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The concept

With the vanishing of alignment restrictions on Paladins in 5e, I have been toying with the idea of a (PC or NPC) Lawful Evil Paladin.

My particular image is of a Noble background Paladin with:

  • Personality Trait: If you do me an injury, I will crush you, ruin your name, and salt your fields.

  • Ideal: Responsibility. It is my duty to respect the authority of those above me, just as those below me must respect mine. (Lawful)

  • Bond: My loyalty to my sovereign is unwavering.

  • Flaw: In fact, the world does revolve around me.

He has a firm and unshakable belief that society as currently structure (i.e. with him near the top) is the way things should be; anyone who seeks to challenge or change this is, by definition, evil in intent if not in deed.

The Rules

Relevantly, the rules have this to say on Paladins (PHB pp. 82-88)

paladins are united by their oaths to stand against the forces of evil.

A paladin swears to uphold justice and righteousness, to stand with the good things of the world against the encroaching darkness, and to hunt the forces of evil wherever they lurk.

are you an embittered loner sworn to take vengeance on those who have done great evil, sent as an angel of death by the gods or driven by your need for revenge?

did some terrible event—the destruction of your home, perhaps—drive you to your quests?

paladins are rarely of any evil alignment

The tenets of the Oath of Vengeance vary by paladin, but all the tenets revolve around punishing wrongdoers by any means necessary. Paladins who uphold these tenets are willing to sacrifice even their own righteousness to mete out justice upon those who do evil, so the paladins are often neutral or lawful neutral in alignment. The core principles of the tenets are brutally simple.

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.

I have highlighted the really key bit - paladins are rarely of any evil alignment - which means that there are some paladins who are. I have also focused on the Oath of Vengeance paladins since the tenets of the others are more directly in conflict with an evil alignment.

Relevantly, the rules have this to say about alignment (PHB p. 122)

Lawful evil (LE) creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. Devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins are lawful evil.

So, apart from 35+ years of tradition, is there anything in the 5e rules which makes this unworkable?

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    \$\begingroup\$ An Aside: The concept of an evil paladin equivalent dates back at least as far as the Dragon #39 (July 1980) Laking and Mesford article "Good Got You Down? Try This for Evil" (8-9), so your estimated timeline might be spot on. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 7 '15 at 8:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Per meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/5357/… we are not interested in alignment debates here. Please stick to answering the question, and if you have a different opinion on alignment (as is likely, as no two people share one) then contribute your own answer. Arguing in comments will be deleted without notice. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 7 '15 at 16:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth comparing your model there to the XGtE Oath of Conquest. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 3 at 21:30
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Nope, you're good. The rules for 5e allow for this kind of paladin all but explicitly. You should have no trouble making and running this character.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's even explicit: "paladins are rarely evil" parses the same as "rarely, paladins are evil," i.e. ∃ evil paladins. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Nov 4 '17 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ paladins are rarely evil implies that sometimes paladins are evil. Sometimes, rarely, there are evil paladins explicitly states that there are evil paladins. The statements are logically equivalent (provided rarely is interpreted a certain way, viz. 0<e<<'normal' as opposed to just e<<'normal', which would allow 'no ogres are evil' and 'ogres are rarely evil' to be non-contradictory), but nonetheless one of them is explicit and one is implicit. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Nov 4 '17 at 7:10
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The Lawful Evil Paladin

Your 5e LE Paladin should work out famously -- or maybe, infamously! :-) Depending on how important Alignment is to you and your DM, the alignment may or may not figure significantly in the campaign. The character generation rules still call for the player to choose an alignment.

Choose your character’s alignment (the moral compass that guides his or her decisions) and ideals.(Basic, P8).

  • Lawful evil (LE) creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. (Basic, p. 34)

Consider the following exchange between the Lawful Evil Paladin (LEP) and an Ally (A) for a mission that a party is about to undertake. They've got the plan mostly together but have some disagreements as to "how" they'll do it all:

A: We do it my way, or I won't help.
LEP: Then your life is forfeit ... before we begin.
A: You can't succeed without me!
LEP: I'll risk that. Your way of doing this contradicts my oath. My oath is greater than my life, so for sure it's greater than your miserable life.
A: I'm outta here, and I won't forget to put roses on your grave. (Gets up to leave)
LEP: (Steps to obstruct A's way). You are either with us or against us. You know who we are, you know our mission. If you are against us, you will be dead rather than a risk our mission. I've sworn to Lord Porkensawsij that we will see this through. (Draws sword). Make your choice, and make it now! With us, or against us?
(Were the A an NPC, an Intimidation(CHA) check might be appropriate here).

