Good non-player characters (NPCs) make or break any role-playing session, including a game of Paladin. Here are rules on how to create them.
It is quite likely your characters will meet or even face non-Paladins within the game. Non-Paladins still are connected to Animus, and so can still accumulate Animus and Dark Animus much like Paladins may. However, they do not have the mastery of it that Paladins do, so they have a few restrictions:
Non-Paladins usually have much lower Animus attributes than Paladins: it is recommended that they have 5 points total to split among Light and Dark Animus attributes for an average non-Paladin.
To create "mooks," opponents that can easily be overcome, the GM can create characters with no Animus and no Animus attributes. Paladins should be able to go through hordes of these guys.
Dark Paladins are either Paladins who have betrayed their order, or people who have found a way to master Dark Animus. (In "The Sword of Heaven," anyone who murders another immediately becomes a Witch, or Dark Paladin.)
Creating a Dark Paladin uses the same method as creating a Paladin player character, although you distribute 3-6 points for Light Animus attributes, and 6 or more points for Dark Animus attributes. Just like creating average folks, you can assign any numbers you want depending on how powerful you want the NPC to be.
When assigning Light and Dark Animus points, be aware that anything over 10 points in either pool is going to make the NPC a very formidable opponent.
The Paladin mindset
Paladin is a rip-roaring, blade-slinging, ass-kicking sort of game. You learn about some bad guys, you hunt them down, and then you proceed to have the sort of battles where scenery gets uprooted and one man stands at the end, covered in blood. That's exactly what you're supposed to do with it.
Paladin is also about morals, though. The rules present a rigid moral universe, one where right and wrong are absolute, and you're definitely on the right side. We call this moral absolutism. This is quite a bit different from many games out there which present moral relativism, a world in which good and evil are not clear-cut, and the characters could end up on either side - or both - pretty quickly.
When designing Paladin, I was asked, "What if you're fighting other good guys - people who believe in something different than your characters?" The answer is: you're right; they're wrong. It's an unrealistic universe, but one fraught with adventure. So, how do you run an adventure in such a world?
The first and easiest sort of adventure to run is one that uses this moral absolutism to full effect. The characters find out that something bad is going on, they investigate it, they find the source, and they uproot it with their holy vengeance. It's an easy way to run things, and it's fun. Using the default setting, such an adventure might look like this:
While traveling, the characters come to the village of Zaragoza. They look for food and shelter, but soon find that the village has been emptied, bloodless corpses strewn through buildings. When they stay and investigate, they find that the corpses rise at night as Unliving with the slightest hold on this world - weak, but in masses. They must find the Witch controlling these Unliving and slay it in order to stop the rampaging hordes from moving on and attacking another village.
You can see from just the start of the adventure that it provides a lot of room for an interesting game: creepy zombies, a sweeping battle scene of Paladins versus a horde of Unliving, a hunt for the Witch, and a climatic fight with it.
This sort of adventure can only be fun so many times before the point is made, and the game becomes tired, though.
So, where do you go from the sort of adventure above? How do you keep your game from becoming an Unliving thing of its own? You introduce a moral quandary. While the world of Paladin is absolute when it comes to good and evil, no true human can be, not even the strongest Paladin. Everyone has a weak point, and testing that weak point can provide hours of play.
Word comes to the Temple at Mons Calpe that great evil has been sensed in the east, centered on a large town called Cordoba. A member of the Sword, Gloria, is originally from Cordoba, so she and her partner, Philippe, are sent to investigate. They find an extraordinarily powerful Witch in the town, and follow him for many days to discover his weaknesses.
What they find is horrifying - this Witch is powerful enough to have created a strong, competent, self-willed Unliving, and he's used the body of Gloria's father. The Witch is too powerful for Gloria and Philippe to take on alone, but Gloria's father comes to her in the night, telling her that he wants to be free - that he will help them slay the Witch and Gloria and he can live forever if she helps him keep his power.
Does Gloria accept his help? And then does she turn her back on the Sword in order to remain with her father, or does she slay the Unliving thing?
If Gloria is to follow the code, she must kill her own father. Can she? This sort of story brings a drama to Paladin that isn't found in the more absolute side of the moral spectrum. Like salt, it should not be overused, but used properly, it greatly enhances the game. You can take it further and present scenarios that make the characters question if they're even on the right side. In the above example, Gloria may feel a longing to be with her father, but it's plain that her father is actually no more - that she would only be helping a mockery of life. In the example below, things are not so clear-cut:
Word comes to the Temple at Mons Calpe that great evil has been sensed in the east, centered on a large town called Cordoba. A member of the Sword, Gloria, is originally from Cordoba, so she and her partner, Philippe, are sent to investigate.
What they find is appalling - disease has spread among the children of the town, and the numbers of dead increase daily. They find a renegade member of the Sword, Carlos, working with a local Witch, using their combined power to stave off the disease and save the children.
Do they kill the Witch, and leave the children to die of natural causes? And what do they do with Carlos, who is angry with the gods for allowing such a thing to happen?
GMs should be warned that this sort of scenario may radically change your game. When characters decide that they may have been on the wrong side all along, there is no impetus for them not to dabble in Dark Animus. This change can be welcome, though - a game that asks these sorts of questions can be very intellectually fulfilling.
Taking it over the top
What do you do when your characters decide to break all the rules? If your players decided that their way wasn't the right way, how would you handle it? What if they decided that right didn't equal good?
If they wanted to change their Code, how would you go about letting them? Is the god of their world an independent being that makes absolute rules, or is their god ruled by the collective unconscious of men? Can you confront your god and change the world? And if you can, how do you stop the wrong people from doing so?
These are all adventure ideas for the very experienced Paladin group. There is no mechanic in the game for changing the Code, but that does not mean there's not a good story in it.
As long as you follow the rules, there is no wrong game of Paladin. Do what you want with it, and have the best time you can. In a game that touches heavily on what it means to be good, remember that your players may have very different personal moralities than you - if subject matter comes up that makes someone uncomfortable, make sure that it's fine by them to continue going. And then, by all means, do so - you'll have a much better game for it.