Friday, January 9, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5B): Paladin evolution in D&D

In yesterday’s blog, I reviewed a number of the older Player’s Handbooks on what they say about the paladin class. I have three more to review today.

4th Ed Player’s Handbook

Let’s get started with the 4th ed Handbook. BTW, hold on to your helmets and coifs folks, this is not your grandmother’s paladin. The paladin entry opens as follows:

“I am the righteous shield of Moradin and a sword in his mighty hand! I fear evil!”

There are three opening paragraphs of fluff, and then it gets into the build options available for the paladin. Let’s look at some more of the opening fluff sections:

“Paladins are indomitable warriors who’ve pledged their prowess to something greater than themselves…..Take up your blessed sword and sanctified shield, brave warrior, and charge forward to hallowed glory.”

To be honest, this sounds like a champion, not a paladin. This is very different than the 1st edition paladin. Let’s continue to look at the builds available for the class.

A. Avenging Paladin

“You burn with the desire to punish the wicked and smite the unbelievers….Consider wielding a big two-handed weapon....that deliver the highest amount of damage.”

Ponder on that for a moment. This is akin to saying, skip plan A, and go right to the nukes. I have no further questions. Please pass me the dire super smiting two handed butt kicking sword, I have some punishing and smiting to do.

Let’s look at the other paladin build.

B. Protecting Paladin

“You emphasize defense, guarding your allies, and healing and bolstering them with a few powers….The protecting paladin works best as a shield carrying warrior…Select powers that help your allies.”

This feels like a buffing cleric to me.

Reading to this point in the players handbook, it feels as though this class, with the two builds that are laid out, are made for min-max miniature play. For all practical purposes, this is a champion that is made for battle.

There is one more section that I will review in this book, and that is the section on paladins and deities. In this edition, paladins can be any alignment, and have to be tied to a deity. Their powers, however, are not granted through their deity, but in stead through rites when they first become paladins. They can not be stripped of their powers. However, if they stray too far, they will be punished. The exact nature of this punishment is not spelled out, and I am not sure that it would be anything significant.

Let me add some final comments. In my view, this is a very different character than the paladins that I reviewed yesterday. Gone are all the tenants of chivalry. There are no divine mount rules, there is no mention of a code of conduct, and the strict alignment guidelines are gone. The concept of a universal law of goodness is gone. Concepts of humility, service, and honor, have been stripped away. What remains is a shell of what was originally created.

I realize that this last paragraph comes across as rather critical, and I do not mean it to be. My point is that this paladin is playing in a different game, and that game is not necessarily better or worse than any of the other games. This is a much easier character to play, as all of the harder role playing fluff has been pulled out.

Pathfinder Beta Rule set

When Paizo announced that they were going to put out their own set of rules based on the 3.5 rule set, I was very excited. Here was a chance to fix and clean up some of the craziness that had slipped in over the years. In my opinion, one of the draw backs of 3.5 is the rules bloat that comes with all the splat books and optional rules. Let’s take a look at the opening fluff of the Pathfinder paladin.

In case you missed, I will summarize the opening fluff of the Pathfinder paladin, again.

For those of you that do not have the book open in front of you, there is no opening fluff. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Basically, Pathfinder moved all the rules over from 3rd edition, and left out the fluff. I think this is a shame. Now, to be fair, there is some fluff wrapped up in the rules, and most of the 3.5 rules have come over. There is a code of conduct. The code does mention punishment for those that wish to harm or threaten innocents. There is a section on ex-paladins that describe how one would lose their paladin hood. The text specifically mentions that if a paladin ceases to be lawful good, who willfully commits an evil act, or who grossly violates the code of conduct, loses their paladin abilities. This seems rather easy, and I think players should be able to stay in the clear. As long as they remain lawful good and stay close to the code, they are fine.

Upon review, I am actually a bit disappointed in the write up. I think they should have had some flavor text right at the beginning of the book to give a feel for the character. I think this intro text breathes life into a list of rules. With out that, the rules seem a bit cold to me. I think this is a huge miss for the Paizo team, and I will provide feedback to them on their boards, as this is true for all the classes. Now it maybe that since this is the beta version, they may have stripped out all fluff in order to have people concentrate on the rules. I will reserve final judgment, until I see the final product.

Castles and Crusades

Troll Lord Games put out Castles and Crusades several years ago, and I consider it a rules light mix between first edition and third edition. I actually like the rule set, which is why I have included it here in this discussion, as I think it offers a good contrast to the other handbooks that I have reviewed.

