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The Paladin is one of my favorite classes.

And I think it’s almost always played wrong.

In fact, I think they’ve usually been played wrong for the majority of their class history. Every time someone talks about them along with their lawful good alignment it makes them sound boring and terrible. The play archetype seems to be a magic knight who ends up being a jerk and ruining it for everyone else.

Everybody knows what I’m talking about. The paladin who refuses to ever get paid for actions and who attacks the rogue because he’s a rogue. The paladin who prevents anyone from doing anything but the most white-washed of acts because he’s a pure douchebag. Worst of all, there’s the paladin who has never had a bad thought in his incredibly boring life and is somehow arrogant about it.

This is not what paladins are and not how they should be played.

Paladins are easily traceable to the Knights of the Round Table. These guys are the first paladins, ruled by a strict code and doing holy miracles and finding the holy grail. This is an extremely useful role-playing resource, because they all have rich, deeply detailed traits. Using them as a  base we can do a comparison and figure out how to make really cool, interesting characters.

Let’s take the granddaddy of them all, Lancelot. In a lot of ways he is like the jerko paladin I describe above. He’s holy, he does magical healing, he never accepts rewards (except when he does, wink-wink), and he’s always praying at the drop of a hat. That’s ok, though, because he’s also very flawed. First of all, in the T.H. White version he’s a massively sadistic bastard who basically hates himself.

What?

Yeah, Lancelot is totally evil inside. He lives by his code because he wants to be good, if he was truly good he wouldn’t need a code. He always grants mercy when asked, because his nature is to just lop off some heads. He fights evil ogres and barons because they do all the stuff he wants to do but which he wont allow himself to indulge in.

Meanwhile, he’s ends up fucking the queen. He thinks about her all the time, and becomes consumed by these thoughts. This is not the “I’m immune to lust” paladin you’d expect. He rescues a woman, Elaine, from a magical boiling pot, and then he ends up banging her while thinking he’s doing Guenevere. In fact, the whole reason he’s adventuring is to get away from the queen. As a result of all this, he spends the next few decades convinced he has done wrong, is no true knight, etc. He’s still treated like the greatest knight, but that only serves as a constant reminder that he’s living a lie. For instance, when he ends up healing a man whose wounds can only be tended by the greatest knight living, he weeps “like a child who has been beaten”.

There’s nothing black and white about this character, and it would be very rewarding to play and play with a character designed to this type.

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