Last Updated on January 22, 2023
In this guide, we’ll be giving you an overview of the Paladin, arguably the best martial class in the game.
Paladins are proud, powerful warriors whose talents for combat are matched only by the power of their sacred oath.
Paladins are protectors of the innocent and downtrodden, or of isolated forest glades – they are terrifying avengers, conquerors, saviors of entire realities.
The Paladin’s combination of powerful martial and spellcasting abilities make for a viable character choice when it comes to just about anything, from trying to jam a flaming sword through an ancient dragon’s eyeball, or saving a friend from the brink to death, to charming your way into the archbishop’s chambers only to compel her confession with a powerful Zone of Truth.
At the core of the Paladin class is the sacred oath that each Paladin swears at 3rd level. These mighty bonds define the ideals the Paladin is sworn to uphold, and can radically alter what the class is like to play – from both a mechanical and roleplaying perspective.
A Paladin who swears an Oath of Devotion is bound to the loftiest ideals of justice, virtue, and order, offering their service to a benevolent god, wise king, or their own understanding of right and wrong; the Paladin who takes an Oath of Vengeance has made a solemn vow to make someone (or something) pay for their crimes, and would set the world on fire if those who committed the sin got caught up in the blaze (seriously, even the official rules make a nod to Vengeance Paladins being called “dark knights” – they’re Batman, basically).
So, whether you want to be fantasy Batman (or Darth Vader, Wonder Woman, Princess Azula, or the Punisher), enjoy the interesting roleplaying and narrative possibilities, or just love the feeling of a flaming sword in your hand, let’s jump into our intro guide to the Paladin class in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
Paladin Roles: How They Fit in Your Party
Because they so capably combine damage output, survivability, utility magic, and social skills, Paladins are one of the most self-sufficient and versatile classes in the game.
This means that there aren’t many parties where the addition of a Paladin isn’t a welcome one. Your heavily armored presence between the party’s 6 hp Wizard and a murderous bugbear is something they’re sure to find reassuring.
One of the easiest roles to fill as a Paladin is the defensive tank.
Paladins get a d10 for their hit die (second only to the Barbarian and on equal footing with Fighters), as well as heavy armor proficiency which, twinned with a shield and the Defense Fighting Style, makes you more or less untouchable.
Combine this with the dazzling array of defensive auras that you begin to emit at higher levels and you become one of the best classes in the game at keeping yourself (and your party) alive.
Single-Target Damage Dealers
Thanks to their spell list and Divine Smite ability, Paladins can dish out huge amounts of damage against a single target each round.
While you do get access to some powerful area of effect spells at higher levels, the core competency of this class is walking right up to the biggest, baddest thing on the battlefield and removing it from the game with the time-honored combination of a fistful of eight-sided dice and a comically big sword.
Battlefield Controller and Medic
Not only do Paladins get to help themselves to the Fighter’s smorgasbord of martial capabilities, but they also get to wander over to the Cleric’s plate and pinch a big handful of artisanal cheese before moving onto the Bard’s mini cheesecake selection…
This metaphor has become labored. Basically, Paladins get to cast spells and use the Channel Divinity ability just like a cleric. This is probably where the misconception comes from that Paladins are also a religious class, as opposed to people who, like, pinky swore so hard that it gave them magic powers.
Depending on your chosen Oath, your Channel Divinity and list of spells give you numerous ways to disrupt, disable, and force your enemies where you want them. You also get some of the Cleric’s flair for healing magics, as well as a unique mechanic called Lay On Hands, which gives you a pool of hit points you can give to yourself or your allies by touching them.
Lastly, every party needs someone who’s just as confident charming their way past a surly palace guard as they are filing down goblin teeth for their gold fillings.
Because Paladins use their Charisma as a spellcasting modifier, they’re often better equipped than most classes to pull double duty as the face of the party.
Paladin Class Defining Abilities and Strengths
Building on Paladin’s two major roles within a party, the single target damage striker and the defensive tank, let’s look at some of the class’ key abilities that support those styles of play.
Divine Smite: Virtually synonymous with the Paladin class, your Divine Smite is one of the best damage-dealing abilities in the game because it scales with your attacks.
Also, because you don’t have to declare that you are using smite until after you already hit with a weapon attack, you’ll never waste one of your precious few spell slots on a whiffed attempt.
As you gain access to higher-level spell slots later on, your Divine Smite scales up, meaning that you can double (or even triple) down on an attack if you really, really want an enemy dead.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, when you roll a critical hit on a melee attack, you get to roll all your damage dice twice, including your Smite dice.
This means that, at higher levels, you could be rolling as many as 16d8 worth of radiant damage from a single deadly hit.
Lay On Hands: This is, I think, the only healing ability in the game that lets you dispense guaranteed healing instead of using the roll of a die. It’s worth noting that many newer players end up (understandably) misusing Lay On Hands by burning their entire pool on one big heal.
While that can be helpful, it’s the ability to dispense a single hit point at a time that really makes this ability top tier. When an ally falls unconscious, a single point of healing is enough to bring them back into the fight, so you should always keep a few points in reserve to revive the party’s Wizard or Rogue.
