Paladins in D&D Fifth Edition (5e) are a class based on strength and the keeping of sacred oaths. If you want to play this divine class, our guide will help you understand how they work, the best races and feat choices, and what they're all about!
An aura of gold envelops an injured soldier, extending from a pair of armored, callused hands, that turns a fatal gut-shot into a lasting scar.
Steel rings in the darkness, flashes of silver light illuminating a young woman surrounded by legions of rotten corpses. She is smiling.
A young man carries a dwarven child, bleeding from arrows piercing his back and legs, without slowing his pace for a moment. The child is ill and needs medicine.
A paladin's calling is one of devotion and inner strength, a resolute truth gleaming like platinum in a world of fog and grey. It is rare to see such clarity in any world, a treasure that raises the value of all things touching it.
A Paladin is an ideal, the inner thought that compels a person to better themselves, and as time goes on, to better the world. Sometimes, that idea is easily understood, like peace reigning throughout the realms, or fairness for the sake of fairness. Other times, that ideal is complex and understood only by the person embodying it, and can run counter to the greater culture. Even rarer still, the ideal is vainglorious and selfish, tainted by the breaking of oaths.
But we will not speak of such things, though they do exist.
Paladins are a class filled with strength: the strength of body, the strength of will, and strength of abilities. When playing a Paladin, you will often lead from the front-lines, striking down evil and inspiring your allies by your mere presence. A Paladin is oftentimes portrayed as a holy knight, a devoted and devout being that lives in service of a God or King, a higher authority, that will rarely stray from their calling. They are clad in steel and wield weapons blessed with the tears of angels. They laugh in the face of danger and only lose face when confronting the gravest, darkest evil.
When you play a Paladin, you are choosing to become the Ultimate Good Guy.
Then, 5e came along and asked a simple question: what if Paladins could be MORE than knights in shining armor? The answer is the Paladin 5e: the same great taste of justice and mercy, but diversified into a more malleable class theme. No longer bound to being a Knight of God, a Paladin in 5e is defined by their Oaths: what abilities you get, advice or tenets on how your character should act, and even what spells you'll wield!
Instead of a God, or even Religion, a Paladin's Oath is the core of the character's theme and identity and should be a strong choice when creating your character.
When creating your Paladin, think of the following questions:
After answering these questions, consider your character's tactics and actions. Do they adventure to wage an unending war on the forces of evil? Or do they search for a place that needs their moral compass? Are they a preacher, or a doer? Forming your character's traits and goals, and then finding a way to add intensity, is a good way to craft a Paladin.
"A Paladin is not somebody who believes in half-measures. It is all or nothing because the stakes in their world are too high for a half-formed opinion. When a Paladin doubts, people lose faith. When a Paladin fails, towns disappear into flame and ash. When a Paladin turns away, a Villain is born."
Join Our Discord Server to Find a D&D Group, Get Updates On New Guides, and Talk With Other DMs!
How to Play a Paladin 5e
When playing a Paladin, you are playing with a powerful class. A quick overview of the Paladin by their stats:
The only area a Paladin lacks, arguably, is in Skill Proficiencies, as they only receive two from their class choice. This can be made up for with Backgrounds and Feats, however, if the player so desires.
While a Paladin is rarely going to be the most skillful party member, the passive buffs they provide, their ability to dish out and take punishment, and their assortment of beneficial spells and role play benefits, like being a famous hero, are all strong contributions to the party's needs and demands as the campaign unfolds.
Like all classes, the Paladin's early levels see their main roles being highlighted through their early level abilities: namely, their Divine Smite, their Lay on Hands, and their Divine Sense. A Paladin knows what they're about, and these abilities allow them to function.
Divine Smite converts spell-slots you haven't already used into extra damage: 2d8+1d8 per spell level beyond first to be precise. This ability can trigger anytime you connect with a Melee Weapon Attack, so a Paladin is encouraged to be wielding swords and hammers, rather than bows or guns. The extra damage is always a great way to add significance to an attack, especially when it becomes the final blow against a particularly troublesome or villainous adversary.
