5E Cleric vs Paladin: Concepts and Mechanical realisation

So the “Why ever play a cleric? “ got me thinking about the Cleric/Paladin stepping on each others toes issue.

At a glance they both seem very similar, pious warriors in clanky armour, imbued with the ability to invoke divine magic striking down enemies of the faith.

However I've noticed that some people are very much drawn to the idea of playing a cleric, but not at all to playing paladins, and visa versa. Some people do like them both.

They obviously always run on different rules and had different roles in every edition, the cleric is the stronger spellcaster and the paladin is the stronger fighter, but have these differences felt so clear when conceptualising a character?

So
What is the difference, in your mind between the archetype of the Cleric and a Paladin?
Does one or both interest you as character concepts?
And
Do you feel 5E does a good job of mechanically supporting the identity of the Cleric vs/and/or the Paladin?
Also unusual directions that people have taken the concept of their clerics and paladins is interesting to.

For me:
The 2E AD&D PHB shaped my conception of D&D, even though I didn't play it much. I found it interesting that it specifically mentioned the Knights Templar were listed as inspirations for the Cleric, not the Paladin. And the 2E DMG mentioned that Paladins are too rare for organisations to exist bigger than the Knights of the Round table.

The Cleric is a priest, a holy man of a faith, even if that holiness is corrupted and decadent.

The Paladin is a knight or rather the Arthurian ideal of what a knight should be as a champion of honour, chivalry and virtue. For this reason a Paladin could not be a Paladin if they fell from grace.

With less emphasis on explaining concepts in relation to real world history and mythology, I think 3E making the paladin a more generic "holy warrior of their chosen god" drew the cleric and paladin closer together in concept. It was just that Paladins could fall... for some reason... despite seemingly having less divine mojo than the cleric.
Likewise in 4E with the concept of the "Divine Investiture" for both clerics and paladins meant they were primarily defined by their roles and powers, not concepts. The idea the gods couldn't actually strip a cleric or paladin of their powers if they misbehaved was one I actually rather liked.

Of course these archetypes can be taken far from their base, with Clerics being followers of abstract concepts rather than gods and paladins being Quixotic drunkards (literally perhaps!) or Holy Assassins.

In this way the concept of the Paladin's Oath I think greatly reinforces this, as it moves the paladins slightly further away from the gods of the world, whilst acknowledging that a paladin might well swear their Oaths before a god. Similarly I see the three Oaths as different takes on “Good” beyond Alignment: Crudely summerised as Honour (Oath of Devotion), Beauty (Oath of the Ancients) or Justice (Oath Of Vengeance).

The Cleric domains meanwhile provide a great deal of customisation such that the trickery and knowledge clerics feel quite distinct from a Tempest or War cleric, despite sharing a similar spell list and class abilities.
Oddly although the Paladin Oath and Cleric Domains are actually very similar in how they alter their primary class, this serves to make them feel quite distinct.

(Had fun in a recent short campaign with an Oath of Vengeance Paladin who was an ex-gang enforcer who received a divine vision from Saint Cynthia the Flayed as his family burnt alive for his crimes he committed and his service as her champion in a hopeless quest for redemption. The creed of his god is simply "Injustice exists because of weakness and cowardice" "No injustice is ever forgiven", so he is fully aware he can never find atonement by his god.)
 
Last edited:

sunrisekid

Explorer
You make a lot of good points. I myself, after many years, noticed that clerics were consistently the least popular class, with frrequent confusion as to their separation from the Paladin. Frankly, I see one or the other but not both. Other players have had very different experiences, of course, judging by the other thread.

Personally, I have never liked the cleric, largly because of the closeness to the paladin. I can't think of a notable story or film that has D&D style clerics. In my opinion, the cleric-as-templar was displaced by the better-conceived paladin. Clerics of "all those other domains" just don't have any narratively consistent place that isn't simply a creative shoe-horning of concepts to get players to play clerics. That's a ridiculous statement for a lot of people, I know. The cleric, which entered canon almost immediately after the game was invented, itself became a template class imported into video games and such for several decades, and has cemented itself into the foundations of gaming normalcy for a great many players. I don't disagree with other players enjoyment of the class.

Personally, in my game, I would rather the cleric was simply gone. Paladin takes the role of theological/fanatical conduit of the gods who slays non-believers, or is the Lancelot or whatever. Give healing spells to some sort of wizard-variant. Remember the shaman character from the 1982 Conan film? Somehow that guy makes way more sense, to me, as someone who does "magic healing". But that's just own personal opinion, and is huge departure from the core game.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I like them both. And for reasons you've said. I've always held that that classes are more than just mechanical bits. They are also flavor and role-playing. For me, that's one of the reasons why I play D&D and not just a boardgame--I enjoy the RP parts of it.