Even if they go down again on the next turn, that’s a whole extra round that they can be effective, potentially turning the tide of the fight.
Auras (in general): One of the things that make Paladins excel at not only keeping themselves alive but their allies as well is the class’ suite of aura abilities.
From buffing saving throws and allowing allies to ignore conditions, to some immensely powerful effects granted by different Sacred Oaths, a Paladin’s auras can turn their immediate vicinity into the safest place on the battlefield for squishy allies.
Also, having a few passive benefits helps cut down on the amount of thinking you need to do to play this surprisingly complex class.
Complexity: On the face of it, the Paladin can seem like a pretty straightforward class. Don’t be fooled. Playing a Paladin effectively can be a daunting affair.
Their long list of class features interact with virtually all the game’s mechanics – there are very few other classes that, for example, use conditions as a core element of their play style.
Also, very few of their limited number of ability uses reset on a short rest, which means you’ll have to become more adept at on-the-fly risk assessments to determine whether you should burn your last Divine Smite now, or hang on to it for later, while the Wizard burns Level 2 spells like their cantrips.
This doesn’t mean the Paladin is a bad class for beginners. In fact, if you get to grips with a Paladin, you’ll have a better understanding of some of the game’s lesser-known rule systems than most veteran players. Just don’t mistake this class for a Barbarian that can heal; they’re so much more than that.
Abysmal Ranged Options (and the subsequent problems they cause): If you have any desire whatsoever to hit an enemy from far away, the Paladin is going to frustrate you at every turn.
While there are some builds that favor Dexterity over Strength, these tend to focus on using finesse weapons to make Dexterity a viable option in melee, the reason being that Divine Smite – your primary source of damage – is a melee-only ability.
That fact makes a Paladin with a bow feel decidedly underpowered by comparison. Also, because you’re probably going to be spending all your time clad in heavy armor, swinging a massive sword in intimate proximity to the biggest, baddest thing in sight, you’re also going to want to prioritize your Constitution score, which comes pretty close to making you a three ability class.
The more ability scores you need to get to 16 and above, the lower your average score will be.
Crowd Control, not Crowd Damage: While the Paladin’s abilities make them virtually unparalleled when it comes to taking on big solo monsters and bosses, the trade-off for this is a distinct lack of ability to take out large groups of enemies, although some Paladin oaths – specifically the Oath of Conquest and, to a lesser extent, the Oath of Devotion – excel at controlling groups of enemies.
However, they usually still need a Sorcerer with a twinned Fireball to actually finish those enemies off.
Paladin Example Build
Before we go into greater detail about the different races, backgrounds, feats, skills, and other factors to consider when playing a Paladin, we’ve thrown together a quickstart build that you can use if you want to get the class up and running quickly from 1st Level.
Our quickstart build is intended to form a foundation from which you can build towards most subclass avenues at 3rd level. If you want to fit into the role of a damage dealer, emphasizing your ability to use Divine Smite and your other abilities to quickly remove an enemy from the fight, work towards the Oath of Vengeance at 3rd level. There’s no Paladin subclass that focuses more on dishing out pain.
If you want to be the stalwart tank that stands between your party and the most dangerous thing in the room, choose either the Oath of the Ancients (which keeps allies alive) or the Oath of Conquest (which keeps enemies from attacking your allies through the power of fear).
With their high Charisma score, any Paladin can be a “face”, although the Oath of Redemption is a great subclass to explore if you want to play a social-focused class that isn’t a Bard.
There’s a full breakdown of different Paladin Oaths and how they compare to one another here. For now, however, let’s take a look at level one.
When it comes to Ability Score distribution, we’ll be using the points granted by the standard array method of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.
If you use the point buy method or roll your own ability scores, just make sure that Strength is your highest stat, followed by Charisma and Constitution.
Wisdom and Intelligence can be helpful with skills like Perception, Investigation, History, and Religion, whereas Dexterity helps you get out of sticky situations.
All three of these abilities, however, are stats the Paladin can function without.
Race: Half Elf (+1 Any, +1 Any, +2 Charisma)
Ability Score Distribution: STR (16), DEX (8), CON (14), INT (10), WIS (13), CHA (16)
Skills: Race (Athletics, Intimidation), Background (History, Persuasion), Class (Insight, Religion)
Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma
Starting Equipment: Longword (d8 slashing, versatile – d10), Shield, 5x Javelins, Chain Mail, a Holy Symbol, Explorer’s Pack, an Insignia of rank, a trophy taken from a fallen enemy, a deck of cards, and 10 gold pieces.
Languages: Common, Elvish
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
- Green – B Tier. A solid choice, but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or can be very good but only situationally.
- Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
- Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your character.
Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.
While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast.
Paladin Class Features
In addition to the powerful Channel Divinity effects and other abilities granted to you by your chosen Oath, each Paladin progresses by unlocking the following abilities. Let’s take a look at the features that make up the core of the class.
- Hit Points: your hit die is a d10, which puts you on even footing with FIghters and Rangers.
- Divine Sense: As an Action, you learn the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover. You can use this feature a number of times equal to 1 + your Charisma modifier per long rest. While this isn’t going to be useful 100% of the time, the moment where you get to throw this out on a hunch and completely expose a sinister demonic plot is going to feel so good. Mechanically, the fact this doesn’t work on creatures in total cover means this ability of better suited to scanning a large crowd than trying to do some sort of Dark Knight tactical scan of a building.
- Lay on Hands: You gain a pool of healing energy equal to your Paladin level times 5 that replenishes when you take a long rest. You can touch yourself or another creature and restore a number of hit points from the pool, or spend 5 points to cure a creature of disease. Like we mentioned before, this is an incredible ability for getting your allies back in the fight for one last round of combat, or bringing them back with 1 hp so they can valiantly crawl to safety while you finish off the Boss.
- Fighting Style: Choose from a number of features that buff your combat abilities. The Player’s Handbook limits Paladins to the Defense, Dueling, Great Weapon Fighting, and Protection fighting styles.
- Defense: a perfectly useful flat +1 buff to your AC while wearing armor.
- Dueling: get +2 damage when wielding a single one-handed weapon. This is genuinely great, as flat damage buffs really mount up over time, and should usually be favored over a similar spread from a damage die size increase. For example, let’s say you have a Strength bonus of +3. If you’re using a Longsword, which can be used one-handed for a d8 slashing damage or two-handed for a d10 slashing damage, you actually deal more damage using the weapon one handed (1d8 + 5) than two-handed (1d10+3) because you’re applying the difference between the two dice as a flat bonus every time you hit. And you still get to use a shield in your other hand.
- Great Weapon Fighting: reroll ones and twos on damage rolls with two-handed weapons, which is pretty good, although you’ll probably get more raw damage over time from Dueling. I’d advise pairing this style with a weapon that deals 2d6 like a Greatsword rather than 1d12 like a Greataxe so you get to reroll more often.
- Protection: easily the worst of the four; there are loads of other ways to impose disadvantage on your enemies, and forcing your wizard to stand right next to you as opposed to staying safely on the other side of the room to gain the benefits feels counterintuitive. Pass.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything also recently added access to the Blessed Warrior (access to two cleric cantrips), Blind Fighting (gain 10ft of blindsight around you), and Interception (an ever so slightly better at lower levels, way worse at higher levels version of Protection. Also pass.) fighting styles.
- Divine Smite: When you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend one spell slot to deal 2d8 radiant damage to the target, plus another d8 for every spell slot level above 1st. This ability is not only highly effective at low levels, but the fact it’s tied to spell slots means that it scales really well into mid and late tier play.
- Spellcasting: You gain the ability to cast spells from the Paladin spell list using your Charisma modifier, giving you access to additional offensive, defensive, and utility capabilities.
- Sacred Oath: This choice sends you down one of the subclass routes available to a Paladin, granting you special abilities, spells, and defining whether you want to be a champion of justice and goodness, nature and life, wrathful vengeance, conquest, or something else.
- Divine Health: The magic flowing through you makes you immune to disease.
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything also introduces two new optional features for the Paladin at 3rd and 4th level: Harness Divine Power (which lets you burn a use of your Channel Divinity ability to regain a spell slot), and Martial Versatility, which lets you retrain into a different Fighting Style whenever you hit a level with an Ability Score Improvement.
- Extra Attack: Make two weapon attacks with your Action instead of just the one. Along with Fighters and Rangers, Paladins thrive when they have the option to hit things again, or even deal damage to multiple enemies on a single turn *gasp*. But seriously, this is a huge power spike for the class and effectively doubles the chance of you being able to apply a juicy Divine Smite to the Boss on your turn.
- Aura of Protection: Any ally within 10ft of you gets to add your Charisma modifier to their roll whenever they make a saving throw. This is potentially huge. If you’re adding +4 or even +5 to every single saving throw (against grapples, falling objects, spells, psionics, poison – anything) that an ally makes in your vicinity, you’re going to be responsible for saving a lot of lives. Well, I suppose the maximum is technically 15, as that’s the number of allies you can fit within a 10ft radius at any one time (assuming everyone occupies a 5ft space and isn’t willing to stand on top of each other – throw some aarakocra or a sentient swarm of rats into the mix and the possibilities are endless).
- Aura of Courage: Any ally within 10ft of you can’t be affected by the frightened condition while you’re still conscious. Enemies that inflict conditions are somewhat rare in 5e, as I think the Wizards of the Coast design team has figured out that things that strip players of their agency might be badass, but they aren’t fun per se. Being able to negate one of the most commonly inflicted conditions is a great boon to the class, even if you probably won’t be using it on a very regular basis.
- Improved Divine Smite: All your melee attacks deal an extra d8 of radiant damage as you become suffused with holy power and wrath. Much like the extra attack at 5th level, anything that’s going to be consistently letting you dish out more damage every time you hit with your weapon is a great addition to this class. It’s particularly welcome because, over the next few levels, other classes like Wizards start to get really, really scarily effective, and it’s nice to be able to point at your now-permanently flaming sword and say something like “I’m pretty badass too now, guys” right after your Wizard just cast Mass Suggestion, or opened a freaking portal, or just literally disintegrated the dungeon boss with a single spell.
