Monday, June 5, 2017

Why Are We So Intent On Screwing With Paladin Alignment?

I've covered all kinds of topics on this blog, and in my work for other gaming sites. In all the topics I've talked about, though, nothing generates page views, comments, and shares like paladins. 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins remains of my most popular pieces in my InfoBarrel archive, and anytime someone brings up my piece You Don't Have Any Actual Authority Just Because You're A Paladin, there is always a spike in traffic. Love the class or hate it, people always want to talk about it, and I think I've finally figured out why.

Because paladins are superman.

Not sure where you're going with this one, exactly...

Men of Steel, Creeds of Iron


All right, let's back up a second so I can establish some baseline points. In games like Pathfinder, and 3.5, the paladin base class must maintain a lawful good alignment or it loses most of its class features. They can worship good gods, or no gods, but that alignment is ironclad. If they change from lawful good to any other alignment, their powers go bye bye. While games like 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons have removed this alignment restriction, it is still very much a requirement in other games.

But why?

Well, a big part of it is that the paladin is drawing on specific myths and source material. There are several myths in Arthurian lore, for instance, where knights were considered unstoppable until they broke their vows, and lost their strength. Lancelot is perhaps the most famous, because whether his love was or was not true, consummating it betrayed the vows he'd made to his king, and his god. Myths about the lengths Sir Gawain went to keep his word, or about the way Tristan refused to give in to temptation, also play into this theme.

The point of these myths, and which seems to be what the alignment restriction is there to enforce, is that paladins are both good and just. It isn't just that they are trying to do the right thing, but that they must do so according to the vows they've sworn, and the code they follow. Whether it's something like a fantasy version of chivalry, or oaths they've made to the divine like Samson in the Old Testament, paladins have to have both in order to embody this particular archetype.

That's where Superman comes into the picture.

This has got to be some kind of magic armor to never get tattered.
Superman, it could be argued, is the most iconic superhero in the genre. There were masked men, vigilantes, and crime fighters before him, but he was something new. It's one reason he's survived so many decades, and remained such a major pop culture figure. However, if you were asked to list the things people know about Superman, you'd likely get super strength, super speed, and flight, before someone mentioned that he was a goody two shoes. He always does the right thing, because he is thematically (one might even argue cosmically) good.

And that bores a lot of people.

Sure, I get that. Some of us don't like heroes who act like heroes. We like hard-edged tough guys, driven antiheroes, or uncompromising hard cases who go their own way to get the job done. That's why characters like Jonah Hex, The Question, Wolverine, and several different versions of Batman still have followings.

But that isn't Superman.

I don't think this is really a contentious statement, because anytime something has happened where writers have tried to make Superman darker, or edgier, or less heroic, even the fans who claimed he was boring raised their voices against those decisions. Because that goes against the grain of the character, and what he was designed to represent. Truth, Justice, and Tolerance (before it was changed to The American Way during our national obsession with communism). And pretty much without fail, the comics always return to his good, heroic roots.

The same thing happens with the paladin. Because that lawful good alignment restriction isn't just a check placed on the class's power (though it could be argued it serves that function, as well, preventing them from using certain abilities, or taking levels in certain classes, which would be deemed too powerful from a game balance standpoint), it is also statement of the class's purpose. Paladins don't have to be knights, they don't have to be nobles, and they can be of any race, age, or ethnicity. But the thing they share is a dedication to a single purpose; righteousness, and adherence to their code.

The Gods Have Nothing To Do With It


One of the most common misconceptions is that paladins are like clerics; they serve a god. So why couldn't, say, a neutral evil paladin serve a neutral evil god, maintaining all their class features as long as they remain within that alignment instead?

Because, as mentioned above, paladins are not expressly servants of a particular god. They are not imbued with the might of a single, divine being whom they represent on the material plane as a kind of avatar. They are forces of good, and of law, which is why they have that particular alignment restriction.

The one on the left, in case you're not sure.
If you read the entries for classes like the cleric, or the inquisitor, they are specifically attuned to a god. That's the source from which their powers flow. But while paladins cast divine spells, very little attention is paid to them serving a god. Instead, emphasis is placed on their code, which dictates how they use their strength, and what actions they take to fulfill their oaths and vows. Emphasis is placed on their alignment, rather than on the alignment of the god (if any) that they serve.

