting to play a paladin ever since I read the 'Deeds of Paksenarrion'. That's a good series to read for paladins (especially as the writer used the D&D paladin as her template).