- Cleansing Touch: You can use your action to end one spell on yourself or on one willing creature that you touch a number of times per day equal to your Charisma Modifier. I cannot possibly overstate how powerful this is. There’s no stipulation about the level of the spell you can end, meaning that there’s a great deal of leeway over the sorts of magical effects you can remove from a willing creature. Also, if you have a high charisma, you can potentially throw out this ability five times per long rest, which is massive.
Paladin Ability Scores
- Primary: Charisma, Strength
- Tier II: Constitution
- Tier III: Dexterity, Wisdom
- Absolute Dump Tier: Intelligence
Strength: As a Paladin, your heavy armor and ability to swing a martial weapon depend upon your Strength. There are some slightly weird yet effective Dexterity-based Paladin builds, but nine times out of ten, you’re going to want to prioritize your Strength.
Dexterity: If you want to play a ranged weapon-focused Paladin (which is going to dramatically reduce the effectiveness of your Smite), or one that uses finesse weapons (like a rapier or scimitar), a Dexterity-based build that forgoes traditional plate for medium armor can make good use of this stat. Dexterity is also useful for skills like Stealth, where your heavy armor will have you rolling at disadvantage, so you’ll need all the help you can get. Also, Dexterity saving throws to dodge incoming spells, falling debris, or other environmental hazards are probably the most common type of save you’ll make. Otherwise, this ability is pretty situational and can be ignored in favor of more useful abilities.
Constitution: More hit points are never, ever going to be a bad thing. As a tanky frontline fighter, you need to be tanky, and a good Constitution score is absolutely key.
Intelligence: Intelligence doesn’t really intersect with any of your key abilities and, while it might be useful to boost skills like History or Arcana, there are going to be other characters in your party that do these things better. Leave the thinking to the nerds hiding behind you in the back line.
Wisdom: This ability also doesn’t really synergize with anything that’s core to a Paladin’s build. However, Wisdom is still tied to Perception, which is easily one of the more useful skills in the game, and makes this stat worth prioritizing over Intelligence.
Charisma: As a Paladin, your spellcasting modifier is your Charisma, which is also impactful in social situations and should be one of your main priorities when assigning ability scores. Also, if you take a dip into Hexblade Warlock, your Charisma is also going to become your attack and damage modifier, and is therefore essential.
As a Paladin, you’re going to be prioritizing Strength (for hitting stuff), Constitution (for when you get hit), and Charisma (for other, non-hitting activities like magic).
Therefore, any race that gives you a boost to one (or even two) of these abilities is going to be a great fit.
We’ve chosen three possible races that make for a good basis when building a Paladin. The Variant Human and the Mountain Dwarf are available in the D&D 5e Basic Rules found in the Player’s Handbook.
The rules for Eladrin are from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and the rules for playing a Warforged are found in Eberron: Rising From the Last War.
Humans are known throughout D&D for their versatility, and the Variant Human is no exception. A +1 bonus to two ability scores of your choice (choose Strength and Charisma), and a Feat at level one (like Great Weapon Master, Resilient, or even Telekinetic – more on Feats below) are a great place to start.
Hands down one of the strangest races in the game, the Mountain Dwarf is one of the few races in D&D to get a +2 bonus to two ability scores. To make things even better, those scores are Strength and Constitution.
Also, starting out with some beefy stats means you’ll have more freedom to choose a Feat at level four if you so choose – although it’s probably wiser to round up any even-numbered scores and grab your Feat at level 8. Dwarves are hardy, ornery folk, and make for great Paladins.
A dwarven holy knight protector beneath the mountain is a really interesting spin on the classic woodland warden. Perhaps you’re a guardian of a gate between the surface world and the perilous Underdark, with curling ram’s horns jutting from your helmet and a greataxe wreathed in cold blue fire.
Also, as a Dwarf, your movement speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor (which almost makes up for the fact that your stubby little legs don’t go so fast to begin with).
If you’re going down the Dexterity-based Paladin route, the Eladrin is a great choice. These fey elves not only get a +2 bonus to Dexterity, but a small boost to their Charisma. Also, you can use Fey Step to teleport into the middle of a group of enemies and throw out your Conquering Presence to disrupt an enemy attack in an instant.
For an added cherry on top of this already very dangerous cake, the additional abilities tied to your Fey Step use Charisma to determine their saving throws.
The biomechanical war machines of the Eberron setting make for great Paladins. They naturally lean towards lawful alignments, get a +2 bonus to Constitution, and their jack-of-all-trades ability to boost another stat by 1 lets you take the race in any direction you choose.
Also, from a thematic point of view, an unstoppable metal warrior that doesn’t need to sleep or eat, marching across the battlefield with sword drawn is deeply frightening and gives off serious Terminator vibes. “Hasta la vista, baby.” *Smite*
Also Good: Noble (Knight), Far Traveler
Backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history, and your primary source of skills.
Each background also has its own special feature – which I maintain are a criminally underused aspect of D&D.
As a Paladin with Charisma and Strength as your Primary Attributes, choosing backgrounds that grant you access to skills that use those abilities can be a good way to go.
The Soldier background is the only one in the Player’s Handbook that gives you access to Charisma (Intimidation) and Strength (Athletics) based skills, which is great.
While the Noble (Knight) background is definitely more of a narrative choice than a strictly mechanical one, the three Retainers that you are granted are always useful to have around, and the skill proficiencies in History and Persuasion don’t totally suck.
The Far Traveler is a great thematic and mechanical fit for a Paladin if you want to play them as a wandering knight in the vein of the mighty heroes from Arthurian myth. They’re wanderers from unimaginably distant lands, friends of the elves, or born into ancient and powerful city-states ruled by conclaves of archmages.
You get access to Perception (hands down one of the game’s most useful skills) and Insight, as well as the ability to leverage your exotic strangeness into an audience with local nobles or NPCs. If you want to play a slightly alien curiosity, a stranger in a strange land, then this is a great background for you.
The Paladin’s starting skill list isn’t actually all that amazing, as many of them rely on Intelligence or Wisdom – stats you have little use for otherwise.
When you create your character, choose two from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion, and Religion.
Athletics: A great addition to any high-Strength character.
Insight: Useful for reading someone who’s acting suspiciously, but you’re probably better off intimidating them into giving up their secrets instead.
Intimidation: Speak softly and carry a very, very big sword. Your high Charisma is going to make you a very scary person indeed. I’m not suggesting you use this skill for all of your social interactions, but it will probably get you through most awkward chats with shopkeepers with some kind of discount and, hopefully, without a call to the city watch.
Medicine: This is easily the worst skill in the game, and rendered even less useful by your Lay on Hands ability, which is basically what Medicine would look like if it actually worked.
Persuasion: Another great pickup that synergizes with your high Charisma.
Religion: A good narrative choice, as a lot of Paladins tend to fall under some sort of quasi-religious association, but not that mechanically good. There’s probably going to be another character in your party with better Intelligence, so best leave those skills to them.
D&D (and, by extension, the people who play it) has to do some mental gymnastics with a lot of character classes when it comes to the slightly grey area between 1st level and 3rd, when your character selects their subclass and really cements their identity.
This is particularly noticeable with Paladins because, while your magic powers ostensibly spring from your Sacred Oath, you don’t swear said Oath until 3rd level, meaning that you’ve already spent some time using Divine Smite, laying on hands, and casting “divine” magic.
The rules explain this away as the fact that a 1st and 2nd level Paladin is still in training, or still weighing their decision over which Oath to swear like they’re a freshman pledge trying to pick a frat house.
“Up to this time you have been in a preparatory stage, committed to the path but not yet sworn to it.” Now, however, it’s time to commit.
The Sacred Oath that you swear forms the heart of your Paladin, both from a mechanical and roleplaying perspective. Your Oath might establish you as a well-intentioned champion of justice and righteousness, or as a stalwart defender of a sacred forest.
You might even choose to embody the more morally grey tenets of the Oath of Conquest, valuing might and authority above such petty distinctions between Good and Evil.
Your choice of Sacred Oath grants you unique class features at 3rd level and again at 7th, 15th, and 20th level – your “capstone” ability. Those features include oath spells and the Channel Divinity feature.
There are eight Paladin subclasses to choose from. If you want a full comparative breakdown of the different oaths available to you (as well as information on the Paladin’s infamous cousin, the Oathbreaker) then you can check out our article ranking all the Paladin oaths in D&D 5e.
The Oath of Conquest: might definitely makes right for this powerful battlefield controller and tank that excels at instilling fear en masse in its enemies before cutting them to ribbons with tyrannical glee.
The Oath of Devotion: The most “Paladin” Paladin that ever did Paladin. This Oath doubles down on everything that a classical idea of the Paladin embodies, emphasizing goodness, justice, and backing it up with the ability to turn back the forces of darkness (and a fairly insipid spell list).
The Oath of Glory: First released as part of D&D’s Greek Mythology-inspired setting in Mythic Odysseys of Theros, the Oath of Glory is intended to replicate the superhuman athletic feats of legendary heroes like Theseus, Hercules, and Achilles.
This oath mixes athletic prowess with a smattering of useful support abilities, but (according to Scott, who also writes for this site and has some serious beef with this subclass) doesn’t really measure up or make you feel all that heroic.
Oath of Redemption: One of the most interesting Paladin subclasses, the Oath of Redemption heavily reworks this martial class into a supernaturally persuasive pacifist with the ability to really sit down and gently convince hordes goblins that maybe a life of crime isn’t in their best interests and that they should probably all run along home to check up on their mothers.
Oath of the Ancients: A bulwark that stands between the forces of unnatural corruption and the fragile light of the natural world. Paladins who swear the Oath of the Ancients mix Druidic abilities with some very powerful defensive features for a nature-themed guardian of the forest with incredible survivability.