Clerics are the holy servants of their deity, and do what they can to do the deity's will (in most cases try to spread the faith, etc). Paladins are more personal. They don't try to go around converting everyone, but live by a personal code tied to their personal beliefs, and their devotion is based on how they act personally.

And their roles are a bit different. A cleric's role is largely support. They have a ton of versatility, and many options to make the party more effective. Paladins, again, are more focused on improving themselves with their primary role: holy warriors. They have some things that help the party, but are more focused on handing out the wrath/punishment of those who threaten his or her deity. They are built for battle, while clerics can do well in it, but are more focused on utility and support.

Even when comparing a cleric of war to a paladin, the cleric is the soldier, while the paladin is the special forces.

Deity: "Cleric, here are a bunch of powers to help you spread my gospel. Paladin, here are a bunch of powers for you to take out my enemies."
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
From my own personal experience, it's simple. I hate Paladins, and I don't hate Clerics. But that's just me, and comes from certain 1e baggage. :)

From a more general narrative, I think they are very different. If I had to sum it up, I would do it as follows:

A Cleric is a follower of a Deity.

A Paladin is a Warrior (often thought of as a Knight) with certain powers granted through their devotion to a cause (be it a deity or something else).

At the margins, Clerics and Paladins can resemble each other (a martial Cleric in the War Domain, for example). But Clerics also encompass all sorts of Priests and Shamans in the service of a Deity.

I think that the 5e mechanics do a fairly good job of differentiating the two.
 
I think that the easiest way to differentiate the two is to strip the fluff and look at them from a purely mechanical view.

The Cleric is a full caster that dabbles in martial abilities.

The Paladin is a full martial that dabbles in casting abilities.

The fluff of each one can be made virtually identical via adding the Acolyte background to a Paladin.

Then again, I'm more of a powergamer than a role-player.

Yo soy munchkin...
 

sunrisekid

Explorer
Moses (Ten Commandments)
Constantine
Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins version)
OH, and Imotep from The Mummy.
This is what I'm getting at. None of those characters resemble D&D clerics, in my opinion. Moses wears robes, might resemble an angry Gandalf. Van Helsing... I don't remember, he wore glasses and had a suitcase full holy water and crosses? Imotep, not sure who that is. None of them wore heavy armor and carried a mace.

Maybe it's all the Basic D&D art that overly influenced how I imagine clerics (see other thread). I, personally, remain unconvinced of their interestingness as a character concept, that isn't better executed through other means. The paladin, as stated earlier. Using 5E rules, I woould rather see any reference to religiousness, or conduit of the gods, simply be represented by, say, the Acolyte background. Eg, cleric of nature as ranger with acolyte background. Cleric of trickery as rogue with acolyte. I'm sure many would disagree, citing background as insufficient to convey such deific relationships as the cleric enjoys. Now that I think of it, I also never liked all those gods/pantheons either - for reasons that escape me it just never came up often in the games I played. Not really sure where the bias comes from but I'm sure it's there (for no great reason).

(Stepping out of the conversation briefly, I'm sure I am not the only player who approaches the game books as containing rules "for a game", rather than as "rules of the game". Now that I reflect a bit over the years, the games I've been in were all very house-ruled for certain themes/tropes. Hm.)
 

ninjayeti

Explorer
I think the distinction was much clearer in 1E when paladins had a very a specific character conception (including being extreme lawful good and having a high charisma). 5E has implemented classes that allow for a wider number of concepts and builds and this has created overlaps for many classes. Yeah a "divine warrior" concept could potentially work as a paladin or as a cleric, just like a "swashbuckler" concept could be build as a rogue, a fighter, or monk; or a "nature mage" could be built as a druid, nature domain cleric, or fey pact warlock, etc. But I don't think that the fact that character concepts can work with multiple classes undermines the individuality of the classes.

From a conceptual standpoint clerics are largely defined by the god they worship. In the past I have played two clerics - one was a follower of a god of luck, another a follower of a goddess of love and beauty. Neither would have been mistaken for a paladin. Conversely, paladins will likely be defined by their particular oath - classic shining armor/white horse, dark avenger, or fey touched green knight.

Mechanically I think they are reasonably distinct. The paladin is a better melee combatant than a cleric, and the cleric is a better caster than the paladin. Each has unique abilities like smite or divine intervention that no other class can use. Sure there are some overlaps with their spell lists, but clerics share some spells with druids, wizards and the other casters just as paladins share fighting styles with fighters. I'd say that 5E wizards and sorcerers have much greater mechanical overlap than clerics and paladins do.
 

