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).
Only humans can become Paladins in this 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. 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.
As in 1e, Paladin is the most racially restricted class, only being open to humans, for the most part. However, certain races, mostly introduced in Dragon Magazine, were also able to become Paladins, such as the Simbasta strain of Rakasta and several species of Lupins.
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 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.
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.
Really got the shaft, like the other half-caster this edition, since they have "dead levels" where they literally gain nothing but hitpoints, proficiency, and a single spell slot, are heavily-reliant on a very limited resource pool that only ever recharges on a long rest, and generally suffer, like the bard of previous editions, from being not quite good enough at any one thing to outshine the specialists, but at least, unlike the ranger, they have some abilities that scale naturally with their level, and they get a better version of the ranger's third-level Nature Sense power at level one, that also doesn't eat a spell slot to use. And their animal companion is summoned via a re-castable spell rather than an archetype feature, so they don't have to spend their own actions getting the damn thing to move and attack.
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 Blackguard).
If you want to add more complexity to the Paladin Oath, maybe because you want to push it more towards the flavor of the elder editions, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide gives an example of "general oaths" for Paladins. No mechanical crunch is enforced, so you don't have to uphold everything, but they offer great examples for more ways of fleshing out paladins in your setting, with tenets like "be honest and keep promises" or "be generous and tolerant".
There are three oaths in the corebook: the Oaths of Devotion, the Ancients, and Vengeance, each of which requires behaving a specific way and which gives specific powers.
Your Oath of Devotion Paladin is the closest to the iconic Paladin archetype. This Oath requires you uphold the principles of Honesty (don't lie or cheat, let your word be your promise), Courage ("Never fear to act, though caution is wise" in the book proper, which basically means "don't be a coward, but don't be Leeroy Jenkinsing dat shit either"), Compassion (Aid others, protect the weak and punish those who threaten them, show mercy to your foes but temper mercy with wisdom), Honor (treat others fairly, do as much good as possible with as little harm as possible, be an example to others) and Duty (be responsible for your actions and their consequences, protect those entrusted to your care, obey those who have just authority over you, so you don't have to obey the local tyrant because s/he is technically the ruler now).
- In exchange for all that, you get iconic Paladin type spells like protection from evil, lesser restoration, beacon of hope, etc, the Sacred Weapon (you can charge up a weapon to become a glowing magical weapon) and Turn the Unholy (make undead and fiends flee from you) uses of Channel Divinity, the Aura of Devotion feature (immunity to charm and give this to close-by allies), the Purity of Spirit feature (constant Protection From Evil on self) and the Holy Nimbus (create an aura of radiant damage-dealing, fiend & undead spell-weakening light once per day).
Your Oath of the Ancients Paladin is a bit of an oddity, and possibly owes its origins to the Warden of 4th edition. Basically, this is a paladin who sides with the light due to their appreciation for beautiful, life-giving things of the world, making them allies of more benevolent druids, wilderness fae like dryads and nature deities.
- They're frankly kind of hippyish, with the tenets of "Kindle the Light" (promote hope in others with mercy, kindness and forgiveness), "Shelter the Light" (protect beauty, love, good and laughter), "Preserve Your Own Light" (try to avoid turning into a bitter cuss) and "Be the Light" (serve as an example of why hope and joy are important to believe in).
- If you take this Oath, you get druidic spells like ensnaring strike, speak with animals, moonbeam and tree stride. Your Channel Divinity can be used to create entangling vines with Nature's Wrath, or to Turn the Faithless and so repel fiends and fey. Your Aura of Warding grants you and nearby allies resistance to damaging spells. Undying Sentinel lets you cheat death once per day and makes you immune to aging. Finally, the Elder Champion is a nature spirit-like form you can assume once per day for a number of benefits, including regeneration and more potent paladin spells.
Your Oath of Vengeance Paladin is similar to the Grey Guard of 3rd edition, and probably best fits characterization like Batman or Judge Dredd. It's all about punishing the wicked and the sanctity of vengeance. Of course, you don't have to portray this guy as a total asshole - in fact, the 3rd edition Greyhawk Knights of the Chase are pretty applicable examples for a Vengeance Paladin.
- The tenets of this creed are "Fight the Greater Evil" (basically, measure the evil you see vs. the evil your sworn enemy would do; if the guy you really have a hate-on for is less of a threat, then focus on stopping this douchebag first, otherwise focus on your sworn enemy), "No Mercy for the Wicked" (you can spare lesser foes, but sworn enemies need to die or otherwise be punished), "By Any Means Necessary", and "Restitution" (it's your fault that your enemies hurt people, so you have the responsibility of helping those that they hurt).
