Last Updated on January 22, 2023
The paladin is easily one of the most fun classes to play in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. It’s also probably the game’s most self-sufficient class, bringing high levels of durability, damage output, healing, utility, and social skills to the party.
They’re also a surprisingly complex class to play, with a broad range of abilities that not only interact with more of the game’s discrete mechanics than any other class, but require careful management lest you run out of resources.
All this can make your first time (or first few times in my case) playing a paladin feel a little overwhelming.
If you want to play a paladin right, pairing them with an iconic and effective character race is a great place to start, and there are few class-race combos more potent and enduring than the dragonborn paladin. ‘
Ability Scores: Prioritize your Strength and Charisma, but don’t neglect your Constitution
Armor and Weapons: If you want to maximise damage, choose a Greatsword and the Great Weapon Fighting style at 2nd level. If you want to play a tankier, defense-focused paladin, choose a Longsword (or Battleaxe/Warhammer) and Shield, as well as the Defense fighting style.
Offensive Actions: Divine Smite allows you to use a spell slot to inflict additional radiant damage to any attack after you know the result, so apply it to every critical (doubling the damage dice) you can. Use your dragonborn breath weapon for some much needed AoE damage.
Defensive Actions: Use your Lay on Hands to revive downed allies, your healing spells to buff allies (but don’t expect to be able to be the party’s main source of healing), and keep as many of your friends within your various auras as possible to maximise their survivability. Lean on your draconic resistance to halve incoming damage of a particular type.
Subclass Decisions: If you want to focus on damage, choose the Oath of Vengeance at 3rd level. If you want to play an unkillable tank, choose the Oath of the Ancients.
Creating a Dragonborn Paladin
Either created by draconic gods or – some say – dragons themselves, dragonborn originally hatched from eggs as a unique race, combining the best attributes of dragons and humanoids.
Their imposing appearance and draconic strength make them ideally suited to an adventuring life, especially those who take up the mantle of the paladin. Mechanically, the dragonborn’s natural ability bonuses and racial traits also synergize neatly with the paladin class.
Because of the paladin’s abysmal ranged options, this is a class that is going to be predominantly focused on wading into the heart of battle with a flaming sword held high.
As such, Strength (for melee attack rolls and damage) and Constitution (for hit points and concentration saves) are going to be fundamental to your build. Then, when it comes to your spellcasting, channel divinity, and social abilities, Charisma forms the other pillar of any self-respecting Paladin.
However you generate your character’s ability scores, when you create a dragonborn paladin, you’re going to want to prioritize your Strength and Charisma, followed by your Constitution.
After that, Wisdom is probably your best bet, since it’s used for Perception checks. Dexterity and Intelligence both have their own situational uses, but it’s largely best to leave the sneaking to the rogues (your heavy armor is going to give you disadvantage on stealth checks anyway) and thinking to the wizards.
Dragonborn Racial Traits
When it comes to racial traits and abilities, the dragonborn is naturally suited to the paladin. All dragonborn get a natural +2 bonus to their Strength and a +1 bonus to their Charisma.
Using the Standard Array method, this means you can create a 1st level dragonborn paladin with a value of 16 (+3) in both your Strength and Charisma.
In addition to your ability score bonuses, all dragonborn start with the following traits…
Age: Dragonborn can walk within hours after hatching, attain the size and development of a 10-year-old human child by the age of 3, and reach adulthood by 15. They live to be around 80.
Size: Most dragonborn stand over 6 feet tall and average about 250 lbs. Your size is Medium.
Speed: 30 ft.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Draconic.
Now we get to the fun stuff.
Draconic Ancestry: Your draconic ancestry is tied to one of the ten different flavors of chromatic and metallic dragons which determines your damage resistance and the nature of your breath weapon attack.
|Dragon||Damage Type||Breath Weapon|
|Black||Acid||5 by 30 ft. line (Dex. save)|
|Blue||Lightning||5 by 30 ft. line (Dex. save)|
|Brass||Fire||5 by 30 ft. line (Dex. save)|
|Bronze||Lightning||5 by 30 ft. line (Dex. save)|
|Copper||Acid||5 by 30 ft. line (Dex. save)|
|Gold||Fire||15 ft. cone (Dex. save)|
|Green||Poison||15 ft. cone (Con. save)|
|Red||Fire||15 ft. cone (Dex. save)|
|Silver||Cold||15 ft. cone (Con. save)|
|White||Cold||15 ft. cone (Con. save)|
Breath Weapon: Once per short or long rest, you can unhinge your jaw to unleash a wave of destructive energy. The damage type and weapon shape is determined by the kind of dragonborn you are: red dragonborn breathe fire, white dragonborn breathe ice, copper dragonborn spit acid, and so on.
Any creature caught in your breath weapon’s radius must make a saving throw or take 2d6 damage. The save DC equals 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. A creature takes 2d6 damage on a failed save, and half as much damage on a successful one. The damage increases to 3d6 at 6th level, 4d6 at 11th level, and 5d6 at 16th level.
