The Paladin Class, Part Two
In last week’s article, we saw the origins of the Paladin class in OD&D; as we move into AD&D 1e, the class changes extremely little. The 1e Player’s Handbook cleans up the information presentation substantially and gives Paladins a different experience table, and little else. Yet within the span of 1e, Unearthed Arcana makes one big change to the class, reassigning it from a subclass of Fighter to a subclass of Cavalier. The Cavalier and the Anti-Paladin are close cousins of the Paladin, and I’ll be discussing them in this article as well. Buckle up, folks!
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (First Edition)
The 1e Paladin adds more ability score prerequisites to the class compared to OD&D, but the 17 Charisma is still the main deal-breaker. At least Charisma has an effect other than unlocking the Paladin class in this edition. There are also mechanics for atoning for chaotic acts, though one evil act and you’re out of the class on your ear forever, no matter what, end of story. (The text goes to excessive lengths to emphasize this.) Considering that this causes you to “revert” to being just a Fighter, it really throws into relief just how the Fighter has almost no class features, while the Paladin has a nice long list of them.
The Paladin keeps almost all of its class features from OD&D, though they can now cure disease from 1st level rather than starting at 5th, has an always-on protection from evil, and the whole vague dispel evil ability gets tossed out and replaced with turn undead, devils, and demons as a Cleric of (Paladin level -2). The Holy Sword ability to dispel magic now works like the dispel magic spell, with a percentage chance based on a level comparison – far more reasonable than the apparently-100%-successful OD&D iteration. Finally, they gain a spellcasting progression at 9th level, reaching 4th level Cleric spells at 15th level.
The restrictions on the Paladin are likewise familiar: limited to 10 magic items, more restrictive accumulation of wealth (but without a listed value limit, which creates either interesting room for minor corruption or ugly arguments between player and DM, depending on what kind of group you have), tithing (with a note that makes it obvious that someone tried to cheat and tithe to another PC), and instructions on how to be a douchebag to other party members – err, sorry, “restrictions on the kinds of adventuring companies they can join.” I mean, this is a lot less bad if players don’t talk about alignment the way the rules clearly expect them to, but I would bet that a ton of character creation sessions broke down when one person wanted to play a paladin and another wanted to play an evil (fill in class name here, but since assassins must be evil…). Unless you’re playing Amber Diceless, you probably want to avoid creating situations during character creation where only one player of two or more gets what she wants.
Then Unearthed Arcana came along and everything got weird.
UA introduced a lot of new things, but most notable among these are the new classes, and today I care about the cavalier. “Didn’t I come here to read about Paladins?” you query. I reply: “Yes, but:
- “Paladins are a species of cavalier now, and gain many of their class features.
- “I will never do a full series on cavaliers, for it would be one post long. They are such a miserable concept for D&D that they were never repeated directly.
- “If you think this is excessive, it’s not the only extra class I’ll be covering in this article. Suck it!”
I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the cavalier is a mess. The minimum ability score requirements of 15 Strength, 15 Dexterity, 15 Constitution, 10 Intelligence, and 10 Wisdom means you just about have to cheat to play a cavalier to begin with, unless you’re using the classic “roll as many columns of 4d6-drop-lowest as needed, pick the one with mostly 18s” generation method. (It was 1e, I assume this was common.) Anyway, for whatever reason, one of the class’s minor drawbacks is that they have no prime requisite and thus cannot gain a 10% XP bonus. Ha ha, it’s definitely balanced now.
Cavaliers also have to be good-aligned at the start of play. Oddly (for me), I don’t mind this, because it makes it quite clear that cavaliers can fall from grace without getting booted out of their class. For maximum story potential, just drop the one-strike-and-you’re-out Paladin infraction rule and replace it with this, because a lot of the best stories about paladins include an extended period spent reforming corruption within their order or church. For some reason, you can change alignment freely up to 4th level, but thereafter you suffer “the usual penalties.” Doing so costs you several class abilities.
