Paladin just committed murder - what should happen next?

It is irrelevant whether the paladin really committed murder or not. That isn't the issue that matters. People will have differing opinions on whether they did or didn't because people have differing ideas of what various alignments and actions really mean, and what obligations paladins have above and beyond even all that. The issue that matters is whether the player knew the difference and whether what the player understood to be permissible agreed with what the DM understood to be permissible. The rules/rulings on that subject are the DM's to dictate. Not the books. Not the other players. Not an internet forum. If you haven't explained things about this to the players that YOU believe players at your table should know, it is not the players fault if they then violate your "double-secret alignment probation". It isn't their fault if they use their own solutions - even if those solutions are utterly self-serving and the players actually do know better. You left it up to them. The DM really doesn't get to say, "They SHOULD have known." Either it's black and white or it isn't. If it isn't then the DM is responsible for explaining where the line is at in all those shades of grey.

It seems clear the player did not know how YOU interpret that action. I mean, is the player in question waiting and wondering why you haven't ALREADY told them their character falls? If they knew that was going to be the consequence - and a paladin committing MURDER has OBVIOUS consequences - wouldn't they be expecting you to "throw the book at them" immediately? Of course they would. They knew it was the wrong thing to do and what the consequences would be, but did it anyway. If the player ISN'T just waiting in puzzlement wondering why you haven't lowered the boom already then isn't it most likely because they honestly thought this was a reasonable thing to do (even if it was a seemingly callous thing to place their own life in a position of higher importance to the world than that of the NPC)? Does the players assertion that they thought their contribution to the WORLD-saving adventure was more important than that NPC's life not hold any water with you? Why wouldn't they know that?

It can only be the DM's fault that the player would not know that. If a player is making that drastic a violation of their alignment you can't just let it happen. Players don't just spontaneously KNOW what the DM knows. They have to be TOLD. If you said NOTHING at that moment to the player then whether you knew it or not you effectively left it up to the player to make the decision about whether that action was right or wrong, allowable or unforgivable, practical (if nonetheless tragic and seemingly callous) or just cowardly. Alignment is there to GUIDE players to consistent and sensible actions for their characters. When players don't seem to be following that guide you don't just let it all go off the tracks. You slow down and find out what the problem is.

I say the player gets a pass. COMPLETELY. It is the DM's responsibility to be absolutely clear whether players are willingly taking on consequences of such actions, or simply haven't been told what your rules are on such things. If you fail to tell them - both before such things ever come up in the game, and again at the moment they do come up in the game - then BY YOUR SILENCE you leave it to them to decide, even if their decision utterly disregards what you wanted or expected, or what the rules say, or what any internet forum says. Players don't have ESP. Don't punish them in-game for not having it. Don't punish them for resorting to their own ideas of what their PC's may/should or may not/should not do when you don't correct them when they obviously take actions counter to what you expect.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
Look at his Oath and evaluate whether he broke the Oath.

THEN TELL A GOOD STORY WITH THE PLAYER.

If the character is to be punished, make it rewarding for the player. Give them a fun story that they control that develops from the incident. Give them a chance to raise their PC from the ashes of their vow, or to turn their back on it in frustration.

If the character is not breaking their vow and is not to be punished, introduce him to someone that does not think that is right. Or show them someone who understands why the paladin made that choice, but still lost everything when the dragon took the man. Turn it into a good story element that makes that an iconic, character shaping moment... and consider whether it is something to echo later on and see if the paladin makes the same choice.

Other things to consider: Do his God and his patron see the act the same way? Would the warlock patron see this as a way to lure the paladin away from his God? What does the dragon think of a paladin that would rather sacrifice someone than defend them? What does the paladin reveal about the event?
 
Take the character sheet off the player, erase the "G" or "N" in the alignment field, write "E", then hand the character sheet back to the player.

Now let the player play the internal conflict (if any) generated while you and the player together work out the external consequences (which, if there were no witnesses, might be "none"). After that, the player and the rest of the table can play out the in-party consequences.

"Hey, Bombaatta, last time we saw you, you was flyin' to town with an injured bloke. Now we's back in town, his wife says 'e didn't get here. What gives, eh?"
 

Celebrim

Legend
So, remember that scene in 'Avenger's Endgame' where two of the characters - two impure characters - fought to ensure that they would be the one sacrificed that the other would live?

Or put it this way, "What would Captain America do?"

Why is this even a question? Captain America would have said "No."

The character sacrificed another person's life to save himself. In no morality system is that good. That's at best neutral. And it was willing. And it was a bargain with an evil creature. The character is no longer fit to be a Paladin.

Punishable by loss of Paladinhood. Allow the player to make another character or somehow transform the existing character into something more suitable to what the player wants to play, but suggest to the player that if he's motivated by primarily by self-preservation, then he should play a neutral character of some such.
 

