Okay, this is one is a doozy. I always talk about my experiences with this particular group whenever I join a new game. Primarily because I learned a lot from those experiences. Mainly what not to do both in-game and out, as well as what warning signs I should keep an eye out for.
I had just moved back to my home city after a bad series of experiences that started in college. Long story short, I was suffering from deep depression that was going untreated. Honestly, my suicide attempt should have been a major clue. I was trying to pull myself back together, and had been playing with my local Pathfinder Society organization for almost a year at this point. I found an ad for a local Pathfinder game in my city, and as it turns out, the game would be hosted a few blocks from where I live.
“Sweet!” I thought. “This seems perfect!” But what’s that old saying? There is no such thing as perfect? But I was too excited to really consider that. I wanted to play an actual campaign instead of modules. So I talked to the GM, told him a bit about myself, and I got a place in the group.
Now, I was the outsider, youngest player and newest to tabletop gaming as a whole in this group. I was in my mid-20s, while everybody else was in their mid-30s. I told them that I wanted to play a Paladin. Specifically, a Half-Orc Paladin of Iomedae. After everything I went through in college, I found out that I like playing genuine heroes. I find it very satisfying and therapeutic on an emotional level. But I also like taking people or races you wouldn’t expect to be good and noble, then making valiant heroes out of them.
Now, I had heard a lot about how some people perceive the Paladin class. How they expect the whole “Detect Evil, Smite, never ask questions” mentality. I didn’t agree with that. So I looked up online articles on how people should play a Paladin, not what everybody expects from a Paladin. And I realized I wanted to avert the Lawful Stupid mindset as much as I could. Which meant I felt that if a Paladin is ever presented with a choice between being Lawful or Good, they should always take the Good option.
I made this clear to the group. “I don’t want to be a Lawful Stupid Paladin”. And they all agreed to it. We had fun at first. Everybody seemed to have the same opinions on things and shared a lot of similar interests. The entire group consisted of four people. Me, plus the GM and two people he had apparently been gaming with for some time. The party consisted of me, the LG male Half-Orc Paladin, a CG male pure Azlanti Human Magus with the Bladebound and Kensai Archetypes, and a NG male Aasimar Shaman with the Heavens Spirit who was also in the Old Age category.
The campaign was set in the nothern part of the continent of Arcadia. An actual location on Golarion, the world Pathfinder is set on. At the time of the campaign, there wasn’t a lot of material about Arcadia, so the GM was free to make up whatever he wanted on the continent. We were tasked to deliver what initially appeared to be a sack of marbles to a temple on the southern end of the continent.
However, upon examing the “marbles” you could see little scenes of a great battle between a group of dwarves and a host of devils. All together, these “Memories” or the “Keys to Hell” as we took to calling them, showed how to unleash the powers of Hell itself upon the Material Plane, as well as to ward the Material Plane against the power of Hell. In addition to this deadly knowledge, they also acted as a beacon for Devils and a lot other evil creatures around us. So we had to keep moving.
Upon our journey south, we came across a town by a lake. We decided to rest up for a bit, maybe earn a bit of gold by taking a local quest so we could get better equipment. And we found just such a quest. A local tribe of Kobolds had been causing trouble for the town, and we went out to deal with them. And then we had our first problem. Which I didn’t even realize was a problem at the time.
During a battle with the Kobolds, the Shaman is able to put a few of the Kobolds asleep. Me, being pragmatic, decide to coup-de-grace a few of them. Which earned some surprised looks from the party. Indeed, when I tell other people this story, a lot of them say Paladins shouldn’t be performing the coup-de-grace manuever on sleeping enemies. I tell them that there is nothing in the Paladin Code of Conduct that explicitly forbids performing a coup-de-grace. Besides, I wasn’t ambushing them in their sleep. This was combat, and I took advantage of my ally’s capabilites to ensure that our enemies stayed down.