Paladins And Alignment

5e still uses alignment, but it's more flexible than in some previous editions. The LE Paladin works for a variety of reasons, but it's made simpler because there's more than one kind of evil in the world.

Class guidelines for an Oath of Vengeance Paladin:

... paladins are united by their oaths to stand against the forces of evil.
... paladin swears to uphold justice and righteousness, to stand with the good things of the world against the encroaching darkness, and to hunt the forces of evil wherever they lurk.
... Fight the Greater Evil. Faced with a choice of fighting my sworn foes or combating a lesser evil. I choose the greater evil.

These two backgrounds traits are a perfect fit:

  • Ideal: Responsibility. It is my duty to respect the authority of those above me, just as those below me must respect mine. (Lawful)
  • Bond: My loyalty to my sovereign is unwavering.
  • Personality Trait: If you do me an injury, I will crush you, ruin your name, and salt your fields.

This is consistent with the proud feudal nobleman's PoV.

At the conceptual level oaths and laws/lawfulness are related. They are things (abstractions even) outside of a person that a person considers authoritative guides for how he lives his life and pursues his and society's goals.

The 5e Paladin Oath is greater than the character, otherwise it can't provide the character with powers. The in-game consequences are a cost to the Paladin if the DM finds it proper to invoke Oathbreaker rules. That means that the Oaths have in-game implications, imposing limitations as a price for the cool powers. At the conceptual level, the powers are available because the Paladin walks the walk -- he doesn't just talk the talk.

How does your DM view a change alignment toward Lawful Neutral from Lawful Evil? Does it even matter? That is table dependent. @user3735278 paraphrased @RSConely in some comments to a Paladin answer that need to be saved regarding a possible distinction:

A Lawful Neutral paladin might think:
"I am willing to do evil only when absolutely necessary."

A Lawful Evil paladin might think:
"I am willing to do evil because it is absolutely necessary. The only way to effectively fight evil is through evil means."

That last approach has great potential to fit in with the new "Oath of the Crown" included in the recent "Sword Coast Adventure Guide" supplement to D&D 5e.

Bottom Line

The Power of the Oath is what makes the 5e Paladin a Paladin rather than just another Fighter with an attitude and some cool powers. The Lawful Evil Paladin fits into the game's framework.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a nice answer, but PvPing never ends well. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 10 '17 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras Depends on the group, but yeah, it's often going to be a pain. The illustrated interaction (if between two players' PCs) is already a group roblem because the other one is basically leaving the group/splitting the party ,.. so the NPC case is the more common way (with intimidate check) to illustrate this. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 10 '17 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Leaving the group/splitting the party in every game where pvp was ok I've been in or GMed was also ok. In not every game where splitting the party was ok was pvp ok \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '17 at 22:01
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You said it yourself - paladins in the PHB are rarely evil, but not never. The defining characteristic for a paladin is the sense of drive and dedication, outside of an oathbreaker.

As of the release of Xanathar's Guide to Everything, there is an official version of the Oath of Conquest. The oath of Conquest almost matches your character perfectly.

Here's a sample from the Conquest paladin's oath:

Rule with an iron fist. Once you have conquered, tolerate no dissent. Those who obey it shall be favored. Those who dissent shall be punished as an example to all who might follow.

You even get some flavorful spells, like hellish rebuke, inflict wounds, etc.

This was originally released as unearthed arcana (unofficial playtest material). You can find the UA material on Wizard's of the Coast's site here: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/unearthed-arcana/paladin-sacred-oaths. If you want the newest official material, you can find it in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, which you can get digitally via DnD beyond or in print.

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Yes, you are fine. I have a "Chaotic Good" Paladin in my current campaign with Oath of the Ancients. Basically a "fey Paladin" and it works perfectly fine, both within the rules and as a fun character concept.

I would note that the DMG actually also provides an "anti-paladin" called the Oathbreaker (p.97). It starts at 3rd level, but definitely provides the "evil" flavour with things like controlling undead and casting auras of fear.

Also note that your Paladin's bonds/flaws (as described) may not be really evil. Your Paladin could very well implement all of this within the bounds of existing law, which may make then Lawful Neutral in your game world. Obviously up to the DM :)

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The prohibition against Evil is a 3e (and earlier) thing; it's not a part of 5e. You are still bound to your oaths, whatever they may be, but there is a broader set of oaths to choose from.

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