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Everyone knows a paladin risks falling for violating the paladin's Code (i.e., don't steal, don't lie, don't sneak, warn a foe you're attacking, and all that crazy paladin jazz).

However, a paladin also vows to smite evil and heathens. Does the Code apply to such evil foes as well?

  • Can a paladin Backstab a demon?
  • Can a paladin lie to a demon?
  • Can a paladin steal from a demon?
  • Must a paladin offer mercy to a demon?
  • If a demon begs for a fair trial or for mercy (even if the paladin knows the demon will try to escape), must he take the demon as a prisoner and treat it with the due respect to a prisoner? Is "Summary execution" a fair trial enough?

In order to cut down on messy, speculative answers, any answers should cite published 3.5 material as support.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What makes you suspect that sneaking and a good solid smiting is contrary to the Paladin's code? (We can't really make value judgements unless something's explicit; that's up to you, your table and your GM to interpret.) Are you asking broadly if the Paladin's code applies in the face of evil, or just with that specific stuff? E.g. are you asking if it's alright to do things to Evil creatures it would be totally not alright to do to Good ones, such as torture and other decidedly bad stuff? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 4 '14 at 12:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Closed because vague paladin alignment/code questions tend to explode. Can you please be as specific as you can in your question? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Sep 4 '14 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see how this question is unclear. I agree with OP: it is perfectly clear what he is asking about. If it's OT for other reasons, fine, but in that case state it, since it is not unclear. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Apr 6 '15 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ While this question is clear, it's still entirely opinion-based unless/until the querent can specify that they're looking for answers which cite published 3.5 material for their support. Otherwise this would just turn into another messy collection of speculative answers. I'm disinclined to vote to open as clear when I'd just have to turn around and vote to close as opinion-based; closed is closed. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Nov 27 '15 at 23:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW I've added a line to that effect. The querent can re-edit or revert if that's not what he's looking for, but it seems pretty clear to me that that's what he wants. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Nov 28 '15 at 1:19
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A Paladin's Code always applies, no matter the enemy.

There are many, many arguments about alignment and Paladin's Code enforcement around the internet. The angle that I'm arguing here is not the only valid angle. Others, like the one given in @JackLesnie's answer, are also totally valid depending on your group.

The Code of Conduct Paladin feature says the following:

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.

By a strict RAW reading, the text is pretty clear. If a Paladin lies, cheats, or uses poison, they lose all class abilities. Nothing in the text mentions context or mitigating circumstances, even when you're fighting evil outsiders.

I suspect that this is mainly because Paladins are supposed to not just be Lawful Good, but Lawful Good and then some. A Lawful Good rogue could totally backstab, betray, poison, or lie to a demon without a twinge of guilt or alignment shift, since they are just using the tools at hand to fight evil. A Paladin, however, has sworn to be above that kind of combat, and won't stoop to the demon's level by using dishonorable tactics.

To directly answer your list of questions:

Can a paladin Backstab a demon? No.
Can a paladin lie to a demon? No.
Can a paladin steal from a demon? No.
Must a paladin offer mercy to a demon?
If a demon begs for a fair trial or for mercy (even if the paladin knows the demon will try to escape), must he take the demon as a prisoner and treat it with the due respect to a prisoner? Is "Summary execution" a fair trial enough?

The last two deserve more careful analysis. The Code of Conduct says that the Paladin has to "help those in need (provided they do not use the help for evil or chaotic ends)". If a demon asks for mercy and the Paladin expects the demon to just use that mercy as a way to escape and survive, then they would be using the Paladin's help for evil ends, and so the Paladin is allowed to ignore their plea.

Similarly, if a demon asks for a "fair trial"; Nothing in the Code explicitly states that a Paladin must accept a surrender. Unless there's an overarching legal structure that the Paladin must follow that requires something else, nothing in the Code of Conduct says that the Paladin needs to give a demon anything but a summary execution. After all, the Code says that they have to "punish those who harm or threaten innocents", and killing a demon does just that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In many jurisdictions, an individual may be tried and found guilty in absentia if the evidence against them is sufficient, so "they're a demon" might actually be enough to merit a death sentence on its own; Depending on the local laws, a demon might have already had a fair trial in the eyes of the law. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 30 '15 at 4:32
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Paladin Codes

This is the cause of a lot of arguments. Answers on a website will not resolve fundamental difficulties you are having with other players or a GM about disagreeing about what it means to be a Paladin.