Finally, Cavaliers have a social class entry requirement (Upper Class, of course), but if you’re not Upper Class, you can work around it by working your way through two “0th-level” class levels. Essentially you start at -1500 XP and work your way out of the hole. Have fun getting through early gameplay as a front-line fighter with 1d4+1+Con bonus hit points for 1000 XP, and another 500 XP of 2d4+1+Con modifier. The path you took to get to 1st level means you either have 3d4+1+Con modifier hit points, or 1d10+3+Con modifier. Because it would be too good or something, you don’t get to apply your Con modifier again at the second 0th level or at 1st level, if you started at -1500 XP.
Hey, you could be some kinds of elf or half-elf and play this! That’s surprisingly generous. I am baffled that dark elves made the list of elf subraces that could become cavaliers, but… sure, whatever.
Cavaliers think (I love how the book tells you what you must think as a cavalier…) that any weapon longer than a longsword is a sign of cowardice. I just imagine two cavaliers, one with a two-handed sword and the other with a bec de corbin, conversing about this. The dialogue consists entirely of, “Bro, do you even lift?” Anyway, there are restrictions on becoming proficient with weapons – there’s a long list of weapons you must learn to wield before you can learn any others. Ranged weapons, polearms, and two-handed swords “may violate the character’s chivalric code.” If you violate your code of chivalry, the DM halves or negates your XP reward for the encounter. If your lord revokes your knighthood, you become a mere fighter, though you don’t gain weapon specialization, which is literally the only class feature of being a fighter.
There are also armor restrictions – class warfare is so deeply ingrained in the cavalier that they shun the use of leather, studded leather, and padded armor, and prefer heavier plate armors even if a highly-enchanted lighter armor is available (the text calls this out in excruciating detail).
Until they reach 6th level, cavaliers must be trained by higher-level cavaliers.
Cavaliers lose their tiny minds in battle situations and… functionally become NPCs under the control of the DM, as they go zooming around the battlefield facing enemies according to a provided AI. Seriously, it’s an aggro priority list. The text specifies that the cavalier will ride down friendly forces to get to a target. The one situation where playing a mounted combatant should be most fun, you lose all control of the character and pretty much head to the pub while the DM resolves your victory or demise.
Now we begin the grand accounting of class features that are not restrictions.
- Scaling attack bonus with lances (while mounted only), one variety of sword, and one cultivar of horseman’s weapon (that is, horseman’s flail, horseman’s military pick, or horseman’s mace).
- Gain additional attacks per round as if five levels higher. In case it is not obvious, this is a very big deal. Action economy is most important economy.
- Add cavalier level to damage with lances while mounted. +1 to damage with lances while unmounted.
- Improved (?) parrying: parry one opponent’s attack with your weapon and another with your shield. Shield parrying basically means doubling your AC bonus from the shield against that one opponent, in exchange for gaining no AC bonus from the shield for other opponents that round. Parrying takes the place of all of your attacks for the round.
- Human cavaliers (screw you, elves and half-elves) make all attacks from horseback as if the character were one level higher. This is the point at which I mention that attack roll calculations in 1e are really weird if all you’ve ever played is 2e and later… but since my Gentle Readers did not pick Attack Roll Rules in the recent poll, I will leave it at that.
- 85% chance to resist being thrown from the saddle; 85% chance to resist injury if his or her mount falls. These percentages increase by 1% per cavalier level. Including this rule says a lot about the designer’s expectation that a large amount of mounted combat would take place.
- Various improved riding abilities, including the ability to ride unusual mounts, get more speed from a mount, and so forth. Female elves (only) can ride unicorns, because of course they can.
- Mounts apparently can sense the alignment of riders, and possibly other mounts. I’m not making this up, but I’m not sure I’m understanding it correctly.
- The cavalier is an expert judge on American Bridle RuPaul’s Horse Race Horse Tank. Their horses are better than anyone else’s horses because they always choose the best ones.
