“It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.”
Guide linked on Google Docs, as well.
NOTE: This is an update of my old "Oathbound" guide, complete with SCAG material. I gave it a new name to distinguish it. I also got tired of waiting for control of my old guide so decided to make a new thread with a snappier new name.
Table of Contents:
II. Proficiencies, Attributes, Backgrounds and Class Features
X. Builds and Combos
This guide will use the following ratings:
Red is dead. A choice that either adds nothing of value to your character or might even actively hurt it.
Purple is a substandard choice. It might be useful in corner-case situations, but overall it's not worth the investment.
Black is average. You're not hurting your character by taking this, and it might even help in some situations, but there are better choices.
Blue is a good choice. It definitely helps your character in the majority of cases.
Sky Blue is a fantastic choice. An option you should strongly consider above most others.
Gold is mandatory. It's a rare rating that denotes something that is so good that you must take it, or you can't call yourself optimized.
This guide takes from the following sources:
PHB - Player’s Handbook
MM - Monster Manual
DMG - Dungeon Master’s Guide
EEPC - Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
SCAG - Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
VGM - Volo's Guide to Monsters
XGTE - Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
MTOF - Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
*** Note: Material from Unearthed Arcana is always considered playtest material and will not be rated in this guide. But feel free to discuss it in the thread.
What's a Paladin?
A question that became an unfortunate meme from the unfortunate ninth and final entry in the Ultima series.
The definition in D&D terms of a Paladin has changed over editions, but one constant that remains to this day is that they are warriors bound by divine rites to serve something greater than them, whether that is a god or a cause, and gain power beyond their martial training from the strength of their divinely manifested convictions.
It used to be that all Paladins had to be Lawful Good, period, end of sentence, or they would lose their divine powers. Mechanically, this sort of made sense in AD&D (1e and 2e) where Paladins were literally Fighters with extra stuff. But even back then, arguments arose at many a table over whether an individual act by a Paladin violated the nebulous concepts of "lawful" or "good," which often in the end would result in a Paladin falling and becoming a mere Fighter. Which at least wasn't that weak. But when 3rd Edition came about, Paladins couldn't even be considered "Fighter-plus" anymore. Yet 3e kept the Lawful Good restriction and the "falling" concept in place, and when Paladins fell in that edition, they were basically NPC Warriors with a d10 hit die, having none of the bonus feats the Fighter got. Furthermore, Paladins were one of the most mechanically inept classes in 3e even when they didn't fall.
4e, recognizing that, took the bold step of making it so that Paladins could no longer fall and lose their powers (although instead the DM was given free license to send constant disruptions to punish faithless Paladins). Furthermore, 4e codified, in core rules, the existence of Paladins who weren't Lawful Good for the first time. Instead, they matched the alignment of the god to whom they swore allegiance. The expansion of alignments Paladins could be in the core rules was a welcome change, although explicitly tying them to gods where they weren't before was arguably a step back.
Now with the coming of 5e, Paladins can once again suffer mechanical consequences for directly violating their oaths, but with some welcome twists. Now Paladins can only fall by directly violating the tenets of their oaths, rather than just some nebulous concept of "lawful" or "good." That also means that any justifications the player makes for his actions to the DM are compared to actual concrete tenets, and while this certainly won't halt player vs. DM debates altogether, it does more clearly define the battlefield on which those debates take place. And while the three oaths in the Player's Handbook can be more or less mapped to certain alignments (which thankfully are not restricted to Lawful Good), a Paladin's individual alignment need not necessarily match the oath's connotations. Also, as if continuing to recognize that fallen Paladins became mechanically incapable after AD&D, falling means either being forced to pick another class altogether or taking the Oathbreaker variant.
Paladins of this current edition hit that spot flavor-wise, finally becoming the divinely oath-bound warriors they were purported to be all along, without the annoying direct ties to alignment.
Paladins in 5e have returned back to their classic "half-caster" status that was the case in 1e-3e. However, unlike especially 3e, this isn't really a bad thing. Paladins start casting their spells at Lv. 2, making their spellcasting a vital and working part of the class. Furthermore, with the way casting Difficulty Classes scale now, based on proficiency bonus and casting stat, a spell cast by a Paladin is no less effective than that same spell cast by a Cleric or Wizard. Moreover, while Paladins only top out at Lv. 5 spells, they top out with the same number of slots from Lv. 1-4 as full casters do, and only one less Lv. 5 slot; plus with full casters' Lv. 6-9 slots coming at a premium in this edition, the truth is that Paladins, as concerns the number of spells they can cast per day, are not terribly far behind the full casters.
Paladins have traditionally been among the most multiple-attribute dependant (MAD) classes in D&D history. In 5e, that holds true to the extent of what MAD is in this edition, which simply means requiring a peak physical and mental stat to get the most out of the class, limiting the number of feats that the Paladin can reasonably take. Paladins in 5e want peak Strength (or Dexterity) and Charisma scores (with some Constitution), but that is a far better situation than in the past. Decoupling spellcasting from Wisdom (as it was in 3e) and attaching it to Charisma instead was a major boon for the class this time around; in fact, Paladins have no Wisdom-dependent abilities this time around (unlike 3e and 4e).
The abilities that Paladins get as they level in this edition are far, far more robust than in editions past. Aside from getting spellcasting earlier (and better spells along with that), they get several auras that benefit both them and their nearby allies, which include the classical Charisma bonus to all saving throws and even some straight-up immunities and resistances to some common effects and attacks. They can also smite a lot more often and for more damage, using their spell slots to power them, and thankfully this smiting is no longer alignment-restricted. Their Lay on Hands is still a solid source of healing and is also much more versatile this time around, being able to heal poisons and diseases as well.
Strengths and weaknesses
- Very versatile class as far as physical combatants go. Can heal, protect, spike their damage, wear the best armor, and buff the entire party's combat abilities.
- One Oath (Vengeance) is among the most damaging in the entire game against one powerful enemy every short rest.
- The second-deadliest reaction attacks in the game, after the Rogue, thanks to Divine Smite, which can make the Paladin as effective as a 4e-style "Defender" can get.
- High Charisma means solid social skills performance, and Paladins also get access to Persuasion and Intimidation on their class' list.
- Immune to diseases as early as Lv. 3, and auras later on not only increase their saves and flat-out negate some of the most common and potentially deadly conditions, but extend that benefit to their allies.
- Proficiency in Wisdom saves out of the box, the ability that some of the nastiest effects in the game target.
- Weak in ranged combat. Most of a Paladin’s major combat features and spells are geared toward melee combat. Thus when forced into a ranged-heavy battle, Paladins function at a fraction of their offensive power.
- Generally weak against hordes. This depends on the Oath (and one particular Oath is a major exception to this), but anti-horde spells and features are mostly either highly situational or lacking altogether.
- While MAD isn't nearly the devastating weakness it was in editions past, it still means Paladins must limit the number of feats they take, and must pick wisely.
- Reliant on spells (buffs or smites) for most of their big damage. Even with Improved Divine Smite from Lv. 11 on, the Paladin's base, unbuffed DPR isn't going to match a Fighter's after that level. That divide becomes more pronounced with magic weapons and feats like Great Weapon Master in the mix.