The Case for the Knight in Shining Armor

Another of my favorite cliches...

Disgusting! Grieving Lich responds to "genocidal" white knight! "They just wanted a hug!"

I know that the knight in shining armor is deeply out of fashion, but I like to dust that old armor off. I'll tell you why.

Why do I think the knight is dead? Because we all know that nobody is like that. Nobody, in this world, ever does the right thing, or at least not wholly. There is always at least an unconscious selfishness to the few good works we see done. Ulterior motives poison every good heart, compromises, fear, and greed hide under psychological coverups, biological determinism, cynical schools of common sense and theological indulgences, No movement, no war, no police encounter, no charity and no peace offering by a dotting relative is complete without speculation about what lies beneath.

Sometime, perhaps while I was young but I strongly think it happened before my time, the collective gorge of the tastemasters of literature and media in general began to rise at the idea of the "pure heart". As it should. It was overused, I have been told or intimated to. It became a sturdy crutch for the author to lean on, and those always need to be removed at some point, if perhaps for a time. You didn't have to think deep about the background of the character, once their goodness was established. They were just, well, a hero, ready made and boring as waiting for another brilliant Murky Masters blog post. 

But, now, I want to bring that idea back, because the leg has shifted to the other crutch for me: you can always trust a hero to be predictably two-faced, or vulnerable in a certain area, or certain in their cynicism. Just like romance is a fantasy, a jaded view of the world can hide details and realities. So, every once in a while, when I or my players get too comfortable in their distrust of mankind, I whip out a real knight.

"Oh, one of your kind" she sneered, cutting her eyes and reaching for her dagger.

(mistrust by LichReize on deviantart)

One of the great upsets about knighthood is that anyone with even half brain knows that's its next to impossible to be one of these things. I don't mean its impossible to be trained how to run around on a horse with heavy armor and a lance and kill shit good. I mean its impossible to expect someone would really devote themselves to justice and honor and kindness, while at the same be ready, capable, and accepting of using violence to sole problems, all while without having a shred of self-interest or fear. For this article, I basically define the knight as an idiot who has to do things a certain way and wants freedom and justice for all, and really actually sincerely does not care what happens to her/him/them.

People are right. It is almost impossible to these assholes. More importantly though it IS impossible to PROVE that anyone asshole is such a person.

Any one action a knight takes can be proven, with a good lawyer or a guiless listener or both, to be motivated by lust, greed, wrath or any flavor of sin. A knight running down a female orc theif could be accused of being rasict, classist, sexist, and possibly even a religious bigot all in one blow, not to mention the numerous laws that the knight might be breaking, if he/she is not part of the established law enforcement force (if any). I cite the erudite article by Neal Litherland on this head.

I also cite a literary reference: Sturm Brightblade of Krynn (Dragonlance Chronicles by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis). No, I don't mean that Sturm has been accused of being duplicious in his knighthood. Rather, I cite what he saw in his own knightly order. I just read a good quote of his from Dragons of Winter Knight, too, (Book 2 Chapter 1). Here, he's on the boat fleeing form ice wall, talking with Laurana, who was asking him about his beliefs.

"...When I returned to my homeland, I found that the Knighthood was not the order of honorable, self-sacrificing man my mother had described. It was rife with political intrigue. The best of men were like Derek, honorable, but strict and unbending, with little use for those they consider beneath them. The worst-" he shook his head."

And yes, Derek is a dickhead. He is the type of knight that I have heard many DM's begroan whenever someone plays a paladin (which is a close cousin to the knight of which I speak, but a different animal in many ways). They're legalistic to the point of myopia, presumptive of authority to the point of autocracy, and "honorable" to the point of sheer stupidity, especially in a small-unit tactics sense.

I love them, as NPCs, becuase they give my PCs as low hanging punching bag to tounge-lash, filch, jilt, and otherwise punish for their very exsistance. They make great foils for PC paladins/knights/cops too, as if to say "So, are you actually associated with this dick-depository, or are you gonna make up you own mind about the 'goblinoid menace' that's 'plaguing' the town."

But even if you play a real, honest to goodness knight/paladin/superman figure, you could be slandered in being just another asshole, and end up hated and hunted by the people you are trying to save. Ask Bruce about that sometime.

This is an opportunity though, in my eyes. One of my many options when I bring an honor-bound warrior into my games is giving them the joyful conflict of having their reputations soiled. Whether by association, rumor, or bitter history, any paladin/knight/lawman can be met with mistrust by the population they find themselves in. Even paladins that are all up-and-up with their churches and have warrants and are in jurisdiction yada yada may be despised from peasant to prince just becuase some other tin-platted doody-dipper was selling underdark mushrooms on the side to keep up with his sex slave habit, or saved paperwork by burning a suspected family of demon summoners alive in their home.

Knights are new again: knighthood tropes in modernity

Militarized police force, or just enough to stay alive? Good questions for cyberpunk cops (future-cop by cat-meff on deviantart)

When knights and honor and romantic notions of people actually really being kind AND saving the day became overused, they fell into a popularity slump. That's fine, who cares. But I like seeing them nowadays because they are sort of, well, new again.

Imagine trying to live that way in today's modern world. Best job you could hope for is maybe a cop. You can only stop hearing about real cops really shooting the shit out of real black people if you close you eyes and ears. And the suckiest part is that it really does happen.

So, when it comes time to respond to a call on a side of town that has an awful lot of black people in it, and our cop happens to be white, there is a whole new level of scrutiny that is glaring down at his head. And its not even unfair or unwarranted. Shooting people, instead of giving them a fair trial, is wrong. And something must be done. That something is making damn sure your cops don't do funny shit.

