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The Paladin Thread Train (PTT)(TM) is just getting warmed up! Lets get this party really going. Time to crack open a dictionary!
Define Authority: 1. the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
It seems some are sticking to the latter portion of this definition, claiming that only official recognition by existing authority figures grants one authority. This is not the case.
A Balor can teleport into a small town and say "I'm in charge". Was he elected Mayor of this boondock town? Nope. Is some ignorant yokel going to brazenly stroll up to him, point his crooked finger at the Balor and say. "Now wait juuust a cotton pickin second, mister. Y'all gotta be a citizen of this here small town for a minimum of ten years an then run fer public office before y'all can start barkin orders at us town folk."? Maybe. Does that stop the Balor from using his power to enforce his will? NOPE. Thus, he has authority over the town by virtue of having the power to wipe it off the map with insignificant effort on his part.
By the same logic, a Paladin, who is likely more powerful than 99% of people in the known world even at low levels, DOES have the power to exert his will on others. He just doesn't do it in the same way a Balor would. A Paladin is a righteous harbinger of truth and justice. He is humble and tries to work WITH existing authority if their goals and his don't outright clash. He's not out to conquer and pillage, but to defend the weak against evil. The moral authority he possesses as a result of the lifestyle he chooses gives him power and respect, even if he isn't mayor of every town he strolls into.
The fact that 'ACTUAL' authority was used as a qualifier means nothing as I have now defined what authority ACTUALLY means. As for the "Well it depends on what your definition of 'Paladin' is.." argument...
In fantasy realms, words have definitions.. A Paladin isn't some rare sight that you only behold once every...
But in that sense, the paladin has authority, but no more than any other PC.The moral authority is closer to what we're talking about, but in many ways that only exists to the extent that people recognise it.
It's also worth pointing out that for all her moral righteousness, the paladin is Lawful. While she can, she'll work through channels, not usurp and defy local authority. That may change if the local authorities are incompetent and almost certainly will if they're corrupt or oppressive.
Also, while you may be more powerful than 99% of the people around, throwing your weight around in towns larger than 100 starts to get dicey fast.
Rules-default settings have plenty of moderately high level people around. Cause too much trouble, even in a good cause and you may wind up being taken care of.