Example Paladin Vows
Players and referees should come up with custom Vows for the character, one that will work well in the campaign. To give some ideas and guidelines, here are some example Vows, and how they would play out in the game world.
Defender of Law
The most basic sort of Vow. You are a true believer that all laws are righteous, and should be obeyed even if they seem harmful. You have utter faith that the greater whole is more important than any one member of that whole. Usable by any alignment, this is fraught with role-playing possibilities when the Law is at odds with the character's morality. If the law states that all firstborn children must be sacrificed, then that Lawful Good paladin has a real tough choice ahead of them. If the law states that all spoils of war must be given to the poor, than that Lawful Evil paladin also has a real tough choice.
Defender of Ethos
Good, Evil, or Neutral, you are an ardent cheerleader that Your Way is The Best Way. If the society you are in disagrees with your stance, well, you have many difficult choices ahead of you. A Good paladin is called a Defender of Weal, an Evil paladin is called a Defender of Woe, and a Neutral paladin is called a Defender of Exaction. Typically, a Defender of Ethos Vow works best when the Paladin's alignment is in general agreement with the alignment of the local civilization but not quite always. So, a Good kingdom is a good place for a Defender of Weal, and an evil Kingdom is a good place for a Defender of Woe. A neutral Defender of Exaction is a tough one to play in either a Good or Evil kingdom, but that's what challenges are for, eh? Good paladins do good deeds, evil paladins do evil deeds, and neutral paladins push hard to see that the law is obeyed, for good or ill, and will act against disruptive elements, both good and evil.
Protector of the Realm
Suitable for any alignment, a Protector of the Realm is exactly that: A holy warrior sworn to the defense of a kingdom. A Good Paladin smites enemies and does good deeds, an evil paladin smites enemies and oppresses all dissenters, and a neutral paladin smites enemies of the realm and seeks to maintain the status-quo in all things. This Vow gets really interesting when the Realm in question gets conquered or otherwise destroyed, because now the paladin is left fighting an endless battle to destroy the usurpers and restore HER realm to existence.
The Hand Of God
This Vow is suitable for any alignment, and is the first religion-focused one. The paladin serves as the instrument of her deities will. She will be tightly integrated with the local church of her deity, and will have frequent chores in service of that religion, ranging from babysitting children up to being the Holy Assassin. This gets interesting when the religion is at some degree of odds with the secular authorities. It gets REALLY interesting when the religion in question is not a Lawful one! Role-playing abounds with this Vow, so approach with caution.
This Vow is suited for Lawful Evil paladins. Reavers believe that pain is weakness leaving the body, and hold their entire world to the same standard. Reaver's inflict pain on others in every way, both individually and culturally. A Reaver believes that comfort, tenderness, and mercy weaken a society, and the way to true strength is through crippling loss. A Reaver will create orphans and invite them to find her when they are grown, a Reaver will maim a nobles child to goad the Nobility into action, a Reaver will crucify ten thousand prisoners of war and plant them by the side of every road to harden the population, a Reaver will burn the crops of her own peasants to starve the weakest in the following winter, so the survivors will be the stronger for it. All actions done to drive weakness from the body of her realm. Easy to abuse and likely to get you in trouble, so approach with caution!
This Vow is suited for Neutral and possibly Good paladins. Harrowers believe that strength is gained by overcoming hardship and obstacles. A Harrower will seek out the hardest foes and Vow to fight them with their shield arm bare and tied to their side, for example. A Harrower will often ritually scarify and scourge themselves, practicing all forms of self-denial and hardship. Even worse, Harrowers are scarcely less tough on their allies and friends, constantly driving everyone they know to reach just a little deeper into their last reserves of strength, money, patience, and forgiveness. One of the very toughest Vows to play, so be careful.
The Steady Hand
This Vow is suited for Neutral paladins. This paladin believes in her soul that moderation in all things is the best way. If she is in a Good society, a Steady Hand paladin will join the Secret Police, or serve as an enforcer for organized crime. If there isn't any organized crime, then she'll found some. In an Evil society, a Steady Hand will join the Council for Justice, or become an iron-willed vigilante hunting the oppressors of the state with fanatical devotion. In a balanced or neutral society a Steady Hand will concentrate on chaotic elements as her foes of choice, driving the society closer to a state of perfect Law. Most confusingly, if a Steady Hand moves from one society to another, she will switch roles without even a moments hesitation. A Steady hand paladin might have been the cruelest member of the Good Kings Secret police, and then only a few months later be the most ardent member of the Resistance under the rule of the Evil Prince after the old King dies.
Avenger of Wrongs
Most commonly seen in Good or Neutral paladins, this also works very well with Evil paladins. Good and Neutral Avengers of Wrongs typically serve as the champions of the Little Man, fighting relentlessly against the oppression of the central rule, in the courts of law whenever possible, but with steel and fire where not. An Evil Avenger of Wrongs is surprisingly similar, but tends to have a dark view of what 'wrongs' are. For example, an Evil Avenger of Wrongs might rob the Good Kings castle treasury...and give half the money back to the rich nobles who were taxed for it. Can very easily get you in a LOT of trouble, but very easy to set up role-playing for.
Usable for all alignments, a Champion is a sucker for a sob tale. If somebody comes to a Champion and asks for help in a way that matches up with their Ethos, then the Champion is nigh-compelled to help them out. This may be out of sheer good-heartedness, or a twisted desire to make themselves look good to anyone watching, or a little of both. Champions join tournaments, go to balls, challenge cads, serve as criminal muscle for the sheer fun of it, overthrow corrupt regimes or fine and fair ones, depending on their alignment and who is asking. Champions tend to be a lot of fun to play, especially evil ones, as they make great Magnificent Bastards. Can be very hard to pull off, so approach with caution!