15
\$\begingroup\$

I have recently started a small scenario with a couple friends which have all come up with interesting character ideas. But one player in particular has something really... exotic. Basically he plays a paladin, who is the epitome of the good boy paladin. Doing good, preaching good, good all around. So far so good. But here is his twist: when facing a situation that requires inflicting severe harm on someone (or even killing) he loses control, and a second personality takes over, much more inclined to bloodshed and generally not so good behavior.

Now this is definitely not a boring character, but I struggle to find a way to handle and balance this massive twist.

What should I do with this?

  1. Who decides when the character snaps between personalities?
  2. What happens to his magical capabilities (derived from his divine patronage) when "transforming" to this darker form?
  3. If the character has to lose some of his abilities when transformed, how to balance that requirement with something that still makes the concept worth playing?

Ultimately, there is always the solution to ask the player to change his character (we have barely started the campaign, so that would be possible if necessary) to fit the official rules, but I'd prefer not to go there if it can be avoided.

So, I ask of you, experienced players and DMs, have you ever handled similar situations, and how would you proceed here?

\$\endgroup\$
6
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered something as simple as a Paladin/Barbarian multiclass for them? If that doesn't work, why not? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Nov 16 at 12:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ this does not really fit what this player has in mind. When multiclassing, the character has access to both classes' characteristics simultaniously. Here, it is more of a one or the other type of thing. Moreover, this transformation implies a kind of madness that, even if it looks like it could be played as a berseker's rage, is not exactly a capability in and of itself, just a mere consequence of his actions. In addition, this madness does not leave much room to use the other barbarian traits, which would demand a conscious decision from the character, which is not possible in that stance. \$\endgroup\$
    – Feideus
    Nov 16 at 15:54
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder to everyone that answers, partial answers, ideas on where/how to find an answer, and general advice/suggestions for the asker do not belong in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Nov 17 at 2:33
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Is it a player that you know well or some random one you just found? That would probably be my main factor whether or not to allow it, if I could trust someone to not use this to be a dickhead. I recall a very similar question about a barbarian losing control in combat, the question was that the rest of party was really annoyed with it at that point and what to do about it. I don't remember if it was a GM or another player asking though \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 17 at 11:25
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ And do you have any idea what sort of direction you want to go with this? Does the player stay in charge of their PC and just roleplays losing control? You take over temporarily? Introduce some random roll mechanics that decides how they act? Something else? No idea at all? \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 17 at 11:30

8 Answers 8

22
\$\begingroup\$

This is up to him how he wants to roleplay it, and to you as the DM in case it conflicts with his oath

In 5e, paladins do not have to be goody-two-shoes with a fixed code of conduct. Instead of that, a Paladin picks an "Oath" and has to stay true to that Oath. Taking an Oath only happens at third level, and the rules say (PHB, p. 85)

Some characters with this class don’t consider themselves true paladins until they have reached 3rd level and made this oath. For others, the actual swearing of the oath is a formality, an official stamp on what has always been true in the paladin’s heart.

So until they have taken the Oath, it is entirely up to the player how he sees his paladin. If the does not consider himself a true paladin until then, that is fine, and he still will have access to his class features.

Once he has taken an Oath, there will be some tenets that he has to adhere to and if this behavior violates them will depend on the Oath he has taken. For example, the Oath of Devotion include a tenet called Compassion:

Compassion. Aid others, protect the weak, and punish those who threaten them. Show mercy to your foes, but temper it with wisdom.

Going crazy and just slaughtering hapless foes would violate this tenet.

What are the consequences if he does violate his oath? The rules (inset Box Breaking Your Oath on p. 85 PHB) have this to say about breaking the Oath:

A paladin tries to hold to the highest standards of conduct, but even the most virtuous paladin is fallible. Sometimes the right path proves too demanding, sometimes a situation calls for the lesser of two evils, and sometimes the heat of emotion causes a paladin to transgress his or her oath.
A paladin who has broken a vow typically seeks absolution from a cleric who shares his or her faith or from another paladin of the same order. The paladin might spend an allnight vigil in prayer as a sign of penitence, or undertake a fast or similar act of self-denial. After a rite of confession and forgiveness, the paladin starts fresh.
If a paladin wilfully violates his or her oath and shows no sign of repentance, the consequences can be more serious. At the DM's discretion, an impenitent paladin might be forced to abandon this class and adopt another, or perhaps to take the Oathbreaker paladin option that appears in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Here, the way this is played is that the paladin character is losing it, Jekyll-and-Hide style, so it may not be exactly wilfully violating the Oath in a specific instance. He is not really in control of his actions. But he still is breaking the Oath, so he should repent after doing it. This may not be that practical -- there is a lot of combat in 5e, and he would pretty constantly have to be full of remorse and repentance for what he is doing. But maybe it works for some time. He constantly spends his nights in atoning prayer, fasting etc. to make up for it, and visits the temple as much has he can.

It is your call as a DM if you want him to change his class eventually because in the last consequence, if what he does is not in line with the oath, he is wilfully breaking it if he knows this is going to happen again and again and opting to continue like that.

While the rules say that this is the DM's discretion, a good approach can be to discuss with the player out of game how he envisions this to work and this character to develop, collaborating on the character concept. This can help generating buy-in from the player if you ultimately decide the character can not stay a paladin long term under their oath with this behaviour, or it can help to pick an oath that does not conflict strongly with it.

In any case, there are no rules that say he loses access to his class powers when he violated his Oath, until he stops being a paladin altogether and maybe ends up as an Oathbreaker.

So, to your questions in particular:

  1. This is the players decision on how he role-plays his character.
  2. Nothing happens, he will have access to his Paladin abilities.
  3. This does not apply; either he has his abilities, or he needs to stop being a paladin altogether.

P.S. A brief history of the Paladin class

When the Paladin was originally introduced, it was an extremely powerful class and an exclusive pleasure. Access to play a paladin was gated by minimum ability score requirements that were extremely hard to hit using the standard methods of score generation -- about 1.85% in OD&D with expansions, and 0.1% in AD&D 1e.

These paladins had to follow strict behavioural constraints.

unlike normal fighters, all paladins must begin as lawful good in alignment (q.v.) and always remain lawful good or absolutely lose all of the special powers which are given to them.

And

If a paladin should ever knowingly and willingly perform on evil act, he or she loses the status of paladinhood immediately and irrevocably. All benefits are then lost, and no deed or magic can restore the character to paladinhood

Harsh. Long-time players may have this at the back of their minds, when they think of paladins. The reason for this was to balance the wide range of extra powers that paladins got. Yes, you were super powerful, but to make up for it, you had to behave. 1e DMG, p. 24:

It is of utmost importance to keep rigid control of alignment behavior with respect to such characters as serve deities who will accept only certain alignments, those who are paladins, those with evil familiars, and so on. Part of the role they have accepted requires a set behavior mode, and its benefits are balanced by this. Therefore, failure to demand strict adherence to alignment behavior is to allow a game abuse.

The game has come a long way since those days, and today in 5e, the different classes are much more balanced in power. The paladin is no longer a much stronger class mechanically than a fighter or cleric. Because of this, the need to strictly enforce behavioural constraints is not really there any more, and there is no game balance need to deprive the paladin of their powers if they fail to adhere to them. This opens up a lot more different ways to portray or imagine paladins.

\$\endgroup\$
9
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a thorough answer. Thanks for taking the time to write it down. Those are excellent suggestions, i will definitely prepare something along those lines \$\endgroup\$
    – Feideus
    Nov 16 at 11:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I’ve downvoted this answer because it seems to frame the player-DM relationship as more of a adversarial one, where the DM just has to deal with whatever the players throw at them until they’ve had enough. There’s a better way, involving communication and collaboration, that this answer misses entirely. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 16 at 12:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This still feels adversarial in a player has their plan and DM has theirs and then hope they come together when issues arise. Do you usually wait until there is a problem? That seems to be more of what this answer is suggesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Nov 16 at 15:10
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I downvoted this too, as soon as you start talking about paladin paths being a firm "rule" and not just an intended design behind a certain subclass you lose me. There needs to be way more room for reflavouring something, and that includes tenets. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 16 at 17:00
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I also feel I need to call out one line specifically: "It is your call as a DM if you want to force him". A DM should never "force" a player into anything, especially changing their character, which is the only thing a player really has any ownership of at all in a D&D game. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 16 at 19:14
17
\$\begingroup\$

This is a roleplaying problem, handle it with roleplay.

