For the purpose of this article, the ‘inclusive paladin’ refers to the core D&D class, with a loosened or entirely eliminated alignment restriction. (And a similarly loosened or eliminated Code of Conduct.)
There are many well-reasoned and eloquently-delivered arguments that inclusivity advocates use to debate the best way to enjoy and implement the paladin class. But the bottom line is this — for some, game tradition is a good enough reason to maintain the LG-only restriction and the Code, but it isn’t for us. It’s as simple as that, but this simple truth is hard for traditionalists to grok — just as it’s hard for us to grok how game tradition can be more important than the freedom to choose a character’s alignment — so I’m going to begin with a tale I wove to illustrate how inclusivity advocates feel about D&D’s traditional LG-only paladin:
Imagine an alternate universe in which D&D is slightly different from the D&D we know. Rather than being the creation of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, it is the brainchild of one quirky man — let’s call him Bob Loblaw. In the D&D that Bob cobbled together, in much the same way that Gary and Dave haphazardly crafted our D&D, every character class has a very specific archetype associated with it. So specific, in fact, that every class is not only restricted to a single alignment, but is also bound by special codes of conduct:
All druids must be Neutral Good, because only those of pure heart can dedicate themselves to the betterment of (demi)humankind via the preservation of nature. A druid who loses her unwavering dedication to Goodness, or kills a tree, permanently loses all spells and supernatural powers. (If the alignment shift or arboricide is involuntary or accidental, an atonement will restore the lost powers.)
All wizards must be Lawful Neutral, because the study of magic demands the utmost discipline. A wizard who shifts away from LN, or fails to find/research a new spell during the course of a level, can no longer advance in wizard levels.
All barbarians must be Chaotic Neutral, because only those unfettered by rules and morality can attain true rage. A barbarian who strays from this alignment, or ever knowingly follows a civilized law, loses the ability to rage. (A specially-undertaken spirit quest and a return to CN allows the barbarian to regain his inner rage.)
And so on and so forth, with no exceptions. Every restriction and code of conduct has a basis in fiction or legend, and D&D gamers in the Bob Loblaw universe have come up with all kinds of creative interpretations and rationalizations for the details that don’t always make sense. Like the creators of the D&D we know, Bob never realized how seriously future generations would treat his ideas, but those ideas are now out of his hands.
If you were to visit the Bob Loblaw universe via a magical portal, and chat with its D&D gamers about the possibility of say, a fighter with some sense of honor and compassion, you’d at best be met with blank uncomprehending stares. A friendly Bob-universe gamer might reply “But what would make such a fighter different than a paladin? Fighters have always been True Neutral, dedicated to nothing but the mastery of their blade; best not to break the tried-and-true tradition.” Question the need for such narrow class definitions on an internet message board, and you’d be inundated with gamers accusing you of everything from not understanding the English language to being a ruthless power gamer trying to put one over on your DM.
Would you want to play in a Bob Loblaw campaign? It might be fun to play within a set of such specific and quirky tropes once or twice, but I suspect that the narrow tropes would begin to chafe after a few characters. And that’s how inclusivity advocates feel about the traditional D&D paladin. It’s as if Gary or Dave went through the magical portal, played a paladin in Bob’s game once, and then threw Bob’s paladin class into his own D&D campaigns in our universe because it seemed like a cute trope to him.
And the reason we inclusivity advocates can get so exasperated with diehard paladin traditionalists is the same reason that you’d get exasperated talking to a Bob Loblaw gamer. Those who would deny others the opportunity to role play an interesting character merely because it falls outside of an overly narrow trope which gets treated with apparently dogmatic reverence — for utterly mysterious reasons, for many of us — are profoundly frustrating and close-minded.
So now that I’ve done my best to express how inclusivity advocates feel about the traditional paladin, I’m going to answer some common questions that its fans often ask:
But why don’t you like the LG restriction and the Code? Inclusivity advocates see the Code and the restriction as a straitjacket on potential fun; we don’t want two guys who we’ve never met (Gygax and Arneson) telling us how to play our characters or run our campaigns. From both a DM’s and a player’s perspective, the traditional paladin is a waste of page space — if you think of each page as a fun-to-word-count ratio, the paladin section scores the lowest of any class because of the very limited number of possible NPCs and PCs it can yield.
Also, having just one class with a single-alignment restriction implies that Lawful Good is a special divinely-sanctioned, or ‘best,’ alignment. Which would fit in a game world of Christian-like monotheism, but D&D’s default polytheism makes it a terrible fit.
And yes, traditional paladins have a way of upsetting people. Aside from the horror stories we’ve all heard, all those restrictions just seem to trip up otherwise reasonable gamers. I myself know a player who refuses to even consider playing paladins — even in 4e or 5e! — because of everything that the traditional restrictions imply. Sure, there are ways to DM and play traditional paladins in a fun way, but there’s clearly something about its restrictions and Code that turn the class into a powder keg.
Isn’t the paladin’s restrictions a sacrifice for greater power? This is arguably true in early D&D editions, where a paladin is everything a fighter is, and more, but D&D hasn’t used role playing restrictions as a counterbalance to greater power since 2000. Also, fighters have had their own class abilities since 2e. (And before 3e, paladins required more XP to gain levels anyway.) And finally, balancing power with role playing restrictions is a terrible idea in general.
