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As a core part of the campaign I'm about to start, I want to include a poem detailing the last stand of a valiant paladin against a number of giants. He dies valiantly to save a town the giants were heading towards to raid, killing them all before dying of his wounds (final smite evil at 0hp, bled out afterwards).

Later in the campaign, the paladin is going to be raised to join the party, and I want to make sure my players understand the role he plays in this kingdom (his actions led to the rise to dominance of his religion in the region, have shaped the culture of the kingdom over the past 15 years, and indirectly began the campaign's overarching plot).

These were hill giants, a small group (about 9, with 4 dire wolves). The giants included a 2nd or 3rd level sorcerer and a 3rd level fighter (the rest had no class levels). The paladin had support of some local warriors, who essentially served to take the wolves out of the picture.

The paladin was effectively alone against 9 giants, two with class levels. What level would be appropriate for the paladin?

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You've got two questions here, Jeff. One is "What level should this paladin be?" The other is, "How do I write an epic poem?" Only one of these is really appropriate here, I think. You'll probably find a lot more answers to the second question elsewhere. Also, be forewarned: poetry isn't simple and it isn't easy and it can't be done automatically. Best of luck with that part, though, and I leave question 1 to the experts here! – gomad Jul 14 '11 at 20:06
@Gomad - Couldn't have said it better! – Sorcerer Blob Jul 14 '11 at 20:51
@gomad @GPierce : You are correct, I think this is better as a single question. – Jeff Jul 15 '11 at 2:44
This edit is a vast improvement. +1! – gomad Jul 15 '11 at 15:40
Just for fun: have you thought about having them play through the fight instead of hear about it (as a sort of flashback)? – user1637 Jul 29 '11 at 15:42
up vote 12 down vote accepted

I'll take a crack at answering the first question. (I'll do it with Pathfinder, since I'm more familiar with it, but it should be about the same for 3.5e).

I'd estimate he'd need to be at minimum 12th level to handle that encounter.

The easiest way to do that is calculate the CR of the encounter you're proposing. Let's assume you've got 2 of the Giants with 3 Class levels a piece. A Hill Giant is a CR 7 by itself, adding 3 class levels increases the CR by 2. So, with 9 total, we've got a total of 7 CR 7's, and 2 CR 9's.

Totaling XP for that, you've got 35,200 XP, which is about a CR 14 encounter.

Since the Paladin is "by himself" for the purposes of this calculation, we'll assume his Average Party Level is equal to his Actual Level - 1. So, if you wanted this to be an "Epic" fight for the Paladin you'd need the encounter to be his APL + 3. Subbing in our values we get, Paladin's level = 14 - 3 + 1 = 12.

Note: This can be tweaked with magic items higher than his level accounts for, or with mass quantities of consumables, etc.

It's also important to note, that this is your story, and you can make the Paladin any level appropriate for the story and easily get away with it. In fact, I'd almost recommend doing so in order for you to put him in the plot when you decide to add him in.

References: Gamemastering and Hill Giant

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Thanks! This is a good answer, and it really helps. I already know where in the plot I wanted to bring him in, but now I know how much 'extra' stuff I have to put the party through before the critical moment. – Jeff Jul 15 '11 at 2:47

In addition to the level mechanics discussed here, you also state that you want to make sure that the players appreciate the role this Paladin had in the region.

As well as the main references you are already planning, such as the Poem, you may also want to look at sprinkling in some background references.

These can include:

  • Places named after the Paladin;
  • The Inn your players frequent named after the Paladin's Hammer;
  • A village annual fair celebrating their own local hero's actions in helping the Paladin;
  • Holiday named after the fallen Giant leader similar to Guy Fawkes Night

These are all backdrops meant to subtly reinforce the importance of the Paladin and add to a richer background for your region.

You can then take the detailing a step further by bringing these background details to the fore to remind the players of the Paladins history.

For example, in the case of the Inn named after the Paladin's Hammer, when the players finally meet the raised Paladin and hear the Hammer being referred to by name they may realise the link between this famous artefact and their favourite drinking hole.

The scope for humour and double meaning is also endless: If the Inn is named "Maelgorn's Crack" it might seem odd, full of innuendo or humorous at first glance, but once you experience the thunderous cracking sound that the Mighty Hammer known as Maelgorn make's then the name of the Inn can take on a new meaning!

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The bullet points you suggest are the kind of thing that really add a lot of depth to a setting. – Joe Oct 3 '11 at 4:12

If you want to raise the paladin and have him join the party, you should certainly think about how optimised do you want him to be (and what difference in levels do you want). I'd suggest the paladin to be a bit more powerful than the party's fighter type when he reaches the same level and gets the corresponding gear.

Depending on that and how epic the battle must be, it could be anywhere from 10th level paladin nearly killing all the giants to 15th level paladin barely managing to get the world free of half of the beasts (you don't believe that 15th level paladin could fail at this task? take a look at the NPC Paladin in DMG).

More to 10ish side if he had support, IMO.

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The 'support' was a group of 1st level warriors and commoners, and the Paladin hadn't had time to prepare spells since finding out the giants were coming. I'm leaning more towards the 13-14 range. – Jeff Jul 15 '11 at 12:40

You can find a listing of class titles here if this is what you are looking for as far as what to call it.

Using Cthos's 12th level for the encounter I would think that anything below level 10 would make that truely heroic. Though anything below level 7 I would find rather unbelievable.

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Given that the paladin died fighting them, I would say anywhere from level 1 to 10 is safely whuppable by the described task force - lower if he wasn't alone. Even just with level 1 goons to take some of the hits, I've seen some 9th level guys that could probably win this encounter. If he's really sharp and well built that is - as Jeor points out a poorly built L15 that does something dumb (like lets himself get into club range of multiple giants) could still get taken out.

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But I wouldn't think someone as low as level 10 could win this encounter, not when it came at him with no time for new spell preparation and no opportunity to get or make consumables. – Jeff Jul 26 '11 at 13:18
He didn't win it. He died, right? Isn't that what the Q says? – mxyzplk Jul 26 '11 at 19:44
But he won - his goal was to stop the attack on the village, and he died seconds after the last giant did. Though now that I re-read my question, I see that I didn't actually SAY that :-/ – Jeff Jul 26 '11 at 20:24
Ah, that does bring clarity. "What level do you need to be to get killed by giants" was a little perplexing. – mxyzplk Jul 27 '11 at 1:34

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