What Is Vow of Enmity?
Vow of Enmity is a specific channel-divinity option available to the Oath of Vengeance paladin. It allows the paladin to declare a target as the target of their wrath and grants bonuses to them accordingly.
This channel divinity option reads as follows:
Vow of Enmity. As a bonus action, you can utter a vow of enmity against a creature you can see within 10 feet of you, using your Channel Divinity. You gain advantage on attack rolls against the creature for 1 minute or until it drops to 0 hit points or falls unconscious.
As far as features go, this is pretty straightforward, but let’s talk about exactly how it works so you can be confident in using this ability.
First off, we have to remember that this isn’t a spell or just an ordinary feature. It’s a channel-divinity option, which means it’s tied to our base-class feature, Channel Divinity. This feature can only be used once, and then you must take a short or long rest to be able to use it again.
Unlike a lot of abilities, this doesn’t scale with your proficiency bonus or any of your modifiers, which means from day one to the last day of a campaign, you’ll only be using channel divinity once or twice each day.
As for the option itself, it is activated with a bonus action. Paladins don’t have to use too many bonus-action abilities, but you should still check your other options to make sure you’re using things in the best possible order.
You utter the Vow of Enmity against a creature you can see within 10 feet of you. That’s pretty close range, which tells us the Oath of Vengeance paladin is made to be a melee combatant. The reliance on sight is also important because this will be impossible to activate in the unfortunate circumstance where you become blinded.
Once everything is set up and you’ve named your target, you now have advantage on attack rolls against the creature for 1 minute or until it drops to 0 hit points or falls unconscious. This is a long time. One minute is essentially an entire combat, so you’ll probably end up keeping advantage for the whole combat, much like a barbarians rage ability.
If you didn’t know yet, advantage is a mechanic in D&D regarding your dice rolls. Normally, to attack you would roll a d20. When you have advantage, you instead roll two d20 and use the higher roll. This dramatically increases your odds of success and is one of the best things that can happen for an attacker.
It should also be noted that this advantage applies to your attacks. It does not specify melee, ranged, or spell attacks, meaning you gain this advantage no matter how you decide to dish out damage. The only thing that would be exempt from this is if you force the target to make a saving throw. Since they’re rolling the dice instead of you, your advantage doesn’t come into play.
Rules in 5e are often pretty cut and dry, but they don’t often account for every possible situation out there. Even if they do, there’s still the matter of RAW (rules as written) vs. RAI (rules as intended). There’s also the infamous “rules as interpreted,” which can really open a can of worms at the game table.
For Vow of Enmity, a simple and straightforward ability, that’s still definitely the case. One example that’s commonly brought up has to do with an Oath of Vengeance paladin being polymorphed after it has used its Vow of Enmity.
Some believe that the vow ends since the paladin no longer has access to any of their features. Others take the wording of the feature to be cut and dry on when it ends (1 minute, the creature dropping to 0 hit points, the creature being knocked unconscious).
A lot of this comes from the discussion about Rage and Polymorph. Specifically, Polymorph states that a creature has its game statistics replaced when they change form. Jeremy Crawford, an employee of WotC and the definitive rules lawyer, states that this ends Rage because it is a class feature and, therefore, a statistic that would be replaced.
I disagree wholeheartedly since Rage (and by extension, Vow of Enmity) state the specific conditions that end them once they have been brought on line. Since Vow of Enmity says “you” gain advantage for the specified period of time and polymorph isn’t changing who “you” are, I would definitely rule that the effect doesn’t end.
Another weird situation is attempting to use a vow of enmity on an illusion. What happens then?
Well, some people believe that you would waste your use of channel divinity. My response, as a DM, would be, “you cannot seem to activate your vow of enmity.” It doesn’t matter whether or not you think the illusion is a creature. If it’s not a creature, it’s not a creature. Vow of Enmity specifically states that it must target a “creature,” which makes this problem easy to deal with.
There are sometimes errata that are published to modify the rules as written to better deliver on the creator’s intentions, but as far as I know, Vow of Enmity has not received such treatment.
So, if you find yourself in a weird situation and are curious how the situation would change Vow of Enmity, just revert back to the specifics of the rules. It’s very clear on what it can target and how it can end. Anything else is going beyond rules as written.
When Should I Use Vow of Enmity?
Vow of Enmity should be saved for powerful creatures that you can’t seem to hit. Since you can only use it once a day, it’s far better to save it and not need it than to waste it and end up needing it.
Advantage is a huge benefit, especially if it’s going to last all of combat. It makes no sense to use this on a wimpy enemy like some random goblin minion.
Unlike rage, wild shape, or other minute-long features, you really have to be picky here. Find the biggest bad on the battlefield, and even after that, you should still wait before declaring your vow. Try to hit them a few times. If you’re rolling average numbers and still hitting, don’t waste the vow. If you can’t seem to land a hit, even with decent rolls, give yourself advantage, and lay into them.
You also need to take into consideration your other channel divinity option. Abjure Enemy lets you frighten a creature for 1 minute or until it takes damage, reducing its speed to 0. Even on a successful save, it still has its speed cut in half until it takes damage.
The question then becomes, “Do I want to kill a creature or capture it?” If you’re going for the throat, enmity is a better option. If you need them alive, abjure them, and find a way to imprison them for when the effect ends.
Beyond that, you should make sure that you can make the most of your advantage. When you do hit, you should definitely be using a smite or two, especially if you’ve managed to get a critical hit on your foe. Do whatever you can to really make your enemies pay for crossing you.
I hope this article has given you all the information you need on the Vow of Enmity feature. As always, happy adventuring.