I am still in the early stages of planning my 13th Age game, but it occurred to me that another "blank" that I might want to fill in is the societal role of Paladins in my version of the Dragon Empire. I was struck with a few ideas on my commute as I, ironically enough, listened to Dead Can Dance's "Chant of the Paladin."
So, here are a few ideas off the cuff to give myself some structures, while leaving enough blank space for my players to fill in their own ideas.
Notes from the Cathedral: On the Orders of Paladins
An exercise by a junior scribe
The wise have this to say of the Empire's Paladins:
In every age, extraordinary men and women have stepped forward to carry the battle flag of justice. By the will of the gods, paladins are both protectors and avengers whose campaigns of awesome justice serve as warnings to any who threaten those under their protection. The people depend on them, lords celebrate them, and monsters hate them. People have never needed paladins more than they do in the 13th age.
However, much more can be said of these holy warriors. Many are trained by devoted and ancient orders. Others are inspired by singular events, spirits, saints or the gods. Some belong to secretive societies, while others are part of the glorious bureaucracies of the Dragon Emperor or the Archmage. I will discuss some of these in what follows.
One of the most ancient and revered orders of the Paladin is the Golden Order who follow the Great Gold Wyrm. Much has already been written of them. Once they held court in the Golden Citadel, but since their stronghold fell to ruins after the sacrifice of the Great Gold Wyrm, they have dispersed through the known world to carry out their holy missions. Chapter Houses of this order are found in every major city except Drakkenhall, though the Order is reputed to have safe houses for its missions even there. The Order stands for the empire, but does its service to the Emperor at its own discretion.
A younger, though still well-established order, formed in response to the independence exercise by the Golden Order, is the Brotherhood of Imperial Guardians. This order places the well-being of the Empire, the Emperor and its people above all. They are a force for justice, law and order throughout the Empire. When the empire is threatened, they form the vanguard of the Imperial Armies.
Often a surprise to some is the small order of paladins who serve the Archmage. While it is certain that the August Supreme Magi of the Empire relies in the main on his colleges of wizards, his bureaucracy of magic users, and his councils of spell casters, he also patronizes a small cult of holy magic. Though this would normally be considered the province of the Priestess, the Archmage has a higher tolerance for a blending of the Four Houses, such that the powers of Dawn, Twilight, Light and Shadow are revered in pursuit of magic and knowledge [n.b. for details on my campaign cosmology see here, here, here, here, and here]. It is said that some of the paladins of the Archmage also receive wizard's training, thus blending holy and arcane powers in pursuit of the mysterious ends of the grand wizards (though it must be said that they stand ever in support of the Empire and its peoples). The order is known as the Arcane Defenders.
Many know of the dark order of paladins that follow the Crusader. These were the champions who helped to establish First Triumph. Now they are known, in the main, as the Order of First Triumph, or the Triumphal. Commonly, they are called in hushed tones, the Dark Paladins. However, two other shadowy orders also serve the Crusader. While the Triumphal provide the shock troops in the Crusader's war against the fiends of the Abyss, he also dispatches his order of demon hunters, the Inquisitors to ride as dark knight's errant throughout the Empire. For communities truly afflicted by diabolical forces, the Inquisitors can be their last true hope for deliverance. However, many communities have suffered The Inquest at the hands of the Order, whose unwritten motto sometimes seems to be lay waste first and let the gods sort it out. Finally, the most secretive order is known as the Shadow Fist. These are no bold knights. These are knights of shadows. A holy order of assassins, to be frank, this order is the hit squad of the Crusader. The Shadow Fist does not act with imperial sanction (the Emperor has his own agency for dealing with things quietly), and is routinely said to be "just a story" by the followers of the Crusader. However, a number of imperial officials, found to be consorting with the Diabolist (or even directly with those of the Abyss) have been found slain under circumstances indicative of this secret order. Reports of the deeds of the Fists show that they exhibit the powers of the paladin in executing their missions.
It is said that the Elf Queen patronizes an ancient order of Elvish paladins. Little is known outside of the Elvish realms of these protectors, though the so called Knights of Concord, may be a branch of this order.
A curious and secretive order is that patronized by the quixotic Faith of All Light. Because of the low regard in which this ancient religion is held in many parts of the Empire, their few paladins do little to advertise their background. However, they are known to do just and good deeds throughout the Empire, and often appear in the darkest corners at the right time. They have been called the Captains of Light by some. Some say that they are closely allied with the Golden Order, and even that the Golden Order and the Captains of Light evolved as societies from the original Knights and Captains of Orobonos which existed during the time of the Wizard King.
Most glorious among all the orders of paladins is that patronized by our most sacred Priestess. This young order, formed in the Temple of Righteousness in the great Cathedral of Santa Cora and blessed by the Priestess herself is known as the Shining Order of the Temple of Righteousness of the Cathedral of Santa Cora. In short, the paladins are known as the Shining Templars. Though relatively new, these warrior paragons spread the word of the goodness of the Priestess and smite evil wherever it may be found.
Other lesser orders have come and gone throughout the Empire's history, and even lonely shrines and impoverished communities have raised up holy warriors who have taken on the mantle of Paladin. Their mark on history, however, has been negligible to this scribes reading, and thus bear no mention at this time.