A paladin was a holy crusader, sworn to an oath to promote and fight for their beliefs and values. As paragons of their beliefs, paladins were granted the ability to wield divine magic by deities or similar powers. So long as a paladin stayed true to their oath, they retained the ability to wield these powers. The life of a paladin more commonly attracted good persons to it than those with malice in their heart, but evil paladins were not unheard of.
The defining characteristic of a paladin was their oath, which most frequently called upon a paladin to battle the forces of evil and to defend justice wherever they could. Precisely how a paladin defined these values differed from one paladin to another and some swore their oath as a form of religious devotion, dedicating themselves to the values of a particular god. Others, however, simple held themselves to a particularly powerful sense of right and wrong, which was in of itself enough to attract the favor of the divine. Evil paladins sometimes served as champions of primordials or fiends, committing atrocities like the sacrifice of sapients in exchange for unholy power. All paladins, regardless of whom they served and how they acted, were expected to serve as sworn defenders of their beliefs, smiting those who would debase or devalue them.
Lawful or good individuals were more likely to feel the call to serve as a paladin than others, making most paladins lawful good. As a result, most commoners viewed the paladin to be, by default, lawful good, though this was not necessarily true. Paladins who did worship good or lawful gods tended towards the worship of deities such as the Empyrean deities, Eo, Bahamut, Bristol, Yggritte, or the Daern. All paladins adhered to a code of conduct of some sort, though the strictures of their oath often differed significantly from one paladin to another. It was from this code that paladins derived their nature as the purist champions of whatever cause they served.
Few paladins truly “chose” their career and for many becoming a paladin was more like answering a call to destiny, sometimes quite literally from a god or angel. A rare few felt compelled to the paladin's path since their early youth, as though sent into the world with a divine purpose. It was often said that becoming a paladin was something that was either within one's nature or not and though an individual could reject the divine call that beckoned them, no one could become a paladin who did not have the necessary conviction. Most people who did feel the compulsion to become a paladin began their training early in life, often as adolescents. Many were squires or assistants to more experienced paladins, training for years before they came into their own as champions of their cause. Others heard or answered the call only late in life, after having pursued a different career, possibly in response to a terrible catastrophe like the destruction of their home.
The adventuring lifestyle came easily to most paladins, regardless of their origin. Although exceedingly rare among the general populace, paladins were disproportionately likely to pursue a life of adventure compared to most other warriors. Once a paladin swore their oath their loyalty to their was second to none, coming before crown or country. This strength of conviction gave many paladins a sense of common fellowship but did not always endear them to others. In many cases, paladins did not get along quite as well with other non-paladin adventurers, with the exception of clerics with similar beliefs.
Many paladins were humans or half-elves, whose shared sense of ambition and purpose made the two races excellent champions of an ideal or the divine. Dwarves were in some ways also well-suited for such a life, owing to their cultural tradition of discipline and religious devotion, though the oath of a paladin meant putting ideals before family and clan, which could be hard on dwarves. Among dwarves, hill dwarves made uncommonly good paladins. Elven paladins were also relatively rare, partially due to the chaotic tendencies of both races, although silver elves were commonly zealous enough to be paladins. Among other races, paladins were far rarer still, with the exception of perian halflings. Paladins could also be found widely in the regions of Findle and Thessan.
Paladins, like clerics, were granted their divine powers, known as prayers, through the strength of faith, to the principle object of their devotion was their cause and not their god. Like clerics, paladins could enhance these prayers with a holy symbol. Paladins also possessed the ability to funnel the power of the gods through their own body in a special ability known as Channel Divinity. This power allowed paladins a number of abilities, such as turning the undead or other creatures or increasing the power of their attacks. Some paladins also had access to special variations of Channel Divinity dependent on the specific god they worshiped, with a paladin of Bahamut and one of the Daern having different abilities.
In battle paladins were exceptionally good combatants, equivalent in power to fighters, trained in the use of all forms of armor and all melee weapons. Like fighters, paladins trained themselves to master a particular fighting style, such as the use of armor, dueling with one weapon, fighting with a great weapon, or shielding allies from harm. With additional training, paladins could learn to attack more quickly, again much like fighters. Paladins could combine their martial and divine abilities for a powerful effect, expending some of their divine power to enhance an attack with a divine smite that channeled positive energy into the attack, an ability which improved as a paladin grew more powerful. Some paladins could also use similar, less powerful attacks known as strikes. Most if not all strikes and smites required a paladin to be wielding a weapon when casting. Paladins could also use their divine power to protect their allies, scorching foes who attacked their companions with radiant power that interfered with an enemy's attacks.
Paladins were also trained in healing, though to a lesser extent than clerics. All paladins possessed an ability known as Lay on Hands, which instantly healed the minor wounds of a comrade and helped them get back on their feet. Their connection to the divine also gave them immunity to practically all disease and allowed them to exude auras of courage and protection them and allied creatures immune to fear and more resistant to the effects of mental or physical stress. The most experienced paladins could also use their divine magic to dispel the effect of any spell on themselves or another creature up to a number of times per day dependent upon their conviction and personal magnetism.
Many paladins had other abilities to aid them in their journey. Many good paladins, for instance, had the capacity to detect evil within their presence. It was also traditional for paladins to be trained in riding and several paladins owned mounts who were gifted with sapience and supernatural strength as a boon by the paladin's divine patron.
All of these abilities were granted at the behest of the paladin's patrons. If a paladin violated the code of conduct laid down by his or her patron, then they could be deprived of their divine abilities, particularly if they showed no sign of repentance. Once "fallen," a paladin could not regain their abilities without appealing to their patron and atoning for their “sins” in an appropriate manner. More minor transgressions could be forgiven through acts of atonement such as an all-night vigil of prayer or fasting.
All paladins swore a series of vows binding them to a particular ethos or set of beliefs that would guide their actions. The most important of these vows, taken after a paladin had some experience fighting and traveling under their belt, were known as a paladin's oath and were the final capstone to all their prior preparations. The edicts of this oath differed significantly from one oath to the next, but some of the most commonly sworn oaths are listed below.
Oath of the Ancients
Strongly associated with both druids, the Order of the Ancients and elves, the Oath of the Ancients was a promise to defend the natural world and all of its creatures against the forces of death and decay. Paladins who swore the Oath of the Ancients — commonly known as fey knights, green knights, or horned knights — were commonly neutral good and cared less for abstract principles like honor or freedom and more for deeply resonant sentiments like joy, kindness, and beauty. Above all else, the Oath of Ancients valued the preservation of life. It's four main tenets were:
- Kindle the Light. Through your acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness, kindle the light of hope in the world, beating back despair.
- Shelter the Light. Where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world, stand against the wickedness that would swallow it. Where life flourishes, stand against the forces that would render it barren.
- Preserve Your Own Light. Delight in song and laughter, in beauty and art. If you allow the light to die in your own heart, you can't preserve it in the world.
- Be the Light. Be a glorious beacon for all who live in despair. Let the light of your joy and courage shine forth in all your deeds.
For their service, paladins sworn to the Oath of the Ancients were granted a number of potent boons. These paladins could use their Channel Divinity ability to turn fey or fiends and return them to their natural form if they were shapeshifted. The Oath of the Ancients allowed paladins to project from themselves a powerful sphere of warding across a radius of 10 feet or more, protecting themselves and other nearby creatures from enemy spells. The most experienced paladins could even transform themselves into a manifestation of natural fury, taking on such changes in appearance as bark-like skin, leafy hair, or newly grown antlers. This shapeshifting made paladins' spells more potent and also allowed them to both heal and cast magic more quickly.
Oath of Devotion
The favorite of paladins who imagined themselves knightly heroes, the Oath of Devotion called upon all those sworn to it to adhere to the highest principles of righteousness, foregoing all loyalties but to the pursuit of justice and the protection of the innocent. Paladins belonging to this oath were often known as cavaliers, white knights, or holy warriors and were almost always lawful good. Idolizing angels as the servants of lawful or good deities, paladins sworn to the Oath of Devotion held themselves (and sometimes others) to an extremely high standard of behavior. The key principles of the Oath of Devotion were the following:
- Honesty. Don't lie or cheat. Let your word be your promise.
- Courage. Never fear to act, though caution is wise.
- Compassion. Aid others, protect the weak, and punish those who threaten them. Show mercy to your foes, but temper it with wisdom.
- Honor. Treat others with fairness, and let your honorable deeds be an example to them. Do as much good as possible while causing the least amount of harm.
- Duty. Be responsible for your actions and their consequences, protect those entrusted to your care, and obey those who have just authority over you.
Although the Oath of Devotion was not a path for the weak of spirit, it did have its reward. Paladins with the Oath of Devotion were as capable of turning the undead as any cleric and could turn fiends as well. The gods of law and good who favored those sworn to the Oath also granted them access to a number of potent spells, such as sanctuary, dispel magic, and flame strike. Additionally, the purity of a truly experienced paladin of Devotion was such that they were always under the effect of the protection from evil and good spell, even when it had not been cast.
Oath of Vengeance
While many paladins were paragons of virtue and honor, not all were. In some times and places, a different paladin was called upon, one who was willing to do what other paladins were not. These paladins — sometimes known as avengers or dark knights — were sworn to the Oath of Vengeance, a dark pact to utterly destroy the unrighteous by any means necessary. Unconcerned with honor or spiritual purity, paladins sworn to the Oath of Vengeance were most frequently neutral or lawful neutral in alignment and were sworn only to uphold the following values:
- 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.
In order to pursue their goal of divinely sanctioned retribution, paladins sworn to the Oath of Vengeance were granted access to a number of spells such as bane, haste, or scrying, as well as a number of other powerful abilities. With training these paladins became relentless hunters, possessed of a supernatural focus that let them close in on a fleeing foe after striking them once in flight. The most powerful of those who followed the Oath of Vengeance were also capable of shapeshifting into the form of an angel, sprouting fully functional wings from their back and radiating an aura of supernatural menace into a sphere of 60 feet in diameter, frightening all but the most strong-willed foes.
Though all paladins shared a number of abilities, some trained themselves to use more specialized techniques. Many paladins belonged to one of the following traditions.
By far the most martial of all the paladin variants, ardent paladins felt it was their sacred duty to represent the wrath of their god, much like an avenger. This extended to abandoning some of the caution and careful defense of most other paladins and, of all the varying paladin schools, ardent paladins acted with the least regard for their own safety, throwing themselves into the fray with righteous zeal, in order to punish the wicked. To assist them in this task, ardent paladins generally forsook their Lay on Hands ability for the ardent vow prayer, which increased the deadliness of their attacks. As might be expected, ardent paladins generally regarded physical strength as their most important attribute, with high perceptiveness and wisdom secondary features as a means by which to access their god's power. Ardent paladins were less concerned with exuding a charming personality than other paladins, however, instead honing their constitution. Many ardent paladins preferred two-handed weapons, in order to deal the most lethal blows possible.
Avenging paladins felt, more than anything, that it was literally their godsworn mission to vanquish those whose actions and goals opposed their deity's, either directly or indirectly. Enemies of the unholy, avenging paladins felt that the best way to protect the faithful was to ensure that their enemies were either destroyed or routed completely, and avenging paladins focused their training as such, preferring exceptionally deadly prayers over those that healed or defended. To become the deadliest holy soldiers possible, avenging paladins put their prime focus on training their physical strength, though like most paladins they considered willpower and strength of personality to be vital components towards serving their god faithfully. Most avenging paladins preferred large, two-handed weapons, with which they could cause the most possible damage to infidels.
Protecting paladins took the “defender of the faithful” role of the paladin to its logical conclusion. Protecting paladins not only defended their friends and allies from enemy attack, but took on the role of a substitutional cleric, healing and bolstering the abilities of their allies as well. This comes at the cost of sheer lethality and prayers used by protecting paladins tended to be less deadly, though with the benefit of positive secondary effects. Inspiring leaders and possessed of a strong will beyond that of many other paladins, protecting paladins were less concerned with physical strength and of all the paladins tended to possess the least common sense, perhaps because they were so sure of their role and their god's commandments. Protecting paladins favored one-handed melee weapons used in concert with a shield, preferably a heavy one, which lowered their capacity for damage while bolstering their defense.
While most paladins saw themselves as the champions of their faith through the way in which they acted, virtuous paladins believe it was just as important that a paladin look to inspire others to similar degrees of piety. Virtuous paladins used their holy symbols far more often than other paladins and worked to protect the faithful while also preserving their own lives. Unlike other paladins, virtuous paladins often used ranged attacks alongside melee ones. For virtuous paladins, a shield and melee weapon were the most common arms, though paladins more often preferred to hone their willpower or mental facilities than to train their physical power, though strength remained an important part of their livelihood.