Conversely, Lay on Hands is a healing ability,-much like casting Cure Wounds or Healing Word- but utilizing a pool of HP instead of rolling dice. A Paladin has a pool of HP equal to five times their Paladin level. At level 1, you have 5, at level 2, you have 10, etc. As an action, you can touch a creature and restore their HP by sacrificing an amount from your Pool. You have complete control over how much HP you restore. Some DMs argue that you can only heal others, which leads to the Paladin being a self-sacrificing archetype.
In addition, you can spend 5 HP from the pool to remove a disease or poison affecting the creature. While not as efficient as other healing abilities, a Paladin's Lay on Hands is a fantastic way to scrape a few more rounds of survival against a nasty encounter or to help ensure a party survives an escape attempt from a situation that's gone completely awry.
Divine Sense is a "radar" that alerts a Paladin to certain creatures: usually, Celestial, Fiends, or Undead. Manifesting as a sensation, like a particularly bright light or a vile scent, a Paladin can detect within 60 feet of them the presence of a powerful source of good or evil, or a location that's been subjected to strong good or evil.
This ability can really help strengthen an encounter's significance to the party, or to introduce a powerful player in the story, such as a cruel and tyrannical ruler, or a living saint that the Paladin has been searching for. Divine Sense is an ability that, at its core, represents an opportunity for the player and the DM to role-play together, describing the results of the Divine Sense and how the Paladin conveys this information to the party.
Within these three abilities lies the identity of the Paladin class: a fighter who cares about more than just beating an enemy. Paladins care about others, the world at large, and their place in it, as well as who else is acting on the world.
In addition, a Paladin gains access to a limited number of spells: at level 20, the highest spell level they can cast is 5th level. At level 1, Paladins don't even have access to spell slots! The spells they gain access to at the 2nd level are specifically buffing spells, like Heroism or Bless, or damaging spells, like the Smites.
As a Paladin levels up, they gain access to higher-level spells, although the effects of the spells rarely deviate from Buffs or Damage. You won't be creating any instantaneous fortresses or alternate planes of existence, like the Wizard or the Sorcerer. You can, however, summon a Steed, which can manifest as a Mastiff, which is a Huge Dog. It's the little things that count.
Aside from Spells, Paladins gain a Fighting Style at 2nd Level. Check out my Fighter's Guide to see my thoughts on these abilities, but they are essentially buffs to your stats, like AC, or an ability, like Interception. Fighting Styles can also be changed every 4 levels, or whenever you gain an Ability Score Improvement, if you feel that your Paladin is no longer focusing on fighting with one-handed weapons, and instead, now enjoys slamming trolls into the pavement with oversized warhammers.
At 3rd Level, a Paladin chooses their Oath. There are 8 Oaths as of the writing of this guide. An Oath is both a source of abilities, as well as a role-playing theme.
Is your Paladin devoted to guarding their plane of existence against demons from the abyss or strange, alien creatures? Consider swearing an Oath to the Watchers, a group of like-minded individuals who are ready to strike down any cosmic overlord from beyond.
Or perhaps your Paladin is devoted to their Empire, and wishes to see that Empire extend throughout the known world(s)? Then swear an Oath of Conquest, and get to conquering!
Paladins gain special abilities derived from their Oaths at levels 3, 7, 15, and 20.
At the 4th level, and every 4 levels afterward, a Paladin gains an Ability Score Improvement or access to a Feat. ASIs are a simple business: you increase a stat by 2, or 2 stats by 1, up to 20. Feats are a bit more complex but represent strength or skill in a certain field, or even a more esoteric concept, like Luck, or Toughness.
At the 5th level, Paladins gain the Extra Attack ability, which lets them make two attacks whenever they use the Attack action. Two swings for the price of one.
At 6th level, a Paladin unlocks their first of two Aura abilities: the Aura of Protection. While allies are within 10 feet of you, they add your Charisma modifier to their saving throws. This ability is very powerful and only grows more powerful as time goes along. The only drawback is a Paladin needs to be conscious for their Aura to be active, so a sudden knockout can cause a party to have to adjust.
At 10th level, a Paladin gains access to their second Aura ability: the Aura of Courage. The Aura of Courage makes creatures within 10 feet of you immune to fear. Any party members, allies, or steeds, simply cannot conceive of being afraid. You have become THAT reassuring. Or intimidating.
At 11th level, a Paladin gains access to Improved Divine Smite. This ability adds a d8 of radiant damage to ALL melee weapon attacks you hit with. This ability is free of damage and has no drawbacks whatsoever. It is GREAT.
