Paladins have a long history in D&D. For many, the image of the Paladin in Hell from the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook remains a favorite. Anyone can see immediately from the illustration that a paladin is a warrior at home in heavy armor, and capable of wielding a sword and shield. And by the nature of the hellish foes the paladin faces, it’s clear that not only does the paladin oppose evil, but in pursuit of that calling, the paladin is apparently fearless.
The design team has iterated a few times on the paladin class, but we wanted to step back and present to you our broader design goals that meet the class criteria of being recognizable to D&D players, unique from other classes, and resonate in some fashion with an archetypical story.
The following design goals are generally listed in importance to the character, though we feel they’re all important for shaping a paladin. As you’ll notice, I’ve actually slipped a few hints of mechanical design in with the broader design goal, which serve more as examples than as anything we’ve definitely fixed on.
1. The Paladin is a Champion of a Divine Calling
A paladin follows a personal code that is a reflection of the deity, and often even more significantly, a moral alignment. Though many paladins are lawful good, the particular virtues a paladin reveres can reflect nearly any moral attitude or divine calling (though such adherence means that a paladin is at least lawful). A paladin’s codes also usually point her toward an ascetic lifestyle, which speaks to a paladin’s selfless nature in pursuit of her calling.
2. A Paladin Can See and Smite Evil
A paladin knows when something twisted and unholy is near. While unable to unerringly zero in on a specific threat merely by walking past a structure infested with evil, a paladin knows something is wrong. Regardless of a given creature’s actual nature, a paladin can judge it unworthy, and smite it with divine power energizing her sword blow.
3. A Paladin is a Fearless and Selfless Warrior
The paladin is a warrior, nearly as skilled as a fighter and typically armed with heavy armor and a sword, and utterly without fear. When a paladin fights, it is not only to impose her code on the unworthy and slay threats to her divine calling, but also to protect her allies. More so than the fighter, the paladin is willing (and able) to sacrifice her own safety to ensure the safety of her companions. To this end, a paladin aspires to find a blessed sword of unequaled power: a holy avenger.
4. A Paladin Has Divine Abilities and Spells
As a servant of a higher calling and deity, a paladin can call on a variety of divine abilities, including the ability to heal allies with a touch (“lay on hands”), turn undead, cast a limited number of divine spells, and call a mount. In each case, the paladin’s divine ability diverges from similar abilities a cleric might have, speaking to the paladin’s strengths. For example, when a paladin calls a mount, that mount might inspire the normal mounts of the paladin’s allies, granting them speed and endurance while they travel together. When a paladin turns undead, she can also turn demons, devils, and other unholy creatures. And when a paladin lays on hands, the healing may also relieve malign conditions and spent stamina.