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What are some tips for/examples of an epitome-of-good type paladin who does not disrupt the 'sinful' fun of the rest of the group?

As an example of the type of paladin I'm talking about, one of the first and only 3.5 books I bought was the Book of Exalted Deeds, and I've used it as guide for how I play good characters ever since.

As an example for those who've never read Exalted Deeds, I once played a Paladin who refused to kill any humanoid, and would actively defend defeated allies from other party members on the grounds that no one in the group was a judge, and thus could not render a death sentence. This did not go over well with the group, who quickly became tired of needing to haul around enemies to the nearest court, not to mention dealing the the occasional escape attempt on the baddies' part. I felt I was playing the character as was appropriate, and the GM agreed with me on that fact. However, the group quickly deteriorated, as players began to grow bored of listening to my paladin preach at their characters to be better people.

I enjoy playing this type of character. However, not everyone enjoys playing with that type of character. So, how do I balance it so that I'm still playing my paladin characters the way I like them to be portrayed, without disrupting everyone else's fun?

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How about reading up on historical "paladins" aka Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici. –  Sardathrion Nov 23 '12 at 7:51
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I wouldn't call this enough to be a full answer, but how about trying to get group buy-in on the idea of having a paladin of this type in the party during character creation? Other players may have an easier time living with your kind of paladin if they were specifically built to deal with the relationship. I should stress, this doesn't mean all your party members have to be lawful good - just that they need a way of relating to your character that allows reasonable compromises to be reached without damaging either character's concept. –  GMJoe Nov 26 '12 at 4:04
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19 Answers 19

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The biggest issue with paladins is when their partners' behavior is judged as if the paladin himself had done the deed. If your DM is willing to avoid that pitfall, may I suggest...

A paladin who does not expect non-believers to obey the laws of his faith. He hopes that through his shining example his teammates will come to see the value of his code, but believes that doing Good under threat of punishment doesn't count. He guides the party to consider mercy, but does not expect them to follow oaths they did not swear. Perhaps his own past is not lily-white and he recognizes that true Faith takes time; he is patient with the party.

Underen commented: When the PCs ignores the paladins advice, simply tell them in character: "Remember, the gods will be the judges of your actions. I wash my hands of this.

It's important to recognize that the values of D&D are not our modern values. Justice is often swift and brutal when you don't have the luxury of modern civilization. Think wild west justice or battlefield trials. As a paladin, you might have the authority to conduct hasty trials; ask your DM to consider this1. Remember there are methods of punishment that fall between letting criminals go unpunished and killing them: from taking their stuff, to branding or even cutting off a finger or a hand2, there are a spectrum of options.

Just as you are considering the enjoyment of your friends at the table, the DM and other players should be willing to meet you half-way. The player characters should do the same for their friend the paladin. This is a mutual storytelling challenge: a group of friends (or at least comrades-in-arms) with different moral attitudes is pretty common in real life and in storytelling. How do they function without coming to blows? That's a cool story for your group to tell.

Making the Tough Decisions is an essay by Rich Burlew which addresses (in more general terms) the exact problem you're facing.


1 There can be some confusion about the paladin's requirement to "respect legitimate authority," and whether one's class dictates in-game social duty or privilege. As I understand it, 'Paladin,' 'Cleric,' and all other class titles are meta-mechanical terms rather than in-game titles/distinctions unless you're in a setting that makes it explicit. Thus no character (player or non-player) has legitimate authority by virtue of their class alone (there are some rare PrC exceptions to this, whose explicit nature supports my general claim). Authority is conferred based on merit, heritage, experience (and possibly bribery). My suggestion that your paladin might have some legitimate authority is explicitly at the whim of the DM. It could just as easily be bestowed on a bard or a fighter, should social circumstances warrant it, and serve the same purpose --perhaps even better.

2Perhaps I should clarify that branding and mutilation in these contexts are not about sadism: they are about preventing future crime without killing the criminal, in a land without good jails. Brands alert future targets that they are dealing with a particular kind of criminal, and cutting off a gun-happy outlaw's trigger finger makes it harder for him to kill.

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Look to Shepherd Book from Firefly for inspiration :) - Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin'? - Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps. –  Ravn Nov 23 '12 at 8:30
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Paladin as an Example

Consider this story from the Giant in the Playground forum:

Due to setting off a trap, my paladin/crusader and some his comrades were trapped in a solid wall of force that was filling up with a mist that was causing us drowning checks. Our DM was being nice and making it a flat DC 16 fort check instead of a steadily rising con Check, and it took two failure to drop us unconscious.

Through trial and experimentation, we discovered that my crusaders Foehammer and Mountain Hammer maneuvers would crack the shell long enough to get one person out. So, every turn, I cracked the wall, and one person would squeeze through the opening. First out was the wizard, who had failed two saves and had to be thrown. Then the cleric, to whom the same thing had happened. Because they were lying there inert, I sent the monk (trained in heal) out there to help them. At this point, the fighter who was in there, helping me, dropped unconscious due to failed saves. The DM was not being nice to me…I made save after save trying to figure out a way to strike the wall and hurl the fighter out. It ended in me managing to put the fellow on my shoulder, slam the wall with a warhammer, and toss him out. The round I did that in, I got my first failed fort save, upon which my DM said I could feel my lungs filling with water. Still, I was able to hurl my friend out of the wall of death and pick up the gear I’d dropped. Armed and ready, I make my next fort save.