One of the things I really like about the book is that at the beginning of the class section, they have a quick summary of each of the classes. One can consider it an executive summary of what is in the section. For the paladins, the summary reads as follows:

“Paladins are the holiest of warriors, living lives of purity and good while serving the religious precepts of their deity. They are dreaded by their foes for they serve as the martial arm of religious justice.”

That is very elegant. Before jumping into the paladin section, I want to stop briefly in the knight section. In 3rd edition, the cavalier was dropped, and was not added back in. C&C adds the knight, which is a descendant of the cavalier. One of the things I really like about the knight write up is that it has an example code of conduct. There are 12 terms that get defined, and upon reading through them, they are very straight forward. The text is also clear to point out that this is an example, and that the player and the GM are encouraged to adjust this as necessary. This is a nice touch.

Jumping into the paladin, in the opening section, there are eight paragraphs of fluff. The high-lights include:

A. In the constant battle between good and evil, this holy warrior strikes terror into evil creatures and inspires other to greater good.
B. It is their belief in their deity that gives them strength and divine powers
C. They serve the code of conduct, and it is the greater good that drives their action.
D. Every deity or pantheon has a moral code that dictates what is acceptable.
E. They do not associate with evil
F. They can lose their powers.

I have to say that this is very well written, and I think captures the spirit of the first edition, and adds to it in a complementary way. I will just hit on a couple of items, although I probably could expand quite a bit on all of them. Firstly, there is a code of conduct, and the paladins follow it. I think this is really fundamental to the class. If you are not going to attach chivalry to the paladin, the character is less because of it. This will be the subject of my next blog. Secondly, the attachment to a deity is important, and there is recognition that each deity is a little different, and dictates what is acceptable. Again, I think that is also an important concept and I will describe this at length in an upcoming blog.

In conclusion

I started off yesterday’s blog going through the different Player’s handbooks, and I finished this up today. I think it is fairly clear, that the paladin has changed slightly with the different editions of the game. There is a common perception that all the paladins in the various games are the same, and I hope I have shead some light on that myth. There are some very notable differences, along with some subtle ones. I do want to say that I think I think the Castles and Crusades’ version is best write up of the six that I reviewed. While they are all rather similar in mechanics, which is why I did not spend a lot of time reviewing this, the fluff and flavor are different. While in a role playing game, there are certain latitudes that can be taken with a character; the way that they are writing can have a huge impact as to what is considered acceptable within the confines of the rule set.

Next up – Application of the Code of Chivalry in play.
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A


Chgowiz said...

Have you had a chance to review OSRIC's rules on Paladins? At first blush, they seem similar to 1E, but it would be nice to include them for completeness, as it's a fairly popular simulacrum. Or perhaps you already addressed this earlier and I missed it?

Mr Baron said...

I think I subconsciously lumped OSRIC with 1st ed. But now that you mention it, I will review it.

lemuriapress said...

Thanks for checking out Pathfinder. The Beta release is more of a playtest document than a formal book release (despite the production value), so we skimped on some of the flavor text in an effort to get more testable rules in the product.

The final Pathfinder Core Rulebook, which releases in August 2009, will have more fluff than the Beta version, and should also address some of your other concerns.

--Erik Mona
Paizo Publishing

Mr Baron said...


Thanks for stopping by! I am glad to hear that you will add back the fluff. Hopefully you have found my commentary on the paladin insightful and entertaining.

Matthew James Stanham said...

I have to admit I am not at all a fan of the Castles & Crusades paladin. Indeed, I was extremely disappointed with references to "holy warrior", which Gygax explicitly denounced as not at all a part of the paladin class. I cannot agree that it conveys the spirit of first edition very much in that regard.

Mr Baron said...


Welcome to the discussion. I can understand your dislike for C&C, and there are a number of folks that fall into this category. I like C&C, but I do recognize and appreciate that some do not, which is probably a completely different conversation. While Gary may have dennounced the paladin as a holy warrior, his UA paladin takes the class one step closer in this regard by linking it with the militaristic cavalier class, and moving it out from the fighter class. Having a military background, I clearly have some natural biases with regards to this.

Mr Baron said...

Actually I re-read your post, and I think I read it wrong the first time around. Sounds like you just do not like the C&C version of the paladin, not that you don't like C&C. My apologies for that.

Matthew James Stanham said...

No problem; you are right in your second reading. I was disappointed with the Castles & Crusades version of the paladin because overall I like the game and I like paladins. The "holy warrior" element is the sort of thing I would have expected Gygax to have asked to be taken out (which I understand from EnWorld to be the way in which he was involved in the development of the game), so I imagine it was a compromise.

