Back when things were awesome, not too long before they were totally rad but definitely after they were groovy there was a new thing called the RPG and unto this game the Paladin, destined to be abused by players and GMs alike for decades to come.
Now in those halcyon days before the MMORPG darkened the land with the grind and the daily quest and the false unbalanced economy the game was simpler, purer, more free-form and vibrant. Classes were not a collection of special abilities gained at every level and an exhaustive list of skills to determine every little thing the character could do up to and including pass gas and blame it on the worg. Oh no, the player was expected to do some thinking, some rolling and actually have fun with it. When the paladin class was introduced it was clear to everyone that he was a chivalrous knight, not a holy warrior, and although he had some pretty neat abilities they were second to his main identity of a warrior for the side of good.
And then shit changed.
Other games had paladins too, but each game seemed to treat the virtuous warrior differently. Some games and gamers seek to reduce everything to pure mechanics. An unfortunate result of this is considering paladins to be a hybrid class of Fighter and Cleric. Well that's just silly. The Cleric was always intended as the hybrid of pure Fighter and pure Caster (Magic User). Another unfortunate trend was viewing the paladin as a Holy Warrior. There is a serious problem with that. The Cleric is a Holy Warrior. The cleric is a devoted servant of a god advancing the aims of the god or religion to which he belongs. Of course today a cleric is a just a healing battery, but that's me griping about a whole other problem. The paladin was not intended to be seen as the holy warrior and yet trends being what they are...
These days he gets zero respect. A tank, a defender, a half-assed healer, he is assumed to be perfectly suited for fighting the undead, but honestly he is good at fighting evil and undead are evil by default. He probably never should have gotten Turn Undead abilities. I'm fine with the laying on of hands and I did like the smite added in 3.x editions, but the thing about playing the paladin is you are supposed to fight evil, do good (good deeds are the meat and drink of a paladin...as Gary told us), and defend your companions through your own strength, not a bunch of lame powers. In many games paladins suffer from the ultimate horror of equality of outcomes thinking: Game Balance. In keeping with the hive mentality of social insects that is Game Balance, each class must fill a role for their equal share of the loot and XP. Each class is to be good at 1 thing. A hybrid class often suffers from taking elements from 2 or more roles and then being forced into fulfilling 1 role. The meager healing abilities of the paladin make him unsuitable as a healer role but detract from putting everything into the defender (tank) role. Of course under modern Game Balance theory a warrior with a weapon should by no means be allowed to deal damage. Where does this leave our faithful chivalrous warrior? Out in the proverbial cold, that's where.
A change in attitude:
And then the 4th Edition did come and with it devastation. The paladin was doomed to become a simple Holy Warrior, no longer a shining ideal of chivalry and martial supremacy. Gone was the heroic fighter replaced by some token representative of a god. It was a dark time indeed.
But we do not have to see the paladin that way. Oh no. There are other ways to view this archetype that are far more rewarding to the player. First we need only stop worrying about Game Balance. We don't need everyone to have the same abilities, or even equal abilities. Complimentary abilities make for a better group with elements of the group supporting the weaknesses and strengths of other elements.
We can look at other ways of playing and thinking. We can look at Solomon Kane!
When people think of paladins they think of heavy armor, shields, some holy powers but they might have forgotten that a character is more than a set of abilities and some numbers on a page. A character is the avatar of the player in the game. What makes the character is character, personality, the little bits and bobs that don't show up on the character sheet and aren't expressed mathematically. You want to play a noble? Great. Be haughty, treat peasants as not there when you have no need of them, tip heavily, pay too much for goods just to get them from the "right" merchant and so on. If you are playing well and you have a good GM it should all work out. The GM should have people behave toward you as though you were that noble. Similarly your paladin need not be clad in plate armor and carry a shield. He's a knight, really, so if you are playing in a later era make him into a cavalry officer with pistol and sabre. It comes down to how you play it, really. PCs often do what is expedient, but that's not good roleplaying. Try to play how the character would play not how you would play. Or heck, just don't play modern games. Play older games where role playing is not of the highest importance and use your noodle. Nothing says a fighter can't be clever or a wizard is a brilliant tactician. I recall a character with whom I adventured, Lank Manly, Handsome Noble. My buddy John played this particular bastard of a priest of Loki and he really seemed to enjoy the character. I call him a bastard because he poisoned an entire dinner party, including my psionicist, for the sake of role playing. That's good fun. It wasn't then, but looking back it was well played.
Do you need a new class to play? Play an existing class but personalize it. You can look at the paladin in the old way, as a chivalrous knight fighting against the forces of evil rather than a tank or secondary healer or useless twat. Wear light armor and carry a rapier, it doesn't make you any less paladin. Forego all magic spells (an annoying addition of later editions) and fight for justice with steel and faith and courage! And a saving throw bonus, obviously.
Just so long as we don't have to suffer under this annoying post MMO view of paladins anymore I'm happy.