Breaking out of the "paladin trap."

Fauchard1520

Explorer
I write about "default storylines" over here, but the TLDR is this. If you’re playing any class with an inherent relationship to gods/fiends/eldritch-entities-from-beyond-time-and-space, then you’ve got a potential character arc laid out for you from Level 1. That's worth exploring, but I think it's wise to avoid relying on them. A character ought to be more than the relationships defined by its class features.

My question to the boards: What are some paladin/cleric/oracle character arcs you've seen that go beyond "I'm a servant of [insert entity here]?"
 

kenada

Explorer
If we don’t limit ourselves just to RPGs, I’d consider the Surgebinders in the Stormlight Archive to be one of the best representations of paladins in fiction. They’re the template I’m using to fix champions (PF2) in my homebrew setting.

Reflecting on the clerics and paladins I’ve played and had in the games I’ve run, I can’t think of a time when that relationship was actually very important. It was part of the character color, and it informed how those characters interacted with the world, but it’s not like divine entities just showed up and had them start doing things. Admittedly, our games are more swords and sorcery than heroic fantasy, and we tend towards sandbox rather than story-driven play.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think it's important to define your character in terms of their crisis instead of their capabilities. What do they want and why can't they get it? A Champion can still have doubts. They know they are worthy in the eyes of their deity, but are they worthy in their own eyes? Do they struggle with any tenants of their faith? Maybe they believe everyone is worthy of redemption, but lost someone or something they value to say an orc raid. How do they square that circle?
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
I've always seen Cleric and Paladins as being personally loyal to gods, but motivated by a sense of shared mission (the mission could be saving lives, revenge, etc.). The divine element is a source of power, but the power is granted to achieve an agenda.
 

GaiusMarius

Villager
Naw man. That's what I'm talking about. I'm asking for story hooks BEYOND the bond.
Well, you could have the paladin discover that his church has engaged in some practice or event that he/she finds abominable yet doesn't break the bond to their god or otherwise have the paladin set at odds with his or her church.

Something like Martin Luther where the paladin disagrees with a corrupt but not fully evil practice of the main church.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I had a vengeance paladin who fled to the frontier after becoming a wanted man (this was all background). The paladin had been a lawman who'd murdered a man who had gotten away with murdering someone the paladin cared for.

After a few adventures, he encountered a former outlaw who knew about his past. Unfortunately, we never got to explore it as the paladin was killed shortly thereafter, holding off a pack of gnolls so that the rest of the party could escape.
 
I ran a campaign with four paladin PCs.

The arcs of the characters were:

1. A worshiper of the goddess of love and beauty had lost his whole village to murderers, and he was the sole survivor. He needed to forgive himself and learn to heal from his grief so he could help others in the group, and eventually fell in love. When he had a chance to get revenge on the people responsible, he showed mercy.

2. An escaped slave who worshiped the god of righteous vengeance, well, initially wanted to stay far away from the people who kept him as a slave because he was traumatized. But then things escalated, he got too eager for violence, and ended up brutalizing a guy who'd tormented him. Afterward he felt hollow and broken, and kept 'chasing the high' by getting more and more aggressive and cruel, overstepping the bounds of what his god permitted. He fell, and was inches away from turning evil before the PC above pulled him back. After some reflection, he eventually forsook violence altogether.

3. A servant of the sun god who normally is all about fighting undead and healing made it his personal goal to show corrupt governments what proper leadership was.

4. A worshiper of the god of hearth and family started off by riding away to protect his home from looming danger, but eventually he saw that the group needed a calm hand to keep them together.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
One of the reasons I really like the flavor of the 5E Paladin is their devotion to a cause rather than to a deity (realizing after I posted my comment that this was posted in the PF forum where this sentence is somewhat irrelevant). I was in a campaign as a paladin with the civilization oath from SCAG. The deity I worshiped wasn't doing a great job of keeping civilization intact. At the end of the campaign, that deity and several others were deposed and replaced by our party. I think this still falls under the "servant of X" story, except that the X was the cause rather than the deity but I still thought it interesting enough to share.
 