Nat 1. I drop unconscious. IRL, the group panics. And I mean they PANIC. I have been playing the laid-back moral compass of the group…My paladin didn’t police, but he was kind and noble and to many of them, a bit of an innocent…he was a farm-raised boy and it reflected in the way he treated things and people. They didn’t want him dead. Well, the rogue did, but that’s because the player hates me IRL (he’s the person my inevitable conflict thread was about). The swashbuckler’s player almost started crying. And then we switched to the portion of the party that was pursuing a hag coven.

I sat back and actually smiled, because you know what? How much of a better death can a Paladin 5/Crusader 1 with an utter devotion to his friends and his god ask for? I saved every single person in that orb with my conviction and devotion to my god, hurling a fully armored fighter to safety with my lungs filled with water before giving in.

[the paladin’s player steps outside for a break, and returns to discover the party found a way to save him.]

While the cleric and monk and wizard are all thanking me, we hear the swashbuckler’s character scream in the distance. Having recently regained consciousness, I hit myself with lay on hands, charges of a cure mod wand, and start running. The cleric catches up to me and says

Cleric: “Haven’t you done enough heroics for the day?”

Paladin, stonefaced, with water dripping off his face and still coughing up liquid as he runs: “Nope. Paladin.”

That “Nope. Paladin,” to me captures everything a Paladin should be. A Paladin isn’t about forcing his comrades to conform to his oaths; he is not an evangelist or demagogue. He is an example. An example of everything Law and Good can do for the world. He can respect allies who use other methods to achieve Good; he can respect allies for whom Good isn’t their first goal in life so long as they are not Evil. But for himself, he is the unrelenting, unwavering bastion of Good. He tells you he is coming, he plays with all his cards on the table, and he never, ever quits.

And ultimately, Paladins are not beholden to any organization, faith, or even god: they may join with others that they find like-minded, they may worship those deities they think are going to achieve the most Good, but ultimately they answer to Goodness itself. If they discover corruption within their church, or secret evils in their god’s plan, they are beholden to leave that church, forsake that god, and continue to pursue Good.

Paladins and Faith

That’s the ideal, anyway. That is what a well-played Paladin should strive for: and he should not, at least initially, have attained it. A Paladin is only interesting if he falters, second-guesses himself, and so on. To bring up another quote:

Book: I've been out of the abbey two days. I've beaten a lawman senseless. Fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect. And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong.

Inara: [softly] Shepherd...

Book: I believe I just... I think I'm on the wrong ship.

Inara: Maybe. Or maybe you're exactly where you ought to be.

That’s pretty much how your Paladin should be on a bad day. And if he’s doing things right, there will be bad days.

Paladins and Falling

There are a lot of ways to handle Falling. Personally, I tend to abolish it from the mechanics entirely: a Fall occurs only when narratively appropriate, and this is done in consultation with the Paladin’s player. A Fallen Paladin is always picked up by some other great power, typically the Evil that corrupted him.

But that’s not the only approach. Another that I rather like, though it’s never happened in one of my own games, is Falling as going-for-broke. The Paladin is, by definition, holding himself back, and Falls when he stops doing so: but when he does, he is a terrible thing to behold.

For example, another Giant in the Playground post. A cult was unleashing a vile plague, they had captured the head cultist and needed to know where the ritual was to be completed, but could not get it out of him, not even when they began to use torture and the paladin stormed out. When he returned and found they still had not gotten the information, he took over the interrogation:

Cultist:

"Ha! I know who you are, Sir Peter Fairgrave; kingdom breaker, runaway child, father slayer. You can't threaten me: I know what you are. Your order, your God won't allow you to lay your hands on me, otherwise you'll fall, and you won't be able to help a soul."

Sir Peter:

sighs "You seem to be under the misconception about what I am, what I do. I am a paladin, that is true; but as a paladin I don't fear falling... I look forward to it."

The cultist shot a nervous look at the rest of the party, we were all looking at each other, not sure what was about to happen. The cultist opened his mouth to speak, but Sir Peter cut him off.

Sir Peter:

"As a paladin, I walk on a razor's edge. Not between good and evil, I could never be something like you, but between "law" and "justice". The "law" I follow doesn't permit me to harm you, but I could be "justified" in anything I did to you in order to save innocent lives. ANYTHING!"

"You don't know what it is like to be me. You don't know the pain of having to store all your anger, all your fury, all your sense of justice, and hold it inside you, all day every day for the rest of your life. Doing the right thing doesn't mean I get to stop all evil, I just get to trim it when it becomes overgrown. The path I walk is not about vengeance, or what's right; it's about moderation in the face of power, restraint and compassion for scum like you.

