So Paladins was right in my wheelhouse as a fantasy enthusiast, at least as much fantasy enthusiasts as I am. When I played Dungeons and Dragons (so long ago that I spell out the and now), I often played characters who were of the class Paladin. As you might know, gentle reader, the paladin is a holy warrior, a Crusader of sorts fighting for a mythical god or church.
To most kids who play D&D, the Paladin is something like a televangelist with a sword. Unfortunately, a lot of kids who play role-playing games have a sort of slanted view of church-attending folk, so they don’t see a lot of depth in characterization within them. Paladins are always stuffy, self-righteous, and two-dimensional buffoons played for laughs as NPCs.
Which is sad. As I mentioned, I often played paladin characters as people, with quirks, foibles, and self-doubt.
- At GenCon one year, as part of this huge open game that took over one of the skywalks, I played a paladin of Tyr, the Forgotten Realms god of justice. This fellow was risk-averse to put it mildly, borderline cowardly in most situations where he could think about the risks involved in combat, but had the right instincts. So while he might shrink from a fight if he thought about it, but if confronted with danger without the chance of overthinking it, he would defend his faith and friends instinctively.
- In another one-off, I rolled up a paladin for a game and picked from the Forgotten Realms book the god of mornings and beginnings. This fellow carried a halberd, but he used it mostly as a walking stick as he jaunted along. Genial and genuinely optimistic, he didn’t have too much chance to do much before the fellows hosting the game ended the session so they could toss my friends and I to smoke some dope. I later learned my friends returned for another session without me–I had something of a reputation as a misanthropic ass even then–but that one session did lead to the halberd on my office wall as it was December, and when one of my guys asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said “A halberd.” So it was. But I was talking about paladins.
- Another character I played was not directly a paladin, since it was in the Dangerous Journeys system. Caryn was the third son of minor nobility in England, a ne’er-do-well brawler who hung out with the wrong people in the bars and whatnot until his older brother was killed Crusading. So Caryn, who did not like his brother, reluctantly takes his brother’s armor and goes off, indecisively, to avenge him with no clear plan in mind and no zeal to do it. He’s not a real paladin, just a Crusader, but he’s adopted the blandishments of churchliness and holier-than-thou behavior. Akin to the stereotype, but he doesn’t believe it, really. It wouldn’t have worked in D&D because the special abilities for the class come from belief, but in the context of Dangerous Journeys it was possible. Given the nature of the module we were on, I’d mapped out a character arc for Caryn to improve, become a better person, and maybe even a believer, but the hosts of this group, with which I gamed off and on for a couple years, (::cough, cough::) didn’t like me and forgot the character’s back story (he’s just a paladin, hey).
So, as I said, there’s a lot of room in the paladin class for interesting characters, but in most cases I’ve seen, that’s marginalized, probably because the normal D&D gamer doesn’t know a lot of healthy, church-going folk and only have their resentments and stereotypes of the same to draw from.