It says at the start of the Character Concepts chapter that at first sight the Paladin appears to be a narrow class. It says at the start of the Prestige Paladin chapter that the Paladin is a narrow class. Aljandro Melchor, author of the book, is right. The Paladin class is annoyingly narrow and given the introduction of prestige classes looks an awful lot like a fighter with prestigious abilities. I’ve taken to skipping straight to the end of Mongoose books and reading the Designer’s Notes first. Here that begins with the quote "Lawful Good is not the same as Lawful Stupid" and so it is clear from that that Melchor is going to avoid the worst of the D&D cliches. In fact the designer’s notes mention all the right things; the prestige class question, the importance of roleplay for the Paladin and that special but often ignored bond between the Paladin and her mount. There’s no sign that there was any ever question of presenting an alternative Paladin class in the book though. There isn’t an alternative Paladin class in the The Quintessential Paladin even though the book offers a number of new Paladin powers and dives headlong into Paladins paying homage to specific deities rather than just a general good.
"Dives headlong", that reminds me of one version of the Malkavian Clan Book and its heavy use of the phrase "When you’re falling – dive". The quote suits the Quintessential Paladin rather well. Instead of trying to reign in and refocusing some of the class’s outrageously cheese fantasy abilities it dives straight in there. The book produces a huge range of similarly high fantasy alternatives and extras for the Paladin. Most of these alternatives live in the "Tricks of the Trade" chapter; we’re given a range of Detect Evil abilities, a range of different types of mounts and even a way to use the Paladin’s abilities on the fly and earn faith points. Faith points can be used them to bounce extra dice.
The Collector Series always begins with the Character Concepts chapter. Character Concepts might just be Mongoose Publishing’s biggest influence on d20 core. They certainly seem to be a run away success. I’d noticed a growing trend in recent Quintessential X books to have the Character Concept as how the character ended up in the class, as the training stage, but thankfully this isn’t too big an issue here. Yes, concepts like the Child of Legend, Former Squire and the Appointed do cover how the character became a Paladin. On the other hand, though, Emissary, Knight-Errant, Questor and Innocent are concepts that describe what sort of Paladin the character is now. With these and the others in the book there’s a good range to pick from.
The prestige classes are solid. The highlights from this chapter are those less obvious Paladin prestige classes such the Arcane Champion that mixes in a little more magic, the Sacred Smith and Shadow Champion. The more obvious choices for powerful Paladins are here too; Demon Hunters, Knights Templar and Sovereign King to name a few. The Quintessential Paladin shakes off another Mongoose trend and manages to include some 10 level prestige classes as well as the high-end 5 level classes.
Tricks of the Trade begins with an intelligent caveat; Paladins do not do tricks. Paladins master skills, train and improve their tactics. The title of the chapter simply comes from the Collector Series’ tradition. The "tricks" in the chapter come from the already established style of Paladin power. There are rules for mounted combat and they’re specially notated to include the benefits of having an empathic link with the mount. Some of the riding tactics, like the Rearing Attack where the mount rises up and slams down to add its weight to its rider’s attack, can only be attempted by people with an empathic link to their animal. I think the Paladin’s mount is still underplayed. There could have been twice as much here and I’d still say that there could have been more – and yet other people might already think there’s too much. The extra riding rules here are a good effort where a good effort is all that could be hoped for.
The section on faith points in the Tricks of the Trade chapter is a classic example of how the Quintessential Paladin dives straight into the quagmire that are the class abilities. Paladins can use their class abilities to earn Faith Points rather than using the ability effect. For example, one use of Smite Evil earns 9 faith points (instead of smiting evil). Faith Points are spent to either earn bonus dice or to meddle with the DMs own dice (if the DM approves). Faith Points can also be used to fuel Combat Prayers. "Protect me from my enemies" costs 4 faith points and awards the Paladin with a +1 deflection bonus to his Armour Class. It is a simple enough scheme but gives the class a good deal more flexibility.
Oaths do lend themselves to Paladins, I’ll admit that and the basic set up of the Oath system in the book is solid enough. There is a range of oath severity; light oaths to mortal oaths and with three levels in between. There is then a collection of specific oaths such as the Oath of Fealty and they cost different amounts of XP to take. The XP cost of most oaths is influenced by the severity of the oath. It’s suggested that Paladin’s rarely swear oaths without a rumble of thunder, flash or lightening or similar effect and so the strange XP drain just about works. Perhaps the XP drain is a weird internal sacrifice that binds the oath into being. Oaths have different advantages and disadvantages and this is the real reason why they cost XP. Oaths also carry a risk of undeath! I can see where the idea is coming from – a Paladin swears to protect the City of Stonewall until the orc threat has past. The orc threat never passes and so the Paladin finds himself doomed to try and protect the city even after he fell and died in battle. It just seems to me that if oath swearing was so clearly tied to the undead that most Paladin’s would take a dim view of it. Would a Paladin accept a magic ritual that risked undeath? Would a Paladin wield a sword that carried a chance of turning the user into a zombie? I doubt it; in those two examples I think the Paladin would decide both ritual and sword were inherently evil. Mind you, in typical D&D cheese abilities such as the Paladin’s own Detect Evil wipe away most debates along these lines. A shame.
