Paladin just committed murder - what should happen next?

firstkyne

Explorer
During our session tonight, the party's paladin got in trouble. He was carrying an injured NPC to safety. Unfortunately, an adult dragon cornered him.
"Give me that man, and you can live. I hunger" it said. I had hoped he would stare it down with a bit of god-fuelled determination.
"OK" Said the paladin, and the dragon flew off with the screaming man.
The player admitted, 'I wanted to live'. He figured he should live to fight another day (and continue on the world-saving adventure the party are part way through).
I don't want to punish the player so much that he drops out of the game, but I think there have to be repercussions (ours is not a slapstick murderhobo game).
He is 7th level with a level of warlock (! I know...)
How would you handle this. If he becomes an oathbreaker, does that replace his previous paladin levels, so he becomes a 7th level oathbreaker?
Is that too punishing?
If he becomes an oathbreaker, I plan to talk to him about taking a vow to find a way back into his gods good graces, such as by returning to slay the dragon AND find resurrection for the dead man.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
First thing's first: You and the player have to agree that his character's actions deserve punishment. If you can't agree on that, then it's probably best to let it go. From what you say, the player seems to think that he made the right choice, and personally, I'm not sure he didn't. Unless there's something specifically in his oath about defending the helpless against impossible odds, then there might not be any justification for punishing him. There is nothing in "lawful good" that says you have to risk death on someone else's behalf.
 
@Prakriti is right: you and the player both need to agree that this is a punishable offense before you dish out any consequences. Otherwise, you invite all sorts of problems--lack of trust being the biggest.

But I disagree with Prakriti on the less-important issue of whether or not what the paladin did was "wrong." I think the paladin demonstrated a lack of mercy and a lack of bravery, and submitted to the bidding of an evil creatue...all of which directly contributed to the death of an innocent person. And why? To save his own hide. So in my opinion, yes, the paladin should be punished, or at least made to atone somehow.

But what I think doesn't matter. You need to chat with your player and discuss what should happen next.
 
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How had the paladin been played up to this point? Was he often taking on impossible odds because it's the right thing to do or was he more pragmatic?
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
I could absolutely see a Vengeance Paladin making this choice and still being well within the tenets of their oath. Conquest too.

However, if this is counter to this Paladin's oath's tenets i would stat having the character receive dreams implicating that their oath was on shaky grounds, and then talk to the Player about where that player wants the character to go.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
That's not murder. I mean, it is, by the dragon. The paladin did nothing wrong here.

I don't know about this specific paladin's oath, but even in 2E, this would have been a case of reasonable discretion. You can't save everyone, and there's nothing Good about getting yourself killed for a doomed cause.

They'll probably have a guilt trip about it, and that's enough of a punishment, as far as I'm concerned.
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
This is a super interesting conundrum.

So first, I would be remiss not to mention the fact that 5e is very different than previous editions. There are no alignment restrictions, and no true mechanical implications for acting in ways unbecoming of a paladin. While there is a lot of story elements contained within a paladin's oath, there is no mechanical requirement that a paladin must follow their oath. In the PHB, there is the sidebar about how paladins are fallible, and that any consequences of breaking an oath without seeking some sort of penance is left to the DM to decide. But even then, outside of some guidelines, there is no single or even "correct" answer.

Much like a warlock's patron, the paladin's oath provides some built in role playing opportunities, but this does not necessitate a mechanical or even immediate consequence for failing as a paladin. Additionally, as has been suggested by others, this does to a degree depend on that oath. Some oaths may not concern themselves with the protection of the innocent.

Another thing to consider is that unlike in previous editions, 5e paladins are not automatically linked to a deity or religion. So the question becomes, who is the in-game authority or arbiter that would decide the severity of the paladin's transgression, if he did indeed transgress, and the consequences? Does the character worship a particular deity or pantheon, and are they a paladin inspired by this higher power? Are they a member of an organization of paladins with their own code of conduct? Or are they a lone entity that draws upon their own faith and discipline in this code of conduct they place upon themselves?

