The Oath of the Ancients is a natural flavor of paladin; this subclass focuses on art forms and beauty, and brings the wonder of nature to all who live. The Player’s Handbook offers this oath as the first one, and so this is what most players see when they get to level 3. Paladins with this oath likely ally themselves to gods of nature, focusing on fighting darkness to preserve life-giving things. They seek growth above all else… So how well are you equipped to dedicate yourself to beauty? Let’s take a look at the Oath of the Ancients, and see why your character might benefit.
Find Your Light: Oath of the Ancients 5E
The Oath of the Ancients is the druidic flavor of the paladin. The Tenets of the Ancients focus on kindling the world’s beauty. Your Paladin will likely be using their Charisma on Performance, and uses their time to flourish life-giving things. And, of course, you’ll be a beacon of hope – That might as well be standard for any Oath, besides Oathbreaker Paladin.
In gameplay and fighting, the Oath of Ancients focuses primarily on resisting magic and keeping enemies in one place; Useful for a melee class, and extremely good as a support. The spell list suffers slightly from only really pulling from Druid options, and a few of your abilities are weaker than one would like… But that’s far from enough to make this archetype anything but exceptional.
As noted above, you’ll probably not be too happy with your spell list. You have a few good options here, but nothing intensely powerful.
This is a massive pile of random spells, that do a wide range of effects. Ensnaring Strike is great for a melee combatant, only allowing for 1 actual save. Then they’re stuck making generic Strength checks, which a lot of creatures are going to struggle with. Speak with Animals… Well, that might come in handy once or twice per campaign. Not really the most impressive spells to start.
Moonbeam requires a bit of planning (or an Ensnaring Strike) to make it extremely useful. Misty Step, however, is one of the better mobility spells in the game. Your Heavy-Armored butt will be able to cross massive gaps and get to important enemies easily.
Plant Growth might come up in some random situations, but most classes get slightly better defensive options with Wall spells. Protection from Energy is so much more useful, allowing you to very easily defend yourself against breath attacks or… any elemental effect. One of your abilities later will make this spell slightly less useful, but it’s still an incredibly important spell.
Ice Storm is a solid area of effect option and, unfortunately, the only one you’ll get. While Paladins are not in charge of swarm fights, you’ll at least feel a little more useful. Stoneskin is the important one here; 100 gp is pocket change at this point, and you’ll be so much tankier against any beasts or creatures that use natural weapons. Depending on the campaign, you might want to use this all the time.
17th level has two rather situational abilities. Commune with Nature gives you a valid information spell – super rare amongst paladins – though the range isn’t great. Tree Stride is only useful in natural environments. In those environments, the spell becomes a very viable teleport… But otherwise, you won’t be too happy that this is permanently prepared for you.
Overall, not bad! You have utility, damage, crowd control, information, defense… A wide spread of things 5E Paladins either don’t get or need help with. You’ll likely be just fine with this list.
At level 3, most subclasses gain 2 options for their short-rest-based Channel Divinity. The Ancient Oath isn’t any different, providing you Nature’s Wrath and Turn the Faithless.
Nature’s Wrath. You can use your Channel Divinity to invoke primeval forces to ensnare a foe. As an action, you can cause spectral vines to spring up and reach for a creature within 10 feet of you that you can see. The creature must succeed on a Strength or Dexterity saving throw (its choice) or be restrained. While restrained by the vines, the creature repeats the saving throw at the end of each of its turns. On a success, it frees itself and the vines vanish.
Oh, uh… Why?
This is strictly worse than Ensnaring Strike, since the creature gets to decide what save it gets, and it gets to roll that saving throw every round. And this uses your action, meaning you don’t even get the benefit of dealing a burst of damage beforehand. And they get to make the follow-up saves for free, unlike Ensnaring Strike, which requires them to make a Check as an action. In most cases, you’d prefer to use Ensnaring Strike.
What this is a tiny bit more useful for is larger creatures. Since Ensnaring Strike gives larger creatures Advantage, this becomes better against creatures whose size dwarfs yours. Restrained is an absolutely brutal status, so making a Huge target an Advantage magnet will be useful. And in some cases, you simply don’t get to make your attack action, either because of range or you yourself being restrained. In those cases… Yeah, this might be better.
It’s a shame you get Ensnaring Strike and this, since this tends to be just worse. The other option is a Turn effect (an Area of Effect fear effect that forces the targets to run until they take damage), targeting Fiends and Fey. The only thing that makes it better than a standard Turn effect is this;
If the creature’s true form is concealed by an illusion, shapeshifting, or other effect, that form is revealed while it is turned.
That’s a neat little addition!
Like any other Turn effect, in combats against Fiends and Fey, forcing them to flee from you is an efficient way to negate at least one turn of combat against multiple creatures. That’s great, especially since most combats with fiends or fey typically have multiple fiends, multiple fey, or one strong member of those types.
The extra effect is super good against any fiends or fey in range. Invisibility is an Illusion, so you can use this as a potent anti-invisibility and combat negation. And in social events, your Paladin can channel to find any fiends or fey disguised as a human. Against most fey, this will be a great counter ability. Against most fiends… This will do just fine. Nothing spectacular.
Aura of Warding
This ability, by itself, is the sole reason to take this class. It’s that good.