Carny

Visitor
To mee the distinction is quite clear.

A paladin is a holy warrior in service to a cause. He is (usually) a member of some sort of order. he is the servant of the cause(and his order) first and his deity second. His relationship with the magic is
institutional

A cleric is closer to a prophet. he may work with the church hierarchy, but he might just as well be considered a heretic by his own "church". His relationship to the deity and to his magic is personal.
 
At a glance they both seem very similar, pious warriors in clanky armour, imbued with the ability to invoke divine magic striking down enemies of the faith.

However I've noticed that some people are very much drawn to the idea of playing a cleric, but not at all to playing paladins, and visa versa. Some people do like them both.
Clearly, one might like both if simply drawn to the idea of a pious hero who derives power from Faith or from a personal pact with a deity.

Why like one and not the other, though?

In the early game, both often came off as being pseudo-/quasi-/vaguely Christian, but the Paladin more so with his LG requirement and strict code. If you didn't care for that feel so much, the Paladin might appeal even less than the Cleric.

By the same token, the Paladins requirements might make it seem like a superior, 'advanced' class (which, compared to the fighter, it was, a fallen paladin simply lost abilities to become a mere fighter), while the Cleric just needed a modest WIS, and there was a deity for every alignment.

|'m sure there's more. But, one of the more strangely ironic things I've noticed about gamers over the decades is their attitude towards Charisma. Maybe high CHA suggests the popular kids in school who could make a nerd's life hell, or maybe the kinds of oily/handsome used-car-salesmen types who are sometimes obstacles for the protagonist in the movies, or maybe the rich or classist or something. Whatever the source of it, there's a subtle distaste for the high CHA character, a tendency to play it as a superficial conceited slimeball or bimbo. Even though we all know that's not what CHA represents. Anyway, the pally suffers from high CHA.
 
Last edited:

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I've been playing a long time, so to me Paladins were always Lawful Good, and being Good and being Lawful were just as important as the tenants of your (LG) God. And the hold holy martyr, willing to sacrifice your life thing. This differed a liot from Clerics, who could embody a much wider variety of personalities and goals.

Not saying every Paladin was alike. One of my favorites (AD&D 2nd) was an urban swashbuckler paladin of Lathander, a god a light who fought crime bosses as well. But even The Lady Nikkadaema Roaringhorn was a zealot - there were lines you DID. NOT. CROSS. Many times the she would oppose those in her group with morally ambiguous plans.

Contrast to a cleric I played at the same time in my gaming life for a more shades-of-grey (but generally goodish) party. Boasis was a shifty priest of Mask (shadows, thieves and thievery) who joined the existing group (after my previous charactter had died) masquerading as a cleric of Shaundakul, a minor god of traveling and travelers. We were using the Skills & Powers expansion and he had Glib and talked his way out of everything. He was supremely lazy, which is why he was an adventurer - nothing else could provide that much reward for that little physical work. (He was plenty brave - it wasn't risk/reward, it was reward vs. effort.) He got quickly found out as a priest of Mask, and convinced the party to let him stay. The party was afraid he'd steal from them, and he pointed out that he could either be true and make ever larger fortunes, or steal from them once and live the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. It simply wasn't worth the effort to steal from the party. They asked him to detect traps, since that was a thievely thing to do. He went back to the last room, animated a bunch of undead, and sent them ahead one at a time. Boom, flaming oil trap set off. Swish, covered pit trap set off. And so on.

I'm currently trying to break out of the mold on Paladins. Playing an easygoing CG Oath of Ancients Paladin of Hermes who respect the other pantheons and wants to learn a much as he can about them, and is about the opposite of zealot as you can get. It's refreshing to feel I have permission to step outside the box I had drawn around them.

Yes, there are big mechanical differences as well, and when I'm trying to complement a party those will come up, but paladin and cleric have had different feels in my head for decades.
 
Paladins were douches in Ad&d. Back then you had to be Lawful Good Stick-up-your-Ass, and you needed Cha 17, Wis 13, Str 12, and Int and Con 9 to qualify.

They were basically the captain of the school team, holier than thou, lantern-jawed goody goodies.

That image has stuck so badly I still haven't even read the paladin entry in the 5e PHB.
 
Paladins in previous releases had a reputation of a "Lawful stupid" alignment that tended to annoy other players. It took a talented roleplayer to play a paladin in those editions. With 5e, they've broken away from "Lawful stupid" and it's now much easier to play a paladin and to have them fit into a party that doesn't consist of complete goodie-two-shoes.

If my current character dies, I'm looking forward to trying out a paladin. Indeed, when we started 5e, I considered a paladin -- a class I hadn't played before but that I wanted to try. However, for various reasons, I went with a different class, though paladin was very, very tempting....