At 14th level, a Paladin gains access to Cleansing Touch. As an action, you may touch a creature to end a spell effect. You can use this a number of times per day equal to your Charisma modifier. This ability is powerful, as, by the 14th level, there are some powerful spells that can cause havoc to any character. Feeble-mind, Slow, or Flesh to Stone are just some effects you can end prematurely simply by touching a character.
At the 18th level, your Auras extend their range of influence to 30 feet. Keep in mind: in addition to the two Auras you receive from the core Paladin features, your Oath will also be granting you an Aura with considerably more powerful effects.
At the 20th level, your capstone ability is determined by your Oath, as previously stated. These abilities are often flavorful, powerful, and represent a Paladin "evolving" into an Avatar for their Oath. An Oath of Glory Paladin, for example, achieves the status of Living Legend, where their deeds and accomplishments have essentially immortalized themselves throughout the land.
Paladin Oaths and Falling
A Paladin's Oath is the wellspring from which they draw forth their considerable might. Not every person who swears an oath, however, is swearing a Paladin's Oath. For example, a corrupt bodyguard who swears an oath to their King is not suddenly going to gain access to Divine Smites or Immunity to Disease. A Paladin's Oath is a special thing. Not everyone can gain this power simply by sheer force of will.
That caveat is the core of the Paladin: the strength of will that surpasses the mundane and becomes something Divine, or Legendary. When gaining your Oath, it is a good idea to represent this acquisition as something beyond just a subclass: it is the first time a Paladin is able to actualize their will into their body and the world around them with a clear focus. Without adhering to your Oath, a Paladin is no different than a fighter, or anybody wielding a sword.
Thus, if a Paladin forsakes their Oath, a rare thing occurs: Falling.
Not merely the act of losing balance, when a Paladin Falls, they stop being a Paladin. Sometimes, this is represented by a DM stripping the Player of their Class Features, such as Divine Smite and Lay On Hands. After all, the Paladin has stopped believing in their Oath, so, therefore, why should they gain power from it?
Other times, however, a Player can CHOOSE to Fall, if they believe it leads to a more compelling story, or the desire to have their Paladin become an Oathbreaker. Usually, that leads to the Player choosing a different character to play, as Oathbreakers are oftentimes at odds with a Party's goals, and could even become antagonistic to the Party at large.
Falling is something that can, theoretically, be applied to other classes: a Cleric who becomes disillusioned with their faith, a Druid who converts to civilization, or even a Warlock who abandons, or is abandoned, by their Patron, could all "Fall".
The term is often applied to Paladins as a short-hand for Fall from Grace, a willful renunciation of heroism due to a failing, discovery, or betrayal. Before playing a Paladin and swearing an Oath, it might be best to discuss with your DM/Player about the potential consequences of breaking their Oath, and what could happen if this occurs. While it can lead to a cool(er) story—or even a campaign cliffhanger—it could also lead to a Player becoming disillusioned or disappointed by a DM's actions, especially one that is as drastic as losing your Class Features over one or two slips of character.
While there are no rules about Falling in 5e, there are other game editions that include the concept. Since this guide is about Playing a Paladin, it is good to be aware of this particular bit of history, and how it could impact your game!
Paladin Oaths as Subclass
In addition to roleplaying material, an Oath also grants a Paladin a suite of abilities. There are currently 8 Oaths published in 5e, listed below:
Each Oath comes with its own tenets, such as the Oath of Glory, which lists the tenets of personal perfection, overcoming adversity, harnessing inner strength, and accomplishing great deeds. These tenets are, in essence, rules on how to role-play. An Oath of Glory Paladin is required by their own character to accept tests or challenges they encounter, as well as to train constantly to avoid weakness. Consider these tenets as challenges for you, as a Player, to overcome: how would you play a character who has to constantly seek challenge to better embody their ideals?
Oaths also come with a list of bonus spells that you always have access to, granting you have a spell slot available. The Oath of the Ancients, an Oath focused on ancestor worship, guardianship, and protection of sacred places, has access to druid spells, like Moonbeam or Speak with Animals, to represent this closeness to nature and its stewardship. These spells are flavorful and situationally powerful, so make sure to track them on your list of Known Spells.
