Born to raze hell
Paladins are a class from Dungeons and Dragons. Inspired by a mixture of the idealistic views of the Crusades in late 70s/early 80s Western culture (never forget: despite the "D&D is Satanic!" bullshit, Gary Gygax was a devout Christian), and the "Knight in Shining Armor" archetype of Chivalric Romances and the Arthurian Mythos, they are divine warriors of a somewhat more martial bent than Clerics, receiving a variety of powers generally focused around smiting the enemies of their god, and tend to have high Charisma scores to fuel their holy powers. Many a fictitious maiden has benefited from a Paladin's Laying On of Hands. (Purely to heal their injuries, you understand. Unless they're into that sort of thing, of course.)
They have earned a rather unfair reputation as a "troublemaker" class in D&D circles, the kind of class that must be watched because That Guy tends to be drawn to them. Rather like the Xaositect or the Kender... except, of course, the Paladin actually has numerous saving graces, so it has earned defenders, unlike either of the aforementioned troublemakers.
The cause? Simple: in the 1st through 3rd editions of the game, due to their "holy knight" origins, Paladins were game-mandated to uphold a Lawful Good alignment. If they failed, they lost the bulk of their special abilities, leaving them as at-best a sub-par version of the Fighter until and unless they either Atoned - a process that could be very painful and often railroady - or changed classes entirely.
Now, this wouldn't be so bad in and of itself - alignment restrictions are hardly unique in any of those editions, even if most of them moved to much broader requirements under 3e and Pathfinder. However, for some reason, Paladins just seem to bring out That Guy in DMs. Why? Nobody really knows. The most logical reasons are a three-part combination; the "Fall from Grace" angle is a pretty well-worn story-angle, especially for more lackluster DMs, it makes a handy hook for railroading the party on, and most importantly of all: "Old School DMing". See, back in OD&D's day, D&D hadn't come far from its wargame roots, and so there was still a pretty strong "competitive" mindset in the culture. DM vs. Players was very common, if not the norm, with players trying to get all the loot and power they wanted and DMs trying to stop them. Thusly, the Paladin's "you must do what the DM thinks is Lawful Good behavior or lose all your power" ruleset was a built-in weakness.
This magnet for "moral dilemmas" and similar bullshit was bad enough, but on top of that, you had players who overplayed themselves, often for sheer fear that if they didn't act Lawful Stupid, the DM would strip them of their power. And whereas the "I drop my pants and piss on the King!" Chaotic Neutral, the "of course I steal from the party too!" klepto-Rogue or the fireball-happy Wizard where purely a player using fluff to be a dick, in this case, the Paladin had actual mechanical enforcement to make it be a dick.
And from these roots, their reputation grew.
Eventually, after two decades of it, WoTC made the decision to try and fix this undeserved reputation; first by dropping the alignment restriction requirement entirely in 4e, and then switching from the annoyingly vague and open to interpretation "Must be Lawful Good" to "must follow this specific oath, which requires you to do X, Y and Z" in 5e. Although this has been met with the usual amount of rage and skub, and hasn't completely shaken off the stigma yet, it has opened up the Paladin and attracted a lot more players than it's ever enjoyed before.
Dragonladieshere and Beldak_Serpenthelm tell it like it is
There is none of that, "Oh well if you're truly sorry, there's nothing I can do." horseshit. No, he coup de graces your ass because he's a goddamn paladin. His job is killing evil. You know what his job doesn't entail? Being a sympathetic ear for every whiny NE or CN or LE douchebag who's only being evil because the world is unfair to him or every punk that lets his own dislikes or laziness overcome his own personality. You know what unfair is? Being able to know what kind of person everyone is before you even talk to them. Smelling evil so potent on a motherfucker that you want to sink your fingers in his chest and pull that tar out until the screaming stops. Having the psychotic urge to murder people that you've never even met, for the sole reason that your God decided that you ought to be his right hand without your choice in the matter, that's unfair.
But unlike Evil McBlacknails over there, that Paladin puts on his helmet, sharpens his sword, and then continues walking through crowds of people day by day, resisting the urge. Seeing evidence of injustice so black it makes him sick. Seeing murderers and rapists walk the street, watching good men hang as evil ones pull the lever. Saving his righteous violence for when the situation exactly, specifically, precisely calls for it. Surgically removing that which is most evil. Because he's a Paladin. And if he gave in to the urge, what would he be? Who will right the true wrongs if not he? It's not about not falling as a Paladin. It's about falling so fucking hard you crash through the planet and stand up on the other side.'
Some of the misconceptions that I am aware of some people having are: self-righteously throws fights by using the word "dirty" to refer to "realistic fighting", doesn't care about murderous tyrants as long as they gave themselves legal permission, believes that strategic retreats are always "cowardly", doesn't believe in letting the other people fight when "talking" would be more "right" in a "fighting" game."