While the damage from your breath weapon is a little underwhelming, it’s a nice way to inflict some AoE damage – something the paladin lacks – on lower level enemies like goblins and kobolds.
The real benefit you receive from your draconic ancestry is the elemental damage resistance, which halves all incoming damage of the type dealt by your ancestry’s breath weapon.
This is a powerful feature for any frontline fighter. Picking a damage type like fire or lightning will probably come in handy more often, but resistance to any damage type can be effective in a pinch.
Skills and Backgrounds
When creating a paladin, you get to choose two skills from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion, and Religion. You also have proficiency in Wisdom and Charisma saving throws.
While skills like medicine and region are thematically tied to the paladin, it’s most likely Athletics and a Charisma based skill (like Intimidation or Persuasion) that are going to serve you the best.
When it comes to gaining proficiency in other important skills like Arcana, History, or Perception, choosing the right background can be a big help.
In addition to a wealth of useful skills, languages, proficiencies, and equipment, each Background gives you a little extra narrative ability, not to mention helps flesh out your backstory.
If you’re playing a dragonborn paladin, try choosing one of the following:
The Far Traveler comes from a far off place and sticks out like a sore thumb wherever they go. Playing a 6’6 dragonborn fits this background to a tee.
The Far Traveler gains proficiency in Perception and Insight skills, both of which are immensely helpful to a paladin. You also get a tool proficiency, a language of your choice, and your All Eyes on You feature lets you parley your exotic origins for access to people and places you might not otherwise have, for you and your traveling companions.
The Far Traveler makes a perfect background for a paladin who swears the Oath of the Ancients, or perhaps an Oath of Vengeance Paladin on a world-spanning quest to avenge a terrible wrong.
Source: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
As lawful characters, paladins often adventure in service to factions, guilds, knightly orders, or religious organisations. The Faction Agent is a great thematic expression of this, and gives you access to a boatload of great mechanical benefits to back it up.
You gain proficiency in Insight and one Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma skill of your choice, as appropriate to your faction – which includes Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, Religion, Animal Handling, Medicine, Perception, Survival, Charisma, Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion.
You’re also a representative of a faction, which is a great way to either build out your own backstory or engage with the lore of your DM’s world.
Source: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
The paladin enjoys proficiency with all armor, shields, and both simple and martial weapons. While the world is definitely your oyster, there are some pieces of gear that can set you up for success more so than others.
In addition to the equipment granted by your background, all paladins start with…
- (a) a martial weapon and a shield or (b) two martial weapons
- (a) five javelins or (b) any simple melee weapon
- (a) a priest’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
- Chain mail and a holy symbol
Depending on whether you want to focus your dragonborn paladin on defense or offense, you should pick either a longsword (1d8 slashing, versatile, d10) and shield (+2 AC) – a flail or warhammer are both also viable weapons – or a Greatsword (2d6 slashing, heavy, two-handed). Some paladins also make excellent use of the Glaive or Halberd, which have the reach property.
The five javelins can be a great way to give yourself a bit of extra range or, if you just want a backup weapon, grab a single spear. If you go for a sword and shield combo, start out with the spear and shield, throw it, and draw your sword to follow up.
If you’re playing a more urban or socially-focused campaign, take the priest’s pack. If you’re going to be crossing vast expanses of wilderness and crawling through dungeons, take the explorer’s pack.
Chainmail is great starter armor, as it gets your AC to 16 from 1st level, although most paladins like to start saving for platemail (or trying to track down some magic armor) as soon as possible. Lastly, your holy symbol is a great free conduit to channel your spellcasting.
At 2nd level, all paladins get to choose a fighting style, which augments their abilities with a certain type of weapon.
If you want to build your dragonborn paladin into the ultimate tank, choose the Defense fighting style, which gives you a +1 bonus to your AC while wearing armor. Stack this with chainmail and a shield at 1st level and you can begin the game with an AC of 19, which makes you virtually unhittable.
If it’s raw damage output you crave, grab a heavy, two handed weapon like the Greatsword and take Great Weapon Fighting, which lets you reroll 1’s and 2’s on damage dice.
If you want to strike a balance between these options, choose Dueling for a flat +2 damage bonus when you’re wielding a weapon (the Longsword, Battleaxe, and Warhammer are all solid choices) in one hand. You get a consistent damage bonus and can still use a shield in your other hand.
Dragonborn Paladin Subclasses
Each paladin – and dragonborn paladins are no exception – are largely defined by the Sacred Oath they swear at 3rd level. Different paladin oaths focus on different things, from raw damage output to powerful auras and utility spellcasting.
You can find a full breakdown of all the sacred oaths that paladins can choose to swear here in our Paladin Oath Ranking Guide.
If you want to make an iconic dragonborn paladin, however, we’ve lined up two options for you to choose between, depending on whether you want to emphasize devastating damage or unassailable defensive qualities.
The Oath of Vengeance
Paladins who swear an Oath of Vengeance are devoted to the writing of some great wrong, exacting retribution with fire, blood, and steel. Vengeance paladins gain access to powerful single target spells like Bane and Hunter’s Mark which, along with their Channel Divinity feature Vow of Enmity, allow them to choose a single enemy and delete them from the battlefield.
