5E Cleric vs Paladin: Concepts and Mechanical realisation

Mirtek

Explorer
Let me chime in with a quote from an old issue of Dragon Magazine:
Dragon Magazine, Issue 52 (August 1981)
The cleric-adventurer is not a meek priest; he is a warrior who has spells and magical powers to aid him as he destroys the enemies of his god. Like Archbishop Turpin, he can use his powers to bless and support his comrades, and he is an able fighter in his own right, second only to a professional warrior in skill.
[...]
Clericadventurers are trained warriors; they fight better than trained men-at-arms, are comfortable with armor, and are bold enough to enter places no cynical mercenary would dare come near. They are warrior-priests, and it should show in their outlook. This warlike outlook is evident in a properly motivated cleric player character. Why does a cleric-adventurer go on adventures? Certainly not just to play medic; he could do that where it’s safe — people get hurt everywhere.
[...]
His motives are basically aggressive: he wants to destroy his god’s enemies, wrest away their wealth, and accumulate personal experience in a rapid but risky manner; and all for his god’s benefit. This is a cleric worthy of Turpin’s approval. After all, how meek can you expect a person who fights terrible monsters to be? Just descending into a dungeon is an act of uncommon boldness. The cleric-adventurer isn’t, and really can’t be, a meek healer. His purpose demands that he be a bold killer, a champion of his god.
Note that in 2e clerics had the second best THAC0 after the warriors, their's was better than than the rogue's.

Also when they did that one series of FR splatbooks they themed one Warrior's & Priests and the the other Wizard's & Rogues
 

Xeviat

Explorer
I started playing D&D through Baldur's Gate, and ended up picking up 3E after BG2 was packaged with a character builder. Back then, I supported the notion of Bard, Paladin, and Ranger as Prestige classes. But, thinking back at Baldur's Gate, my paladins played differently than my clerics. Both were front line and hit with weapons, but clerics either started with buffing themselves or their party while Paladins would run in right away.

I began to support clerics being in robes, like Priests from World of Warcraft. The War Cleric would need to be tweaked, though, becoming less of a warrior themselves and doing a lot more blessing allies to be their champions.

But, switching Paladins to Oaths rather than Domains was a good way to go I think.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Haven’t read the thread yet, but I wanted to simply reply to the OP.

I don’t care about origins of concepts except as inspiration for new takes on the concept, or simple academic curiosity.

So, for me, the fact the Cleric came first is meaningless. The fact they have always been warriors is meaningless. The history of Paladins having to be the Arthurian ideal is only interesting in terms of lore and maybe establishing in-world social expectations.


To me, the Paladin is the Knight of The Faith. The Sword In The Right Hand of God.

The Cleric is The Priest. The Chosen Voice of God.

Everything flows out from there, for me. And for the most part, DnD 5e does both of them well. I’ve no interest in ever playing any kind of Cleric, but every Cleric lover I know enjoys them in 5e, so...👍

I do think Paladins (along with Rangers and Warlocks) should have a Ritual Casting feature, and they can both certainly be part of a clergy if the player wants, but only the Cleric is a Priest.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Honestly I do think the archetypes are very muddied in 5e. To me, a cleric is a vessel for divine power, the Paladin...a sword honed by divine will.

The biggest "issue" to me are domains like the War Cleric. Realistically, those archetypes to me are really paladins, big armor and weapons, with holy power channeling through awesome attacks and impenetrable defenses. Whereas I think clerics are exemplified by spells like spiritual weapon and spirit guardians....clerics are not warriors, but they can wield the powers of great war gods.

I think the big armor cleric should just be a paladin, with the cleric being turned more into the "priest" concept...a person who doesn't need the big armor and weapons...because god is literally on his side.
I would support a Cleric with Unarmored Defense (Wisdom), tbh. And a cantrip or two that basically allow them to whack someone with a divinely guided strike and lay some radiant damage on top of it.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
To answer the question though, the difference between Clerics and Paladins is about 2-3 centuries. The Cleric is a holy crusader who wears chainmail and a tabard and carries a shield and a one-handed weapon. In other words, a 13th century Knight. The Paladin is an oathbound champion of the realm who wears full plate and either carries a Greatsword or a lance. In other words, a 16th century knight.
 

