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There is a certain way DMs like to rule how paladins work. It generally has to do with a famous paragraph :

Code of Conduct : A paladin must be of lawful good alignment and loses all class abilities if she ever willingly commits an evil act. Additionally, a paladin's code requires that she respect legitimate authority, act with honor (not lying, not cheating, not using poison, and so forth), help those in need (provided they do not use the help for evil or chaotic ends), and punish those who harm or threaten innocents.

So let's say I take the parenthesis "(not lying, not cheating, not using poison, and so forth)" extremely as if those are not examples but a strict law, and rule that i.e. any kind of lie is forbidden for any kind of paladin.

Then aren't paladins uniquely vulnerable to being taken advantage on?

For example in an interrogation situation you can literally kidnap any random child and threaten paladin that if he won't tell you the truth you will kill the child. Paladin then must betray his code of conduct to preserve his conviction to goodness. There are probably multiple scenarios like that. I know that the DM shouldn't pit the paladin in such situation but that creates a huge plot hole. Namely : < from: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LawfulStupid >

One of the issues that can arise that a writer must avoid with this trope is known as the "World Created Last Thursday" problem. If there is a societal explosion being caused now by the party or some group not corresponding with the laws, or the laws just not working in general... why hasn't this been a problem before now? Nobody Ever Complained Before?

So if it is so easy to make paladin talk or generally manipulate them there should be some solutions to that problem. I've never encountered anybody who would actually address it. In any war imaginable the first and the best way to acquire knowledge would be to capture and interrogate opponent's paladin. Alternatively there should be a cultural custom to NEVER disclose any secrets to a paladin or other contingency plan for their inevitable capture.

Since it's so easy to deceive them (as they are naturally trusting and feel the urgent need to help others coupled with a literal commandment to do so) They would become a proxy for problems to arise as often as they are the solution to them... Should all paladins be extremely cautious ? Would they still be the valiant heroes they ought to be if they did that ?

Example:

Bam! An Evil Wizard hires a proxy to task a paladin to "purify water" in an old well (with a potion) on the edge of his domain.
Paladin : "Paladin hears problem - paladins helps problem"
Narrator: <Paladin just poisoned the ground of neighboring noble's forest for decades>
Paladin: "Paladin goes confromt Evil Wizard!!" < going through villages >
villagers : "I saw him, he asked where the well is ! it's that bastard who poisoned the grounds near McDonalds farm ! STONE HIM !! "

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6 Answers 6

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So let's say I take the parenthesis "(not lying, not cheating, not using poison, and so forth)" extremely as if those are not examples but a strict law, and rule that any kind of lie is forbidden for any kind of paladin.

This is the thing: the Code of Conduct is more-or-less just presented to the reader, as is, for the reader to decide what it means precisely. Or, more accurately, for the table as a whole to come to a consensus about what it means and when it is broken.

Can you interpret the Code in ways that will often put a paladin in a Catch-22 situation? Yes, you can. If you take it that way, that’s what you’ll end up with, too: paladins will fall not because they have done evil, but because they swore an oath they could not keep, or equivalently, the value of their honor and oath was less than the value—the Good—that breaking their word could allow them to achieve. In such a world, that fact doesn't allow them to avoid the consequences—and as a result, there are many fallen paladins who are good, even great, because they fell, for a worthwhile enough reason. There is certainly plenty of narrative precedent for that kind of thing in myth and fantasy. It could even be a sign of humility, a recognition that their feelings, their reputation, and their powers are not more important than doing good.

But that isn't necessarily “what the book says,” that’s what you took the book to mean. Others may take other things from it. Which is why consensus is important, as is thinking about the consequences of any given interpretation.