Here’s why this was a problem in the long run. The GM had decided that he would implement a “three-strikes” system in regards to a Paladin Falling from Grace. In his mind, this was one of those strikes. But he never told me about this system, or even that I had a strike in the first place.
Fast forward a bit. We arrive in a settlement that is known as Halftown. So called because all of the citizenry are all either half-breeds (half-orcs, half-elves, etc.) of other races or outright non-human. When we arrive, we have to pass a gate into the city. On our way to the gate, I see about 2-3 homeless children begging for food or money. Me, being a Paladin, give each child a single gold coin each out of my personal coinpurse. The children were ecstatic and ran off into Halftown.
And that’s when the party reacted with surprise yet again. The Magus and Shaman immediately ran inside a guard station and locked me out, much to my confusion. Then a hoard of urchins descended upon me from within the city. I try to talk with the children, telling them to be patient and I can give them each some money. But they don’t listen, and in the chaos they pickpocket some of the items off of me. Primarily my longsword and Belt of Giant Strength +2.
But here’s the rub. Since I was a Paladin, it was decided that the Memories we were supposed to be escorting would be safest on my person. And the urchins managed to grab them, This is when I lost my temper. I yelled out to the children to stop, to give the bag with the Memories back. But they just put themselves in front of me to prevent me from going forward. I start bull rushing through the urchins, pushing them aside, but I lose the Memories.
I am furious at these kids. They stole the Keys to Hell itself. I yell at them, “WHERE HAVE YOU TAKEN THAT BAG?! DO YOU EVEN REALIZE WHAT YOU HAVE DONE?!” The children don’t have an answer for me. In my rage, I grab an urchin and yell at him some more. When he doesn’t comply, I punch him with my gauntlet. I reduce his HP to 0, staggering him.
All things considered, that is a light punishment given the severity of the crime. But the GM didn’t see it that way. He thought striking a child is unforgivable no matter what, and he counted that as another strike against me. Again, without telling me.
As the game continued, Halftown’s guards come and arrest me. I eventually get out of their jails via diplomacy, either by my own or from a party member. Can’t really remember which. But we had to keep what happened a secret. Otherwise, there could be a panic. We begin an investigation into the urchins, to find out where they would sell their stolen wares.
We eventually find all of my missing equipment except for the Memories. I don’t care about my stolen equipment. It is all replacable. The Memories are the important thing here. We eventually track down a local street gang with a shark theme led by an albino half-orc called “Great White”. We raid his base, and just as we enter the room for the boss battle, we see Great White selling the last of the Memories to someone in a heavy cloak that has no flesh on his arms.
The Skeletal Figure teleports away, and combat begins. The battle goes smoothly at first. Until I wind up getting a nat20 and confirm the critical. This winds up decapitating Great White, ending combat. I am somewhat mockingly blamed for losing our best lead. As if I control the dice rolls. Now the campaign is about tracking down the stolen Memories. Evidently, Great White had auctioned off most of them individually, before selling the remainder to the Skeletal Figure we saw.
One of our leads takes us to an abandoned crypt dedicated to Pharasma that has become overrun with undead. Initially, things go well. Until we come across a room filled with Shadows. For those of you not in the know, Shadows are incorporeal undead that deal Strength ability drain. Anybody drained of all their Strength by a Shadow becomes a Shadow a few rounds after their death. Their CR is actually fairly low, and appropriate for our level. At least on paper, it is. Shadows are notoriously infamous for being a challenge far more deadly than their CR suggests.
Both me and the Shaman die from the Shadows. Somehow, the Magus is able to defeat the original Shadows and the Shadows that spawned after we died. The Magus manages to get our bodies back to Halftown, and he finds a Priest of Erastil, a LG deity, to raise us from the dead. And here is where another problem came into play, and the one that led to the title of this post.
Apparently, when my LG paladin was raised from the dead, a NE Daemon managed to piggyback onto my soul and infest it as I returned to life. The GM thought this would be an interesting twist. But again, he didn’t tell this had happened. So I thought that the Raise Dead spell worked perfectly. I even had an audience with Iomedae herself just before I was raised!