MonkeezOnFire

Adventurer
I currently play a paladin that is the 5th born child of a noble family. Since he was never going to inherit anything his parents sent him off to the temple to become a paladin in order to get the family's fingers into another pie so to speak. At first he hated it but over time he matured and came to love the religion he was taught.

At first everything seemed to be going his way. Building his reputation adventuring also increased the reputation for his family and temple. But eventually he was called on by his father to retrieve a powerful artifact so that it can be used as tribute to the empress from the family. Upon getting back to the city with the artifact the entire party and the leader of his religion was advising him to not hand the artifact over to his father for fear of being misused. So he went back on his word to his father causing him to be disowned by his family. But for this he was also promoted by the leader of his temple to a very high rank. So there's now an interesting dynamic of him wanting to get back his status as a noble but also dealing with the responsibilities of the temple.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Player: I will now play a character whose beliefs I despise and I will try to show how despicable they are by being a witless jerk.
Player: Following the dictates of my beliefs is too hard, so I will abandon them and betray everything my character claimed to believe in.
Player: I'm so edgy and original.

That Paladin trap?

To be honest, in 30 years of gaming, I've almost never seen a PC actually have a fully realized and meaningful character arc that wasn't built into the character in some way. Developing the character's 'who are you' or 'what do you want' rarely is a focus of play compared to 'what can you do', campaigning requires an enormous amount of time, player character's die, campaigns have to be abandoned, and for the most part I haven't seen players interested in playing what would amount to voluntarily reaching the end of the story.

As such, built in or not built in character arcs don't bother me. It rarely has an impact on the game as it is, and all of D&D is built around a built in character arc - "zero to hero".
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I write about "default storylines" over here, but the TLDR is this. If you’re playing any class with an inherent relationship to gods/fiends/eldritch-entities-from-beyond-time-and-space, then you’ve got a potential character arc laid out for you from Level 1. That's worth exploring, but I think it's wise to avoid relying on them. A character ought to be more than the relationships defined by its class features.

My question to the boards: What are some paladin/cleric/oracle character arcs you've seen that go beyond "I'm a servant of [insert entity here]?"
Most of them deal with the why of the oath/deal.

I mean, in my ecperience ths most common type is "was regular sane guy, evil big evil came in and did really bad, deal made to survive and get power for revenge or attonement"


Attonrment also often follows second chance redemption- where was going bad but went to far or bit my own family so now trying to set things right.

But, most of the time, the impetus to make the deal is more the charscter arc than the deal is.
 
A character ought to be more than the relationships defined by its class features.

My question to the boards: What are some paladin/cleric/oracle character arcs you've seen that go beyond "I'm a servant of [insert entity here]?"
Any paladin concept that does not begin at, "I AM a servant of [insert deity]." Which - for me - is basically every paladin I've ever played for 40 years (which is a lot); not a one of them was defined to any degree by their choice of deity. Their common core was that they wanted to promote good, and to destroy evil, and that's pretty much as far as the choice of class went. Everything beyond that was not defined by class features but by all the other stuff that wasn't class features. I confess, however, that I had a leg up in first playing a paladin in 1E, which was not saddled by the rules with restrictive baggage of extensive oaths and fanatic devotion to deity-dictated concerns and endless attempts at re-defining and changing what the class was. That's the sort of thing that later editions quite successfully used to narrow everyone's idea of what paladins could be.

Maybe just put roleplaying ahead of mechanics. I mean, you say a character shouldn't be defined by just class features, but then are asking what there IS for a character beyond just class features? That's going back to roleplaying 101. First decide what your character will ideally be like, and then choose a class that fits that concept most closely. When leveling up and making choices regarding your characters mechanical improvements, choose on the basis of what does best at fulfilling that original concept. During play, when making choices for the characters actions that aren't really connected to class mechanics, choose more on the basis of what the character was originally intended to be, or based upon the directions that the characters life circumstances has taken them, rather than a mechanical "build" that the character has to eventually adapt to fit.