There is a bunch of new feats – a fair few in the Improve, Enhance and Advance basket. A few feats aren’t to do with combat. Learned, for example, transforms three cross-class skills into class skills. The Tools of the Paladin section has a similar focus, combat, combat, healing and the deliberate attempt to include something else (and then more combat). The something else in this case are some facts on saddles and reliquaries.
Holy Weapons – hmmm! If there’s any chapter that’s going to sing to the power gamers then it’s this one. The chapter starts off by looking at weapons with locked powers and restricted users and quickly moves onto bonded weapons. Bonded Weapons are those that contain part of the Paladin’s own essence. There are three different types of Bonded Weapons and it’s good that there’s a choice. The least powerful of the bonded weapon types are relics. You can take your relic up to a +10 weapon bonus! That’s not quite the same thing as a +10 enhancement bonus, it’s a +5 enhancement bonus and +5 points worth of special abilities. All this costs XPs and there are strict rules on when these XPs can be spent on the weapon... yet, on the other hand, the relic is able to gain power even as the Paladin does. The first and more powerful alternative to creating a relic is the Bond Companion. If a Paladin’s weapon is a Bond Companion then it’s self-aware enough to be counted as an NPC. If the Paladin wants to have both a Special Mount and a Bond Companion weapon then he suffers a hit on his attributes. The Bond Companion levels up with the Paladin. At level 9, for example, the Bond Companion weapon has +3 bonus hardness and enhancement, Int 7, Wis 11 and Cha 9 as well as an empathic link, the ability to act as a spell receptacle and a bonus feat. The Bond Companion is not as powerful as the Paladin’s final option. A Paladin can try to create a Custos. A Custos weapon is an Outsider bonded to the Paladin and in the form of (or in) a weapon. At this point the Quintessential Paladin leaves all the other uber-powerful-magic-weapon books in the dust and goes on to produce pages of... of... classes for the Custos. NPC classes especially for the Custos weapon! The Darkbane, for example, specialises at putting down the undead, whereas the Chainbreaker Custos is more concerned with freeing those innocent and suffering under a tyrannical regime.
The Special Mounts appear again in the book; this time with a chapter of their own. Here the GM can enjoy rules for advancing the powers of the Special Mount with the tier advancement rules and players can enjoy picking from different sorts of Mounts. Why always have a warmount? This is the question the book asks and then offers alternatives. A paladin could summon a Counsel mount instead, or a Traveller, or even an Overseer or Mentor! There’s just a snip of a section in the chapter for exotic mounts.
The chapter of Codes of Honour is a snip too; just a few pages long. It’s actually just a little too long. I don’t think anyone really needs to have what an honour code is explained to them but the codified list of examples is quite useful. They’re a good reminder that codes such as Bushido are just as appropriate for the Paladin as stereotypical medieval knightly virtues.
The Quintessential Paladin doesn’t really get too caught up with worrying that the vanilla Paladin presented by the core rules is supposed to hold a conviction to a General Good rather than a specific deity. In the Champion of a Cause chapter there are rules for picking a specific patron sponsor. Paladins actually have the chance to pitch themselves at a deity. The Paladin can decide whether to aim low and try and win the protection of a lesser deity or aim for the skies and try and impress a greater won. The Paladin could play the middle ground and announce their self to a deity of "intermediate" power or act out of the box and find their aegis with a quasi-divine being. This strikes me as a little weird. I can’t quite imagine any pious Paladin trying to impress a god. On the other hand, such a set of rules lets the GM mess with the players’ minds as he as them wondering where the Paladin gets their first set of powers. In the first half of this chapter there’s a section on the types of causes to fight for. A subsection "Causes of Good" lists just a few examples but compassion is mentioned first – and in a stroke Mongoose takes the lead in the race to produce the most intelligent observation on Good and Evil for D&D.
Most Quintessential books conclude with a chapter on castle building or something similar and this time round it’s chapter houses. The success of this chapter really does seem to depend on how central the idea of building a base is to the character class. It works well with Paladins. Chapter House forming, running and protecting works well in a Paladin heavy campaign.