The game continues. All of us are now starting to show signs of mutation. My skin is growing orange and scaly, the Shaman is losing weight to the point he’s almost skeletal, and the Magus is blurring in and out of the Material Plane at random. We don’t know what to do about this, so we continue. So far, we are getting awesome powers due to our mutations.
Fast forward a bit. We go back into the crypt where we initially died from the Shadows. We have levelled up considerably by this point, so we’re in no immediate danger. We make our way through the crypt, and a loud, feminine voice tells us not proceed any further. When we enter the chamber the voice came from, we see a Silver Dragon.
This is suspicious to me, so I use Detect Evil to see if this is something else pretending to be a Silver Dragon. I do not get any response, so the dragon is not evil. This is when strike three happened. See, the GM had set up some sort of a Highlander thing for the Magus, where he had to defeat enemy Black Blades to strengthen his own Black Blade. As a part of this, the GM and the Magus had an agreement where the GM autosucceeds on some of the Black Blade’s attempts to mentally dominate the Magus. And the Silver Dragon also has a Black Blade that automatically dominates her too.
Now, the next part is chaotic in the middle of combat. Due to the GM’s description, it sounds that dragon’s Black Blade is literally fused to her claws. But apparently, he meant she was wearing some sort of weapon over her own claws. Meanwhile, I see something tragic about to occur. As far as I know, Silver Dragons are supposed to be Good creatures, and this one did not have an Evil aura. On top of this, both the dragon and the Magus are yelling things like “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!” and “TO THE DEATH” as their eyes turn solid black.
I know that the Magus is supposed to be CG. So two Good creatures are about to at least mutilate each or worse, kill each other while under the influence of a hostile power. I have to stop this. Due to our builds and the Silver Dragon’s age category, I assess the Magus to be the greater threat in the room. Initially, I try to grapple the Magus to stop him from continuing with his attack on the dragon. But due to his build and blur effect, I cannot acheive a grapple on him, let alone maintain one. So I go for a more aggressive approach.
I try to deal non-lethal damage to the Magus, taking a -4 to my attack rolls because of it. I miss a few times and ultimately wind up getting at least one to two hits of nonlethal damage on the Magus. Due to how nonlethal damage works, so long as there is some nonlethal damage on a character, they won’t die if their HP goes under 0 even if the rest of their wounds are fatal. Because of this, I stop using nonlethal attacks after I’ve dealt some nonlethal damage and my attacks find their target a lot better.
Again, I get admonishment from the party. They are wondering why I’m attacking the Magus with lethal force and why I’m initiating PvP. Um, hello? When a PC is mentally dominated into attacking innocent creatures, you don’t let them rampage. You have to stop them, even if you have to knock them out to do it. Especially if you’re a Paladin. In the end, I wind up knocking out the Magus, the Silver Dragon winds up destroying his Black Blade, and the session ends.
Between the last session and the next, the GM PMs me over Facebook. He tells me I have fallen from grace and that I have lost all my class abilities except for my proficiencies in martial weapons, heavy armour and shields. I ask him why this is the case, and he finally lays out the Three Strikes rule. I try to argue my case, but it doesn’t change his mind. It is here that he says those infamous lines “Bros before Foes”.
I go to both the Paizo and Giant in the Playground forums to ask if this is fair. Nobody is coming forward in favour of the GM. Especially once they find out he said the “Bros before Foes” line, which many said had deep misogynistic undertones to it. Many of them told me to leave the game, but I had never experienced something like this before. So I threw out some defenses in favour of the GM and continued playing with him.
At the start of the next session, I tell the Magus and the Shaman that I have fallen from grace, and they both agree with the GM. “Bros before Foes”. So we continue the game. We somehow made it through the crypt and back to Halftown. Now I seek an Atonement spell. I have an NPC girlfriend at this point, who is someone from my character’s backstory. I sort of pestered the GM to include her, because I was new to all of this and didn’t realize how selfish that request was.
