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In just about every edition of D&D (save for 4e), Paladins are required to be Lawful Good. If they stray from that, they are completely stripped of their powers. This means that evil deities can't grant powers to paladins or if they do, they go into a new class (e.g. Anti-Paladin).

My question is: why? Why was it designed that paladins have to have such a strict alignment? It seems to me that it unnecessarily pigeonholes the character types and doesn't make sense in D&D world. After all, couldn't evil deities have holy warriors?

I also don't understand the mechanical decision about why was it designed that an evil Paladin has to be a different class. Wouldn't this create a problem if you wanted to redeem an evil Paladin into a good one? This never really made sense to me until 4e where they just dropped the Lawful Good restriction entirely and let you have a Paladin of Vecna (or have that Paladin of Vecna become a redeemed Paladin of Pelor without having to switch classes).

I'm especially interested if the D&D designers ever wrote anything about their decision to make it this way.

I'm mostly looking for an answer on why the rules were designed this way, not reasons for why non-Lawful Good paladins can't exist in the rules as they have been written by the designers.

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Also, answers that digress into arguments about alignment will be deleted. This is a question about the history of gaming as design decisions informing rules. Not alignments. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 11 '13 at 2:34
Isnt this just a matter of definition? Gygax (presumably) defined a Palidin as a LG Holy Warrior. If one is a Holy Warrior of some other alignment, they arent, by defintion, a Paladin... they are something else. Is the question here really 'why isnt there a more generic Holy Warrior type of class'? I suspect because early on thats largely what a cleric was originally intended to be. – GrandmasterB Apr 11 '13 at 16:22
There are published rules for paladin's of any alignment in Arcana Unearthed (for 3.0 iirc). So it is clearly a option (some) designers considered – Oxinabox May 15 at 0:42

4 Answers 4

up vote 32 down vote accepted

Since Gary Gygax was the original "designer" let's look at what inspired his version and hence D&D's version of the Paladin.

This is from a Collection of "Sources for D&D" that was compiled by Aardy R. DeVarque, who draws his source directly from the original 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide.

Paladin Class

Based largely on the character of Holger Carlson from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, as well as Anderson's original sources, Charlemagne's paladins in the medieval French chansons de geste ("songs of deeds"), particularly The Song of Roland and Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. The paladin's tie to a special war-horse is also from Three Hearts and Three Lions.

I do not mean a saint, but a warrior whom God gave more than common gifts and then put under a more than common burden. —Martinus, Three Hearts and Three Lions

So a lot of what the Paladin class is, seems to come from Three Hearts and Three Lions.

The main protagonist of the novel plays a crucial role in an epic struggle between Law and Chaos (this is where the D&D alignment system came from also). In the book, law and order are represented by Christianity, which was also considered a beacon of hope. This is, I think, the basis for the Lawful Good requirement and code of conduct that Gygax attached to the paladin class.

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Whether DeVarque's widely-accepted assumption that the paladin derived from Three Hearts and Three Lions is accurate or not, it seems to have caught on with the current D&D design crew at WotC. Here's Mike Mearls: "Writers like Poul Anderson (trolls, paladins), Roger Zelazny (planar travel and worlds), and Michael Moorcock (law and chaos as opposed forces) all played big roles." Source:… – Erik Schmidt Apr 11 '13 at 5:49
I was really glad when they broke the stereotype to allow for your-god's-alignment paladins instead of just LG.. It's just natural: gods of any alignment can impose you a code of conduct (if they care, that is), you can be a "holy" warrior for any kind of "holyness". – Mauricio Pasquier Juan Jul 14 '14 at 0:12

In 2E (and maybe 1E - not sure, I don't have the books handy at the moment), the Paladin is specifically a specialist Fighter, much like how the Druid was an "example" of a specialist Cleric.

The paladin is also less defined by his religion (not just a holy warrior) and his alignment, and more defined by his required code of conduct. Alignment is a guideline - any other Lawful Good character can bend the rules from time to time, but the paladin's code of conduct is a hard and fast rule - he breaks it, he's no longer a paladin.

The design decision was less "hey lets make a holy warrior, and only the good guys would have those" and more of a "lets create a class based on this example of the knight in shining armor, with an uncompromising dedication to the ideals of good".

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From a gaming perspective, I see two points in favor of the initial alignment restriction :

  • consistency with existing stereotypes : assassins are evil, paladins are ultimately good, and so on. So that was not shocking for players
  • Paladins was the most powerfull class available. Alignment restriction was a good way to prevent abuses and make is also somewhat not easy to play. Playing an overtly evil is less restrictive and may have cause trouble all the time, in my opinion.
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Welcome to the site, Jcl! Thank you for your answer, please take a look at our FAQ if you haven't yet done so. And when you have enough reputation, feel free to join the chat! – kravaros Aug 3 '13 at 17:41

This does not explain why Gary Gygax' designed the paladin the way he did, but explains why it makes sense to me. Your experience may differ.

Limiting the paladin makes sense if you consider it a beginners class: A paladin is robust and has access to healing magic, which sums up to a powerful fighter. If you following the idea that there should be no class "better" than others, the paladin needs a drawback, an Achilles' heel--locking to an alignment is easy to understand, easy to enforce, and fits into the world: knights stand for order, white is good. This is a 1974 tabletop game.

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I've also heard the balance argument before as basically without alignment issues, paladins would be the most powerful class in the game, but alas I have no sources to quote. – Joshua Aslan Smith Apr 11 '13 at 15:27
I agree with what you are saying, but we like to source stuff as much as possible. You saying, "Its x, y, and z" is conjecture vs. quotes from Gygax that can be sourced or actual pulls from the source materials themselves.Try to treat answers on any stack exchange as academic as possible. – Joshua Aslan Smith Apr 11 '13 at 17:26
To say we like to source stuff as much as possible is a bit misleading. Mostly, we just source stuff when it is necessary. It is necessary here, because we need to know this is actually the decisions that were made, and that it isn't conjecture as Joshua is pointing out. We happen to like citations on many other answers, because a lot of them are e.g. rule discussions where knowing where the rules you're defining will help understand the answer or facilitate further reading. So: cite when necessary; it is also often necessary. – doppelgreener Apr 11 '13 at 21:27

protected by BESW Apr 11 '14 at 13:47

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