Beginning at 7th level, ancient magic lies so heavily upon you that it forms an eldritch ward. You and friendly creatures within 10 feet of you have resistance to damage from spells.
At 18th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 feet.
See what I mean?
If this ability just gave the Paladin resistance to magic, then it’d be an absolutely crucial damage reduction. If it gave resistance to magic to everything in 10 feet, it’d be worth the risk. Instead, you give it to all friendly allies… And then they take half damage from all spells.
At this level, fireball does 9d6. That means normally your melee frontliners would take about 32 damage or so on a failed save. On a successful save, they’d still take 16 damage, thanks to the fact that most spells still hurt you on a success. Now, instead? 16 damage on a complete failure, 8 damage on a success. To yourself, and all allies near you. That’s a crazy amount of damage reduction.
Later on, this can prevent deaths from spells like Disintegrate and Finger of Death against anyone nearby. Considering how magic-focused 5e can be, you’ll even easily avoid damage from Cantrips – which tend to do good damage, but not enough to panic over. Because this aura doesn’t have any resource, it’s just going to consistently save yourself, and your team.
At level 15, you tend to want to see something that keeps you alive in a fight. May I present… Something like that.
Starting at 15th level, when you are reduced to 0 hit points and are not killed outright, you can choose to drop to 1 hit point instead. Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Additionally, you suffer none of the drawbacks of old age, and you can’t be aged magically.
Hmm. That’s… Certainly there. The obvious upside is twofold; you stay in combat – able to deal damage and heal – and you don’t risk making death saves. Two very great, very important things! But, you don’t do them very well with this ability.
To explain why, I want to compare this to Mastery of Death, the Long Death monk’s Ki ability. This ability is (thankfully) resourceless; you just have the once per day restriction, which will keep you from your dying saves perfectly well. But, the “killed outright” clause is unfortunately somewhat important – spells like Disintegrate and Touch of Death suddenly become much more dangerous. You do take half damage from them, but… Watch your health against necromancers or Evocation masters.
The other effect, the anti-aging effects, are… Fine. They’re there. You might laugh in your GM’s face if they forget and cast Time Ravage on you. But realistically, you don’t really get much benefit out of this.
The Paladin’s level 20 capstone is actually pretty fun, flavorwise and mechanically. The first effect is strictly cosmetic, making you look more natural, typically like a tree or like a forest creature.
However, when you spend an action, you get a few really potent abilities.
- At the start of each of your turns, you regain 10 hit points.
- Whenever you cast a paladin spell that has a casting time of 1 action, you can cast it using a bonus action instead.
- Enemy creatures within 10 feet of you have disadvantage on saving throws against your paladin spells and Channel Divinity options.
Really good! Super limited, but really good!
Healing 10 health per round is a godsend; a total of 100 HP over the course of a minute is significant. More importantly, however, healing 10 HP per round means you can’t miss your round because of unconsciousness; you heal on the start of your turn, so you immediately get up, ready to go. Otherwise, the health regen gives your healers a bit of leeway on spending spell slots on you.
Having all of your Paladin spells be Quickened is obviously significant. The Paladin actually has so few effects that take a bonus action that you’re always looking for ways to spend them. This gives you an incredibly powerful method for using them, as your spells only taking a Bonus action gives you more chances to use Extra Attack.
The disadvantage effect is obviously insanely potent. Even something as simple as Ensnaring Strike (which you probably shouldn’t use now that all of your spells are bonus actions) get much better when your target has 2 chances to whiff. And now your enemies have 2 chances to fail your Turn effect. That’s really good!
It’s a shame this only lasts 1 minute. Save this for what you think is going to be the hardest fight of the day. Your action economy becomes so much better, so you’ll be a huge threat to your opponents.
Best Race for Ancient Oath Paladins
Ancient Oath paladins have pretty few abilities that rely on Charisma. Obviously, you’ll want enough Charisma to be a potent spellcaster for Ensnaring Strike, but you’ll likely want Strength/Dexterity and Constitution a bit more. You’ll want to be a melee build so you can give your frontline allies a boost to their durability against spellcasters.
The Tabaxi race from Volo’s Guide to Monsters is an incredibly strong option here. High Dexterity is good for Finesse builds. Feline Agility is very important for getting you into range of your enemies, and is a great addition to Misty Step. Darkvision is also pretty important, since holding a torch can make stealth strategies next to useless. You’ll get a few more skills as well, just to be more useful in social situations. For certain parties, becoming the King of the Jungle might be a valid option.
Tritons are also from Volo’s Guide, but they take a slightly different approach to being Paladins. They get a +1 to the three things Paladins need; Strength, Constitution, and Charisma. Your four other racial abilities tend to be a bit focused around water, but you can get a lot of utility with your Control Air and Water feature. The ancients normally talk about the forests, but I see no reason why spirits of water can’t be counted as beautiful, as well!
Conclusion – Our Take on the Oath of the Ancients
The Ancient Oath Paladin has a lot of good things, but they tend to be restricted to once per day or to only some enemies unlike other paladin oaths. The only significant ability you get is Aura of Warding, and… That alone is a really, really good reason to take this archetype. If you want to be a really potent anti-mage, and are willing to take a hit on your damage potential, then this Subclass is for you.