A Rant About Paladins: Being Good for Bad Reasons

A long time ago, in a basement far, far away, I use to run and play in games of Dungeons and Dragons. There was a guy in our game group that almost always wanted to play a paladin. I can remember watching him roll his character and hoping he would fall short of the lofty prerequisites that were required to play that class once upon a time. Why? Because his unstated but obvious purpose for playing a paladin was that he felt, as a paladin, he would surely be the de facto leader of our party.

Now, the whole notion of having a “party leader” could be a separate rant altogether (and just might be), but for now we’ll stay focused on the paladin. Whenever the party would be discussing their next course of action, which could be as mundane as whether to go left or right at a dungeon intersection or as important as whether they should focus their efforts on tailing Baron Von Suspicious-Grin or investigating the recent rash of grave robbings, Sir Arrogant would loudly state what his character thought the party should do. (Baron Von Suspicious-Grin is completely innocent of any shady dealings, by the way, he just has an unfortunate surname. Plus, look at that black goatee and pencil thin handlebar mustache. Who wouldn’t suspect that guy was up to no good?)

Typically, Sir Arrogant’s arguments would spill over in to the realm of meta-gaming, and he would say things like: “I have an 18 Charisma, people! My guy is very persuasive when he speaks and you should want to listen to him.” Predictably, this would often have the exact opposite of the intended effect, and players (not their characters, but their characters would almost inevitably follow suit) would often make a point of stubbornly resisting any course of action that Sir Arrogant proposed. This would tend to make Sir Arrogant (the player and the character) a dour and pouty fellow.

A couple of things bother me about this. Firstly, the mood of the game would suffer, as the other players came to resent Sir Arrogant and often tried to actively undermine him. Secondly, and more importantly,  Sir Arrogant’s argument, while made out of character and poorly stated, is technically correct on some level, right? People with a high charisma are more persuasive and personable than people with a low charisma; you want to like them, and you want them to like you.

So the question becomes: how do you play a character with a high charisma well? Playing a strong guy or a quick guy is easy, if you have the stats. You can run around smashing doors and climbing walls to your heart’s content. The problem with charisma is that it deals pretty much exclusively with interpersonal interactions. Sure, when it comes to NPC interactions you can often boil things down to a Diplomacy check, but you should never resort to resolving an argument between characters about whether to go left or right by having them roll off against one another.  I think it comes down to this: if you want to play a charismatic character, you have to have a fair amount of charisma yourself. You can’t make the other characters respect you and listen to you with a game mechanic, because you can’t make their players respect you with a game mechanic.

This isn’t to say you have to be Bill Clinton to play a paladin properly, but approach is important. And meta-gaming is important as well. This doesn’t mean you have to bribe the other players (although buying pizza and beer for me can go a long way towards getting my dwarf to back your left or right decision), but it does mean that you should take an interest in their characters. This is true of any good role player, but I think it’s especially important if you are role playing a charismatic character. Ask the other players questions about their characters, and take time to learn about their backgrounds and their motivations; If you want people to like your character then you have to know what their characters are like.

In short, you can’t come to the table wanting to make the character that people listen to because his stats demand it. Rather, to play a good paladin (a good character?), you have to come to the table wanting to be the type of player who respects the other players, and takes the time to learn about their characters. Also, you probably shouldn’t name your guy Sir Arrogant.

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One thought on “A Rant About Paladins: Being Good for Bad Reasons

  1. Every class can be used by awful players in awful ways. It is, however, highly unfortunate that the Paladin is usually the most common offender. They are also, often, the first to threaten violence against the party to get their way.

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