I have done this type of character before, and while I handled it a bit more sensitively (background reasons for this were important etc) all I did was play differently during each "character phase".

My divine smite became blighting smite and the DM allowed necrotic instead of radiant for example.

No new powers, no balancing really needed, I just roleplayed the character in the same way that anyone else roleplays their flaws.

I actually did a similar thing on a different character, I made a mercy monk dhampir with the intention of "transforming" at 50% hp and losing control. All I did there was not use the hand of harm or dhampir bite until I felt it RP appropriate. Again no need for balance changes.

D&D isn't a game where you need to win, so creating and playing a character where you deliberately play up your flaws is very fun. Having extra powers to balance that flaw is actually unfair on everyone else who didn't get a buff to balance out their lesser (but hopefully still present) flaws.

To answer the specific questions:

Who is in control? ALWAYS the player. They only get one character to play, let them play it as they enjoy.

What happens to the old powers? Just reflavour them as new dark powers from some dark sources, or use different (but still standard) powers in different situations. You could bring in a story arc where a patron may be unhappy, but that's the same as any RP hook a player gives you.

How about balance? Power isn't what D&D is about, the flaw needs to be a flaw and that should be fun. Don't take away any powers, don't add any powers, just let the player use them as they feel the character would in each situation. Balance situation solved.

\$\endgroup\$
7
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd add that this flaw isn't even a flaw. 99% of the time it's just a fancy way of saying "I want to play a paladin, but sometimes I get bored and just want to kill monsters, but then I want to be a paladin again as if nothing happened". \$\endgroup\$ Nov 16 at 22:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is definitely an interesting answer, but I'de argue that this variant will not have as much impact as the player initially expected, since the character itself basically doesn't change during the transformation (apart from the RP and radiant -> necrotic flavoring). But I absolutely agree with your point regarding the player keeping control over his character \$\endgroup\$
    – Feideus
    Nov 17 at 9:04
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Feideus you are absolutely right in mechanical terms it won't, but I don't think it should. You should (I think anyway) steer them to the role-playing part of losing control, rather than adding mechanics. Owen said it well in their comment above, and in my experience people who want to this kind of power switch just want to have their cake and eat it too, I don't advocate for letting them. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 17 at 9:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Feideus the impact I focus on is letting the player make it as impactful as they want it to be, they are completely in control of when they lose control, what their character does, what powers they use etc. there is no "the DM made me" excuse, and you as a DM can use the player decided actions to introduce consequences and story as you would any other players. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 17 at 9:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point, I'll take that into account and try not to overdo the specifics (if any) of this mechanic. Thanks a bunch ! \$\endgroup\$
    – Feideus
    Nov 17 at 9:51
11
\$\begingroup\$

That just sounds like an Oath of Vengeance Paladin

The Oath of Vengeance is a solemn commitment to punish those who have committed a grievous sin. When evil forces slaughter helpless villagers, when an entire people turns against the will of the gods, when a thieves' guild grows too violent and powerful, when a dragon rampages through the countryside – at times like these, paladins arise and swear an Oath of Vengeance to set right that which has gone wrong. To these paladins – sometimes called avengers or dark knights – their own purity is not as important as delivering justice.

Fight the Greater Evil. Faced with a choice of fighting my sworn foes or combating a lesser evil, I choose the greater evil.

No Mercy for the Wicked. Ordinary foes might win my mercy, but my sworn enemies do not.

By Any Means Necessary. My qualms can't get in the way of exterminating my foes.

Restitution. If my foes wreak ruin on the world, it is because I failed to stop them. I must help those harmed by their misdeeds.

No mercy for sworn enemies, no qualms in battle; seems a perfect fit. In any event, there’s nothing wrong with an evil paladin: Is there anything preventing a Lawful Evil Paladin?

Multiclassing into Barbarian to rage during combat would be a good fit with the character concept.

