Inspire Confidence – Final Curtain Call; Paladins – Lawful Good or Lawful Stupid?

As is life’s way, mine has led me to an opportunity that I cannot pass up if I am to follow my chosen field as a professional cleric. Sadly this new appointment will prevent me from having the time and energy necessary to continue writing for the Know Direction Network on a regular or even semi-regular basis. It is with tears in my eyes and a heaviness in my heart that I tell you all that this will be my last blog here for the scryable future. I am touched to know that I have made a difference in some of your lives to the better, I have been fortunate enough to see my own blog shared among people I don’t know as an example of good things in this world. I have made treasured friends during my time here and I will remain a dedicated member of the gaming community for years to come.

As this is my last blog, I will tackle one of the topics I have long toyed with publishing and those who know me will know why I have chosen it for today, in this time and place. As you go on in your daily lives, in and out of this community, remember that you make choices that have lasting impact on those surrounding you, even if you don’t see it or realize it. Choose wisely and always be good and kind to one another, companions and strangers alike.

Paladins – Lawful Good or Lawful Stupid

Seelah, iconic paladin. Paizo.

Long ago, in my teenage bedroom, my younger brother and I opened my first Red Box D&D books and set to coloring in dice and making our first characters. It was only the 2 of us, since the boys at game night made it clear that girls couldn’t play D&D. Of course, thousands of us have proven that wrong, but at that time I didn’t know about the others, there was just me, a lonely Valkyrie looking for her sisters and finding solace with my brother who was as adventurous as I was.

Eventually I found the rules for Paladins and was discouraged – they required a 17 Cha? There were other requirements, but ultimately I couldn’t count on rolling a 17 with a handful of d20’s and adding 5. My dice rolling abilities were legendary even then. As a result, I have never played a paladin. I have frequently played what I consider the (next) best class, the cleric. Not mired down by the strict adherence to laws that restrict doing what’s right in a time of great need for those I was trying to help.

It was always given me pause to blindly follow laws written by “mankind”, while faith provides us with infallible gods, man is and always will be imperfect and unable to act with perfect grace and justice. We do our best, most times, but to recognize that everyone has an agenda means that you’re less likely to be disappointed when you find that the person you look to for leadership can and does make mistakes, even if they are well intentioned. Laws are written by people that we hope have the best of intentions to do the greatest possible good in the fairest way to benefit the town or country for which the laws are written. Let’s fast forward to Pathfinder and specifically Cheliax for this next part.

Laws of men

Golarion is a world created by the designers at Paizo, but most specifically James Jacobs (thank you James!), as the setting for Pathfinder. One of the many countries within Golarion is Cheliax, which is a Lawful Evil imperial bureaucracy of noble families based on a diabolical philosophy – the attempt to fashion and emulate the organizational structure of Hell, you know, where devils reside (not to be confused with the Abyss, where demons reside and are Chaotic Evil). Cheliax suppresses free will and endorses slavery. I won’t go into the extended history of Cheliax and Aroden, you can find that in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea Guide. We’ll just say that Cheliax isn’t a really great place to live if you aren’t a human who happens to be fortunate enough to be in one of the noble houses. The laws of Cheliax are written by people who seek to self-serve, to put their needs and desires above others, and to inflict pain and suffering by design.

But this blog is about Paladins, Monica! Indeed it is. Our table is in the middle of Council of Thieves (currently on hiatus for our Numenera game) and I had originally considered playing a paladin, but thought better of it due to the LE nature of the country the AP storyline takes place in. In hindsight, I wish I had, as paladins should act in the best interests of those in need and be paragons of virtue. I can’t think of a place in need of paladins more than Cheliax, a special kind of paladin – one that thinks things through before jumping in feet first. Which leads us to Lawful Good vs Lawful Stupid.

Lawful Good or Lawful Stupid?

Iomedae, Paizo.

As a player of a fully formed, thinking PC you have the opportunity to make informed decisions for your character – do they jumped into battle at the first sign of enemies or do they take in the lay of the land and form well-constructed plans to overcome the adversity? It is that moment of reflection and contemplation on a situation that separates the Lawful Stupid paladin from the Lawful Good paladin. Having faith in your deity to guide you through battle, where ever you may find it, is only going to get you so far. Deities have better things to do than sit around holding paladins in the palm of their hands making sure they don’t self-destruct in Cheliax, sure, they might be able to do that, but is that the best choice a paladin can make for the resources of their gods? I think not, gods have people to heal through cleric prayers and probably ale to drink (I know someone out there is playing a paladin of Cayden Cailean, even if it’s a grey paladin), certainly the gods, specifically your god, have put their faith in you to be the best paladin you can be to represent them.

Paladins aren’t the police, they aren’t law enforcement. Paladins stand for a moral and ethical Good as evidenced by following a divine code or Law. There is no time table set within these codes (again, you can make your own with the sign off from your GM) just the understanding of spreading divine justice and goodness. Sometimes that takes a little time and a whole lot of effort. Defeating one despot is momentarily satisfying but ultimately may leave room for someone worse to assume control over the regions. Overthrowing a corrupt and evil government and restoring just and kind governance? That’s paladining at its finest. A paladin who enters Cheliax does so with this intention of breaking the laws of the land, but not the laws of their personal deity and therein lies the difference between Lawful Good and Lawful Stupid. That kind of government turn over doesn’t happen in one sitting or even a couple months of game play, sometimes it takes months and years of mobilization of the downtrodden, developing relationships, building networks of aid, and putting in a lot of hard work with little recognition or thanks. And yet a good paladin does this because they know at the end they will receive their divine reward. Gold and gems are nice, but eternal reward is something worth striving for.

A Lawful Stupid paladin may nickel and dime an enemy, but in the end they make fools of themselves, claiming to embrace their deity’s teaching and upholding the laws, while others suffer because those laws are not good or just. Frequently they follow the letter of the law without following the spirit in which the law was written, again frequently doing more harm than good. The laws of Cheliax enslave its people and holding up those laws, because they are the law of the land, is an evil act. Causing pain and suffering because the laws say that it must be so may makes you “lawful” but it cannot and never will make you “good”. There’s actually a name for this kind of defense – it’s the Nuremberg Defense, or Befhel ist Befhel “an order is an order”, which some German Nazis attempted to use as their defense for following the orders of their superiors and acquitting themselves of deeper thinking and rightful behavior. It didn’t work for the Nazis in the Nuremberg trials and it shouldn’t work for the paladin who commits egregious crimes while following the laws of the land.

As individuals, paladins are never exempt from their commitment to follow their god’s Good tenets of kindness, healing, and serving as inspiration of faithfulness, including but certainly not limited to helping the poor, the injured, and those in need of a safe haven from harm or evil. Failure to fulfill all of your commitments to your religion is a failure, there is no grading system here. The paladin who upholds 87% of their deity’s tenets isn’t passing with a B, they have failed to be a paladin and lose their divine granted abilities and a paladin without their powers is a person who lives in shame. Paladins who do things because the “law” tells them to are cowards who are hiding behind the laws of men, not fulfilling the divine charge of the god that they have sworn to be faithful to.


I have spent the last 2 years writing about gamer life and I am incredibly proud to have been a part of the Know Direction Network. I make no secret that I am passionate about a just and fair gaming community who welcomes everyone, regardless of skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or race. We are richer for being inclusive, for reaching out to those who do not look like us or believe as we do in a real and true sense of camaraderie and compassion for our fellow people. I hope that my blogs have helped you to find a better footing for the fights to come and that you will do what is right and good when you are faced with choosing between bad laws or good and virtuous behaviors.

Monica Marlowe

Monica Marlowe is the 2015 Paizo RPG Superstar. Winning the contest launched her freelance game designing career. Her winning adventure, "Down the Blighted Path" and PFS scenario "Captive in Crystal" are available through Paizo. She’s publishing additional gaming materials under Marlowe House and through 3rd party publishers. Monica is also active in the ongoing education in gender, sexual, and racial equality in the gaming community. Driven by a desire to see a more diverse gaming community, Monica has joined the Know Direction network to help and encourage all gamers, veteran and new, to find their voices. Monica lives in southwest Ohio with her husband, Andrew, and 2 children, Kate and Thomas.

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