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How Do Paladins of Helm Live with Themselves?

In the narrative playthrough I am documenting on the Challenges & Playthroughs subforum, my main character recently joined forces with Ajantis (see Chapter 1, Parts XXXII - XXXVIII: https://forums.beamdog.com/discussion/78398/ausar-the-riven-fighter-mage-playthrough/p3). As many of you probably know, Ajantis is a paladin of Helm, committed to stamping out all manner of evil and injustice in the name of his god.

While writing up the narrative, an interesting question occurred to me: How does a lawful good paladin who worships a lawful neutral deity (e.g., Helm in 2e) square his zeal for absolute righteousness with the understanding that his god not only accepts the worship of certain evildoers (n.b. lawful evil is only one step removed from lawful neutral, and so a valid alignment for Helmites under 2e rules), but even grants some of them (i.e., clerics) divine powers? The cognitive dissonance must be pretty substantial, no?

Would love to hear what you think!

monico

Comments

  • Grond0Grond0 Member Posts: 7,009
    Lawful good people are still people - with distinct priorities and preferences (that recognition is one reason for the rule about worshippers you refer to). Thus a paladin might for instance have a particular love for battle that draws them to Helm despite the alignment difference - and the comradeship found in battle might make them more tolerant of battle companions with different alignments than would otherwise be the case.

    Balrog99ThacoBellRaoIsewein
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    Helm is a deity for those who think the full expression law is the ultimate form of good. Any alignment from good evil can follow this philosophy.

    Good, can believe that laws exist to benefit society, so when just laws are in place and upheld, everyone benefits.
    Lawful Neutral kind of already has this baked in, not much interpretation required.
    Lawful Evil can see the laws as benefitting themself the most when society is stable. Laws are generally meant to be societies' stabilizers.


    Personally, I think Helm is a douche. But to each their own.

    RaoGrond0WarChiefZekemonico
  • KamigoroshiKamigoroshi Member Posts: 5,876
    Offtopic, but every time I hear of Helm my mind wanders off to Spaceballs' Dark Helmet. Doesn't help that the German word for helmet is also "Helm". :p

    Raosarevok57ThacoBellMantis37
  • RaoRao Member Posts: 141
    @Grond0 - thanks! Those are some good ideas. If I am understanding you correctly, even lawful good paladins might differ in their willingness to cooperate with non-good companions, or even to worship non-good gods. That makes sense to me. IRL even people otherwise broadly in agreement about the contents of morality can have deep disagreements about whether and when it is appropriate to form coalitions with individuals and groups whose vision of the good is different. I think the choice to worship a deity raises a distinct set of concerns, but given the type of theology that seems to prevail in the Forgotten Realms, maybe these concerns are not as distinct as they would otherwise be.

    @ThacoBell - that also seems to make a lot of sense, and to be a fair interpretation of the alignment system we were given. Tbh I struggle sometimes with how sharply the architects of the Forgotten Realms have alienated the concepts of good/evil, on the one hand, from chaos/law, on the other. The terms you use like "full expression of law" or even just "law" are really difficult to cache out in a value-neutral way (i.e., in isolation from the good-evil axis) without equivocation. You can try (this was Kelsen's entire project), but I think it is going to be very difficult to do so without making the "lawful" in "lawful evil" and "lawful good" mean different things. Anyway, it's a quandary I am still trying to think my way out of. I would love btw to hear why you have such a low opinion of Helm.

    @Kamigoroshi hahaha that's a pretty funny association :) Not related to Spaceballs, but because Helm supposedly never removes his helmet (think I read this on a wiki once?), I think of all the FR gods, he is particularly apt subject for comic farces involving mistaken identity. This sort of mockery might not bother Helm much, but I am sure it has irked his followers from time to time.

    Grond0ThacoBellIsewein
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    @Rao A couple reasons, one is personally philosophical for me. Basically, Helm is the law, and nothing but the law. All other concerns are meaningless. As far as I am concerned, law without compassion is just another word for tyranny.