Oaths also bestow upon a Paladin four abilities, granted at 3rd, 7th, 15th and 20th level. The 3rd level ability is the Paladin's Channel Divinity: in essence, a powerful representation of your Oath's effect on your. You can, for instance, use an Oath of the Crown's Channel Divinity to Turn the Tide, and heal your allies within a 30-foot aura. You can use your Channel Divinity a number of times—1 at 3rd level, 2 at 7th level, and 3 at 15th level—before needing a long rest to recover.
When using Channel Divinity, use your Paladin Spell DC for any effects that require a Saving Throw.
At 7th level, your Sacred Oath grants you access to an Aura. These Auras function the same as Aura of Protection and Courage, although with different effects based on your Sacred Oath.
At 15th level, a Paladin gains a Sacred Oath Ability, which varies based on your chosen Oath. An Oath of the Watchers Paladin can chastise opponents who make them roll an Intelligence of Wisdom saving throw, while an Oath of Vengeance Paladin gains bonus attacks against those who they have sworn vengeance to, represented by one of their abilities.
At 20th level, a Paladin embodies their Oath, usually in the form of an avatar. An Oath of Devotion Paladin, for example, can become a being of pure, radiant light. Enemies take damage every turn and the Paladin gains advantage on saving throws against effects generated by fiends or undead. This capstone ability is often limited to a minute, after which the Paladin must take a long rest to regain their abilities.
When choosing your Oath, consider the abilities your paladin gets, as well as the effect the Oath's tenets will have on your character. While most classes try to fuse flavor and abilities within their subclasses, the Paladin's Oath also extends into the realm of roleplay through tenets. Talk with your DM about how strict they'll treat tenets, and if you can modify or ignore some that you find too restrictive or difficult to actualize.
Join Our Discord Server to Find a D&D Group, Get Updates On New Guides, and Talk With Other DMs!
What’s the Best Race for a Paladin in 5e?
Paladins are defined by their actions, their strength, and their will. Because of this, races that grant benefits to STR, CON, WIS, and CHA, are all strong considerations for a Paladin. Half-Elves and Elves are two race considerations that grant stat buffs to WIS and CHA, as well as some useful skills and benefits, like needing only 4 hours of time to gain a long rest.
Half-Orcs and Goliaths
Half-Orcs and Goliaths are also strong considerations, as they come with bonus skill proficiencies to shore up a Paladin's lack, and complimentary stat buffs. A Half-Orc's ability to ignore death, or a Goliath's cold resistance, also add some resilience to a stalwart and hardy class!
By their racial lore, are already leaning towards Paladins, and their stat buffs are tailor-made for the class! STR, CON, and CHA!
Humans as always, are the jack-of-all-trades race and will be able to fit comfortably within any class. Their access to a Feat, as well, could help a Paladin deal extra damage, generate extra HP, or even gain access to a bonus Saving Throw Proficiency.
Dragonborn are also powerful Paladins, granting beneficial stat buffs in STR and CHA, while also tacking on an energy resistance (like lightning or fire), and a bit of AoE damage in their Breath Weapons.
Loxodon, or Elephant Folk, make for some amazing Paladins, as their stat bonuses make them hardy and resistant to mental magic through CON and WIS. In addition, Pachidermic Paladins have access to a Trunk, which functions as a third arm, a serenity effect that grants them advantage against charm effects, as well as Perception, Survival, and Investigation checks they make utilizing smell. Finally, their thick hides grant them Natural Armor, which can make for some clutch moments if the Paladin is ever captured and needs to lead a prison revolt!
Warforged, like Loxodon, are recipients of the Natural Armor feature, as well as a +2 to Con and a +1 to any stat. They also, like Elves, do not require much time to receive a long rest and an immunity to poison and disease due to their unnatural biology. Warforged are also magical robots, which basically guarantees that their devotion to their Oath will rarely, if ever, break—leading to some entertaining roleplay opportunities. Plus, a bonus skill and tool proficiency are nothing to shrug at!
Lastly, the Verdan race, an "evolved Goblinoid", is an interesting choice. The race comes with a +2 to CON and a +1 to CHA, leading to a good stat line buff, but the abilities are also some of the most powerful you can find in a race. The ability to reroll 1s and 2s on natural healing is impressive since a Paladin is often going to take considerable punishment. Advantage on ALL Wisdom and Charisma saving throws means your proficiency saves are always going to get two rolls instead of one. Lastly, a bonus proficiency in Persuasion and access to Telepathy means your Paladin can be surprisingly silver-tongued. Look out, bards!
