The King is Dead

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Veray Parfit Gentil Knight


Rose Red, by Dan dos Santos. Oils on Board, 12x16 in.
Robin’s playing an oath of the ancients paladin in our 5e group game that’s been running most of this year and in occasional non-canonical duets. We’re both pretty invested in the character, but I keep feeling like I’m not quite invoking the right mood, the right feel for what she’s supposed to be and what kind of adventures she’s supposed to have. My imagination skews really dark, and having even a chaotic good paladin to DM is a challenge.

Part of the problem here is that WotC themselves confused the issue of what an oath of the ancients paladin really is. They give alternative nicknames to all the paladin sub-classes (like “white knights” for the classic oath of devotion paladins and “dark knights” for the Batman-analogue oath of vengeance paladins) and the nicknames they give for oath of the ancients paladins are “fey knights,” “green knights,” and "horned knights." 


The Green Knight by Des Hanley

My mind immediately jumps to the Middle English poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and from there to the Chronicles of Corum, Sword of the Valiant, and the Marvel UK series Knights of Pendragon. When I read “green knight” or "horned knight," I think of a primal, fierce figure – an animist embodiment of the undying trees, of the cycle of nature. I'm not the only one; lots of people online keep comparing them to and confusing them with 4e's wardens. The thing is, though, that these “green knight” paladins aren’t like the Green Knight.

They’re like Sir Gawain.
 
Heroes of Camelot Knight of the Rose

They’re like the nameless “veray parfit gentil knight” who takes Gawain’s place in Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale or Gawain’s original Welsh form, Gwalchmai the Golden-Tongued. Courteous and compassionate, they’re lovers of beauty and life. The oath they follow exhorts them to be merciful, kind, and filled with joy. 

Let me see if I can wrap my brain around that oath.
  • Kindle the Light.
  • 
    Through your acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness, kindle the light of hope in the world, beating back despair.
“Mercy, kindness, and forgiveness” say to me that the paladin should attempt non-violent resolutions when possible, fight to subdue as a first choice, and kill only as a last resort. This feels not so much like the “no killing” rule of American comic book superheroes so much as it does the “beat the crap out of ‘em and then befriend ‘em” style of anime and manga. Random acts of kindness and mercy would also fit well. 

“[K]indle the light of hope in the world, beating back despair” also resonates strongly of anime to me. Despair is the sin of giving up hope, and anime heroes always struggle on despite the odds. Strong shades of the never say die attitude of Fairy Tail.
  • Shelter the Light.
  • Where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world, stand against the wickedness that would swallow it. Where life flourishes, stand against the forces that would render it barren.

“Where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world…” speaks heavily to a green knight’s role as a defender (or warden, to be honest), protecting places of beauty and joy against those that would destroy them. Silverymoon obviously stands out as a place in Faerun that embodies the ethos the green knights protect; Evereska, Evermeet, Myth Drannor, and similar elvish realms also seem likely candidates as do certain sylvan sections of the High Forest (like the Lost Peaks or Unicorn Run). “Where life flourishes…” also identifies bountiful nature as something the oath of the ancients protects.

“[S]tand against the wickedness that would swallow it… stand against the forces that would render it barren” implies a more reactive than proactive stance. This actually kind of argues against the typical adventurer lifestyle and for something more like a superhero (or Slayer) going on patrol, watching over a chosen bastion of goodness and smacking down the things that try to creep in and mess it up. An oath of the ancients paladin might act as an agent of some power or organization that identifies threats (like the Harpers), but she wouldn’t necessarily go looking for trouble.
  • Preserve Your Own Light. 
  • Delight in song and laughter, in beauty and art. If you allow the light to die in your own heart, you can’t preserve it in the world.
This definitely isn’t a paean to selfishness, but it does exhort the paladin to enjoy life. A green knight should not be a grim and terrifying figure, but rather an equal participant in the love and joy she protects. The entertainer background (the one Robin chose) really is one of the most appropriate for the sub-class.
  • Be the Light.
  • Be a glorious beacon for all who live in despair. Let the light of your joy and courage shine forth in all your deeds.
Lead by example, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, don’t be a dick, etc. Being a paladin really demands a strong will and a lot of self-confidence. It’s a good thing that 5e is so forgiving of minor infractions of the oaths, because otherwise you could never play a paladin with any personal issues. (I realize that I would be awesome at playing a paladin; I can play self-confidence to a degree I could never embody in real life.)

I think it’s pretty obvious that the “ancients” green knights swear their oaths toward are the Seldarine, the gods of the elves. The oath is far too focused on society and beauty to be an oath to “primal” powers (though I’d probably accept it as an oath to Oberon and Titania and the like). And now that I write that, I’m suddenly seeing Sailor Moon’s Prince Endymion as an oath of the ancients paladin.

And I realize now that their first epithet -- "fey knights" -- really is the key to the sub-class. The "ancients" are the Seldarine and the Seelie Court, the timeless gods and defenders of joy and merriment. The spectral vines fey knights can call on to bind foes should be blooming with spectral roses, their ability to rebuke fey and fiends is shaming those who turned their backs on their true heritage, their nature-based abilities are about nurturing instead of the survival of fittest.

Dammit, they're anime characters or refugees from Blue Rose...


I can do anime.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting discussion as I am playing an elfin paladin who is following the green way in an occasional HotDQ game. Unfortunately, I have not really been able to do much roleplaying to develop her personality. But some good food for thought here.

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    1. Thanks! I hope you get the chance to do more character development soon.

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  2. Nice deconstruction. One of the things 5e did right was create variety within the subclasses, at least appealing variety.

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    1. Absolutely, there's a nice blend of options available for almost every class.

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