Friday, January 29, 2016

The "Compassionate" Antipaladin

A paladin's fall from grace is one of those stories we all dread, but simultaneously want to see. There's something compelling about someone struggling for perfection, falling short, and then deciding to embrace their moral terminal velocity to become a perversion of all the things they'd once stood for. Some paladins fall out of pride, some out of envy, and others because of greed, or lust. But what happens when a paladin takes the left hand path not because of a human failing, but because of a core virtue taken to an extreme?

That is the Compassionate Antipaladin, and it's where the story of Ezekiel Cairn begins.

You have to earn that black armor.

The Life (And Death) of Ezekiel Cairn

In life, Ezekiel was everything you would expect a paladin to be. Selfless, devoted, charitable, and he was always willing to extend a hand before reaching for his sword. He was loyal to his compatriots, fair in his rulings, and he understood the value of life. Whenever he was forced to fight, he dug his enemy's grave with his own hands. That way he never forgot the burden he carried on his hip, and in his heart.

As with many paladins, Ezekiel sacrificed himself to protect his friends. He passed with no regrets, and pleased that he had done his duty well. And, as one would expect from a virtuous man who had worked so tirelessly for the benefit of others, he was richly rewarded by his patron in the afterlife.

Long days on the beach, with nary a sunburn in sight.
Time didn't have much meaning in the after world, but it seemed like he'd only just allowed the weight to truly drop from his shoulders, when he felt a pull. His comrades were trying to resurrect him. Deciding that his duty wasn't done yet, Ezekiel heeded the call, and returned to his broken, bloody body, coughing his way back into the world to take up the fight anew.

Death Was Only The Beginning

Returned to life, and with renewed vigor flooding his limbs, Ezekiel stood with his compatriots once more. For a time, he fought all the harder, knowing for a fact what awaited him in the heavenly realms. Worldly concerns seemed lighter, and less important than they had before. Hardships were easier to endure, and even arduous tasks were easier to complete.

For a time, anyway.

An irritant slipped into Ezekiel's mind, though, and began building an ugly pearl. The heavenly realms were eternal, and pure. The gods meted out punishment and reward based on the actions of a mortal's life. Yet, for all the promise, the world was full of terrors, and pain. Children with empty bellies forced to steal, cringing from the hands of abusive parents. The weak violated by the strong, their screams answered only with harsh laughter, and sharp blows. Jealousy, hatred, envy, and greed ate away at the finest souls, turning virtuous youths into corrupt old men. All at once, the cycle of mortality no longer seemed like a beautiful promise. It was a punishment. A hobbling wheel full of unnecessary suffering and torment, where no one reached the end free of scars and blood.

His duty was clear. Ezekiel would break the wheel, and murder the world.

The Elements of a Truly Threatening Villain

We've all seen the villain who plans to kill everyone in the world, but rarely does that goal make sense. After all, if the villain destroys the world, then where is he going to live? In the case of the Compassionate Antipaladin, though, he's making the ultimate sacrifice, in his mind. He will commit the unspeakable horror of wiping out every life in the world, so that others can remain pure to attain their reward of heaven. Worse, he is knowingly sacrificing his spot in paradise in order to do this great and terrible deed.

Because when your path gets dark, you own that shit.
As an individual, the Compassionate Antipaladin is frightening. His zealousness, combined with an array of brutal abilities, is enough to give any group of adventurers pause. However, the idea that drives him, combined with his charisma and zealousness, can be hideously persuasive. The rhetoric could, all on its own, lead to horrors. Paupers who drown their children before hanging themselves. Riots as the poor are slaughtered in droves to send them to a safer, warmer place. The formation of an army of martyrs who want to take on the selfless role of shepherding the world's populous on to the place where everyone receives their just rewards.

That's where the true power of the Compassionate Antipaladin comes from; the combination of twisted logic, and the determination to continue on until the job is complete. As an individual, this kind of antipaladin is a force to be reckoned with. If he forms alliances, and gains a following, then it's possible he could take serious steps toward achieving his stated goal. Whether he's given a battalion of infernal creatures at the behest of a demon lord, resurrects a fighting force of the dead, gains the service of his own murder cult, or some combination of all of these, this sort of character could easily swing heavy as a campaign's Big Bad.

A villain with goals on this grand a scale is also notoriously difficult to put down, and keep down. Demonic overlords aren't likely to let someone like this stay dead for long, especially if he's a useful tool. So if your party does manage to kill the Compassionate Antipaladin, an evil resurrection with dire results (and possibly adding a new template for additional challenge) is an option. Or, if your villain refuses to stop, then he may become a Graveknight. For those of you unfamiliar with the creature, it's like a lich for melee characters, whose raw determination and refusal to be stopped by something as paltry as death, imbues their armor. Their spirit, trapped within the steel they once wore and able to regenerate from nearly any defeat, makes them nearly impossible to kill for long.

DMs, if you've been looking for a monster we can sympathize with, but who still has one of the highest-stakes motivations out there, have fun with this villain! Also, if you're looking for more tips on memorable bad boys, you might want to check out Under The Black Hat: Tips On Writing Believable Bad Guys, and Tips For Playing Evil Characters (Your DM Might Allow).

And for more tips on paladins of all sorts, take a look at 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a dungeon master.

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  1. This is beautiful. Sums up the theme, the road to hell is paved in good intentions. I almost want to do this but I am committed to using the path of war character I have at the momment.