Cap'n Kobold

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.
Did the player or character know that staring it down was even an option? An adult dragon is pretty close to an impossible opponent both in terms of intimidation and combat unless you're high tier.
Otherwise, it would just have looked like the DM dropped an impossible choice on the player: Either your character dies, or you break your oath.
Where did the dragon come from? Was it one that they were trying to escape from previous interactions or similar, or did a random Adult Dragon just show up the threaten a level 7 character? Was the rest of the party close enough that the dragon might be threatening the paladin with their deaths as well?
"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...)
OK. I'm not seeing any murder committed by the paladin. As others have asked: what is their actual oath?
It doesn't sound like an easy choice, but I can see some paladin archetypes making the choice to save the world at the cost of one life without breaking that oath.
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.
OK. Lot of talk about "becoming an oathbreaker" that seems to be talking about the paladin subclass. I think you need to think about that a bit:
Becoming an Oathbreaker is not generally what happens if a paladin slips a bit, or makes a bad choice. Oathbreaker is not even what happens if the paladin falls to the point that they lose their oath-given abilities.
An Oathbreaker Paladin is one who has not only willingly and unrepentantly broken their oath, but also rejected the concept of being bound by any oaths or rules of behaviour. - often including thing like party loyalty and suchlike. There is a reason that its almost exclusively for NPCs.

As others have said: talk to the players. If nothing else it may appear to them that you just forced them into a no-win, all-lose scenario, so you may need to reassure them that you weren't just deliberately trying to stew them over.
 
I am sorry to hear so many comments in favor of this "paladin"...

The PC in question did not commit murder, but he definitely behave like a coward. Now, if I choose to play a Paladin, it's pretty much because I want my character to embody courage, sacrifice and a "no-compromise" ethos, even if it depends on the Oath. A Paladin does not do what is "reasonable" or convenient. In fact, a Paladin is not reasonable in many cases. And he might even commit murder by mis-judgement or in a sprout of rage, or actually because its Oath allows him to murder those who deserve to be murdered - see the Batman-inspired Oath of Vengeance, and the Darth Vader-inspired Oath of Conquest. I am however assuming this PC is not one of those, but even them wouldn't easily give up someone else to death if he was about to save them first.

I would not punish this character in the game, but I would pretty much ask the player why the hell did he want to play a Paladin if he didn't really want it to behave like one. Pretty much the whole life of a Paladin should be expected to be about painful choices anyway, like the movie-proverbial scene with the superhero having to choose between saving the life of his/her love interest or the bus full of school kids, then whatever the choice torturing himself with the regret he couldn't save both. But you said the player said "ok" and went on as if nothing. So no, I would not punish him, but I will let him know that he is being a very poor player.
 

Coroc

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.
That is not only murder, that is far worse. On my table this paladin would be instantly fallen and converted to a fighter of neutral evil alignment. The deed you depict is cowardly, so no oathbreaker or shenanigan, it is just disgusting even for normal classes. Since he is a warlock mc you can alter him to a single-classed warlock depending on who his patron is, if it is some devil or demon it will depict him highly satisfying their patron, but the whole thing almost not redeemable to be paladin again.
 

Hussar

Legend
It's kinda funny how much earlier edition baggage holds over into the paladins of 5e.

Being a coward is not breaking your oath necessarily. Oath of Vengeance paladins wouldn't really have much of an issue here. Probably take it as a reason to go hunt down that dragon and slay it properly - thus vengeance - but pointlessly commit suicide by dragon? Not so much. My Oath of Conquest paladin might even strike a deal with the dragon.

Paladins are no longer the Captain America's of D&D
 

Seramus

Explorer
Assuming Devotion, have him perform a divine mandated atonement. Nothing too horrible, but a tithe to the grieving widow at a minimum.
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
I agree more or less with Celebrim for what this would mean for a traditional paladin. Think of how you would describe people this had happened to in some other context, even real life - it is perhaps permissible to surrender a charge this way due to duress, but it is ignoble and shameful. And "ignoble and shameful" are not what we imagine when we think of a paladin.

That said I am not sure you should actually do in game. If your players has a rollplaying instead of a roleplaying mindset then I suppose you may have to let it slide. But anyone who was actually committed to "roleplaying" should be able to accept that their character's actions have consequences.
 

Hussar

Legend
A potential solution is to talk to the player and ask if the player feels that the character has done something that needs to be atoned for. If the player does, then ask the player what he or she feels would be a proper atonement and then do that.

That way everyone's happy. Presuming of course, that the player feels that he should atone.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
It's kinda funny how much earlier edition baggage holds over into the paladins of 5e.

Being a coward is not breaking your oath necessarily. Oath of Vengeance paladins wouldn't really have much of an issue here. Probably take it as a reason to go hunt down that dragon and slay it properly - thus vengeance - but pointlessly commit suicide by dragon? Not so much. My Oath of Conquest paladin might even strike a deal with the dragon.

Paladins are no longer the Captain America's of D&D
Yep.

Even for the issue of hood, which is better for good?

Refuse and we both die out here alone?
Give up the victim, get away, raise forces, slay dragon, rezz the fallen guy?

Folks are acting like the options were " one of you dies, which one?"

But I did not see any promise of living for the other guy if the pally gave himself up. Seemed to me to be a both die vs victim dies "choice".
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
LOL. All the towns people could simply refuse to ever be saved by him. They'd argue that their fate in whatever predicament they were in was better than in the dragons belly he'd feed them to.
Yes, having a reputation as the 'hero' who feeds the helpless to a dragon, is enough of a punishment here. This is what I would do.
 

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