The problem is that all humans have the capability for villainy. Could the next rapist, child-molester, murderer this cop faces down get away because of one slick lawyer and a difference in melanin levels? Maybe. Maybe maybe....

Who the fuck would be dumb enough to sign up for a gig like that? That conflict, distilled into a game, can be very powerful. Especially if the "robbers" to this "cop" are as complex as he/she is. Its not just race war, or sticky interactions of law and the desperate, but also a question of whether a human can and shoudl judge another human, and whether a human can and hurt other people to save his/her own skin.

New Quest: Make people think you not a slimebag

The trope of the honorable warrior spans times a genres. Use these ideas in your next
western or steampunk game too!
A knight can easily be played as a medieval cop, or even a medieval vigilante. Afterall, how hollow would a dedication to honor, justice, and kindness be if a knight, visiting a town, just happened to hear a woman crying out a rape, and saying to himself. "Darn! I'm out of jurisdiction! Maybe next time!"

Even better, if he did save the woman, what trouble could befall him? The rapist is a noble's son: the noble is not happy about these "rumors" that his son was trying to ravage a woman (even though he knows they are true), so the knight that came from out the fuck nowhere and is accusing him of shit might need to be silenced...

Silenced first, perhaps, with counter-accusations. "My lord Duke Humperdink, this errant knight, who is accusing my son of terrible, awful things is a charlatan! Very good sources say that he was involved in the ruthless slaughter of that wood elven village, that his master was assisting those clerics with their "inquistion" of the area. He's also been spotted with other whores* on in that ghastly district. Perhaps he intends on creating a prostitution ring to pay for his slovenly drinking habits**!"

*no, the woman being raped was no whore, but the noble cleverly drops that in the middle of his statement to plant doubt in the Duke's mind. ** ditto to the "drinking habits"

And then, when the Knight is kept under watch at best, imprisoned at worst, a well paid assassin silences the knight forever, with the slip of a gleaming blade.

Or at least tries. Afterall, 18 strength and mad sword skills might win the day, but it would be a hell of a fight. Perhaps and even bigger fight to clear the knight's name! Instant plottage my friends.

This is part of the pathos of choosing this career path: in the situation I have outlined, there's these catch-22, damned if you do, damned if you dont moral dilemas for a honorable knight to face. A clever knight might be able to slip out of it quite slickly, but a desicion in the heat of battle might lead to some interesting repurcussions.

And even if the clever knight manages to avoid dectection (perhaps by, le gasp, sneaking up on the rapist and clubbing him soundly over the head), can his honor and principles just let him walk away without the perpetrator facing justice? Maybe so! That's not necessarily wrong, especially if he's passing through to save something else. But his morality might trump his brain: the heart winning over the mind is one of the great reasons we get into delicious trouble as humans.

The inquistion (whata show!)

Paladins (or religiously aligned knights, for the sake of this article), have different but similar troubles. In theocracies they get to be the cop and the inquistor all at once! Run over to bring in this thieves guild and then smash the yaun-ti cult in town, fun times. However, if they have a mind of their own, they might be able to detect the, er, politically expediant interpretations of a power mad clergyperson who has a portrait of Cardinal Richelu hanging above their headboard. Like, all of the sudden, new texts come up that say, in some very circuitous way, that green is an evil color (Dragonlance kind of implies that...). Orcs are green, therefore "WE MUST CALL A CRUSADE TO RID THE ORCS FROM THE GOLD MOUNTAINS!"

Why are they called the gold mountains? BECUASE THEY HAVE FUCKING GOLD IN THEM!

And then, the cardinal plans, twirling her ringlets around her finger as she sips holy wine, we will conveniently find more documents that say "oh, but their souls can be slaved with 15 years hard slave labor! Salvation, slavery, kinda spelled with the same letters huh?"

Yeah, our Joan-of-Arc kind paladin ain't got no time for that. But will she winnow her way through the feckless boot licking curia of this Theocratic Machevelliana, or will she just stab the bitch when she gets a shot? Many paths to clearing the temple of its snakes...

If mother superior ain't happy, AIN"T NOBODY HAPPY! (knight by chaosran on deviantart)

"You ain't from around here, are you?" he said as he knocked the hammer back.

Of course, another interesting way to use the idea of the honorable, stalwart, brave knight is to dump the trope where it don't belong. Like in Rifts or Shadowrun or, even, Vampire the Masquerade. In a world where this character is like the only one that knows the difference between right and wrong. Where there isn't even precedent for the motherfucker. They become a sort of fascinating atavism or the idea has been dead so long that everything thinks its NEW!

What the hell is a young vamp in the Camarilla supposed to do when he is willing to enforce his high humanity with his unlife? Die horribly in the first few minutes, my V:tM books hiss to me, but I wonder how it might play out in a more reasonable game, with a cleverer "vampire knight".

Rifts is especially interesting with the Cyber Knight OCC, where we do sort of have precedence for this, but the world is still not entirely used to it. You could play out losts of stories of the knight errant in Rifts, where you go around right wrongs as you travel on your steel horse over the new world. Evil demons coming out of a Rift here, Collation tyrants subjugating a village there, psychotic vampires plaguing a burb out yonder, the adventures are ceaseless.

"I just wanna be hugged!"

Knaked Knight is on a Quest for Qulothes!

Basically, I'm not telling you to love the knight trope any harder than you already do. I'm just telling you that I like it, and how I like to use it.

What was the best time you had with a truly honor-bound, goody-two-shoes PC, either as player or a DM.

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