Gaming Logic: Hit Points

Caveat: Very little about Dungeons & Dragons is intended to be clear cut. There are literally dozens or even hundreds of interpretations of how any particular mechanic works to simulate the real world or something else, etc. This is mine. YMMV.


Ah, the classic dilemma. How to present when your hero is up or down in a battle. Is it health, endurance, stamina, vitality, fatigue, guts, body, etc? Is it a red health bar that shakes and diminishes when your character is hit, or is it a more abstract measure of your combat prowess? If you take a grievous wound, do you lose a lot of hit points or do you lose just a few and instead end up with some condition (slowed, attack penalties, etc)? Why does the WotC writer’s handbook specifically state that you will never use the term “hit points” in a novel? (Ok, that one seems kind of obvious.)

Basically, it depends what you’re trying to simulate. It’s possible to build a system where you cover everything in excruciating detail. When you’re struck in combat, what kind of wound does it produce, how does that affect your combat effectiveness, how many such wounds can you take before you’re down, etc., etc. Various games have attempted this–think of hit tables, wound location tables, system shock rolls, etc.–with varying degrees of success.

Some games don’t want to do this, however. They are more interested in simulating a cinematic or pulp experience, where the heroic, gritty warrior fights in the middle of a swarm of baddies and emerges out the other side with a few bruises and carefully torn armor/clothes, a fierce look in her eye and blood all over her blade. In real life, of course, if you get attacked by 3-4 armed assailants, even if you’re an excellent fighter, odds are hilariously good you’re going down hard.

Think of the Lord of the Rings movies–yes, there was some brawling there, but it’s basically stylized, interesting-to-watch combat, not real battle. (And there’s no way Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas can fend off 50 orcs with just their personal weapons. No matter how live a machine gun Legolas’s bow can be.) The Princess Bride depicts fencing, but it’s stage fighting at about a quarter speed of real fencing. Most real fighting is over within seconds, or you’re going to lose the fight. Most fighting is done from ambush and is what we’d call dishonorable in the extreme–if you’re fighting for your life, you don’t have any time for flair or showing off. People who do that get killed really quickly.

Ask yourself: What experience are you really looking for in your games?

Gaming Variants

D&D and games like it (Pathfinder, Shadow of the Demon Lord, etc) tend to go with a more abstracted interpretation where Hit Points are the sum total of your ability to keep fighting. It’s a murky combination of health, fighting ability, endurance, will, grit, etc. When your hit points are positive, you’re up. When they’re 0 or below, you’re down and may be dying/dead. You typically have an attack roll in these games opposed by a static defense number (armor class [AC], defense, etc) the attacker has to meet, which is increased by things like wearing armor, using a shield, being really agile and thus hard to hit, etc.

In some games, your armor soaks (absorbs) damage, reducing the amount you’d take if you were struck rather than increasing your AC, and if it’s heavy, it might make you easier to hit (see the AGE system, Iron Kingdoms, etc).

Some games have dynamic defense rolls, which is a pretty good facsimile of actual combat. This was in vogue for a bunch of d20 games, where you’d roll your defense rather than have a static AC–as if a static AC was “taking 10” on defense checks. For instance, Jamie Lannister has like a +12 to hit because he’s such an awesome swordsman and you have +5 to your defense (because you have a shield and a Dex +1), and you both roll a d20, add your bonuses, and determine the result, which is that Jamie cuts your throat in one blow and you were supposed to be the tank, oh snap, TPK imminent. (True story.)

