Welcome, initiates, to the beginning of the rest of your life. Today you begin your new life as a paladin, the strong right arm of God. I see that you have been issued with your swords and armour; leave them at the sides and sit down. You will not need them yet. Here, in this class, you will learn about the life of a paladin. You will learn about honour, justice, mercy, duty; above all, though, you will learn about the code to which you will dedicate your life. You may call me Teacher, or Master; I pray for your swift elevation to full rank, when you may call me Brother.
Of humility befitting a paladin (Paladin's Rule 0: Don't be a jerk.)
You know of course that you are here because you have been chosen. But lest any of you fall into pride because of this, remember that you have been chosen by God to serve in a specific capacity to use certain gifts given to you. The governor, the scholar, or even the farmer, who seeks to honour God in his labour, is chosen and gifted as surely as you. You may find yourself lifted higher than they because of your calling, but you will also ever be in peril of falling lower. Remember this, and be humble.
Of the paladin's code and the truth it stands for (Don't let the code choke you or your game.)
It is because we are chosen, and called, that we must live by our code. The essence of the code is simple: do no evil; respect authority; act with honour; help the needy; punish the wicked. But you are not here just because you are capable of following rules. The code is more than rules. It is the expression in words and deeds of a deeper truth. It is the violation of that truth, not of the mere rules that express it, that will distance you from God should you transgress against the code.
The truth of righteous living is universal, but it is essentially unutterable. The more we try to describe and define it, the farther we stray from its universal nature. Yet because we are only mortal beings, we must try to define it in order to conceive of it and follow it at all. Thus, what the code means for me may differ from what it means for you. But this must not be the shifting, relative morality of whim and passion that you may have heard preached, for we must seek our path from God, not our worldly wants and desires. Particularly to those who have come from afar to learn with us for a time, I say: Discuss earnestly the particulars of your own code with a mentor before you begin your duties as a paladin. In this way, you may avoid the troubles of vagueness and doubt on the one hand, and the poison of lawless self-will on the other.
Notwithstanding all that I have said, I shall try to clarify what it is to conduct yourself righteously, as befits a paladin, and God willing it shall light your path somewhat.
You have no doubt heard in tales and such that it is a noble thing to die by the code. Put that out of your minds. I shall endeavour to teach you to live by the code; if you do, you will be ready to die when your time has come, but you shall not be tempted to court death for your own glory. More importantly, you must know how to live by the code with every breath you take, every deed you do, even when death is not an immediate danger. Those who only know to die by the code will stand firm in battle and hard deeds, but swiftly fall to the subtler seductions of evil.
Of honourable combat (Stop shouting challenges before every fight. War is not a duel is not an arrest.)
But let us first look at battle, for we are the soldiers of God in a world of danger and war. You have heard that you should give the enemy a fair fight, yes? Open challenge, equal readiness, and God will decide? Utter rubbish. Put it out of your minds at once. The only time you are obliged to give this sort of 'fair fight' is when you are honour-bound to do so: that is, in a duel. The principle you must instead observe might be called the 'rules of engagement'. This is the term used in open warfare, but it will serve for all forms of combat and confrontation. The rules of engagement for a duel call for a 'fair fight'. No other rules do.
The most basic rule of engagement is that you must have due cause before doing violence to a foe, and you must do your diligence to make this cause known to the foe. In warfare, this is often twisted to demand a duel-like challenge, no ambushes, and other such absurdities. It is the declaration of war itself that serves to make your cause known. After that, anyone who is a soldier or partisan in the war may be considered to be legitimately informed, and you may attack in any manner that is suitable, observing only the mercies of your conscience and a rigorous effort to ensure that you only attack soldiers and partisans.
It is likely that you will spend more time in commonplace enforcement of the law than in open warfare -- and here too the 'rules of engagement' have been twisted to make you believe you must duel every lawbreaker and murderer that crosses your path. Your duty in upholding the law is to uphold the law. In the process of apprehending a culprit, you must make them aware of the crimes with which they are charged -- but you may, indeed should, use sufficiently overwhelming force to ensure that they are apprehended. Letting them escape from a 'fair fight' is a travesty of justice, not a deed of honour.
Of duels, and of the related trial by combat, the less said the better. If you should find yourself in one, let it be because a trusted and neutral authority called for it. If you declare that God will see you victorious, when you declared the duel to satisfy some slight to your own honour, your judgement is clouded and you are almost certainly not acting in submission to God's will.