Every character has two aspects of what makes them who they are. One is their mechanical stuff; their race and class abilities, skills and feats, and the stuff that magic items let them do. Stuff dictated mechanically by the game rules. The other is... everything else. In order to develop a character beyond just their class features, all you need to do is stop obsessing over just their class features and actually look at everything else.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I mean, in my ecperience ths most common type is "was regular sane guy, evil big evil came in and did really bad, deal made to survive and get power for revenge or attonement"
Isn't that an inherently lawful evil perspective? Motivations to survive, get power, vengeance, and atonement don't strike me as terribly pure, and unless the deity was specifically a deity of redemption as part of their primary portfolio I can't see the deity taking as champions people who specifically are acting out of atonement. It might be laudable to want to atone, but generally speaking if you are aiming for Paladinhood you've already missed that mark. The whole thing about being a Paladin is that your power comes from your purity. I would consider Sir Galahad - his childhood in a nunnery, his chastity, purity, and eventual bodily ascension into Heaven - as archetypal of the concept.

I'm struck how very differently the class seems to be conceived in your games compared to what it is supposed to represent in mine. In most of the backstories for 'Paladins' in my game, the Paladin has more or less been chosen from a very early age and has a backstory that indicates in some fashion how completely pure the motives of the character are and always have been. That is that they've been granted this power because they are different than and from run of the mill people, and that equally the deity has been meddling perhaps in the characters life from a very early point so that they are also different because of the power that has rested on them.

The current 'Paladin' in my game is typical of the type I've always played with. He was given to the temple of his deity as like a 5 year old and dedicated as a child to the service of his deity at that time. And since that time, he's been set apart as different and recognized by all as someone on whom the favor of the deity rested, as has been shown by various signs and wonders. And there is a more complex character backstory than that which suggests why this situation would have had special significance to the deity, but the point is that there isn't any conflict around the character believing in his duty. The challenge he faces is living up to that duty in the perfect manner that is expected of him because every one can see the favor of his deity is upon him.
 

CapnZapp

Hero
I write about "default storylines" over here, but the TLDR is this. If you’re playing any class with an inherent relationship to gods/fiends/eldritch-entities-from-beyond-time-and-space, then you’ve got a potential character arc laid out for you from Level 1. That's worth exploring, but I think it's wise to avoid relying on them. A character ought to be more than the relationships defined by its class features.

My question to the boards: What are some paladin/cleric/oracle character arcs you've seen that go beyond "I'm a servant of [insert entity here]?"
I find it very easy to imagine a character that is both
1) a servant of [insert entity here]
2) a character with no particular personal story arc

So I can't say there is much of a trap here.

The trap not to fall into as a player is to expect the DM to change his planned campaign around to make you its star.

That is: the DM might plan to run Out of the Abyss or Tomb of Annihilation. Of course you are intended as the star.

But, and this is the crucial difference:

You are the star as part of the party, and you become the star by events driven by the game.

Not because you made up some particular backstory.

Tldr Before creating a special snowflake of a character, check with the DM. It is likely you are much better off with a "blank slate" character, one that fits the narrative of the actual campaign, rather than the campaign implied by your build choices!
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I find it very easy to imagine a character that is both
1) a servant of [insert entity here]
2) a character with no particular personal story arc

So I can't say there is much of a trap here.

The trap not to fall into as a player is to expect the DM to change his planned campaign around to make you its star.

That is: the DM might plan to run Out of the Abyss or Tomb of Annihilation. Of course you are intended as the star.

But, and this is the crucial difference:

You are the star as part of the party, and you become the star by events driven by the game.

Not because you made up some particular backstory.

Tldr Before creating a special snowflake of a character, check with the DM. It is likely you are much better off with a "blank slate" character, one that fits the narrative of the actual campaign, rather than the campaign implied by your build choices!
I don't get the impression that he's talking about creating a special snowflake, just a character who has personality beyond "I am a devout servant of X".