There are a number of fictional examples of this type that you could draw on; all of them really nice people in the right circumstances and absolutely lethal if you cross them:

The Hulk

John Wick

Lu Tse the Sweeper

The Man with No Name

The Bride

Batman

James Bond

Judge Dredd

\$\endgroup\$
4
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The thing is, the player wants to be light&sweetness won't-even-jaywalk paladin most of the time, and snap occasionally. Maybe say how a Vengeance Oath allows for that? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 16 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for taking the time to give an answer here. As i've detailed above, barbarian multiclass and full on Oath of vengeance do not really pay justice to this "loose control" mechanic. The player has something with clearly defined duality in mind \$\endgroup\$
    – Feideus
    Nov 17 at 9:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Feideus I refer you to the Hulk above. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Nov 17 at 11:02
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @OwenReynolds: That's a roleplaying thing, IMO. Pally is trying to be LG, trying to follow a "classic" Oath -- but once the blood-lust kicks in, Pally reverts to Vengeance Oath. There's lots of story possibilities here. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 14:58
5
\$\begingroup\$

I wouldn't do a super complicated character thing.

It's not a very nice portrayal of dissociated identity disorder to have someone have an insane evil personality come out regularly, and it's often bad for party cohesion. What if they want to rescue someone, or want to not cause problems? Random beserk mode is just not super fun to play, from experience.

Any quirks should contribute to the party, not take away from their experience.

Give them a second form based off their divine heritage

The second figure, rather than being just murderous or evil, is the typical form of a solar. They have some sort of transformation where they get far extra eyes, wings that drip with blood, and they do what solars typically do, murder threats to the heaven with no remorse or fear. This doesn't need to change their statistics, just their behaviour. They still control their character so they are responsible for their actions. This is a direct divine personality, not their own, and it has ethics and rules which are completely alien to humans, but still strong.

As they leveled up they could get magical items, feats, and such which enhanced their angelic nature, or reject it and be more human and good. That's a much easier route to walk.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • \$\begingroup\$ The idea of a Solar form seems like a good choice here: the physical changes don't change stats at all, and the Paladin personality is temporarily over-ridden by a Celestial personality with what amounts to blue-orange morality (that is, moral rules which are incomprehensible to our limited mortal point of view). Because this over-ride is not the choice of the Paladin, neither are the consequences as far as the patron is concerned - assuming that the Solar form is the will of the Patron, and not some other force (which could make some interesting story hooks). \$\endgroup\$
    – enkorvaks
    Nov 16 at 23:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may not even need a Solar. A Scourge Aasimar looks quite scary too... \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are many racial or class options to enhance this naturally, yes. Scourge Aasimar don't get the cool aesthetic effect till level 3 though, and adding a cool appearance thing low levels often helps players feel special without mechanically unbalancing things. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Nov 17 at 13:11
3
\$\begingroup\$

(Sidenote: not much of an experienced player or DM)

As written, the character feels like a cheap way to avoid facing the dilemma of being a "good boy" Paladin while still having to fight enemies to the death and possibly cooperating with a less ethical party.

With some counterbalances, this can be a compelling character. Most importantly, there have to be real consequences to this kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde character.

Mechanically, I would work with the player to decide on some of the following stipulations:

  • The paladin's deity disapproves of the violent personality ("the Hyde"), or in case of a deityless paladin, the Hyde does not match with his Oath. The Hyde does not have paladin powers. Optionally: the deity/Oath expects the paladin to avoid situations where his darker side is invoked, and exploiting it too much can make him fall.
  • or, the Hyde does share paladin powers with the "Jekyll", but can fall and make the Jekyll fall as well.
  • Optionally: the GM decides when a situation is threatening enough to force the darker side to come out, possibly with a Will save to try and suppress it.
\$\endgroup\$
1
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, my first thought of after reading the players wishes also was "seems like the player wants to be a Paladin, yet be able to go full on in all combat". \$\endgroup\$
    – Abigail
    Nov 16 at 22:05
2
\$\begingroup\$

Your player threw you a curve ball — throw one back

let them play the character as they've described, but choose to throw curveballs everytime the all-too-convenient switch takes place.

  • Do they have any items mutually aligned with the paladin's good alignment? Cool! They are either flung away like flipping a magnetic pole or they burn, causing damage every moment they're with the character.