    Also, Helm killed Tyr, the god of justice during the time of troubles. There's something cynically poetic about the avater of law killing the avatar of justice.

  • DanacmDanacm Member Posts: 911
    Every paladin has own personality. They analyze the dogma and interpret their own beliefs (based on previous teachings, experience, wisdom, intellect). We know that paladins also can fail if they not follow the way of their god anymore or recognise that the gods way is not compatible with their personality anymore.

    Rao
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    @BelgarathMTH That's odd. I've always read that it was Helm that killed Tyr. This is the first I've ever seen it this way round. I thought Tyr had tried to re-enter whatever heavenly realm AO had cast the gods out of during the ToT, and Helm killed him in response.

    As for the portfolio, well, literally every Helm npc in BG talks about the law. Duty and loyalty are also law adjacent, if not synonymous in some contexts. I think I'd still personally consider Helm a god of law.

  • RaoRao Member Posts: 141
    @ThacoBell - that definitely sounds like Mystra, rather than Tyr (see: https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Helm; also, shameless plug, see Part XXXIV here: https://forums.beamdog.com/discussion/78398/ausar-the-riven-fighter-mage-playthrough/p3). According to the wiki, Helm shed a tear for Mystra, a tear filled with the "torment" and "guilt," he felt in consequence of his actions. For me, this detail signifies that Helm is not so single-minded as to be insensible to the often tragic dimension of carrying weighty duties and responsibilities. That he fulfills his duty anyway does not necessarily make him cruel or tyrannical. I totally understand what you are driving at when you speak about Helm as representing "law without compassion," but the portfolio system underlying the FR pantheon seems to virtually ensure that every god(dess) plays a role that is necessarily partial and incomplete.

    I guess in the end I am a little more sympathetic to Helm - he seems to represent an integral part of the human experience (i.e., the need for people in positions of responsibility to discharge their duties faithfully, even in the face of deep personal remorse or sacrifice). Of course, I think it's often worth interrogating the contents of these duties; for example, is the law just? is that personal obligation *really* indefeasible? But I do not think - at least on this side of Paradise - a life of authentic responsibility can come without personal costs, which we can and should mourn even as we accept their necessity.

    Maybe Mystra should have been allowed to return before the Tablets of Destiny were retrieved, but - again - given the extremely role-oriented construction of the FR pantheon, I am more inclined to lay that sort of complaint at Ao's door rather than Helm's.

    WarChiefZekeBelgarathMTH
  • WarChiefZekeWarChiefZeke Member Posts: 2,626
    A lot has been said about Helm, good and bad, and I think it was all well stated. I do enjoy realms lore discussions. I tend to also be sympathetic to Helm, myself. His utter dependability made him the only deity Ao could seemingly trust, as he was the given the task to keep the other deities out. Loyalty and dependability are virtues of a different sort than pure justice in the case of Tyr or total compassion in the case of Ilmater, but society would be equally as badly off without them.

    Rao makes an excellent point about every realms deity being neccesarily imperfect beings.

    RaoBelgarathMTHZaxares
  • WarChiefZekeWarChiefZeke Member Posts: 2,626
    Ruby Rose Knights (Paladins of Sune) confuse me a bit more than Helmites. Lawful Neutral is only one deviation away from Lawful Good, but Chaotic is on the other side of the spectrum. Still, they are interesting and I often use them.

    Rao
  • BelgarathMTHBelgarathMTH Member Posts: 5,644
    ThacoBell wrote: »
    @BelgarathMTH That's odd. I've always read that it was Helm that killed Tyr. This is the first I've ever seen it this way round. I thought Tyr had tried to re-enter whatever heavenly realm AO had cast the gods out of during the ToT, and Helm killed him in response.

    As for the portfolio, well, literally every Helm npc in BG talks about the law. Duty and loyalty are also law adjacent, if not synonymous in some contexts. I think I'd still personally consider Helm a god of law.

    That was Mystra that got killed by Helm for trying to re-enter the heavens. You know we do have sources for these things. Here's an even better one. The official Forgotten Realms wiki.

    https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Helm

    I guess you can make up whatever you want, but it's not what's in the D&D source material.

    Rao
  • WarChiefZekeWarChiefZeke Member Posts: 2,626
    edited June 2020
    It always annoyed me that Tyr killed Helm over some stupid bout of jealousy. What are Wizards of the Coast thinking? Does not fit into the character of Tyr nor a Lawful Good paragon at all.

    Rao
  • RaoRao Member Posts: 141
    An odd development in the mythology for sure...The wiki suggests that Cyric played a role in the misunderstanding that led to the Tyr v. Helm duel, so maybe WotC was trying to use this episode to emphasize Cyric's power (so evil and so cunning he could manipulate Tyr into killing Helm! wow!). That's the best I can think of, anyway.

    Admittedly, as you say, it seems pretty out of character for Tyr to have "taken the bait." Not necessarily how I would have woven the mythos haha . . .

  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    edited June 2020
    @Rao If anything, Helm shedding tears and regret over killing Mystra does NOT help him in my eyes. He clearly is aware that what he did was merciless, but did it anyway. I have far less sympathy for those who recognize the wrong in their actions, but commit them anyway, over those who are oblivious to it. The latter needs help, the former has no excuse.

    @BelgarathMTH I'm not saying I disagree with what you've posted. All I said was what I have read in the past, and how I thought it weird to have never read the official source, apparently.

  • ZaxaresZaxares Member Posts: 1,262
    ThacoBell wrote: »
    @Rao If anything, Helm shedding tears and regret over killing Mystra does NOT help him in my eyes. He clearly is aware that what he did was merciless, but did it anyway. I have far less sympathy for those who recognize the wrong in their actions, but commit them anyway, over those who are oblivious to it. The latter needs help, the former has no excuse.

    I don't think Helm would have viewed his slaying of Mystra as being "wrong". As the God of Guardians and Duty, his mission in life is to uphold the law at all costs, regardless of whether the law is just or tyrannical. Ao had commanded, so must Helm obey. That's precisely why he's Lawful Neutral. His sorrow over his actions (perhaps because Mystra was a personal friend?) will ALWAYS come second to his duty.

    I'm of the opinion that the church of Helm probably has different factions or chapterhouses depending on which region they live in. Churches of Helm in goodly nations will espouse practices that emphasize justice and upright governance, while churches in evil nations/cities like Zhentil Keep or Thay would support the right of the existing power structures to rule, even if they are tyrantss, because adherence to law and duty is paramount.

    Isewein
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    "Neutral" is just diet evil.

    RedRodent
  • WarChiefZekeWarChiefZeke Member Posts: 2,626
    For all intents and purposes, Helm can be considered a good God in practice. Or at least, easy for a lawful good person to feel kinship with. His enemies are all evil gods and the gods he is closest to are Lawful Good ones.

  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    For all intents and purposes, Helm can be considered a good God in practice. Or at least, easy for a lawful good person to feel kinship with. His enemies are all evil gods and the gods he is closest to are Lawful Good ones.

    If you ignore the whole murdering Mystra thing, or lawful evil followers. Heck, why not call all the gods good at that point?

  • BelgarathMTHBelgarathMTH Member Posts: 5,644
    I don't think he "murdered" her. Mystra was in the process of committing a cosmic crime against Ao, and ignored all warnings to stop. I guess she thought he wouldn't use deadly force to stop her. She thought wrong.

    The rightness or wrongness of the act is certainly up for debate. Did Helm have any non-lethal means to do his duty and stop the crime? When is deadly force justified? Those are big moral questions.

    The D&D source material we have tells of the whole incident in about two sentences, and doesn't go into detail. So I guess it's easy to project one's own ideas and morality onto the story.