It can get more complicated, such as in Vampire: the Masquerade, Mage: the Ascension, Werewolf: the Huntering, Jason: the Teen-Stomping, and other World of Darkness Games (ok, only those first two, but you get the idea), where you do damage by means of an attack roll (producing a number of successes), a defense roll (if they have an action to try to dodge, roll a number of dice, reduce the number of successes–if one success gets through, it does damage, plus any extra successes), a soak roll (where the number of successes reduces the damage of the attack), and damage marks wound boxes depending on the difference between these two results. It’s quite swingy in that way, or it can produce battles where two tough vampires just flail at each other for hours. Which can be fun in a way. 🙂

Games do this in different ways. The Cypher System (Numenera, the Strange, etc) has three ability tracks–Might, Speed, Intellect–which are mostly a pool of points you can spend to do things (limited resources representing fatigue) and also where you take damage when you’re hit by an attack. The pool that’s most appropriate is the one damaged (mental stress hits your intellect, poison hits your might, strikes to your limbs affects your speed, etc), and damage can be carried over if the primary pool it damages goes to 0. When one pool goes to 0, you are impaired, which means you function poorly. When two pools are exhausted, you’re disabled, which means you’re barely limping along. And when all three pools are spent, you’re incapacitated.

Cortex games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and Firefly, etc, handle damage in terms of giving a character a higher and higher stress die, which applies to physical, mental, or emotional stress. For instance, when someone hits you in combat, you take a die of physical stress, and future attacks against you can exploit that physical stress to enhance their die pools, i.e. increase their chances of harming you. Though if it’s only a little physical stress (d4), trying to exploit it is just as likely to screw up their attack and help you as actually harm you. It’s a complex, potentially very powerful system.

Games that are Powered by the Apocalypse… You know, I don’t really remember how these games do damage. Marking wounds? Probably. I should really get on playing that recently acquired copy of Monsterhearts 2 one of these days.

But I digress. Here we were talking about the classic, popular, occasionally embarrassing to the kids Daddy of RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons.


Well here’s what Hit Points (HP) are to me. (Again, YMMV.)

Hit Points are your character’s staying power in a fight.

They represent primarily skill at fighting and stamina. This is why warrior types (fighters, paladins, barbarians, etc) have more hit points than wizards, sorcerers, bards, and other such squishy friends. The better you are at defending yourself and the stronger/tougher you are, the longer you will last in a battle.

This comes out of my own fight training and experience. Part of what marks a superior fighter is how long they can keep fighting at a high level of expertise. Most amateur fighters exhaust their hit points quickly and take a knock-out blow early on. More experienced fighters are better at turning blows into glancing strikes, essentially soaking more damage than lesser fighters, and continuing to perform at or near their peak efficiency.

Go ahead, keep hitting me. (Artist unknown [?])

HP are not a measure of your health… not exactly.

They aren’t some health bar floating over your character that measures how much raw vitality is surging through you, rawr! They *are* a measure of how many hits you can take before you go down, however. Or more accurately, how many *near misses* you can sustain before you take a serious wound.

When your armor turns aside a blow, that’s it hitting you and reducing your hit points. When you parry a strike, that’s it hitting you and reducing your hit points. When you narrowly *dodge* a fireball, that’s it hitting you and reducing your hit points–unless you have evasion, which represents a knack for not being there at all when the fireball hits. Because what happens is that the weapon or spell hits your weapon or armor and weakens you but doesn’t really hurt you. You shrug it off and keep fighting, but the sum total of a series of hits like that are going to wear you down. Hence your HP dwindles, and eventually you’re going to mess up defending yourself from a blow and go down (when they hit 0).

Injuries happen when HP are low.

In my games, a PC doesn’t actually get *injured* until their HP drop precipitously low. Low HP mean you’re more likely to falter in a block and take a serious injury. It’s you, dizzy, exhausted, rattled, breathing hard, about to go down. Look at a boxer or MMA fighter in the later rounds of a fight. That’s low HP. Their combat effectiveness is still high–they can still land good hits, sure–but the chances they’re going to get clobbered and put down are much, much higher than they were right out of the gate.

A lot of games have some sort of death or fate mechanic for below 0 hit points. You roll a die to determine if you’re dead, bleeding out, or stable. This is because the hit that dropped you might not have been a lethal one, and it’s difficult for others to tell, sometimes, if you survived the hit or if you’re gonna die if left unaided. Losing consciousness by violence is never a good thing, but it can be extremely unpredictable. Sometimes you wake up with no obvious ill effects, sometimes you end up in a coma for days or weeks or years.

(The moral is, be careful out there, and watch your hit points. If you’re getting low, extricate yourself from the situation.)

Don’t mind me, just taking care of this bullet wound. (Art Tomb Raider 2013, Crystal Dynamics)

Well then, what does Healing Magic do?

For some, healing magic represents some unseen magical force that reknits your tissue, sets broken bones, closes wounds, etc. And kind of it does–it certainly CAN do that.

But to me, the effect of healing magic is to soothe your aches and fill you with revitalizing energy. It lets you fight on longer and harder than you otherwise would. It restores your hit points which, remember, are a measure of your fighting ability and stamina, not your actual health. A healing potion is more like a Red Bull than some sort of wound antidote.

(Particularly if you’re drinking a flying potion. That gives you wings. Eh? Eh? I’ll show myself out.)

And when you use your muscles in a battle, you create small tears and strains in those muscles. That’s how you build muscle mass: you work the muscles, stretching and tearing them, and they grow back stronger and bigger. Healing magic expedites the recovery process–basically, your muscles rebuild instantaneously (to the extent of the healing spell).

If you receive a healing spell when you’re down, it does basically the same thing–heals that strained muscle tissue, suppresses pain, reknits flesh, etc. But the most important thing is that it puts you back on your feet to continue the fight. Just as it would do if you never left your feet.

You don’t really have hit points–you have a fighting status.

I once had a brilliant 4e D&D DM who kept track of our characters’ hit points–we never knew our exact hit points–and only gave us updates on our status based on hits.

  • At 100% HP, the character is uninjured.
  • 75% to 99% HP? Bruised.
  • 51% to 74%? Winded.
  • 25-50%? Bloodied.
  • 11% to 25%? Injured.
  • 1% to 10%? Grievously injured and about to go down.
  • And of course 0 HP is unconscious.

I do something like this in my games, too, though I’m happy to have PCs track their own HP. What I’m saying is, you only really get *bloodied* in my games when you’re at half hit points or lower, and it’s not really a major wound that you take.

Um…. cleric? (Art by Rodrigo Gonzalez, 2013)

D&D 4e did this, and I think that was one of the best things to come out of it. It’s that turning point in a fight where you take the first wound and have to react to it in some way. The fighter takes a wound across his exposed thigh and staggers, barely blocking the next blow, then winces and takes stock of his dire situation. The barbarian retreats from a hammer strike to her midsection, spits blood, and her frenzied smile broadens into something truly terrifying. Etc. These moments of drama are important in a story, and I think RPGs are fundamentally about telling a collaborative story.

When you’re low on HP (around 25% or lower, say), I’ll say your character is wavering.

When you’re at 0 HP exactly, you are disabled–reduced in the actions you can take and a stiff breeze could put you down.

When you’re below 0 HP, you’re unconscious and possibly injured and possibly dying.

A note about Attack Rolls: Power vs. Consistency

Gaining levels and gaining a higher attack bonus doesn’t necessarily mean you’re just luckier or that you’re a better warrior. Or, perhaps, it *does* mean that, but in the sense that a better warrior is more consistent than a n00b, and that’s what a higher attack bonus represents.

Take your standard guard in medium armor (AC 15). A starting fighter (level 1) is going to hit this guard, eh, about 50% of the time (+4 attack bonus, roll an 11 or better, that’s 50% odds). An experienced fighter, however (level 5, say) might hit the guard 75% of the time (with a +9 attack bonus), which is a pretty reliable rate. A masterful fighter (level 10) might hit the guard 95% of the time (+14 attack bonus), and make super short work of the guard.

Any kid with a sharpened stick can get in a lucky hit (roll a 20), but it takes training and practice to hit well, pretty much every time. And that’s what a higher attack bonus translates to.

This is also why I think defense should go up as you get higher in level, to reflect your ability to reduce being hit to match, but D&D chooses to represent this by increased hit points. It’s not that you are able to avoid being hit, exactly, but more like you know how to lessen the impact and minimize the damage.

It’s just a flesh wound, promise…. (artist unknown [?])


To me, hit points are more about fighting prowess than health or vitality or something like that. There’s stamina involved–how long you can keep fighting when you’re taking hits–but mostly it’s about skill and experience. The more fights you’ve been in, the better a fighter you become. It’s just like anything else–practice, practice, practice.

Example: The Paladin and the Thief

I read a story once about a D&D game in which the DM had a PC who was playing a 5th level paladin (50-60 hit points or so) and a gang of 1st level bandits who ambushed the party. The paladin, being brave and boisterous and arrogant as paladins are wont to do (see my previous entries about Lawful Alignments and the pitfalls of playing a paladin). The bandits threaten to kill them all if they don’t hand over their gold. The paladin’s player takes a quick look at his hit points, opens his arms wide, and say “ha ha, take your best shot, knave! I’ll not even resist!”

The DM rules that the bandit walks up, slits the paladin’s throat, and the paladin dies on the spot. (He was telling us this story to ask whether that was “fair” to his players.)

Now. If you’re playing a game based on gritty realism, then yeah, probably that’s totally fine, and maybe the game should allow for that. You as a DM can always rule that a coup d’ grace is an automatic death blow, regardless of the target’s HP–but if you do, watch yourself, because the heroes WILL exploit that ruling. Next time they sneak up on a sleeping dragon and coup d’ grace it, your whole campaign will unravel.

To an extent, that’s what critical hits are for: in D&D, if you inflict a coup d’ grace on a helpless target (or someone not defending himself), then it inflicts an automatic critical hit. Which is typically enough to kill a regular person.

But if you’re playing a game about pulp or epic heroes, then you’re probably not dealing with normal people. That bandit who slit the paladin’s throat? Maybe he was TRYING to slit the paladin’s throat, but the paladin was just so tough and quick that he jerked aside and the bandit only cut him shallowly or missed the artery. Maybe the knife even broke off against his skin. Maybe the paladin is bleeding copiously but still fighting, because he still has some HP left. But basically, the deathblow didn’t happen, because the character still has hit points to chew through.

Guns and exploding damage weapons do this as well. A gun typically inflicts d10 damage, and if you roll a 10, you roll again. You could in theory keep rolling 10s and one-shot anything. That’s something to consider when rolling a critical hit.

Think about what you’re trying to simulate.

Gritty D&D Coup d’Grace

I’m gonna recommend a one-hit kill rule, if you want to use it in your games.

I call it the “Wade Grimdark” rule.

It comes up when a character for some reason can’t *use* their hit points. Can’t put up a fight, can’t brace for a blow, can’t resist, etc. If that’s the case, give the attacker an automatic critical hit, and compare the damage to the character’s Constitution score. If it meets or exceeds the CON score, the character is reduced immediately to 0 hit points and is dead or dying, depending on how you resolve such things in your game. If the damage *doesn’t* meet or exceed the CON score, multiple the damage inflicted by half the character’s level (round up) and reduce their hit points by that amount. Then proceed as normal.

For instance: Bandit hits the helpless 5th level paladin and inflicts 14 damage. If the paladin’s CON score is 14 or lower, the paladin dies instantly. If the paladin’s CON is 15 or higher, the paladin takes 42 damage (not quite enough to drop him) and is still in the game.

Just a suggestion.


What do Hit Points represent to you?

How do you do health/HP in your games?

What sort of games do you prefer?

To you prefer armor to increase defense or soak damage?


Further Reading:

Wikipedia has a thing on it:

Jonathan Tweet–a good friend and smart guy:

One of the thousands of online discussions about the topic:


Thinge I learned at GenCon 50

1. I’m getting older but I can still stay up drinking and talking about totally random stuff until midnight every night. Because GenCon.

