|Art by Matt Wilson|
While I have grown to love the class, I will admit its one of the more trickier classes to play. Due to the alignment restriction, the concept behind the class, and the code players have to follow to keep their abilities, it's very easy to be disruptive and ruin a game with the Paladin. Therefore, I thought I'd post the following tips to help would-be Paladin players play the class "right."
1. Read & Define The Code: One of the most important aspects of the Paladin class is the Code of Conduct they must follow. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to be using the code as presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. However, depending on the edition or version of the game that you are playing, the exact nature of the code might be different. With that being said, there are certain elements that are common between the editions, so this should remain true for most people. In the Core Rulebook, the Code of Conduct says:
A Paladin must be of Lawful Good alignment and looses all class features except proficiencies if she ever willingly commits an evil act. Additionally, a paladin's code requires that she respect legitimate authority, act with honor (not lying, not cheating, not using poison, and so forth), help those in need (provided they do not use the help for evil or chaotic ends), and punish those who harm or threaten innocents.At first glance, the Code of Conduct seems to be rather straight forward. However, if you read it closely, there are a few ways you can interpret certain elements of the code. For example, the code says a paladin must "respect legitimate authority," but how do we define "legitimate authority"? Do we define it as someone who has gained their position of authority through the normal process in the region? We could also define it as someone who uses their authority for the betterment of their society. Since its all about context and interpretation, its really important that you read the Code of Conduct closely. Afterwords, you should then sit down with your GM and define the different parts of your code, making sure you are both on the same wavelength when it comes to how certain parts will be interpreted.
2. You're Lawful Good, Not Lawful Stupid: There's a gaming stereotype associated with Paladins, where they are called Lawful Stupid. The idea behind this is that because of their alignment and the Code of Conduct, the Paladin will end up doing stupid things. For example, the Code of Conduct says the Paladin must "act with honor." Because of that phrase, some people believe the Paladin has to always tell the truth, even if it would cause harm to their allies or cause, and must shout challenges to all their enemies before EVERY fight.
Obviously, this is completely idiotic. While you are supposed to "act with honor," it doesn't mean you have to be stupid about it. While you're not supposed to lie, there is nothing in the code that says you have to be honest about everything and that you can't leave certain elements out if it would cause harm to your allies. Also, you don't have to shout out challenges against every enemy. You just need a legitimate reason to attack them (like they are trying to hurt an innocent villager, or you know they raided a nearby town and killed some of the townsfolk) and you can inform them of why you are attack them during the fight or afterwords if you subdue them. Just because you are supposed to be a champion of righteousness, doesn't mean you have to be an idiot about it.
3. Remember, Don't Be a Jerk: While this is something everyone should remember no matter what their character is, I think its especially true for Paladins. Some players who decide to play Paladins use the character's alignment and Code of Conduct to force the other players into acting a certain way, which eventually will piss the other players off and most likely ruin the game.
Paladins are supposed to be paragons of good, and using their status as Paladins to force others to follow their view of morality isn't something a truly good person would do in my opinion. Also, everyone is participating in the game to have a good time, not to have some dick tell them what to do. While you can voice your concerns about something the group is doing that you find wrong or evil, don't use this difference in opinion as an excuse to strong-arm them into doing what you want.
Paladins, if played right, can be some of the most fun and interesting characters in the game. However, if played wrong, they can be some of the most infuriating characters in the game. The trick is knowing how to balance your alignment with the rest of the group and work with them for the greater good.