In some ways the Quintessential Paladin dishes up everything that I dislike about D&D; it’s heavy on the high fantasy cheese, suspense shattering silly powers (Detect Evil ruins almost everything other than a dungeon crawl) and on the combat preferences. In other ways the book is a surprising success; some of the offerings popped ideas into my head and that’s the most important gauge for a successful RPG sourcebook. The Collector Series has always maintained that it’s not simply about powering-up the class but there’s no getting away from it here, the Paladin’s powerful enough already and the extra choices this book offers the class will be more powerful.
Let me begin by saying that I am not a fan of much of Mongoose Publishing's work. Most of their Slayer's Guides seemed to be filled with fairly obvious observations about the creatures listed (and the eventual release of the Slayer's Guides to Female Gamers and Rules Lawyers didn't do much better as parody), while the Quintessential line seemed filled with half-thought-out, untested bits of rules, some wildly powerful, others pointless. The arrival of a new Quintessential guide (which I refer to among our own group as the Quintessential Munchkin series) at the local hobby shop would find me picking up the book, leafing through it, finding a bunch of either profoundly broken or painfully ineffective rules ideas, and walking out of the store empty-handed, as irritated as if I'd found opinion articles by Cal Thomas and George Will in my local paper on the same day.
So when book twelve, the Quintessential Paladin, arrived at the hobby shop, I opened it up and expected to have much the same reaction as I had to previous guides. And, at first, I did. The Character Concepts section of the Quintessential guides always seems to have plenty of half-thought out ideas, and this guide was no exception: what really is the difference between an Idealist and an Innocent, and why does the Innocent get such a great benefit (use full paladin level as caster level) while the Idealist benefit is so much weaker (bonus to one save or check per day)? The prestige classes didn't seem much better - the Arcane Champion seems just silly, effectively requiring that a character multiclass as a paladin and arcane caster, provides yet a third spell list and spell slot advancement, yet combines arcane and divine spellcasting classes in a bizarre calculus for determining caster level of these 'special' spells. When I reached the section on 'locked powers' - weapon abilities that can only be used by certain types of characters, and that provide a cost break to the cost of creating the weapon - I put the book down and, true to form, left the shop in irritation. (Most folks who have run a system like Champions or GURPS can tell you that an item that can only be used by a limited class of people is actually an advantage for a character rather than a limitation, as a character will never create such a weapon so that he can't actually use it. This means that the only 'class' of people unable to use the character's weapon are the character's adversaries and allies. And in D&D, having a weapon that your allies can't use isn't much of a limitation, either, as it's far easier to just drop a big healing spell on your downed ally than to pick up his weapon and try using it against your enemies.)
So why did I keep picking up the book every time I went back to the shop? Little by little, I started to notice that there was an awful lot of interesting stuff hidden amongst the oddly-constructed rules material, and that a player or DM willing to put some polish on the material might actually get a lot of use out of this book. The ideas behind the section on Mounted Combat - that a paladin, with an empathic link to his special mount, should have an easier time working with his mount in combat, and that long practice in mounted combat (reflected in a combination of skill ranks and feats taken) should allow a rider to have access to more advanced mounted maneuvers - are excellent ideas, even if the rules are a bit cheesy (Skewer in particular seems like a very cheesy maneuver). The idea that a paladin can practice with his 'detect evil' ability and thus achieve effects that mundane spellcasters cannot is also very good. Oaths and Vows should have game effects, even if I'm not entirely sure that the particular effects listed in this book are the best way to go. And the bonded weapon rules? Well, doesn't every paladin end up with a holy avenger? Why can't you say that the paladin eventually makes the weapon mighty by his very aura and soul rather than having to patiently wait for his church to get around to taking a break from making cure potions and raise dead scrolls?
The book still has significant flaws. A few sections (alternate special mounts, chapterhouse construction) are inferior versions of rules that already exist in other products. Despite numerous gaming and historical sources that have made clear that plate armor is not just a collection of mix-and-match parts, the book presents specific pieces of plate with their own armor bonuses, check penalties, and arcane failure chances, as though a wizard might simply buckle on a +3 fauld (with tassets) to boost her AC. Some of these flaws are easily corrected - turn the price reductions on the 'locked power restrictions' table into price increases when creating a weapon and the table becomes much more usable and balanced. Other rules - such as the faith point rules where a paladin can simply channel his unused smites, HP from lay on hands, and turn undead attempts into a pool of points usable to gain other bonuses whenever desired - simply have to be ignored.
