Throughout most of my gaming career, I played almost every classic character class under the sun, at least to some degree, in the majority of RPG’s out there. However, there were always certain classes to which I identified as “me,” the job, the career that I felt most represented who I, the Jesse, was and believed and went about life.
There are the archetypal roles in fantasy stories and games; the fighting warrior, the sneaky rogue, the scrutinizing mage, the stoic cleric. As other games came out over the ages, whether in my lifetime or otherwise, other playable classes emerged; things like rangers, paladins, monks, shamans, druids. Nothing here should be new to any experienced gamer, or roleplayer for that matter.
What I’m going to talk about today is how my preferences for certain classes changed as I aged. It came to my attention that there’s something of an arc happening here, as I mature(d). So let’s get right to it, eh?
In short, when I was young, I loved fighters, which eventually bled into paladins. After that, I became fascinated by the samurai, which led to monks, then eventually druids. These days, I favor the bard. It’s been quite the path.
During the earlier part of my life, I had a rosier look on things. I look back and recall that religion was never a central part of family life. I did not believe in a god because it was the tradition to follow, but because the concept was there and it’s something a small-minded child can easily grasp. I can’t say if this, a thing I can only describe loosely as “faith,” affected my decision-making when it came to choosing the character class I played as in games. I’ve known people like that; folks who played only paladins because they were, in life, so religious they could not even put themselves in the shoes of a nonfaithful.
Such people frighten me.
No, rather, I think it was the absence of real faith in my life that lead to my fascination with paladins at an early age. There is something that interests me, to this day, about a warrior who is no mere devotee (i.e., priest or cleric), but the closest thing to a mortal made into a weapon for a deity. Surely there are examples of this in both historical and modern concepts that are regrettably and profoundly stupid, but in a fantasy setting, where gods actually exist, this is big stuff.
I first came to practice the idea of a paladin while playing Diablo (the first one from 1996, not Diablo 2 in 2000, where an official paladin class was introduced). In Diablo, I played the warrior, and consumed as many tomes of Holy Bolt as I could find. At the time I thought turning the warrior into a “holy knight” was the coolest thing ever, even though in that particular game this decision would not be considered effective. But effective wasn’t the point; I loved it, I loved the concept.
The sound, the feeling of drawing energy from a source beyond, a true source of good, a holy source… this is what I’ve come to understand was, and may still be, one of my deepest desires in life. I am not a man of faith. Heck, I’m not even spiritual.
But I almost envy those who believe, because they have a certain sense of assurance that I will never have. Being spiritual is interesting to me, though it is not me; not anymore. You will much more likely see me subscribe to Buddhism or shamanism/animism than anything else. We’ll get into that later.
Yet still, there remains a certain part of me that thinks, with a mental sigh, “It must be nice to feel one’s place in the universe assured by a cosmic being.”
Naturally, I played Paladin a lot in Diablo 2. But the most defining moment for my exposure to what paladins could be, what they meant, was in one of the most influential fantasy RPGs I’ve ever played.
No, not Cecil from Final Fantasy 4. No, not Arthas from Warcraft 3.
I’m talking about the paladin class from Baldur’s Gate (1998). I can’t say I played the class to its fullest potential, but I did rock that game, and I had a blast doing it; the paladin provided a single-use heal – which in that game was kinda hard to come by – among a couple of various spells that were not so much deity-fueled, but morally fueled. Spells like Detect Evil and Protection From Evil were real things, and to this day I think the Dungeon’s & Dragons description of Evil is the most well thought-out, at least in terms of storytelling.
But what had the greatest effect on me, personally, was the Baldur’s Gate paladin spell Holy Might. Activating this not only provided nifty bonuses, but a rocking sound effect that I can hear in my ears even now, almost fifteen years later. A sort of baleful, angelic warcry that, I imagine, is among the last things you ever want to hear before someone puts a sword through your skull. That one spell, that one effect … that one sound … defined what a paladin is to me.
To this day, I have been unable to locate that sound byte from the original game. When I do, you can be it will be safely stacked away with the others, possibly used as the alert sound for some kind of notification.
There was a paladin character named Bjornin in Baldur’s Gate, who acted as a quest-giver, and to bring him to your attention a scripted NPC would approach the player and complain about him. “He’s just staring at me. From across the (tavern) room. It’s like he’s judging me. Who gives him the right to judge anyone, eh?”
Well, in fact, a god somewhere, actually. A god that exists. And a good one, for that matter, because a paladin is not a paladin unless s/he remains Lawful Good, which is arguably the most boring of alignments, but certainly as Good as they get. Breaking that rule results in becoming a Fallen Paladin, at least according to D&D (I’ve yet to encounter a game where this has also happened, save perhaps Arthas from (World of) Warcraft, but Blizzard’s definition of paladinhood is vague and flimsy at best), which would essentially result in a disgraced being, reduced to a “normal” mortal for falling out of favor of their god, stripped of their power.
All this remains fascinating to me, but as I grew, my preference for such a class changed.
Next time, I’ll talk about the aspects of Eastern-styled fantasy warriors garnered my favor, as I went through a metamorphosis of my own.
Today’s music is brought to you fittingly from Baldur’s Gate, which will be mentioned again in future posts (though I promise not so excessively). This tracks is known as The Lady’s House, a bit that plays when entering certain temples in game. It’s a short piece, and in fact is not something I normally listen to except when in a very specific mood.
That mood? Something along the lines of a peaceful fantasy, letting my brain briefly drift into a state, into a world, where there are in fact anthrocentric self-serving deities out there looking out for us.
And then I come back to the real world. But it’s nice to dream.