- Okay, this one is a doozy, considering that it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the game. Cavaliers improve their Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores as they level, because they train so hard. (Presumably, the lower classes could do the same if they would just apply themselves.) At the start of life as a cavalier, they roll a percentile value for each of these scores, which does nothing in itself unless it is Exceptional Strength. When they level, they roll 2d10 and add that value to their percentiles; if the percentile reaches 100, it rolls over and their ability score goes up by 1. They can increase all three scores to 18/00, though this doesn’t mean anything for Dex or Con. Also, be sure you remember what the values were, because if you lose a level, you lose whatever you gained, too.
- Immunity to fear, and good cavaliers radiate protection from fear in a small radius. (1e: where 1” = 5’. The jokes write themselves, y’all.)
- 90% resistance to magical or magic-like mental effects, “but not the effects of high comeliness.” I’m sure that will never bite Lancelot in the ass.
- +2 to saving throws against illusions.
- Good-aligned cavaliers survive at negative hit point totals and recover from severe wounds faster than normal people.
- Right to demand hospitality from cavaliers of the same alignment, and from gentle, noble, and royal households, unless politics gets in the way.
Now then, which of these class features carry over to the Paladin? The UA Paladin’s new ability score prerequisites are 15 Strength, 15 Dexterity, 15 Constitution, 10 Intelligence, 13 Wisdom, and 17 Charisma. The good news is that if you qualify, I now know that you are a cheater. There’s actually a special ability score generation method (Method V) described in the back of UA just to make such characters possible; in this method, your choice of class determines how many d6s you roll, and of those you keep 3. Suffice it to say that these rules also don’t work.
But! I suddenly find rules way in the back revealing another cavalier class feature: they gain followers starting at 4th level, rather than 9th like other warrior-types. Also, all of a paladin’s retainers must be cavaliers.
Sorry, back to the Paladin. Paladins who aren’t Upper Class have to go through the same two-0th-levels bullshit that cavaliers do before becoming paladins at all. They can no longer gain an XP bonus for high ability scores. In addition to the core Paladin abilities of the Player’s Handbook, they gain the scaling attack bonus, parrying ability, superior horsemanship (I’m not sure how many of the abilities listed above this includes), saving throw bonuses, immunity to fear, and ability score increase (adding Charisma to the list of ability scores that can increase).
In brief, the Cavalier and Paladin found in UA are part of a completely different tabletop game than all of the other classes. They’re practically playing Exalted on Horseback while everyone else is playing the little-known Scumlicker: the Suckening (for when playing a mortal in the World of Darkness gives you more power than the Storyteller is comfortable with).
But wait, there’s more! Didn’t I promise yet another full class breakdown? Yes, folks, it’s the Anti-Paladin, for all of your cackling-Eeevil needs. In Dragon Magazine #39, we have the Anti-Paladin NPC. (I’m pretty sure there were other Anti-Paladins and such later in the 10 years of 1e Dragon Magazines, but they are left as an exercise to the reader.) I know of one player who blithely ignored that “NPC” note, so I assume he wasn’t alone.
In essence, this class was written because DMs out there might not go quite over-the-top enough in their villains. Snidely Frickin’ Whiplash says, “Guys, tone it down a little, would you?” I mean, the text calls out the thin black mustache.
The ability score generation rules for Anti-Paladins are complete nonsense, but they fit right in with UA. They’re customized to make generating an NPC easier, since the DM is sure the hell not going to keep rolling stat blocks until she comes up with one that can meet Paladin prerequisites. It takes the base requirements and adds a die value that is equally likely to end up with any number between (requirement +1) and 18, and introducing Exceptional Dexterity and Exceptional Constitution, which work kind of like Exceptional Strength, but without the percentile granularity. Charisma is different, as the writer confuses it for UA’s Comelieness stat (how many hundreds of thousands of players have chosen Charisma as a dump stat because they don’t mind being ugly, as if that’s what the stat means?) and gives the character a chance to be “sinfully ugly” (Cha 3 or 4) or “devilishly handsome,” possibly to the point of an ugliness or prettiness superpower.