My NPC girlfriend informs me that she can grant the Atonement spell, even though she’s a Sorcerer, not a Divine Caster. I should have seen this as yet another red flag, but I didn’t even register it. Besides, I completely turned down her offer. “The Oath of a Paladin is no trivial matter,” I said. “If I wish to be a Paladin again, I must genuinely seek Atonement and not pursue any shortcuts to redemption.”
I get my Atonement spell cast on me by the Priest of Erastil since their is no followers of Iomedae in Halftown aside from me. Fast forward a little bit. We level up, and the GM tells me I’ve gotten a new ability from my mutation: Premeditated Murder Healing. Every day, I will lose 1 HP from my total. These lost HP cannot be healed with ordinary magic. The only way to undo this HP damage is go and murder a sentient humanoid. Hunting down bandits and other criminals won’t causing the PMH to trigger. It has to be an innocent civilian.
Again, I take to the Paizo and GitP forums. Everybody is telling to abandon the campaign now. Especially the ones who saw my earlier posts about my Fall. But again, I continue because I want to play. Both me and the Shaman wind up taking up trips within our own souls. We enter demiplanes that show the source of our mutations: my aforementioned NE Daemon and a Lich for the Shaman.
We purify our souls and the game continues. We almost done tracking down the Memories. We’ve cornered the Skeletal Figure that Great White sold the majority of the Memories to. It turns out that the Skeletal Figure is a future version of the Shaman, who had fully transformed into a Lich. He had travelled back in time to collect the Memories himself before they could be used to open a Gate to Hell.
It was at this moment that my NPC girlfriend betrayed the party, She paralyzed us all and revealed herself to be a Devil in disguise. She sought the memories herself, and now she had them. Before she opened the Gate, she took the time to tell my Paladin that she never loved me. The Gate opened, and the forces of Hell descended upon Halftown.
That is where the campaign ended. The GM said he needed a break, so the Magus volunteered to take over as the GM. The Magus GM wanted to play the Strange Aeons Adventure Path from Paizo, and we got underway. But a month or two into Strange Aeons, he asked me to leave the group at the start of a session.
His reason for this sounded valid. At first. I was having more problems in my personal life. I had a mini-breakdown and I was panicking, which bled over into the game. So they asked me to leave. I thought these people were my friends. But apparently, I was wrong. I floated around a bit after that. I didn’t go back to the Pathfinder Society, but I did manage to join a few campaigns after a while. I was asked to leave one for another reason and others fell through because people couldn’t commit to regular play.
In the end, I decided to take the high road. I recognized where I went wrong in some areas. I also recognized that I should keep an eye out for certain behaviours, because they can be really toxic if you ignore them just so you can play a game. But more importantly, I developed some ground rules for playing a Paladin:
1) ALWAYS make your intentions with your character clear with the GM on what kind of Paladin you want to be and if you want to Fall or not.
2) ALWAYS establish with your GM/players what it actually takes for a Paladin to Fall from Grace. If their ideas are different from yours, you’ll have problems in the long run.
3) NEVER secretly determine if a Paladin falls or not. If your feel a Paladin is about to do something that warrants a Fall, pause the game. Tell the Paladin player that you feel what they are about to do should result in a Fall. Either they can put forward a solid argument for their actions, or they can go through with a Fall knowing they had a chance to choose otherwise.
I have a new group at the moment. I can honestly say that these people ARE my friends. They’ve been wanting to include me in their larger social circle and we “clicked” right away. I’m currently the GM of the group. I’m running the Hell’s Rebels Adventure Path. It’s my first time as GM, let alone for an entire AP. But it’s going extremely well. Everybody is having fun and maybe I’ll be able to share a few stories about my experiences as a rookie GM once Hell’s Rebels is over.