Oath of the Crown: The underwhelming younger sibling of the Oath of Conquest. Paladins who swear the Oath of the Crown focus on martial combat, dueling, and generally being the naively privileged agents of authoritarian power. Easily the least based subclass, with a lukewarm feature list to boot.
Oath of the Watchers: Easily the most hyper-focused Paladin oath, the Oath of the Watchers is all about countering extraplanar threats. You become a master of fighting demons, angels, the fey folk, and just about any other nasty life form that crawls out of the interdimensional woodwork.
The drawback is that you’re not going to be particularly good at dealing with threats from within your own world, which means that this subclass could either be amazing or fall completely flat based on the campaign you’re playing in.
Oath of Vengeance: If the Paladin’s ability to charge across the map and take down everything from fire-breathing dragons to evil sorcerers in single combat is what appeals to you about this class, then the Oath of Vengeance is for you.
This subclass blends a little bit of battlefield control with the best single-target damage output of any Paladin oath. It also has a pretty exciting (if somewhat edgy) backstory baked in.
Feats are the subject of a fair amount of debate in D&D 5e.
Some people argue that they’re an underpowered and unnecessary overcomplication of an already complicated game; some people claim they’re overpowered, and some people say that if a +2 bonus to Constitution was good enough for their father and his father before him it’s good enough for them and the kids these days don’t know how good they’ve got it; and so on.
The truth is that even a +1 bonus to an ability score is going to affect the outcome of your rolls more often than any feat. So, if your stats feel lacking, or you have any ability scores hovering one point away from the next modifier increase, you’re probably better off just grabbing stats.
It’s true that some Feats also boost an ability score by 1, so you’re only losing out on a one point increase instead of two, but these Feats tend to be kind of underwhelming, which makes the extra stat point feel like a bit of a consolation prize or bribe.
However, if you’re happy with your ability scores, and would rather pick up something a little more flavorful than a plain old ability score bump, here are a few options that synergize well with the Paladin.
As a quick aside, If you’re interested in Feats, one of the best races to play is a Variant Human. The +1 bonus you receive to two ability scores of your choice, and the free Feat at 1st level make for a really good start to the class, particularly if you pick one of the feats below.
Martial Adept: Since the launch of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything dramatically expanded the list of Maneuvers, the Martial Adept Feat has become a fantastic pickup for a bit of extra damage and battlefield control.
When you pick up this Feat, you learn two maneuvers of your choice from the Battle Master archetype, and you gain a d6 superiority die which resets on a short rest.
There are a bunch of Maneuvers that can enhance your abilities in combat, but the one we’d recommend is Brace. When an enemy you can see moves within 5ft of you, you can use your reaction to expend one superiority die and make one weapon attack against that creature.
If the attack hits, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll. Now, throw a Divine Smite on top of that damage for good measure, and both your damage output and survivability (enemies can’t hit you if you’ve already melted their faces off with fire) go way up.
Alert: +5 to initiative, you can’t be surprised, and creatures you don’t see don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you. Because your Dexterity (and therefore initiative bonus) will probably be low, this Feat helps you get into the fight faster, outmaneuver your enemies, and protect your allies.
Lucky: This is a great Feat on just about any class. Reroll a d20 (attack, check, or save), or force an enemy to reroll their attack 3 times per long rest.
For a subclass that’s all about imposing disadvantage, it can never hurt to have more ways to make your enemies miss an attack.
Gearing Up: What To Have At Level 1
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (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
Paladins are one of the few classes (Clerics and Fighters being the only others) to get heavy armor from first level. This is huge, and is a massive boost to your survivability.
You also are going to get to choose between two martial weapons (this is kind of useless, as Paladins can’t choose the dual-wielding fighting style – although I guess you could pick up the dual wielder Feat, which would sort of get you there – and you’re going to be hot trash with ranged martial weapons like the longbow) and one martial weapon and a shield.
We’d advise picking up a longsword (which deals 1d8 slashing damage when used one-handed, and can also be used two-handed for a d10 of slashing damage) and a shield.
At 2nds level, you can pick up the dueling fighting style and boost that d8 of damage by an extra two on each attack, which means you end up doing more damage over time than if you were wielding most weapons with a higher single damage die two-handed.
Also, the shield means you’ll be starting out with an AC of 18, which is more than most low-challenge monsters and mooks will be able to get through.
The Paladin also gets either five javelins or any simple melee weapon. Because thrown weapons use Strength instead of Dexterity, this is basically your only shot at getting any sort of ranged attack – and five sharp things that you can throw are better than one.
You also get to choose between the Priest’s Pack and the Explorer’s Pack. Probably 80% of the time (unless you’re playing a thoroughly political or urban campaign) the Explorer’s Pack is going to be the right call. It contains a backpack, a bedroll, a mess kit, a tinderbox, 10 torches, 10 days of rations, and a waterskin.
The pack also has 50 feet of hempen rope strapped to the side of it. The Priest’s pack is just straight-up-worse and contains a backpack, a blanket, 10 candles, a tinderbox, an alms box, 2 blocks of incense, a censer, vestments, 2 days of rations, and a waterskin.
