Life isn’t straightforward. It isn’t black and white. The stories of vile villains and righteous crusades that we were weaned on are fairy tales. But heroes? Heroes are very real. They’re not perfect, and there’s no army of them, but they exist. They are the naive idealists without any grasp of how the world works. They are the battle hard cynics who fight on to keep the darkness from encroaching for another day. They are the unknown soldiers who die alone in the dark, with nothing to comfort them other than the knowledge that they have done what is right. Heroes fight losing battles, they are manipulated, and too often receive nothing–not even success–for their trouble. Yet heroes fight on, because some battles need to be fought.
These are the incorruptible, the charitable, the fearless. These are the paladins.
-Anonymous /tg/ contributor
I am tired of seeing paladins consistently portrayed in an un-paladin like manner. In recent years, I don’t think I have seen a single paladin–either in a game or in some other media–who didn’t suffer from a painful overzealousness. Paladins are played as assholes who object to the very concept of tolerance. They look down on anyone who doesn’t adhere to their strict (often arbitrary) moral codes. And even a slight suggestion that laws are being broken or evil acts committed will cause such a paladin to react with force. A sizable portion of the time, the paladin is so over zealous that he or she serves as an antagonist to good characters. In other cases, paladins grow so overzealous as to be actively evil according to any rational definition of the alignment.
It’s not that I don’t get it. We’ve all dealt with this kind of paladin in real life. The door to door religion salespeople, the condescendingly self-righteous believers, the snarling fundamentalists demanding that one group or another be denied civil liberties on the basis of a religion. In the real world, people with an absolute sense of right and wrong based on their religious beliefs are often brutish and unkind. Those willing to go out into the world and ‘fight’ for their religion often choose to do so by trying to bring everyone who doesn’t agree with them down. I am an Atheist, I have no reason to defend religion whatsoever. But the needless association of in-game religion to real-world religion needs to stop.
Pathfinder and D&D are games of magic and monsters. Games where gods actually exist, and frequently interact with the material world in obvious ways. In real life, a woman who kills 10 people and claims god told her to do it is crazy. In Pathfinder, the authorites would find out which god the woman is talking about, find a cleric of that god, and have that cleric ask their god why those 10 people deserved to die. If the woman were, in fact, crazy, then the cleric could use the powers granted them by their god to simply raise the dead. Whether you are religious or not, I think we can all agree that religion in a fantasy world is fantastical. Not only does it grant magical powers, but the gods who head fantasy religions are beings which can be reached and spoken to with even low level clerical spells.
Like the religions they serve, paladins are fantastical. With the rare exception of those who have fallen, paladins are paragons of virtue. They never walk past a person who is hungry without stopping to feed them, nor could they walk past a person who was cold without giving away their cloak. This is not a matter of duty–though a paladin might disagree. Paladins act always to help those in need because they want to soothe every iota of suffering possible. And when a paladin stands to fight, it is not simply to defend their honor or that of their god. Paladins do not fight for kings or queens, nor do they fight for money or prestige. When a paladin draws steel, it is because they believe they stand between innocents, and evil. It is because the only way to soothe suffering is to defeat that which causes it–be it man or beast.
I think the best way to demonstrate this point would be to relate a story of a paladin played correctly. This story has been floating around the 4chan sub forum /tg/ (for Traditional Games) for a number of years now. It is one among many such stories, though for the life of me I cannot find any others which I want to share. I’ve edited the story to work in a non-image board format. I believe it demonstrates the paladin archetype with actions better than I can demonstrate it with words.
My Warforged paladin was alone with the villain atop his tower. The villain had wings, and could fly away at any time, but since I was alone he chose to taunt me.
“Have you ever stopped to think about why you protect others?”
“On occasion, why?” I replied.
“It’s all programmed in, you know. You care about humans because you were built by humans and programmed to care about humans. You believe in everything you do because they chose for you to believe it. Look at yourself! They made you so that you like being helpful and protective, and it’s all a lie! Join me, and I can free you from it all. From the shackles they put on you. You can be a pure and perfect being, immortal and superior, with all the power you’ve ever wanted.”
“Yes, but isn’t that desire programmed in, as well? Even if none of my emotions are true, they feel true. Even if my cause isn’t really mine, it feels just. All you can do is exchange one lie for another. I’ll keep the one that makes everyone else, the ones with real emotions, happiest.”
With that, my character leaped forward and grappled the villain. I knocked him from the tower and rode him down to the rocks below, using my weight to prevent him from flying.
Just thought I’d share my characters last moments with you.
-Anonymous /tg/ contributor
Paladins are not self righteous. They are not over zealous. They are not eager to spill blood for their gods. They aren’t perfect, but nor do they suffer from the weaknesses which often characterize the “forcefully religious” in the real world.
What paladins are is goodly and just. They are heroes, and I would like to see them portrayed as such.