Ultimately, though, unlike the other Quintessential guides I've read, this book eventually had me chomping at the bit to make a paladin character - it got my own creative juices flowing, which is rare enough even for a book much more polished on the rules. That, in the end, was enough to convince me to make The Quintessential Paladin my first (and to this point only) purchase in this series.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to fix the Bond Companion rules so that my DM might actually allow me to have one...
The Quintessential Guide To Paladins is the twelfth in Mongoose's class guides covering standard and new core classes.
The Quintessential Guide To Paladins is a 128-page mono softcover product costing $19.95. Margins, font size and space usage are all fairly standard. Art runs from average to good, but does seem particularly gloomy when depicting paladins - they all look like blackguards to me. Writing style is good, as is editing.
Chapter 1: Character Concepts
Character concepts begin every Quintessential guide and this one is no different with a variety of basic roleplaying hooks for paladins with some minor game effects:
* Appointed - visions give this paladin holy missions and signs from her god point her in the right direction at the cost of a small temporary penalty to Will saves.
* Avenger - having suffered at the hands of evil, this paladin seeks vengeance gaining a bonus against the creature type who caused her original suffering but is also plagued by nightmares which interfere with regaining spells and abilities on occasions.
* Child Of Legend - destined for greatness, gains Leadership at 1st level, but suffers in combat until he wields a magical or holy weapon and cannot heal himself with lay on hands ability.
* Crusader - crusading paladin who benefits and suffers from a permanent detct evil ability that can cause paranoia.
* Emissary - celestial born into mortal flesh with advantages and disadvantages to match.
* Idealist - strong belief in good that affects smite ability
* Innocent - pure of heart, stronger in spellcasting but weak in reading others
* Knight-Errant - archetypal adventuring knight with help from folk of the land bu lesser spellcasting ability.
* Mystery - physical embodiment of an ideal or saviour of the people with domain access and have limited charismatic bonuses.
* Paragon - righteous idealist with extended aura of courage abilities but less healing abilities.
* Penitent - a dark past gives this paldin zeal and knowledge when fighting evil, at the cost of some of his paladin sacred abilities.
* Questor - devotion to a quest gives this paldin bonuses to follow her oath but penalties when not pursuing the quest.
* Former Squire - worked for paladin as a squire and gained advantages from this learning but has temporary penalty to initiative for first few levels when strikes out on own.
Chapter 2: The Prestige Paladin
This chapter offers a number of prestige classes that can be taken by paladins without restricting their advancement as paladins:
* Arcane Champion - 5-level PrC using arcane spells and wielding an arcane weapon.
* Champion Of The Deep - 5-level underground fighting specialist
* Demon Hunter - 10-level hunter of outsiders with ability to turn outsiders, advanced smite evil abilities, banishment ability, and holy weapon.
* Justicar - 5-level royal keeper of the peace with judging abilities.
* Knight Templar - 10-level secret paladin/priesthood order with knowledge abilities and own spell list.
* Lord Protector - noble who concentrates on protecting his lands. 5-level PrC.
* Martyr - 5-level PrC with the ability to take others pain and stay standing below 0 hit points.
* Revolutionary - 5-level PrC who rallies the populace against an evil ruler.
* Sacred Smith - 5-level PrC who makes holy weapons.
* Shadow Champion - fights evil with guerilla tactics and has own spell list. 10-level PrC.
* Sovereign King - archetypal king at one with his land and people. 5-level PrC.
* Zealot - 5-level PrC holy warriors dedicated to a cause.
Chapter 3: Tricks Of The Trade
This chapter begins with a detailed look at mounted combat with some DCs for various riding tasks, and a number of mounted combat manoeuvres such as rearing attack and unseat rider (these have feat prerequisites and ride check DCs). Rules for expanding the uses of the paladin's detect evil ability come next, with ideas to use this ability to discern lies, pin-point location, and tracking evil.
A section entitled 'The Power Of Faith' gives a simple set of rules for gaining Faith Points, which can then be used to call for divine intervention or to utter a combat prayer. The sections on divine intervention and combat prayers defines the extent to which the use of Faith Points can affect the game - these include deducting from the GM's rolls, divine protection to AC, and various new additional paladin abilities such as 'Bless My Blade' (+1 sacred bonus to damage rolls for the duration of the prayer) and 'Reveal My Enemies' (5% reduction on miss chance).
