I've never liked Paladins. Many people don't; it's no big deal. But they've been around since at least the Greyhawk supplement, so it seems that those of us who don't care for them ought to make some kind of peace with the class. I know plenty of DMs that don't use them, usually because they don't like alignment and so much of what Paladins are up to has to do with alignment restrictions and the power they get in exchange. Other guys just don't like the idea of Lawful Good hero-types in a party full of murderhobos. I decided to sit down and come up with some ways to make the class a little more meaningful to me in my own games.
Of course, the main reason I'm thinking about Paladins is Gorgonmilk's badass Greyhawk cover.
The main features of the Paladin in the older editions are usually:
Badass Saves & Disease Free For Life
1 Weapon, 1 Suit of Armor, etc.
A Tithe & a Code of Conduct
Lay on Hands
A Horse, usually the Epic Magical Kind
Later editions added Smite Evil, which I dig.
Now the main question about the Paladin is: Whom do they serve? Which god or demigod or monster or whatever does the Paladin do his thing for?
Some people say you can't divorce the Paladin from the Lawful Good side of things. I am not those people. But it is not enough to determine what alignment your Paladin is. To make playing a Paladin interesting, you have to make decisions about what sort of things a god wants your Paladin to do. What does the bug-god or the fire-god or the poetry-god want from its Paladin?
Instead of Detect Evil, go with Detect Alignment or Detect Deity or Detect Opposite Alignment.
As for the Tithe, who do you pay it to? Maybe one god wants you to give it straight to the poor, and the other wants you to toss it all into a sacred lake.
Lay on Hands might have very different applications for different gods. One god gives you the ability to communicate disease, another a version of Burning Hands that still heals your bros, another a Mind Meld.
As for the Code of Conduct, the most interesting way to handle this is to split the difference between player and DM work. One could create an elaborate religious code for a player to follow (which could be neat and atmospheric, but give the player zero input or control) OR you could try this method:
Once per level, there is a chance for the player to declare that an activity is against the Paladin's code. Depending on the severity of the restriction, the DM awards an XP bonus to the player. The bonus is a one-time deal, but as the player goes up in level, the number of restrictions grows (as the power the Paladin recieves from his god grows and develops) and the player has an opportunity to really engage with his Paladin's code in a game-affecting way.
I don't care for magic horses, so I can't come up with anything there. Maybe your Paladin gets a dinosaur or a Giant Riding Beetle or something cool, not just a lame Shadowfax redux.