View Full Version : The Paladin in a subjective world

11-29-2010, 04:24 PM
So, I'm going to be a first time dm soon, and I've been running through everything with my players, looking to see what they want to have happening. Summary: I'm going to be making quite a few threads in the next couple weeks, sorry everyone :p.

So, I'm a philosophy major, and as such I find the 9 alignment system to be absolutely ridiculous. And so I ultimately plan to do away with them.

I'm sure from the title you know my problem: One of my players is absolutely set on being a paladin. She loves the idea of being a naive lover of righteousness, and having a magic horse (though she's asked me about a reformed Nightmare, and I am sort of agreeing that it would be awesome) and maybe saving a baby somewhere. I figured I'd remove the paladin's LG requirement, and perhaps have her character come to turns with the reality of a sometimes cruel world.

Then I looked more closely at the paladin's class features... I have no idea how I'd incorporate them. Smite evil? An aura of good? In a world without a definitive evil, how would a smiting ability work, really? I don't want to just get rid of these features: To be completely honest, I like the idea of the paladin.

My campaign, for what it's worth, does have one truly evil race with the Vashar (outlined but terribly designed in Book of Vile Darkness), but while they're primary antagonists they're also secretive, so they won't be fought all that often. I can't imagine they alone will give a paladin's smite much value.

11-29-2010, 07:58 PM
You might have an easier time with a system that doesn't so heavily include alignment, then. You could look into running a GURPS fantasy campaign and let your friend build her character around the "Paladin image" she has already in her mind.

Removing alignment from D&D can definitely break certain aspects of the game, so it's something I personally would never do. Plus, it's kind of fun. The game itself isn't a perfect mirror of life, so perhaps just don't be so harsh on alignment. It fits well enough for role-playing. Remember, very few characters actually perfectly follow alignment. They just do their best. Sometimes it's not enough and their alignment shifts. Just keep in mind that these are general traits. I generally have less regard for law and social constructs like it, and I pick and choose which of them work well for me on the day to day. But I follow a lot of laws because I don't want to get in trouble. I stop at stop lights and I yield at left turns. That doesn't make me lawful. ;)

11-29-2010, 09:13 PM
In D20 Modern, they have a concept of Allegiance, which can play the role that Alignment plays in D&D.

The difference is that almost anything can be an Allegiance. One can have an Allegiance to Law, or to Good, or to a country, or organization, or a code of honor.

The biggest problem is how to determine who is a target for smiting. This could be defined by the code: demons, devils, those from the fiendish planes, and those who do evil acts for their own pleasure or profit.

11-29-2010, 09:30 PM
If you end up using the D&D Paladin, you'll have to devise an operational definition of evil.

For example, let's say that prolonged contact with infernal gods or demons leaves an invisible taint, like metaphysical radiation, which paladins perceive as Evil. So "detect evil" lights up in the presence of demons, temples of the infernal gods, implements used for human sacrifices, pentacles used to summon demons, and clerics of infernal gods, among other things. Depending on how your world handles magic, some or all magic-users may also carry this taint. To remove this taint, places and things must be sanctified to a benevolent god. People require a ritual atonement, rejection of all tainted powers and items, dedication to a benevolent god, and adherence to a strict moral code which may include nonviolence. (Violence maintains or increases existing taint.)

Regardless, "protection from good" repels creatures which a paladin perceives as evil. Deriving the effects of other paladin powers is left as an exercise for the reader.

For the GM's amusement, "detect evil" may show false positives: a repentant anti-paladin still purging himself of demonic influence, some poor sod carrying a tainted item, or a magic-user who summons demons for moral purposes. False negatives are likewise possible, e.g. a mass murderer who never met a demon in his life. Paladins who fanatically "slay all evil" may themselves work more evil than servants of darkness could ever hope for.

11-30-2010, 12:59 AM
while i do believe in good and evil, i have found the attempts of game designers and dms to be lacking much more often than not. especially rules mechanics based on completely inept concepts and otherwise poor representations of what is good or evil. most people can describe evil acts. some can even name good acts, though most will claim that to be culturally biased whenever you try. the bald fact is... most people actually don't know what true good or true evil is. and unless and until some people (have met/ actually meet / someday will meet) with an actual entity representing one or the other, it is likely that humanity will continue in relative ignorance.

anyhows. i suggest making a definition of both what is good, and what is evil.

in my campaigns, i use something i created which happens to be somewhat similar to the allegiance system already mentioned. all "powers" make 'contracts' with mortals which grant power in exchange for something or somethings. there is no capability to detect alignment, instead one can detect contracts. or rather the indelible mark that such a contract leaves upon a recipient. this alters some spells, and some domains, as well as class features. there are some other interesting effects based on other beliefs, such as the belief in choice. no effect is allowed to force or prevent a mental choice. influence, persuade, pressure, and threaten, yes; but force, no. this has some intriguing alterations to various spells and class features. souls are also the purview of overpowers, and not something that powers can mess with.

considering smite, in my system, smite affects the enemies or prey of a given power with whom you have a contract. so, if in the outer planes some powers make a deal and cease hostilities, then whom smites function against change. the occasional change-up in my campaigns gives the players more of a sense of verisimilitude, that the actions of the powers actually affect daily life, and that they can participate and have an affect themselves.