But what sets a paladin of any other alignment apart from a cleric? Well, the same thing that sets a LG paladin apart from a LG cleric — different abilities, and different concepts. Clerics are thinkers, and paladins are leaders; clerics truly understand the divine, while paladins understand ideals and people; acolyte paladins spend more time at swordplay than at prayer-study; acolyte clerics split their time more evenly between holy texts and combat training; clerics are devotees of their god, and paladins are devotees of their alignment; the details depend on the DM and players, but the paladin doesn’t need its restrictions to set it apart from other classes.
In fact many of us see the cleric as a great precedent for inclusive paladins — why does one class have such a narrow definition when a similar class has such a loose one? (We know the historical reasons, by the way; it’s a rhetorical question.) It’s terribly asymmetrical and inconsistent!
So just how inclusive is the inclusive paladin? Different inclusivity advocates advocate different degrees of inclusiveness. ‘Any Good’ and ‘any alignment’ are common, while ‘any Lawful’ is not unheard of; it depends on the individual’s perception of what it means to be a paladin.
Yeah, but have you actually tested the inclusive paladin in play? Why yes, many of us have DMed and played inclusive paladins, which is how we know that they’re good harmless fun!
Wouldn’t eight paladin-like classes be better? Arguably, yes. If we had eight more ‘exemplar’ classes for each alignment, many of us would probably find it an acceptable compromise to leaving the traditional paladin as-is. Unfortunately, not many gamers are up to the task. In Dragon #310 and #312, James Jacobs wrote eight paladin-like classes for the other alignments, and even he wasn’t satisfied with the result! (Probably because he himself is a paladin traditionalist, and wrote the classes just to fill page space.) The fact is, most inclusivity advocates are just as happy with a single inclusive paladin class, and traditionalists generally aren’t passionate enough about other ‘exemplar’ classes to actually write them well.
There’s also the logistical problems — limited page space and printing costs make nine ‘exemplar’ classes very impractical. Maybe someday, in an age of all-digital D&D, a D&D design team with the passion and the know-how will accomplish this feat of creativity; but until then, a single inclusive paladin class is the best solution.
You just don’t care about game tradition, do you? Actually, we do. We just consider fun a higher priority than game tradition. “Because this is the way it’s always been” doesn’t follow “Why should the LG restriction be maintained?” any more than “Because Madrid is the capitol of Spain” follows “Why should I wear white?”
But isn’t the paladin based on Saint George, the Knights of the Round Table, the Knights of Charlemagne, etc.? Some of them, yes, though the gamers who site these legendary figures often misunderstand them. More importantly though, inclusivity advocates just don’t care who Gygax or Arneson were thinking of when they made the paladin. We’re thankful that they invented this incredible hobby, but we know that the paladin is more fun our way!
Isn’t the paladin defined by a devotion to Goodness, honor, the Code, etc.? Definitions can and do change; D&D’s history is filled with examples, but I’ll save those for another article. The short of the long is that inclusivity advocates recognize the paladin’s traditional definition without feeling beholden to it.
Doesn’t the paladin’s restrictions help make D&D different than similar games? This is arguably true, but irrelevant to an inclusivity advocate. Even if the paladin’s restrictions were the one thing separating D&D from other ttrpgs, a fun game is better than a unique game.
Isn’t it true that inclusivity advocates just don’t like alignment to begin with, and use the paladin as a proxy debate to further their anti-alignment agenda? Sometimes, perhaps, but not always. There are plenty of inclusivity advocates who like alignment, and there are separate and legitimate reasons to argue for the inclusive paladin and against alignment. (Hence, this article.)
For example, I myself like alignment. Admittedly I find the Law vs. Chaos axis fuzzy and not terribly inspiring, but I love the idea of a world where certain things are objectively and inarguably Evil, and where the game universe itself recognizes those who fight the good fight!
Don’t inclusive paladins cheapen the alignment scheme, and turn it all into white hats vs. purple hats vs. pink hats, etc.? Welcome to D&D! Our game has a long and honored tradition of turning alignments into football teams. See: the Great Wheel cosmology, the cleric class, etc..
But other classes have restrictions; why don’t you care about those? Actually, most of us find those restriction equally silly, for similar reasons. The paladin just gets more press because it’s the poster child of arbitrary traditional restrictions.
For example, I myself am happy with cleric-like restrictions because they’re reasonable and not overly specific or prone to debate. But that ‘rangers must be Good,’ ‘barbarians can’t be Lawful,’ ‘thieves can’t be Lawful Good,’ and other malarky? Those all get ignored in any campaign I DM.
If there were a great demand for inclusive paladins, wouldn’t we have them? If you’re asking this, you’re part of a very insular gamer community. Aside from the potential for confirmation bias and other psychological factors that you’re ignoring, 4e and 5e have already demonstrated that the demand is enough to make inclusive paladins core. Yes, there’s a whole new generation of D&D gamers who think that alignment restrictions are as bizarre as you think inclusive paladins are!
If you don’t like D&D’s rules, why don’t you play another game? This question, and the sentiment it implies, is a copout. Some gamers have a choice between D&D or nothing; and some gamers love D&D except for a few of its quirks. Not to mention the fact that most DMs stick fairly close to the RAW; even house-rule-handy DMs don’t necessarily take requests from their players. So most gamers like the RAW to back up their preferences, if only so that they might be able to enjoy their preferences in another DM’s game!
The ‘if you don’t like it here, move somewhere else’ sentiment is the debate equivalent of “Get off my lawn!” It doesn’t actually address the topic, it’s dismissive and offensive, and it reveals the speaker’s utter close-mindedness. It also ignores the fact that rules can and do change for the better.