If they are a part of a religion, then the consequences could come from that organization or directly from the deity as a form of divine intervention. This is likely the quickest and most direct form of consequence. They may receive visions from this high power that requires some act of penance to address their sin, and if the paladin chooses not to follow along, then they may find themselves exchanging their oath for the Oathbreaker, or divine agents may come to either capture the paladin to put on trial, or assassins to kill him.

If they are a part of a paladin organization, then the consequences may be slower and dependent on how the organization obtains information of the paladin's misdeeds. This is unlikely to force the player into an oathbreaker or any other mechanical implications, but more likely for agents to be sent after him or being cut-off from assistance.

If they are a "lone wolf" paladin that has created this code of conduct from themselves, then it really should more come from the player as to how this manifests. I mean, think about what would happen to Batman if he ever had to use a gun or take a life. He wouldn't stop being Batman, but his actions would have greater psychological impacts (though this doesn't even take into consideration if there were any laws broken).

TL;DR: How does this character relate to the game world as a paladin, and where does this power come from? A god? An organization? Or themselves? This should help drive the determination of transgression, and the impact of not seeking penance.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The same thing that would happen if they were a knight with the same background and part of the same knightly order.

Do not change the player's character sheet. If they agree that there should be repurcussions, talk to them about what that should look like. If they like the idea of you doing the work in secret and letting them discover the consequences in play as their character does, cool. If not, let them rebuild their character as they see fit. Maybe they temporarily become a Cavalier Fighter, maybe they change their oath to one that doesn't conflict with what they did(n't do), maybe something else. It shouldn't be up to you, though. It's their character.
 

the Jester

Legend
In my judgment, that's not committing murder, first of all.

Second of all, what is his oath and alignment? That makes all the difference.

Third, I disagree with the (prevailing) sentiment that you should get the player's permission to impose divine punishment on a paladin who violates his oath. That's the whole point of the oath- he has to live up to it or fall. But that's absolutely a matter of playstyle preference. To me, being a servant of a power (and that's how paladins work in my campaign) comes with expectations from that power. The same thing applies to clerics and warlocks.

I recently had a pc paladin of redemption go murder hobo for a combat, attacking and killing creatures that were just trying to defend their home, even after the other pcs wouldn't help him and tried to talk him out of it. Afterward, he couldn't get the blood off his hands or blade. He needed an atonement spell to fix things, and had to demonstrate remorse and sincerity to get it. (I converted atonement to 5e long ago, so it was an existing fix for exactly this kind of thing.)
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
Third, I disagree with the (prevailing) sentiment that you should get the player's permission to impose divine punishment on a paladin who violates his oath. That's the whole point of the oath- he has to live up to it or fall.
I agree to a point. The DM should be the one to impose divine punishment. The DM is, afterall, the world. They play all the gods and NPCs and stuff. So of course the DM decides their attitude and interprets their reactions.

Where I think the line is, at least for me, is imposing a mechanical consequence. Forcing a character to either not access their abilities or otherwise hamstringing them can impact a player's enjoyment of their character, as well as impact how well the group can work together to overcome obstacles and deal with challenges. A character shouldn't control whether other agents of the paladin's order decide to come after them to put them on trial, or cut of assistance (housing, funds, travel, information, ect), or if their deity demands some kind of atonement. Even a curse with a minor mechanical implications. But something that requires becoming an oathbreaker, or changing how their character works, I think that is something a player should have a say in.

But in the end, whatever the consequence is, it should be fun for everyone and add to the game experience. Otherwise, that player may decide it's easier to just retire that character rather than deal with the backlash.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Did he break his Oath? He is an accessory to murder, but some of the Oaths would be just fine with committing lesser evils to prevent bigger ones.

Second, talk to the player with what you want to do. (Funny, DMs have permission to kill PCs, but not to swap around their class.) It's a great story to tell, that of the fallen paladin. And "winning" in D&D is having a good time and getting great stories out of it.

Maybe he's fine with swapping his subclass to Oathbreaker. Maybe he isn't and will live without some paladin features until he atones by doing something equally good and having a cleric caster the Ceremony spell (which does Atonement). Remember part of the Joseph Campbell Hero Myth is that they must "die" - being stripped of their powers and then finding a great good to do even without them to be forgiven and reaccepted as a champion of their god(dess) is a classic arc.