  • I just bet there's some demon or devil out there just waiting for the character's personality to switch so they can either make the switch permanent or can possess the character. Never underestimate an evil diety's desire to Stick It to the Man! The horde will be laughing all the way to the bank when they convert Mr. Goody Two-Shoes to the Forces of Evil without any real effort whatsoever! Put the player in a position of having to roll initiative for every action they want to take against the constitution of the posessing entity.

  • Require the switch to be entirely diametric. Lawful Good becomes Chaotic Evil — as likely to turn on the party as to advance the party's goals.

  • Determine for yourself what the chances are that the switch would even take place. Even go so far as to roll dice! Maybe the switch occurs, maybe it doesn't. Surrounded by a tribe of cannibals, certainly not evil... they're just doing what comes naturally! And the moment a rage monster would prove oh, so convenient to get the party out of the sticky mess... roll a one! Sucks to be you!

Personally, I think the idea is clever and provides you with a wealth of opportunities for spicing up the whole adventure. Never let a player's excellent imagination go to waste!

\$\endgroup\$
1
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your ideas about integreting items, or dive rolls to spice this twitst up. Thanks for the suggestion \$\endgroup\$
    – Feideus
    Nov 17 at 8:58
2
\$\begingroup\$

Ultimately it is a joint playing decision. Your Job as DM is to decide some form of restriction in terms of mechanics and guidance. And the players job to adhere to his character he has chosen.

If it was me I would add a simple game mechanic. Similar to how a Blood Hunter/Order of Lycan has to attack the nearest creature when below half health. I would add a simple mechanic similar to a wisdom save or contested wisdom check, it would need to be a high check IMO to actually happen when it comes up, if it was a contested check you would be the contestee as DM driving a narrative.

The paladin mechanic, ultimately up until they choose an oath it doesn't matter, unless you want them to repent for any evil they may have done. If they choose an oath they may well stick to it with the confines of this personality change, but if they do break it they'll have to become an Oath breaker.

The other part is your job as DM to guide them to this personality change, or even guide them away from it. As DM you can control time and the flow, there is a turning point in battle where this has to come into play. You can build the tension by suggesting he feels bouts of rage that's uncontrollable, their hands are not there own, loss of control. Adding checks even if you they are fake gives a sense of some sort of tension on the players behalf. Then throughout the game can they cure this second personality? do they have to sait this desire for pain?

You can obviously draw inspiration of the Dark Urge character in BG3.

I'm not sure I'd want to completely leave it up to the player, been in too many games where a player wants to have trait or interesting personality but it only comes up when they choose.

For example my current PC doesn't deal currency, came across a pile of shiny gems and gold but ultimately I left it for others.

\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

What happens to his magical capabilities (derived from his divine patronage) when "transforming" to this darker form ?

Perhaps the player's patron has a dark side and it is this darker side that aids the darker-formed Paladin.

For example, Yondalla, Patron of Halfings, is Lawful Good. But Yondalla has a Chaotic Neutral alter ego, Dallah Thaun. To cite the greyparticle wiki

Dallah Thaun, the Lady of Mysteries, is Yondalla's dark, hidden aspect. She is the great secret of the halfling race, who do not share knowledge of Dallah Thaun with outsiders. She was physically split from Yondalla when she created (or discovered) the halfling race, but she and Yondalla are still one being. What one knows, the other knows, and those that worship Dallah Thaun are also worshipping Yondalla (and vice versa).

Dallah Thaun is Chaotic Neutal, and considered an intermediate goddess. She is represented with dark hair and eyes, and dresses all in black. Where Yondalla nurtures the survivors of a tragedy, Dallah Thaun seeks vengeance. Where Yondalla the Provider creates fertility and plenty, Dallah Thaun urges the halflings to seek wealth. Dallah Thaun, in short, does the dirty work, while Yondalla keeps her hands clean. Dallah Thaun is the goddess of secrets, lies, half-truths, flattery, manipulation, and stealth. The two halves of the goddess do not, and cannot quarrel over their respective methods, different as they may be. They are the same person, with each fulfilling her respective role.

\$\endgroup\$
1
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's another great plot hook Idea, thanks ! \$\endgroup\$
    – Feideus
    Nov 17 at 17:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .