Game: The Quintessential Paladin
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 6th, February 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
It says at the start of the Character Concepts chapter that at first sight the Paladin appears to be a narrow class. It says at the start of the Prestige Paladin chapter that the Paladin is a narrow class. Aljandro Melchor, author of the book, is right. The Paladin class is annoyingly narrow and given the introduction of prestige classes looks an awful lot like a fighter with prestigious abilities. I’ve taken to skipping straight to the end of Mongoose books and reading the Designer’s Notes first. Here that begins with the quote “Lawful Good is not the same as Lawful Stupid” and so it is clear from that that Melchor is going to avoid the worst of the D&D cliches. In fact the designer’s notes mention all the right things; the prestige class question, the importance of roleplay for the Paladin and that special but often ignored bond between the Paladin and her mount. There’s no sign that there was any ever question of presenting an alternative Paladin class in the book though. There isn’t an alternative Paladin class in the The Quintessential Paladin even though the book offers a number of new Paladin powers and dives headlong into Paladins paying homage to specific deities rather than just a general good.
“Dives headlong”, that reminds me of one version of the Malkavian Clan Book and its heavy use of the phrase “When you’re falling – dive”. The quote suits the Quintessential Paladin rather well. Instead of trying to reign in and refocusing some of the class’s outrageously cheese fantasy abilities it dives straight in there. The book produces a huge range of similarly high fantasy alternatives and extras for the Paladin. Most of these alternatives live in the “Tricks of the Trade” chapter; we’re given a range of Detect Evil abilities, a range of different types of mounts and even a way to use the Paladin’s abilities on the fly and earn faith points. Faith points can be used them to bounce extra dice.
The Collector Series always begins with the Character Concepts chapter. Character Concepts might just be Mongoose Publishing’s biggest influence on d20 core. They certainly seem to be a run away success. I’d noticed a growing trend in recent Quintessential X books to have the Character Concept as how the character ended up in the class, as the training stage, but thankfully this isn’t too big an issue here. Yes, concepts like the Child of Legend, Former Squire and the Appointed do cover how the character became a Paladin. On the other hand, though, Emissary, Knight-Errant, Questor and Innocent are concepts that describe what sort of Paladin the character is now. With these and the others in the book there’s a good range to pick from.
The prestige classes are solid. The highlights from this chapter are those less obvious Paladin prestige classes such the Arcane Champion that mixes in a little more magic, the Sacred Smith and Shadow Champion. The more obvious choices for powerful Paladins are here too; Demon Hunters, Knights Templar and Sovereign King to name a few. The Quintessential Paladin shakes off another Mongoose trend and manages to include some 10 level prestige classes as well as the high-end 5 level classes.
Tricks of the Trade begins with an intelligent caveat; Paladins do not do tricks. Paladins master skills, train and improve their tactics. The title of the chapter simply comes from the Collector Series’ tradition. The “tricks” in the chapter come from the already established style of Paladin power. There are rules for mounted combat and they’re specially notated to include the benefits of having an empathic link with the mount. Some of the riding tactics, like the Rearing Attack where the mount rises up and slams down to add its weight to its rider’s attack, can only be attempted by people with an empathic link to their animal. I think the Paladin’s mount is still underplayed. There could have been twice as much here and I’d still say that there could have been more – and yet other people might already think there’s too much. The extra riding rules here are a good effort where a good effort is all that could be hoped for.
The section on faith points in the Tricks of the Trade chapter is a classic example of how the Quintessential Paladin dives straight into the quagmire that are the class abilities. Paladins can use their class abilities to earn Faith Points rather than using the ability effect. For example, one use of Smite Evil earns 9 faith points (instead of smiting evil). Faith Points are spent to either earn bonus dice or to meddle with the DMs own dice (if the DM approves). Faith Points can also be used to fuel Combat Prayers. “Protect me from my enemies” costs 4 faith points and awards the Paladin with a +1 deflection bonus to his Armour Class. It is a simple enough scheme but gives the class a good deal more flexibility.
Oaths do lend themselves to Paladins, I’ll admit that and the basic set up of the Oath system in the book is solid enough. There is a range of oath severity; light oaths to mortal oaths and with three levels in between. There is then a collection of specific oaths such as the Oath of Fealty and they cost different amounts of XP to take. The XP cost of most oaths is influenced by the severity of the oath. It’s suggested that Paladin’s rarely swear oaths without a rumble of thunder, flash or lightening or similar effect and so the strange XP drain just about works. Perhaps the XP drain is a weird internal sacrifice that binds the oath into being. Oaths have different advantages and disadvantages and this is the real reason why they cost XP. Oaths also carry a risk of undeath! I can see where the idea is coming from – a Paladin swears to protect the City of Stonewall until the orc threat has past. The orc threat never passes and so the Paladin finds himself doomed to try and protect the city even after he fell and died in battle. It just seems to me that if oath swearing was so clearly tied to the undead that most Paladin’s would take a dim view of it. Would a Paladin accept a magic ritual that risked undeath? Would a Paladin wield a sword that carried a chance of turning the user into a zombie? I doubt it; in those two examples I think the Paladin would decide both ritual and sword were inherently evil. Mind you, in typical D&D cheese abilities such as the Paladin’s own Detect Evil wipe away most debates along these lines. A shame.
There is a bunch of new feats – a fair few in the Improve, Enhance and Advance basket. A few feats aren’t to do with combat. Learned, for example, transforms three cross-class skills into class skills. The Tools of the Paladin section has a similar focus, combat, combat, healing and the deliberate attempt to include something else (and then more combat). The something else in this case are some facts on saddles and reliquaries.
Holy Weapons – hmmm! If there’s any chapter that’s going to sing to the power gamers then it’s this one. The chapter starts off by looking at weapons with locked powers and restricted users and quickly moves onto bonded weapons. Bonded Weapons are those that contain part of the Paladin’s own essence. There are three different types of Bonded Weapons and it’s good that there’s a choice. The least powerful of the bonded weapon types are relics. You can take your relic up to a +10 weapon bonus! That’s not quite the same thing as a +10 enhancement bonus, it’s a +5 enhancement bonus and +5 points worth of special abilities. All this costs XPs and there are strict rules on when these XPs can be spent on the weapon… yet, on the other hand, the relic is able to gain power even as the Paladin does. The first and more powerful alternative to creating a relic is the Bond Companion. If a Paladin’s weapon is a Bond Companion then it’s self-aware enough to be counted as an NPC. If the Paladin wants to have both a Special Mount and a Bond Companion weapon then he suffers a hit on his attributes. The Bond Companion levels up with the Paladin. At level 9, for example, the Bond Companion weapon has +3 bonus hardness and enhancement, Int 7, Wis 11 and Cha 9 as well as an empathic link, the ability to act as a spell receptacle and a bonus feat. The Bond Companion is not as powerful as the Paladin’s final option. A Paladin can try to create a Custos. A Custos weapon is an Outsider bonded to the Paladin and in the form of (or in) a weapon. At this point the Quintessential Paladin leaves all the other uber-powerful-magic-weapon books in the dust and goes on to produce pages of… of… classes for the Custos. NPC classes especially for the Custos weapon! The Darkbane, for example, specialises at putting down the undead, whereas the Chainbreaker Custos is more concerned with freeing those innocent and suffering under a tyrannical regime.
The Special Mounts appear again in the book; this time with a chapter of their own. Here the GM can enjoy rules for advancing the powers of the Special Mount with the tier advancement rules and players can enjoy picking from different sorts of Mounts. Why always have a warmount? This is the question the book asks and then offers alternatives. A paladin could summon a Counsel mount instead, or a Traveller, or even an Overseer or Mentor! There’s just a snip of a section in the chapter for exotic mounts.
The chapter of Codes of Honour is a snip too; just a few pages long. It’s actually just a little too long. I don’t think anyone really needs to have what an honour code is explained to them but the codified list of examples is quite useful. They’re a good reminder that codes such as Bushido are just as appropriate for the Paladin as stereotypical medieval knightly virtues.
The Quintessential Paladin doesn’t really get too caught up with worrying that the vanilla Paladin presented by the core rules is supposed to hold a conviction to a General Good rather than a specific deity. In the Champion of a Cause chapter there are rules for picking a specific patron sponsor. Paladins actually have the chance to pitch themselves at a deity. The Paladin can decide whether to aim low and try and win the protection of a lesser deity or aim for the skies and try and impress a greater won. The Paladin could play the middle ground and announce their self to a deity of “intermediate” power or act out of the box and find their aegis with a quasi-divine being. This strikes me as a little weird. I can’t quite imagine any pious Paladin trying to impress a god. On the other hand, such a set of rules lets the GM mess with the players’ minds as he as them wondering where the Paladin gets their first set of powers. In the first half of this chapter there’s a section on the types of causes to fight for. A subsection “Causes of Good” lists just a few examples but compassion is mentioned first – and in a stroke Mongoose takes the lead in the race to produce the most intelligent observation on Good and Evil for D&D.
Most Quintessential books conclude with a chapter on castle building or something similar and this time round it’s chapter houses. The success of this chapter really does seem to depend on how central the idea of building a base is to the character class. It works well with Paladins. Chapter House forming, running and protecting works well in a Paladin heavy campaign.
In some ways the Quintessential Paladin dishes up everything that I dislike about D&D; it’s heavy on the high fantasy cheese, suspense shattering silly powers (Detect Evil ruins almost everything other than a dungeon crawl) and on the combat preferences. In other ways the book is a surprising success; some of the offerings popped ideas into my head and that’s the most important gauge for a successful RPG sourcebook. The Collector Series has always maintained that it’s not simply about powering-up the class but there’s no getting away from it here, the Paladin’s powerful enough already and the extra choices this book offers the class will be more powerful.