For instance, while the Code as Catch-22 generator is certainly possible, and has narrative precedent, and things like it have been used to good effect in great stories, I would argue that it is a very bad idea for a game. I don’t rule things that way—in fact, I usually leave the Code out of my games altogether—along with the rest of alignment. I think that makes for a better game. I go far enough that it’s not even “interpreting” the books any longer—I outright ignore them on this subject. Always remember, the goal—the responsibility, even—is to try to create the best game possible, not to implement everything exactly as the authors would. And I say this as someone who is generally very “by the book”—I see value in the predictability and player agency that offers. But it’s not for its own sake, there is nothing inherently good about following the book. I often follow it because I often find its advantages outweigh the disadvantages—but when they don’t, I do something else. I think the Code is one such place.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not to mention that when revoking a Paladin's powers, the deity could also have a look at the code and determine that the Good done outweighs the "broken code" and decide that the Paladin can keep his powers. The code might be inflexible, but the deities don't have to be, even when they're technically Lawful Good. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Commented Mar 25 at 10:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Gloweye It’s implied—inconsistently—that in 3.5e paladins’ powers come from Good, rather than deities. Unless you’re in Forgotten Realms, then it’s definitely deities. But otherwise, there is an argument to be made that deities cannot intervene and “correct” for any failing in the code. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 25 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I see. I tend to mostly base my knowledge in that off pathfinder. While it allows non-deity-specific paladins, there's a pretty strong implication that they're normally assumed to have one. At least, best I can tell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Commented Mar 25 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It can certainly be argued that a given diety can cast Atonement basically at will, interceding with themselves, to smooth out any issues they care to around impossible situations. To what extent they should is a question for the table. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon True enough, but deities do have limits—usually enforced by the ire of other gods—on how much of that kind of direct action they can take. Especially if the world itself is set up to make paladins fall in this kind of scenario, that might be viewed as abusive in many cases. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 26 at 21:30
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You have several problems here.

First, the "requirement" that paladins follow the code doesn't reshape the universe around them. If a paladin lies the world doesn't twist so his words are true. With a close reading, you'll notice that paladins don't even lose abilities for violating their code! It's three separate clauses: Must be lawful good; lose abilities for doing evil; must follow code. Nothing defines or suggests that failing to follow the code is evil, just that paladins have to do it.

Second, "evil" and "good" are poorly defined. The book definitions are just terrible and are utterly incoherent.

There are some things that are mechanically labelled as always evil, such as animating undead. Those are clearly things that paladins cannot do without losing their class abilities. They may not animate undead as party decorations; they may not animate undead because it's the only way to save the world; they simply may not animate undead. Even if you threaten to kill a kid they might feel really bad about that, but they still may not animate undead for you. Hard stop.

There are probably other things that are evil. Kicking puppies for fun is not mechanically described as evil in the same way that animating undead is, but I think most tables would accept that as an evil act. Your table's precise threshold for "evil" may vary, but most accept that evil acts exist beyond the lists of explicitly rule-identified acts. It's really only defined by your DM's feelings though, which makes it hard to give you a solid answer.

Third, whatever you think "evil" means, it probably doesn't just mean evil happening near you. Becoming complicit in evil is usually an evil act, but being deceived or failing to stop evil are not usually evil.

And that's the answer for the random-child interrogation. Even though killing the random child is evil, it's not the paladin inherently committing any act, let alone an evil one.

Same thing for the well-poisoning wizard: the paladin got duped, but he wasn't evil. He may need to submit peacefully to trial afterwards, depending how you interpret that code...

...which brings us back to what that code means. It's clearly distinct from evil acts, so what "a paladin's code requires" means just a DM ruling on how binding it is. If the code is guidelines and ideals, great. Don't do evil; everything else is admin. If it is actually binding and paladins cannot act against it, the logic is a little more complicated, but not really hard: paladins can't take easy outs. If a paladin is hiding elves and the elf-eating orcs ask if the paladin is hiding elves, he can't say no. But he also doesn't have to answer at all. Arguably, his code requires him to try and fight them (regardless of whether the fight is survivable).

