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D&D 3E
paladin's ethos 
1st-Nov-2005 10:15 am

I'm running Age Of Worms. The party encountered an evil half-orc named Kullen with some info they needed, the nature and location of a bad guy named Filge. They were actually looking for some bones that had been stolen, but turns out Filge had them and animated them. Anyway the two pc's with the highest charisma, a CN gnome rogue and an LG elven paladin, were able to talk him out of the info without a fight, with one stipulation, that they dispatch the enemey he was selling out, and return with a token of his demise, his eyes.

The paladin's concept is an interesting one, one of the best for a paladin i've ever heard. In her youth she was a typical chaotic sylvan elf. She was surprised when she felt a divine calling to the paladin order of Heironious with a specific mission, to seek out and destroy undead in the name of her god. She feels an inner conflict in that this irresistible divine calling goes against her nature. Because of this, she is conflicted, and kind of manic depressive. She's generally sullen and withdrawn, but when she gets a chance to act on her calling she gets a rush of euphoria. In general though she's pretty dissatisfied with her lot in life, and jealous of those free of such a restrictive calling, jealous of what she perceives as their freedom from her strict code. Because of this she's more willing to associate with unsavory types than most paladins. Up till now she's been touring the gutter by way of every bar and tavern she can find.

Now, because the person they were looking for is an evil (and twisted) necromancer with undead servants she was eager to seek him out and destroy him. Because of some pressure from her party (but not much) she agreed to the deal and plans to return Filge's eyes to Kullen. The party has found and killed the Filge. They've taken the eyes from his corpse. The paladin plans to give them to the half-orc, Kullen.

I'm not looking to start another installment of The Great Alignment Debate™ but it seems to me this is clearly an evil act. Regardless of the nature of the being she killed, she agreed to a deal with an evil creature that she would seek out and kill one of his enemies and return with part of the corpse as proof. They showed no mercy to the necromancer, who they defeated and interrogated before killing him in cold blood.

So it seems pretty cut and dry to me, she loses paladin abilites and has to seek out a cleric to cast Atonement if she plans on continuing as a paladin. If you disagree I'd like to hear why. I'd also like to hear more about what sort of quest she ought to embark on in return for seeking out Atonement.

I'm considering sending them on the next adventure as atonement. Rather than have them find out about the next adventure through the grapevine, they can be sent by the cleric of Heronious. I'll have to bump the levels of the npc cleric in the game so he can cast Atonement, but I think he's a prety minor character so I don't think that's a problem. The problem I have is that I don't think they really want to go down into that dungeon without her paladin abilities. But, for a transgression like this, I don't think a quickie minor quest is sufficient. Anyway I'm rambling and this post is now way to long so I'll end here and let you all tell me what you think.

edited: I cut out some details because one of my players is actually in this community and I don't want to give him any AOW spoilers. If you're familiar with AOW try not to give out spoilers for what happens in the campaign after they meet up with Filge. I don't want to give too much away.

ps: andyiii, feel free to weigh in, you're in the game and aware of what's been going on so far. I'm curious to hear what you think of the situation and how I'm considering handling it.
1st-Nov-2005 04:17 pm (UTC)
The big debate: Is good done on behalf of Evil inherently evil? (or vice versa) Basically, did the motivators detract from the outcome of the event? She obeyed her calling by killing the necromancer and his minions, but would she lose her abilities because she did it for reasons beyond just obeying her God's call? I don't think so. I think that gods can be pragmaticists. She's having trouble dealing with her role and life, this way nets her a little in the way of bonus (reward for years of service) AND she freely chooses to do what her God would have had her do anyway. I'd say the outcome on her powers would hinge on the situation with Kullen more than killing the Necromancer. If Kullen is not a necromancer and she then participates in killing him, then I'd say her abilities vanish. If she maintains neutrality or withdraws from conflict with him, then she keeps it.
1st-Nov-2005 04:30 pm (UTC)
You make a strong point. However, she's not just called to kill the undead; she's called to be a paladin, a paragon of everything her god stands for. If she weren't she could just be a cleric or a particularly devout fighter. Paladins get extraordinary abilities but need to adhere to a strict code. I don't really have any problem with her killing Filge. I have more of a problem with her defiling a corpse at Kullen's say-so, and returning to him with proof of the deed.

But as you say, the god's can be pragmatists. If they weren't, why would they have called a chaotic elf to the brotherhood... sisterhood... uh, siblinghood of paladins? I don't really want to penalize the player for what I think was an interesting role-playing choice, but she is playing a paladin and the character should have to deal with the consequences. I don't want to be too heavy-handed. No one I've ever played with has played a paladin, and they haven't because of situations like this, it's a heavy burden to bear. I'm leaning toward requiring atonement because I think it would be an interesting role-playing situation, however as you point out it might not really be warranted.
1st-Nov-2005 04:37 pm (UTC)
I don't know which God or their alignment or how you're playing them, but I'd say after having made such a choice, the god's got to role with the punches sometimes if you pick someone like that. I'd say that your palladin recieves a "slap on the hand" for the defilement of the necromancer if she didn't participate in cutting out his eyes. If she did, definitely there should be some form of atonement. And then depending on the outcome with Kullen, then she may need a personal meeting and some time in a cloister.
1st-Nov-2005 04:39 pm (UTC)
er.. roll not role. Sorry.
1st-Nov-2005 04:46 pm (UTC)
I'd want to know why she left Kullen alive at the end of things. Once she gave him the eyes her deal with him was over and she knows he's evil and likely to do more evil in the future. Assuming you're using an alignment system close to the core books.
1st-Nov-2005 04:48 pm (UTC)
he is a true bastard but they haven't gotten there yet. to be honest if she went around killing every evil npc in town she'd be busy for a good long while.
1st-Nov-2005 05:02 pm (UTC)
So its o.k. not to kill evil, but its not o.k. to help out someone who's evil? I'm hoping the Paladin checks the alignment of shop keepers and such to make sure she's not frequenting a shop run by someone who's evil, and checking beggars before handing out coppers.

From this, I wouldn't object to working for the evil guy, if her goal was to help out a greater good. I'd probably want to wrist slap for the desecration of the body though. Maybe require her to tithe all the cash proceeds of the adventure that she gets to her church in the necromancers memory so the priests will pray for his redemption in the afterlife.
1st-Nov-2005 05:17 pm (UTC)
fair enough, as i beleive some of the shopkeepers ARE evil. but selling gems to an evil gnome is different from doing an evil thugs dirty work right? be that as it may, i think you all have me convinced. i'm not gonna go nuts and strip her of paladin statud immediately, but i'm not gonna let it go unmentioned either. to be honest i saw it as more of a roleplaying opportunity than anything else, but i don't want to ruin her game in the name of interesting moral quandaries so i'll throw in the roleplaying opp and leave out the heavy in game penalty. definitely gonna require a tithe though.
1st-Nov-2005 04:55 pm (UTC)
I was wondering if/ how you would address this situation. This kind of thing is the reason I encouraged the two of you to work out a clear code of conduct ahead of time. These situations get messy really quick and it's tough to work them out without specific, agreed on rules.

In terms of killing Filge, once subdued he probably should have been taken to some authority for trial. (Probably to the Temple of Heironious, as taking him to the sheriff or whatever in a town as corrupt as Diamond Lake is probably a non-starter.) On the other hand, he was an evil necromancer fully prepared to stab us in the back at the first opportunity, and the instruction to smite undead (and presumably their creators) could be percieved to extend to this situation. I imagine that was the player's interpretation. I don't know, it's a tough one. Would killing him in battle after he had run out of spells and was effectively helpless have been more acceptable?

As for dealing with Kullen, it's tough. We know he's evil, but so if half the town. The only thing we know he has done is grave robbing, which is unpleasant, but it's hard to know how to address that. It would be tough to prove (particularly after we reburried the bodies). Is grave robbing an offense that requires calling you out in the street and fighting to the death? I don't know. Certainly agreeing to kill someone for the evil guy is a no-no, but what do you do if you're trying to track down (and probably kill) that someone anyway? Is it better to fight rather than talk and not be able to find Filge? Is it better to talk, then come back and fight Kullen? In the absence of a clear system of justice or set of guidelines, it's hard to know how to approach a situation like that.

The player is new to the game, and is making a genuine effort to play a worthy and nuanced paladin. From a gameplay stand point it may be counter productive to slap her down the first time she makes a misstep. It might be better for the player and the character to have her called before a higher ranking cleric in the local temple. The cleric could demand an accounting of her activities and upbraid her where she went wrong in terms of Heironious' teachings. Explain that executing prisoners, even necromancers, is the wrong approach and could jepordize her paladinhood. Offer an acceptable course of action when faced with that kind of situation. Then instruct her to continue her quest against evil, in this case by investigating the mine, but conduct herself in a fashion more befitting her station and church. This has a number of advantages:

-It presents a clear explanation of what is expected of the character, both from her church and from the DM.
-It gives her some specific guidance so that she'll know how to address a similar situation in the future.
-It gives the character additional motivation to adventure and provides her with an NPC contact who could provide advice (and a little DM-push) in situtations where the correct course of action is unclear.

Loss of paladinhood is the big guns. I wouldn't pull those out unless the behavior was egregious and repeated, particularly considering that you're dealing with a new player who is genuinely trying to figure out how to play a paladin. Taking away her paladin abilities after a single mistake, and with no warning, risks causing her to give up on the character as unplayable, which nobody wants. Better to provide specific information about what is expected and the consequences of violating those expectations.

1st-Nov-2005 05:04 pm (UTC)
Good comments. I'd add a GP penalty from the higher ranking cleric, as it wouldn't do to profit from bad actions, but I think this is a good approach. Especially if the player is fairly new to gaming.
1st-Nov-2005 05:11 pm (UTC)
You make some excellent points. I definitely don't want her giving up the character. I think she comes up with the best ideas for characters of anyone we play with and I don't want her to give up on this one. To clarify, I don't really have a problem with her killing Filge, although once you stopped fighting and started interrogating it probably would have been better to turn him in. The thing i see as the real problem is signing on with Kullen to kill someone he wanted dead. Although, since they are both evil, it *IS* a grey area. I think your suggested course of action is a good one, have the clerics ream her out but not take her paladin abilities. Plus it gives me a better hook for the next adventure than the one provided in the magazine. At this point in her paladin career, i didn't really think a temporary loss of paladin status was THAT big a deal, she loses the paladin radar and divine grace (which is the real heavy hitter IMNSHO) but not much else. but i think you (and everyone else) might be right that taking it with no warning this early is probably unfair.
1st-Nov-2005 05:39 pm (UTC)
I agree with seidl, a lower pay, if she would normally recieve any, would make sense; or at least that's how it should seem.
I'd probably go with she gets no cash but they give her-if she seems genuinely bothered by the morals of the situation etc- a phylactory of faithfulness (yeah it's a magic item, but it's not really a game affecting one in terms of power level etc.), which will aid her moral compass.
1st-Nov-2005 05:15 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't require an atonement. As a lawful character, she's obligated to uphold any deals or contracts the party enters into-- or to walk away from the party, if she feels it goes against her ethos. As her particular calling as a paladin is to slay undead (and presumably the creators of undead), I see no conflict with her ethos and her situation. Killing the necromancer in cold blood is totally in keeping with the character as you've described her. Filge was captured, tried (interrogated) and executed. Her god and her mission would not permit her to let such a creature go free, even if the rest of the party wished it.

It's not how *I* would play a pally, but I see no inherent conflict.

If you're really torn about it, talk with the player and ask her if she things that the pally's ethos really permits such actions or not-- and if so why, and if not, why not? If both of you feel that she violated her paladin code, then atonement would be an option.

1st-Nov-2005 05:20 pm (UTC)
well, like i said to some of the other comments, her killing this guy wasn't what really stuck in my craw, it was her deal with kullen. an evil bargain if there ever was one. however, there are so many shades of grey its impossible really to even get into it without starting up the great debate again. be that as it may, i'm convinced. i'm not gonna bring out the heavy guns and strip the character of paladinhood, but i am gonna make her go head to head with the high priest and explain herself.
1st-Nov-2005 05:54 pm (UTC)
Given that I was a philosophy major and got into an alignment debate with another player in a game I had, at one point, written a longish essay to my DM analyzing the alignment system, universal ethics systems in general, and how an exceptionally intelligent/wise diety would likely deal with them.

The upshot is that universally quantified rules simply don't work and there are nearly always exceptions to those rules. If your diety is handing down a Code of Behavior for paladins that includes even just one universally quantified rule they are setting up their "best of the best" for failure, and they know it. For reference I am using the term 'universally quantified rule' to denote any rule that must be followed with no exceptions: "Never lie.", "Never kill.", "Always smite evil." and the like.

If, on the other hand, your diety lays out the code of behavior to be something like: Here's what you need to do, in this order, (1) Help good people, (2) Smite Evil, (3) ... then the restrictions are much more feasible and you might encounter tough situations but they are always able to be beaten because you have a clear order of importance to the rules (not that any of them are unimportant, mind you).

Another option would be to have your diety lay out their universal rules as Ceteris paribus rules, or rules that are quantified with "all else being equal". In which case your diety is, in essence, saying: "These are things that I really don't approve of and thus you should never do them. However, I understand how messy life is down there and if you have to get your hands dirty once in a while then I understand. But you'd damn well better make sure you have good reasons!"

Basically, a diety would know full well that if they set up a code of behavior that is doomed to be unfollowable that they will be wasting their time with their "best of the best" because it's an impossible mission. It seems sort of bizarre to me that the most powerful dieties in our fictional little worlds would strip their "mortal avatars" (if you will) of their powers for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being forced into making a decision in a lose-lose situation.
1st-Nov-2005 06:35 pm (UTC)
Sort of the D&D equivalent of the Kobyashi Maru (or however it's spelled) test? How does the pally react in a no-win situation, and what is the appropriate repsonse from the deity?
2nd-Nov-2005 05:55 pm (UTC)
yeah, basically the thrust of the point is that the "paladin code" as interpreted by most people leads to far too many no-win situations where the paladin needs to piss off his god... or piss off his god. I suppose the paladin could just sit down and refuse to do a damned thing, but that'd probably piss off his god just as much >:P.
2nd-Nov-2005 07:22 pm (UTC)
I suppose the pally could always pray to his/her deity and ask for instructions in those sorts of no-win situations. "OK, by following your code, you got me into this, [insert deity of choice here], now how do I get out gracefully?"

My example for actually playable paladin concepts comes from Eddings' Sparhawk books. The various militant orders are more or less paladins-- religious knights, but they vary from the exceptionally devout (although still not stereotypical uptight D&D paladin) Bevier to the rough Ulath, and several in between. They are all faithful to their God, and to their religious oaths, but they are a lot more flexible than pallys are usually played.
1st-Nov-2005 08:58 pm (UTC)
I'd say that killing the necromancer doesn't deserve a punishment. Destroying evil can be a good thing, and a reverence for good doesn't necessarily equal a reverence for life (in my opinion).

What is an issue is the obvious "associating with an evil character". That's one of the few specified rules in the SRD for paladins. This paladin associated with an evil character, to the point of working for him. Getting hired by an evil employer is definately not paladinish. I'd say you were perfectly fair in requiring an atonement quest for that. And loosing a paladin's abilities doesn't totally nerf the character; she still has good BAB and heavy weapon proficiency, so can do something (in combat anyway). Frankly I think it would be fun to play a paladin that had to atone and so went without powers for a time. Gives definate character and roleplaying opportunities, both during and afterwards.
2nd-Nov-2005 05:37 am (UTC)
I don't think paladins stop being paladins just because they're smart enough to play evil against evil. I also don't think that executing a proven evildoer is itself evil - Paladins are the divine hand of god, they are judge, jury, and executioner. There's nothing wrong with condemning a necromancer to death for his crimes - not something that I would be likely to do as a paladin, but hey.

Working for an evil half orc, so long as it serves your own ends - why not? Until you can take him down as well, of course. But yes - it's a dangerous line they walk. The longer a paladin associates with those sorts, the more likely he will be pulled into that world and that mindset ... and thus into a Fallen state.

Short version: I think it can be an interesting roleplaying experience without having to have the Paladin in question Fall. It becomes a question of "how long can she walk this line without falling over?" rather than "whups, you slipped, time to Atone."
2nd-Nov-2005 09:29 am (UTC)
Use this as an opportunity to become a Blackguard.
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