Later Equipment to Prioritize
Full Plate: Once you start accumulating some serious gold, you’re going to want to find a way to get your hands on a set of Plate armor.
Not only does this complete the Paladin’s traditional “look” of a steel-clad knight of yore, but outside of magical items, it’s the best way to get your AC (assuming you twin your full Plate with a shield for an additional +2 AC) all the way up to 20.
Synergies and Multiclassing
Because of some of the class’ inherent drawbacks, like a lack of ways to damage multiple enemies or a limited pool of spells slots, the Paladin can end up being reliant on allies to make up for its shortcomings.
It’s worth noting that some subclasses (like the Oath of Conquest) rely on synergies more than others (the Oath of Vengeance, for example) which have abilities that make them pretty self-sufficient.
Also, because Paladins can bring a real mixture of damage, control, defense, healing, and support utility to any party, there aren’t many adventuring groups where a Paladin isn’t a welcome addition. Whether or not your slightly pompous knightly demeanor and strict moral code will be welcome as well is another matter entirely.
In this section, we’ve broken down a few of the other classes that synergize well with just about any Paladin, as well as taking a look at common choices for multiclassing.
Paladins are one of the most frequently-multiclassed types of character in D&D 5e, although it’s worth noting that, when it comes to multiclassing, the Paladin usually gets the short end of the Holy Avenger.
Because Paladins get a whole bunch of extra proficiencies (of the martial and heavy armor variety) out of the gate, dipping into Paladin for access to platemail is more common than a Paladin dipping into Sorcerer for a firebolt.
The Wizard – The Perfect Pair
In terms of both utility and raw damage output, nothing in the game beats a high-level wizard. Seriously, once you start getting into 9th level spell territory, Wizards can really start to break the game as they rewind time, wipe entire cities off the map, and can low-key rewrite the rules of reality at least once a day.
However, the road to demi-godhood is long and fraught. A level one wizard lives every day like a wounded penguin: small, and one wrong move away from being shark, seal, orca, or even bird food.
Even Kobolds, one of the most common and decidedly weeny enemies in the game, can knock down a level one Wizard with a single hit and high damage roll.
The 1d4 + 2 piercing damage inflicted by a Kobold’s dagger means that, if your Wizard didn’t put any serious points into Constitution (and why would they?) one good stab is all it takes to persuade them to take an indefinite nap.
Pairing a Paladin with a Wizard is a great shout. As a beefy tank, you’ll stand at the front, smiting enemies, laughing as their feeble Kobold blades bounce off your high AC, and generally creating the time and space for your Wizard to thumb through their spellbook and pick out something that can dish out some real damage to everyone in the room.
I would recommend pairing a melee-focused Paladin with an Evocation Wizard, however. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the same zone as your Wizard’s prime fireball targets, so ensuring they have the ability to not burn you to a crisp alongside your foes is really just the polite thing to do.
Rogues thrive on their enemies looking the other way while they creep up behind them for a clean, merciless strike. Standing stoically in the front line, as enemy swords clang against your shield and armor, is basically a rogue’s idea of heaven. Also, many of the controller abilities that various subclasses grant you might as well be named “Murder Buffet – ROGUES EAT FREE”.
To the casual observer, Clerics and Paladins might appear to be quite similar. Both are heavily armored healers that excel at keeping their allies alive while dishing out serious amounts of radiant damage.
However, there are some subtle distinctions that make Clerics and Paladins a lot less of a redundant combination than you might think.
While Clerics do wear heavy armor – usually twinned with a big hammer for effective heathen-smiting, their defensive abilities in combat don’t necessarily translate into high single-target damage; Clerics are better at applying damage to large swarms of foes with area of effect spells (somewhere the Paladin falls short).
Also, while Paladins make great medics, the Cleric can be played as a dedicated healer, meaning that the Paladin gets to spend more time doing what it’s best at; smiting heathens while the Cleric looks on approvingly.
Easily the most popular Paladin multiclass pairing. The Paladin’s extra hit points help to compensate for the Sorcerer’s natural squishiness. There are a number of combinations you can pull off between a Paladin and Sorcerer that turn you into a force to be reckoned with in combat.
Once your Paladin has access to Smite, you can use the Sorcerer’s magic to gain access to more higher level spell slots earlier on.
This multiclass build almost exclusively goes down the route of the Hexblade Warlock.
Choosing a Hexblade patron basically lets you abandon all your other stats in favor of Charisma, which becomes your attack and damage bonus, and spellcasting ability.
Twin this with Pact of the Blade at 3rd level and you can start manifesting pact weapons and using them to smite your foes with extreme prejudice.
Beginner’s Guide to Playing a Paladin
The Paladin is easily one of the best, most narratively interesting classes that you can play in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. They’re powerful warriors, versed in the use of heavy armor and martial weaponry that makes them second only to the Fighter (and debatably the Barbarian) at dishing out a beating in hand-to-hand combat.