"This is why paladins don't fear falling. We don't spend all day looking for ways to prevent ourselves from doing evil and giving in to the darkness -- we actively seek it out. Every time we face evil, we ask ourselves, 'Is this the threat that I'm going to give it all up for? Is this what I am going to give up my ability to help others in the future, in order to bring it down now. Is this the evil that I am willing to forsake my God and my power to stop?!'".

At this point, he stands up suddenly and swings his arm against the chair he was sitting on. Sending it flying and shattered against a wall, he then kicks over the chair the cultist was sitting on, he leaps and straddles his chest, flinging him about for a few seconds in pure rage, before calming once more.

He looks the cultist straight in the face, both their noses just inches from each other.

"What you should be asking yourself now, what you really need to be thinking about, is: 'Is what I'm doing something that will make this guy want to fall?' Because you should know that once I fall, all those rules which protect you from me are gone. No longer will I be able to be stopped by you, or by my order, or by my God. If I give everything, and I mean give everything, I will never stop. If you escape me today, I will hunt you down and grab you into the pits of hell myself. Even if that means that I have to invoke the wrath of every demon in creation, just so they throw open a pit and drag me down where I stand, because when they do drag me down, I will make sure that my fists are wrapped firmly around your ankles and you go down with me. I want you to listen to me now, and I mean really listen, because Hell truly hath no fury like a paladin scorned."

"So I ask you, one last time: tell me where the other rituals are being held, or I swear to all on high that I will fall, and fall hard, just so I can show you what it is that paladin truly keeps his code in order to hold back..."

At this point the player, Chris, just stops talking and looks at us. We are all kind of stunned by his speech, naturally.

He just picks up a D20, looks at the DM and says "I wish to roll intimidate."

The key is that Falling is not a trap and it is not a punishment for bad roleplaying. The Fall is a narrative construct that is supposed to be the height of drama. It needs to accomplish something big: stripping a PC of his ability to do anything does not accomplish that. This is one of the biggest failings in 3.5, in my opinion, and you should talk to your DM about how to rectify that.

Speaking of your DM...

My last piece of advice is, make sure your DM is on-board with this. A lot of DMs have very narrow pre-conceived ideas of what makes a Paladin. Some DMs won’t let you avoid being a stick-in-the-mud. I’d strongly recommend avoiding the Paladin class with such DMs. Actually, I’d probably avoid their games entirely, personally.

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I may just have to start playing Pathfinder again just so I can play a Paladin. I'm that inspired by this answer. –  Erik Schmidt Sep 13 '13 at 22:08
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@ErikSchmidt See as I said to EricB. Also, that’s hilarious, since I actually hate the D&D Paladin since I think the Code was handled awfully and doesn’t actually encourage compelling paladins as described in this answer. –  KRyan Sep 14 '13 at 2:46
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I think the first thing to do is break the link between "paladin" and "knight". It's the classic formulation, but that's because the original paladin's image is based on medieval knights fighting in the name of Christianity. But take an LG deity in your campaign setting, and try to build the paladin in his image.

You tagged your question Pathfinder, so I went over and checked the Lawful Good gods in Golarion, the default setting's pantheon to see what do we have. Also, as Martin Sojka noted in the comments, just because the paladin has to be Lawful Good, doesn't mean he has to serve a Lawful Good deity. Pathfinder's wiki has a little chart to see what alignment followers can be, and quite a few ones accept Lawful Good followers. But for our example, we'll focus on two LG deities:

Andoletta

Portfolio: Consolation, Respect, Security
Description: appears and acts like an elderly family matriarch. She treats her flock as any grandmother would, protecting the innocent, reprimanding the wayward, and punishing the sinful.

How would a paladin of Andoletta be seen? A woman, probably. Not necessarily old (since you have to start somewhere) but compassionate. Perhaps a healer or wise-woman, who also steps in to defend her friends and charges when they are risked. She or he could be a member of a large extended family, even a noble family, and be the protector of the household and the family name.

Erastil

Portfolio: Farming, Hunting, Trade, Family
Description: He is a god of the hunt and of farming, leading his followers by example and good deeds rather than flowery rhetoric

The classic paladin, the one we're trying to avoid, LIVES by his flowery rhetoric. A paladin of Erastil will seem to many to be a ranger. He might live in small farming communities, maybe even outside the communities, but he serves as their protector. He makes sure the traders coming in for the harvest are safe, that no shady dealings occur, and that monsters and animals don't hurt the town. Think of a classic wild-west sherriff, protecting his little town. That could be a paladin of Erastil.


Iomedae

Portfolio: Valor, Rulership, Justice, Honor
Description: The goddess of righteous valor, justice, and honor.

The problem with Iomedae is that from her description, her paladins are the classic, stereotypical paladins: holy knights, dressed in white, tasked with rooting out evil. The church of Iomedae was designed as a vehicle for exactly those paladins. However, there's no reason for a paladin to be an unflexible dogmatist. He could be aware that others have not been as blessed as he has with proximity to the Goddess, and might require his sympathy, not his scorn. He could be more pragmatic - striking a bargain with the rest of the party to give up certain aspects - torturing captured humanoids, for instance - while accepting certain practices himself. After all, Iomedae knows that she is not the only deity - she views the likes of Cayden Cailean as allies, after all - and will allow her servants some measure of flexibility, assuming their overall goals server her purposes. Of course, such a paladin would always be on somewhat unstable footing - her eye would be extra vigilant to make sure those that walk on the thin line don't stumble over to the other side.


