The role of paladins in Ravenloft has always been a precarious one. It's tough to be a champion of light in a land where darkness sets the ground rules. The original books assumed a "Weekend in Hell" model, which assumed all PC's were coming from lands beyond the Mists. While it sounded cool to say that paladins created a kind of "itch" that darklords could sense from miles away and would respond to accordingly, this created a serious issue once Domains of Dread reset the standard so that PC's tended to be native. That book stated that there were no paladins native to Ravenloft, as being such an irritant to the forces of the land made it impossible to realistically grow to adulthood, let alone first level. However, subsequent books have softened on making such a blanket ban, and fan theories on how a paladin might survive growing up have usually revolved around DL's that are too weak to destroy them, or wise enough to see they might be useful.
So which domains have the best ingredients for a paladin to grow and flourish amidst the darkness? It's time for a breakdown:
While Gaz3 shows Godefroy is more involved with the living than we thought, he still leaves most of the domain alone. That, the generic European flavor, and Mordent's status as the home of the LG Sect of the Ezran faith, make this practically the default origin domain for a paladin. This is also, perhaps, the greatest downside: "default" can become generic or boring really quick.
While Bastion Raines' LE sect of the Church of Ezra is actually morally contrary to paladin ideals, it presumably plays host to other followers of Ezra of the LN, TN, and LG variety who are far from their own centers of worship. That, and Azalin's maxim of "Never destroy a useful opponent" might allow for a paladin to grow up among the cosmopolitan Darkonese. The drawback, like that of Mordent, is in the possibility that such a character might be seen as cliched and bland, coming from such a stock fantasy domain.
Dominic d'Honaire's grip on Dementlieu would normally prevent a paladin from flourishing, but Legacy of the Blood gives a solution: have the paladin come from within Dominic's own family, who are immune to his mind control, and whom he is reluctant to slay outright. Like in Darkon, the paladin might be among the few LG adherents of Ezra who worship at the predominantly TN cathedral of St. Mere de la Larmes.
The LN Home Faith might spawn a LG champion only if the "Evil Twins" allowed it, but never underestimate their rivalry. It's possible, however unlikely, that a paladin might grow up protected by their endless desire to frustrate each other's plots. On the other hand, with her endorsement of the church as a tool of the state, Ivana might see fit to actually become a patron of the paladin, protecting him/her from Ivan. Of course, while such patronage might serve survival in the short term, it could pose a serious risk to the paladin's health and spiritual welfare.
Even veteran players may have forgotten the lawful good secret society from Champions of The Mists called the Green Hand. This religious group are devoted to Osiris (LG), and pledged to exterminate undead wherever they find them. A paladin allied with such a group might have a camel as a mount, and wield a scimitar. Ankhtepot's neglect of his domain between would allow such a champion to grow to adulthood while the darklord slumbers fitfully in his tomb.
While many who read about this domain are put off by the weakling darklord, that's exactly what a paladin needs to grow to adulthood. Plus it has the feudal setting the paladins are usually part of, except with a Japanese twist. A paladin from this area might be a samurai trying to retain his noble status while serving a corrupt Lord, or a ronin on the run from his master.
The Divinity of mankind is similar to Ezra, being LN but with schools and subgroups of many alignments, so finding a LG branch isn't that hard. The Apex of Intuition allows for multiclassing with paladin levels, which partly solves the problem by making it easier for paladins to reach adulthood in another class before switching. The Beacon of Goodness sect that arose just before the publication of the Gazetteer claims to have marked a large number of paladins. All of this is consistent with a land where the Lord cannot physically kill anyone himself, and is not fully free to express his feelings about paladins without giving his underlings something else to use against him.
Like Rokushima Taiyoo, Nova Vaasa allows an interesting role-playing opportunity; even if you play a paladin from more noble houses of Nova Vaasa, you still technically give lip service to a corrupt dictator. Likewise, there's the religious twist of having a paladin serve a LG aspect of a LE God. While technically this would not normally work, there is already some traction built for such a beneficial aspect of the Lawgiver in the form of Father Lukas Duremke, who has a form of heresy named after him. While Malken is not as impotent as Shinpi or Godefroy, his alter ego Tristen prevents him from connecting with the land enough to close the borders, and might also serve to prevent him from homing in on a bright soul in the darkness.
Finally, no such list would be complete without mentioning the Shadowborn Cluster, whose history is intertwined with a rich tradition of paladins, one of whom currently serves as the only ex-paladin DL. Perhaps the penultimate "corrupt master" scenario would be to play a lost Shadowborn heir born in Nidala and groomed for paladinhood by Elena Faith-Hold herself. Such a scion would face death at every turn as they risked loving or hating her too much, either of which would register as "evil" to her twisted supernatural senses.
And that's the best of the bunch! Playing a paladin in the Land of Mists is not easy, but it can be very rewarding with the right character, and an origin story is a great first step.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). This article draws inspiration from J. W. Mangrum's article "Classes of the Damned," in the Kargatane's Book of Sorrows.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.