Counter: A paladin’s code of honor is not about throwing fights; it’s about not starting them. If someone is as evil and dangerous as you think they are, then will have no problem throwing the first blow, and if they do not do so, then perhaps they are not as dangerous as you think. How many have been killed in fights that they picked with somebody whom they FALSELY believed would’ve attacked them first, but who in fact had no intention of doing so until he himself was attacked and had to defend himself? And yet, how many people have killed in self-defense in the same circumstance, when they in fact could’ve simply incapacitated their attacker and learned that his only real crime was stupidity?
More importantly, a paladin learns to pick her battles, but BEFORE the battle actually starts. If you attack something that you know to be dangerous, and then run off without planning to finish the job, then you have put others in danger by angering the enemy you attacked and encouraging him to lash out. If you plan to help people by deposing a tyrant, and you don’t bother gathering enough allies to ensure that you actually defeat him when you engage him, then the tyrant needs to know that when – not if – he defeats you, his quarrel with you will be finished, and he needs not burn entire villages to the ground looking for where you fled to and who helped you. If he was not the kind of ruler who would do that after a half-assed assassination attempt, then you would not have needed to depose him in the first place, and thus, if you are stupid enough not to bring enough allies to ABSOLUTELY guarantee victory, then you would need him to know that you acted alone and never had a chance worth him getting worried about after you are dead.'
For a player who understands what a paladin is like, see also Powder Keg of Justice.
Paladins in different editions of D&D
Lawful Good. If you fuck up at being Lawful Good, you're busted down to Fighter at the same level, and your church shuns you. The controversial Unearthed Arcana book adds the chance to play Paladin-Cavaliers, who are incredibly ridiculous in power level (can stay conscious and retreat at negative hit points, can boost Str, Con, Dex, and Cha a little bit each level up, immunity to fear, etc).
A sub-class of Warrior, 2e Paladins are notable primarily by their potential to use Holy Avenger swords, which inflict an additional +10 damage versus Chaotic Evil foes (which is a lot for 2e), and create a circle of power that is a selective antimagic field versus lower level magical effects (so all enemy buffs and enemy magic items created by a level 12 wizard power down when a level 13 paladin walks up). The Cavalier kit recreates about half of the abilities they used to have for a Paladin; its notable that the Cavalier is where the fear immunity for a 3e Paladin comes from, not the Paladin. Meanwhile, the Inquisitor was probably pound-for-pound the best anti-mage fighter in the game, with a redonkulous amount of Dispel Magic spells per day so potent Monte Cook still has bitch-fits at the thought of adapting them to 3.X. A straight Paladin probably does not have a good chance of being worthwhile compared to a fighter if they cannot expect to find their holy sword, however.
Lawful Good, with an explicit Code of Conduct, in exchange gains a number of immunities to various status effects, their famous ability to Smite Evil, and the service of an intelligent and useful mount. Fuckup paladins who decide to embrace evil had the option to multiclass into the evil prestige class Blackguard (described in the DMG), which receives bonus abilities if the character trades in levels of Paladin, and mostly gains the same power but backwards. (Immunity to the symptoms of diseases so they can act like a Typhoid Mary, Smite Good, etc.) Some settings strip the alignment restrictions off, notably Eberron or provide non-neutral alignment-based alternatives, such as Unearthed Arcana. These are: the Paladin of Freedom (Chaotic Good), the Paladin of Slaughter (Chaotic Evil, cornflakes flavored), and the Paladin of Tyranny (Lawful Evil). There are also options to make the Paladin more cleric-like in Dungeonscape, or completely remove spells such as in Complete Warrior.
Pathfinder made a number of mechanical improvements (beefy ones, Pathfinder paladins are badass), but mostly left them alone conceptually. Now they cast spells off charisma rather than wisdom (and praise Saerenrae for that), and their Smites, on top of granting better defensive and offensive bonuses, keep Smiting until they either Smite something else or the Smitee is dead. (Sure, it can theoretically run out in twenty-four hours, but almost nothing suffering from a Smite is going to live that long). The Code of Conduct was also softened a little to allow paladins to more easily be team players and not 100% stick-in-the-mud party cops. One problem, if you can call it that, is that the paladin is perhaps too badass: he's more specialized than most of the other martials, but if the DM keeps throwing evil outsiders or undead into the campaign as BBEGs a modestly-well-prepared paladin will be able tear through them like a holy-powered buzzsaw without a lot of effort, since he deals better "burst" damage than almost any of them and has great saves and immunity to shit like mummy rot, so he won't be afraid to charge in and rip and tear when another class would be adverse to taking risks around one. If the final boss keeps getting one-shotted by a well-timed Smite Evil litany of righteousness power attack/deadly aim combo, it may very well be time to invest in "moral complexity." (Read: making the BBEG a neutral alignment so the pally can't just disintegrate him.)