They’re also competent magic users, with powers that stem from the divine domain of magic, making them versatile spellcasters capable of raining down holy hellfire one minute and healing their wounded comrades the next.
These two core pillars of the Paladin class might initially suggest that you’re basically a hybrid between a Fighter and a Cleric – jack of two trades, not quite as good as either, or so the saying kind of goes.
And you’d sort of be right. If you’re looking to crack skulls without worrying about managing spell slots or the irritating constraints of stuff like morality and honor, you’re probably better off picking up a fighter.
If you want to throw out healing spells and bring down the wrath of the gods upon your foes, a Cleric might be the way to go. But, if you want a little bit of both, the Paladin has you covered.
More importantly, the Class makes up for being a little bit less good at swinging a sword than a Fighter, and having fewer spell slots than a Cleric, with a host of unique and powerful abilities.
From your Divine Smite – which lets you deal radiant damage from the tip of your flaming sword by the cupped handful of eight-sided dice – to your Lay On Hands and suite of unique Auras, if you choose to play a Paladin, you’re in for one of the most unique and interesting experiences you can have in D&D.
And that’s before we even get to talking about your Sacred Oath.
First, however, let’s talk about the origins of the Paladin in history, folklore, and myth, as well as how it became one of the enduring archetypes of modern pop culture.
The Paladins (a name which means “twelve peers” – although it also relates to the Roman title palatinus, meaning one of the Emperor’s most trusted officials) were legendary figures in the court of the mythical French King Charlamagne.
They were twelve mythic knight who embodied the highest ideals of chivalric honor, adventuring through a mythical para-historical France in search of damsels to rescue, foes to slay, and debts to dutifully observe.
Later on, the myth of Charlamagne and his 12 paragons of virtue would cross the English channel to mingle with Celtic and Saxon mythology, reappearing centuries later as the legends of Arthur Pendragon and the Knights of the Round Table.
As an interesting side note, both Arthurian lore and the stories of Charlamagne’s 12 paladins are suggested by some to have been widely promoted by the royalty and clergy of 12th century Europe, as a form of training manual or propaganda in order to spread the code of chivalry among the knightly classes of the day.
Those knights – little more than armored thugs on horseback – were swayed by the stories of these goodly knights, and began to embrace the courtly behavior and honorable conduct in the stories, greatly influencing our modern conception of the medieval knight. Anyway…
Paladins probably made their way into the mind of Dungeons & Dragons’ creator, Gary Gygax, via the 1961 fantasy novel Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson, in which a a Danish engineer fighting in World War Two is shot and wakes up in a parallel fantasy universe in which Charlamagne is real.
The book is, honestly, kinda weird. It reads a bit like Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court but is way, way stranger and somehow more pompous.
Regardless, the main character – who goes on a quest to find a magic sword, after which he finds out he is actually a legendary hero of law, vanquishes the forces of chaos, gets transported back to his own world, kills a bunch of nazis, and goes on to play an important role in the Manhattan Project! (it’s an absolutely wild book) – is often cited as the entry of the Paladin into modern pop culture, and left an indelible mark on D&D as a result.
Now, before we move on, it is worth mentioning that, while Paladins didn’t officially enter the game as a playable class in their own right until the game’s ill-fated 3rd Edition in 2000, earlier renditions of the Fighter were, in many respects, Paladins in their own right.
The fingerprints of the Paladin archetype are all over modern pop culture. From the flaming sword-wielding Beric Dondarrion in A Song of Ice and Fire, to the vengeful bride Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill. There’s even a compelling argument that Darth Vader might be the most iconic Paladin of all time (although it’s likely that he would count as an Oathbreaker).
Almost 50 years on, the Paladin is a mainstay of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. While the class is usually conceived of in the community as an uptight do-gooder – an Arthurian knight living in a time when our collective sensibilities have moved on somewhat – there are more than one ways to skin a tabaxi.
Paladins can be holy champions of light and goodness, sure, but they can also be warmongering tyrants, daring glory hounds, stalwart guardians of sacred forests, and the Forgotten Realms’ version of the Men in Black.
The core of what defines a Paladin is their Sacred Oath. This vow, a solemn commitment to uphold a set of ideals, is what grants them their magical powers. It’s as if some kind of cosmic pinkie swears gave you the ability to cure diseases by touching them and wreathe your sword in holy fire.
There’s a common misconception that a Paladin’s oath needs to be sworn to a deity of some sort, and that they are exclusively holy warriors. While there are plenty of Paladins that do bind themselves in service to a god, and plenty that are members of quasi-holy paramilitary orders of questing knights, this is by no means essential.
It’s just as likely that a Paladin is a sworn protector of the natural world, and channels the otherworldly powers of the fey folk in their defense; or is devoted to the subjugation of their enemies; or just wants revenge so bad that they, uh, get magic powers. Fantasy is weird, huh?
There are a million and one ways to characterize a Paladin, and they can be some of the most interesting, exciting, satisfying classes to roleplay and play from a mechanical point of view.
So fire up that holy sword, good sir knight, there’s evil that needs smiting.
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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.