11-30-2010, 01:51 AM
I'm truly enjoying the idea fmitchell has suggested, actually.

Don't get me wrong, I believe in good and evil too, but rather I'm not too fond of the idea that you can place a logo on it, really.

But the taint system... Beings who commit evil acts generate a sort of taint, which of course reacts negatively with a paladin's smiting powers.. To match the more complicated alignment system, this "taint" doesn't perfectly recognize alignment. I'm going have to Kant it up, I think.

11-30-2010, 09:54 AM
Beings who commit evil acts generate a sort of taint, which of course reacts negatively with a paladin's smiting powers..

That wasn't quite what I was aiming at. Only supernatural forces of evil generate taint, and pass it along to places and beings dedicated to them. Violent acts increase taint only in beings already tainted. It's similar to the Allegiance idea, actually.

Another possibility is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Oath: kill vampires and demons, but not humans, under any circumstances. In D&D you'd have to extend it to demi-humans ... but are orcs simply another demi-human race, or are they evil incarnate? Most games treat them like the latter, but it would be amusing for a paladin to find out his heroic quest against evil made him a mass murderer in the eyes of his own god.

12-01-2010, 07:07 AM
Had an interesting dilemma for my players during my last campaign when dealing with a group of Orcs who weren't evil. One of the players was a Ranger who had Orcs as his favored enemy and the group ran into a village of Orcs who were neutral good aligned. Most of the members of the party had to distract the Ranger away from the village so that he wouldn't try and slaughter the whole village.

But I really like the idea of Allegiances and will probably use something along those lines when I run my next fantasy campaign, which I'll be using BRP for.

12-02-2010, 01:45 AM
Well, without the alignment system I would suggest just making sure to tell the player to keep the ideal in mind, always telling the truth, never intentionally trying to deceive others etc, Paladins are a VERY difficult class to play with the alignment restrictions, with doing away with it, you will want to converse with the player ahead of time & nail down a general "Code of Conduct" that the player should never stray from, personal guidelines like this can keep the general spirit while allowing a little more freedom in how the character is played.
As for the abilities, some of them can be modified to fit other aspects, for instance an Aura of Courage could convey the same benefits while not being a direct "alignment" based ability, as Paladins often give those around them a sense of safety.

12-02-2010, 02:09 AM
In my 3.5 game(s) I adopted the philosophy that alignment is a mechanic that determines how spells effect you and outsiders see you. Evil outsiders try to corrupt evil players and slay good ones; Good outsiders aid good players and destroy evil ones etc. Those in the neutral find no help from the evil and good and must contend with the gray beings of the world, who have their own agendas. So a lawful Good paladin does not have to smite every "evil person" he encounters. An "evil person" need not cause death and destruction every where he goes. The demons, devils, celestials, and angels of the cosmos, however, view everything as black and white and place their wrath on mortals and other beings with bias.

The exception is when players take exalted and vile feats. Those who take those feats want to be just like the Outsiders, so they will have a black and white view of the world. The good exalted has no choice but to punish evil and the evil vile has no choice than to murder/corrupt for the pleasure of it. These are the mortals that live on the extreme; being chosen by their reflected powers to extend their bias in the mortal world.

So in your case, alignment is simply a mechanic. Different classes gain benefits/weaknesses within that mechanic. Mortals will do as they please (within reason), but outsiders, who are in essence immortal, see the universe so differently, and react differently.

A player who chooses the pally will have divine advantages against those that align themselves with evil; whether or not they commit evil acts in their life time. A mortal aligned with forces of good may not act in ways that reflect what others see as good. Never-the less, the outsiders aligned with good may give them aid if requested (and more likely punish them if they commit evil acts as they see them).

This in essence takes away the mortals (and you as DM) from judging PC and NPC actions. Leave the irrational reactions to PC and mortal actions to the immortal jerks trying to manipulate the prime material. ;)

12-02-2010, 09:53 PM
For Pally's and Clerics, I found the stupid 9-alignment system to work just fine.

The Paladin is part of a Brotherhood... a group of knights that have a CODE OF CONDUCT (capitalized to show importance!!). They have to slavishly follow this code or lose their Pally abilities... so they must be lawful. How far this lawfulness goes PAST this CODE is up to the player and DM. All you need to do is fashion a 20-item list of rules for the Paladin to follow. Nothing too onerous, and nothing suicidal, just something for them to track as they play. It'll look something like this:
A: Love puppies.
B: Help old ladies across the cart path.
C: Drink no alcohol except in holy ceremony.
D: etc...

Their diametrical opposition would be easy to flesh out...
A: They kick puppies
B: They push old ladies INTO the path's of carts!
D: etc...

This makes it very easy to work for Paladins.

Clerics, I found are MUCH easier. I pretty much lifted all alignment restrictions from them, as long as they are doing the will of their chosen deity. This allows the Uber-Fundamentalist, and the Hippy-Dippy-Anarchist to both be Clerics of Bob, the Impaler. There will always be variations in interpretations of the scriptures (Don't eat meat on the Day of Woden... but is fish meat? What about Elf??), so there can be various sects of faith from place to place.