For what it is worth, and as you note in part 5C, the "holy warrior" reference has continued over into OSRIC as well, and was left in to preserve "some of Matt Finch's original work." It is certainly a phrase that we have come to easily associate with the paladin.

I do not think the association of the paladin with the cavalier in Unearthed Arcana makes much of a difference, the "exemplary secular champion" vibe seems to be the element emphasised as a result of that (and knight, of course).

The issue is really whether paladins are by definition "holy", which I think they are not (For instance, I do not regard Roland as a "holy" warrior). There was a good thread on origins and analogues to the paladin class over at Knights & Knaves,. If you are interested, you can find it here:

Mr Baron said...

Thanks for the link, and I just finshed reading through it. Gary's comments are always interesting to read. We probably need to create a special data base on Enworld of all his commentary, but that is another subject.

I agree that that Roland and his peers were not holy knights. I would consider them to be champions and/or cavaliers, with a notable military flavor.

I associate the term holy to paladins because of the link to divine powers. It sounds like Gary initially had the concept that being pure of heart is enough to grant special powers, however I struggle a bit with this notion. Having the Paladin's powers come from a diety through their purity and devotion to cause, feels like a better fit. In this context, the term holy warrior fits (or at least has a stronger argument). I think it is due to the link to the divine that players in general use the term holy warrior. This becomes a natural assumption to make.

If we go back to the Roland example and say that is the template to use, then I would have removed the divine abilities and given the class more martial abilities.

In any event, I welcome further discussion!

Matthew James Stanham said...

I think most of the paladin's abilities aren't too hard to parse up. Divine protection against disease, saving throws, and against evil is the sort of protection otherworldy protection that can accrue from divine favour without any need for the paladin to be "holy" (after all, the DMG tells us that increases in hit points and saving throw are themselves the result of divine favour).

When the paladin hits 9th level and starts getting access to spells we are in a more nebulous realm, as (in combination with turn undead) he is functioning in a similar manner to a low level cleric. Indeed, the ability to lay on hands and cure disease or restore hit points has a similar connotation of "holy", but then we also have to start wondering what "holy" actually is.

If the paladin is mainly inspired by La Chanson de Roland and Three Hearts and Three Lion then there may be an "eternal champion" vibe going on, which puts the paladin on a similar level of power with the various Greek heroes. None of them are really holy, though they certainly have divine aid, and most have a divine origin or parent (some even rising to the rank of demi god).

Indeed, defining "holy" is the crux of the matter, and I think Gygax is quite clear on that account. To be "holy" is to be an ordained member of the clergy or otherwise outside the secular world; a paladin may function in those terms, but he does not have to, and I think that is the key difference.

Mr Baron said...

Excellent points! Thanks for the continued comments, as I am enjoying the debate.

Now I will quibble a bit with Gary on his definition of “Holy.” In Christian context, Holy means to set apart for the worship and service to God. To say that Holy means to be an ordained member of the clergy is a rather narrow view of the term, and I like to have slighter wider view of the term. Now I see where he is going with comments, and if we follow that line of reasoning, then I would concede the point that a paladin is probably not an ordained member of the clergy.

You raise a great point about divine favor and the Greek Heroes. Clearly they were not devoted to any one deity, yet they received divine favor, although this favor was randomly given. So this raises the question of why a paladin receives divine favor. Is it because a deity is simply rewarding good behavior, or is it because of devotion to the deity’s cause? The latter resonates better with me. In the first edition PHB, one can see concepts of tithe, penance, and forgiveness which has a religious undertone to it. The number of benefits that the paladin receives, including clerical spells, turning undead, and healing, implies that this divine favor is more than just random aid.

To go back to Gary’s comments, if one were to argue that what Gary had in mind was more of a Pious Champion when he sat down and penned the entry, I can easily agree with that. Before running off to work, I flipped back through the first edition write up and I was struck by the entry on the paladin’s Holy Sword. He could have used a different term here, but he did not, and I think that is rather interesting. Taken individually, any single entry item can be easily attributed to Champion, and not necessarily a divine one. However, there is more than just a subtle undertone to the entry. The equation that starts to form in the mind is paladin + clerical abilities + Holy Sword = Holy Warrior. Now I am not arguing that this is a correct, but there is an impression that is left in the reader’s mind.. Designers on follow on editions, picked up on this, and the paladin has moved further right towards holy warrior (let’s set 4th ed aside, as it is just a bit different). Now I realize that when designing a class, one starts with a concept and then adds the rule mechanics, that could change what the original intent of the class was. However, he included a lot of clerical and religious undertones, that he probably did not need to add (from a rules mechanic perspective), and could have tweaked the class a bit differently to give it more of a Pious Champion feel.