2. Even when I think I’m not networking, I am. People want to hire me for things. Just last night, I ran SotDL with some friends, which turned into a couple Sentinels of the Multiverse games, which turned into a good little chat with my oldish friend Christopher Baddell, the creator of the game, who may or may not need some design for his forthcoming Sentinels RPG. (Can neither confirm nor deny.) I have a bunch of threads there, and if you’d like some work, hit me up. I’m always open to chat and I rarely say no, because I love writing.

3. The Writer’s Symposium continues to be one of the best things about GenCon every year. This year we sold 10k tickets (yes–ten thousand!) and had all kinds of huge names and crowded events. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it.

4. Elaine Cunningham is as cool as I expected, and it was excellent to meet her in person (finally) this year. Also read the book “How to be a Tudor” on her recommendation.

5. If you want to make a splash on the con floor, run a manually operated (as in people inside it) vending machine as your storefront, ala the Exploding Kittens people. See the video (on twitter until I can get it embedded here).


6. My perpetual roomie Brian Cortijo is one of the nicest, hardest working guys in the industry and the Forgotten Realms community, and he always takes good care of me. Highly recommended as a friend. (Does Facebook do reviews?) Also, we should all be rooting for him to win the powerball because of reasons.

7. I was a writer panelist at one of Zombie Orpheus’s Gamers Live events, and it was fantastic. Must contact Chris and Sarah to do that again.

8. Larry Dixon and Mercedes Lackey are just as cool as the last time we hung out 10ish years ago. Larry remembered me and my work, too!

9. It never becomes less awesome to meet a stranger who has heard of you or likes your work. I’ll never get over that feeling.

10. If you want to push artists over the edge from “breaking even” to “turning a profit,” buy their stuff! That’s what I did with Claudio Pozas, whose work I will be displaying on my office wall shortly.

11. Food: Marriott breakfast is a bit better than the Westin’s, primarily because you can order a fresh omelette. Didn’t eat at Palomino’s this year–must make that a priority. Keep Sunday lunch at Granite City and Monday breakfast at Patachou’s an annual tradition.

12. Demo more games! It’s fun and energizing. And you never know what cool things you’ll discover. It’s so worth it.


World of Ruin SotDL characters

Hey all–particularly players in my Shadow of the Demon Lord-powered World of Ruin games at GenCon this year!

I’m posting the premade characters for your perusal. It’s first come, first served at my tables, so if you see one here you really want to play, make sure you let me know as soon as you can.

These characters exist over a 15-20ish year span, so they each have two versions: a 0th level version for ESCAPE FROM LUETHER (set during the fall of Luether in 961 SA) and a 3rd level version for BLOOD TIES (set sometime after the fall of the Winter King in 976 SA). The backgrounds of the 3rd level characters have been updated to match the canonical outcome of the first session (assuming the character survives. I would say “likely outcome,” but the likely outcome is character death. 🙂

You’ll notice none of the characters have a gender attached to them. This is because I like my games to be approachable for everyone, and this is an aspect of character creation I will happily leave up to the players.

(Note that the character sheets are subject to update and change.)

Amara the Ice Viper, a courtesan from Tar Vangr and eventual slayer in the Circle of Tears

Amara Ice Viper L0

Amara Ice Viper L3

Ithicus the Imbuer, an apprentice artificer who perfects their talents over the years

Ithicus the Imbuer L0

Ithicus the Imbuer L3

Nameless Summer, a Ruinscarred child growing up on the mean streets of Luether

Nameless Summer L0

Nameless Summer L3

Nassae the Warding Angel, a Tar Vangruyr soldier and hunter

Nassae Warding Angel L0

Nassae Warding Angel L3

Nori Nine Fingers, a world traveler and scholar of ancient religious lore

Nori Nine Fingers L0

Nori Nine Fingers L3

Vandranil the Venerable, an elderly godly Luetharr possessed by living magic

Vandranil the Venerable L0

Vandranil the Venerable L3

Splintering Bone Spur, a barbaric Child of Ruin turned gladiator

Splintering Bone Spur L0

Splintering Bone Spur L3

Aesir the Changeling, a shapeshifter warped by the magics of Ruin, destined to become a High Druid

Aesir the Changeling L0

Aesir the Changeling L3


Nazis are the Bad Guys

So, it’s 2017, and by my count, you’d have to have ignored a LOT of movies, comics, books, and culture to identify with white supremacists/nationalists, the KKK, or nazis in this day and age. (Or maybe rooted for the villains? I dunno.)

(Really, fake geek boys?)

See the classic That Mitchell and Webb routine

Here’s an expansive but by no means exhaustive list of the media that show Nazis and their ilk as bad guys.

Indiana Jones (Nazis)

It’s the American way, really.

Star Wars (Empire = Space Nazis)

“Psst, FU123–are we the baddies?”

Harry Potter (Death Eaters = Magic Nazis)

The metaphor is fairly thick here, guys.

Marvel Comics (Hydra = Comics Nazis)

Even the Joker gets it, Nick Spencer–what’s your excuse?

Wolfenstein (Digital Nazis)

Umm… is that ROBO-HITLER? It… it is.

Inglourious Basterds (Nazis)

Dude, alt-right–it’s your hero, Tyler Durden.

Blues Brothers (Illinois Nazis)

They’re on a mission from GOD.

Call of Duty (Regular Nazis & Zombie Nazis)

I’m gonna take a wild guess that you’re not playing a SS officer in this game.

Bionic Commando (Nazis)

The original was probably better, honestly, but still.

Bloodrayne (Bloodsack Nazis)

You’re a hot redhead vampire who kills Nazis. I mean, c’mon.

Sniper Elite 4 (and the previous Sniper Elite games) (Nazis)

Hitler is even a target sometimes.

Far Cry 5 (White Nationalists)

In case it’s at all unclear–white nationalists are the bad guys.

2018 Midterm Elections (Steve Bannon and a bunch of White Nationalists in the GOP)

Give Bannon a sad. Vote vs. GOP.

What are some of YOUR favorite Nazi/White Supremacist/Nationalist crushing narratives?

Share early, share often!

Further Reading:

The Alt-Right has a problem with Nazis as video game baddies I WONDER WHY THAT IS

THE LIST GOES ON: The AV Club’s List of Games about Nazis as Baddies



Characters with Class: Paladins

King Arthur. Aragorn the Ranger. Joan of Arc. The Twelve Peers of Charlemagne. These are paladins—knights sworn to uphold a particular cause, holy warriors devoted to a deity or virtue, and the shiniest of shiny knights.

In D&D and other fantasy RPGs, paladins tend to be a hybrid warrior/priest class. Big swords, thick armor, loud boasts about good and justice. All that sort of thing.

Look at that posture. Clearly a paladin.


Throughout the editions of D&D, paladins have been defined by:

1) Their divine abilities, which are similar but not quite the same as those of clerics. They tend to have a much more specific, restricted spell list. Paladins tend to be more specialized as healers (lay on hands, cure disease, etc). Sometimes they’ve been able to turn undead, sometimes not. 5e has made an effort to create paladins of distinct types, which has been largely effective (see archetypes, below).

2) Their fighting ability, which is higher than that of a cleric but not as high as that of a pure fighter. In 2e, paladins had full attack progression (better than clerics) but couldn’t specialize in weapons (as fighters could). Paladins are typically considered front-line fighters and off-role support, as their magical abilities aren’t quite up to being a dedicated support caster, let alone a designated controller.

3) Their smite ability, which has taken on various forms throughout the editions. In early editions, it was a limited # of times per day to gain a bonus to attack an “evil” creature. 3e broke it into more specific smites (smiting evil, smiting chaos, etc), and then 4e turned the smites into various encounter/daily abilities that could be used on any target (going along with the graying out of the alignment system). 5e has paladins sacrifice spell slots to cause additional damage on a smiting attack (any target), and paladins can also cast specific smite spells for specific effects.

