Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Paladins of Dwimmermount

Lots of gamers make the claim that the paladin class, first introduced to OD&D in Supplement I, doesn't fit well with the other classes. While I certainly see the logic of this claim, it's not one I share. I consider the paladin's pedigree in the game at least as solid as that of the thief and since, as I've discovered, a great many gamers will defend to the death the sanctity of the thief as a "core" class of the game, I think I'm on pretty solid ground here.

Now, it's true that, if one is going to treat Dungeons & Dragons as solely a product of gritty swords-and-sorcery, there's not much precedent for the class. For all my championing of the pulp fantasy roots of the game, even I don't argue that S&S is the only influence on OD&D. From the beginning, D&D's been assimilating all kinds of imaginative literature, to the betterment of the game's "DNA," in my opinion. It's a stronger game for having a more diverse genetic background, although that does sometimes mean its various parts don't always interact well with one another.

The paladin is a good case in point. The uptight, "do-gooder" image of the class is at odds with the way most D&D characters are played. That's part of why I suspect the class has a "bad reputation" with many gamers: a paladin in the party cramps their style. And of course playing a paladin properly is quite difficult, particularly if the referee is going to be a stickler when interpreting the lawful goodness of the character's actions.

My Dwimmermount campaign takes most of its cues from swords-and-sorcery literature. On first blush, paladins wouldn't seem to have a place in the setting. In actual fact, as my players are about to discover, paladins played a key role in the setting's history by spearheading many of the rebellions that overthrew the Termaxian-dominated Thulian empire. The Thulians had a state religion -- the Great Church -- made up of the temples of all the Lawful deities. That religion was subverted by the Termaxians once they rose to power, as Turms Termax had no clerics of his own. Instead, clerics of other gods were devoted to their own gods as aspects of Turms. In this way, the whole Great Church came to serve the cult of the Man-Become-God.

Paladins serve no known god. Indeed, they generally consider all gods to be, at best, merely powerful otherworldly beings and, at worst, demons masquerading as divinities. Paladins serve only Law, which they consider synonymous with Goodness. They take particularly umbrage at gods who claim to be Lawful and yet subvert Law for evil ends, like Typhon. Paladins travel the world singly or in pairs, spreading their particular interpretation of Law and rooting out cults devoted to Turms Termax, which they consider particularly dangerous, moreso even than the temple of Typhon. Interestingly, paladin do not shun those who do not share their beliefs, even Termaxians. Instead, they seek them out and often join their adventuring parties, hoping to use their unique abilities and charisma to sway the wayward to their cause.

No one knows where paladins come from, although rumors persist of a hidden fortress called simply "The Palace," from which they are sent out into the world. Likewise, paladinhood is not something one can aspire to; it is simply something one is. These facts, coupled with their penchant for traveling incognito makes paladins a mysterious group about whom many tall tales and legends have sprung up. Given their rarity and secretiveness, most people have no idea whether any of the stories are true, only that paladins are unusual fighting men, unlike any others in the world.

37 comments:

  1. An interesting means of incorporating paladins into a S&S setting. Your paladins remind me a bit of the Witch Hunter class in Arduin in terms of their attitude, if not their powers. You're giving me ideas...always a good thing.

    As for paladins and pulp roots:

    Holger Carlsen comes to mind immediately, as he's literally a paladin: one of Charlemagne's Douzeperes. Your take on them also reminds me of Solomon Kane.

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  2. Oh, certainly Holger Carlsen is the paladin. The class was originally created to allow one to play someone like him.

    Interesting that you mention Arduin's witch hunters. I have been reading Arduin again lately, so it's possible they've seeped into my brain. And, yes, Solomon Kane was certainly an influence here. He strikes me as a good pulp role model for the class.

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  3. I remember someone had the hypothesis that the cleric had began as a "do gooder" and that when it lost that role the palladin was created instead. I thought it sounded odd (and I hope I'm not misrepresenting somebody, I couldn't find that post) and asked Rob Kuntz if he could remember anything like that from the original campaign in Lake Geneva. I remember that Rob thought it sounded like a gross misunderstanding.

    Palladins are creatures of conflict apparently. Why they are disliked is something I claim is very easy to understand, they bring to the fore the folly of the brain damage that is the D&D alignment issue, which I have blogged about. Few old school D&D fans agree, I guess.

