Sunday, January 3, 2016

The "Paladin In Name Only"

So, I caused a bit of a stir last Monday with my post Concept Policing is Something Gamers Should Stop Doing. This wasn't, of course, meant to say that a DM has to allow every concept to come to a table, or that players should feel free to throw all sense to the winds to make the most ridiculous characters that come to their minds. What I had in mind was more along the lines of gamers, as a community, stopping their knee-jerk reactions whenever someone chooses to play against type in a way that creates a unique character who makes sense, and who obeys the rules, the canon, and the setting of the game you're in.

Characters like the Paladin In Name Only.

A little spit and polish goes a long way.
Let's set the scene. A figure approaches the party, dressed in heavy armor. The armor is bedecked with holy symbols, and figures of religious lore. The person wearing the armor, whether it's a man or a woman, has a forceful personality. A born leader, whose commands are law in battle, and whose suggestions off the field are given weighty consideration. The character has a deep knowledge of a certain faith, and is also a part of that church's military arm. This character prays every day, and follows a strict, ethical code that determines their actions.

Is this character a paladin? Well, they appear to be... but no one says they have to be.

The Mechanics

Nothing in the above description is completely unique to paladins. The description could fit a cleric or an inquisitor, but it could also fit a fighter or cavalier dedicated to a religious cause. Knights in shining armor come in a big variety of mechanical flavors, and just because they look and act in ways we typically associate with paladins, that doesn't mean they aren't just a mere mortal who aspires to follow in the footsteps of the righteous.

Every aspirant has to start somewhere.
There are all kinds of ways to mechanically support a hero of the faith concept, without actually taking paladin levels. For example, Bravery is one of the most commonly exchanged fighter abilities, but combined with a background trait that provides a bonus against fear, and feats like Iron Will, it's possible to appear all but fearless in the face of true evil. With the right feats, fighters can be deadly weapons against the enemies of a faith.

That's far from the only option, though. Cavaliers of all varieties gain the ability to challenge their foes, and to steel their allies' morale in the face of danger. Those sensations might, to the uninitiated, bear similarities to declaring a smite on an evil enemy, or spreading the force of one's divine light out to protect his or her allies. Samurai's Resolve allows them to move forward through sheer force of determination, shrugging off punishment and terrors in a way that might make them seem superhuman.

The point is, before you decide to play a Paladin In Name Only, you need to know what abilities you're focusing on to create someone who has dedicated his or her life to being a paragon of goodness. The further you get from being a divine spellcaster, the bigger the surprise is going to be when the party realizes, in-character, that it's faith without magic backing your sword arm.


There are a thousand reasons for someone to aspire to heroism... what's yours?

Heroism comes in many forms, and for many reasons.
For example, you could take some inspiration from history and say that your fighter was the most powerful warrior in the land, putting him in a select order of holy knights. In case you didn't know, that was pretty much what the word paladin originally meant, since it referred to the 12 Peers of Charlemagne. Alternatively, your Paladin In Name Only might be a wandering do-gooder, traveling from town to town with nothing more than his armor, weapons, and trusty steed in order to help the defenseless and downtrodden. He may have found his faith in a fox hole while fighting against a demonic incursion, or she may have been raised by a holy order. Even if this character wasn't chosen to be the embodiment of divine rightness, and to serve holy judgment, that is no reason not to use characters who have as models for what kind of adventurer you want to become.

There's also the personal motivation a character has to dedicate their life to a cause like this. There's the born-again hero, who lived an ignoble life, but who saw real greatness and courage on a battlefield like the World Wound. That changed this character, and made them want to be better, tempering their talents for violence and helping steer them toward a more just course. Being a hero might be a family calling, the way some families all do a stint of military service, and the character isn't going to let a little thing like not being divinely chosen stop him from following in his ancestors' footsteps. Maybe the character grew up hearing stories of great paladins and their deeds, and holds that up as his or her highest ideal.

Why Do This?

The point of the Paladin In Name Only is not to pull a "gotcha" moment on the rest of the party, who suddenly realize they don't have a secondary healer. The purpose is to play with the expectations of what drives certain types of characters, how they act, and what it's like to share in their endeavors. It's also to show that just because there's no mechanical negative to breaking your vows and sworn oaths, that doesn't mean those things don't still matter to a character who took them. After all, they inform the character's view of the world, and of who he or she is... they're kind of a big deal. They might even be big enough for the Paladin In Name Only to go on a quest of redemption, even if it's only to make peace with not measuring up to an ideal that's all but impossible with divine grace, and even more difficult without it.

For those who are interested in straight paladins, you might find 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins more up your alley. If you want to use another class though, my 5 Tips For Playing Better Base Classes list is getting a little bigger all the time!

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.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

1 comment:

  1. Why not? I played a Samurai In Name Only for a playtest of D&D 5th edition. Mechanically, he was strictly a Fighter.