[RPG] Are Paladin Tenets Subjective


In the 5e rules as framed (not based on your own personal philosophy or opinion), are Paladin tenets, like the Oath of Vengeance's Fight the Greater Evil, meant to be subjective or objective (or is that not defined and left up to your personal beliefs)?

Using said tenet as an example, if I belong to an order of Lawful Neutral paladins that believe the greatest threat to the multiverse is chaos, would upholding the laws of a Lawful Evil society in order to reinforce said lawful and orderly society be considered a violation of said tenet? Can we conclude that all Paladin tenets have some measure of subjectivity?

Best Answer

Figuring out the answer to your question has to start with examining the intent of the authors of D&D 5e. When we look at the paladin one of the first statements we find is this.

Whatever their origin and their mission, paladins are united by their oaths to stand against the forces o f evil.

The author then go on to explain that paladin uphold a cause of righteousness.

paladin swears to uphold justice and righteousness, to stand with the good things o f the world against the encroaching darkness, and to hunt the forces o f evil wherever they lurk.

These are both in the initial flavor text which applies to all the listed variants of paladins.

The different Paladin Oaths are focused on motivation. Why does the paladin act as he does while pursuing a cause of righteousness.

Does he love the ideals of justice, virtue, and order? Then his motivation is likely a Oath of Devotion. Do they love life and the beauty of living things, then he is best taking the oath of the ancients. Does the paladin view himself as the instrument of punishment against evildoers, then the Oath of Vengeance is suited for the character.

D&D 5e has the ninefold alignment system. Good and Evil are clearly different things especially in terms of the cosmology. A Lawful Neutral Paladin may view order and rules vastly more important than justice but as a Paladin his primary focus is still the Cause of Righteousness as stated in the description of the class. Where the Lawful Neutral Palaadin differs from the Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, and even Chaotic Neutral paladin is in what should be emphasized and focused on while pursuing the various missions in support of Righteousness. But none of this will lead to a Lawful Neutral paladin to support the cause of Evil even when it is Lawful Evil.

To recap, the paladin's oath speaks to the paladin's motivation. The paladin's alignment speaks to paladin's focus and means.

What is subjective is the referee's definition of good and evil for his campaign. Individual referees will set the lines between good and evil in different ways. But once it set for the campaign then those are the lines that a even a Lawful Neutral paladin will not cross lest he becomes an oathbreaker paladin.

Evil Paladins

In creating a paladin we get this statement.

As guardians against the forces of wickedness,paladins are rarely of any evil alignment.

So how could a paladin that is any of the three evil alignment be pursuing the Cause of Righteousness.

Remember earlier I said that for Paladins, alignment speaks to focus and means. A Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil paladins will likely have an attitude of the ends justify the means. In their minds they separate the world into innocents and evildoers and anything goes against the evildoers including methods that paladins would find abhorrent. The line for these evil paladins would be whether their actions effect innocents. Anybody straying across that line is in their mind fair game.

A Lawful Evil paladin would not uphold the laws of a Lawful Evil society that promote tyranny and injustice. Instead they would view that order and discipline are vital tools in combating those who do evil, however the campaign defines it. They themselves would resort to torture, lies, enslaving and manipulation of evildoers to achieve their destruction.

To use examples from comics book think of the differences between Marvel's Punisher, DC's Batman, and Superman.

I will end by saying that it is definitely a challenge to roleplay a evil paladin but still uphold the cause of righteousness. But the RAW rules do not but a restriction on it.