"The best explanation [for changing systems] I can really give is simply that I, and my players found it so much fun because the rules don't fight you when you try to roleplay, but they seem to support you far more. I'm not talking about the mechanics, the roll d20 to hit, d whatever to damage, I mean those background rules that are so easily overlooked or forgotten - a prime example being the paladin. 2nd edition straightjackets a paladin, punishing him for arbitrary, yet hardcoded into the rules, deeds. 5e simply points out that your neutral evil paladin may aspire to be a lawful good hero but hasn't attained the standards expected of him by his God. One system punishes the imagination, the other prompts it and myself and all my players have leafed through the books and found stuff that has sent our minds racing!"
The above is taken from a warm, genuine comment left by William Jones yesterday, giving an explanation of his path towards a better campaign. It reminds me how far removed my contentious, rebellious iconoclastic nature is from the average role-player, particularly in how willing I was at the start of my gaming to smash things that were dictatorial in their design.
Around the time I began playing D&D, I was also reading Hermann Hesse. I don't know how many readers here have heard of him; he was very popular in the 1970s, particularly among those chafing against the boundaries of societies and rules, who were seeking an explanation for solitude in the unhappy ennui of the deep Cold War. I was only 15 or 16, I didn't really get that until later - as a young man, I was merely interested in explanations for my boundless anger.
Dear reader, you think I am terrible today! I am so much calmer it is difficult for me to grasp sometimes - but then I find the following description and I am compelled to smile:
"Tegularius was a willful, moody person who refused to fit into his society. Every so often he would display the liveliness of his intellect. When highly stimulated he could be entrancing; his mordant wit sparkled and he overwhelmed everyone with the audacity and richness of his sometimes somber inspirations. But basically he was incurable, for he did not want to be cured; he cared nothing for co-ordination and a place in the scheme of things. He loved nothing but his freedom, his perpetual student status, and preferred spending his whole life as the unpredictable and obstinate loner, the gifted fool and nihilist, to following the path of subordination to the hierarchy and thus attaining peace. He cared nothing for peace, had no regard for the hierarchy, hardly minded reproof and isolation. Certainly he was a most inconvenient and indigestible component in a community whose idea was harmony and orderliness. But because of this very troublesomeness and indigestibility he was, in the midst of such a limpid and prearranged little world, a constant source of vital unrest, a reproach, an admonition and warning, a spur to new, bold, forbidden, intrepid ideas, an unruly, stubborn sheep in the herd."- Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
There I am. I find myself reading these words for the first time in more than two decades and there isn't a thing there that isn't still - fundamentally - true. Except, perhaps, a better perspective on the whole mess. Not quite enough perspective, however, and that is why I describe William's comment on paladins as cold water.
Can anyone imagine the contentious lout Tegularius accepting any of that crap about what paladins are entitled to do or believe?
This paladin thing. I just don't know. The fanciful idea of knights being upstanding, stalwart protectors of the faith just goes on and on. Despite evidence to show that the crusaders, upon which is based the classic paladin 'look,' were butcherous, drunken gang lords with the right blood. Despite the brutal, castrating domination of the Teutons, Hospitallers and Knights Templar over their respective lands. Clearly, the explanation for 'lawful good' is in the phrase, "The only good Maltese is a dead Maltese, and that's the law."
It all has something to do with Don Quixote, jouster, sword fighter, beating recipient, deluded nut-job. Mad Dreamers are popular, difficult to understand but easy to like, while representing some weird compulsion to simultaneously admire their vision while recognizing its idiocy. The original creators of the paladin heaped all this power on top of the basic fighter skills with the rationale, "We will make it almost impossible for this character to act free-handed, period." They then foisted this balance on the role-players at the time and - somehow - the argument of balance has retained its legitimacy to this day.
I contend that DMs hate paladins. The bonuses to save and armour class and the immunity to disease and evil, plus the tank-horse, are only the beginning. There's nothing worse than a correctly behaved paladin, barking orders at other players, refusing to take part in adventure hooks, the endless bleating, bleating, bleating for a holy sword that absolutely no one wants the paladin to have . . . it all adds up to a motivation on the DM's part (subconsciously or otherwise) to kick that puppy at the first opportunity. The paladin's place in the game is, let me see, what was the line? ". . . a willful, moody person who refused to fit into his society." Hesse was right. Paladins are loathsome critters.
Yet what DM wants to say to a party, "I've eliminated the Paladin option"? Players dream of paladins, of the day when they will finally roll both a 17 and a natural 18 in the creation of their characters (or whatever the hell the numbers are for 5e), so they can PROUDLY write the words, "First-Level Paladin" at the top of their character sheets.
There the dance begins. The first act opens as the character consciously discovers that the paladin can't win every battle while walking on water carrying Jesus in a baby carrier. Those first agonizing battles where the paladin gets slapped around like a bitch by a few goblins - goblins! - who know how to use weapons. That first horrifying disbelief that the villagers aren't willing to hand over their animals and all that they own just because the *!PALADIN!*
(insert triumphal music here) "needs" them. The astonishment when the rest of the party soon sickens of the paladin's goose-stepping around in jackboots, petulantly dominating every parley with the words, "I'm a Paladin! Need I say more?"
When the sweetest, most generous and experienced players are somehow transformed into the worst insufferable bastards by the mere adoption of a character class, you know there is something wrong with the game's philosophy. What DM doesn't lie in wait like a snake in the grass, waiting for the moment this detestable prig makes the tiniest error, justifying a flat, across-the-board removal of all the paladin's powers in order to smack down the player's pomposity?
That, unfortunately, only initiates Act Two, in which the paladin grieves endlessly and monotonously for his or her lost powers, dragging the whole campaign into a grim, solemn death march to return the license to be an utter douche-bag to the character everyone has long-since agreed to despise. More campaigns, I feel, have died on the way back to a paladin's powers than have died from edition-death.
It isn't that the powers are too much - they're really not. Nor is it that the paladin really needs a set of rules to follow. I've been playing since my first campaign without any dictatorial rules about paladin behaviour; I've never found it over-balances the game.
The real issue, I think, may be that a paladin is hard to get. Actually, its quite easy, if the character is willing to do without the constitution and the strength. But characters won't choose a paladin unless they also get high rolls in those two abilities, so that paladins on the whole tend to be characters with a lot of high level stats. Those characters tend to be jerks anyway - but there is something about being a paladin that seems permissive of bad, self-righteous, magniloquent behaviour.
Here is my suggestion. Rather than insisting that the paladin act according to the dictates of some god or cultural rule-making, simply issue everyone else in the party an 'anti-paladin' bat. Let the players all know that when the paladin acts like a fucking tit, the magic in their bats gives them both initiative and an automatic hit, which causes the paladin's nervous system to shut down irrevocably for five bliss-following rounds.
That ought to shut them up.