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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'd say it's not metagaming to say, "He wouldn't talk, even under torture. He's probably a paladin." Unless an RPG says that classes are only for PCs (Spycraft, 2nd Edition does this, for instance), identifying folks as members of certain classes because of what they can all (often magically!) do will absolutely be a thing. The term paladin may not get thrown around, but the idea (therefore the accompanying generalities) will exist because everyone with levels in that class will be able to do the same thing—and suffer from the same weaknesses. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25 at 3:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan "I'd say it's not metagaming to say, "He wouldn't talk, even under torture. He's probably a paladin."" that also describes: a rogue (especially the criminal kind should be good at hiding secrets - for examples see IRL organised crime) or just anybody with a strong moral code and/or conviction. Such as a monk. In specific game mechanics, it might just involve good will save and maybe being of Lawful alignment. Although any alignment can really refuse to answer, Lawful might be most inclined to. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Mar 25 at 8:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan But also see Giles Corey's famous last words "More weight" as he was tortured by crushing in order to get a confession out of him. He wasn't a paladin by any measure. Farmer by trade and convicted of (petty) theft and murder. If anything, he'd lean towards Chaotic in D&D alignment. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Mar 25 at 8:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VLAZ Despite that, I generally would agree with Chan - "Paladin" and "Monk" unlike "Barbarian" are more or less job descriptions. Their powers are very uniquely drawn and they have unique powers. On top of that - Paladins are very archetypal and probably "brag" a lot about their Patron God. (That is who they are after all - god's chosen) Paladins most probably also mention their vows if they need to explain themselves, which makes singling them out easy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25 at 9:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Only if the paladin cooperates with the questioners unless he is hiding elves. He isn't going to further their goals by answering regardless. The part that is unclear is whether he says "screw you; get out of my house" or goes right to rolling initiative, regardless of whether he is hiding elves. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Mar 25 at 11:28
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Not particularly.

Only the first part of the paladin code—in particular, the requirement to not willingly commit an evil act—imposes a penalty on the paladin's abilities for any violation no matter how small, and it is quite difficult, in practical circumstances, to force a paladin to choose between two acts that are unambiguously evil. Circumstances do influence whether an action is evil in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition, needless to say: a obvious example is that killing someone is usually an evil act, but it is not evil—and indeed, may even be good in the Great Wheel cosmology—to kill the wizard who is threatening to rain meteor swarms down on innocent people, for instance.

The other part that has a mechanical effect is the requirement that a paladin remain lawful good. This need not prohibit any specific act, because alignments are about patterns of behavior. A person who engages in behavior unsuitable to the alignment on occasion—an evil character with loved ones, a good character who commits a murder, a lawful character who breaks a promise, a chaotic character who voluntarily respects an authority—does not automatically change to another alignment, but only does so if the behavior becomes characteristic of them.

The remainder of the paladin code has no mechanical effect unless "grossly violated" (merely violating it on its own is not enough), and should probably be viewed as principles that the paladin strives assiduously to uphold, but will not always put above all else under all circumstances.

In the example you give, while you are certainly free to decide, for instance, that a paladin not telling the truth even if they believe that someone will kill an innocent if they do not is an evil act, you could also say that it is a neutral act—after all, the choice to kill the child is ultimately with the person threatening to kill them. Or perhaps even a good act, if revealing the truth would cause great harm. You could also just have the paladin lie—remember, lying is part of the code but may not constitute a gross violation depending on the circumstances. You could also have the paladin not believe that their actions will change anything: if someone is evil enough to kill random children, perhaps they will do it regardless of the paladin's actions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ “Circumstances do influence whether an action is evil in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition, needless to say: a obvious example is that killing someone is usually an evil act, but it is not evil—and indeed, may even be good in the Great Wheel cosmology—to kill the wizard who is threatening to rain meteor swarms down on innocent people, for instance.” This isn’t “needless to say,” it’s literally contradicted by some of the books, some of the time. D&D 3.5e just does not have the internal consistency required to make such a statement absolutely. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 25 at 2:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan - That is a fair point. Better said, that is true in many interpretations presented in 3.5 material, but it certainly is not the only perspective presented. There were so many 3.5 authors with so many different ideas of what alignment should mean. Still, I think "it's fine for a paladin to kill evildoers" was a nearly universal perspective in that material (she has that sword for a reason). And "murder is evil" must have been nearly as widespread. \$\endgroup\$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Mar 25 at 2:50
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The paladin is responsible for their own actions, nobody else’s

For example in an interrogation situation you can literally kidnap any random child and threaten paladin that if he won't tell you the truth you will kill the child.

The paladin says nothing, tries to save the child and punish the kidnapper, and if the child dies or the kidnapper escapes, the paladin did all they could. And they did not break their oath. Bad people do evil things, the paladin is not responsible for the evil acts of others.

they are naturally trusting

That’s not in the oath. There’s no reason to believe that paladins are any more or less trusting than anyone else. Indeed, those who actively work in the world to do good often more clearly see the evil in it.

