Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Pill-Popping Paladin

Farran had cleaned the blood from his sword, and smoothed the nicks from the blade with a whetstone. He washed the sweat and stink from his body. He polished his armor and shield until they shone, and the dents from the day's battle were little more than irregularities in the steel skins. He said his prayers. When all was said and done, though, he could not banish the sound of the demon's roar from his mind. The madness in its gaze, and the hunger as it tore at his shield even as ichor spilled across the temple's floor, were seared into his mind like a brand. He raised his pipe, lit it, and breathed deep.

The smoke filled his lungs, and it quieted the memories. He would sleep tonight, and with the blessing of the gods, his sleep would be dreamless.

The gods were good, to bless us with such bounty.
Drugs are one of those mechanics that most players simply don't toy with, excluding the sheer number of PCs who get completely hammered before, during, or after an adventure. But while ale and wine flow commonly in most games, it's fairly rare for player characters to touch the harder stuff. Why? Well, because it gives you a temporary benefit, but it damages one of your stats, and has the potential to cause addiction.

Of course, paladins have ways around that.

The Pill-Popping Paladin

Hard drugs in Pathfinder can give small, but effective, bonuses. Silvertongue, invented by yours truly, gives you a 1d2 bonus to your Charisma score for an hour, for example. Zerk provides a +1 bonus to your initiative, and +1d4 to your Strength, for the next hour. These drugs also do 1d4 and 1d2 Constitution damage, respectively. Also, as I pointed out in The Best Drugs in Pathfinder, every time you take a dose of one of these substances, you have to roll a Fortitude save to avoid addiction. That can be problematic, because drug addiction can have crippling effects on a character.

It's important to remember, though, that drug addiction is considered a disease, and can be cured by applicable magics. Paladins are immune to diseases both normal and magical as of 3rd level, however, which renders the Fortitude save a moot point. Even better, paladins who cast spells (since there are archetypes that give up spellcasting) have the ability to restore ability damage. This gives them the ability to reap the benefits of drug use, without all the negatives that come with it.

Antipaladins are worse. So much worse..
But even though paladins can do this, mechanically, are they allowed to thematically? After all, drug use is one of those things we tend to think goes against a paladin's code... but why would it? Especially if the substances a paladin is using, like elven absinthe or harlot sweets, are not illegal to buy, or use, and there are no proscriptions against those substances in that paladin's faith?

The closest argument that could be made regarding drug use is that it may be seen as dishonorable to give yourself an advantage with a performance-enhancing substance. However, if that is true, then where do you draw the line? Is wearing enchanted armor, or wielding a magical sword, giving you too much of an advantage for you to still be honorable? Is using magic against a creature who cannot cast spells using an unfair advantage? Are you allowed to accept morale bonuses from the bard, or transmutation spells from the wizard, to help in the heat of battle? Are you allowed to drink strong coffee to stave off the penalties from fatigue (which is an actual ruling)?

What Drives The Drug Use?

The mechanical quirk is fun, but hardly game breaking. The benefits gained from imbibing drugs are small, variable, and they do cause damages that have to be healed. Even if you get a free pass on the addiction roll, there's still the question of why your paladin feels the need to shoot up.

Is your paladin a front-line warrior, who prepares for every possible situation? In much the same way he'd carry healing potions, and alchemical weapons, why wouldn't he pack battlefield drugs to help him keep going when the chips were down, and lives were on the line? Does your paladin take drugs to help stave off the long-term effects of staring into the abyss of horror and damnation that he took vows to protect others against? Or does your paladin take drugs in order to reach a higher state of consciousness, communing more clearly with the gods in an altered state of consciousness?

Are the drugs a crutch, or a tool? An escape, or a prison? Those choices are yours to make, and they remain particularly interesting choices.

For more inspiration, check out 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. Have read a bit of your blog and enjoy some aspects, as a GM how would you offset the use of drugs on a continual basis? Thank you.

    1. I'm not sure I understand the question. There's nothing for you to offset; it's baked into the mechanic.

      Drugs cost money, and they're often illegal. So a character already has to pay for them, and find a hook-up. Drugs have an addiction risk that has to be rolled on every use, and unless you're immune to disease, that's a real problem. They also do immediate damage to a stat which, unless you can magically heal it, is going to stick around for a few days.

      If you have a character using a lot of drugs, even if they can circumvent one or two of the obstacles, they're already taking a hard road.

  2. Addiction isn't the same kind of physical disease that measles, mumps, and chicken pox, or even lycanthrophy. It's a physical rewiring of the body into a new norm, so it's arguable that regular disease curatives would not be effective. Do we really want to cheapen drug abuse this way?

    1. I say the same thing here that I say everywhere else; game mechanics are not reality. It is realistic you could stab someone 4 times with a dagger in the same time frame you could swing a greatax, but that isn't how the rules are designed. They're simple conflict resolution systems. Disease is disease, as far as the rules go.

      Given that paladins are immune to mummy rot, ghoul fever, and other magical diseases, it seems silly to quibble about drug use. Especially given all the potential for character growth and personality stated above.

      If you're already limiting your options by playing a paladin, why not use what you have?