This can really be one of the great beats of the campaign. Don't let the opportunity slide by.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Others have given good advice, a lot of it depends on the oath, who the NPC was to the group, and so on.

However once I discuss what the oath meàns to the player I would decide what to do.

I hit this once and basically stripped the PC of all divine powers until they had undergone a special quest of atonement. We had a great time with it.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
First, without knowledge of the oath and the context, I cannot say anything wasxwrong.

Second, as a rule in my gsme whrn dealing with classes like pally, warlock, clerics, druids or even anyone devoted to or having status in a guild - I make it clear wrll before the decision is made whether or not shy for of oath-breaking is at risk. That character has a lot more knowledge of tenets and customs than the player will.

So that needs to be sn informed chouce yo be fsir.

Third, I do not throw no-win pally traps ehere three is no way out. Its ridiculously easy to setup a player like this and imo cheap.

Finally, trying and failing is not in my games breaking an oath. Soundsvyo me like the pallyvttied yo save the NPC, hot caught by a dragon and just refused to let both of them die by fighting a dragon solo. Is the nature of the oath that he must try and die even against hopeless odds?

Why not instead, live, gather forces and allies, go kill the dragon and use its wealth to bring the dead guy back???

Isnt that more heroic and in the service of good than both you becoming wyrm-snacks? Or isn't whatever higher power is making these choices just one that enjoys seeing its devotees squirm and die? Did thebpally higher power send the dragon as part of a sick humor fetish it has?
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I would not get too caught up on the legalese of the oath. Simply consider whether the god in question would be OK with their champion doing that.

I would also not get caught up with whether it was fair on the paladin. The god's can hold them to a higher-than-fair standard. He got those powers because was going to do the god's bidding and be its representative in the world, he was going to be something more than a mere man. Yet he acted like any normal person or coward would.
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
During our session tonight, the party's paladin got in trouble. He was carrying an injured NPC to safety. Unfortunately, an adult dragon cornered him.
"Give me that man, and you can live. I hunger" it said. I had hoped he would stare it down with a bit of god-fuelled determination.
"OK" Said the paladin, and the dragon flew off with the screaming man.
The player admitted, 'I wanted to live'. He figured he should live to fight another day (and continue on the world-saving adventure the party are part way through).
I don't want to punish the player so much that he drops out of the game, but I think there have to be repercussions (ours is not a slapstick murderhobo game).
He is 7th level with a level of warlock (! I know...)
How would you handle this. If he becomes an oathbreaker, does that replace his previous paladin levels, so he becomes a 7th level oathbreaker?
Is that too punishing?
If he becomes an oathbreaker, I plan to talk to him about taking a vow to find a way back into his gods good graces, such as by returning to slay the dragon AND find resurrection for the dead man.
Ideally, since his tongue was ultimately to blame he should cut it out as atonement. Then McPadalain the Silent will never say "OK" to an evil dragon again.

At least that's what I'd do if it was my Paladin...
 

Enrico Poli1

Explorer
It is not murder for sure. The Paladin was forced to choose, under death threat, between his life and another one. If he is Devotion, could be argued that he broke his Oath.
In this case, if I was DM I would house-rule to take away his spellcasting, smiting, and auras until he seeks atonement, minimum 1 day. If he does it again, minimum 1 week or a month, then forever.
Converting him to Oathbreaker is too much, unless he wanted to (he's also a warlock after all)
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
Nothing. No punishment. You run a slapstick murderhobo game. Keep the morality play out of it except or unless it’s done comedically.

Edit: it’s been pointed out to me that I misread the OP and it is NOT a slapstick murderhobo game. My bad.
 
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FrogReaver

Adventurer
Nothing. No punishment. You run a slapstick murderhobo game. Keep the morality play out of it except or unless it’s done comedically.
I tend to agree, however, as long as the punishment fits the genre IMO. There's plenty of slapstick murderhobo appropriate punishments for a paladin that just hands over someone under his protection.
 

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