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D&D 5E Are Paladins Merely Mediocre Multiclass Fighter/Clerics?


A suffusion of yellow
The Paladin started as a Knight with holy blessings, its now developed to become a self healing Smite machine that can also heal others. It should really go back to being a Fighter subclass so that people stop comparing it to Cleric, though Paladin as a class has allowed for some funky subclasses

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Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
And now it has left me wondering if paladins are really that great of a choice from a purely game mechanics perspective if your goal is play an effective, frontlines, holy warrior. Is, perhaps, a war domain cleric a better choice? (For purposes of this post, I'm not considering narrative reasons to play one class over another. That's an entirely different conversation.)
No, I don't think so. Paladin is a full-on frontline heavy infantry class with some combat support and combat services support capability. Whereas, a cleric, even a war domain cleric, is combat support and combat services support. They can fill in for heavy infantry, but that isn't where their true strength lies.

I wanted to address the narratives of the classes because some of the conversation has touched on that. To me, the cleric is a holy warrior of a particular deity, whereas the paladin is the champion of an alignment. The character Holger Carlsen from Three Hearts and Three Lions is the prime example.


Yeah, I certainly would never called paladins mediocre. They are very, very strong classes.

And I'm going to disagree with the idea that the sub-classes are an "add on". Both my Vengeance Paladin and my Conquest Paladin played very, very differently from each other. My Conquest Paladin was heavily based on the character of Lucifer from the TV show - gregarious, scheming. My Vengeance paladin was totally different - dour and consumed with killing dragons.

I find the sub-classes in paladins to actually be pretty flavorful to be honest.


If you consider Lay on Hands in terms of equivalent spell slots of healing spells like the cleric would probably have to use,

Less than you would think. A 3rd level cleric can use one 2nd level slot and prayer of healing to heal 8d6+4xWis (40hps) in a party of 4 players (and more with more PCs in the party). A 5th level Cleric can use a 3rd level slot and Aura of Vitality to heal 20d6 (70hps). That is one spell slot at 3rd and 5th level to match LOH for a 8th and 14th level Paladin respectively .... and they can get that slot back with CD.

That is using them out of combat of course, POH can't be used effectively in combat and AOV is far less spectacular in combat. However in combat the big thing is bringing back downed allies. In this respect Healing Word and Aid are king. Both of these can bring back allies at range, HW is a bonus action and Aid can bring back more than one ally in one turn. LOH really can't compete with these. In combat LOH is hamstrung by being an action, only affecting one ally and being touch. Paladins get Aid, but it is two levels later and there is a higher opportunity cost to using it (both for the action and for the lost smite) and of the two good combat healing spells, Aid is more situational.
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Greg K

My only major complaint is that I want a Paladin's classs spell list removed and each subclass to receive a unique spell list entirely based upon the theme of the subclass's oath.

Exactly. Paladins as they are now essentially get most of their interesting abilities from the main class progression and the subclasses really only kick in very occasionally to offer some thematic flair or a single ability that makes your paladin... a little more, protectory or lawful I guess.

I think asymmetrical subclass importance at large is just a huge problem in 5E though, there are some classes where your subclass can change almost your entire playstyle (which is good!) and lots, like the Paladin, the Ranger, to a certain extent the Druid, maybe the Sorc, who don't feel that different regardless of which subclass you play.
This isn't a problem, this is by design, as talked about by both Mearls and Crawford in the past.

And now it has left me wondering if paladins are really that great of a choice from a purely game mechanics perspective if your goal is play an effective, frontlines, holy warrior. Is, perhaps, a war domain cleric a better choice? (For purposes of this post, I'm not considering narrative reasons to play one class over another. That's an entirely different conversation.)
The paladin is an absolutely top tier class and in terms of "naive effectiveness" - that is the effectiveness of the class in the hands of someone who isn't burrowing deep into the rules and mechanics it is probably the best class in the game, with a skill floor around that of the champion fighter or totem warrior barbarian and a peak effectiveness probably exceeding the war cleric outside tier 4. Smite is an excellent mechanic to enable people who don't want to have to memorise a ridiculous spell list still be effective as a caster.
Paladins are behind the level curve in terms of when they receive channel divinity (level 3 vs a cleric's level 2) and when they receive spells levels (2nd-level slot at 5th level vs a cleric's 3rd level, 3rd-level slots at 9th level vs a cleric's 5th level, 4th level slots at 13th level vs a cleric's 7th level, etc.), they never gain 6th or higher level spells slots, etc.
And if you want to play a holy caster who can hang on the front lines then the cleric is better. Meanwhile the Paladin is a holy warrior who can cast- and gets things like a second attack at level 5 and one of the two best saving throws in the game (behind only the level 14 monk) thanks to their aura, making them arguably the toughest class in the game.
I tend to run long campaigns that span the level range, but when you consider that according to D&D Beyond data the average campaign ends by 7th level one wonders if paladins ever get much chance to shine. Well, I'm not sure if one wonders, but I sure do. B-)
They absolutely do. At tier 1 the warriors are probably ahead; the casters aren't yet getting the advantage of their versatility and cantrip damage is pretty bad. Lay on hands is almost 1 use per level of Cure Wounds. And Fighting Style gives them a higher consistent damage than the cleric, while Divine Smite gives them some of the highest burst damage; the cleric is the one that struggles to shine. At low Tier 2 Extra Attack is one of the strongest abilities in the game, and the second level spells are a huge boost to both utility and burst damage from smites. And then the Aura of Protection is also one of the strongest abilities in the game.

The average Eldritch Knight would give their left arm to be as good at being a multiclass fighter/wizard as the paladin is at being a fighter/cleric.

And thematically the paladin isn't just a multiclass fighter/cleric. It basically was until about 2010, but Oaths explore different territory to (and in a far more interesting way than) domains.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
All characters are just types of 'adventurer'. It's just about how much you want to subdivide it. Clerics are a type of wizard, right? Just with different spells. Rangers are fighter/rogues with some nature skills. Barbarians are just angry fighters. Everybody's just an archetype of 'adventurer'.

Or maybe just two classes--"Fighty" and "Magicky". You can make a ranger or a druid or a paladin out of those with the right multiclassing and skill choices. A rogue is Fighty but has lots of skills. A druid is Magicky but their spells are all about trees. Your paladin is a Fighty/Magicky multi class with Religion proficiency. How simple do you want to go, or how detailed?

I lean the other way. Take a concept and give it the full deluxe treatment you can only get from a class. Have a thousand classes, all given loving detail. A class too niche for your tastes? Don't use it. I'd be happy with a Rat Catcher class and a Musketeer class, each with unique features, treated in-depth. Every class a joy to discover and play. Some will get used more than others, sure, but each is unique.

But it's all down to taste. Boil every concept all down into bland variations of a handful of classes or go into excruciating detail on each, or anything in-between. Count me in for a thousand classes! But there's no wrong answer here. It's really just a question of taste.

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