It never fails, everybody is sitting around talking about what characters they want to play and somebody says they are going to play a paladin, and the game begins to shift in an unexpected direction. The directional shifting is taking place even before the game has started. The proposed character that begins the shift doesn't have to necessary be a paladin like in Dungeons & Dragons. The character could be a Jedi in a Star Wars campaign, or Captain America in a street level Marvel Knights style game. It doesn't really matter what the class, build, or scheme is called, what does matter is the character with a belief in a set of morals that is absolutely uncompromising, and whether the rest of the group is willing to have their characters be respectful of the "paladin" style character's ideals or whether we are going to have conflict in the group on a fairly regular basis.
If the other characters in the party are respectful of the "paladin" will the game go in a direction that puts that character in the center of the game, and shifts the game from what the Game Master thought the game was going to be about and instead becomes focused on the "paladin" character? Some readers may think, "Hey you're the GM, the game is what you want it to be!" While they may seem true it is a recipe for a short lived game as if the players are not interested in what is going on, and then the GM will have a hard time propelling their characters forward in the story. In part this will be because if their characters exist in a bubble then the players will quickly realize that no matter what actions their characters take they have no effect on the campaign world, because they are supposed to be following this predetermined course. This may work for a mega-dungeon crawl adventure where the characters need to find their way out but in shorter, less locked adventures you can't always railroad the party in the direction you as the GM want them to go. What is worse is that the "paladin" character is usually held in some sort of high esteem, enhanced position, or heightened level of wonder and awe, and the other characters will be drawn to them. Anyone who sat down to play Edge of the Empire hear the phrase, "Why play Star Wars if their aren't going to be any Jedi?" I am not saying anything about the "paladin" style character as far as viable choice in a game, just perhaps not in every game. In more than three decades of role-playing I have seen a lot of this style of character and since they all have some sort of code that they must follow they can be problematic at best and downright silly at worst.
The "paladin" character can have a difficult time co-existing or because their specific ideals just took over the rest of the party's minds, goals, and desires, and therefore the direction of the game. It doesn't help that in some systems these characters have powers and abilities that are different from most of the characters and in a lot of instances are a lot tougher. For those of you who were around for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition), nobody could roll a paladin by the rules and if they by some miracle managed to, then they had access to a character build far tougher than the other characters, plus the high ability scores. Then came Unearthed Arcana and the paladin was then allowed to raise their Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma every level. So the tough kid got to make the rules on the playground. What if the party doesn't play along with the code and agenda of the "paladin" character? Well depending on how they choose to have the characters act you can have party conflict.
Some conflict between party members can be a great thing which enhances role-playing and allows for players to really define what their characters are about. If the party rogue filched a ring from the duke and the paladin later sees the ring and recognizes it as belonging to the duke, you may have a bit of drama with the paladin insisting the rogue return it and the rogue insisting that the party needs the wealth the ring will fetch to complete their mission. The theft of the ring benefits the greater good. The more clever your players, the better the chance that a situation like this will enhance your game. We don't always have a player or two that can help the game in a morally questionable situation. A trusted NPC or henchman that is attached to the party can serve as a delivery device if the DM would rather smooth the situation over, although that might not always work.
The other way the party can all get along with the paladin character is when the player who is playing the paladin doesn't call the other players out on their characters questionable shenanigans. I ran a game once where such shenanigans took place. The paladin character, with his high Charisma and Diplomacy skill handled every social interaction for the party but would absentmindedly wander off whenever the other players were about to get over on a shopkeeper by magically enhancing themselves before selling him goods. In this sort of situation it is up to the DM to see that the "not noticing" behavior doesn't become a regular thing. If the lone character who walked around the corner is confronted by party enemies while out of earshot or the character soon finds their holy powers waning (take away just lay on hands as a warning), then the player will probably change their character actions. The player will probably not see the lack of power for a few extra coins as advantageous. When it comes to the "paladin" character looking the other way, remember that the gods see all.
The worst offending "paladin" is probably the one that is the most honest. I don't mean never telling a lie, but playing the paladin character as the unwavering pillar of virtue and idealism. This player will not allow his character to allow the other characters to do anything that go against the paladin's sense of ethics at all. Even when the other players are trying to be subtle, sneaky, and covert, the paladin character will try to muck up things for them. Even things the character would have never been aware of. This sort of "paladin" character might meet a quick end at the hands of the other player characters and a little PC vs. PC violence is not always a bad thing for the game. If you have one of these paladins in your game just let it play itself out and hope for the best.
If you have these sort of "paladin" characters in your game I would love to hear what you do to deal with them. Do their codes of conduct and beliefs take center stage in your game or are they a minimal part that is not called to the center stage too often? How do your other characters deal and get along with the "paladin"? If you have an example, or a story feel free to leave it in the comments section and, until next time, Roll Hard!