The list goes on, and you can think of many more archetypes. The Sherriff, as we said. An Exiled Prince, on a divine mission to reunite a torn kingdom, can also fit. What most of these archetypes share is that they're not necessarily preachy, and they're not necessarily dogmatic and rigid. Paladins are Lawful Good, but they don't have to be Lawful Stupid. And their Paladinhood doesn't have to be their only defining trait. Take any LG character, add divine motivation to their actions, and you have yourself a paladin.

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+1 Paladin's aren't black and white. Inspire, Lead and make yourself the example people should aspire to be or look up to! Also, really like the sheriff example. –  Rob Nov 23 '12 at 10:07
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Good stuff on explaining paladins that resemble the gods they follow. :) –  Chris Nov 23 '12 at 11:16
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Paladins are much more than a LG character with divine motivations. Your typical LG character uses his alignment as a guideline - it's what their alignment typically is. They can stray from it on occasion. The paladin is not capable of such compromise. One little evil act, and they lose everything. –  Steve G Nov 23 '12 at 16:27
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By the far the best gamable description of a paladin I seen was given by Elisabeth Moon in her Deed of Paksenarrion series.

Paraphrased From page 579 of the Trade Paperback the Deed of Paksenarrion.

Most think being a holy warrior means gaining vast arcane powers, that they would be nearly invincible against any foe. But truth is that while Paladin are skilled at fighting, that was the least of their abilities. A quest might involve no fighting at all, or a battle against beings no steel could pierce.

Above all paladins show that courage is possible. It is easy enough to find reasons to give in to evil. War is ugly as many know. But we do not argue that war is better than peace; paladin are not that stupid. It is not peace when cruelty reigns, when stronger men steal from farmers and craftmen., when the child can be enslaved, or the old thrown out to starve, and no one lifts a hand. That is not peace: that is conquest and evil.

Paladins do not start quarrels in peaceful lands, never display their skills to earn applause. But we are the sword of good defending the helpless and teaching by our example that one person can dare greater force to break evil's grasp on the innocent. Sometimes that can be done without fighting, without killing, and that is best.

But some evil needs direct attack, and paladins must be able to do it, and lead others in battle. Wonder why paladins are so likable? It is important, we come to a town, perhaps, where nothing has gone right for a dozen years. Perhaps there is a temple there and sometimes there is not. The people are frightened, and they have lost trust in each other, in themselves. We may lead them into danger, some will be killed or wounded. Why should they trust us?

Because we are likable, and other people will follow us willingly. And that's why we are more likely to choose a popular adept as a candidate rather than the best fighters.

To me this is best summary of a D&D style paladin I ever read and the basis for how I referee them. One reason for this is because Moon gets to heart of what it means to be a paladin which is not the same as adherence to the letter of a written code. Although a written code may be a useful teaching tool to novice paladins (and clerics).

The implications of this for your campaign is that is that the paladin is with the party because he or she was called by their god to adventure with this particular group. Sometimes a paladin's call operates on multiple levels. A paladin joins with a group to fight an evil lurking in the dungeon, but also his presence is what needed to tip one party members into working for good, and to give hope to another who is struggling.

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Paladins seem to be consistently characterized as downers because so many adventuring parties have wandered far afield from good behavior. In a party of truly good characters, the Paladin won't stick out so much.

Regardless of whether a Paladin is surrounded by like-minded characters or not, his approach need not be naysaying and dour. Think of the most engaged religious people you know – those who have truly committed themselves to a pious life. Regardless of the religion they espouse, many of them tend to look upon their calling with a sense of lightness and good humor.

A Paladin with this sort of attitude would use chiding, jokes, allegory, and other means of persuasion to get the rest of the party to see her view of things: "Ah yes, we'll be the talk of the town for our martial prowess if we slay these dangerous goblin babies! It'll be just like the time Rhodegar the Magnificent slew Grak the Evil Dragon!"

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The Extremist Paladin

I'm a fan of the paladin who doesn't necessarily adhere to the rules, but rather to ideals. I've had several of these in my group, and played a similar character myself, and they go well. The catch is that they are going to have conflict, but not for the reasons you'd expect. This isn't necessarily for most paladins, since they're somewhat alternative to what most people think of when they look for a D&D Paladin or their ilk. Some of them will probably lose their divine favor if they're played with a true good deity, since they're more "hardcore" than other paladins tend to be.

The Ends Justify The Means

These characters will do almost anything to do what they feel is right. This includes collaborating with criminals and their sorts if the target is greater (which is a justification for traveling with morally ambiguous adventurers). If the campaign fits it, this also serves as a potential source of interpersonal conflict, with the other characters always being on high alert for when the paladin decides that they're too bad to be accepted any more, perhaps serving as a limit to their more questionable behaviors.

