Playing Paladins

Whether or not you play the paladin as a sub-class of the fighter or of the cavalier, the paladin class is a treat for everyone involved in the game. In this article, I’m not going to rehash what was covered in Volume 3 Issue 109. Instead, I’m going to focus on two rather obvious but often overlooked reasons to want to play a paladin.


First of all, the requirements for a paladin – the collection of high prerequisite ability scores in particular – mean that the paladin is going to be a very rare option for players to choose during character generation (which makes sense, given their impressive powers). A player making a character will rarely hit upon the combination of numbers when rolling the dice that will allow the choice of a paladin. Just as a reminder: the Player’s Handbook (PHB) requirements for a paladin (as a fighter sub-class) include minimum ability scores of STR12 INT9 WIS13 CON9 CHR17, and the Unearthed Arcana (UA) requirements for a paladin (as a cavalier sub-class) include minimums of STR15 INT10 WIS13 DEX15 CON15 CHR17. A newcomer (or maybe someone coming to AD&D after playing a different edition of D&D) might assume that you roll 3D6 to generate ability scores (since one needs a score from 3 – 18 for each ability). While rolling 3D6 for each ability isn’t exactly the way to do it described in AD&D, many people do consider it. Rolling 3D6 for each ability makes a paladin character very, very unlikely. Luckily, the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) provides the four official Methods for generating ability scores on page 11 (some of these do involve rolling 3D6, but with multiple rolls to increase the likelihood of getting a danger-worthy character), and each Method has a better chance of getting higher results than straight/single 3D6 rolls. But no matter which of the four Methods is used, the chances of getting the minimum requirements for a paladin are still pretty slim.

 In preparation for this article, I rolled up 48 characters using each of the four Methods (12 characters using each Method). That was a LOT of rolling! Out of 48 total sets of ability scores – 48 characters – only 3 could have been paladins. Three. While not a large enough test to be statistically significant, this does give an idea how rare paladins can be as an option when rolling up a character. Even if you set out intending to play a paladin, you may not have the choice, if the dice don’t roll your way. I know players who’ve never run a paladin because they never got the requisite scores, and not for lack of trying. Paladins can be almost as rare as a character with psionics, particularly when playing paladins as the cavalier sub-class. So there’s a novelty aspect of paladins – they are likely to be vanishingly rare as PCs. Due to their social standing and wealth, they’re also going to be rare as NPCs unless your world in one rife with indolent rich. So in most games, paladins should be exotic to the players, and enticing for the rarity.


But maybe beating the odds isn’t enough of a reason to jump at playing a paladin for a given player. “Sure, at the rate I’m playing I may only get this one chance to play a paladin character in my entire life,” they might say, “but who wants to play that ‘Lawful Stupid’ alignment or be restricted in magic items?” Everyone knows of the restrictions and special abilities of the paladin, but most discussions of the class overlook the glaringly obvious aspect of the characters: the incredibly high charisma. The massive charisma score should have as profound an effect on the game as any other really high ability score, and certainly it provides a lot of interesting opportunities for both player and DM. Consider that, with a 17 minimum charisma, paladins are the natural leaders of a group…any group.

 An aside on charisma: simply put, charisma is not how attractive you look (that’s comeliness, a stat created in UA precisely to distinguish between personality and appearance, because until then so many players would say something like “Ooh, she’s got a high charisma, she’s gotta be HOT!”), but rather how compelling your personality is. Simply put, your character’s charisma is the character’s inherent ability to make friends and influence people.

 What I’ve observed is that a lot of people portray paladins as zealous crusaders with a single-minded, black-and-white view of morality, and everyone in the game world then treats them as zealots. I think this is misguided. Instead of the zealot, consider that the paladin is much more like the ‘Big Man on Campus.’ Everyone in the campaign world should find the paladin’s personality hard to resist. People will follow paladins anywhere. Such high charisma inspires people; children want to be like the paladin, adults want to please the paladin, townsfolk want to vote for the paladin. NPCs should hang on the paladin’s every word, forming small crowds whenever the party stops to rest. Royalty seeks the advice of the paladin, the rabble cheers for the paladin, and love interests pine for the paladin. Angry mobs are swayed by the paladin, while retainers and hirelings naturally look to the paladin for leadership.