4) A strict code of conduct…

So Lawful Good I ride a UNICORN, n00bs! (art by


In the earliest editions of the game, paladins had to follow a very specific, very restrictive code of conduct and alignment. They had to be lawful good. They had to vow to support charity and smite evil and defend the weak and helpless and, well, be lawful good. And depending on how draconian your DM felt like being at the time, if you stopped being lawful good for as little as ONE SECOND–if you took one wrong step or did one wrong thing–then BAM, all those fancy paladin powers were out the window. You might be able to atone with a quest (story hook, anyone?) or you might just be a mediocre fighter for the rest of your gaming life. (Sucks about all those missing feats, brah.)

And as long as people have played with Truth, Justice, and the Faerunian Way sorts of Paladins, gamers have loved the concept of the EVIL paladin. The anti-paladin. The blackguard. The chaos paladin. The dark paladin. The death knight.

Some of them used to be paladins, and lore abounds with this “fall from grace” sort of story: paladins who made a mistake that cost them their powers, and they became twisted champions of evil. Lord Soth from Ravenloft, Scyllua Darkhope from the Forgotten Realms, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader from Star Wars. (Um, spoiler alert.)

Some, however, were always evil—were anointed by a dark god or swore their service to a foul depravity, rather than a virtue. And so was born the concept of the blackguard. The blackguard was a prestige class in 3e, which was mechanically similar to a paladin but evil—all their powers reveled in darkness, rather than good. 4e removed the alignment restrictions altogether, so you could play a paladin of any alignment—a holy warrior sworn to any cause—and produced the blackguard base class. 5e also has no alignment restrictions.

Lord Soth, for when Lawful Good just isn’t LAWFUL enough…


At first, when D&D was young, the “knight in shining armor” sort of paladin was your only option. You had high strength, decent wisdom, and a punishingly high charisma requirement (2e required you to have a charisma of 17 to play a paladin). And then your character was basically a shining example to the world. Many people played paladins like self-righteous jerks who eventually crossed the rest of the party ,but a paladin doesn’t have to be that, even while being lawful good (see my post about Lawful alignments for more on this subject).

3e broadened the paladin’s horizons with an official blackguard prestige class, which is mechanically linked with paladins (basically, they have almost identical abilities, but themed for causing harm and evil, rather than healing wounds and good, down to a Smite Good ability). The rogue/paladin Shadowbane Inquisitor (ahem, gee, wonder if *that* was a coincidence) prestige class from Complete Adventurer also showed us that paladins could be something other than straight up fighters, while the Grey Guard from Complete Scoundrel gave gamers an avenue to bend the inflexible moral requirements of being a paladin in pursuit of a greater good.

I feel like he’s trying to tell us something here…

4e allowed paladins of any alignment, allowing holy warriors of various causes, and also produced the Avenger base class, which is similar to a paladin in many ways (more like a rogue/paladin). 4e produced the Blackguard base class, which is kinda like a paladin, but different—more of a striker than a defender, an avenger rather than a protector.

5e has really delved into what a paladin could be other than the knight in shining armor and the dark champion of villainy. You can certainly play the classic, protector, valorous paladin, or you can play the paladin whose powers come from the land and who has sworn oaths to protect the ways of the ancients, or you can play a gritty, obsessed with vengeance upon their enemies sort of paladin. The archetype system in 5e is really a powerful tool for both mechanical and roleplaying opportunities.

The Paladin: calm, serene, noble–can kick your ass twelve ways to Sunday.

Facets of Alignment: Lawful

Caveat: This is a topic that has been, is being, and will be argued for time immemorial. So YMMV, of course.

