Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5A): Paladin evolution throughout the D&D editions

To kick off the final section of the paladin in the D&D game, I want to first review what is actually in the Player’s Handbook. I will review a number of sources as I think it is good to know what is actually in the various books and what is not. There are some subtle and not so subtle differences between the editions. As I go through my analysis, I am going to gloss over the paladin abilities, and concentrate on the role playing aspects of the class.

General overview

The paladin fills the niche between a fighter and a cleric. He is considered a front line fighter with some cleric abilities. The paladin is clearly not as good as the cleric, but very similar to a fighter in terms of fighting ability. If the cleric is on one end of the scale and the fighter is on the other end, I would rate the paladin as closer to the fighter than he is to the cleric. Over the years, there have been a number of PrC’s and other paladin alternatives created in an attempt to move the paladin either closer to the cleric or to the fighter, in order to give the class a bit of diversity in terms of abilities and flavor. The paladin is thought of as the ultimate lawful good character, and that leaves some players feeling a bit constrained by this stereotype. As I mentioned in my first post, I am a fan of both the fighter and the cleric, and any character class that falls in between, is of interest to me.

1. AD&D Player’s Handbook

What better place to start than the original book where the class was introduced. Gary writes, “Law and good deeds are the meat and drink of paladins.” It is in the second paragraph of the text that lays out the role playing fluff of the class. Specifically it mentions that if a paladin commits a chaotic act, he must seek forgiveness, and if he ever commits an evil act, his powers are stripped away. In addition to this fluff, there are five major restrictions that are listed out:

a. Limit 10 magic items
b. Restriction on keeping wealth (this is not a vow of poverty by any stretch as paladins are allowed to build a castle)
c. Tithe to the church
d. Restrictions on the adventuring party – good only
e. Requirements of service and alliance

It is interesting to note that there is no mention of faith or patronage to a deity. The closest comments to this would be the requirement to tithe and the requirement for penance if they do a chaotic deed. Upon review, Gary is clearly linking the paladin class to the historical knight class, and there is a striking resemblance to the old knightly orders of the Templars and Hospitallers. There is no mention of a code of conduct or a code of chivalry. I do agree that there is an implied code, but it is not spelled out directly. The only role playing requirement is that the paladin be lawful good, and act within that alignment framework. When reading through the entry, one gets the feeling that the paladin should be a force of good. There is an implied Judea-Christian foundation underneath the text, and frequently I see people quoting Christian ideology as a source of role playing guidance, but this is not directly spelled out in the text. I fully agree that there is a requirement to obey a universal law of goodness, but it is left to the players and GM to figure out what that really means in game terms. It is this fuzzy definition of the universal law of goodness that often causes heated debates as there is a sense of a universally understood moral code, which Gary is tapping into, but when it comes to specific definition of game behavior everyone’s sense of definition is slightly different. Folks will start quoting other references, but no one reference is superior to another in game terms. I will get more into this in my upcoming blog.

As a final note, this paladin has implied humility to it. He has to pay tithes, he has to give to charity, there is a limit on the wealth he can keep. The terms service, confession and penance are used to describe various element of this paladin. They do not attract men at arms like fighters do. This is a small note at the bottom of the entry, but I think it helps define the character of the paladin. This is not a brash or arrogant leader, but rather a humble protector of that which is universally acknowledged as good.

2. Unearthed Arcana

In this book, a new class, the Cavalier, was created that puts the paladin underneath it, removing it out from under the fighter. It is in this book, that the paladin looks more and more like a traditional knight, and it harkens to the days of King Arthur and Roland. This move also seems to align the paladin class to the implied military requirement of chivalry. This book also introduces power creep into the class, as it is now noticeably more powerful than it was before. In my mind, the class now becomes slightly less playable, as the usefulness of a mounted knight (human on a horse) is a bit limited in a dungeon environment.

3. 2nd Ed Player’s Handbook

I will not say too much about this book, and its influence, as I do not own it. So moving right along to 3rd ed.

4. 3rd Ed Player’s Handbook

In the 3rd ed Player’s Handbook, the fluff gets expanded on significantly. Where as the 1st edition had but one paragraph of fluff, the 3rd edition now has 10 paragraphs in the opening section. Some of the key attributes and requirements are as follows:

a. Compassion to pursue good, uphold the law, and defeat evil
b. Adventures as quests, with the paladin now seen as leading campaigns against evil
c. Divine power is now stated as what gives the paladins their special abilities
d. Paladins can be unaligned or aligned to a specific deity
e. The concept of paladins being called
f. Paladins can now be a number of races and are not limited to humans
g. The paladin is still considered a melee (fighter) type, and still fills a niche between fighters and clerics
h. There is specific mention of a code of conduct

It is very evident that the authors have taken the information from the 1st edition, and have expanded it considerably. I suspect that they wanted to further define the implied universal law of goodness, and add an element of righteousness to it. The paladin in the first edition had an element of humility to it, but this paladin has the feel of an epic divine champion. The names of the class features says it all: Aura of Good, Aura of Courage, Divine health, Divine Grace, and Smite Evil. There is nothing humble about this character. This character is a crusader against evil.

The last thing I want to mention is the code of conduct. I actually think it is significant that the code of conduct is specifically called out. The items called out are similar to what was in the first edition version, but there are a couple of slight differences. The one that I want to bring up is, “…punish those who harm or threaten innocents.” Punishment is an interesting term. There is an element of judgment associated to punishment. When I say judgment, I do not mean a subjective judgment, but rather a judgment that comes from a authority to judge, and that means there is a legitimacy to it. This implies that the paladin is authorized to judge and issue out judgments that are legitimate. This is very similar to the power that a commanding officer or a captain of a ship would have. Both have authority to issue out judgments that are legal and binding. Punishment is very different from mercy. Punishment is punitive in nature. Forgiveness and redemption are not apart of punishment. While the text does not give examples of what punishments are appropriate, there is an implied tone of what this really means in the dungeon environment.

Next up

In my next blog, I will continue on with this discussion and focus in on the 4th edition, Pathfinder Beta Rules, and Castles and Crusades.
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

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