December 16, 2009

Paladin: In Defense of the Archetype

Last week we examined classes in 4th Edition that seem to have drawn the short stick. The last unfinished thread of that post was what to do with the Paladin. With two primary ability scores to choose between, and compromise leading to decreased effectiveness is several areas, the class felt like it needed some attention. With the options presented in Divine Power, I felt that both a Strength-based Paladin and a Charisma-based Paladin had been given sufficient power options to be fully viable. Ultimately, however, this comforted me only a little. While melee Rangers stiffing their Dexterity in favor of Strength and Wisdom struck me as a bit uncomfortable, it wasn't completely unheard of in previous editions. Yet, as I pondered the Charismatic Paladin with access to the Melee Training: Charisma feat using Strength as a "dump stat," I felt my ire rising.

I should probably admit that I've always been a bit of a sucker for Paladins. All the way back in AD&D (1st Edition), I remember sitting around rolling set after set of ability scores (3d6, assigned in order) until I managed to meet the 17 Charisma requirement so I could play a Paladin. In retrospect, my DM being "kind" enough to allow me to roll so many attribute sets was probably merely a sadistic amusement in watching the young player scrapping set after set of decent ability scores in pursuit of the most arbitrary of classes in the game. (For those who don't remember, if your DM determined that an action you took was chaotic, or evil, you lost all your paladin powers and had to find a higher level cleric of at least 7th level, confess the sins, then fulfill any penance assigned by said cleric.) Let's just say that Galin the Paladin had a brutally short, highly unsatisfying career....

And while reminiscing about those days has reminded me that since the earliest days of D&D, the paladin has valued Charisma highest, I still struggle with the notion of a valiant, charismatic warrior, clad in full plate, sword, and shield, who cannot carry s pound more, because Strength just wasn't important. So for six days I've been struggling with an alternative. Trying as I might, I just wasn't comfortable with an alternative similar to those I applied to the Warlock and Cleric (see last week's post). But what I have finally come up with may be too radical, too complicated, and ultimately too ridiculous. I suppose only play-testing and time will tell.

Here's the proposal: For Paladin attack powers, use the higher bonus between Strength and Charisma. And, if the lower ability is no more than three points lower than the higher ability, add 1 to the ability modifier. For demonstration purposes, let's say Bob the Human Paladin has chosen the array which starts him with two abilities at 16 before racial modifiers. He puts one in Strength and one in Charisma. He then applies his human ability modifier to Charisma. Now Bob has a Strength of 16 and a Charisma of 18. His modifiers are +3 and +4 respectively. So Bob would use a +4 ability modifier on his powers, instead of using +3 for Strength-related powers, and +4 for Charisma related powers. But, because Bob's Strength and Charisma are within 3 points (18-16=2) he can add 1 to that, giving him a +5 modifier. This makes Bob's ability modifier for attacks retain parity with Robbie the Rogue's, since Robbie was able to simply put an 18 in Dexterity and bump it to 20 with racial modifiers. It also retains the flavor of paladins from previous editions, where higher ability scores across several attributes were not just a good idea, but actually vital.

So perhaps not the cleanest, or even the most balanced solution, since, it starts to break down the sanctity of the ability score array system (which I'm actually a fan of, having always been one of the worst ability score rollers of all time...). In fact, when I get the chance to play-test this, I might find that it is completely unworkable and makes the Paladin completely unbalanced. And I can certainly see why such a solution was not implemented by Wizards from the start (people were rioting enough about all the changes in the new edition. This sort of thing might have caused heads to explode). But I think this just might work, and it will keep Paladins as the archetype of the strong, charismatic warrior, and out of the dichotomous position of either muscle-head or fast-talking wimp.


  1. Mike, I think you're letting the crunch get the better of you. With all the examples of dual ability score classes you've presented, you have forgotten the one important feature that runs through all classes: choice. Granted, the dual ability score classes have to make their choices a bit earlier down the development trail but it does not necessarily limit their freedom.

    Taking the Paladin for example, let's look at Bob and Rob again. Let's say that both take the 18,14,11,10,10,8 array and both are human. Now say they both turn the 18 into a 20. I will grant that Rob has more available choices up front, he could easily put that 14 in either Strength or Charisma and could be either Brawny or Trickster. Now look at his power choices: every single attack power is limited by a Requirement. Now look at the Paladin's powers, not a single requirement in the bunch. This requirement essentially leads the rouge to being limited to one of two choices (for melee): the dagger for better hit percentage or the longsword for better damage.

    Looking at Bob's options, however, he could put that 20 into either Strength or Charisma and the 14 into the other. A 14 is nothing to balk at either your paladin could still lug around up to 140 pounds or help chat up people for info. The problem of course comes from the fact that your wisdom modifier is not going to provide any bonuses until (at least) level 4. So it may prove more prudent to put the 14 into wisdom OR use the 18,13,13... array. Meanwhile, the Rogue needs to make the same decision. So no class can be truly effective at EVERYTHING the class can do. The Paladin, though, does have a more interesting choice: do you make a more Strikery strength-based or more leadery/controllery charisma-based Paladin? The rogue gets to choose between a high damage dealing rogue or... a high damage dealing rogue.

    Overall, I have to say that the paladin remains one of the best utility classes in the game (sorry bards). Depending on the party you're in you could go gear your Paladin to fit the needs of the party. In the end, I feel sorry for the classes that are only defined by a single attribute. There is simply no good way to distinguish yourself from other builds. Meanwhile, you can have Straladins/Chaladins, Wisrics/Strerics, TWF/Ranged Rangers, or Feylocks/Infernalocks/Starlocks.

    I guess what I am ultimately saying is you can't expect a character to be able to do everything that a class has to offer. You have to pick and choose you build to fit your needs/wants.

  2. It's a good point, Jeff. Although I would argue the rogue choice you present is actually an example of what I am struggling with. The rogue can decide to play a ruffian or a trickster, strong or agile. The Paladin's choices are dictated more by role. If you want to play a strong defender, you better dump Strength and go Charisma. The mechanics drive the character, rather than the character driving the mechanics.

    But as I said, I may be going over the top with this particular idea. The issue really ends up being the problem presented by limiting the character early on and the problems presented by not optimizing your attack bonus. When so much of your action effect is reliant on hiting, opting to split focus becomes much less of a real choice, which means the Rogue is just getting a straight-up benefit by not even having to think about it. I don't know, it deserves more contemplation. And as I hinted at the beginning, I'm actually mostly happy with the Paladin post-Divine Power.