Your Abjure Enemy feature, also accessed through your Channel Divinity, also gives you a measure of battlefield control as you impose the frightened condition on your foes, as well as higher level spells like Banishment and Hold Monster.
Choose the Oath of Vengeance if you want to focus your attention on burning your enemies with holy fire, from your mouth as well as your magical powers.
The Oath of the Ancients
If it’s defensive capabilities you’re looking for, the Oath of the Ancients gives you access to some of the best durability features in the game. If your party needs a tank – with a dash of druidic utility magic thrown in for good measure – then this oath is hard to beat.
At 7th level, your Aura of Warding gives you and all allies within 10ft of you (this feature extends to 30ft at 18th level) resistance to all damage from spells. Your Nature’s Wrath Channel Divinity feature lets you entangle an enemy in magical vines, and you gain access to a handful of great defensive spells from the druid list, including Stoneskin and Protection from Energy.
Feats can be a great way – so long as you’re happy with your current ability scores – to give your dragonborn paladin an extra dash of flavor.
If the idea of swinging a giant flaming sword to smite your enemies as they stand transfixed with fear before you doesn’t sound appealing, then I don’t know if this class is for you – or if you’re capable of joy for that matter.
Whenever you score a critical hit with a two-handed weapon or reduce a creature to 0 HP, you get to make another melee weapon attack as a bonus action. You can also choose to take a -5 penalty to hit in order to add +10 to the attack’s damage roll.
If your party lacks healing, the paladin’s Lay on Hands ability and general access to healing spells aren’t quite potent enough to completely fill the role of party healer. Also, those spell slots are better used on Divine Smite.
One way to help boost your whole party’s survivability and make use of your high Charisma modifier is to take the Inspiring Leader feat.
This feat lets you take 10 minutes to give a rousing speech that grants up to six creatures within earshot, including yourself, temporary hit points equal to your Charisma Modifier + Your Character Level. You can read the full guide to why the Inspiring Leader feat slaps here.
This is indisputably one of the most potent feat combos in the game, thanks to the fact that Polearm Master lets you use your reaction to make an opportunity attack against any enemy who enters the range of your melee weapon (if you’re using a Halberd, Glaive, or Pike, that’s 10ft).
Then, the Sentinel feat means that any enemy you hit with an opportunity attack has its speed reduced to 0 ft. Both feats do other useful stuff as well, but the essence of this combo is that an enemy can charge towards you, get bonked real hard on the head, and is now no longer able to close the distance to attack you.
Then, on your turn, you back up 5 ft and do it all over again. For a class that excels at fighting big bads one-on-one, this is a fantastic thing to do.
However, because dragonborn don’t get a feat until 4th level (unless you take the Custom Lineage option), you won’t be able to bring this combo online until 8th level, which is a long time to wait.
Tips and Tricks: Using Divine Smite, Dragon’s Breath, Lay on Hands, and other classic abilities
When it comes to playing your dragonborn paladin, keeping the following tips and tricks in mind can help you be the best holy-fire-breathing lizard you can be.
Save your Smite
While it can be tempting to power up your Divine Smite at the start of combat for a powerful hit out of the gate, try to hold off. Because you can declare whether you’re using your smite after finding out the result of your attack roll, you can and should wait for a crit to roll around.
Divine Smite burns a 1st level spell slot and allows you to add 2d8 radiant damage to your roll. You can also upcast this spell to add another plus 1d8 for each spell level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8. The damage increases by 1d8 if the target is an undead or a fiend, to a maximum of 6d8.
When you crit with divine smite, you double the entire pool of extra dice, including the extra radiant damage. So, save your spell slots for a critical hit on a big boss and let that fistful of d8s fly.
Save your Lay on Hands
Ok, it feels like the biggest tip for playing a paladin is just “manage your resources”, but still, Lay on Hands requires more attention. Lay on Hands is a wholly unique paladin ability that gives you a pool of hit points equal to five times your paladin level per long rest.
As an action, you can touch yourself or another creature and transfer some or all of that pool of hit points to them. I see a lot of newer players (I did it too my first time out with a paladin) who want to burn their entire Lay on Hands pool on a single big heal.
The more impactful technique is to always keep at least a couple of points in reserve. If a party member falls unconscious, a single point of healing is enough to get them up and fighting again. It might just be for one more round, but that’s definitely enough for them to make an impact on the fight.
Be Aware of Your Auras
Some of the paladin’s most potent abilities are based on affecting allies within a 10 ft radius. As such, if you go running off ahead of the party, leaving your squishier allies alone, you’re going to be depriving them of some awesome effects like adding your Charisma bonus to all of their saving throws or resistance to all spell damage.
Use your Dragon Breath for Low Level Mobs
Your dragonborn breath attack is never going to be an amazing source of damage output. However, because it’s an AoE ability, it’s a great way to soften up groups of lower level enemies – something the paladin is otherwise pretty ill-equipped to do.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.