I Am The Law

Technically, if a paladin is told to have a judge try criminals, they'll do this most of the time. But some paladins may themselves be judges. This is a darker and edgier twist (Judge Dredd, anyone?) to the typical paladin archetype, but even a LG or NG paladin for a god whose spheres include justice may consider himself worthy of executing it on his own judgment, or what he believes to be divinely inspired judgment. The character may conduct trials with any available witnesses (including party members he trusts) before deciding on a sentence. This follows a more brutal, bloody form of justice, which is common more in medieval settings than modern ones. This sort of character is very dangerous to other player characters unless there is some connection or justification for their actions.

Sacrifices Must Be Made

The paladin is devout and recognizes even the nonviolent tenets of his faith. However, on an individual level, he believes that he must be the one to bear the burden of guilt for the execution of justice. This sort of character will sacrifice his own moral superiority for the greater good, perhaps even accepting eventual loss of powers as their chosen deity turns their back on them (at which point they may play a fighter, or, if the DM allows, switch over to a paladin for a god that permits such things). Alternatively, the paladin may spend periods undertaking penance or pilgrimages to recover his deity's blessing after a particularly brutal episode. This is perhaps the least dangerous of the extremist paladins to the other characters, since they can easily consider their fellow adventurers to be kindred fallen souls.

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+1 for the self assured darker paladin archetype (Miko Miyazaki, anyone?) –  kravaros Apr 30 '13 at 18:57
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Stand on the shoulders of giants: find characters you'd like to emulate! Here are some heroes from fiction who show the rest of us what a true paladin looks like.

  • From Paksenarrion, protagonist of Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion, we see that the path to greatness can be a long and painful one, but this makes the result all the more effective and much more satisfying.

  • O-Chul, from The Order of the Stick, demonstrates true strength. It's not about intimidating people with your badassery; it's about patience, endurance, and always doing the right thing no matter how much pain life throws at you. Be kind, be strong, never give up, and wait for your moment. Your reward will come.

  • Holger Carlsen, from Three Hearts and Three Lions, is an example of a paladin who uses his brains. His story also demonstrates the principle of "right makes might"--both its pitfalls and its advantages.

  • Michael Carpenter, from The Dresden Files, is a modern-day paladin and the father of a loving family. Being partnered with Dresden, he's a particularly good example of a paladin working with people who do not share his ideals. There's a lot of reading to do here, and Carpenter is only a secondary character, but I highly recommend the series because of how deeply Dresden sacrifices for his friends and his ideals (which are different from Carpenter's, but still very much worthwhile). And the novels are tremendously fun reading on their own.

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+1 for O-Chul, +1 for Michael Carpenter. At least, I wish I could vote for each. (I'm sure the others are good too, but I haven't read those.) –  KRyan Jul 17 at 14:50
    
...although Michael's wife may have done more to change Dresden's behavior than Michael has. She's pretty intimidating. ;) –  Brian S Jul 17 at 15:47
    
Could you add a few lines about how a player in an improvisational communal storytelling setting (like D&D) can use the ideas from a story carefully planned, written, and edited by a single author? I think a lot of the trip-ups in playing paladins comes because the paladin stories we enjoy in literature often don't translate well into being fun for everyone at the table. –  BESW Jul 20 at 2:58
    
@BESW I could probably do that. Can you go into a little more detail about the problems you've noticed translating a character from print? –  DawnPaladin Jul 20 at 3:19
    
I'm not the original querent, but the focus of the question is on "not disrupting everyone else's fun" by forcing the party and plot to adhere to the needs of one character over the desires of the others. It's a problem that D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder have especial problems with because of their relationship to alignment and intraparty dynamics. A good answer to this question should be about how to be a good paladin while adventuring with a group of people who don't follow the paladin's code (Michael Carpenter's probably the closest example, but notice he chooses which adventures he joins). –  BESW Jul 20 at 3:30
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Having played a strict LG Paladin somewhat recently till our Pathfinder game wound down for a while, here's my insight:

1. It's not always bad to be that paladin. I recall an instance where I refused to let the party take the belongings of an obvious bad guy we had caught, because, even though I arrested him on behalf of the local village, his crime was not theft and therefore he had a right to his belongings. So I kept his stuff in my custody until we turned him over to the local authorities. The player I most conflicted with over this actually thought it was a great time arguing over the issue.

2. On the other hand, pick your battles A paladin is often part of the enforcing arm of an organization(church). As such, even if local laws don't agree, his church may authorize him to a wide range of powers. It might be that what the others want to do fits within those powers.

For instance, if a thief must not be allowed to spend his ill gotten gains, then what he steals must be confiscated from him, and it may be that he is allowed to seize/commandeer property to maintain his activities in support of the church's goals. (read that as it's okay to throw a party with money you take from a bad guy)

Remember also that the books often give general outlines of what paladins of a specific order do, rather than explicit lists to allow you a wide range of freedom in determining what legal powers your specific paladin has.

