Every Alliance paladin (and maybe even some Horde ones,) I ever play will be influenced by Dogs in the Vineyard, a brilliant tabletop RPG by D. Vincent Baker. A Wild West game with a difference that for once goes more than just skin deep, Dogs in the Vineyard has you playing psuedo-Mormon paladins in a pre-statehood Utah.
Go ahead, read the sentence again. I’m being absolutely serious. So is the game; there’s not a hint of irony, parody or humor about that concept; but instead the game treats its protagonists with respect and rugged nobility. Essentially, they are young men and women, devoted to their faith, selected by their town priest/mayors to become hunters of sin. Wandering from town to town, they uncover pride, sin and (if things have gone on too long,) murder. And then they…
Work out what to do about it. Again, think about that sentence. These are devoted men and women of unshakable faith. They cling to an absolute morality, far more so than the Holy Light of World of Warcraft. The Holy Light preaches respect, tenacity, and compassion; but only in general terms. The Book of Life (the Dogs’s holy text,) preaches very specific gender roles, that men may take multiple wives if the local priest agrees God wills it, that adultery is wrong, as is sex before marriage, as is homosexuality, as is wine, tobacco, and coffee. The Dogs are devoted to a very strict code, and believe absolutely in the existence of the divine. And then, when they find sin and pride, they carefully consider what to do.
Let’s take a simple example: The Dogs enter a town that seems blissful and happy. Then they find out that a local man, the town doctor on whom the whole town depends, is being cuckolded by his wife, who is having an affair with a young unmarried man. If the affair were discovered, the doctor could end up leaving the town, which would cause it to whither and die. What do the doctors do? Reveal the wife’s unfaithfulness and shame both her and her lover? Perhaps. Privately bring them into the mayor/priest’s quarters, reveal that they know what’s going on and explain that it will stop, now, on pain of death? Equally permissible. What about quietly confronting each of them, looking to find the causes of the affair, trying to understand the motivations and correct them, gently insisting only that the affair stop, leaving the wife to atone for her sins with God on her own terms? Again, equally permissible.
Think about this. In fantasy terms, this is remarkable. It’s a model of the paladin, which is pretty close to what the Dogs are, that is faithful, absolute in their morality, and flexible, smart and compassionate. These are people who could, and would, shoot a man dead in the streets because his sin and pride endanger the town, but talk down the frustrated farmer with the rifle even as he was about to commit murder, and forgive him. They acknowledge context, refuse to believe that a single punishment should be doled out for the same crime every time, and understand that sinful actions are usually committed by good people.
World of Warcraft paladins can, and should, take a lot of lessons from these people; even the Blood Knights. (Although the virtues they’ll be safeguarding will be very different from those of the Alliance.) They should be absolute on the three virtues of the Holy Light, understanding them implicitly. While they acknowledge that no situation is black and white, they should scrutinise the actions of their charges, and refuse to tolerate the actions of those who do not uphold their high standards. They should be deeply moral, and judge others when they pull up short, but equally know that measuring up is hard, and support those who are earnestly trying, no matter what sins they may have committed in the past.
A do-gooder, holier than thou boy scout is a boring paladin, it’s absolutely true. But the key to playing a good, interesting paladin isn’t to be a puritanical, zealous prick. That’s trading one stereotype for another. They key is to be like the Dogs; to be complex and intelligent within the contexts of powerful morality and true faith. Reading this book will help you to understand how to be that character.