Because paladins are superman.
|Not sure where you're going with this one, exactly...|
Men of Steel, Creeds of Iron
All right, let's back up a second so I can establish some baseline points. In games like Pathfinder, and 3.5, the paladin base class must maintain a lawful good alignment or it loses most of its class features. They can worship good gods, or no gods, but that alignment is ironclad. If they change from lawful good to any other alignment, their powers go bye bye. While games like 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons have removed this alignment restriction, it is still very much a requirement in other games.
Well, a big part of it is that the paladin is drawing on specific myths and source material. There are several myths in Arthurian lore, for instance, where knights were considered unstoppable until they broke their vows, and lost their strength. Lancelot is perhaps the most famous, because whether his love was or was not true, consummating it betrayed the vows he'd made to his king, and his god. Myths about the lengths Sir Gawain went to keep his word, or about the way Tristan refused to give in to temptation, also play into this theme.
The point of these myths, and which seems to be what the alignment restriction is there to enforce, is that paladins are both good and just. It isn't just that they are trying to do the right thing, but that they must do so according to the vows they've sworn, and the code they follow. Whether it's something like a fantasy version of chivalry, or oaths they've made to the divine like Samson in the Old Testament, paladins have to have both in order to embody this particular archetype.
That's where Superman comes into the picture.
|This has got to be some kind of magic armor to never get tattered.|
Superman, it could be argued, is the most iconic superhero in the genre. There were masked men, vigilantes, and crime fighters before him, but he was something new. It's one reason he's survived so many decades, and remained such a major pop culture figure. However, if you were asked to list the things people know about Superman, you'd likely get super strength, super speed, and flight, before someone mentioned that he was a goody two shoes. He always does the right thing, because he is thematically (one might even argue cosmically) good.
And that bores a lot of people.
Sure, I get that. Some of us don't like heroes who act like heroes. We like hard-edged tough guys, driven antiheroes, or uncompromising hard cases who go their own way to get the job done. That's why characters like Jonah Hex, The Question, Wolverine, and several different versions of Batman still have followings.
But that isn't Superman.
I don't think this is really a contentious statement, because anytime something has happened where writers have tried to make Superman darker, or edgier, or less heroic, even the fans who claimed he was boring raised their voices against those decisions. Because that goes against the grain of the character, and what he was designed to represent. Truth, Justice, and Tolerance (before it was changed to The American Way during our national obsession with communism). And pretty much without fail, the comics always return to his good, heroic roots.
The same thing happens with the paladin. Because that lawful good alignment restriction isn't just a check placed on the class's power (though it could be argued it serves that function, as well, preventing them from using certain abilities, or taking levels in certain classes, which would be deemed too powerful from a game balance standpoint), it is also statement of the class's purpose. Paladins don't have to be knights, they don't have to be nobles, and they can be of any race, age, or ethnicity. But the thing they share is a dedication to a single purpose; righteousness, and adherence to their code.
The Gods Have Nothing To Do With It
One of the most common misconceptions is that paladins are like clerics; they serve a god. So why couldn't, say, a neutral evil paladin serve a neutral evil god, maintaining all their class features as long as they remain within that alignment instead?
Because, as mentioned above, paladins are not expressly servants of a particular god. They are not imbued with the might of a single, divine being whom they represent on the material plane as a kind of avatar. They are forces of good, and of law, which is why they have that particular alignment restriction.
|The one on the left, in case you're not sure.|
If you read the entries for classes like the cleric, or the inquisitor, they are specifically attuned to a god. That's the source from which their powers flow. But while paladins cast divine spells, very little attention is paid to them serving a god. Instead, emphasis is placed on their code, which dictates how they use their strength, and what actions they take to fulfill their oaths and vows. Emphasis is placed on their alignment, rather than on the alignment of the god (if any) that they serve.
That, of course, suggests that for the paladin, what is just and right takes precedence over church and god. It is, in a very real sense, what the class draws its power from. And that is why, if the paladin steps away from that path, she shuts the door on that power, and cannot use it again until she has atoned for the decisions that made her step away from righteousness in the first place.
When it comes to heroes, you might prefer yours operating within shades of gray, if not outright darkness. That's perfectly fine. But a paladin is a force of good, and that is what powers their strength, and grants them their abilities. Taking that away pulls the heart out of what the class is about, and makes it into something else. Especially in a game like Pathfinder, where you have clerics, warpriests, inquisitors, and a dozen other classes that all operate similarly to paladins, but within those darker areas.
Not all heroes have to be shining examples of good. Some of them, though, really do.
That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed the film, and it provides you all with the same sort of inspiration it did me!
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