That disclaimer aside, what most people think the paladin's code is, is not what's actually written in the PHB.

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.

Associates: While she may adventure with characters of any good or neutral alignment, a paladin will never knowingly associate with evil characters, nor will she continue an association with someone who consistently offends her moral code. A paladin may accept only henchmen, followers, or cohorts who are lawful good.

'Act with honour' is the only thing that might be considered to be breaking a paladin's code if they backstab a demon. But a demon is an elemental force of evil, it cannot choose right and good - saying that stabbing it in the back is dishonourable is at best an edge case - it's in no way clear cut. To 'betray' a typical demon (there are printed Lawful Good demons, which is yet more evidence for the 'it depends; see your GM' line of thinking) is like betraying a forest fire. At no point is it serving the cause of evil to do so.

Note that 'not lying', 'not cheating' etc are examples (NOTE THE BRACKETS), not direct commands. There are situations where the honourable course of action is a white lie, at least by most social standards. Or where cheating is honourable, such as in a game where cheating (as long as you don't get caught) is the expected mode.

So basically, all the people trying to use the code of conduct to straitjacket people playing paladins are actually wrong - the code doesn't say half of what they claim it does, and interpreting it to the strictest possible set of standards isn't RAW - it's a 'reading' of the text that ignores both intent and phrasing.

And finally - the Paladin code, as written, has been a source of strife, both by people hiding behind it to cause strife for their party and GMs maliciously enforcing it on players.

No GM worth their salt that I have ever met or played with has ever used it in any form. Instead, they've simply used their human judgement to decide if the paladin has fallen or not, and it's generally pretty obvious.

Bad GMs trying to 'trick' the paladin into falling because they think it's a cool story concept, but lack the GMing skills to actually tempt the character in any meaningful sense (by setting up things they want and then setting up situations where to get that thing the paladin is tempted to take the 'easy road' to it, which is evil), are bad. If you or anyone else does that, they should not GM games of D&D until they learn not to - it's that simple.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Demons do have free will and occasionally choose to be non-evil in D&D canon, though it's extremely rare. Alas, the only example I can think of that doesn't involve a helm of opposite alignment is from a 2e Planescape supplement. Aside from that minor quibble, though, the advice in this answer is excellent - particularly the bit about the Paladin's code not being nearly as restrictive as some people think it is. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 30 '15 at 4:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Have an official succubus paladin, Eludecia. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 30 '15 at 4:40
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Quote as others have posted:

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.

Note, there is a lot of room for movement. The specifics are:

  • Respect legitimate authority
  • Act with honor
  • Help those in need
  • Punish those who harm or threaten innocents

It gives examples and exceptions, but those are the specific rules for paladin's to act by. The important thing is to stay within alignment, and follow the above four tenets. In some cultures, death is the only honorable end to a duel, and to do otherwise would be a disgrace to both warriors (particularly the loser).

In some cultures a fight is war, and is no holds barred... A paladin from these cultures may seem odd by other paladin's standards, but will go all out in a fight, using the terrain to their advantage, and using what some paladins would consider "dirty tricks" that are merely tactical decisions to their environment (such as throwing dirt in an enemy's eyes).

Many societies, by law, demand the death of evil creatures without considering them 'human' at all, thus immune to some of the paladin's tenets of helping those in need. In these examples, that Paladin would be considered in the wrong for sparing a goblin's life because the goblins are "inherently evil" and all their actions are considered either evil or chaotic. They are undeserving of life because they do nothing but create misery and woe. This is a minor version of the way demons and devils are seen. Demons and devils would be REQUIRED to die in this mindset because ANYTHING they say or do is simply a deception to create an evil end. To give them mercy would be to support their evil, and thus would be evil itself.

Ultimately, it is up to the DM and the player to work on what constitutes a specific paladin's code of honor and beliefs, or a global paladin code, for that specific character/game.

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Does, but it is not his way of thinking

So. Being member of a class means not only a set of changes on your character page, it is also a mindset. And, having an alignment (for example, lawful good) has also a mindset.

A rogue or anybody with some chaotic alignment is thinking always on such solutions, how to backstab somebody, how to lie, etc.

A paladin doesn't. A paladin is thinking on such things: how to win his enemy in a combat, how to solve ethical problems, how to pray, etc.

Thus, it their adventures, the paladin finds situations and solves problems mostly passing his way of thinking.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: You don't cite rules text, and the question asks for citations. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Nov 30 '15 at 2:35
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What the rules say

"Lawful Good" does not equal "Stupid Nice".

