How to play a Paladin in Dungeons and Dragons

I’ve been playing a Lawful Good Paladin of Bahamut for many years, and I can tell you a few of the ways I’ve kept this character interesting, not suggesting that this is the best way, but in a practical sense, this is what has worked for me, and been an enjoyable way to play.

The first thing to know is that there is no one “proper” way to play a Paladin. Like all RPG characters, a Paladin must have multiple dimensions in order to keep it fun and interesting, particularly in an ongoing campaign. Many players see a Paladin as something of a sword-and-shield Dudley Do-Right, particularly if you’re playing a Lawful Good Paladin. They walk a straight-and-narrow path, and are honor-bound to maintain it.

In reality, player characters— Paladins included— have to have more depth than that. The good news is that Paladins no longer have to be Lawful Good, and while they are honor-bound, no one ever said the path has to be so straight and narrow.

Example: My L-22 Paladin is a “Vessel of Bahamut,” meaning he carries a small shard of Bahamut’s divine spark. He never has to wonder about following his oath, because he feels it in him constantly. He never doubts or questions his actions. He follows his instincts unfailingly, because they are the very will of his deity, who lives inside him, drives him and directs him.

This seems like pretty straightforward Paladin stuff, but in practice, it means he is never conflicted. He never worries about drawing first blood. He never hesitates to attack first when necessary. In fact, he does it all the time. If he gets a sense that whomever he is talking to is even remotely evil, he will deliver Bahamut’s Justice at the end of his axe blade, without hesitation. He combats evil mercilessly.

He killed the party Rogue once in combat.

Then after the fight, he used his Paladin healing powers to bring the Rogue back to life for the purpose of holding a field trial, after which the rogue was executed (again) for crimes against Good.

He’s been pursuing the Cult of the Dragon for decades, as a part of a Holy Quest to defeat the evil of Tiamat, which is his guiding purpose. He will destroy anyone or anything that stands in his way. And because he has been charged with this quest by Bahamut himself, he feels that everything he does in pursuit of this quest is not only justified, but required by his oath.

He has defied legitimate local authorities on several occasions (generally a major no-no for LG Paladins) because he suspected they were attempting to thwart his quest. He has committed many extrajudicial killings; he gutted an entire town of its power structure because they were worshiping a false deity and refused to renounce their unsavory ways. He scoured the local temple by fire, and reconsecrated it in Bahamut’s name. He also executed the leadership of the banking guild of a major city because he judged that it was infected with the evil of greed.

And because he is guided by his quest, everything he has done is just, at least in his own eyes. And he knows it’s also fine with Bahamut, because he’s Bahamut’s vessel in the material world. If it weren’t, he would know.

I’ve had other players look at me at the table and say things like, “Aren’t you Lawful Good?”

“Yes,” I reply, and then explain what the NPC did to prompt my character to attack. It’s usually something like threatening innocents (he views his party and himself as “innocents”), unrepentantly worshiping false gods or evil deities, or even just the sin of greed. He is driven by his righteous fervor.

He’s old and cranky, he smokes a pipe, he drinks too much, and he eats too much. He eschews wealth in accordance with Bahamut’s commands, but spends lavishly on new weapons, armor, and gear in order to make himself more lethal and resilient. He defends his friends (our party) fearlessly, but he’s a cunning tactician, and he knows that his allies are very powerful themselves, so he holds back on some of his tanking abilities, namely for the party’s Barbarian, knowing that the Barbarian will fly into a rage when he gets hit, and become even more dangerous than he already is. But like a good Paladin, he will fly (literally) to the aid of the softer targets in the party, risking any number of attacks of opportunity to protect the squishy guys.

He’s not afraid of any man, beast, monster, or deity in the D&D world, but he’s terrified of falling into water and drowning in his heavy armor, so he goes to great lengths to avoid it. And it’s not that he’s afraid of dying. I just thinks it would just be a waste to die in some stupid way like that, not combating evil.

He hurt his knee once. It affected his movement for a year, but he never told the rest of the party. He expected it to heal from Bahamut’s Grace by the next day, as always happened with his combat injuries. When it didn’t, he assumed he must have done something to disappoint his deity, so he recommitted himself to fighting evil with even greater vehemence. He became a right fucking monster after that.

The point is, don’t feel that you have to follow the proverbial straight and narrow path to playing a Paladin. This is my favorite character I’ve ever played, because of the depth that has developed in his character. He doesn’t have to be the stick-in-the-mud for the rest of the party, he doesn’t have to wait to be attacked before he strikes, he doesn’t always have to do the “obvious” right thing at the moment, because he’s playing the long game. And in the end, it’s the long game that really matters to him.

One final point: There is no need to focus on the “Paladin Fall.” There is a certain philosophy of playing a Paladin that has him or her dancing on the edge of falling from grace, of breaking the oath. Some characters are played as if the oath is a weighty burden, that it’s almost a curse. And that’s certainly something you can do, but it’s not always necessary. My character would never break his oath. He would literally kill everyone he ever knew, or willingly die himself before he broke his oath. It just wouldn’t happen.

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Rick Allen

Rick Allen

Rick is a Film Buff, Tolkien Nerd, Cigar Aficionado and Whiskey Fiend.

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