The only "problem" arises is when the PC is viewing the scriptures on the AM channel, and the high-priest is viewing them on the DC channel!! Plot complications and adventure hooks abound!!!

12-03-2010, 02:35 AM
One possibility that comes to mind is that if the Paladin has a patron god, this deity can resolve smiting and detecting evil, et cetera.

Suppose the paladin worships Otal, Patron of the Sword. His actions need to be what Otal approves of. When he encounters characters and monsters that Otal wants to point out as "evil", his Detect Evil goes off. He can smite those whom Otal decides is worth smiting.

One example might be a deity I made up who was the guardian of roads. If the paladin encounters some bandits in a bar, the deity might alert the Paladin that these are enemies. If the paladin then ends up in a fight with them on the road, the deity would say "go ahead and smite the vile bandit-scum."

12-03-2010, 04:10 PM
The biggest decision when dealing with a Paladin outside of the normal alignment system is deciding how you'll handle the L/G attitude they have by default, once that is handled through whatever method you decide to use, be it a pre-determined code of honor, a deity's list of approved actions for their Champion, etc everything else will start to fall into place with their abilities.
As a side note, if you are avoiding the normal alignment system you could also play with the idea of using non-default deities for Paladins, one of the most rewarding Paladins I've played was a Human Paladin of Eilistraee, we were fighting Lolth & her followers, but it was an amazing roleplay experience bending the rules that way.

12-08-2010, 05:04 PM
Give her an ethical code instead of an alignment. A patron god that has listed in black and white what is expected. Contrary to what some have suggest you can remove alignment form D&D. It is a bit of work, but it can be done. Smite evil becomes smite those that oppose the religion or hold philosophical ideas contrary to its teaching. It is still called smite evil. It's easier to say.

Some of my religion glosses (http://phoenixinn.iwarp.com/fantasy/gs_fant.htm#Culture) to give you ideas.

12-18-2010, 06:43 PM
I have never believed a paldain had to be lawful good. The only stipulation i have known is that he has to be Lawful. Be it lawful good or evil. A lawful evil paladin is alot of fun to play. Again it really depends on the deity that the paladin follows whether or not he is eveil or good.. and spells/abilities like smite evil become smite good, aura of good becomes aura of evil etc..

I also agree that alignments are more or less guidelines rather than restrictions. Good and evil are in the eye of the beholder are they not? Does a serial killer think his murderous ways are evil? No. So if I were to run a campaign, which I have rarely ever done simply because I prefer being a player, I wouldn't have the strictness that the handbooks deem necessary in regards to alignment. A good aligned player may have a different idea of what evil is in some situations and find killing the "evil" person to be good where as the good aligned player next to him in his party found the act to be evil or at the very least undesirable.

12-25-2010, 08:42 PM
I'm with Utgard for the deity deciding what's Right and Wrong.

I'm with fmitchell for defining some planes as good or evil, and leaving a corresponding taint.

You can use a game rule to help define your planes: Cure spells use positive energy, thus the positive energy plane (and its neighbors) are focused on creating life. Harm spells use negative energy, thus negative energy planes focus on destroying life. It's up to the deity to define one as Good and the other as Evil.

If it helps to clear up the SRD's view of good and evil, you can probably just ask yourself: what would a Christian priest think?

Also, I'm curious to know a philosophy major's take on the discussion and alignment system, if it's available. :)

12-25-2010, 09:36 PM
The Conundrum of Alignment (http://phoenixinn.iwarp.com/fantasy/alignment.html).

03-10-2011, 06:08 PM
In a situation like this, I would recommend treating the Paladin as more like a champion of their god, than of some abstract concept of "Lawful Good". As has been earlier suggested, this then allows the specific tenets of their god to determine what powers affect who, what their code is and so forth, since all their powers come from their god anyway.
In this type of a system, the Paladin becomes more like a cleric, and could potentially conflict with a paladin of a different god. And then you have to deal with the question of neutral or Chaotic gods having paladins or not, or even "evil" gods.

Alternately, you could do away with the concepts of absolute Good and Evil, and keep Law and Chaos, and allow paladins to simply represent Law, and apply more general sense of "good" through a code of conduct and ethics. But then you have to mess with the "[whatever] Evil" category of powers again.

Or, you could do away with paladins altogether in favor of Knightly Orders, each one having their own codes and ethics. Or she could just be a naive, deluded Fighter who gets to find out that not everyone sees the world in the same black and white shades she does.

It all depends on what kind of mechanics you want the world to have, and how much work you are willing to do to change the class.

Edit: Just read "Conundrum of Alignment" (see above). Awesome, read it.

03-10-2011, 08:51 PM
I have always had issues with paladins, playing them and DMing them. Some of it is the extra rigid alignment system and some because of me (I kick puppies! I push old ladies INTO the path's of carts! I love HAPPY HOUR! W00T!) I have always liked having cavaliers, chevaliers, knightly orders, and opening paladinhood to all alignments as holy warriors. Otherwise, it just doesn't work well for me.