Ashrym

Hero
I think it's still a valid discussion. Just maybe not worth the necro. I didn't notice at first and gave @Sacrosanct a like for a post over 3 years old, lol.

I actually think of clerics as the warrior priest with the emphasis on "priest" while "warrior" is just descriptive. It's a bit misleading, however, because clerics don't need any proficiency in religion or a background to support any priesthood. A divine agent is a better description.

The warrior part comes from the fact they are trained in some armor, shields, and basic weapons. They did have stronger attack progression than other classes in previous editions to match. Levels of combat training and ability are not binary conditions. They are represented to lesser and greater degrees for all classes. I compare the combat training to a commoner for my point of reference. In that respect, even wizards are warrior mages from the eyes of the commoner.

A 5th level wizard is much better at hand-to-hand combat dual wielding daggers than a typical most things. The same is more true for a cleric wearing better armor and knowing how to properly use a slightly better variety of weapons. When I see some guy in half-plate with a shield in one hand and a spear in the either who can boot stomp anyone who isn't particularly special in the tavern then yes, that's a warrior in my mind. There are simply others who are better warriors with better training.

Some y'all lost perspective looking at what's best in the world instead of what's typical in any given campaign world. How we see our characters in the world is relative to the world, not the other characters in the party. ;)

I think of the paladin as the crusading knight. Emphasis on "knight" even though it's just concept and they are not actual knights either. They definitely focus more on the warrior and less on the divine.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
To answer the question though, the difference between Clerics and Paladins is about 2-3 centuries. The Cleric is a holy crusader who wears chainmail and a tabard and carries a shield and a one-handed weapon. In other words, a 13th century Knight. The Paladin is an oathbound champion of the realm who wears full plate and either carries a Greatsword or a lance. In other words, a 16th century knight.
I have a really hard time picturing the Cleric as any century Knight.

But, conceptually I don’t think they should have better weapons and armor than a wizard.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
It’s a matter of exclusive Role.
Paladin have enough spell abilities to play the support role.
ritual casting from other classes allow some support too.
now warlock and sorcerer heal, while being good at damage.
So cleric have no more exclusivity.

Cleric are similar to rogue.
when the warlock quasit do the scouting,
the bard open lock,
what is the need for a rogue?
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
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.)
All I'll say is this - clerics absolutely should have been conceptually reimagined in this edition much more than they were. This was a huge missed opportunity. They really were designed in a way that's too specific to a particular notion of what a cleric is and the concept should have been walked back into something more basic that could go in a lot more directions via subclasses.
 

frons79

Villager
The problem is with an over abundance of Classes in the last editions of D&D.
Whereas at the beginning there were only four (Fighter, Wizard, Cleric and Rogue) each of them with unique abilities (let's pretend to forget dwarves, elves and halflings) and eventually other subclasses of the main four, now you have Classes that more or less mimic the features of other classes.
This is something I really don't like, and I have read there are even some more coming!
 

EzekielRaiden

Explorer
Edit:
Ooof, the thread necromancy is real though. Had not realized I already had posts in this thread!

What is the difference, in your mind between the archetype of the Cleric and a Paladin?
Being extremely pithy: The Cleric is foremost a chaplain and guide. The Paladin is foremost a warrior and exemplar.

Less pithy: A Cleric delves deepest into the theological mysteries and overt spells of their deity or philosophy. Where the Paladin looks outward, defending the faith and faithful from enemies, the Cleric very much looks inward, both into themselves (even a War cleric should be contemplative to some extent) and into their church at an individual level (helping individual members of the faith) and collectively (building up the church's institutions). As the name implies, a Cleric should have at least a little bit of "scholar" in it, even if that scholarship is focused or not developed further. Mechanically, Clerics have the most "deity-centered" mechanics, with both Domain effects and high-level divine spells (like miracle and true resurrection) reflecting divine influence over and through them. As an example, Moses is a key archetypal figure for the Cleric.

