Friday, May 20, 2016

You Don't Have Any Actual Authority, Just Because You're A Paladin

Before we get started, I wanted to link 5 Tips For Playing Better Paladins at the top of this post. Useful for newer and experienced players alike, this post gets you thinking about this class.

The marketplace is bustling, and stall owners are hawking their wares at the top of their voices. Jewelry, tonics, fresh fish, and the finest dates you've ever tasted are all on offer. Then, from the corner of his eye, the paladin sees two kids stealing bread. He shouts at them, and they run. He gives chase, shouldering a wide swath, and demanding the thieves surrender. He runs them down, after several blocks, and when one puts up a fight, the NPC gets grappled for his trouble. A group of city guards round the corner, and the paladin hails them. Then he looks on in dumbfounded confusion when the guards demand he give himself up.

Easy way or the hard way, pal, it's all the same to me.
We sometimes get so caught up in being big damn heroes that we forget something important when it comes to our character sheets. Simply put, nowhere on the sheet is there a box labeled jurisdiction. And, many times, we forget that to our serious detriment.

Paladins Aren't Police Officers


The paladin is the epitome of the knight errant. One part Templar, and one part wandering hero, the paladin maintains a strict code of conduct to ensure his alignment remains both lawful and good. And, given that we know they have to act in the interests of good as meta information, we expect other people to trust them. However, nowhere in the class description does it say that a paladin is automatically granted the authority to enforce laws (his own, or anyone else's). The same statement holds true for the samurai, the cavalier, the gunslinger, or any other base class.

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!
While there are background traits like law enforcer you can take, and prestige classes like Grand Marshal, Hellknight, or Eagle Knight which have authority in certain areas of the world, it's important to remember that at level one any authority you possess is entirely part of your character's story. It's something that comes from your creativity, and the niche you fill in your background, instead of something you're given as an unspoken class feature.

Which is why you need to check with your DM before you start busting heads.

Know The Law, If You're Going To Enforce It


RPGs are all about escapism, and storytelling. Which is why, generally speaking, the legal system is kept sort of vague. Like other parts of RPGs, the laws that govern cities, towns, and nations don't really come up unless someone violates the all-important Common Sense Doctrine (if it's a felony in the real world, it's probably a felony in this fantasy world, too), or the DM is purposefully doing a, "the players are now on the run from the cops, and have to prove their innocence," kind of plot.

Is diplomacy still an option? Tell me diplomacy is still an option?
If part of your character is that you uphold the law, however, you need to understand A) what law it is you're actually upholding, B) what your place in the hierarchy of legitimate authority is, and C) how far your authority extends, geographically.

For example, say that you are a first-level paladin. You talked with your DM, and your character operates as a sort of medieval fantasy version of the Texas rangers. If anyone in the nation puts out a call, you ride there to deal with the problem. That's your job; serve, protect, and follow your code. That makes explaining your character's presence in any situation really easy; you're there on orders. But you need to know who you work for, and what the extent of your authority is. Are you allowed to detain people? Can you make arrests? If you show up and there are a bunch of town guardsmen, do they have to obey your orders? Are you allowed to determine guilt and innocence yourself, and mete out the appropriate punishment, or is everyone allowed their day in front of the judge? What power do you have where foreigners, especially foreign dignitaries, are concerned? Do neighboring lands grant you a kind of reciprocity, extending goodwill towards you with the understanding that you will abide by that nation's rules and laws while working together?

Perhaps the most important question you need to ask concerning paladins is whether your paladin code is different from your oath of office. Because if that's the case, you might find yourself caught between promises, and have to make hard decisions.

This same logic goes for any PC you want to have legitimate authority. For example, if you're a noble, what does that let you do? Do you just have wealthy family and a lot of social connections? Or does your father, being the baron, mean that you have a de facto position of authority because your father governs this region? If your character is a guardsman, or a soldier, what can they do in terms of your adventure? Can your ranger flash his badge, and make someone step aside? Can the chaplain bark an order, and make militia members stand at attention, stop fighting, or fight a different enemy? If you're a cleric, inquisitor, or paladin with official standing as a priest, exorcist, etc. in a popular faith, does that give you any secular authority at all?

Lastly, though, you need to know if you still have any authority if you leave your starting area. If you're a small-town sheriff, or a watch detective in a certain city, can you go to another place and still do your job? Or are you given the, "this is our problem, and we don't need any backwoods/big city badges like you trying to do it for us," speech? Perhaps most importantly, though, does being a government officer in one place put you on a watch list for other countries? Eagle Knights are heroes in Andoran, but if one rides into Cheliax he can practically guarantee round-the-clock surveillance from government officials, and possibly several orders of the Hellknights. A member of the Risen Guard is a person to be treated with respect and deference in Osirion, but will she get that same treatment in a place like Quadira, who may still resent the loss of control over Osirion? After all, just because your badge means something at home, or where your organization holds sway, that doesn't mean it's recognized anywhere else.

