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The typical Paladin, note the colors, and the symbol of the eagle, an important core of their faith
Born to raze hell
Paladins are a class from Dungeons and Dragons. 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. Many a fictitious maiden has benefited from a Paladin's Laying On of Hands (HURR HURR HURR).
The burden Paladins bear to follow a strict code of conduct else they fall is often abused by dickish DMs, who seem to derive some sort of twisted pleasure out of forcing a player's Paladin into hideously arbitrary situations where any choice they take results in falling from grace and the stripping of powers. Even otherwise reasonable DMs seem to turn into complete dicks when presented with a chance to make a paladin player's life a misery. As a result, many avoid playing paladins entirely due to bad experiences with evil DMs.
Your party will never have to deal with the dilemma of "you can only save one: the baby or the nun" situations unless you have a paladin in the group.
 Dragonladieshere and Beldak_Serpenthelm tell it like it is
We said SLAY the dragon, not LAY the dragon!
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
- 1st Edition
- 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).
- 2nd Edition
- 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. A 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.
- 3rd Edition
- Lawful Good, with an explicit Code of Conduct. However, 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.
- 4th Edition
- In 4th Edition, the paladin must be the same alignment as their deity; no more Lawful Stupid. 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. 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 no longer fall, so remember that the next time you find yourself hanging from a cliff edge or dropping from an airship, you can float gently back to solid ground.
No John, you are the smiteings
Moar unfunny cynicism. Also, those aren't Paladins. Those are some order of medieval Crusading knights. Small difference.
Nothing says "fallen paladin" like smiting your teammates.
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