Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Paladins are Lawful Good. That is all.

Let me preface this with a few things; paladins are one of my favorite character classes to play in D&D. The allure of the class is, to me, to create a distinctive personality and background within a very rigidly defined archetype. That, and being able to whup ass on evil, in particular, better than anyone else. The paladin is a "fighter without bonus feats" against things like elementals, animals, and the like. But when fighting evil...a creature or person deliberately out to harm others...the paladin kicks ass above and beyond all others.

And when I play D&D, I want to play a hero. Usually. Playing evil characters tends to bring out facets of me I'd rather not acknowledge. Of course, any class can be a hero (excepting bards; nobody believes a bard can be a hero), but the thing about the Paladin is, he is destined to be. It isn't a choice, and it may not even be what he wants, but it is what he is on a more fundamental level than any other class.

Now, I've noticed a trend in recent supplements and such to introduce "variant" paladins. I don't necessarily have a problem with variations of paladin abilities, but most of these variations seem to be on the order of "letting people play a paladin that isn't LG." There's the CG paladin, the LE paladin, the CE paladin.

And that's all nonsense. Rot. Swill. Garbage. Stupid. Fluff. A CRUTCH FOR WEAK PLAYERS WHO CAN'T HANDLE THE GAME.

Ahem. Sorry. Was channeling Weird Pete for a second there.

Point is, Paladins are Lawful Good for a reason. For several reasons, in fact.

Let's start by examining the origins and meanings of the word "paladin." Without too much linguistic nonsense, paladin appears to have originated around 1595, referring in French literary romance to the 12 knights in attendance upon Charlemagne. Other less specific definitons; a paragon of chivalry, a determined advocate or defender of a noble cause...most of the rest of the definitions proceed from there.

Now, how does this relate to Paladins being Lawful Good only? Patience. We'll get there.

One of the arguments I often here for the variant alignment Paladins is, "Well, other gods have champions, too." Sure they do. They're called CLERICS. Or, for that matter, rangers or wizards or druids. If you want to become a super-duper CG champion, you work toward the "Holy Liberator" PrC.

Furthermore, folks, Chaotic Goodness is not a cause. Chaotic Good is the alignment that says "don't start none, won't be none," or "stay away, leave me alone, let me go my way." Mal Reynolds of Firefly is the perfect example of CG. He follows his own needs and conscience as the situation dictates, but isn't really out to change the world (not usually). He's a good man, sometimes even a very good one, but he's not a Paladin, and he'd laugh if you suggested he was. Chaotic Good is, by and large, a reactive sort of alignment, and Paladins are by their nature an active class. Their mandate is to actively hunt down evil and eradicate it. Chaotic Good characters aren't generally out to do that. They're individualists. Not crusaders.

By extension, CG gods aren't the kind who'd want their followers out championing causes, are they? I mean, combating evil where you find it, sure...but are they likely to grant significant power, like the paladin wields? I don't know, but I don't think so. Again, it's a matter of active vs. reactive. Chaotic Good beings react to threats or perceived injustices or crowding of individual freedoms; are those the kinds of things a Paladin does? Well, yes, but not as a cause. I just don't see it as possible to define "Chaotic Goodness" or CG deities as "a cause" or

As for Lawful Evil paladins? Still not buying it. Lawful Evil is not so much a cause as it is an alignment geared towards acquiring personal wealth and power. But again, anybody can do that. You don't need special abilities to make you a dominating conqueror, not really. And there's the Blackguard PrC to cover the situation of the "anointed of a dark god." And I have no problem with the Blackguard PrC filling that role, and it makes sense to me, for several reasons. For starters, dark gods aren't, I don't think, likely to grant those kinds of powers to someone who hasn't gone out and proven themselves devoted to the cause; I don't see 1st level characters in the "blackguard" role. Secondly, there are specific rules about the PrC that pertain to Fallen Paladins who take up the role, and that makes all kinds of sense to me. Nothing a dark god likes better than stealing the champion of his enemy.

I don't see a CE god granting those sorts of powers lightly, either, which is why I also don't buy the CE paladin variant. Look, imagine a dark god, d&d style. They are an eternal and inexorable and ineffable expression of all that is evil in the nature of sentient beings. They aren't going to share their power lightly, not without tremendous consequences to the sharee.