That, of course, suggests that for the paladin, what is just and right takes precedence over church and god. It is, in a very real sense, what the class draws its power from. And that is why, if the paladin steps away from that path, she shuts the door on that power, and cannot use it again until she has atoned for the decisions that made her step away from righteousness in the first place.

When it comes to heroes, you might prefer yours operating within shades of gray, if not outright darkness. That's perfectly fine. But a paladin is a force of good, and that is what powers their strength, and grants them their abilities. Taking that away pulls the heart out of what the class is about, and makes it into something else. Especially in a game like Pathfinder, where you have clerics, warpriests, inquisitors, and a dozen other classes that all operate similarly to paladins, but within those darker areas.

Not all heroes have to be shining examples of good. Some of them, though, really do.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. As always, these are just the thoughts of one random guy on the Internet who runs a blog, and plays games. So, keep that in mind before marching on the comments section. If you'd like to stay up-to-date on all my latest posts, then you should follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to support Improved Initiative, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. $1 a month is all I ask, and that buys you both my gratitude, as well as some sweet gaming swag.

20 comments:

  1. The thing is, you said it yourself: Lancelot didn't break his alignment, he broke his VOWS. He had a code to follow, and he violated that code.

    5e has done away with alignment restrictions for paladins and instead introduced Oaths, which capture that much better while still not locking people into playing Captain America or Superman. You can play that character by picking the Oath of Devotion, where you swear to uphold a certain set of tenets which fall in line with the classic paladin

    Or, you can pick the Oath of Vengeance and play The Punisher, because that's what you swore an oath to do and that's where your power comes from.

    It's a much better method of forcing a certain set of behaviors on a character, because it allows for driven, powerful knights representing all walks of life to exist without forcing an entirely new class writeup for each alignment like they did waaaay back in Dragon magazine.

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    1. 5E did away with alignment restrictions PERIOD. People forget that, in prior editions, paladins wasn't the only class with alignment restrictions. But that's important to note, because everyone acts like it's just paladins that lost alignment restriction. And it's simply not true that it was ONLY paladins...

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    2. I am aware that there were other classes restricted. Chaotic for barbs, lawful for monks, neutral for druids, etc.

      But since this article is about paladins, and since paladins are the only ones that really have any sort of behavioral restrictions anymore, in the form of their Oaths, I kept my comment to paladins.

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  2. Here is the problem: Most people play paladins as Judge Dress, not Superman. Lawful Good just means Lawful.

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    1. You have clearly not heard of the Hellknights.

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    2. And it's stated that fitting in within the organisation is a "challenge" for Paladins. And most Hellknight orders are pretty much off limits for them as a class.

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  3. You are right about one thing, Paladins have a number of distinct advantages over some other classes, Saves in particular. A High Charisma class with 2 levels of paladin has little fear of failing saving throws. The other thing is, Paladins are the only Full BAB class in pathfinder to have a high base Will save. 3.5 At least had the Knight, which is more akin to the Pathfinder Samurai.

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  4. I have always felt paladins as a base class are pointless. The power of a paladin should be earned, I tend to allow paladins as a prestige class only, and only if the player (playing as a fighter or cleric) follows the vows paladins normally make. Basically you have to play a paladin without the benefits of all the magical protection to earn the right to become a champion of the forces of good and law.

    Than being said, I believe if good and law can have champions, then so can the more malign powers.

    However, in the end, each games master and player can decide how and what each class is or isn't, regardless of whether or not anyone else agrees.

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  5. I think part of the debate is that our sensibilities around hero have changed.

    You mention Superman, and I am sure you mean the "pre-Crisis" Superman and not the later, darker versions of Superman.
    Batman too has undergone several transformations.

    So it is no surprise that the taste for a LG Paladin has changed and now more "flawed" ones are desired.

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  6. The concept of paladins without gods being directly supported by the core rules is just as new as non good non lawful ones, that's a poor argument. Also keep in mind that antipaladins are just as old as paladins. All that's happened is the two classes were combined into one. Arguably it includes lawful neutral Knights as well.

    In 3.5 and similar you were always Paladin of X God who had to be at least Lawful or Neutral if not both. Paladins were always the militant equivalent of a cleric. They wear their gods symbols on their shields for gosh sakes.

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    1. It's not a "new" argument; it's been in the Pathfinder core rules since the game was released. It's not some obscure rule in a splat book or lost in an errata somewhere.

      More importantly, though, I'm not discussing the history of all holy warrior classes in all games and all editions. I'm discussing Pathfinder specifically, and what little crossover it has with the old 3.5 system where the two match-up.

