The Paladin is a Class that deserves its own special discussion in the CaSE series, as we continue to look at the starting conditions of your campaign.
To the casual observer, the Paladin may appear no different a character than one from any other Class. In practise, however, this is not so. If there is a Paladin in the party, and the Paladin is being role-played correctly and the DM is running the adventure properly, the chances of conflict within the party are significant.
In my experience, PC parties that included a Paladin ran into serious internal disputes more frequently than comparable parties that included an Evil-aligned character ! This happened in our friend D.W.’s long-running 2nd Edition D&D campaign. And it was on our friend E.G.’s mind when he ran his many v.3.5 campaigns, so much so that he actively discouraged players from taking ‘Paladin’ as a character class.
Why is a Paladin a potentially disruptive class to have in your players’ party – maybe more so than an Evil character ?
An Evil character has the advantage of deception – he may appear to and act toward others as his needs suit him, concealing his true nature. The Paladin, on the other hand, has a hard-and-fast Code of Conduct and rules for Associates, upon which the Paladin’s powers and abilities –in fact her very nature as a Paladin- entirely depend. (The Paladin’s Class rules were more restrictive in 2nd Edition, and would seem entirely absent in 4th Edition, but here we’ll look at v.3.5) :
While most of that just establishes the spirit of the noble champion, let’s pay special attention to the requirement for a Paladin to “…punish those who harm or threaten innocents.” As to associates, we read :
Here we get the second and third moral sticking points, “…never knowingly associate with evil characters, nor will she continue an association with someone who consistently offends her moral code.”
Depending on how you bring characters together at the start of your campaign it is possible that the party includes a Paladin, and characters whose alignment is Evil or a sinister Neutral. Similarly, you may have players who, regardless of their character’s alignments, will play their characters in a morally suspect fashion.
Of course at first everyone is on their best behavior. But as players begin to play their Evil characters in-character, or as other players role-play their characters according to their own whims, pretty soon the Paladin is going to notice.
If a member of the Paladin’s party should threaten or intimidate an NPC for information; if it is revealed that a fellow party member is Evil; or if a character commits an evil or “morally offensive” act – then the Paladin absolutely must respond. This response may be a stern lecture, a physical confrontation up to and including lethal force, or the Paladin concluding that she is the lone embodiment of Good in the party and so must renounce membership and go her own way, quitting the party permanently. In all cases, this becomes conflict between players’ characters and not a conflict that you as DM can control directly (as you could if it were an NPC involved, over whom you have complete control). And this kind of conflict is a problem for your campaign.
The Paladin was almost always a party-breaker in our campaigns – or would have been if the Paladin’s player or the DM were acting accordingly. Our complaint as players was that the party’s Paladin was not being RP’d properly – either committing acts of dubious morality himself, or blatantly looking the other way as party members did. Our DM, unfortunately, allowed the Paladin such excess and never demand Atonement or stripped the Paladin of his Class features for breaking the codes of conduct.
Your role as DM is to hold players to account for their characters. More than any other Class, that of Paladin specifically spells out the disadvantageous burden a player must take on in order to collect on the unique advantages of the Class. The player can’t have it both ways – running her character like a freewheeling Fighter or a spirited Cleric but still having access to special Divine abilities.
There should be room for creativity, however. The other suffering of the Paladin as a character in our games has been a woeful lack of dramatic range. Players feel the only route to playing a Paladin is through cliché : the upstanding Boy Scout policeman, half chivalrous knight and half “Golden Age” Superman. If the DM keeps an open mind and the player carefully interprets the Class requirements for conduct and association, the Paladin could be a rewarding experience for player and group alike.
A Paladin character could be self-absorbed, haughty, a heavy drinker, bossy, lazy, skittish, or condescending, in a way that adds flavour to the RP-ing experience while staying within its Class rules. Or the Paladin could be shades of the stories of Knights Templar; holy in name only, quietly committed to lust of power and wealth and acclaim, yet still legally Lawful Good. Contradiction creates a welcome depth and makes for interesting characters.
It’s up to you as DM if the Paladin Class has a place in your campaign, or not. If it doesn’t have an especially helpful role for the party, or if you know it will break the party or prevent the party’s interactions with shady (but necessary) NPC’s, discourage players from choosing the Class.
If there are no obvious impediments to your campaign and your story by including a Paladin character, then establish rules and guidelines with that player at the start of your adventure about what consequences they should expect if their character strays outside the Paladin’s Code of Conduct.