I attended a Catholic school and knew a few priests. None of them could really be fully encompassed by the phrase, "he's a priest". One of them was an amateur biologist who enjoyed studying snails. So on and so forth. None of them was 'just a priest', in the same sense that players who seek to role play a realistic identity shouldn't seek to define their character as simply their class (and/or race). You're a paladin and... / a cleric but...

No special snowflake required. Just real character.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Isn't that an inherently lawful evil perspective? Motivations to survive, get power, vengeance, and atonement don't strike me as terribly pure, and unless the deity was specifically a deity of redemption as part of their primary portfolio I can't see the deity taking as champions people who specifically are acting out of atonement. It might be laudable to want to atone, but generally speaking if you are aiming for Paladinhood you've already missed that mark. The whole thing about being a Paladin is that your power comes from your purity. I would consider Sir Galahad - his childhood in a nunnery, his chastity, purity, and eventual bodily ascension into Heaven - as archetypal of the concept.

I'm struck how very differently the class seems to be conceived in your games compared to what it is supposed to represent in mine. In most of the backstories for 'Paladins' in my game, the Paladin has more or less been chosen from a very early age and has a backstory that indicates in some fashion how completely pure the motives of the character are and always have been. That is that they've been granted this power because they are different than and from run of the mill people, and that equally the deity has been meddling perhaps in the characters life from a very early point so that they are also different because of the power that has rested on them.

The current 'Paladin' in my game is typical of the type I've always played with. He was given to the temple of his deity as like a 5 year old and dedicated as a child to the service of his deity at that time. And since that time, he's been set apart as different and recognized by all as someone on whom the favor of the deity rested, as has been shown by various signs and wonders. And there is a more complex character backstory than that which suggests why this situation would have had special significance to the deity, but the point is that there isn't any conflict around the character believing in his duty. The challenge he faces is living up to that duty in the perfect manner that is expected of him because every one can see the favor of his deity is upon him.
"Isn't that an inherently lawful evil perspective? "

I gave up on alignment debates f thst nature decades ago, so my answer has to be " It depends. Maybe, in some settings it might be but in other settings it wouldn't be. At some tsbles, maybe that one act would define a character's alignment, but at other tables it might only be considered one act among many and be fine.

I mean, if overlord Tyrannicus Meanie crushes your town, kills everyone you knew and leaves you for dead and you cut a deal with burning shrubbery to survive and get power and then spend years thwarting TM conqypuests, freeing his slaves, stopping and killing his death squads, killing his summoned fiends and helping folks survive and resist his oppression - some tables might treat or judge that character as chaotic good or neutral goid- based on the overall mass of choices made, not just lawful evil.

So we come back to... "it depends".

But... the question was not about alignment or even specifically paladins who have had a "one act whammy" rule in some editions, the early ones.

" My question to the boards: What are some paladin/cleric/oracle character arcs you've seen that go beyond "I'm a servant of [insert entity here]?""

So, really I did not give the alignment a moments thought whrn recounting what I had seen.

You do seem to have a much much more limited scope of paladin concepts in play than I do - even when we just look at paladin - based on your descriptions.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I find it very easy to imagine a character that is both
1) a servant of [insert entity here]
2) a character with no particular personal story arc

So I can't say there is much of a trap here.

The trap not to fall into as a player is to expect the DM to change his planned campaign around to make you its star.

That is: the DM might plan to run Out of the Abyss or Tomb of Annihilation. Of course you are intended as the star.

But, and this is the crucial difference:

You are the star as part of the party, and you become the star by events driven by the game.

Not because you made up some particular backstory.

Tldr Before creating a special snowflake of a character, check with the DM. It is likely you are much better off with a "blank slate" character, one that fits the narrative of the actual campaign, rather than the campaign implied by your build choices!
"The trap not to fall into as a player is to expect the DM to change his planned campaign around to make you its star."

As you move into with your tldr- talkl to the gm so everyone has the same expectations.

I would dicker with how likely this is a trap.
 

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