I think of “Lawful” as a pattern of behavior that is organized and relies upon rules and systems to make things work. Discipline and “the rules” are how lawful people live their lives. Lawful people tend to be methodical, rigorous in sticking to a routine, and follow a very specific pattern of how they do what they do. Sometimes this makes them predictable, though sometimes they are very adept at outside-the-box thinking that can surprise opponents. While that may seem like a fundamentally chaotic thing, it only appears that way to an outside observer: a Lawful Neutral bounty hunter’s MO, for instance, might always include finding new and innovative ways to surprise a mark.

I’m going to give examples from comics, video games, and my own books to exemplify these alignments–note that these aren’t necessarily perfect examples, as many of these characters have had countless iterations and visualizations and you can argue lots of exceptions. A lot of these characters (particularly the LN ones) have good or evil tendencies, and that’s fine. In the case of Geralt, for instance, choices you make while playing the games he’s in can push him in a good or evil direction–he isn’t strictly neutral. These characters are sentient creatures who aren’t uniform in their behavior. Alignment isn’t a straight-jacket–it’s a general tool for describing behavior and outlook.

Lawful Good

A Lawful Good person believes in law and order being tools for the benefit of all, and will follow the laws of the land so long as the higher ideal of justice is served. A Lawful Good person has a strong sense of compassion and prioritizes helping those in need, even if it’s dangerous to do so. They are often extremely driven people, unable to tolerate injustice or stand by and do nothing.

Lawful Good types will be extremely uncomfortable with the very concept of bending the rules, much less breaking them, even if it’s for the greater good, in a way that a Neutral Good person would not mind as much, while a Chaotic Good person would advocate for breaking oppressive rules as the best course.

Superman, Defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Examples: Superman is Lawful Good. Obi-Wan Kenobi is Lawful Good. Daredevil is Lawful Good. Triss Merrigold is Lawful Good. Kalen “Shadowbane” Dren is Lawful Good.

Lawful Neutral

A Lawful Neutral person believes in law and order for their own sake, basically “those are the rules and we should obey them because they’re the rules.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that a LN person always obeys the laws of the land they’re in, particularly as a traveler, but they always have a set of strictures or a code that they follow to the letter, and generally they default to a basic respect for the laws of the land, as in “those are the rules that others follow, and they follow them for a reason.” They are often thought of as mercenary or “just following orders” types.

There is a hierarchy of rules: a Lawful Neutral person will only violate an existing law if it comes in conflict with a more important law, and then usually with great discomfort. They may or may not put on the appearance of being good and are sometimes described as being amoral or unfeeling (which is sometimes accurate).

A True Neutral person doesn’t cleave to the law in this way, while a Chaotic Neutral person may have similar priorities to a Lawful Neutral person (getting paid to do a job, for instance) but goes about it totally differently, ignoring or violating rules and expectations as a matter of course.

Geralt of Rivia, Witcher

Examples: The Punisher is Lawful Neutral. Mace Windu is Lawful Neutral. Dexter Morgan is Lawful Neutral. Gerald of Rivia is Lawful Neutral. Levia Shadewalker (Shadowbane 3) is Lawful Neutral.

Lawful Evil

A Lawful Evil person believes in law and order as a means for securing their own power and dominance. The rules are important, primarily because they can be exploited to disadvantage others. A Lawful Evil traveler pays only lip service to the laws of the land that conflict with their own personal code and set of strictures, and will ignore those laws they consider to be weaker than their own or worthless. A Lawful Evil person seeks power through organization and alliance, relying upon others to provide them the support they need to achieve their goals, which involve crushing their rivals.

Neutral Evil people may take advantage of laws but don’t feel much compunction about violating them or working outside them at the drop of a hat, while Chaotic Evil people usually revel in defying laws and rules and will gleefully shirk them whenever possible.

Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith

Examples: Lex Luthor is Lawful Evil. Two-Face is Lawful Evil. Ra’s Al Ghul and his daughter Talia are Lawful Evil. The Red Skull is Lawful Evil. Doctor Doom is Lawful Evil. Darth Vader is Lawful Evil. Vengeance (from Shadowbane 3) is Lawful Evil.