3. Recognize that not everyone is a paladin I'm right there with you on paladins having to always be morally righteous, however, a wise paladin realizes that not everyone has the luxury of seeing the world in black and white, of always knowing what is the right thing to do. Perhaps your paladin must make special effort to atone for the faults of those he travels with while always exemplifying to them what the better way is not with preaching but with your own conduct.

While your god might viciously strike down anyone who gives his oath to the god and then acts contrary to the oath, your party members often gave no oath and might only see your deity as one by whom they hope to go unnoticed. It's then your job to show them the joy you find in serving your deity and church.

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Here's a easy fix to the party-splitting issue without changing too much of your roleplay concept: Make the paladin more concerned with stopping evil and doing good by himself rather than making sure others do good. What I mean by this is that you yourself can be as merciful as you want, just making sure that you don't let your party members do evil actions or disrupt rightful authority. This can go over so much better with your party without causing you to fall due to breaking the paladin code of conduct.

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David Eddings was an English teacher who deliberately tried to write fantasy stories that stuck as strictly as possible to formula while still being interesting. The results are quite good, but because they're so formulaic and D&D campaigns tend strongly to also be formulaic, they mesh very well.

I mention this because he wrote a series called the Elenium (and later, a sequel series called the Tamuli) which essentially focuses on a group of paladins. It is one of the best literary treatments of this class that I've ever seen. Despite the formula, the paladins represent a diverse set of ways to play the class, and it goes out of its way to highlight the strengths and flaws of each. There's even a stick-in-the-mud, who becomes interesting in his own right when surrounded by paladins who are not like him.

If a trilogy isn't something you have time for, I also recommend Heather Dale's song Joan. Dale's treatment of Joan of Arc demonstrates why the only opponent scarier than a fallen paladin is an un-fallen paladin:

I fight where God tells me; I never ask why.
I've bloodied the Devil with steel from on high.
I kill without consequence, heed no man's law.
I sift out the righteous like grain from the straw.
I am Judgement, and Heaven is nigh.

It sounds vaguely psychotic, and maybe it is, but Joan of Arc didn't live in a D&D world. When you can actually speak to your god, and trust that your god's power will guide you in the world even to the point of subordinating the laws of humanity to your own faith (which is why you only respect legitimate authority), it starts to sound saner. Though it is no less terrifying for that fact.

Another thing to keep in mind is that paladins, at their core, are zealots. It is not hard to justify many of their abilities, especially their fearlessness and their Charisma-driven powers, as coming from a rock-solid confidence in their beliefs, especially their faith and their code. Paladins might actually face fewer moral dilemmas than most characters -their beliefs provide the answers- and when they do face dilemmas, they should be epic indeed. As a player, the key to playing this up is to have a good sense of exactly what those beliefs are.

In particular, you should work out the specifics of your paladin's code. In order to be compatible with 3.0/3.5/PF RAW, a paladin's code has to contain something along the lines of "Above all else, do no evil." This is the part that causes them to lose their class abilities if they commit evil acts. But if it's got that, then you're technically good to go. But that's only one sentence, which is not really much in the way of a code.

There's plenty of room to flesh out your code, and set it up to guide your paladin through the ambiguities and vicissitudes of life. Here are a couple of questions a paladin's code should answer, though this shouldn't be taken as an exhaustive list:

  • What does it mean to be honorable?
  • What does it mean for authority to be legitimate? Do only the laws of the land matter for this, or is there a higher law to which all are subject? What should you do when faced with illegitimate authority?
  • When faced with Evil, how quickly should you reach for your sword? Obviously the best outcome is when Evil is not merely punished but redeemed, but are some souls just plain beyond salvation? When should you give up on redeeming a specific person and move on to the punishment phase?
  • You're called on, not just to punish evil, but to help the needy. How should you prioritize these?
  • If you have to choose between doing what's right and doing what's good, but neither path is clearly evil, what should you (generally) do?
  • Are there others in your organization who follow a different code from yours? If so, how should you work with them? What should you do when your codes conflict?
  • How should you work with others who are not paladins or clerics of your faith? Consider lay believers of your own faith, and also consider clerics and paladins of other faiths.

For bonus points, come up with a a couple of tiny stories about paladins from your order's past who had trouble with each of the rules. These are things your paladin would have been taught early in his training, as examples to follow (or negative examples to avoid).

These rules may not -in fact, probably should not- be as strict as the admonition against doing Evil. But as a guide for your character to follow, they should help keep him from being a stick in the mud, by keeping him from getting stuck in the mud.

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Ah, I remember these books, though only barely. One suggestion I have is actual examples, which may do better at actually answering the question. –  Kyle Willey Sep 14 '13 at 16:15
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Sometimes the problem is in the setting that the DM runs. Now, this is not an attack on the quality of your DM in the least. If your DM is agreeing that you're playing the character right, but they still throw the types of enemies at your party that your character becomes a hindrance around. Plus, as BESW said - in a world where a mundane sheriff/guard/warden/etc needs to have a way to punish someone and tell strangers in foreign places how they infractioned the law and don't always have things like Magic.