    Still, given my own feelings about law, order, duty, and honor, I can be sympathetic to Helm based on what little we know. In his place, I absolutely would not have allowed Mystra to defy Ao. I would have tried to find a way to stop her without killing her if I could, though. We really need more details than we have about their respective abilities and about the incident before we could draw any conclusions.

    RaoZaxares
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    Ao says jump and Helm jumps. The only thing Helm takes seriously is duty. He would never even consider an alternative.

  • RaoRao Member Posts: 141
    edited June 2020
    @Chronicler - the possibility that a god's alignment might be opaque (or at least not fully transparent) to his/her worshippers is an incredibly fascinating possibility, and one I had not considered. In the specific case of Helm, I am inclined toward doubt, however. Helm's church seems to be relatively structured and institutional, so I would imagine it contains a rich enough repository of Helm's deeds and the deeds of those drawing upon his power for an interested party to know that he has, e.g. as per @ThacoBell granted his power to the wicked of heart.

    But then again - where there is no "know alignment" to serve the faithful an answer on a silver platter, the moral qualities of even undisputed actions / events can be subject to controversy. Just look at the nature of the disagreement between @BelgarathMTH and @ThacoBell (between the pair of which, I myself tend on this issue more toward the former): one looks at Helm's slaying of Mystra and sees what may have been the necessary defense of a just order, another looks at the same exact set of facts and sees an insufficiently justified killing. On this basis (and the basis of other examples), they could come to different conclusions about Helm's alignment. Confusions of this nature could help explain the traction of false theological beliefs like the "Heresy of the Threefold God." While I think there are some theological avenues out of this ambiguity problem, they may not be consistent with FR lore. So yes, @Chronicler raises a really insightful point here.

    As for the business about lawful evil Helmite clerics, does anyone know whether they are actually openly part of Helm's institutionalized church? I could see an institutionalized church whose clergy is publicly entirely lawful good or lawful neutral, whereas those Helmite clerics committed to lawful evil live and act with minimal or no contact with the institutionalized Helmite church (e.g., a LE Helmite cleric whose activities are pretty much entirely contained within the castle of a LE lord). Alternatively, LE Helmite clergy may secret themselves into the institutionalized church, posing as LN or LG; as long as they uphold their duties to act as guardians, etc. Helm might look the other way on them lying about their alignment? Admittedly, this latter possibility strikes me as dicier and less likely than the former.

    Finally, to remark briefly on @ThacoBell's "Ao says jump, and Helm only asks 'how high'" - again, I agree it is entirely possible that Helm is just a deeply blinkered, callous god. Given the FR portfolio system, it may not even be possible for him to be / act otherwise. However, I would just offer, in the alternative, that Helm may have in this circumstance just been exercising a little epistemic humility. On the wiki, Helm is listed as either a "lesser" or an "intermediate" deity (2e). Ao is the *Overgod*. Helm may have recognized that he was not, especially over and against Ao, in the best position to determine for himself what would be "good" or "evil" when it came to Mystra's attempted trespass. What he did have, arguably, was Ao's command and the power to uphold it. In such a situation, deference to Ao could have been the only reasonable course of action. This might depend on a few other factors, like what Helm knew of Ao up to that point, etc. Unfortunately, as many have lamented, the source texts just won't get us there. We're stuck interpreting and inventing it for ourselves ;)

    Post edited by Rao on
    BelgarathMTHThacoBell
  • ThacoBellThacoBell Member Posts: 12,217
    @Rao I'd imagine Helm's evil clergy would be open. A temple to Talos is just across the street, not to mention the temples of Umberlee throughout the series. I always found it odd that you constantly hear "Helm sees all, know that and be judged" in the temple. Its a stark contrast to every good deity/clergy we see.

  • ChroniclerChronicler Member Posts: 1,350
    It's also worth noting, when talking about actions, that no one action decides anybody's alignment.

    A character's alignment speaks to their general motivation, but the goodliest of good characters can, under the right circumstances, perform a wicked deed. An alignment is not a straight jacket and all that jazz.

    ThacoBellenergisedcamelRao
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