Thursday, 9 September 2010

Alignment-Free Paladin

Something I wrote in my previous post got me thinking ....
A paladin bound by twelve clearly defined behavioral commandments similar to the one about accumulating treasure, for example, would work a lot better in play. Cut loose from the alignment system, that class would have the additional interest value of varying just how far you can get from Lawful Good and still play within the rules.
So let's say that instead of having to maintain a Lawful Good alignment, the paladin must abide by these rules and goals - and importantly, when two of these conflict, to follow the one higher up (lower numbered) in the list.

1. To fight against the forces of Evil and/or Chaos (Good and Law)
2. To aid and protect the weak and oppressed (Good)
3. To show mercy to the vanquished and the weak (Good)
4. To fight fairly and without ruses in personal combat (Law)
5. To tell no lies (Law)
6. To betray no oaths (Law)
7. To promote and uphold the religion of your deity (Law & Good)
8. To avoid indulging carnal lusts (Law)
9. To avoid excesses of drink or feasting (Law)
10. To respect and obey the clergy of your faith (Law & Good)
11. To obey and serve your feudal superiors (Law)
12. To hold no wealth that cannot be carried on a mount until you become the lord of a castle (Good?)

It's the ordered nature of this list that is important. Under this ranking, the fight against Evil can justify departures from all the strictures below it. This is the kind of paladin that sees it as justified to toast orcs with oil, kill evil prisoners, or trick an evil priest. He'll still be a self-righteous asshat when fighting bandits or neutrals ... or does he have to be? As long as he doesn't personally partake in torture, he has lived within the letter of the law. He can just go off and pray as you slaughter those baby lizardmen.

"Such a shame ... if anything should happen to that pixie kindergarten ..."
The door is even open to a hypocrite paladin, someone who keeps a couple of useful, shady associates around to do unbidden "jobs" outside the letter of the paladin code. After all, is this much different from the PC paladin who travels with a pack of chaotic good and neutral folks? Certainly, adding the requirement "to only associate with those who themselves follow the Paladin's Code" means you are either in for a solo adventure or a very monochromatic party.

By such easements and accommodations a paladin can find herself sliding from Lawful Good to Lawful Neutral. Or, if the fight against evil requires disobedience of superiors and carnal dalliance, from Lawful Good to Neutral Good. And see, I like paladins to have different alignments. For the DM to wield the alignment whip, as I argued last post, is something that can take a lot of energy and spontaneity away from the campaign. If class benefits depend on rules of behavior, I would prefer those to be written out as specifically as possible, while keeping alignment as a mirror of the character's action.

There is also another way to handle paladins who let others do their dirty work, one that doesn't involve bad angel dreams. True knights are not just a moral, but a social elite. What kind of gossip gets spread about paladins that hang out with thieves and go tomb raiding? What kind of duel challenges, anathemas, and snubs might follow?

Of course, a DM wishing a different kind of paladin can swap around the priorities. Perhaps now, the strictures about kindness (2 and 3) take precedence over the fight against Evil. Now we have a character who must practice fair play for all, even orcs. Or put chastity first and you have a paladin who won't sleep with the witch even if this means she'll wreck a whole village in spite.

Two more points to ponder:

1. Can different paladins have different rankings of the points of the Code?
2. Can version(s) of the Code serve as a more general method to define, regulate, or even replace alignment for everyone, not just paladins?

I'll get back to that second point once done with the nuts and bolts of Sacred Magic, when I'm ready to unleash my thoughts on metaphysical settings and alignment in general. You might guess, however, that my answer will be a resounding "yes."


  1. I like the idea of a code, and I don't think it has to be limited to Paladins. I like codes for Monks, Rangers, and Druids at the very least, with Thieves (honor among thieves) and Barbarians (anti-magic attitude) possibly having codes as well. I am sure many players could benefit from a code like this, but then it starts to creep into alignment territory again.

  2. Classic! I like the flavor.

    I DM alignment-free, and rewrote the paladin as, essentially, a professional quester. Instead of detecting evil they detect "worthy foes," and instead of smiting evil they smite worthy foes -- cue image of a knight slaying a dragon in one stroke as it bites at him.