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    2. Two separate bits to back this up:

      First, in my gaming almost everyone has run a Paladin at some point. We had one (Aev Dhanen) who was referred to 'Dhanbo' for his tendency to charge headlong at evils way beyond his pay grade(Lawful Good as *anti* Chaotic Evil); Celedon, who was a very classic creates-diamonds-with-his-rectum variant (Lawful Good as LAWFUL Good); and Alexander, who strove to be *massively* lethal because violence was *always* the last resort, and therefore the one which could not be allowed to fail (Lawful Good as Lawful GOOD).

      Second; I recall the weirdest Paladin I've seen, based entirely on that 'does not draw power from a god' caveat; an Orc Paladin follower of the Chaotic Evil God of Orcs. Of course the deity didn't grant him power, but other than being peeved or sending demons to an untimely end by his nominal follower's Smite, he couldn't *do* anything about it. Yes, the Orc used Int as a dump stat, why?

      I agree the class ought to have that alignment restriction; Paladin is the exemplar of Lawful Goodness. Monks are exemplars of Order. Druids are exemplars of Neutrality. Barbarians are exemplars of lawlessness. You could argue for or develop other alignment based exemplars, but unless you *really* like Evil games, the only missing one is Chaotic Good, and a Good Barbarian could fill that pretty nicely...

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    3. Personally I abhor alignment. I find that alignment is too concrete. Robert you mentioned that barbarians are exemplars of lawlessness, but only with regards to the more civilized races. Why couldn't a barbarian be lawful good in the sense that he follows the laws and traditions of their people?

      No one is any one alignment all the time, even the best person can love and help their fellow country men, or at the least their family, but destroy their, mostly good, enemies without any mercy.

      When it comes to Paladins, just paladins, I dont allow them to partake in man made conflicts, though that is just a world based role play note. Paladins are that hammer that is not allowed to have any political or legal power, except during supernatural style invasions.

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  7. flawed paladins add tension to the story. lawful good characters are literally impossible to play in a traditional pathfinder party whose primary method of adventuring is the traditional pathfinder dungeon crawler playstyle.

    in fact, adventures featuring paladins literally require you to tailor the opposition around the paladin's alignment, which does nothing to balance their power and literally encourages them to PVP evil aligned companions instead of work with them to defeat a greater evil.

    i'm glad alignment restrictions were removed. Judge Dredd is a paladin and not every paladin should be Sir Roland. paladins should have flexibility in the characters they support just as any other class.

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  8. Trying to use Arthurian myth to justify paladins being based on alignment instead of the gods they worship is ridiculous. They were paladins of the Christian god. Their success or failure (Holy Grail Quest, anyone?) was entirely dependent upon their dedication to that god. I also object to the idea that anyone who is principled and just, who always does the right thing, should automatically be considered a paladin. Nonsense. Paladins are WARRIORS OF A PARTICULAR FAITH/GOD/DEITY. They are holy warriors, fanatics of the faith, the sword arm of their particular church. Any class can be principled and "do the right thing". You could even make a case that an assassin fits that bill (Assassin's Creed, anyone?). Just because someone is good, and fights, doesn't make them a paladin. You really want to start assigning paladin levels to Rocky Balboa?

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  9. How I like to run paladin in my game is that it doesn't matter what alignment you will have. As long as you started lawful good before you joined the order, ranks, or church to earn your knighthood. Most importantly, you must fight evil and chaos. You can lose your way, or fall from grace. As long as you were not caught, you get to keep your power. If god happen to watch over you, you lose your power. If the commanding paladin heard you fall from grace and have proves, you lose your power. If cleric find your wrong doing, you lose your power. But before that, as long as fight evil and chaos, you are still a paladin. That is your purpose as the holy knight, to fight evil and chaos that cleric and priest can not. You are the symbol of hope. As long as you act the part, you have the power.

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  10. Something to remember is with pathfinder, just like in 3.5, there are a LOT of options! Far too many people, IMO, want all that paladins can do but they also want to be able to do 'other things' as well w/o those pesky alignment restrictions and so on. I think it's up to each DM to decide what will pass as a paladin in their campaign. In Kalan'Dria, you're either a paladin or you're not. Choose carefully and also realize that playing such an iconic good guy can be very hard indeed. There ARE a lot of other options so don't whittle down suc an iconic PC just because he can do cool stuff or someone doesn't want all of the restrictions that go with the class.

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