In 4th Edition, the paladin must be the same alignment as their deity; no more Lawful Stupid out of fear of falling. The slightest deviation from one's alignment no longer results in a DM bitchslap and losing class features; instead, you get vague threats that the other faithful of the paladin's religion will seek you out to administer chastisement for your failings. You would think that since this removes one of the oldest mechanical complaints about the class, fans would be happy, but "Paladins must be Lawful Good!" is such a sacred cow that people were bitching over its loss even as they bemoan the Lawful Stupid Paladins and Orc Baby Dilemmas of old editions.
Paladin abilities are more focused on being a meat-shield than being a holy avenger; for more smite-evil action, you want the Avenger class from Player's Handbook 2. The paladin can also officially no longer fall. What this means is that there is no mechanical penalty to not adhering to your DM's definition of Lawful Good, the biggest reason why most paladins got played as Lawful Stupid in the first place, but of course, /tg/ likes to joke that this applies literally, making a meme out of 4e-paladins taking no falling damage.
In 5th Edition, paladins no longer must adhere to any alignment. However, when they reach 3rd level they swear their Paladin Oath, which gives him a code of conduct for him to follow. Also, since paladins have their codes of conduct clearly stated in the PH, rather than leaving it up to the nebulous personal decisions of a DM as to what actually constitutes "Lawful Good" and its required behavior, it's a lot harder for DMs to force a paladin to fall on grey area moralities. A paladin that breaks his oath must seek atonement and absolution. An unrepentant paladin, a paladin who abandons their quest for justice, or a paladin whose repeated oathbreaking demonstrates an unwillingness to follow their chosen path may become an Oathbreaker (see below).
There are three oaths in the corebook: the Oath of Devotion, which makes him a stereotypical paladin "defend the weak, enforce justice, be honest" and gives him typical paladin spells; the Oath of the Ancients which makes him a more relaxed and nature-oriented paladin (who can turn into a treant at 18th level and stops aging at 15th); and the Oath of Vengeance, which turns him into Batman or Judge Dredd (in the whole "I hunt evil relentlessly but still have a heart of gold" regard), gives him skills oriented towards making sure whoever he's fighting cannot leave ever, and allows him to turn into an actual angel of vengeance at 20th level.
There is also an Oathbreaker option listed in the DMG. Since paladins can't technically fall anymore, that details what happens to a paladin who has broken his sworn oath; this replaces the old Blackguard, with all kinds of nasty powers relating to demons and the undead.
The Forgotten Realms 5e splat, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, adds an Oath of the Crown to the Paladin's options.
Mechanically speaking, 5th ed paladins have a few minor differences; their "detect evil" is now 1+Cha mod uses per day, and can no longer be used on the same turn as a smite because move actions no longer exist. Additionally, it has changed from detecting alignment to detecting Celestials, Fiends, and Undead, as well as if areas have been consecrated or desecrated, meaning that the paladin can now be caught by surprise by mundane evil. Smiting now uses spell slots, with higher spell slots dealing more damage. They also get different types of Smite spells as they level up, with additional effects. And their "lay on hands" power taps into a reservoir of hitpoints-per-day that expands with each level, rather than healing for a fixed value a fixed number of times per day, and, taking a page from Pathfinder, removes diseases and poisons. This new setup sacrifices raw healing power for flexibility of use to let them fill in a different niche from, say, a Life domain Cleric.
Intelligence and wisdom are sadly frequent dump stats for Paladins.
Evildoers, prepare your anus. That eighteen charisma is crazy "under the hood."
- Sameo, a short story about a Paladin who dies awesomely.
- Lawful stupid, a particularly annoying way to play a Paladin.
- Space Marines, who are like grimdark Paladins IIIIN SPAAAACE.
- Grey Knights, who are like the above, but even more so.
- Detect Evil, a short story about what Detect Evil feels like to the Paladin.
- Powder Keg of Justice, a short story about a Paladin who explains why his order has so many rules.
- The Orc Baby Dilemma, a topic of much debate amongst /tg/ regarding how a paladin falls
- Gideon Jura and Elspeth Tirel, Magic the Gathering characters based on the paladin archetype with varying degrees of success
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:||Blackguard - Binder - Elementalist - Hexblade - Sha'ir - Vampire - Witch|
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Swordmage|
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook:|| Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|The Classes of Pathfinder|
|Core Classes:|| Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Advanced Player's Guide:|| Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Ultimate Combat:||Gunslinger - Ninja - Samurai|
|Advanced Class Guide:|| Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Advanced Class Guide:||Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist - Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist|