Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Problem With The Paladin's Detect Evil Power in AD&D

As I flip through my newly acquired second copy of the AD&D Player's Handbook, I find myself stopping on page 23.  You know the page.  I shouldn't have to tell you.  One of the most famous AD&D Core Books pieces of art - A Paladin in Hell.  I just love it.  The only problem with it?  The Paladin.

Why is the Paladin a problem.  You mean, besides the minimum scores of Int 9, Con 9, Str 12, Wis 13 and Cha 17?  Try rolling that with best 3 out of 4d6.  You be there for a nice long time.  So as kids, we cheated.  Still, that's not the big problem.  The big problem?  Detect Evil.
Detect evil at up to 60' distance, as often as desired, but only when the Paladin in concentrating on the presence of evil and seeking to detect it in the right general direction.
What is he, Green Lantern? "No evil shall escape my sight"

Think about it.  You'll (as a DM) never be able to infiltrate the party with an evil NPC.  Every character, every creature he encounters, he can just plop his detection power on and and weed out the evil.  He's more effective than a black light at a crime scene.

At least with Detect Magic, it's a spell that has to be memorized.  It eats up a spell slot.  It has limited uses - it's not at will.

Detect Invisibility, Detect Illusion, even Detect Lie - all take a spell slot, all have fairly limited uses (but work really well when they are on target).

Why the hell did Paladins get this as an at will power?  The issues to game balance are huge.  Not that I thought about that was as a kid, but today I'd be Detecting Evil behind every door, before I make any turn in a corridor, before I gave the stable big my horse.

I'll rant about the continuing emanation of a Protection From Evil in a 1" radius around the Paladin later (is that 1" as in an inch, or 1" as in AD&D 10'?).

All this and a cold from hell.  I could have used that Protection From Evil shit, or the immunity to disease.  Sigh.


  1. Take a look at "Detection of Evil and/or Good" on page 60 of the DMG. It eases some (most?) of your concerns.

  2. @Guy, DMG 60 nerfs the whole thing out of existence for most purposes.

    There's a version somewhere that treats it like spidey-sense on the things you know about when you're paying attention to them, including not letting Paladins accidently team up with Evil people and thereby lose their class abilities. Or maybe that's just my house rule. Works well anyway.

    "Wait, does that screaming Orc with the axe have Evil intent toward me?"

    "Yes. Yes he does. Also, he's hitting you with it now."

    I don't really care that it's immunity to the doppelganger and the succubus. I figure the point of playing a Paladin is the DM has to tell you all the things are OK to kill.

  3. In my game, I only allow powerfully aligned creatures to radiate an alignment strong enough to be detectable by Detect Evil. Even if you run this differently, there are various methods available to mask an alignment. Another method is to simply house rule away this ability. I too enjoy having the ability to have an evil npc infiltrate a party. Having such plans spoiled so easily would ruin a lot of fun.

    As to it being difficult to roll the requisite stats, best 3 of 4d6 has a mean of 13 making all the rolls (other than the 17) average or lower. There are 58 combinations (out of 1296) of rolling a 17. If scores may be arranged the chances of rolling at least one 17 is roughly one in four. I didn't calculate exact odds, but I suspect that about one in ten characters would qualify using this method.

  4. In BECMI D&D, Alignment Languages gives everyone thus super power.

    A bit suspicious about the King's new Vizier? Just incorporate a bit of Lawful cant into a conversation and see if he responds.

  5. My players are all begging to play a paladin as a change of pace, but the rolls never allow it.

  6. detect evil can be useful, but I've seen it rendered situationally useless, too.

    "He's evil!"
    "Yeah, we know... but we need him" [or he's under the king's protection, or...]

    I forget who posted it or I would look it up (it may well have been tussock, over in rec.games.frp.dnd) but I remember someone suggesting running into the king's spymaster.

    "Yes, Sir Caresalot, I know by your face what you think of me. That I am a tainted by my acts, that I am forever stained by what I have had to do to serve our lord. Well, Sir, not all of us have the luxury of a noble death. The things that must be done still must be done, and we do not shirk from the personal cost put upon us by our duties."

    Or something like that. "Yes, I'm evil, because someone has to be."

    Also, just because someone's evil doesn't mean you have to (or necessarily even can) act against him. Similarly, just because someone is good doesn't mean he will necessarily be helpful.

    In a setting like this, detect evil tends to be a potentially useful thing, but far from overpowering -- what use is it if you can't act on it?


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