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  4. I believe I sent you my chat with EGG on Paladins. I found it very insightful. The best way I could quickly describe Gary's view on Paladins, based off of the email (and other comments on them off forums), was that he saw Paladins much like most people see the Knights of the round Table. To Gary, the KotRT are cavaliers, but the Paladin knights are Paladins! Holy Roman empire was built from the ashes of the Roman Empire/Republic and offered the people civilization again - one large multi-national nation under one roof, one king, one sets of laws. Paladins were like Jedi knights from the Old Republic. They play that role as its guardians much like the KotRT do for Britain).

    I just hate current definition of paladins as 'the holy warrior".

    In a way, if the paladins defended a magical kingdom they should have arcane magic instead of divine (and maybe turn magical creations, like golems). Jedi could be than a version of psionic ones.

    Under your Dwimmermount view of them; should you do the whole Balance stuff, like in Elric - than paladins would be an enemy force for any True Neutral themed campaign.

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  5. An excellent example of reflavoring a class to suit the tenor of a campaign! I also appreciate the "does play well with others" disclaimer.

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  6. I absolutely love it. You've inspired me to find a home for Paladins in my setting.

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  7. I think the paladins of Dwimmermount could do with another adjective in their name, but I guess it it little different than Zamorian thieves.

    I just hate current definition of paladins as 'the holy warrior".

    Indeed.

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  8. I like this take on the Paladin a lot. Nicely done. :)

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  9. The other "paladin" that springs to mind from the pages of literature would be Kane's adversary in "Cold Light" (from "Death Angel's Shadow") by the superb Karl Edward Wagner. An absolute fundamentalist in his pursuit of evil "...mercy is commendable to be sure, but when you seek to destroy
    an absolute evil, you must destroy it absolutely. Show mercy in
    expunging a blight, and you only leave seeds to spread it anew.
    Kill them all."

    Sorta sounds familiar in scary sort of way...

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  10. Matthew James Stanham said...

    I think the paladins of Dwimmermount could do with another adjective in their name, but I guess it it little different than Zamorian thieves


    I don't understand what you're getting at here; could you explain?
    Thanks.

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  11. I don't understand what you're getting at here; could you explain?
    Thanks
    .

    As presented, paladins have been "localised" to Dwimmermount. It is potentially limiting to reduce an entire class to a single organisation, in my opinion. Whether that is or is not the intent remains to be seen, an additional adjective might clarify the case, and my preference would be for paladin characters to not be limited to being "paladins of Dwimmermount".

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  12. it was Richard the Lion Hearted
    (a historical model of a paladin if there ever was one)
    who said at the seige of Jerusalem

    "Kill them all,
    God will recognize his own."

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  13. That's a neat, fresh spin on paladins and I really like it. It almost turns the paladin archetype form a Knight Templar to a Freemason/Solomon Kane type.

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  14. janes, didn't you once say you were using Lovecraftian type deities (old legends for flavor)? if so; than your "Law" Paladins make lots of sense since those LC baddies are like pure evil and chaos. usually when used those baddies pre-date a campaigns' realm, I notice.

    I've dropped my Basic D&D game (lack of interest of it by players), so am doing a Pathfinder one. My paladins will just be a knight order which dates back to a Grand Republic (i.e. Rome), and continue in its successor states.

    Actually I should thank you. You've given some good ideas for me to use with your observation on fallen empires and their successor states, Dwimmermount, and your views on Autumn; which is my theme. thanks man!

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  15. Oops, quite the typo! James, not janes. Sorry, lol.

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  16. rumors persist of a hidden fortress called simply "The Palace," from which they are sent out into the world

    Like a factory.

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  17. clovis, I honestly don't mean to quibble, but as a crusades "buff," I feel I have to say that the quote you mention is usually attributed to a papal legate during the Albigensian Crusade in France. The Third Crusade never laid siege to Jerusalem. Sorry for being picky, but I think the quote was quite apt. Thanks.

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  18. I never thought D&D was supposed to be a pulp simulation.

    One of the things that makes the game so great is that it's neither Conan nor LOTR.

    It's actually gravitated to a Lagrange point somewhere between the two, which is a huge part of its lasting appeal.