Best Paladin Skills, Backgrounds & Feats
At 1st level, a Paladin can choose two skills from the following:
Paladins are not a skill-based class, like the Rogue or the Bard, but possess a useful roster of "active" skills, like Athletics or Persuasion, and "supportive" skills, like Medicine or Religion. Thus, a Paladin can expect to be good at these skills, but maybe not as often as a more social class. I would consider taking Athletics, a good skill to have for just about any physical encounters, as well as Persuasion for a more talkative Player, or Religion for a Player who is interested in lore or creatures like Fiends or Undead.
Backgrounds to consider for a Paladin are often informed by the character. Nobles and Acolytes, however, are two interesting ones, as they encompass some interesting benefits introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, such as a Noble's support network, or an Acolyte's access to religious institutions within the world.
Paladins, like Fighters, are frontline classes, designed for combat and positioning. Heavily armored and able to wield any weapon, it is a rarity to find a Paladin anywhere but in Melee range during fights. Thus, Feats like Polearm Master or Sentinel are powerful choices, essentially granting Paladin's the ability to strike more often, restrict movement, and deal additional damage. Other Feats, like Lucky or Skilled, grant bonuses to skill rolls, saving throws, and attack rolls, guaranteeing more successful actions in and out of combat. Heavily Armor Master is another powerful Feat that Paladin's get access to for free: you reduce all slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage by 3 whenever you're struck.
The Weapon Type Feats, like Slasher, Bludgeoner, or Piercer, are all good considerations as well, since a Paladin can utilize any weapon in the game. One of the best feats for a damage output-oriented paladin is Great Weapon Master: rerolling 1s and 2s anytime you hit is a great way to shore up some damage rolls over time!
Finally, due to the Find Steed ability, a Paladin is often able to be Mounted. This is a status in the game that means you're riding a creature, and are moving along with that creature. It also gives you access to the Mounted Combatant Feat, which is very, very powerful. It grants you 3 abilities:
- 1The ability to redirect attacks made against your mount to you, instead.
- 2Advantage on ALL attacks made against unmounted foes smaller than your Mount. A.k.a. Most Humanoid combatants.
- 3Evasion for your Mount.
Feats, while not as plentiful as the Fighter, are powerful abilities that any Player should research and choose when presented the option. As always, your DM might limit certain Feats, so talk things over before you lock in any choices!
Role-playing as a Paladin
As previously discussed, Paladins are heavily front-loaded classes in terms of role-playing. You're required to swear an Oath. You're required to adhere to this Oath at all times. You're highly motivated and inspirational to your allies. You're most likely Good aligned, meaning you're adhering to the tenets of Good-selflessness, empathy, compassion, and devotion to assisting the weak. You are also skilled at fighting and vanquishing evil. Paladins, to borrow a term, "write themselves", or at least, they have the potential to be that way.
When role-playing a Paladin, it is important to consider two main facets: the Oath as an Ideal, and the Human Struggle. After all, Paladins are not perfect, no matter how much they wish to be, and neither is the world. Thus, like any time two competing forces collide, Struggle is generated. Role-playing a Paladin's struggles and their reactions to injustice are powerful motivations and compulsions. It is up to the Player to constantly react to the world and the shadowy evils that exist within it, while also dealing with more mundane evils: does a Paladin fight a court official who's been over-exerting their influence to the detriment of others? Or do they seek to route out the corruption within the city they've called home? How a Paladin does things is just as important as what they do, and it can be a great story-telling option to investigate morality at play in other cultures and worlds.
Through a Paladin's struggle, you better come to understand their ideals. It is, in essence, their Heroic Journey. Without struggle, a Paladin's Oath comes across as a free set of superpowers: it is against opposition that significance is transmitted, and better understood. After all, if everyone could stand against corruption, there would be no corruption. Paladins thrive in areas of moral certainty without action to back it up: a kingdom ruled by the stagnant elite, for example, or a forced labor camp started by a temple of evil worshipping priests. Paladins are, in essence, those who exist to remind others that there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for!
Evil and good, and the endless combinations between these two extremes, are central to a Paladin. This might lead the DM to create antagonists who are irredeemable, or perhaps perceived by the Party as undefeatable, to better create a struggle for the Paladin. Of course, not all antagonists have to come from the DM: oftentimes, a Party is not composed entirely of heroes. Inter-party conflict, such as a Paladin being forced to work with a Death-worshipping Cleric of less than moral persuasion can lead to some amazing role-playing scenes. After all, a Paladin is not just a guy wielding a sword for the Light: they exist to better the world, not annihilate it. Paladins can often lead by example, and a pair of players could come to view the Paladin as something to strive towards, or to rebel against!
A common saying you'll encounter with Paladins is this: "Good is NOT Nice." Just because you're fighting for Truth, Justice, and the Faerunian Way does not mean you are a shy wallflower or afraid to rough some folks up. A Paladin is just as likely to lead by example, however, and is not always one to resort to violence. Consider the following Archetypes when brainstorming about your character:
The armor is only as strong as the conviction behind it! A Knight is a bastion of confidence, bravado, and expectation. Highly disciplined, highly skilled, and highly capable, a Knight leads not only by example but by crusade. It is not that the world should be better: it WILL be better BECAUSE I'M IN IT! Knights are often figures that generate conflict simply by existing. They are not subtle, crafty, conniving, and monstrous. Knights are straight-forward, earnest, honest, and find paradigms or exceptions to their worldview as curiosities at best and abhorrent at worst.
A calm, collected beacon of wisdom and compassion, Saints exist to help the downtrodden and protect what needs protection the most. A Saint is a bulwark of good, but is also paternal, protective, compassionate, and calm. Saints make for good tutors and teachers and are often best at dispensing wisdom more than they dispense smites. Saints, like Knights, believe the world can be a better place, but they believe that the world can only be made better by convincing people, rather than converting people. Thus, a Saint will more readily engage in debate and are open to other views of the world or cultures that they might not necessarily agree with, or endorse openly. Saints are defined by their compassion and their conviction.
A Paladin who is convinced that the world is only a few adventures away from peace, Seekers are jovial and optimistic. It is not that the world is broken or corrupt or inherently evil, but a few bad apples. Thus, Seekers search the world to right whatever wrongs they come across, but to also experience the wonders and joy that a good world has created naturally. Seekers might swear an Oath of Devotion or Ancients, as they believe that, at its core, the world and its peoples are wonderful. Seekers might suffer from moments or periods of doubt, concern, or fear, but will always bounce back as long as they still draw breath.
A Paladin who, unlike the Seeker, views the world as broken and corrupt. Stalwarts exist like an absurdist philosopher views the world: in defiance of the natural order, rather than in submission to it. Stalwarts KNOW that people are jerks, and will not let that stop them from acting as the best of the best, or at least quashing the worst of the worst wherever they go. A Stalwart Paladin is like a mountain in personality: powerful, overwhelming, stoic, and unrelenting. A Stalwart might discover on their adventures that the world isn't as broken as they thought it was, and might even begin to feel hope in their heart once more.
The anti-paladin. A Paladin who breaks their Oath is a special case, and are almost always going to occupy the role of a villain. If you are roleplaying an Oathbreaker, you are most likely playing in an Evil, or a very Dark, campaign. Oathbreakers are, at their core, broken from their original personality. They wandered the world, saw the things they shouldn't have seen, and snapped as a result. Oathbreakers are defined by tragedy and things going wrong: you will NOT see an Oathbreaker who is at peace, happy, and optimistic. When playing an Oathbreaker, you are giving voice to the darkness and meanness of the world, a person who has opted out of the game of life and exists only to spread misery and misfortune.
When playing a Paladin, consider yourself more than a bag of hit points and damage output. Instead, consider yourself as a person who is, at their core, seeking a better world. Paladins are defined by their struggles and their achievements. They are edified in stone, whispered of in legends, and bring tears to the eyes of the soldiers they defend from utter doom with a flowing cape and a scream of defiance in the darkest dungeons. Paladins are bulwarks against the unending darkness, standing resolutely where others quiver and quake. You are a class of extremes. From 1st level to 20th level, you are a hero. Play a Paladin if you want to give voice to your inner best self, and lead your friends on adventures they won't forget!