Contrast this to your typical LG god. They're exactly the opposite, and, I feel, much more likely to grant powers to someone based on their potential. Someone has to go and combat the evil out there, right? And while the representatives of LG gods can spend the time and energy to train and shepherd and educate those prospective, the deity in question needs to equip them with the ability to do what they are Called to do. I just think it's hard to make an argument that someone is Called to do evil in the way a Paladin is Called to do good. Most evil arises out of self-interest, of a desire for more personal wealth/power/magic, whatever, and rarely does it rise (or sink) to the level of proselytizing and actively seeking to spread the word and 'erdicate good.' Sure, there might be some few truly, truly devoted who act in that manner, but...are they going to go seek out and train their replacements, people they'd have to share power with?

A keen example here is the Sith (chorus of boos from all of you prequel haters; just trust me). There are 2 at a time, because otherwise, they get overwhelmed with backstabbing, plotting, assassinations and the like, and nothing gets done. The way a new Sith advances is by killing one up top. Don't share power. Don't make it easy for your replacements. Is this the kind of environment that fosters lots of individuals with potential to become great champions of evil, the way most Campaign Settings seem to picture Paladinhood?

No. But it is a way to foster the role of something like the Blackguard, a champion of evil who has proved himself by...being a champion of evil. I have no problems with the concept of an "anti-paladin" being applied to a PrC. But not a base class.

There's a game balance issue here, too. Paladins (along with Monks) get the most class-centric abilities, things no one else can effectively do. Most of these, for the Paladin, come at relatively early levels. By level 6, a paladin has gotten all of the abilities he's going to get; Aura of Good, Smite Evil 2/day, Divine Grace, Lay on Hands, Turn Undead, Special Mount, and Remove Disease 1/day. If you don't want the remove disease too badly, you can just go to 5. If the paladin doesn't have severe alignment restrictions, then min-maxxers might just take 5 levels and never go back. Some of them will do that anyway. But if they're a Chaotic Good Paladin, they can go and take levels in, say, Bard or Barbarian. The former, being so Charisma based, stacks especially well in a numbers way, but doesn't make any damn sense in a roleplay manner.

Finally, there's the challenge of playing a Paladin. Making a Paladin CG removes the very challenge that makes playing a unique Paladin so compelling. Look, I've played many a CG character in my life, but let's be honest; it's the easiest good alignment to play well, and might be the easiest in the game to effectively manage. You don't have carte blanche, but it's close.

The thing is, most people picture the Paladin as "Lawful Stupid," inevitably losing their life in a foolish cause, or being a prig who has no sense of humor and lives on bread and water. The fun of playing a Paladin is challenging that assertion. Lawful Good doesn't offer nearly as much latitude as anything else does, but that doesn't mean you can't have personality or that you have to be a stiff-necked prig. For example, one Paladin I played for a long time spent a fair amount of free time at a brothel. Not as a customer, mind you, nor in a paid position, but he hung around because, fairly often, the women there needed protection, or a little 'cure disease,' or someone to help them out in a number of ways. Maybe what they were doing wasn't legal, but the goddess he followed stressed caring for the younger, the weaker, those without means to protect themselves, etc. He saw that he was doing that, didn't accept money for it, didn't sleep with any of the girls (though Paladins don't have to be celibate, far from it) and all in all, helped make it so that the lives the women in that brothel had were better than they otherwise would've been. Maybe he preached a little bit...if he saw an opening...but not too much.

Anyway, enough character reminiscence. The point; Paladins are Lawful Good for a reason. For several reasons. They shouldn't be anything else.


robustyoungsoul said...

Especially for RP purposes, anything other than a LG paladin would just make no sense to me. The appeal is playing someone who is struggling with the absolute nature of his/her beliefs. This forces the player to make those tough choices. CG kind of takes some of that away.

arclyte said...

I can agree with what you're saying, it all makes sense. But I think it also depends on the game world that you're creating. I often hear the paladin described as a "Holy Crusader", bringing up images of the Catholic crusades, or of a Templar Knight type of character.

