Ah, the paladin. Covered in armor, swinging a giant sword, and even casting spells. There’s a lot to like about this class in the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, its subclass options may be the strongest top to bottom of any class. Below, we take a deep dive into the class, its subclass options, and how to optimize your paladin in the next campaign. Focus on your oath and step into our Paladin 5E Handbook!
Paladin 5E Guide
Paladins are the ultimate champion of righteousness. While it is common for paladins to be devout, the do not draw their power from their faith the way a cleric would. Instead, paladins find power in the oaths that they take.
Similar to certain types of clerics, paladins manage to balance strong combat skills with potent spellcasting. In fact, they do it as well as any other class. While they don’t get magic until level 2 and have fewer slots overall, their spell options are potent.
Paladins are great given the range of roles they can play. There are several options to be DPS monsters, but they can also focus on defense, utility, and spellcasting. Don’t have a bard in your party to do the talking? There are plenty of paladin builds that make great faces for the party.
|1st||+2||Divine Sense, Lay on Hands||–||–||–||–||–|
|2nd||+2||Fighting Style, Spellcasting, Divine Smite||2||–||–||–||–|
|3rd||+2||Divine Health, Sacred Oath||3||–||–||–||–|
|4th||+2||Ability Score Improvement||3||–||–||–||–|
|6th||+3||Aura of Protection||4||2||–||–||–|
|7th||+3||Sacred Oath feature||4||3||–||–||–|
|8th||+3||Ability Score Improvement||4||3||–||–||–|
|10th||+4||Aura of Courage||4||3||2||–||–|
|11th||+4||Improved Divine Smite||4||3||3||–||–|
|12th||+4||Ability Score Improvement||4||3||3||–||–|
|15th||+5||Sacred Oath feature||4||3||3||2||–|
|16th||+5||Ability Score Improvement||4||3||3||2||–|
|19th||+6||Ability Score Improvement||4||3||3||3||2|
|20th||+6||Sacred Oath feature||4||3||3||3||2|
These are the features that are common across the class. We will discuss the subclass features in another section.
Hit Dice: 1d10 per paladin level
HP at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier
HP at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per paladin level after 1st
Armor: All armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma
Skills: Choose two from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion, and Religion
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a martial weapon and a shield or (b) two martial weapons
- (a) five javelins or (b) any simple melee weapon
- (a) a priest’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
- Chain mail and a holy symbol
Divine Sense (Level 1)
Divine Sense lets you use an action to detect powerful good or evil creatures in the vicinity. Specifically, it allows you to detect the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of you unless it is behind total cover. You can also identify the presence of consecrated or desecrated items. Divine Sense is available a number of times equal to 1 plus your charisma modifier each long rest.
Lay on Hands (Level 1)
Lay on Hands is one of the best healing features around, and it scales well as you level up. For this feature, you can heal any creature using an action to touch a creature. You can then either heal up to 5 hp per level of paladin, or you can spend five of the available hp to cure a disease or poison.
This is great, as you have total control over how many hp you spend. It’s also a nice fix for irritating poisons or diseases your party wasn’t prepared for. Your hp refreshes after a long rest.
Fighting Style (Level 2)
At level 2, you get to select a fighting style. Some are more fitting than others. Your four options are:
- Defense: This is a strong option, especially if you are not focused on melee damage or if you select the Oath of Redemption. You get +1 to AC when wearing armor, which is nice given how scaling your AC can be tough.
- Dueling: Dueling is arguably the best, assuming you use a single weapon. It works even if you wield a shield, and gives you +2 to damage rolls.
- Great Weapon Fighting: This style lets you re-roll damage rolls of 1 or 2 when you wield a weapon with both hands. It generally works out to a 1 damage increase per attack. There are probably better options unless you are set on a two-handed weapon anyway.
- Protection: If you are wielding a shield, you can give any hostile attacking a creature within 5 feet of you disadvantage on their attack roll. Cool but situational, albeit nice if you ride a mount.
Spellcasting (Level 2)
All in all, spellcasting as a paldin is pretty balanced. You get a lot of nice buffs and healing spells, but you can also deal damage through an array of smite spells. However, your spell slots top out at 5th level unlike full casters.