Then again, the standard way to bypass the nonlethal rule is for the paladin in question to use subduing damage so they can participate int he fight. Plus, even though you're LG, they put Smite on your class features. You are not eternally expected to refrain from violence, especially with that fighter BAB.

Lastly, something that may be considered will involved a nice chat with your DM. While there are rules to the Blackguard (LE paladins) all of my local DMs have fashioned a homebrew rule that you can pick any deity as a sponsor for a Paladin and as long as your alignment matched theirs exactly, you are being "Lawful Good" by that deity's morals. Certain Smite/detect abilities are shifted to match. It has been extremely successful for my circles.

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Paladins are a difficult yet easy type to play, at least for me. Remember this is a game and that you as a player are responsible for doing what is fun for you, but you don't need to stop everyone else from playing their roles. Your paladin as described in the question is an extreme example of what people don't like. My paladins don't push their faith on others, but act as an example while not letting egregious violations of good happen.

The choice of what god to follow is also key. Iomedae, for example, requires her paladins to be "First in a fight, last one out." That doesn't mean that they have to win initiative each time, only to be unafraid to enter and do battle, by leading from the front and remaining when others have fled.

Above all else remember that your paladin is one of a group and the group will not like what doesn't fit.

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Way back in the AD&D1 and 2 days, our GM had a slightly different take on what a Paladin was. He believed that a Paladin was a holy warrior of a deity whose task was not to necessarily destroy evil but to destroy the deity's enemies.

The Paladin is a clerical figure, with powers granted to her by a deity (turn undead, cleric spells, etc). Like a Cleric, she is required to be an ambassador for her deity, championing that deity's beliefs and actions. Unlike a Cleric, her focus is not on gaining worshippers and helping the faithful - her focus is simply on smiting those who oppose the deity.

Fulfilling such a role requires an extremely high level of moral strength and self-discipline, thus the alignment requirement of Lawful Good (for the paladin) or Lawful Evil (for the anti-paladin - for example see Darth Vader¹) and the high ability score requirements.

Working with this definition, it is not relevant whether a paladin is a jerk or a nice person. It is not relevant whether a paladin cares about others following the deity's rules. A Paladin could happily travel and work with those of different alignments and gods, as long as those alignments and gods are not enemies of the paladin's god.

This definition also means that the laws of the land are mostly irrelevant to a paladin. She will follow the local laws either because she believes those laws are morally right or because she does not want to face legal consequences, not because she has any moral code saying "must always follow local laws". Unless, of course, the local land is a theocracy of her deity.

¹ Yes, in his game, there existed a class called an anti-paladin which was much the same as a paladin except for swapping "evil" and "good" but keeping "lawful" (because chaotic alignment is not consistent with legal and/or moral codes of behavior).

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While informative, I'm not entirely sure this applies. Pathfinder paladins are apparently quite different. Directly from the class description, "Knights, crusaders, and law-bringers, paladins seek not just to spread divine justice but to embody the teachings of the virtuous deities they serve." So, they Are more than just warriors for their cause. What you're describing would be closer to pathfinder's Inquisitor class. –  Zach Sep 16 '13 at 19:26
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We've always had the scary kind of Paladin in our groups - the whole "Vengeance of God" schtick. These guys cut off hands from stealing children, slay orc babes in their cribs and grimly burn down villages for being corrupted. In most campaigns, they are Judge Jury and Executioner, not unlike Judge Dredd. They might be lovable and nice people outside of their "role", but once evil descends, their righteous fury makes most people quake in fear.

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A paladin is a champion of good. Not every party wants one of those.

Paladins are men and women of action. Lecturing others and giving sermons is not in their job description; instead, they lead by example. Remember that your fellow party members have not sworn to your code, and you are not responsible for their actions.

That said, paladins hate to stand back and watch evil proceed unopposed, so they sometimes find themselves in the role of "party conscience". And if the majority of your fellow players are using the game's fantasy to pillage and burn, the party might not want a conscience.

Paladins should be forgiving of others' faults, but there comes a point at which they must ask themselves "Why am I adventuring with these people?" Rather than try and force the relationship to work, you should talk to your fellow players and ask if they want someone so strongly Good-aligned in the party. If the answer is "no", the paladin-like thing to do is to put their fun above your own, write your paladin out of the story, and play a character without such strong opinions on that topic.

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Look up the order of the stick web comic by rich Burlew - specifically the azure city arc. Ranging from mako - the standard "bad paladin" stereotype, Hinjo, still definitely lawful good but not lawful stupid. O-Chul - there are many examples of different kinds of paladin in there. Many ways to handle the class.

Many of them are entirely reasonable.

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I know you haven't actually provided a link, but I think the spirit of the How to Answer advice on links still applies: If all an answer does is direct someone to read something on a different site, it hasn't increased this site's value as a resource. Please edit your answer so that it is useful on its own: "Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline." –  BESW Sep 26 '13 at 14:00
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Who says you aren't a judge?

