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I want to have a antagonist that is a twist because he/she is a Good Paladin. Or at least they think they are. The antagonist is a good paladin that received a vision one day. This vision would convince them that they would have to start an inquisition that would affect innocent people, and performing terrible rituals to 'purge' them, all in order to save the greater good from an apocalyptic event. The plot is that they've been tricked, but until the party can convince them otherwise, the Paladin's course of action may be the only one to save everyone.

My question is: If the paladin thinks that they are still performing acts out of good, or for the greater good (Or according to their oath), can they still remain true to their oath? Or is the breaking of the oath up to an external source, such as a deity or order?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Miniman, Thomas Jacobs, Szega, Trish, daze413 Nov 4 '17 at 8:18

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't help but recommend Gulbranson's Antipaladin Blues here, as it a) perfectly deals with this question, b) has informed my thinking on similar matters since I read it, and c) is excellent and funny. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin - free Monica Nov 4 '17 at 5:39
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A Paladin's power comes from the oath itself, not necessarily a divine or supernatural entity.

Although the preponderance of examples in the PHB concern oaths sworn to powerful beings, there are several which indicate that a Paladin's oath can simply be pledging one's life to a cause.

Although many paladins are devoted to gods of good. a paladin’s power comes as much from a commitment to justice itself as it does from a god.

and

Whether sworn before a god’s altar and the witness of a priest, in a sacred glade before nature spirits and fey beings, or in a moment of desperation and grief with the dead as the only witness, a paladin’s oath is a powerful bond. It is a source of power that turns a devout warrior into a blessed champion.

Both from the PHB introduction to the Paladin class.

The power does not come from a divine source (some paladin's swear themselves to Nature, for instance), but from the oath itself, and there are numerous instances in the text to support this.

Although many paladins are devoted to gods of good. a paladin’s power comes as much from a commitment to justice itself as it does from a god.

or

Your oath allows you to channel divine energy

Consider the tenets of the Oath of Devotion. There is nothing in there about revering a god or following a religious order. The same is true for the other oaths.

Also, If a paladin breaks his or her oath, they seek absolution from "a cleric who shares his or her faith or from another paladin of the same order." The latter case does not require any divine or supernatural being as a source of power or morality.

I think that this broader interpretation can be used to fuel more stories, and yours in particular. Since the meat of the conflict you propose requires convincing the paladin that they have broken their oath, appealing to their reason, sense of justice and moral compass offers far more grist for role play than appealing to an external authority to simply enforce it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like this. So just to be clear, are you saying that if the Paladin is convinced that they are not breaking their Oath, that it remains intact? Or regardless of the Paladin's beliefs, the second a Paladin does something against the terms of the Oath itself, then the Oath is broken? \$\endgroup\$ – as.beaulieu Nov 3 '17 at 21:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a bit gray, in a world where morality has a 9 label system and good and evil are objective palpable things. I'm not saying that this is necessarily the way it is (a lot is dependent on campaign fluff), but that the text easily supports that interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Nov 3 '17 at 22:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @as.beaulieu: But is it really breaking your Oath to act in good faith according to what you believed at the time was correct? Your phrasing implies that the Paladin should lose their powers after realizing it was not the right thing, even though they never did anything they thought at the time was wrong. You could go either way on this, but I think that does make sense because losing your conviction and confidence that your actions are Just should be serious blow to a Paladin. Atoning for this / recovering should be different from atoning for intentional oath-breaking. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Nov 4 '17 at 3:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes All of that gets into the nature of sin, guilt and the philosophy of intent. These are things for a DM or table to decide if it becomes necessary. Not really something to be thrashed out in comments here. The rules are intentionally vague enough to allow individual interpretation to support a wide variety of creative use. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Nov 4 '17 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis: yes exactly. Sounds like a great moral / ethical / theological question for the OP to play with. I commented to make sure they were considering the full depth of the issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Nov 4 '17 at 16:17
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Paladins must follow their oath ...

... they don't have to be nice about it

5e Paladins can be of any alignment - this includes all the evil ones and all the chaotic ones. The thing that makes them a paladin is their oath - not their alignment.

Further, alignment in 5e doesn't mean what you seem to think it means. A good character looks out for others, an evil character looks out for themselves.

From this perspective it is not clear that Torquemada was evil - sure he had people tortured and killed but only in a genuine effort to save them from an eternity of torture in Hell - he was willing to put his immortal soul in danger to save theirs: what a hero!

Similarly, was Arnaud Amalric "evil" when he reportedly said:"Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." (Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.) before the Massacre at Béziers. I mean, he was undoubtedly right by the beliefs of the time.

But enough comparative morality ...

The tenants of a particular paladin's oath are universal, the lived experiance of them is different (PHB p.86):

Oath of Devotion

They hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct and some, for better or worse, hold the rest of the world to the same standards.

Some of these paladin's are tolerant of the failings of others ... and some aren't.

Oath of the Ancients

... love the beautiful and life-giving things of the world.

Some will compare a dragon to an ugly industrial town and side with the dragon.

Oath of Vengeance

... their own purity is not as important as delivering justice.

If innocents have to die to bring the guilty to justice then so be it.

There is nothing more terrifying than a person who believes in the absolute rightness of their cause

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As to the Oath of Devotion, also, the Paladin may want to get rid of said failings... by replacing them with better things, or simply by destroying them... (Cue self-righteous yet evil laughter) \$\endgroup\$ – Fivesideddice Nov 5 '17 at 3:43
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The paladin is beholden to greater powers, and those are the ones that do the judgement.

Be it archons, a god or the "light powers", the paladin is not his own moral compass. The power is bestowed upon the paladin from beyond, and it is that beyond that judges whether the oath is being kept.


Nevertheless, your plot can work, but eggs need to be broken.

The paladin has been tricked by a power that can corrupt the oath. Some other god (hereby called DEATH-ADDER) with dark intentions sent that vision (stealthy so the good powers don't notice) and corrupted the paladin, so he now receives power from them.

The paladin will know something is wrong when he start going bananas. There must be some outside influence to make him not notice it.

This way, he will keep behaving like a normal paladin, but when the deception is revealed and his value to DEATH-ADDER is now zero. He may or may not become an oathbreaker, depending on the DM.

Now the paladin (or former paladin) can be set on the path of redemption, because he was tricked so it is not all lost.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, but just to make sure, is this in line with the dynamics for Paladins in 5e? Or is this more in line with the (even more) strict guidelines for Paladins in previous versions? \$\endgroup\$ – as.beaulieu Nov 3 '17 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Really like the edit. This can help to provide options for future Paladin players in my campaigns too. Didn't think of another 'patron' coming in to provide the power. \$\endgroup\$ – as.beaulieu Nov 3 '17 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly, an Oath by definition is sworn to something and that power is the liege and judge. Of all the issues with 5E the complete lack of consequence for Cleric and Paladin are at the top of my list. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth May 3 '18 at 18:38

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