What the players handbook says about the paladin's code is:

Additionally, paladins swear to follow a code of conduct that is in line with lawfulness and goodness. (p. 42)

And:

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. (p.44)

Further:

“Law” implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. (p.104)

“Good” implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others. (p.104)

Answers to the questions

Can a paladin backstab a demon?

Yes, there is nothing in there that says you can't sneak up and backstab some bastard who richly deserves it!

  • Can a paladin lie to a demon?

No, but why would he want to? Your code prevents lying: it does not compel truth telling, feel free to shut up if the alternative is lying. Of course as a Lawful character you can deceive so long as you don't cross the line into lying (i.e. speaking known untruths).

  • Can a paladin steal from a demon?

No but ... can a demon legitimately own anything?

  • Must a paladin offer mercy to a demon?

No, demons are irredeemable; mercy is for those who can be rehabilitated. However, to beg the broader question, there is nothing in Lawful Good or the Paladin's code that requires mercy to be offered to anyone. Paladins make perfect executioners: the condemned have been found guilty according to law by legitimate authority and the paladin shows them the consideration of a sharp blade.

  • If a demon begs for a fair trial or for mercy (even if the paladin knows the demon will try to escape), must he take the demon as a prisoner and treat it with the due respect to a prisoner? Is "Summary execution" a fair trial enough?

No, Yes a demon by its existence "harm[s] or threaten[s] innocents", ergo they must be punished.

Demons are a bad example

Demons are Chaotic Evil - they are not so because of what they do, they are so because of what they are. Everything a demon is is anathema to everything a paladin is. There is no more moral dilemma involved in fighting demons there is in fighting floodwater ... whatever it takes is what you do. The only way a paladin can suffer a moral crisis in a conflict with a demon is if they don't resist to the best of their ability. Which is not to say they can't run away if they are overmatched: perhaps getting away and warning others is the best they can do.

DMs putting ambiguous moral dilemmas in front of paladins is not fair!

If you have a campaign where you expect paladins to be played as written then you must have a world where there is absolute law and chaos, good and evil and the paladin knows which is which instinctively. To do otherwise is to change the rules of magic on your wizard and the skill system on your rogue - its just cheating by the DM: which is both chaotic and evil!

If you like a game with ambiguous morality then the paladin must be allowed to follow the code as best they can. Paladins end up a little grubby but they are still a hell of a lot cleaner than any other class. To lose paladin status you must violate your code egregiously and unambiguously.

Further discussion of this can be found at How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?

Similar but 5e based: How do you adjudicate what alignment a PC's actions are?

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: Paladins have to be LG, but there's more to their oath than that. You do a good job describing how an LG character would behave, but you don't talk about the Paladin's Code of Conduct directly. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Nov 30 '15 at 2:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Putting forth ambiguous moral dilemmas in front of paladins is not only fair, it improves a story with someone who truly wants to play a paladin. It is the ambiguous moral dilemmas that separate the "great paladin" from the Anakin Skywalker/Arthas who falls due to making exceptions over time and gradually giving in to darkness. The dilemmas themselves should not cause the loss of paladin abilities (as the struggle is part of the concept), but the descent, should the paladin go through it, should involve those ambiguous dilemmas as at least the beginning of the problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Nov 30 '15 at 18:10
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Can a paladin steal from demon? No.

Can a paladin backstab a demon? No.

Can a paladin lie to a demon? No.

If a demon begs for mercy, must a paladin show mercy? Yes.

All demons are evil? No. Wizards of the Coast hints not all demons are with the succubus paladin.

A paladin isn't judge, jury and executioner. No paladin kills unarmed, defenseless creatures, even if those creatures are demons. "But the demon must be killed because it will do more evil in the future!" you say? The paladin doesn't know that. The paladin can't pass judgment based on what could happen.

If, after begging for mercy and receiving it, the demon tries to attack the paladin, then the paladin can kill the demon, but not before. A demon is still a living being, and killing such a creature out of hand is an evil act.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. I've edited your answer for clarity; I hope that's okay. The site usually closes alignment questions because they end up being opinion-based. This question's stayed open because it asks specifically for D&D 3.5 sources that support answers to the questions it poses. To improve this answer, it's necessary to reference such sources. You can edit your answer at any time. Thank you for your participation and trying to help strangers. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 2 '16 at 9:55

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