Now you could easily argue that there are prestige classes to cover these sorts of things, but that quickly sinks into a semantic argument.

Templar Knights aren't remembered in quite the same chivalrous light as, say, the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legend. If your LG paladin loses his way and slowly becomes corrupted by a dark god, you can say that he simply loses his powers and/or switches to some other class, or you can say that his powers themselves start to become corrupted. Instead of turning the dead, he starts to command them, for instance.

I tend to think the restrictions on alignment are better kept as loose restrictions upon gameplay and used as more of a guide or ideal. The real world is never as clear cut as the alignment restrictions make things seem. If you're playing "high fantasy" where there is a very distinct difference between good and evil, it makes perfect sense to keep your LG paladins from being CG or other alignment paladins. But what about the corrupted paladin who becomes a LE champion for a dark god? I agree it doesn't make as much sense for neutral or chaotic alignments because paladins are usually very passionate about some cause, but you risk missing out on some good roleplaying by cutting out the possibility of the paladin questioning his faith or even switching sides. Just my $0.02.

Ryan ONeil said...

First, I totally agree with the idea that, while the other non-neutral alignments could have armies of champions, they should only be called paladins for Lawful Good; Lawful Evil champions should be Blackguards (not a base class), Chaotic Good champions should be called something else (and since Good deities share more, it could still be a base class).

If I could challenge your premise of CG being reactive and causeless, I believe that CG's love of freedom could be considered a cause. A LG would obey a Good or Neutral authority without question, an NG would normally obey but has no problem breaking Evil rules, but a Chaotic Good feels obligated to challenge authority at every turn, not necessarily because he believes that authority is fundamentally Evil, but that it will become so if it is allowed to be.

A CG has no problem following orders if it is made very clear that is a good order to do a good thing, as that is a good / evil issue rather than a freedom / slavery issue, but if the authority gives no reason for the order beyond "Because I say so," then the CG will treat him like any Lawful Devil that does the same. If freedom vs. slavery is the issue to the CG, he will resist the authority with everything he has because any thug can say "My will stands as reason enough." Lawfuls care about actions; Chaotics care about results. Even if the Lawful has a good idea, the Chaotic knows it, he will still want to make sure the Lawful knows why the idea is good rather than just a power play.

A CG does things because they are the right things to do, not because somebody told them to. If the LG can give a good reason for an instruction, the CG will follow through to the end because there is an actual reason, and he will not let a good thing go undone simply because it wasn't his idea. If you give a CG an order, and make sure he understands exactly why, then he will act for the good that will come of it, not because you told him to.

A LG trusts authority explicitly unless shown reason not to. A NG will call authority out if something is wrong specifically, and will certainly break the rules to fix it, but will also implicitly trust an authority that has demonstrated trustworthiness in the past. A CG does not give himself or the authority such leeway: if an authority gets used to having orders obeyed without question, he will fall into Lawful Neutral. An NG will call out an authority on the worst offenses while gradually easing up on them, but a CG feels obligated to challenge every single decision to ensure that it is a matter of Good. While a CG would respect an LG, he still fears that any focus on Law instead of Good will lead invariably to Lawful Evil unless watched at every turn, and that a true LG authority shouldn’t mind being held to a higher standard than regular people, even other LGs with less authority.

It is very easy for an stupid LG to say that Chaotics are all Evil, anarchic terrorists, and for equally stupid CGs to say that Lawfuls are all Evil tyrants, but smart Goods will understand that only Evil is always Evil, and that the other end of the Law spectrum is only annoying.

In fact, in my games (if I may bring personal experience into this) as a CG Rogue in a party run by a LG Warlord/Paladin, both characters have made it clear that the rogue acts as the paladin's second conscience, not by making the paladin more chaotic, but more good. In fact, such a relationship is especially important for the paladin, as a single act of evil will cost him his god's favor, and as such he should be looking extremely closely at his behavior anyway, and is thankful for having a second person to help him do that. A LN is the master at exploiting loopholes, but a paladin CANNOT allow himself to do so, so he travels with an intelligent, tolerant CG who understands the importance of a paladin's oaths to his healing powers.