A paladin in a pseudo-medieval society is basically a knight, except devoted to a god over a king. Pick a god (Or make one up) who is clearly lawful good* but can fit with your party. Doublecheck with the DM that, in the religious scripture of your order, you do have authority to do what you need.

In the midst of a battle with a bandit group, before the battle is fully joined, have your character offer the bandits the chance to surrender and repent, warning them of your authority and intent to use force if necessary. This doesn't have to be long- "Halt! By the word of Pelor, surrender or I will defend this caravan!" is probably about reasonable. They probably won't surrender, obviously, but then you can fight them without worrying about an alignment change. Think of yourself as a member of the police- If someone's shooting at you, you're allowed to shoot back.

Play with what your religion allows. A cleric I once played worshiped the god of Ale, Adventure and the Mountains. He was jovial, fun loving, prone to practical jokes or puns, and the first one into almost every fight. He also performed the rites of the dead on anything humanoid we killed after the fight, and fought hardest to defend civilians caught in the crossfires of our battles, going so far as to research a Mass Shield Other for use on nameless NPCs that were in the area. When we found out we had been tricked into working for the bad guy, he had to wrestle with what was most important- being a good person, or doing what he'd promised. (This also let me make it clear to other players that I was okay whichever way the party decided, while still being able to argue my character's point of view.) When the rogue got in trouble over old gambling debts, I helped him out- all the while grousing good naturally.

Think about what exactly you like about this kind of character. If it's a holier than thou attitude and telling off other players for their ill behavior, you have a problem we can't really help with. But for me, I love playing a wise man who is full of good advice for the party, and being a stalwart defender of the innocent. Make a list of commandments your god has given you, check them with the DM, then follow those commandments as best you can. Things like "Never kill a foe who has surrendered" or "Forgive those who sin against you" are good, as are "Never use a bow, as it's cowardly" or "Booze is good. Sobriety is boring." "Never kill people" or "Do not tolerate those who steal" are not good, because they conflict with either the expectations of the game or could conflict totally with the party. Think about which commandments are most important- Maybe it's okay to kill someone who has surrendered if it's the only way to save an innocent life. Maybe it's okay to use edged weapons if it's cheaper to do something else.

The most important thing to think about is that you are both lawful and good. Don't be afraid to break the law if it's the good thing to do. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty if that's what the law requires. In a perfect world, you are both at all times, but I doubt you're playing in a perfect world.

And if your DM thinks that bending even slightly from the rigid path of law and the perfect path of light causes you to lose your class levels, find a new DM.

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Work with the GM. Make sure your GM feels they can provide suitable challenges that won't lead to your paladin shutting the game down. For some difficult challenges (you've killed all of the orcs and have now found their children), this might mean either not doing that, or expecting that to be a major part of the game. It might mean adjusting the entire campaign to maximize things you can do and minimizing un-fun parts. For example, maybe the campaign becomes far more undead oriented.

Work with your fellow players. The more strict your paladin, the more you'll need the rest of the party to buy in to the resulting style of play. If they say, "No, I don't think we can cope with your character demanding that," that might not be good fit for your game.

Don't be so strict. Refused to kill a humanoid? Refused to make summary judgement on foes? Many who view themselves as holy warriors in the real world would find such restrictions crazy. Ultimately a paladin is a holy warrior, sometimes killing is necessary and it's part of the job description. And in a lot of times and places, in the wilds, land or sea, it was legal and appropriate to kill bandits and other serious criminals.

Pick a more practical god. You've probably got a range of choices for gods to follow, go for one with a more pragmatic view of the world. Gods of compassion and healing are more likely to be challenges. A god of justice seems like a good idea, unless justice demands dragging opponents off to courts. Some possibilities: righteous vengeance, defender of the weak, civilization.

Minor nuisances can be interesting. What if you had to bury and give last rights to any humanoid who dies, even at your own hand? It's still a nuisance and would slow down adventuring, but nowhere to the level of hauling around prisoners. Still too much? Mandatory 30 minute prayer after battle. You must lead to defend those who are weaker. You must stop and assist anyone who is suffering. (Good plot hook, that one!) You must be the last to retreat (or at least simultaneously). Refuse healing to long as allies are injured.

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The book of exalted deeds, detailing the behaviour of 'exalted' characters is not a requirement for being a Paladin. Exalted is basically a "super good" alignment.

Lawful Good covers a wide range of alignments. It is a broad category. Not everyone will consider killing evil people, or killing in self defence to be a non good act, and a Paladin doesn't have to.

Prisoners, however, are harder to deal with. You have a couple of options:

1) Your Paladin could consider himself to be a judge, with power vested in him by his God to decide right from wrong. Zone of Truth could make this process easier, or just use your high charisma and sense motive.

2) Your Paladin could consider attacking a Paladin a crime punishable by death. Thus anyone who starts a combat with you must die.

3) Convince your DM to allow you access to the spell (lesser) geas, or convince someone in your group to prepare a lot of it, or buy a wand. "Report to the courthouse and explain to the judge that you have been kicking puppies" is a clear instruction, which they will follow until it is complete.

4) You could consider the combat that you just defeated the criminal in a 'trial by combat'

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