Paladin: The World of Warcraft Character Class
The Paladin is one of the ten playable classes in the popular MMOG World of Warcraft. Originally this class was available only to Alliance races: Human and Dwarf. With The Burning Crusade expansion, the class was extended to two new races (both introduced in that same expansion). The Alliance brethren was extended to the Draenei race and the Paladin also made its first appearance amongst the Horde ranks with the Blood Elf race. There are four main roles within WoW, whether the player is leveling their toon, running dungeon instances for gear, or playing with a guild to beat end-game raid instances. These roles are tanking, healing, melee dps, and range dps. The Paladin is well suited to the first three of these roles, and with access to the right gear and no shame in picking non-standard talents, can play as the fourth in a pvp capacity. A standard Paladin player will stick to only one of the first three game roles though, subscribing to the standard talent trees of Protection/Holy/Retribution, and be affectionately nicknamed tankadins, healadins, or retadins (unless you play on a server with subpar end game Retribution Paladins, in which case you will be referred to as "lolret").
The Paladin is a special class because, along with the Druid class, it represents the only classes which can tank, heal, or deal out damage (based on appropriate talent specifications and gear for the situation, of course). By determining which type of player you would like to be, you will also know which talent tree to begin using points in as you level up your character. Speaking of leveling your toon, more on that after the break.
How to level-up your Paladin
There is one way to level in WoW: by gaining XP. XP can be gained either by completing quests, or by killing MOBs, mobile-interactive targets roaming through the virtual world your character can be moved through. Regular quests yield more XP than simply killing MOBs in a repetitive manner known as grinding. Quests which take place in dungeons yield even more XP. You may form a party of up to five players to complete quests, but the XP and loot of any MOBs which are killed is shared among all players in party. So before knowing how you want to level, you must answer the simple question: what do you want to do?
While in the early levels (1-40) it is a simpler question still: do you want to be able to operate alone? If so, then you want to be focused on doing as much damage as possible and spec into the Retribution talent tree. If not, then you want to be focused on finding a friend who wants to deal as much damage as possible, make a group with them and sign up for the same quests, and then be their personal HP battery to make them, more or less, invincible. At very low levels Protection isn't very good for questing alone, as it will take longer to kill your targets. However, with a healer or higher level gear, a Protection Paladin will be very difficult to kill, and thus can pull multiple MOBs at once and slowly kill five or six targets at once instead of one or two targets at once.
All in all - questing as a Paladin can be laboriously repetitive until higher level spells and abilities are learned, but it is still on par with other classes insofar as time required. All three specs can level in the same average amount of time, although a Holy Paladin will definitely require a party to complete most quests efficiently. If you want to level mostly in dungeons - which have much stronger MOBs, more money per MOB, and excellent gear loot (for the level) at bosses - picking to spec as a tank or healer is a surefire way to ensure that you can always find a group. A standard group will have one tank, one healer, and three dps - despite the percentages required tanks and healers are nearly always the last players to be found for a PUG. Keep reading for some basic tips on how to begin playing each spec.
Retribution: Live by the blade, die long after your enemies
Retribution Paladins are a melee class who deal damage with a two handed weapon imbued with spells to deal bonus holy damage. Equipped with an additional stun spell and a reduced cooldown on the basic Paladin stun, Retadins are well equipped for temporary crowd control and burst damage.
When questing alone and grinding, try to use crowd control one MOB while attacking another. Also, try to target spellcasters first. Your HP will be high and you will be wearing strong armor, but spell damage will hurt you if you aren't working in tandem with a healer. By using well timed stuns or spells to slow your melee targets, you can insure no more than two targets attacking you while you most heartily attack them back.