I've played clerics before in earlier versions and they can fun. The 5e clerics also have a broad range of possibilities for both mechanical play and for roleplaying. I see them, from a player's perspective, as being two completely different classes. From an in-game perspective, I used to see them as two arms of a church -- the liturgical/pastoral and the martial/defender/enforcer. However, with 5e, the paladin no longer has as strong a link with the church and has become more someone whose strength of character has given them special capabilities. The religious link is much weaker in 5e than it was in previous editions (in my opinion).
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Paladins were douches in Ad&d. Back then you had to be Lawful Good Stick-up-your-Ass, and you needed Cha 17, Wis 13, Str 12, and Int and Con 9 to qualify.

They were basically the captain of the school team, holier than thou, lantern-jawed goody goodies.

That image has stuck so badly I still haven't even read the paladin entry in the 5e PHB.

That's a myth, about the holier than thou stick up your butt. They just had to be lawful good. That never meant awful good. If there was a problem there, that's a player issue, not a class design issue. There are plenty of non paladin lawful good PCs that are just fine. Nothing in the class description said you had to be an arrogant jerk about it. In fact, there have been numerous Dragon articles addressing that issue because too many people bought into the myth.
 

Mouseferatu

Visitor
[MENTION=15700]Sacrosanct[/MENTION] just said basically what I was going to. Most of the negative reactions to paladins from 1E have nothing to do with how the class was actually written, IME.

Frankly, paladins were my favorite class in 1E, and have remained one of my favorites almost ever since. (I say almost because I wasn't crazy about their implementation in 4E.) Heck, as much as I like that 5E has removed alignment requirements across the board, part of me wishes they still had to be LG. I'm all for shades of gray characters--I play a lot of them, and most of my fiction protagonists are pretty gray--but I feel like gaming and fantasy in general really need more genuine heroes.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
People disagreeing with my interpretation of clerics and paladins is a pet peeve of mine. I'm not sure what it is about those two classes that inspires this intolerance, but you can bet when I'm the DM there is One True Interpretation whether or not you like it.

First, I think there is a disconnect between how an edition presents the cleric...and how the same edition presents the cleric. They generally are self-contradicting.

2e cleric mentions that whole Knight's Templar nonsense. But then they are classified in the Priest group (with druids) while Paladins were in the Warrior group (with fighters and rangers). And someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never been under the assumption that holy orders of knighthood only used bludgeoning weapons and were less effective combatants (less hp, attack bonus) than other warriors.

5e has a similar contradiction. They speak as if clerics are specially chosen "favored souls" so to speak. They say that most priests aren't clerics, but are more like politicians (the implication being no spellcasting). But then the NPC monster entries for "Priest" and "Acolyte" are essentially simplified, holy spellcasting 5th-level and 1st-level (respectively) clerics.

Weren't priest clerics even in Eberron, where they weren't required to have the appropriate alignments, and no one was sure if the gods existed?

The way I see it, I agree with what they show more than what they say. And what the game has shown since at least since AD&D is cleric = priest and priest = cleric (or druid).

Paladins are not, and never have been, shown as priests. They are holy knight-like warriors.

From that perspective--which has been shown consistently in the D&D lore--the distinction between cleric and paladin is simple.

And there is no good reason not to do it that way.
 

Curmudjinn

Explorer
Early clerics were holy warriors. At some point, paladin's became a thing in D&D and supplanted the Cleric, creating two similar but different classes.
 

Curmudjinn

Explorer
People disagreeing with my interpretation of clerics and paladins is a pet peeve of mine.
LOL.

Mine is other people breathing about D&D near me. Yuck.


While I do love paladins and clerics as npcs in games I run, I rarely play them. I played a paladin of Zuoken in a short playbypost game recently, which was fun, but they are too specific for me as a class, I think.
 
Last edited:

Mouseferatu

Visitor
5e has a similar contradiction. They speak as if clerics are specially chosen "favored souls" so to speak. They say that most priests aren't clerics, but are more like politicians (the implication being no spellcasting). But then the NPC monster entries for "Priest" and "Acolyte" are essentially simplified, holy spellcasting 5th-level and 1st-level (respectively) clerics.

Weren't priest clerics even in Eberron, where they weren't required to have the appropriate alignments, and no one was sure if the gods existed?
At the risk of suffering your wrath for disagreeing... :p

The priest and acolyte in the MM are spellcasters--clerics--because those are the only type that need their own stat block. A non-spellcasting priest is a commoner or noble with the Religion skill added.

And no, most priests in Eberron--like most priests in most other settings--are just people in the Church hierarchy. Actual spellcasting clerics are the minority.
 

Advertisement

Top