Ok maybe that’s a bit much on the face of it but I can’t help but try and break the mold when the mold is so old it’s… moldy. Lawful Good – we get it. But let’s reward some creativity ok, GMs? So with the limits put on Paladins in most RPGs, how do we make the Paladin fresh and interesting without going all “anti-paladin” and sucking up the place?
What are the limitations on a Paladin? There are two: alignment and the rule of law/god. That’s basically it. They’re priests or cops who personally do the smiting on behalf of their god. Most paladins are placed in the strict alignment confines of Lawful Good. That’s a code of conduct and not a definition of a personality. Lawful doesn’t mean humorless. Good doesn’t mean naive. So a paladin can joke, play pranks, & even swear (oh dear!), so long as they don’t bend their duty. Hehe… doody.
Now your GM will have to work with you on deciding how strict that code of conduct is but the world is a lot like the Middle Ages and less like… Utah. Can a paladin drink? Very few fantasy worlds outlaw drinking or even drunkenness, but a drunken paladin had better be a benevolent drunk – charitable, honorable, GOOD (just like the ale you drink). Buy the next round, pal, and for atonement, know that your hangover is your god’s way of reminding you that every pleasure has a price. You just happen to be willing to pay it.
Can a paladin steal? Certainly not for oneself, but sometimes it’s necessary to commandeer items for the greater good. No self-respecting Smiter of Evil is going to let the BBEG get away because stealing a horse is wrong. But atonement is necessary to balance bad deeds even when made in desperation for better good. Perhaps it becomes necessary to perform a service to the victim of your urgency. GMs take note: atonement is a fantastic way to add some flavor. Make that knight help clean the stalls for a day after “borrowing” a horse.
I’ve taken Pathfinder and made a couple of character samples in the Golarion world to show how a couple tweaks to the profile can make the old new again:
The People’s Paladin (Paladin or Divine Defender of Iomedae)
You have taken an oath to protect the world from evil, but even lawbreakers deserve protection from the kind of evil you fight. Just as Iomedae didn’t hunt down every misdeed she saw, petty crimes would waste your valuable time and skill. Information helps you root out the real evils and that means knowing the people you protect. As such, your dealings with the common people of Golarion are congenial and often full of laughter and friendship. Hanging out with peasants in taverns has not always endeared you to your more conservative superiors and your armor lacks spit & polish, but your success and god given abilities are the proof of your faith.
The Road Warrior (Holy Guide or Holy Gun of Erastil)
You are a member of a nearly forgotten order of paladins who like Old Deadeye (your proud Ulfen god) search the wilderness and the roads of Golarion for evil, striking it down wherever you find it. Given your more rural battlefields, shining armor isn’t exactly helpful to your cause, so your order rubs thick layers of oils and soot to dull and camouflage any metals you wear. You hide your strengths and powers further beneath dark cloaks and hoods. Most would hardly recognize your virtues at first glance (because you look shady). You value your martial skills but recognize the benefits of stealth and range. Some, who have been saved by your hand, never saw your face. They only heard the shot and saw the evil fall before it struck them.
None of this means you can’t play a stodgy, grumpy, shiny knight in armor full of righteous indignation when someone crosses the line to evil…or neutral…or drinks milk out of the carton, but it does mean you don’t have to play a Paladin that way. If you’re ever feeling a little boxed in by a character class, remember that stereotypes are easy to shatter and with just a little twist, you can breathe new life into even the most rigid of archetypes.
I did this why back in 2nd d&d with a cleric of Pelor. My character was born rich and his right leg ended just below the knee. I was inspired by Friar Tuck in Robin Hood (the one starring Errol Flinn) so my character stayed up all night drinking in local taverns but in the privacy of his room he would get up to do the rites at dawn then immediately go back to bed. he wanted to show the common man that you could be an avg joe & still be faithful. this led to some real problems with the this led to some real problems with the leadership of the church as it had focused on the rich & aristocracy.
My favorite moment is when my character stumbled upon a relic of the church (armor once owned by pelor’s greatest champion) & i turned it over to the church. DM asked me “why?” & we role played out a tribunal where the hierarchy members (played by my group) grilled me as to my motives both in returning the armor over & in my life general. Afterwards the gm ruled that the church grudginly returned it to me because it was obvious Pelor had granted it to me. I still had problems with the church though for the rest of the campaign.could be an avg joe & still be faithful.