When questing in a group or operating in a dungeon, attack whichever target the group leader has marked. Generally the kill order in a dungeon will be any healers, any spell casters, and finally any melee MOBs which haven't fallen to AOE attacks. An easy way to make sure your character doesn't switch from being a dps role to a tank roll is to always assist the tank! By making sure you are attacking the same target as your party's tank, you are virtually guaranteed of having less threat than the tank. Beyond attacking targets in the order which the party leader marks, not generating more threat than the tank, and not breaking crowd control before the tank and healer are prepared, the most important job that a dps role Paladin must learn is not to stand in the bad. There are various AOE attacks MOBs can use on characters in game, and most all will be accompanied by a sickly looking graphic on the ground - a bubbling cauldron of blacks and greens and purples and reds.
Strange writing in a language you don't recognize? That's also a tip from the game to move to your left. Your healer will thank you.
Holy: Channeling The Light
A Paladin healer is one of the strongest, most bang for your buck, single target healers in WoW. End-game raids often use a Paladin healer on the Main Tank, and a Paladin healer can successfully heal any dungeon in the game (although some, because of the Paladin healing mechanic, require supremely honed reflexes). There are different types of heals in the game: proactive HOTs, reactive big heals, and last second instant heals (for just enough HP to keep your target ticking). A Paladin comes equipped with one instant heal with a very long cool down, one quick heal with which the cooldown time nearly matches the cast time, and one big heal with a great HP for mana. With no HOTs, it is important for a Healadin to keep an eye on the health bars of all party members and keep a priority list of who the next several heals should be cast on.
In a dungeon, if the tank dies, the party will likely die unless the remaining targets are of very low health. As such, the tank receives most of the heals. However, the tank's health bar can't be the only thing the healer focuses on. Just like dps members, a healer has to be certain not to stand in the bad. If the healer dies, the rest of the group will be hard pressed to absorb all the damage from the MOBs before dying themselves. If dps are allowed to die, a simple encounter can become a battle of attrition wherein the low-damage-dealing tank and remaining dps must defeat all currently engaged targets before the healer runs out of mana. By spreading heals around to keep all party members' health topped off most encounters can be defeated successfully in one go.
A great tip for healadins, to compensate for the lack of a proactive HOT, is stop-casting. In WoW non-instant spells may only be cast by a character who is not moving. If a character is channeling one spell, or casting another, if that character is moved the spell will be cancelled. A great habit to start is to target the group's tank and begin to cast a large heal. Once the cast is halfway through, evaluate if the tank requires a big heal. If not, the healer can move forward or to the side. This cancels the spell, saves mana from being spent, and allows the healer to drop a fast and small heal on either themself, a dps, or even the tank if only a little bit of damage has been taken.
Protection: Judge not by the shine of the armor, but by the dents in the shield
I have leveled a Paladin as Protection on two different servers. Once Cataclysm, the 2010 expansion, is released I will be giving up an 18 month hiatus from WoW to level a new Paladin with some friends. Despite being just a video game, there's something personally rewarding about being the first and last stage of defense between targets and the group. When encounters go poorly and dps or a healer die, it's exhilarating to have the last toon standing, going punch for punch with a gigantic war-mace wielding herald of death, with your HP bar racing your target's to zero. While a Protection Paladin isn't quite invincible, it's the closest spec to it.
As the tank of group encounters, it's important to know what to expect in each fight. Will the main target breathe fire? Turn that baddie away from your dps friends. Will the main target cast AOE at its feet? Don't stand in the bad! Move far enough to the side that you and any melee dps aren't taking damage that can be avoided. Spell casters will deal more damage to you than melee MOBs (just don't turn your back on any!), so they should always be targeted after any healers are down.
A solid tip for tankadins is to front-load their threat. By using high damage, multi-target spells on the pull (initial attack), the tank can be sure to have lots of threat generated even while positioning the MOBs and beginning their attack rotation, allowing the dps to get started at eliminating all the targets as early as possible.
There are many great websites which exist for specifics of playing a Paladin. They all update regularly, and in many cases have community forums to help answer any further questions.
For general Paladin knowledge, check the wow-Wiki on Paladins
For specific gear knowledge, check the armory
For tanking questions and theorycrafting, visit Maintankadin.com
For healing questions and theorycrafting, read through The Holy Paladin
For lolret questions and theorycrafting, read through Retpaladin.com