Game Design: Paladins Are (Not) MAD

My experience on the official Wizards forums has dwindled over the past eight or so years mostly due to the fact that more often than not its akin to wading into a mire from which you can occasionally procure valuable gems of Wisdom (oh ho, did you see what I did there?).

I do go there, to be sure, but mostly to see if someone found some odd tidbit that I overlooked (like the character sheets from D&DXP) or to dredge up new topics for this blog. Its common practice to decry that anything and everything in D&D sucks given the right person and time, and even with the new edition there isn't any shortage of complaints.

Paladins are touted as underpowered, or rather being dependent on too many ability scores to be useful. This misconception is spread because the paladin uses either Strength or Charisma for her attack powers. Wisdom serves a secondary purpose, which makes sense, and Constitution rounds things out by giving her as they say, "hit points out the ass". We can look at several other classes to easily determine that the paladin isn't alone in this regard: the ranger can key off of Strength or Dexterity depending on your style, and the warlock demands Constitution, Charisma, or both in the case of the star pact.

However, even classes with a single attack stat aren't immune from this trend. The fighter likes a high Strength, but can get additional benefits from Dexterity or Constitution depending on her weapon of choice. She also likes a good Wisdom to take certain feats and to make opportunity attacks more reliable. The difference is that in order to get the really good weapon feats, you want to have your secondary stat at 17 to 19. Add to the fact that the fighter wants a Constitution that is as good if not better than the paladin (since she is easier to hit), and you have a harder time meeting all the prerequisites.

I think that most, if not all of these complaints originate from people who are too busy analyzing the game to actually play it and see how it all works out. Examples are cultivated in a vacuum, deprived of outside input that might allow them to properly mature and grow. I have a fairly new player in Adrian's group that is playing a Charisma-oriented warforged paladin, and is having a blast with it. She's completely effective in combat when she remembers to use divine challenge: just don't ask her to attempt basic melee attacks (Str 12).

Others focus on the paladin class features, claiming that the paladin just isn't as sticky as other defenders, which tells me they probably haven't seen the swordmage. Fighters get to mark anything they attack, and wardens can mark everything next to them, which tells me that soon you'll get complaints about power creep and that the fighter sucks cause she isnt as sticky as the warden. The trend I've noticed is that a fighter often gets to dole out a single attack per round, so in most cases she also gets only a single mark. While this technically makes the fighter stickier than the paladin, the paladin can do other things that help even the playing field in terms of cool factor: healing as a minor action, better starting armor proficiencies, an extra healing surge, and an encounter power that allows a free save or extra damage. You cant just directly compare and contrast classes.

The obvious solution is that if you want a paladin, don't try to spread yourself out too thin. Set one stat at 16 (as its the magic number) and then apply the rest as you see fit. I don't expect clerics to try and max out Strength and Wisdom at the same time, so why expect the same from paladins? Pick one and roll with it, or better yet throw hardcore optimization out the window and focus on making a character that you will actually enjoy. Its easy to hit up the Character Optimization thread to make a super-powered character with all the numbers and none of the personality. Its more difficult to make a memorable character.

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