D&D General The Problem With Paladin's Medieval Origins (+)

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
In the past year or so, I have learned a lot about medieval history that I didn't know before. I'd commonly heard and spouted the phrase that D&D isn't really medieval, it's its own thing more similar to the Renaissance but is filled with anachronisms and stuff of its own inventions (obviously all the magical stuff, but also studded leather armor and similar pseudo-historical stuff). This is accurate, but I didn't understand many of the specifics aside from a few points (Rapiers, Plate Armor, etc) until recently. A lot of D&D is inspired by modern fantasy that is in turn based on aspects of the middle ages or stories from them (Mostly through Tolkien. A ton of D&D was inspired by Tolkien, who was in turn inspired by stories from the middle ages like Beowulf, Arthurian Legend, and Norse Mythology.) That is not to say that all of D&D is based on the middle ages or stories from it, there is stuff stolen from a ton of cultures and stories with varying degrees of accuracy, and of course stuff of Gygaxian invention (mimics, owlbears, displacer beasts, etc).

There is one aspect of D&D that is undoubtedly based on an aspect of the middle ages, and I think causes some issues. Paladins are undoubtedly based on stories of medieval knights, those of Arthurian Legend and stories of Charlemagne's paladins, where they get their name. While Arthurian legend as we know them today was based on earlier Brythonic stories, a major aspect of them, the stories of knights on quests traveling around killing monsters, was added later on. Medieval knights did not go on quests. Knights were the lowest form of nobility and acted as law enforcement and guards for more powerful nobles. Knights wouldn't wander the countryside on quests searching for ancient artifacts and killing dangerous beasts. They had a jobs, and no noble would just let their knights shirk their duties to explore. The closest medieval analogue to the stories of Arthurian knights going on holy quests were the Crusades, which the stories were inspired by.

Furthermore, the common image of a D&D paladin, a sword-and-board holy knight with a holy symbol on their shield is obviously based on the common image of the Knights Templar with the cross on their shield.

This type of depiction of a paladin
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was obviously inspired by this type of image
1716954075406.png

(Not to mention that the medieval chivalric stories of Charlemagne's paladins tell tales of them fighting against Andalusian Muslims.)

The D&D paladin is rooted in the Crusades, stories based off the Crusades (Arthurian Knights) and other medieval stories about chivalric knights fighting Muslims. The "lawful good holy warriors" of D&D are based off of the knights of the middle ages that killed thousands of innocent people.

Paladins are a Christian power fantasy rooted in one of the most horrific series of wars of the Middle Ages. Since I've learned more about the Crusades and made this connection, Paladins just feel different. Ickier, for the lack of a better word. They don't feel the same as back when I was a teenager playing make believe with fantasy monsters. Knowing about the atrocities that inspired them and their representation throughout D&D history as holy warriors of good that must purge the evil just feels gross now. I don't know if anyone else feels this way, but this thread is largely about how learning about the medieval roots of paladins has sort of ruined them for me. I'm not saying that they should be removed from the game. I think that Paladins can be fixed for me if they change enough, it may require a new name and broadening/changing their identity. If they didn't borrow as much of their identity from medieval knights, it wouldn't be as much as a problem. The Oath of Heroism for example, which is more inspired by demigod heroes of Greek mythology don't have as much of the gross Crusader theme to them.

So, any suggestions? How can you have a holy warrior knight-in-shining-armor class without this connection to the Crusades and similar real world atrocities? Is the problem mainly with the paladin, or Gygax's version of always-evil races? How might Paladins be changed to make them feel less gross.

Keep in mind that this is a (+) thread. The last time I made a thread similar to this one, it got bogged down by posters telling me that the problem I was bringing up didn't exist and accusing me of being overly sensitive. If you disagree with the premise of the thread, move along. Make your own thread if you like. If threadcrapping/trolling occurs, it will of course be reported.
 
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Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
I know this is a + thread, but I think this might be a "you" problem. You've read literature that simply isn't associated with how people play DnD paladins and now your conflating the two as one and the same.
There are people on Reddit that repeatedly say “Deus Vult” anytime paladins are brought up. When paladins had the ability to detect evil at will, them being zealous murderhobos that kill anyone that detects as evil became a stereotype. Like I said, paladins are often depicted in armor based off the Knights Templar. According to Gygax, they’re supposed to kill all evil. Not to mention the existence of fallen paladins/oathbreakers that make deals with demons and that medieval root (the Knights Templar being accused of abandoning God and worshipping Baphomet).

If you don’t agree with the premise of the thread, you don’t have to engage.
 


cbwjm

Seb-wejem
There are people on Reddit that repeatedly say “Deus Vult” anytime paladins are brought up. When paladins had the ability to detect evil at will, them being zealous murderhobos that kill anyone that detects as evil became a stereotype. Like I said, paladins are often depicted in armor based off the Knights Templar. According to Gygax, they’re supposed to kill all evil. Not to mention the existence of fallen paladins/oathbreakers that make deals with demons and that medieval root (the Knights Templar being accused of abandoning God and worshipping Baphomet).

If you don’t agree with the premise of the thread, you don’t have to engage.
The people on reddit are a minority, are you often playing in games where this sort of stuff comes up because I'm not, I've never seen one of these bloodthirsty paladins because the DnD version of a paladin doesn't have much in common with these medieval paladins that you're worried about, especially not the current version of DnD. It really does seem like you've read some literature that isn't really relevant to how paladins are typically played in DnD and are now making it seem like they represent this horrific evil when they really don't.
 

fuindordm

Adventurer
I think 5E gave us some good innovations around the Paladin archetype. Oath of the Ancients for more of a Green Knight/Avalon Knight vibe, Oath of Vengeance for... Batman(?). And lots of other suggested oaths in supplements.

The storytelling conceit of a Paladin is that in exchange for committing themselves wholly to a supernatural/moral cause, they get some divine power. Very similar to Warlocks in that regard. Also D&D has plenty of supernatural evil. Paladins can be devil hunters, demon hunters, undead hunters, and so on.

Come to think of it they make a better ranger than the ranger in that respect.

So if you want to get away from the traditional, AD&D-like paladin you can do pretty well by nixing the basic Oath (detect and smite "evil") and reinforcing some of the others. In fact, I agree with you that the farther we get from the "armored knight" archetype, the better the class becomes.

Cheers!
 

Chaltab

Adventurer
While I understand the need to avoid turning paladins into colonizers or racial holy warriors, I'm not sure your analysis is quite accurate. the original 'Paladins' as best I can tell are 12th century legendary figures placed in the 8th Century and primarily associated with battles in and around France. There's a story of them going to Jerusalem, though not to fight in the Crusades but to retrieve something stolen by a giant.

As for the other baggage, I think D&D has already been de-tangling itself from it for years. Gygax hasn't been in the picture since 1989 so his horrid opinions on alignment aren't terribly relevant. Furthermore, in 5E they're no longer required to be lawful good or even to serve a god. Their Divine Sense doesn't detect the alignment of mortal creatures, just the presence of extra-planar creatures. And since there are non-good celestials and non-evil undead and fiends in more recent books, it also doesn't actually reveal alignment at all, just creature type.

I'm sorry if this isn't quite + enough, but this is my best attempt to engage with the topic.
 

RainOnTheSun

Explorer
It seems to me that your problem is the religious overtone, and there doesn't seem to be anything in the mechanics that would break down if you just took that out. Take the religion out of clerics, too, while you're at it, and leave the mechanical parts as they are. You'll have to invent a new context for them in the world, but it sounds like you want to do that anyway.
 


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