Once upon a time, a paladin's history in World of Warcraft was pretty simple to define. After all, there were only two races that could even be paladins -- the human race, and the dwarves, both of which were Alliance. The history of the paladin originated with Uther the Lightbringer, first of the Order of the Silver Hand. But recent years have seen more and more of these Light-wielding soldiers of righteousness out on the fields, each with their own unique sense of history that doesn't tie to the Order, Uther, or in one case, Azeroth itself.
Traditionally, a paladin is a warrior of the Holy Light -- a person of exceedingly strong moral convictions who fights just as valiantly as any warrior on the field. However, it's his morals and his faith that make him differ from the usual warrior you see on the battlefield. Paladins are known to uphold all that is good in the world, fighting against all that is evil. But there is far more to a paladin than just a holy warrior, particularly where roleplay is concerned.
Who you are
Who your character happens to be depends on his racial background. There are now five races that can be paladins, and three of them differ greatly from the original dwarves and humans of the Order of the Silver Hand.
Human/Dwarf As a human or dwarven paladin, your character is a follower of the Holy Light. This isn't necessarily a theistic belief system so much as a philosophy that is carefully practiced by both priests and paladins of the Order. The Holy Light is almost a "pay it forward" system of charitable deeds and actions, one that works on the presumption that there is an innate connection between self and the rest of the universe. Emotion connects an individual to the universe -- and being true to one's own emotions will cause emotion in others, creating a ripple effect of good in the universe.
When the tenets of the Holy Light are practiced to full extent, a paladin can never truly die -- his deeds, actions, and words will live on in perpetuity, continuing to inspire others for ages to come. While humans faithfully practice this method of the order, dwarves have somewhat dwindled in recent years, replacing the Light with the study of the Titans, their creators.
The draenei and human ways of looking at the Holy Light are incredibly similar, it's just the origin of that knowledge that differs between the two races. Thus, draenei paladins and human paladins not only get along incredibly well, but they both hold the same deep understanding of the Light and how it works within the universe.
Blood Elves The blood elves, on the other hand, are a complete different story. Prior to renaming themselves sin'dorei, many of these future Blood Knights were actually members of the Church of Holy Light. But after Arthas decimated the forests of Quel'Thalas and destroyed the Sunwell, the vast majority of these elves -- now renamed blood elves -- lost their faith entirely. Without the faith, they lost their Light-given powers, and assumed the Light had simply abandoned them in their darkest hours.
It wasn't until Kael'thas Sunstrider sent the captured naaru M'uru to Silvermoon City that the blood elves found a way to get the powers of the Light back. Not by practicing the tenets of the Holy Light, but by simply siphoning the power directly from the captured naaru. Thus began the order of the Blood Knights. During the course of the Burning Crusade, Kael'thas returned and took M'uru from Silvermoon to the site of the Sunwell, where the former blood elf leader sought to summon Kil'jaeden to Azeroth.
Tauren The tauren have perhaps the most unique approach to the Light -- because they don't really consider it the Light at all. Tauren legend speaks of Mu'sha, the tauren equivalent of Elune, and her brother An'she, the sun. The tauren have long embraced Mu'sha and the ways of the druids, which parallel Elune and the druids of the night elves, but they never really looked at An'she and how he could benefit the tauren people. It wasn't until a tauren named Aponi Brightmane discussed this with tauren druid named Tahu Sagewind that any real consideration was given to this lack of balance.
But it was the balance that concerned Aponi, and she abandoned her warrior ways and began seeking the light of An'she instead. As a result, she became the first tauren paladin, and the Sunwalkers were born. Tahu Sagewind also decided to follow this path, and became the first tauren priest in Azeroth's history. Whether or not An'she is another version of the Light that the other races follow is undefined -- and although they may have their similarities, the Sunwalkers are definitely their own breed of paladin, unlike any other.
What defines you, and why you fight
Being a paladin isn't just a matter of picking up a sword or a dagger and learning to fight. This is why roleplaying a paladin can sometimes be a difficult task. The origins and purpose of paladins, no matter which race your character happens to be, are something that your character has likely been taught ever since he decided to become a paladin. Being a paladin ties into exactly who he is at his core. There is no such thing as an "evil paladin" -- because a paladin that seeks to spread evil in the world will soon find himself with absolutely no access to the Light at all. It will abandon him, plain and simple.
Does this mean you need to play your character as a wishy-washy do-gooder with no dimensionality at all? Of course not. Your character is in a constant struggle with what the world is, and who they are being in the face of it. A paladin can absolutely be upset, despairing, or even angry at the world -- but his status as a paladin shifts with his moral convictions. One wrong decision won't ruin a paladin, but it will weigh on his mind far more heavily than your average adventurer.
And while there may not be evil paladins in the world, there are those that are zealous to the point of seeming madness. The paladins of the Scarlet Crusade are a good example. They practice the Light, and the Light grants them power, even though they use that power for what seems to be evil intent to an outside observer. But to a member of the Scarlet Crusade, their devotion is and has always been to the Light. Their conviction is to eradicate the undead -- it's simply that they view anyone that is not a member of their organization as a potential undead waiting to happen.
It's that conviction behind them that keeps the Light on their side, because that conviction is for the purpose of good. So one could easily roleplay a religious zealot of a paladin -- one who is convinced that his reasonings are the right reasonings, regardless of whether or not the rest of the world views it that way.
Interaction with others
Because of the nature of a paladin, they usually don't have any issues at all with speaking with others. But the reasons for speaking may vary from paladin to paladin. Does your character speak with others in a subtle manner, trying to bring across the message of the Light with his actions and convictions, or does he flat-out preach to anyone who is sitting still long enough to listen? Does he try to argue and force others down his path of reasoning, or does he simply lead by example, and expect others to follow?
How does he view those that don't necessarily believe or follow the Light? Does he look down upon them as poor souls that need to be saved? Does he feel sorry for them? Is he disgusted by those that choose to ignore the Light's influence in their lives, or does he find them fascinating? Is he the kind of character that is a willing ear and gentle spiritual advisor for his friends, family, or anyone seemingly in distress? Or is he so dedicated to his cause that he has a case of tunnel vision as far as the suffering of others is concerned?
Although a paladin character may be a holy warrior, it doesn't mean that he thinks of nothing but the Light. Paladins have just as many emotional highs and lows as any other character. What makes a paladin character interesting is that they must deal with their relationship to the Light on top of all of the usual struggles a character encounters in the world. That layered nature makes a paladin a multi-dimensional, intriguing character to roleplay.
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