    It's for this reason that I think classes like the Paladin, the Ranger and the Illusionist very much fit with the game, because it's not a sword and sorcery game.

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  20. understand why Gygax created Paladins the way they are, but I was always found the class was sort of creatively limited and biased from the ruels he created for them simply because every religion has their own specialized class of "holy warriors" created to fight for the causes of their deity. Personally, it never effected my own games cause I allow anyone to play paladins of any religion, but I sure did have plenty of arguments over it countless times in the past with other gamers.

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  21. Instead, they seek them out and often join their adventuring parties, hoping to use their unique abilities and charisma to sway the wayward to their cause.

    By this do you mean the formerly wayward become paladins? Or simply adopt the lawful/good alignment?

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  22. I really like your take on paladins! They're one of my favorite classes, yet so hard to fit in with a group of adventurers when portrayed as "holy warriors." I very much like the idea of paladins being like the dunadan or jedi, defenders of civilization and law.

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  23. Years ago, I played a female paladin named Kara in a friend's campaign. She wore light armor (maile for situations where they knew there would be a lot of fighting rather than skulking), used a longbow whenever possible, and was quite the skulker and survivalist. The rest of the party assumed she was a ranger and that the hit points they got back when she healed them were just from some especially potent poultices. It wasn't until the first time she turned undead (on pretty much the first occassion that we encountered them) that they started to clue in.

    I told one of my newer players about her, inspiring the player to do the same thing.

    Gotta love the mysterious, shadowy exemplars of Law over the ones in shiny armor. They're just more fun to play.

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  24. Very nice job fitting paladins into your world.

    As a player, I was never interested in playing one BITD; I think the closest I ever came was a CG half-orc fighter/cleric who always told everyone he was a paladin. The alignment thing was usually the deal-breaker; I don't remember ever playing in an AD&D party where everyone was G, and neutrals, especially CN, seemed to be dominant. We always assumed a paladin wouldn't adventure with evil or chaotic characters (which probably goes beyond what the books actually say, come to think of it).

    Paladins always carried a lot of Christian baggage as read in the groups I played with too, & that doesn't gel so well with D&D. Even so, I never liked the idea of anti-paladins and especially don't like the 4th ed. notion that anyone can be a paladin, regardless of alignment. There already is a holy warrior class and it is called Cleric.

    Reintroducing paladins as servants of Law/Goodness rather than a god/gods makes a ton of sense to me and should I ever run a game I'll steal your concept.

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  25. Wonderful interpretation, thank you.

    I think the Paladin tends to be resisted because it is seen as the only class that comes with an ethical system attached... which just goes to show that the ethical implications of the thief are unmarked. I love the fact that your Termaxian MUs are explicitly Thelemic, which makes this stance into a specific thing the players can recognise, rather than just falling into it unawares.

    But: I worry that there's a large overlap with your rangers: their MOs seem very similar - wandering in ones and twos, opposing some very specific enemies, defending a largely abstract notion. I'm tempted to think of Paladins and Rangers as different interpretations of the "warrior with a cause," which I'm afraid opens the door for the anti-paladin and potentially any number of other variants (the Samurai or Ronin, the Wuxia, the albino cursed sorceror...). I'm guessing "ones and twos" means "master and apprentice:" I can also imagine them working in cells of 3-5, or ribats + messengers. I also don't really understand why rangers don't work in "crews" or small "hunting packs."

    I do love the idea of a secret society of paladins, though: maybe they're Dunedain, or maybe they're Dogs in the Vineyard.

    veriword: regra. Portuguese for "rule."

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  26. >my favorite classes, yet so hard to fit in with a group of adventurers when portrayed as "holy warriors." I very much like the idea of paladins being like the dunadan or jedi, defenders of civilization and law<

    Spaceships and light sabers aside,, the Jedi are no any different then any other Holy Warrior as they all follow the tenets of their deity. fight for it's causes, and even call upon their god when they have a need to use magic.

    A Paladin of Set might be polar opposite of a Paladin of Jupiter, but the basic principles and viewpoints would be very much the same...So would a Sith Lord.

    .









    .

