Six months ago, a lonely Defender found a strange place as he was exploring the Isles of Ernan. On a remote island that was partly sunk, he discovered long-forgotten ruins of what was no doubt a lost temple from the elthedar era. In the crumbled ruins lay a shining presence, whom he heard lamenting about his inability to escape this place. The being was actually a Celestial named Eleniel, who had been trapped here at the time of the Sundering. After 8000 years of imprisonment, he was more than happy to meet Ardirian (that was the Defender's name). Eleniel had no way to know what had happened since he last walked the lands of Aryth. He was horrified to learn that the Shadow had apparently won. No, it was not possible... The Gods would not allow this! He had to give people hope before all was lost.
Knowing that adopting his lost ways (he was a the head of a paladin order before the sundering) was necessary in this new context, he sought to recreate them in a new fashion, using the present time knights: the Defenders (yes, folks, read again Against the Shadow, page 19: the Defenders are "unarmored knights", and "picture them as those who would have become knights or champions in another time and place": doesn't that remind you of paladins?).
Eleniel also knew that going outside of his sanctuary would mean certain death for him. Thus, he tries and recruit some noble hearted men to bring people hope; sometimes they are like knights errant, righting the wrongs wherever they go (always acting in secret); sometimes he gives them a special mission, hoping that some "coup d'éclat" against the Shadow's forces will boost the people's morale, especially if the Shadow does not know against who it will retaliate (example: a spectacular sabotage).
Yes, they are not true paladins: fighting with a huge blade in shining armor would not fit the setting and would be pointless and inefficient given the odds. But they are noble people and act like paladins who would have lost the war (imagine Arthur's knights without armour, acting like Zorro).
Some favorite tricks of the Paladins Reborn: punish a specially wicked Legate (even by turning his superiors against him ), ridiculing an occupying force of Orcs, and so on... The tricky thing is, they have to be particularly clever, because their acts never have to have side effects on innocent people: a popular method is forging evidence against another villain on the acts they themselves committed, so that two evils are destroyed in the same move, and the Shadow thinks it destroyed the guilty party and does not look further.
In this regard, is it surprising if Eleniel recruits not only Defenders but also rogues and has them working as teams?
The Paladins also lend a hand ot other resistance groups whenever they cross their way (which is rare).
In a far future, it would not be impossible to see them acting more boldly if they have scored significant damage to the occupying forces. Eleniel trains a few agents in the fighter's ways in this hope, but the time has not yet come, far from it.
All prospective candidates must be "masked avengers", whose good actions attract the general attention. It is the duty of the paladins to identify them before the Shadow's agents do, and determine if they are promising students or just brash people whose actions will eventually harm the people. Once they are judged worthy (this test can be as harsh as to watch how they manage to escape a legate's forces without helping the "target"), they are contacted and brought before Eleniel, who judges of their loyalty. Those who are unworthy are found later, in another part of the world, without any memory of the previous last six months. Those who are worthy are formally recruited and greeted as new heroes of Eredane.
any good alignment (NG favored),
managing to be brought before Eleniel and found worthy (which is in itself a spectacular accomplishement).
Most of the time, candidates are Defenders, but a few rogues and even fighters could also be recruited (though it has not yet happened).
PCs have to be of the Guardian Path, and NPCs have to have the Magecraft and Spellcasting (special, see below) Feats (as they cannot take a Path).
Special: As the candidates are noble hearted, they will often learn (DM's option) that they actually are descendants of some long forgotten hero of the Third Age, whose heritage they have to claim (usually under the form of a covenant item, such as an armor or a weapon). (It gives a Tolkien-ish feel to the story, and gives a player a nice opportunity to become an ancestral bladebearer if he so chooses).
The group's main resource is Eleniel himself. As a Celestial, he IS a unique source of divine magic (by his very essence), and he can choose to weaken himself, sacrificing his essence in a very painful ritual, to give a bit of it to his followers (yes, it's a plot device, and it's not rules-canon. But it provides an intersting story IMO).
By completing this exhausting ritual, a PC "confirms" his Path (which means that, if he needs his powers to accomplish a particularly noble action, the DM will give them a little boost, at his discretion (players should never take it for granted)). A NPC gains access to spells restricted to paladins, and spell energy bonus (6 SE bonus per month, which when expanded have to be refueled by making again the pilgrimage to Eleniel and making again the ritual).
Besides that, Eleniel creates potions of Holy water (unique in Eredane except the Fount of the Gods, see ToS vol. I, excellent work btw), which he grants his followers when he ses fit (not every time).
Eleniel's sanctuary is a special zone, in which all good aligned cleric spells are boosted, where healing spells cost half spell energy and natural recovery rate is X3 (this was originally an important temple to a good deity). It's undetectable to any magic (divine or arcane), and permanently guarded by 5 paladins.
There are no more than 20 paladins in the world (Eleniel cannot support more than that number). Advanced paladins : this has not yet happened, but Eleniel plans on training his men in the fighter's ways (which in my campaign are no longer accessible to PCs), that is, using armor and martial weapons. This training is offered to those who volunteer to act as guardians of the sanctuary, and to those who want to take more risks by acting more boldly. He will only grant it to those who are particularly clever and manage difficult missions: those armored paladins would have to be shining examples of the spirit of resistance, as it would be a breaking blow to the people's morale if one of them were caught (I think of it as a Legendary Class). He plans on giving them a spectacular power: a special ability which would allow them to "disappear" when they are killed, leaving behind only their clothes (Jedi-like), and then be reincarnated. But in order to grant them this ability, Eleniel has to take control of a very special Nexus (actually a God touched region) and absorb its power into himself. The only problem is that this region is already used by another resistance group, who desperately need it for survival : the Lost Cave of Peaceful Rest is a special place used by Kurgun Dwarves when they are mortally wounded in combat, to depart this world in peace and then reincarnate in order to help once again their dwarven brothers. It will be very hard, at best, to have them renounce to their last boon with which they can fight the Shadow in the Kaladrun mountains. Nice adventure hook, isn’t it?
As a reward, Eleniel can also train a PC as a fighter (thus granting him the ability to take a level in this class), with a (small) XP bonus to gain it, ONLY if the PC managed a particularly difficult mission (and chooses this option, of course). Please remember that, in my campaign, very few groups can train an individual as a fighter, and this should be felt by the players as a reward for great accomplishments.
Paladins do not communicate with other resistance groups: for the time being, they prefer to keep their identity a complete mystery. They try and appear as mysterious strangers who come from nowhere to right the wrongs and disappear before the legates can do anything about it. The time has not come yet to make themselves known for what they are. However, it is not forbidden to a Paladin to have "teammates", as long as they ignore his real identity and allegiance. It is planned to reveal themselves to Aradil in a near future, though (she might of course already know their existence: she is the Witch Queen, after all).