These are all things you should work out with your DM before the game starts to be sure you're on the same page. It's important to remember that just because your cavalier is a member of The Order of The Lion, or your cleric serves the state god, that doesn't immediately grant you the privileges and powers that come with a badge, or being an appointed official.

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11 comments:

  1. I have to keep this in mind al the time in our current Rise of the Runelords game. I'm a gaurdmen in Magnimar and I'm on loan to Sandpoint but I still answer to the Sheriff. We have an issue with another player who is a military man who constantly thinks he has jurisdiction everywhere.

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  2. I really dont think a good paladin would chase down some starving kids for stealing bread. He probably would have paid the vendor the money owed to the breadmaker. Maybe followed the kids to see how he could have helped their family more.

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  3. I really dont think a good paladin would chase down some starving kids for stealing bread. He probably would have paid the vendor the money owed to the breadmaker. Maybe followed the kids to see how he could have helped their family more.

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  4. Deity grants Paladin power, which the DM can strip if they fail to up[hold Religious Code. Deity is a real force of power in game setting. They show up, they smite, grant spells, etc. A Paladin is chosen by a Deity & granted divine powers. Thus a Paladin is ACTUALLY an embodiment of the Deity's will & thus has the obligation & Authority to uphold the Deity's Doctrines. Can local laws disagree? Yes, but that's not the Paladin's problem. The Paladin answers to Deity, not to king. King can have you arrested & hung, but that's the potential price of being God's Armored Fist.

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    1. The point being made, JL Harris, is that "god said so" isn't good enough not to get thrown in jail, even in a fantasy setting where that might be true. Being a paladin, or an inquisitor, or any other class doesn't grant you automatic secular authority in a game setting just because of that class. You need to have said position and authority, whether it's as a legal representative of the crown, or as a local deputy sheriff, as part of your backstory. It isn't a class feature that you can go around enforcing the will of your PC, or your church, without consequence, and without any real position in society.

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  5. Subnote - Thank the person Playing the Paladin. This is the laziest plot hook device ever. God Said so is the easiest railroad.

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  6. I once ran a game with a paladin who cut the ears of a prostitute one of his fellow adventurers had hired and wore them on a leather thong around his neck, and contemptuously dismissed the cleric who subsequently offered to hear his confession, then acted all indignant when he realized he no longer had paladin powers. So, even though none of the secular powers of that realm cared about the poor wayward girl he had tortured and disfigured for a minor--and officially tolerated--offense, God was still watching, you might say. There can be religious as well as secular consequences for self-appointed avengers of outraged Justice.

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  7. (Wall of text incoming)

    One of the campaigns I'm in is an Emerald Spire run, and we have to deal with the Hellknights running Fort Inevitable. I'm running a paladin, but one of a less common deity, which creates some interesting interactions with the local law. The DM agreed that a paladin following any deity with Law as a domain would at least be viewed with respect by the Hellknights, as they're a strictly lawful organization. My paladin, however, is following Torag. Torag's focuses include the forge, protection of those who cannot protect themselves, and tactical strategy. Upholding justice is valued as well.

    She sees the Hellknights as succeeding in their general task of protecting the people but also the corruption in their ranks, particularly with the obscenely high tax rates. She sees the suffering of the people who're having difficulty surviving, but feeling trapped as it could be much worse to leave. She's torn between her own personal law and the law of the land, which results in her obeying the law of the land to the letter, word for word, and not a single step further.

    All loot needs to be appraised, recorded by the leader of the party, and the appropriate value given to the Hellknights upon returning to town. When the party rounds up the loot, she writes down EXACTLY what they found. What's the difference between Leather Boots and +2 Leather Boots of Leaping? She doesn't know. She can't detect magic, and she isn't particularly skilled at appraisal. She does however have people with her to do these things for her. She writes down what she's told, and doesn't ask questions. She knows she may not be getting the whole story, but that's not her problem. She's following the law, and her party members are capable of protecting themselves should they be found breaking it.

    In essence, she's found ways to follow both her personal law and the local laws, fight the "man", and in the end even help the townsfolk with their suffering (she spends quite a bit of time forging trinkets or even armor for them).

    Just because a paladin is lawful good that doesn't mean they have to be lawful stupid. There are other ways to go about upholding law, particularly in cases where your personal law and local law may be in conflict. People often view the alignment system much too strictly when even in the extreme corners there's wiggle room, if you really put some thought into it.

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  8. There's an extraneous comma in the title.

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  9. An article so fair, I cited this it in my latest blog post http://murkypool.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-case-for-knight-in-shining-armor.html Great stuff Neal!

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    1. I'm here to help, Murky Master. Glad you felt it worth mentioning!

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