Friday, March 27, 2015

A (Retro)Review-The Complete Paladin's Handbook

TSR, 1994 by Rick Swan
Today's Subject

What a love-hate relationship.
I truly enjoyed many of the Complete line of handbooks that TSR put out in the 90s.  The kits gave characters more flavor and I always went straight for them, but I think I only read maybe 3 of them from cover to cover, the first being The Complete Fighter's Handbook, which was the first to come out as well, the Psioncist and this one.  See, I like knights and paladins are (were, but dammit they always will be to me) knights.  They were knights when they appeared in Supplement 1: Grayhawk and they were knights when they were made a subset of cavaliers, and thanks to this handbook they were mostly knights.  It had sections on courtly love, castle life, duties and responsibilities and a notation that paladins simply would NOT wear anything less than metal armor.  That's all very knightly.  Then there were sections on faith, clerical benefits and powers, and a set of kits that ran the gamut from very knightly to more hermit-like and made a few stops at very specialized forms, like a paladin that specializes in flying mounts.  There was a kit for specifically fighting undead (Ghosthunter), a specialist in dragon fighting (Wyrmslayer) and one of my personal favorites, the Inquisitor, a paladin devoted to combating evil magic and those who would use it.

In fact those three kits were employed by myself and two friends in the Navy specifically to annoy a newbie DM.  We knew our friend was running his first ever game and we knew he loved dragons and wizards and vampires very much, so we conceived the plan to all play paladins each with a kit to combat one of the things we just knew in our hearts we'd have to face.
Okay, I conceived of the plan and they eagerly agreed to it.  Apparently I am a bastard.  I played the Inquisitor in case you were wondering.
Of course I did.
That is one badass mini, trust me

The Inquisitor kit reminds me of the Witch Hunter from WHQ.  Which is probably why I liked it.

This particular kit gives the player a very strong ability to resist illusions that does improve over time as well as abilities to detect and dispel evil magic and a virtual (90%) immunity to charm, mind control, etc.  All very useful in hunting down and dispatching practitioners of evil magic.  It takes away a few abilities (as many of the paladin kits do) however.  The Inquisitor cannot heal by laying on hands, can never learn nor cast priest spells, cannot cure diseases in others, cannot turn undead.  He does retain his personal immunity to disease, saving throw bonuses and warhorse.  Wait.  What in the figurative f..., that's a lot to trade off to be able to dispel EVIL magic a few times a day (it maxes at 6).
Perhaps a regular paladin would be just as effective.

So where is the love-hate relationship of which I speak?
It has to do with the nature of the book itself.  Author Rick Swan was responsible for the book, as well as the Complete Wizard's Handbook, the Complete Ranger's Handbook and the Complete Barbarian's Handbook.  Complete Paladin's came out in 1994 while the first book, Complete Fighter's Handbook came out in 1989.  It was the first and set many of the standards for the line.  I found Complete Fighter's Handbook to be extremely useful.  The fighter had become so undefined in AD&D and the CFHB provided these amazing new things called kits that helped the player define their fighter giving them a few benefits, a few hindrances, and some guidelines for roleplaying their character.  The CFHB noted that the kits were available to rangers and paladins as well, those being subsets of the basic fighter.  For the most part the kits helped to give a player some focus, which might be needed as the fighter was a basic class with nothing special about it.  Paladins and rangers, however, were already quite well defined.  They didn't need kits, but we always liked to have the options.  While the CFHB was full of optional combat rules that any class could use, later handbooks would include class specific content for their subject class that were not easily shared by other classes, if they could be shared at all.  In the CPHB Swan wrote volumes about knighthood, and that appeals to me.  In keeping with AD&D 2nd edition's more "historical" and less sword and sorcery style of play and settings, Swan's work provides everything a player needs to know to play a knight.  I can't stress this enough.  Swan unequivocally establishes that a paladin is a European knight in the style of feudalism and the middle ages.
I know it's a ridiculous sword, but I have always preferred playing Siegfried
For example in the section on equipment he notes that paladins take their equipment seriously and seek to own the best that money can buy.  If that seems odd when you consider the 10% tithing and not keeping treasure (donating it to worthy causes instead) you might find that a bit less than the holy warrior concept you are no doubt harboring.  Yet it fits perfectly with the ideals of the class.  In terms of armor, again we see Swan declaring that a paladin will simply not wear non-metal armors and prefers plate, including giving up magical forms of lesser armor to obtain normal versions of better armors (such as giving up +2 scale for regular plate).  We saw the same thing in 1989 with the Cavalier kit in the Fighter's Handbook.  All of that I like.  I think it sets the paladin apart from the regular fighters as much as their alignment (always lawful good in those days) or their code of conduct (which Swan reinforces as chivalry).
It wasn't all good though, at least not to me.  Swan uses paladin in place of the word knight (although he does open with an introduction that explains the origins of knighthood) and makes it clear in several places that he considers paladinhood to be something bestowed upon a character by a church or government (which does follow along with knighthood, I admit).  Some of his explanations also don't suit when it comes to history, but it is an RPG so I suppose I can't hold that against him.  The kits are probably the area where I find the least satisfaction.  Although I do enjoy some of them, I find them all wholly unnecessary to the game.  Unlike Fighter, Paladin is a defined character.  As we've established the class is a knight, not a holy warrior, but then the various kits redefine the class to the point of creating new quasi-classes, which is very different from what was started in 89 in CFHB.  This reminds me of the Complete Bard's Handbook, which seemed to go out of its way to invent a dozen or so new classes all loosely defined as bards (some were more bard than others with the Blade and Gallant being variant fighters and the Herald being played as a medieval fantasy equivalent to James Bond, while others like the Jongleur, Jester and Skald being very much what the bard class of 2nd edition was originally designed to be).  The kits of the CPHB breakout as follows:

True Paladin-The paladin from the Player's Handbook, with an added requirement to learn the lance.
Chevalier-Effectively the Cavalier kit from the CFHB rewritten for the paladin.
Divinate-A paladin that is the militant wing of a church.
Envoy-A diplomat, really more of a bard's role one thinks.
Equerry-Master horseman, cavarly, scout or guide.  Gets a special bonded mount over and above a regular paladin's bonded mount.
Errant-A tournament jouster and adventurer, oddly enough not the Lancelot ideal version one would think.
Expatriate-Really just a way to play a normal paladin; no church or government support.
Ghost Hunter-Specializes in destroying the undead.  This was the first kit to lose some of the normal paladin abilities in exchange for specialized abilities, all the previous having the normal paladin abilities and a few benefits and hindrances added on.  The Ghost Hunter might be too specialized as normal paladin has a very good chance at success without the added undead turning, dispel evil and immunity to ghoul paralysis.  In exchange the GH loses healing, spells, immunity to disease and curing disease.  Maybe not awesome after all.
Inquisitor-The witch hunter I discussed above.
Medician-A combat medic, focusing on healing over harming.  A cleric is still more effective.
Militarist-A battlefield virtuoso with minor weapon specialization and mounted combat bonuses.  Honestly one wonders if a Fighter would be better.
Skyrider-A paladin that has a flying mount.  That's really it.
Squire-In keeping with the knighthood theme of the book, the Squire is a paladin that never actually becomes a paladin (as Swan defines paladin, meaning knight) and remains a professional servant to a paladin.
Votary-An ascetic, similar to a Divinate, but far less friendly.  Takes vows of chastity and poverty and has little respect for other faiths.
Wyrmslayer-Specializes in killing evil dragons.
I'll show you a Wyrmslayer, buddy.
Swan even suggests a list of possible kits the players and DM can make, noting that the possibilities are not limited to the suggested list.  Of the list two really stood out to me:
Pacifist-A paladin that fights evil by NOT FIGHTING.  That's just stupid.  This is an RPG and frankly that won't work.
Seaguard-A ship-riding paladin that fights evil on the waves.  That one actually appeals to me.

None of these kits are needed, most provide nothing but roleplaying guidelines and some actually harm the paladin as a class (like that Pacifist suggestion).  I don't know if Rick just needed to fill pages or if he really thought all of this was a good idea.  Maybe it was TSR company policy.  It's a shame because there are many good things about the book.  You can add to what I wrote before the sections where Rick breaks out the various paladin abilities and requirements (tithing, lay on hands, detect evil, etc.) to explain their purpose, mechanics, and in game flavor.  It's all very helpful, especially for putting the paladin back into its purpose of knight (NOT HOLY WARRIOR) for the last time (3rd edition would leave that notion broken, bloody and abused in a corner somewhere).  Sure, you could get a group of players together and everyone play a paladin and with the kits they can all be different enough to be interesting, but that does not justify such specialization.  Ultimately I feel like it is a failure compared to the earlier and more useful handbooks.  It didn't ruin one of my favorite classes, thankfully, but it is mostly superfluous to the game and the class and added little value.  On the other hand it did uphold the truth about paladins, which is not the holy warrior, but the shining knight, and for that I can't dismiss it entirely.
Everything that would come after, the tanking MMO bollocks, the leaving behind of the strictly human and lawful good requirements, the belief that the paladin was some sort of half-assed healer/fighter I choose to dismiss entirely.
Because THAT is not a paladin, I don't care how many times WoW tells you it is.
"Got my plate armor, got my shield, got my sword, what am I forgetting?  Oh yes, let me just get out my HAND YOU YOUR ASS button."

Look, not a naked barbarian in sight.  You know why?  Dumbass is dead lying in a pool of his own blood and feces.


  1. Yeah, I tried to play a paladin once, Sir Percy. Ya'll really raked me over the coals. I didn't play a paladin again after that. I did use the hell out of the Complete Fighters HB and the Psionicist HB. I loved that class. Modern equivalents suck. Oh yeah, paladins. I wouldn't mind taking another stab at it. I agree that the European knight of greater moral character than others IS the paladin. Didn't you define the Cleric as the Holy Warrior type?

    1. First let me officially on this forum in front of the whole of the internet (that bothers to read my insanity) apologize for everything Dakon did to Percy. In my defense I did lend give up my magic sword once so you wouldn't have to give up yours. I got it back though.
      Now that we've gotten that out of the way...
      I did define the Cleric as the Holy Warrior in e-mails and posts, and such it was when OD&D came out. The slide away from the Templar image of the Cleric (as it was originally presented) into some sort of strange priest sort of coincided with the Paladin's degrading into a rabid psycho Holy Warrior vice the ideal of European knighthood. I'm standing my ground in it, as I see you are too. A Paladin is a Knight, period. Anybody that says otherwise is a Pinko Commie and should be hoisted on a lance up the brown eye in the fashion of Vlad the Impaler.