Of justice tempered with mercy (Lawful AND Good, people.)
Enough said of combat and violence, even if it is just. Justice alone is not enough. A paladin is a champion of righteousness, which is justice tempered with mercy, law balanced with love. Meditate often on this. Those who revere justice without compassion will tell you that your law is made imperfect by your mercy and restraint. Those who celebrate loving-kindness above all will say that your good deeds are fettered by your strictures and principles.
The truth that the first error will deny is that the law is imperfect, an imperfect expression of the truth of righteousness. Law without love serves no purpose but itself, and is futile. Law and love together serve to better the giver and the receiver of justice.
The second error denies the truth that love without stricture is defenceless. Quite apart from defending against all the evils of the world -- and as paladins we must maintain our vigilance always, and be bound to order and principle to do so -- we ourselves are not perfect. To defend the goodness of love in our own hearts, we must be mindful of lawfulness, not so that love becomes diminished, but so that it may be perfected, and not sicken or stray into a cruel parody of love that, all unawares and unresisting, harms others in the pursuit of the beloved, even harms the beloved thing itself.
Always strive for the way that upholds law and good. But the perfect way is narrow and hard to find. If you are ever caught between them, remember that the second error is the less. Imperfect good is preferable to imperfect law. Remember the first rule of every paladin: do no evil.
Of resisting evil (Why we do not detect-and-smite.)
More than this, of course, we are called to actively resist evil. You will learn to sense the presence of evil; indeed, part of your training here will be in recognising the aura that evil presents to your supernatural senses. This, however, should be your first clue to the limitations of this gift: It is quite hard to actually get evil people to willingly come inside our walls and be test subjects. Therefore, we use magic to present differing auras to you, for your training. Learn from this that the semblance of evil is not itself sufficient grounds for violence. (Learn also that the absence of the semblance of evil is no cause for complacency.)
Moreover, the taint of evil on a being's soul is not itself a crime. We punish deeds, not souls; souls, we strive to redeem. Evil can be mundane; it can even -- but never be complacent -- even be beneath our immediate concern. A malicious misanthrope who spitefully abuses and spreads lies about his neighbours is a wicked person, and you will sense the evil in him, but misanthropy is not -- not in our region, at any rate -- sufficient cause by itself to do more than verbally chastise a person. And that will itself likely do little to help. Unless you can find evidence of evil deeds that have gone unpunished, you will do well to leave the matter alone.
Take from that, this lesson: Your awareness of the presence of evil is a warning, not damning evidence. Treat it as you do your other senses and support it with sound reason.
Of obedience and the law of the land (No, you don't breach the code by wearing a hat of an illegal colour while passing through the Duchy of Frivolia.)
Our fight is not against evil alone, however, and you will go astray if you fail to also uphold the law. Does this mean that you must obey every jot and scruple of the law of the land wherein you find yourself? No -- but you should strive to do so regardless.
The code is the heart of your law. But if the code itself is an imperfect expression of universal righteousness, how much more will the law of the land be imperfect, when it may be written by fools or tyrants? Seek for the heart of justice that underlies the law, and remember that where the written word departs irreconcileably from just governance, it is no longer truly a law.
Nonetheless, we are called to respect the authorities, so unless their injustice makes it impossible to do so in good conscience, endeavour to obey their laws. If you were to flout the law in the sight of others, even if you knew you were justified before God in doing so, others who do not know or hold your principles will be led astray by your actions. For their sake, obey law and uphold tradition.
I shall stress this theme on a particular point: the use of poison. The ethics of poison are oft-debated, and it must be conceded that there are times when it would be permissible for us to use it for good and just purposes. However, because of the stigma attached to poison's use, it remains proscribed in the codes of most paladins, lest those lacking our scruples should feel free to use it at whim, thinking they follow our example.
And likewise, concealing the truth -- if not, on occasion, outright lying -- is often all but necessary to prevent harm coming to others. But something of upholding the truth is said by most paladins' codes, because failing to uphold the truth will often lead to deeper and more subtle harms. But this is such an occasion as I described, where you may struggle and fail to see the righteous path between practicing deception, and giving power to your foes. Do no evil.
That is enough of a lesson for this morning. Go, attend to your midday meal, and discuss among yourselves what you have heard here. I pray you shall find some small kernel of wisdom in these words.