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  27. considering the overwhelming appreciation for the paladin as described here (which I share) it makes me wonder, has anyone actually played the Sir-Colgate-on-a-white-charger-type paladin that we assume is the standard? or is that just for NPC cut-outs?

    one of my PCs might have come close except that he found an elven cloak at about second level and became more of a diplomat than a warrior. of course I don't know if seeking out the strongest opponent for one-on-one combat would have maintained my interest, even if he had survived that way of life.

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  28. @Brian

    I have. More in solo games, but even in large group games. It's been a bit of a bother with groups that are primarily CN in alignment, but most of the time it makes for some good role playing. Mind you, with relatively mature role players...

    The best experience with that was then the party thief and I spent the entire time trying to convert each other to our own point of view!

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  29. It is potentially limiting to reduce an entire class to a single organisation, in my opinion. Whether that is or is not the intent remains to be seen, an additional adjective might clarify the case, and my preference would be for paladin characters to not be limited to being "paladins of Dwimmermount".

    Well, my feeling at the moment is that the sub-classes ought to be limited in some fashion. I don't see any of them as sufficiently archetypal -- quite the opposite in the case of several -- to justify putting them on the same footing as the three LBB classes.

    I realize this will probably be a contentious position and one that (obviously) AD&D fans would take exception to, but I think it's defensible, even if it's by no means definitive (not that I intend it to be anyway).

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  30. I understand why Gygax created Paladins the way they are, but I was always found the class was conceived by him as sort of creatively limited as every religion has their own "holy warrior" to fight for the causes of their deity.

    Every religion already has a "holy warrior" class for their use as it is; they're called clerics.

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  31. By this do you mean the formerly wayward become paladins? Or simply adopt the lawful/good alignment?

    The latter, as paladins are born, not made.

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  32. But: I worry that there's a large overlap with your rangers: their MOs seem very similar - wandering in ones and twos, opposing some very specific enemies, defending a largely abstract notion. I'm tempted to think of Paladins and Rangers as different interpretations of the "warrior with a cause," which I'm afraid opens the door for the anti-paladin and potentially any number of other variants (the Samurai or Ronin, the Wuxia, the albino cursed sorceror...). I'm guessing "ones and twos" means "master and apprentice:" I can also imagine them working in cells of 3-5, or ribats + messengers. I also don't really understand why rangers don't work in "crews" or small "hunting packs."

    All fair points and ones I'm wrestling with even now. At the moment, the big difference conceptually is that paladins are "born, not made," whereas becoming a ranger is something one can aspire to. Plus, rangers are a fair bit more morally "flexible" than paladins, as, unlike paladins, they're simply defenders of Law (i.e. civilization). Many rangers are indeed also devoted to abstract goodness but many are not.

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  33. So where does this leave the AD&D bard, other than stuck in an appendix?

    It's not something I've thought much about, since I'm not playing AD&D. That said, if I were going to add bards, they'd clearly be tied to an organization. That's already implicit in the way the class is structured anyway, with its tiered "colleges."

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  34. I think the lesson I have to take from the 3E experience is that this intention gets wiped out by the interests from the publishing side of things. More money is to be made from publishing generic, campaign-detached stuff, upping player power indefinitely, and giving aid & comfort to player refusals to play along with a given campaign milieu.

    I am fortunate not to be doing this from a publishing perspective. I actually still think the original 3e conception of prestige classes is a terrific one and I think 3e would have become a lot less noticeably "broken" if it had avoided making prestige classes such a core concept of the game that most supplements were built around them.

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  35. Well, my feeling at the moment is that the sub-classes ought to be limited in some fashion. I don't see any of them as sufficiently archetypal -- quite the opposite in the case of several -- to justify putting them on the same footing as the three LBB classes.

    I realize this will probably be a contentious position and one that (obviously) AD&D fans would take exception to, but I think it's defensible, even if it's by no means definitive (not that I intend it to be anyway)
    .

    I think if you expect to only ever see paladins through this particular organisational lens in your campaign it is fine, but the paladin is a broad enough archetype to possibly turn up in much the same guise in other locales, I think, at which point you may end up with too many subclasses, if you see what I mean. In the case of rangers, that is obviously more the case, given the source material.

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  36. 'No one knows where paladins come from, although rumors persist of a hidden fortress called simply "The Palace," from which they are sent out into the world.'

    I'm vaguely reminded of the Hashshashin and Alamut.

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  37. The Assassin connection was deliberate.

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