- A Vengeance Paladin's spells, as you might expect, focus on impeding the ability of enemies to escape and enhancing the paladin's ability to go after them - hold person, dimension door, scrying, etc. They can Channel Divinity to Abjure Enemy (frighten an enemy so bad they can't move) or declare a Vow of Enmity (make it easier to kick that creature's ass), gain the Relentless Avenger feature (free move if you score an attack of opportunity), gain the Soul of Vengeance feature (Vow of Enmity lets you get free attacks if the target tries attacking), and culminate with the Avenging Angel feature (transform into an angelic form once per day).
The Forgotten Realms 5e splat, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, adds an Oath of the Crown to the Paladin's options. This essentially more fully embraces the knight archetype of the Paladin's history, with the paladin's devotion being given specifically to society and the laws that built it up from the wilderness.
- This is a breed of paladin that focuses more on Law than on Good, with its tenets being Law (respect the law and hold it paramount), Loyalty (your word is your bond), Courage (do what needs to be done for the sake of order, no matter the odds) and Responsibility (the shit you do is all on you, so keep that in mind - also, you have duties & obligations, so you better damn will fill them). This means that Crown Paladins are the most likely archetype to fall back into the Lawful Stupid behavior feared and condemned of old, but they can also be sources of old-school Lawful douchebag character themes (i.e. "you lie, cheat and steal; you are scum and I must punish you!") and arrogant prick character themes (e.g. hating druids, barbarians, and nature clerics for being primitives that don't appreciate the value of civilization).
- Because the Crown Paladin's focus is on the sanctity of law and society, with the specific ideology that the paladin is an Agent of Authority, their spells all fit into that theme, from the likes of zone of truth to outright mind-control spells like command and geas. They can use their Channel Divinity to issue a Champion Challenge (compel a creature to try and fight you) or to Turn the Tide (mass heal for allies). Divine Allegiance lets them soak up hits for nearbye allies, Unyielding Spirit makes them harder to paralyze or stun, and their Exalted Champion feature means that, for an hour once per day, they can gain damage resistance vs. mundane weapons and grant advantage on death saving throws and Wisdom saving throws to themselves and allies.
- A comment on using Crown Paladins in homemade worlds in the back of the SCAG admits their magical powers don't quite mesh with the knightly archetype, but notes they make excellent examples of theocratic knightly orders - or even mystic ones, if one simply changes their flavor from "divine" to "arcane".
The December 2016 Unearthed Arcana article dedicated to Paladins added two new "dark" Paladin Oaths; the "well intentioned extremist/brutally lawful" Oath of Conquest (which is a perfect mesh-up for a Harmonium or Hellknight styled character) and the Oath of Treachery, which is essentially an alternative Blackguard and so is covered on that page. As for the Oath of Conquest, well...
- Needless to say, this is at best a fairly Lawful Stupid themed Oath and at worst goes all the way to Lawful Evil levels of tyranny; it dictates that its adherents should Douse The Flame Of Hope (use fear to intimidate defeated foes so badly they will never dare oppose you again), Rule With An Iron Fist (brook no dissent from those you have conquered) and to hold Strength Above All (what goes around comes around; if you can't beat someone, then either get stronger or be crushed in turn- there's no place for weakness in this Oath).
- Because Conquest Paladins are often allied to arch-devils, their bonus spells have a fairly Warlockish feel to them, with spells like Armor of Agathys, Hold Person and Bestow Curse. Their Channel Divinity can be used to deliver a Conquering Strike (inflict fear with your weapon attack) or Guided Strike (big bonus to your To Hit roll), they exude an Aura of Conquest (disadvantage on saves vs. fear) at 7th level, they gain immunity to charming from their Implacable Spirit at 15th level, and at 20th level they become the Invincible Conqueror. This lets them buff themselves up for 1 minute once per day, during which time they Resist all damage, gain a bonus attack each turn, and deal critical hits on a 19-20 when making melee attacks.
Intelligence and wisdom are sadly frequent dump stats for Paladins.
Evildoers, prepare your anus. That eighteen charisma is crazy "under the hood."
- Holy Opposites, a lengthy novel about two Paladins.
- 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|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
| 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
| Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
| Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Occult Adventures:|| Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate Combat:||Gunslinger - Ninja - Samurai|
| Aegis - Cryptic - Dread - Marksman - Psion |
Psychic Warrior - Soulknife - Tactician - Vitalist - Wilder