For me, I like moving the paladin to the right toward holy warrior, as it allows room for the knight/cavalier or champion class to “sneak” in between the fighter and the paladin, and there is enough differentiation of this new class to make it interesting..

Matthew James Stanham said...

I am not sure Gygax ever specifically defined holy that way, I should be quick to add, that is just what I gather from his commentary. The divide betwen the religious and secular is very real in a Judeo-Christina context, though. Pilgrims and crusaders can become temporarily "holy", but more permanent "holiness" generally means entering a religious order and leaving the secular world.

Of course, there is nothing stopping a paladin (or indeed a fighter, magician or thief) from doing that, but the point is that the paladin does not have to, and probably does his best work as a secular example of how to live a virtuous life as a warrior, rather than by setting himself apart from the world.

One notable fact about the paladin is that until he starts getting spells, he is nebulously devoted to "good". He can be absolved by any good aligned clergy member and give away wealth to as many institutions as he likes. There is no pressing need for him to be devoted to the cause of one deity, and he perhaps enjoys the favour of many. The "holy" sword is another good example, because the sword doesn't have to be holy to a particular deity. The paladin could serve Odin, and yet have a blade blessed with the tears of Osiris, should he be so fortunate.

The conflation of pseudo-Christian exemplars is partly responsible here, as the sword Roland wields is "holy" (in its hilt is contained a tooth of saint Peter, a hair of saint Denis and the blood of saint Basil), but it also apparently belonged to Hector of Troy, according to another tradition. That is certainly the inspiration for the paladin's holy sword (and the story of Beues of Hamtoun is probably the source for his warhorse). What makes a sword "holy" in a fantasy context? Can a chaotic neutral cleric of a chatoic neutral deity make a holy sword and give it to a paladin? Well, there are rules and then there is narrative continuity...

Certainly, there is room for the paladin to be a "holy warrior". However, I find it rather impinges on the cleric and leads to people complaining that the cleric is "too martial" (impinging on the paladin!). There is also Chainmail to consider where "heroes" are mentioned, but also "anti heroes". To me, the paladin seems to best fulfil the role of "lawful good" exemplary hero, and I would rather not lose the versitility that the class enjoys by pigeon holing it into "holy warrior"(and which the author(s) of the D20/3e PHB were very careful to avoid).

That said, I have no problem with the paladin (or indeed a fighter) as a "holy warrior", but I do object to "paladin = holy warrior", because it is a distortation of the source material, and I think it paradoxically creates more problems than it solves.

As to the chevalier, I think there is plenty of room regardless; apart from the eight alternative alignments, a lawful good chevalier doesn't really overlap with the paladin (in my imagination) any more than does the fighter.

Interesting discussion, though!

Mr Baron said...

Definitely good stuff.

At the end of the day, the class needs to be playable, and Gary clearly had in mind a playable class when he originally penned the PHB. Sometimes that gets lost in the translation.

You make some great points on where you think the paladin fits, and it makes a lot of sense. I think my idea is slightly to the right of yours, but I think we are aligned on the general concepts.

Now, since I brought up the holy sword and you have responded in kind, I thought I would continue to comment. Clearly the holy sword has deep roots in literature, and is firmly entrenched into D&D lore. I wonder a bit if Gary really gave it a lot of thought when he brought the concept into D&D. I will argue that the concept of a Holy Sword has a very definitive Judea-Christian theme. It is a special relic with religious significant, and imparts extraordinary powers to chosen heroes. When we take that and port it over to D&D, the waters get muddier as D&D is usually thought of having a pantheon rather than a singular deity. To your point, can an appointed champion of one deity really wield a holy sword from a completely different deity. Does this make sense from a narrative point of view? I am not sure that Gary really gave this much thought. Like the scenario that you brought up, we can easily come up with some tricky situations that do not come off cleanly regardless of what happens. If one starts arguing about generic holy swords, then that sounds more like a standard magic item, rather than a special Holy relic. I think that Gary clearly meant this to be a very special weapon, and that is the way I like to play it.

To bring this around to my original point, paring a holy sword with a chosen warrior fits together nicely, and it re-enforces the notion of a paladin as a special class, that is set apart from the mundane character. I do see your point about having the class keep its flexibility and not automatically moving it over to holy warrior, and it is a very valid concept.