A Paladin, on the other hand, is inherently a warrior, and does not require being contemplative at all (though some will be anyway). Paladins are the knights of the temple, the bulwark of the faith. While the rest of the faithful remains in the city or worshipping in the temple, the Paladin goes out into the dark places to be the light in the darkness. The purity of the Paladin's conviction, their genuine goodness displayed with every carefully-chosen word and earnestly-pursued deed, makes them a beacon to their allies, inspiring others to fight the good fight alongside them. Mechanically, a Paladin employs aura effects (their inner fire bolstering others who can see and hear them), smiting evil, Lay on Hands (of which the best D&D version is 4e's), and "pronouncements" of some kind (4e's Divine Challenge/Sanction; Dungeon World's Quest move; Pathfinder's litanies; etc.) as a form of "have at thee, evildoer!" Though he is too recent to be an influencing example, Michael Carpenter from the Dresden Files books is absolutely my go-to Paladin archetype example.

Does one or both interest you as character concepts?
I adore the Paladin. I've never really been drawn to the Cleric, I'm not entirely sure why. I guess the problem is, if I want a contemplative, I'll probably just go whole-hog and play a Wizard; Cleric falls in an awkward middle-ground for me personally.

Do you feel 5E does a good job of mechanically supporting the identity of the Cleric vs/and/or the Paladin?
I don't really know WRT the Cleric, as I haven't played one and (as noted above) am not as drawn to the class as I am to Paladin. However, I can say that the 5e Paladin is intensely disappointing...despite being really good. By which I mean, the class is solid, but it dropped the ball on making the mechanics feel like "Paladin mechanics," if that makes sense. 4e's mechanics for Lay on Hands were amazing, because you literally DID give of yourself to replenish others. It's a damn sight better than the 3.x Paladin, which mechanically sucked and wasn't super good on offering mechanics that produce flavor. As noted in my examples above, I would re-build the 5e Paladin from the ground up, replacing the spellcasting mechanics with Quest, Boon, and Vow mechanics to create a class framework flexible enough to adapt to given situations, but still constrained by reasonable limits to their behavior; this would be enhanced by "Litany" or some other kind of "pronouncement" mechanics that would have some of the function of spells, but work in a different way (similar to, but not the same as, how Warlock spellcasting just works differently from non-Warlock spellcasting).

Also unusual directions that people have taken the concept of their clerics and paladins is interesting to.
Despite the flak it sometimes gets, I actually really like a good Warlock/Paladin mix (usually I prefer the former getting "reformed" and taking up the Paladin mantle)....IF it has a good story to it. Because that's a great thematic journey, and having lingering Dark Past troubles and consequences, despite trying to walk the straight and narrow in the present, is a great way to add some delightful spice both to the individual character, and to any campaign that character plays in.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Edit:
Ooof, the thread necromancy is real though. Had not realized I already had posts in this thread!


Being extremely pithy: The Cleric is foremost a chaplain and guide. The Paladin is foremost a warrior and exemplar.

Less pithy: A Cleric delves deepest into the theological mysteries and overt spells of their deity or philosophy. Where the Paladin looks outward, defending the faith and faithful from enemies, the Cleric very much looks inward, both into themselves (even a War cleric should be contemplative to some extent) and into their church at an individual level (helping individual members of the faith) and collectively (building up the church's institutions). As the name implies, a Cleric should have at least a little bit of "scholar" in it, even if that scholarship is focused or not developed further. Mechanically, Clerics have the most "deity-centered" mechanics, with both Domain effects and high-level divine spells (like miracle and true resurrection) reflecting divine influence over and through them. As an example, Moses is a key archetypal figure for the Cleric.

A Paladin, on the other hand, is inherently a warrior, and does not require being contemplative at all (though some will be anyway). Paladins are the knights of the temple, the bulwark of the faith. While the rest of the faithful remains in the city or worshipping in the temple, the Paladin goes out into the dark places to be the light in the darkness. The purity of the Paladin's conviction, their genuine goodness displayed with every carefully-chosen word and earnestly-pursued deed, makes them a beacon to their allies, inspiring others to fight the good fight alongside them. Mechanically, a Paladin employs aura effects (their inner fire bolstering others who can see and hear them), smiting evil, Lay on Hands (of which the best D&D version is 4e's), and "pronouncements" of some kind (4e's Divine Challenge/Sanction; Dungeon World's Quest move; Pathfinder's litanies; etc.) as a form of "have at thee, evildoer!" Though he is too recent to be an influencing example, Michael Carpenter from the Dresden Files books is absolutely my go-to Paladin archetype example.