The Anti-Paladin’s alignment is always Chaotic Evil, though there’s no mention of losing Evilness Powers for committing an act that is Lawful or Good. (I suppose your motives can always be impure enough. Also, well, NPC class.)
Anti-Paladins also have special class features to parallel Paladins:
- +2 to all saving throws. Since there’s no textual explanation for why Paladins get this, there’s no need to explain why Anti-Paladins do, either.
- Immunity to Disease, and the ability to cause disease by touch.
- Lay on Hands, healing damage to himself (only), or causing damage in others. Causing two hit points of damage per level is more impressive in 1e than 3.x-and-later editions, because hit points scale up only very slowly after 9th or 10th level for most classes.
- Always-active protection from good.
- Backstab, as a thief (+4 to hit and double damage from behind).
- Anti-Paladins like to poison people. I mean, they really like to poison people. There are eleven paragraphs in this article talking about nothing but how much they like poisoning people. There are no special abilities here, just a lot of discussion of how anti-paladins feel about aesthetic toxicity.
For maximum awfulness value, though, reinterpret this article in the context of “an Anti-Paladin must be a Cavalier subclass too, right?”
In conclusion… um… that’s a lot of different classes all at once. The Paladin of the Player’s Handbook does not make any particular thematic changes to the class, only a few systemic adjustments. It’s absolutely “a fighter, but better because of virtue,” which is thematically appropriate but not so great on game balance. It reminds me of the Chivalry Bonus and Religious Bonus that knights can earn in Pendragon, but it comes with a more demanding experience point progression and a one-strike-and-you’re-out code of honor.
The Cavalier and UA Paladin are clearly built for a campaign that doesn’t spend much time indoors. The Cavalier is a bad idea badly implemented, and the UA Paladin adopts only some of those very bad ideas. If the rules were cleaned up, there’s a foundation for pretty good story here about chivalry, warfare, and honor. It is probably best in a party where everyone has already embraced the same high, courtly themes; extending the Cavalier’s overt class-warfare themes into gameplay is probably not a recipe for everyone having fun together, unless the Cavalier’s player is conscious of the issues and takes some personal responsibility for keeping things fun for others. (Good advice at all tables – necessary in this case.)
The Anti-Paladin doesn’t bear a lot of further discussion, but we’re going to see other iterations of the concept in the future. Sinister knights with necromantic powers are always a good time, but I’m much happier if they’re written to be viable PCs. “Viable” varies hugely from group to group, but my personal preferences don’t run toward the All-Evil Party, because watching people play through the depths of their own depravity (and try to out-do each other) isn’t my bag. A few shady or even secretly-evil people in an otherwise neutral or good party is a different matter. I’ll be circling back to this point later in the series on Paladins.
Could the 1e Paladin be represented equally well with multi-classing (no, humans can’t multi-class) or dual-classing? Well, maybe. Nine-or-so levels of Fighter, then DC over to Cleric… would be waiting most of a campaign to start representing your real character concept. Mechanically, no amount of Fighter/Cleric multi-classing or dual-classing gets you all the way to what a Paladin does, but a lot of those cleric spells could fake it tolerably closely. Thematically, it all depends on how you play it – a Fighter/Cleric could be a righteous warrior for justice, in which case the Paladin theme is covered. In a sense, as long as 1e/2e or 3.x/5e style multi-classing options are on the table, a Fighter/Cleric will probably never be mechanically identical to a Paladin (better spellcasting, worse fighting, even with very few levels of Cleric), but you could make it do whatever you liked on a thematic level.
If you ever played a Cavalier, UA Paladin, or Anti-Paladin in 1e, I’d love to hear about your experiences with them in the comments! I’m guessing a lot more people played PHB Paladins in 1e than any of the other classes described in this article, and I’m happy to hear their war stories too.