Knighthood has never really been a major goal of mine, although becoming a warlord has been. On the other hand, people who get knighted often get free tunics, and I'm all about looking good when I fight. I’m technically qualified for crown, and am one “crushing JLee in a tournament” away from being qualified for warlord. (Being a new arrival in the Wetlands, though, I quite cheerfully have no expectation of them knighting me any time soon in either case.)
There've been times when I've wanted to play a Paladin for role-play reasons ("this story really ought to have a Paladin here. I guess we'll just put in a warrior and call him a holy warrior and deal with how clunky that is"), but I've never felt any real desire to play Paladin beyond that. I've never really had any desire to play Anti-Paladin; I've always felt that really good fighters pretending to be jerks is bad for Amtgard. The better you are the nicer you need to be if you want to keep those newbies whose dreams you just crushed.
Hopefully that is all the relevant background you need to understand and evaluate my views. To a large degree, I don’t have a personal stake in this. Playing paladin personally isn’t extremely important to me, and I’m close enough to the boxtops that if I really cared a ton about getting knighthood I could probably stop moving around and focus on accomplishing that, and then play Paladin. I think, however, that opening the classes could have a benefit to Amtgard.
I think Paladin and Anti-Paladin should be open to all players without restriction. They are two of the most powerful tropes in fantasy, and denying them to not only the vast majority of players, and specifically to all the excited newbies, is a disservice to the game. Words have power, and the names of these classes are iconic concepts that resonate within the minds of many of our players. It is a travesty to deny these players a part in that.
People have come up with a lot of arguments as to why these classes should be restricted to a select few. I don’t buy into these arguments, so let’s go through them one by one and explain why they remain unconvincing.
Paladin and Anti-Paladin make knighthood special. No, knights make knighthood special. The warlord who murders you thirty times in a row, then spends four hours in the freezing rain teaching you how to stop him instead of drinking with his friends. The serpent knight who not only makes me a fantastic tunic, but opens up his house every week for newbies to come over and get help at garb nights. The flame knight who not only pays for and builds a fully-functioning castle, but drives it to Clan so we can fight in it. These are what makes knighthood special; excellence matched with character and the recognition and respect that brings. If you need two classes to make knighthood special, you've got something seriously wrong with your knights or your knighthood.
Paladin and Anti-Paladin encourage role-playing. Yes, they do. Assassin and Barbarian are the two other classes that encourage role-play just by the imagery associated with their names. I see more assassins and barbarians role-playing than any other class. (I expect to see a higher percentage of wizards role-play in v8, once it is no longer the go to class for munchkins, but that is a different topic.) I think they would encourage a lot of non-knight players to role-play, and I think more role-play is a good thing for Amtgard. So I find this to be more of a pro-open classes argument, so I don't put it as a "keep them restricted" argument.
The classes suck. Yes, by design because they're restricted. They can't have a key unique role on the battlefield if many parks will never have any. ("This class is the primary counter to archers now. But none of you can play it. Have fun!") Opening the classes would allow them to be given specific vital roles. Additionally, people will play classes that suck if they have desirable tropes associated with them. People have complained about how weak assassins are for years but tons of people love to play them because ASSASSINS!!!! The fact that people want to play a class they know is weaker than the alternatives should give you an idea of just how powerful the draw of the class is.
The question to new knights -- white or black? -- is as much a part of Amtgard as is knighthood itself. I haven't run into this at any of the (many) knightings I have been to, so either it's a Dragonspine only thing or it's pretty rare. Even if it were common in every kingdom (and it is not) the momentary experience of a tiny subset of Amtgarders should not out-weight the weekly benefits to all Amtgarders.
Non-knights shouldn't wear phoenixes. This is not a valid objection, since we can (and should) give them class sashes, just like every other class. Adding sashes would not force any knights to change their wardrobe, since you wear a sash over your garb; it is not a part of your garb.
It's tradition. “Don’t talk to me about tradition. It’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.” Just because something has been done for a long time does not give it value. If it is good for Amtgard, there will be a reason it is good for Amtgard beyond "well, we did it that way last year." This is not a reason, this is just a pattern of behavior.
We should use it as a carrot to get people to respect masters. (The argument being that we could open these classes to people with ladder masterhoods, but not to the masses.) People will value masters when masters are discrete from knighthood and earn respect. As with making knighthood special, masters will become special when they earn it by being awesome. Probably everyone who gets around a bit can think of at least one person who is a master and not a knight who they think is awesome. See? It already happens. "But wait, they will eventually be a knight, so they don't count!" Well, turning masters into knights is what Amtgard does with the awesome masters. It doesn't happen for all of them, but it happens to most of them. Finally, all the arguments about not restricting the classes to a small subset still apply to the "masters only" solution.
We should use it as a carrot to get people to do keep playing. People will keep playing Amtgard because it is fun. If you want to keep players, make every day fun, instead of offering some distant, five-year away goal. Making TODAY more fun is much more effective than telling someone they can have more fun next year.
If we make paladins and Anti-Paladins unrestricted, why don't we just make knights unrestricted too? And give everyone free awards. And Grand Duke titles. And a new car! First, you're not Bob Barker. Second, "knight" is not a battlefield class. Third, there is some benefit to our awards structure. However, we should minimize how much not earning awards is a detriment to our players. It would be nice if Amtgard didn't use the term "knight" and instead had some Amtgard-specific term for our highest award which we could imbue with its own worth so all those who wanted to role-play knights could. But that ship sailed in the 80's and isn't coming back, so we're stuck with knights being "knights" instead of "laurels" or "pelicans" or "wombats." Fourth, "knight" is typically a social category like "noble" in most fantasy games, which is where a lot of people draw their conceptualizations from. Paladin, however, is usually a class.
In the final analysis, I’ve come across a number of fair arguments for allowing people to play Paladin and Anti-Paladin, but I haven’t found any that hold water for continuing to restrict the classes. I’d be happy to see the classes opened up to all the rest of Amtgard.