 Now, in my games, the PCs are not influenced by each others’ ability scores, so that players don’t lose control of their characters in the normal course of play. Players get to decide whose reasoning their characters find convincing: who leads and who follows, based on whatever criteria they choose. But everyone else in the game world should be swayed by the paladin’s naturally magnetic personality. They will hang on the paladin’s words and find the paladin’s arguments compelling. The rest of the game world should reflect why the paladin gets such high reaction modifiers. Also, like a politician or a salesman, the paladin should become more influential the more he influences. In game play, I have it that most of the time NPCs who have witnessed the majesty of the paladin before (that is, they’ve had a positive reaction results) are sometimes convinced by the paladin without even requiring a reaction roll.

 As you can imagine, this sets up a lot of interesting role-playing possibilities. The PC paladin will naturally receive a lot of the credit for any success the party achieves, even if the paladin is humble about his contributions, because people see the paladin as the natural beneficiary of such praise. This may raise some conflict and further opportunities, with both resentment from other characters and perhaps the honest paladin attempting to “set the record straight:” “No, no, sirrah. It was not I alone who bested the foul Vermithrax; we would have failed if not for the mighty blows of my companion Durkan, who in combat knows no equal!” Depending on your read of the players’ reactions, a DM may then either have the NPCs revere the other party members as well (for which the party may be grateful, or may resent that the paladin “had to convince” the populace to recognize them), or the NPCs may revere the paladin all the more (“So humble! What a paragon!”).

 Troubadours might compose songs about the paladin, and certainly people tell stories. The paladin’s fame may spread far and wide, possibly even to a region before the party arrives!

Soldiers challenge the party at a remote mountain pass, belligerently asking “Who are you?”

The party leader, a cleric, replies: “We’re on a mission for the elders of Samskaran Town. Let us through!”

“These are dangerous times. ‘The Baron’ has decided that you need to pay a toll to use this road. Give us ten gold for each one of you and you can pass.” The paladin steps forward: “What is the delay?” The guards stammer: “Y-you! You’re…you’re Cedric the Just!”

“I am. How can I help you?”

You? Help us? You honor us, sir! Please, let us serve you! Your exploits are known even here, your deeds remembered and celebrated! Please pass with our compliments. Do you need to water your horses? Please stop and use our well! We could not…did not…imagine that we would ever meet the Knight of Calantha out here in the mountains!”

 Similarly, intelligent antagonists may hesitate or even quail when discovering that the famous paladin is in the area (while more determined villains may see getting rid of the paladin as a requirement for their plans to continue). NPC villagers may try to recruit the paladin for endorsements and/or assistance, on the basis of fame rather than any party reputation as trouble-shooters (“Our guild is so great, even the Great Dorothea is a patron!”)

 Dungeon Masters should also delight at having a player playing a paladin, because it makes a DM’s job easier and/or more interesting. NPCs who have heard of the paladin will seek the paladin’s aid, making it easy for DMs to provide adventure hooks for the party, assuming that people in the world have problems they think that paladins might help (rescuing kidnaps, saving villages, defeating evil, ending blights, et cetera). By the same token, it’s a fun way for a DM to challenge the players when they are trying to maintain secrecy: even mid-level paladins are likely to be superstars, instantly recognizable by the common man, so the PCs have to figure a way to use the paladin’s fame to distract the populace so that any incognito skullduggery can be performed by the rest of the party. If the players can’t figure out how to do such a thing, NPCs may continually appear to readily identify the paladin:

 The party sneaks down the hall in the servant’s quarters of the Castle of King Gemmon, on their way to liberate the Gem of Ages. The thief moves silently in front, making sure the coast is clear. The rest of the party creeps along behind. Suddenly, a side door opens, and one of the Royal Tasters emerges from the larder with a plate of food for a midnight snack. He starts in surprise to see a party of heavily armed adventurers up to no good. “Who…? What are you all doing here?”

A few moments pass while the players consider what to do, then the Taster’s eyes sparkle with recognition. “Oh, it’s Helen, Guardian of the Faith! Oh, Miss Helen, you don’t know what a relief it is to see your face! I thought for a moment that I’d stumbled across a bunch of thieves! Hahaha! Can you imagine? Thieves! Oooh – would you wait, just a moment? I have to get Paul – I know he’d be so mad if he misses you. He wants to thank you for defeating the Beast of Bhavgat! His cousin was scheduled to be the next sacrifice, you know.” Then the party is faced with the decision: do they try to silence the Taster, do they let the Taster go and then try to disappear before he returns, or do they send the paladin off to distract the servants while the rest of the group continues with the mission?