The next section looks at the oaths of paladins, with various severities and durations as well as consequences of breaking oaths. Bizarrely, some of the example oaths could actually cause undeath, something which I think most paladins would be fairly unhappy about. A simple 'until death' at the end of the oath would avoid this fate to my mind. Each oath has certain game advantages and disadvantages listed with it and includes such oaths as the Oath of Friendship, and the Oath Of Guardianship. Oaths also incur an XP cost dependent on their severity. Vows on the other hand are less game rule-related and more character-orientated, giving guidelines on how a paladin charcater might behave, such as the vow of mercy, vow of poverty, and vow of silence.
Chapter 4: Paladin Feats
25 new feats for paladins are included in this chapter, including various feats enhacing the use of armour and shields, and a few improved smiting feats.
Chapter 5: Tools Of The Paladin
Contains some new ideas for weapons (e.g. barbed lance), weapon extras (e.g. ornate sword handle), armour and shields (e.g. jousting shield), armour extras (e.g. surcoat), piecemeal plate (for poor paladins), and equipment (e.g. banners, pennants and scabbards). Reliquaries are special holders for holy items that do not take up a limited space for magical items and can channel the effects of a magical item contained within. Paladins can also create Tokens of their vows and oaths that give them bonuses to die rolls or a re-roll on a dice by expending XP merged previously into the token. The chapter ends with some discussion on barding and saddles.
Chapter 6: Holy Weapons
This chapter begins with a discussion on creating items with Locked Power - item powers available only to certain classes, alignments, race, spellcasting ability, etc. Bonded weapons are weapons that the paladin has imbued with his own Wisdom, and can continue to develop this spark of soul in the weapon as he gains experience. The bonding increases the weapon's potency and there is a discussion regarding losing the weapon and severing the bond. The further development of the weapon can continue along three paths:
* Relics are magical items that grow in power with the paladin, fueled by the paladin's XP.
* A Bond Companion is a divine comrade imbued into the weapon, with a personality and limited intelligence.
* A custos is a weapon inhabited by a celestial with its own agenda (i.e. ego) and individuality, even gaining experience separately from the paladin. Various examples of custos are given, such as the Crusader custos and Fiendslayer custos, each with their own class features, skills, mental abilities, hit die, and goals.
The chapter ends with some weapon special abilities, such as turning, parrying, and spellshatter (counters incoming spells).
Chapter 7: Special Mounts
The chapter begins by looking at advancing a paladin's special mount, before giving ideas for exotic mounts such as fey, constructs, dragons, and celestial creatures. There is a discussion of the roles that some mounts may take to aid the paladin combat, quests, or training - each mount develops varying abilities to suit their role.
Chapter 8: Codes Of Honour
This chapter offers some guidelines on building a code of honour for a paladin or paladins in a game world, using tenets as a basis (such as 'Be generous', 'Be humble', etc. There is some discussion on different consequences if these tenets are broken and atoning for these acts. Four sample codes are given at the end of the chapter - a code of piety, chivalry, the code of bushido, and the code of knightly virtue.
Chapter 9: Champion Of A Cause
The paladin's aim is to fight evil and this makes a great basis for quests - the role of the quest in the life of a paladin is discussed in this chapter, and it uses Joseph Campbell's 'Hero's Journey' template to give guidelines for creating an effective quest. Various ideas for types of quests are also given. Another important aspect of a paladin's life might be adopting and following a cause, and various causes based on upholding the Law or fighting for Good are discussed. The chapter ends with some different takes on a paladin's patron, from deity to abstract forces such as justice.
Chapter 10: Paladin Magic
Eleven new paladin spells such as hold evil, haste mount, and summon holy weapon.
Chapter 11: Chapterhouses
Looks at paladin orders and their bases, in terms of recruitment and authority levels, construction and structures of the chapterhouse itself, and staff. The chapter includes tables listing cost of construction and staff wages.
After the designer's notes, the book finishes with tables of rules summaries, an index, and an extended paladin character sheet.
The Quintessential Guide To Paladins is filled with plenty of creative ideas for detailing paladins, their role in a game world, and the items and powers that they use in their fight against evil. On the negative side, I ended up being a bit overwhelmed with all the impressively powerful additions this book offers to a paladin's armoury and GMs should beware adding any more than one or two ideas into their game world from the book, at the risk of unbalancing the class. Where the book shines for me is in the concepts - a few of the character concepts (minus their in-game rules), one or two of the prestige classes (the demon hunter and knight templar), vows, a cut-down version of the bonded weapons, and the ideas for quests and causes. The numerous enhancements in terms of game rules to the power of the paladin (locked power weapons, divine intervention, combat prayers, oaths, and the feats and prestige classes that give a paladin the powers of other core classes without the restrictions inherent in the concept of the paladin) concerned me somewhat. Overall, a mixture of some interesting ideas with some over-powered game rules. Food for thought, but GMs beware.