“Paladin hears problem”, paladin verifies bona fides.

feel the urgent need to help others coupled with a literal commandment to do so

But not the need or commandment to be reckless or stupid.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "the paladin did all they could." - he could tell the truth and save the child. "There’s no reason to believe that paladins are any more or less trusting than anyone else." - I admit I use here a Arthurian archetype and the general psychology of very helpful and caring people. It's hard to be caring and helpful if you are not naturally trusting. It would be a huge dissonance imo. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25 at 10:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NationalGeographicProgrammer a) but that would violate their oath - the murder of the child is not something they did and, within the constraints of the oath, they did all they could b) helpful and caring does not mean naive and foolish - you clearly don’t know many people who work with the homeless, or alcoholics, or criminals - they have a very clear understanding of the dark side of humanity and that informs and directs their compassion, it doesn’t undermine it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 25 at 20:01
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There is no need for paladins to be particularly trusting or gullible.

As you note, paladins would be driven to be cautious in who they help and how. Fortunately, this doesn't mean a paladin can't help anyone for fear of them being an evil wizard. Detect Poison: 1st level paladin spell. Zone of Truth: 2nd level paladin spell. Discern Lies: 3rd level paladin spell. Detect Evil: at will from paladin level 1.

Given how serious a paladin's oath is, it would not be out of place for him to use magic to ensure he's not being used as a catspaw.

Yes, don't tell paladins any vital secrets.

Real-life militaries already operate on a need-to-know basis when it comes to secret intelligence. Paladins are well-suited for direct combat against Evil adversaries. The less a paladin knows, the better. The commander can tell him "you don't need to know what you'll be doing until our agent in the field tells you/you receive a magical message/you unseal this scroll that self-destructs if you're captured".

Needless to say, the kind of commanders that give a bad response to a paladin's truth detection will not have paladins under their command.

When all else fails, a paladin can fall.

3.5e text specifies "A paladin who ceases to be lawful good, who willfully commits an evil act, or who grossly violates the code of conduct...". Grossly can be interpreted in different ways. It can be argued that, in your "tell the truth or we kill the child" scenario, such a forced breach of the code would not be constituted as "gross", or would not be a breach at all (if you "help" the child by dishonorably giving away military secrets, is it not "your help used for evil ends"?).

Even if such leniency is not granted, a fall does not mean the paladin is completely out of play. There is the atonement spell, which is specified as costless if you were compelled into committing the act you're atoning for. As for the immediate future... congratulations, you made a paladin fall. If they already were at your mercy - well, it's not like they're losing much, except that they can lie to you now (hell, if your DM rules the fall as something that's not obvious to onlookers, the paladin can lie and pretend it was the truth and they're still a paladin). If they weren't - you now have a very angry ex-paladin who still has their levels and all items that aren't restricted for paladins only, and who is no longer bound by their rules.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ " it would not be out of place for him to use magic to ensure he's not being used as a catspaw." Yes surely. That is why Evil agents will use proxies. "Yes, don't tell paladins any vital secrets." Paladins can also stumble upon a secret. That is why I said that society should work-out some solutions. The solution would be a very specific culture around paladins to minimize their involvement in any secret knowledge to the point of using memory-loss elixirs. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25 at 10:22
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The problems described are problems for any good person.

If (in an unlikely series of events) you have valuable information and the enemy knows you have it and you're defeated and captured alive and they threaten to kill a child if you don't tell them what you know, then you have a moral dilemma.

Being a Paladin adds the extra complexity that if you make the wrong choice, you might lose your powers and be in need of atonement. So what? Those powers didn't protect you from getting into such dire circumstances, and it sounds like you're in the clutches of a villain who will probably kill you anyway once you're no longer useful.

Wouldn't it be just as risky to entrust secrets to a non-Paladin? A Paladin would typically be willing to give up their life, even under the threat of torture, to protect something they swore to keep secret. There's no guarantee the average person won't succumb to fear or bribery.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Isn't that treating the paladin vows instrumentally ? The whole shtick with paladins (With the type of DM I'm talking about) is that they take their vows inhumanly serious. So it's not about "Just loosing powers you don't need" it's about loosing your will to live. Because you live to fulfill every commandment for your god. That is why Paladin can't compromise if it's no absolutely imperative and by the CoC : Goodness>> Code of Honour. (In the case that an imperative arise) Secrets are safer with non-Paladin because they can be reliable (LG) while not being bound by vows'es exploit. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25 at 10:17

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