 The challenges for the paladin player are more complex. Even though followers don’t have to appear until Name Level, the mid-level paladin could easily attract admirers, emulators, sycophants, groupies, leeches and other hangers-on. These are not going to be followers in the game sense – they’re mostly NOT subservient to the paladin – but instead literally will follow the paladin around the game world. While they’re not evil NPCs, the paladin may still find them a nuisance. First of all, a camp of such followers attract attention, making the party’s location clear to antagonists. Emulators will try to follow the paladin into a dungeon, while the rest of the groupies would wait for the paladin to return from the adventure back to the town (keep, city, castle, or other home base for the party), greeting the paladin’s arrival with cheers and accolades. Depending on the number of such followers, this noise could be a disturbance in the town causing some friction with town elders, or there are so many followers that they make a separate encampment outside of town (probably squatting in some farmer’s fields).

The larger the group of followers gets, the more logistics-type challenges emerge. How do so many people get fed? Where does their waste go? How do they handle themselves when conflicts arise, or when disease strikes? None of these questions have to be answered by the paladin, necessarily, but the answers will have repercussions in the game world. Even a small camp, if disorganized, is going to result in theft and trespassing as they scavenge for food. Certainly the presence of crime and vice in the camp of people following a virtuous holy warrior would be an embarrassment to the paladin at best. The paladin may be chastised by the church/temple leadership for prideful self-promotion (even if the paladin did nothing to explicitly encourage the followers!), and/or tasked to clean up the situation. It may be a challenge for the paladin to figure out how to disperse a group of such idolaters, as they aren’t evil, just misguided.

Certainly the presence of such groupies makes for interesting role-playing opportunities. Many of the followers may have started to follow the paladin in the hopes that the “Great Defender of Virtue” can help with their own personal trouble, which could lead to a number of quests. If the camp gets particularly large, there are even more complications. With large camps following the paladin, enemies may easily infiltrate the group, to either spy on the heroes, subvert their followers to nefarious ends, disseminate misinformation to the party, or to orchestrate a sneak attack on the PCs. Neutral territories with a suspicious bent may look askance at an incursion of large numbers of strangers moving en masse, interpreting the movement of the party (and the camp following the paladin) as a probing military force…and they might not be wrong, as the paladin’s allies/superiors may request the paladin to lead a company into foreign lands, disguised in the camp of followers. As an alternative (or perhaps after the party successfully completes such a mission), the church/temple may view the paladin as a threat to the established order and brand the paladin as a schismatic, accusing the paladin of not only self-promotion but actually leading followers to create a new church/temple that the paladin controls. The delightful thing is that this is actually a real possibility! The more suspicion falls on the paladin, the more tempted the paladin might be to cleanse the temple. High-level paladins may even hear from their deities, tasking them to lead the people to the truth…or villains could use the threat of schism as an opportunity to strike back at the good guys while the temple is divided.

In a future article, I’ll present several different specific approaches to paladins, as well as story hooks for DMs to use for parties with paladins. But in the meantime, I hope that this article demonstrates that there are myriad role-playing opportunities for the lucky player who manages to roll up a paladin, and lots of plot and story benefits for the larger campaign as well.

1 comment on “Playing Paladins”

  1. Colin

    I honestly don’t let rolls limit player class.
    The current party “leader” is a paladin. I felt that due to our limited player base and no real cleric or wizard we needed one.

    Though I feel that due to my limit play times I don’t have time to develop my characters personalities or backgrounds.
    I think that when I do have time I will do this.

    I’ve made the mistake of making my players too invincible, but do to my limited format I need to make every session interesting.

    I am running B2, and the Keep after they caught the camped bandits gets invaded by goblins. It was very thematic and the Paladin and ranger ended up taking down the Goblin Captain who is riding a Dinosaur. ( I am using heroscape mini’s and one of the goblin figures is on a dinosaur)

    The Paladin and My ranger end up killing the Captain with some magic arrows and the Paladin kills the Dinosaur. I just feel that even if he is level one I did too much over the top action here.

    It’s my game I can do what I want, but they have just started their crawl through the caves so hopefully things get a bit less hectic.

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