The paladin was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons in the Greyhawk supplement (Gygax and Kuntz 1976:4). Fighters of lawful alignment could become paladins from the outset and had a Charisma score of at least 17 positioning paladins as exemplary leaders. Their lawful allegiance was much stricter than the other classes and paladins could “lay on hands” to cure wounds or diseases, resist disease and evil magic, wield a holy sword, and obtain a loyal warhorse. In exchange, the paladin was never allowed to possess more than four magical items (excluding arms and armor) and gave away treasure to charitable or religious institutions. Whereas the cleric was more of a healer and less a combatant, the paladin was more combatant and less healer.
The term paladin was derived from “palatinus” which means “of the palace” and thus a palace official in Latin. From then it became the Italian “paladino,” which eventually became the French “paladin,” a warrior. The term eventually came to qualify one of the twelve knights in attendance on Charlemagne (Aeon 2002).
The paladin’s connection to the divine is derived from the title “judices palatine,” a papal judge in the Catholic Church, and the association of the twelve paladins with the twelve Apostles. There were also the Templars and Hospitallers, knightly organizations ordained by the church to go on crusades and protect pilgrims.
A paladin’s connection to the holy sword likely comes from Charlemagne’s sword, Durandal. But by far the most influential source in creating the paladin archetype is Poul Anderson’s novel, Three Hearts and Three Lions. In the book, Holger Carlsen is thrust into a parallel universe where he becomes a paladin, complete with a magical warhorse (Papillon) and healing powers (Anderson 1961).
My own experience playing a paladin was on BatMUD (2002) as a satyr, a flagration violation of traditional Dungeons & Dragons standards. Of course, the most famous paladin player was Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, who explained that he played an 11th-level paladin in high school…and promptly lost his paladin status by tearing off a merchant’s head (Archer 2004:38).
This description is a rough draft from my upcoming book, The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games.