Core Concept: I like paladins. They’re a weird kind of super-cleric which would be more at home in a noblebright setting than a sword-and-sorcery one. They contribute interestingly to the game as the middle ground between the fighter and the cleric, though they are not completely without their problems. I’ve actually written several posts with my thoughts on paladins before, though primarily these works have been with regards to the code of conduct.
Detect Evil: I like at will abilities. It would be interesting, as a design goal, for every ability to be an at will ability, except for the casting of spells by spellcasters. Things are much simpler when the player doesn’t need to track their uses in a given day. Aside from that, Detect Evil is a good ability for Paladins to have, though I wonder if it can be too much of a crutch. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a Paladin had to judge good and evil without the benefit of a detection spell?
Then again, this isn’t a game about moral philosophy, so that might not be a good idea, despite being an interesting one.
Smite Evil: Smite Evil is awesome. Despite the large-ish amount of math it requires, it’s surprisingly elegant in its construction. None of the numbers are arbitrary, they’re all drawn from numbers which are already somewhere else on the character’s sheet. Add Cha bonus to attack rolls, paladin level to damage rolls, and Cha bonus again to the Paladin’s AC against the character being smitten. (Smited?)
Also, apparently smite remains active until a creature is dead. Until re-reading the ability just now, I had always thought it only lasted for a single attack.
Divine Grace: While I might normally call something like this a filler ability, this is actually pretty great. Like smite, it doesn’t pull a random number out of thin air, and unlike most similar abilities received by the other classes, it applies to all saves, not a specific save, or (worst of all) a specific type of specific save. Like “will save to resist enchantment” or “fortitude save to resist poison.” No, divine grace boosts all saves.
And since a paladin is a warrior chosen by the gods, it would make sense that the gods are keeping an eye on them.
Lay On Hands: Given that this ability can only be used a number of times per day equal to 1/2 the paladin’s level, I wouldn’t mind if it were a little more potent. Perhaps 1d10 healing every 2 levels, so it kept pace as being able to heal 1/2 of the Paladin’s HP. Or maybe, instead of that, it could be used a number of times per day equal to 1/6 the characters level (minimum 1) but it heals the target up to their full hit points.
Aura of Courage: I like the idea of aura abilities. I think they’re a great idea, and I think the Paladin (as the noble, god-ordained leader type) is a great class to serve as a vehicle for auras. Courage, is a good one, though I think it might be better if those within the Paladin’s aura were actually immune to fear, rather than simply gaining a +4 bonus to fear.
Divine Health: The Paladin’s body is pure because the gods love him or her. Thus the Paladin cannot get disease. Seems like something the gods might have thought to give the rest of us, but it’s cool. I get it. They love their paladins more.
Mercy: Mercies are probably the biggest addition to the Paladin class in Pathfinder. Every few levels, the paladin selects from a list of possible “mercies,” which grows larger as the paladin rises in level. A mercy removes an affliction from the victim, and all mercies are applied anytime the paladin uses their lay on hands ability. The lower level mercies deal primarily with minor ‘status ailments,’ such as staggered, fatigued, or dazed. Higher level mercies remove curses and poison, and can even cure the blind or the paralyzed.
Generally speaking, I don’t like it when the game adds yet more things for the players to choose between. Not only must they choose feats and skills and bonus feats and what have you, but now they need to worry about mercies as well? It’s enough to overwhelm anyone who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy character building.
That being said, I think mercies are a great idea and I’m glad they were included. Perhaps they could be rolled randomly to cut down on the choices characters need to make.
Channel Positive Energy: While I like the change from “Turn Undead” to “Channel Positive Energy” for clerics, I’m less inclined to like it for Paladins. While clerics serve a healing focus as well as a crusading one, paladins are all-crusade-all-the-time. Something like “Turn Evil” which affects evil outsiders and undead might be more apropos.
Spells: As mentioned in the Bard analysis, I don’t like that 7 out of the 11 core classes gain spells at some point. I would not be sorry to see the paladin lose their spellcasting ability, though I wouldn’t go so far as to advocate it. Among the non-primary spellcasting classes, I think Paladins probably have the greatest claim on their spellcasting being appropriate. The bard has music, which should replace magic entirely. The ranger’s magical abilities make almost no sense. But the Paladin is pretty much a cleric / fighter cross class, so it makes sense that they’d have access to a small number of spells.
Divine Bond: This is basically the same issue that I addressed in the Druid class analysis, under nature bond. Pathfinder presents the players with a choice: gain an animal companion, or a cool ability. The choice was created (I think) because companion animals are frustratingly complex to manage, and Paizo wanted to offer an alternative. My solution remains the same as it was for Nature Bond: make companion animals simpler.
Though calling down the spirit of an outsider into your sword is pretty damned cool. I wouldn’t mind if both the mount and the spirit-sword managed to find their way into la
Aura of Resolve, Aura of Righteousness: These are identical to Aura of Courage, except is is for Charm/Compulsion spells instead of Fear. I feel exactly the same about these as I do about Aura of Courage. Also, high level damage reduction is fine, though probably excessive.
Aura of Justice: This doesn’t really feel like a proper aura to me. Giving your allies a special form of attack to use can be interesting, but in my mind an aura should be a consistent effect. Furthermore, as a matter of pure preference, I don’t like the idea of non-paladins being given the ability to smite. Smite is a gift from the gods, entrusted to the paladin to be used wisely. Why would the gods allow the paladin to give it someone unworthy on a whim?
Aura of Faith: Like Justice, this doesn’t really strike me as a proper aura. However, it does seem perfectly reasonable for a Paladin’s attacks to be treated as good aligned. I might have called it something else, but I approve of the mechanics!
Holy Champion: As capstone abilities go in Pathfinder, this one is pretty bad ass. Casting a Banishment spell with a swing of your sword? Fuck yeah.
Code of Conduct: I’ve written on this extensively in the past, and most of what I said remains true to how I feel. To briefly reiterate: I think the Code of Conduct needs to be more clear. There should be no ambiguity about what actions will break a Paladin’s code of conduct; for the sake of the GM as much as for the player. I also think it’s ridiculous for the Paladin to be forced to travel only with good characters. I understand why this is the case, but no class’s abilities should even make the player feel entitled to demand that the rest of the group all act a certain way.
It would be interesting if the code of conduct were modular. Perhaps a list of 10 Paladin Oaths, of which the player must select 3 to keep sacred.
Ex Paladins: I miss the blackguard.