I adore the Paladin. I've never really been drawn to the Cleric, I'm not entirely sure why. I guess the problem is, if I want a contemplative, I'll probably just go whole-hog and play a Wizard; Cleric falls in an awkward middle-ground for me personally.


I don't really know WRT the Cleric, as I haven't played one and (as noted above) am not as drawn to the class as I am to Paladin. However, I can say that the 5e Paladin is intensely disappointing...despite being really good. By which I mean, the class is solid, but it dropped the ball on making the mechanics feel like "Paladin mechanics," if that makes sense. 4e's mechanics for Lay on Hands were amazing, because you literally DID give of yourself to replenish others. It's a damn sight better than the 3.x Paladin, which mechanically sucked and wasn't super good on offering mechanics that produce flavor. As noted in my examples above, I would re-build the 5e Paladin from the ground up, replacing the spellcasting mechanics with Quest, Boon, and Vow mechanics to create a class framework flexible enough to adapt to given situations, but still constrained by reasonable limits to their behavior; this would be enhanced by "Litany" or some other kind of "pronouncement" mechanics that would have some of the function of spells, but work in a different way (similar to, but not the same as, how Warlock spellcasting just works differently from non-Warlock spellcasting).


Despite the flak it sometimes gets, I actually really like a good Warlock/Paladin mix (usually I prefer the former getting "reformed" and taking up the Paladin mantle)....IF it has a good story to it. Because that's a great thematic journey, and having lingering Dark Past troubles and consequences, despite trying to walk the straight and narrow in the present, is a great way to add some delightful spice both to the individual character, and to any campaign that character plays in.
I’m surprised. I find that the 5e Paladin is really really good at reflecting a Paladin in the mechanics.
 

Gladius Legis

Adventurer
The 5e Paladin is a damn sight better at reflecting "Paladin mechanics" than 4e's was. I recall the Paladin in 4e being a poorly designed mess with pretty much no gameplay identity whatsoever and being the weakest class by far mechanically in the PHB1.
 
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pemerton

Legend
What is the difference, in your mind between the archetype of the Cleric and a Paladin?
None. They're both holy warriors who are heavily armed and armoured and able to work miracles.

(I recognise that the existence of two classes generates pressure on designers to distinguish them. But I don't see those distinctions as fundamental to the archetype.)

Does one or both interest you as character concepts?
The character concept interests me, yes. My only currently active PC (I mostly GM) is a "paladin" - the game is Burning Wheel and in the language of that system he is a Knight of a Holy Military Order.

I have played a version of the same character in a PbP 4e game, where he was a STR paladin; in Dungeon World, where he was a paladin; and in 2nd ed D&D, where he was a Skills & Power cleric.
 
I think the problem here is largely down to 3Es attempt to transition Clerics back to being OD&D/1E-style generalists, mechanically. The OD&D Cleric was a vague, broad Holy Warrior type, literally inspired by mythologised takes on Christian holy warrior figures like Bishop Odo. It essentially encompassed Paladin, conceptually. Apparently there was some demand from players for a separate Fighting with a Side Order of Holy class though, hence the Paladin emerging in 1E, and immediately being popular. Paladin also made a land-grab on the "Knight" archetype. 2E made the speciality priest more prominent, in various forms, and I saw tons of those and literally only a single one-class cleric in the whole of 2E.

Since then, though, in literary and film fantasy, you rarely see holy warriors with any magic (unless directly inspired by D&D) and whilst in computer games you often do, you equally often see both classes essentially condensed into one (World of Warcraft does this - Paladin encompasses D&D Cleric and their Priest class originated as a weird Psionicist-meets-unarmoured holy caster class).

So players are naturally a bit confused about the whole thing. People who want to play a "knight" tend to pick Paladin, whereas people who actually dig the priestly vibe go for Cleric but I think are actually often off-put by the heavy armour, shields and solid weaponry. An awful lot of players would rather play someone more magic-centered I think, in light or no armour, which 3E and 5E didn't really support and 4E only kinda did.
 

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