Paladins must prepare a list of spells. The Paladin Table above highlights the number of spell slots available at each level. The paladin must select a number of spells equal to their charisma modifier plus half of their paladin level, rounded down. Your spells can a mix of any level you have access to, but you cannot use a lower-level spell slot to case a higher-level spell. You can change your list after a long rest.
All paladins use charisma as their spellcasting ability. This is due to their powers emanating from the strength of their convictions. You will use your charisma modifier for both spell attack rolls and to sett spell saving throw DC.
You can use your holy symbol as a spellcasting focus for your paladin spells.
Divine Smite (Level 2)
Divine Smite is incredible – just resist the temptation to burn through your spell slots with this. This feature lets you expend a spell slot to deal radiant damage to a creature when you succeed with a melee attack against it.
The extra damage is 2d8 for a 1st-level spell slot, plus 1d8 for each spell level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8. The damage increases by 1d8 if the target is an undead or a fiend, to a maximum of 6d8.
This can result in major damage on a single attack, even at lower levels. You have to be careful not to blow through your spell slots, though.
Divine Health (Level 3)
Divine Health makes you permanently immune to disease. Pretty lackluster for a few reasons. First, diseases are uncommon in many campaigns. Second, you already have the ability to cure any disease with Lay on Hands.
Sacred Oath (Level 3)
At level three you will choose your sacred oath, which is the name of paladin subclasses. We go into detail on each subclass below. However, there are aspects of all subclasses that are important to understand.
Each sacred oath has its own list of oath spells. These are different than normal paladin spells in that they are always prepared and do not count against your total prepared spell limit. These spells are always treated as paladin spells even if they don’t appear on the class spell list.
Like a cleric, you can channel divine energy for your own purposes. Every subclass has its own Channel Divinity ability. You can use Channel Divinity once, and it returns after a short or long rest.
Ability Score Improvement (Level 4)
You can improve an ability by two points, or two abilities by one point each. You can increase your ability score again at levels 8, 12, 16, and 19.
Extra Attack (Level 5)
When you hit level five, you can attack twice when making an attack action instead of once. Obviously, this is a huge boost to your ability to deal damage and your opportunity to couple a critical hit with divine smite.
Aura of Protection (Level 6)
Another excellent feature, Aura of Protection grants you or every friendly creature within 10 feet of you a saving throw bonus equal to your Charisma modifier. This is in addition to any other bonuses you might get from magical items. You do not have to take an action, and the Aura never needs to be recharged with a short or long rest. The only exception is if you are unconscious, as it will not work then.
Aura of Courage (Level 10)
You and friendly creatures within 10 feet of you cannot become frightened as long as you remain conscious. This aura extends to 30 feet at level 18. Situational, but a nice way to rid yourselves of a lingering annoyance in some fights.
Improved Divine Smite (Level 11)
You gain 1d8 radiant damage on top of all successful melee weapon attacks. This does not require a spell slot and stacks with regular Divine smite. Not bad at all.
Cleansing Touch (Level 14)
Using Cleansing Touch, you can remove the effects of one spell on one willing creature by touching them. You can do this once per the number of your charisma modifier. They all recharge per long rest.
Oaths – Paladin Subclasses
For some classes, a series of strong subclass options adds a lot of depth and flavor to an already strong character option. For other classes – like the monk – an otherwise fun class is largely bogged down by weak archetypes. The paladin definitely falls into the first group. In fact, there is not a bad option in the bunch. Below, we’ll review all of the oaths available to the paladin.
Oath of Conquest
The Oath of Conquest was first introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. While the Oath Spells are weak, the rest of this subclass is great. These paladins are sworn to power and order, with many going so far as to worship archdevils of the Nine Hells. When it comes to their mechanics, they are capable at crowd control and deal strong damage.
- Oath Spells. The issue with these spells is not that they are bad, but that they are a bad fit. Most of them are offensive, and many require saving throws. Realistically, if you are investing enough ability points in charisma to make these spell DCs high, why not just be a full caster? Still, Armor of Agathys, Spiritual Weapon, and Stoneskin are all great fits.
- Channel Divinity (Level 3). Conquering Presence lets you frighten a creature for one minute if they fail a wisdom saving throw. Guided Strike
- Aura of Conquest (Level 7). This feature is great. All creatures that are frightened of you have their speed reduced to zero if they are within 10 feet of you and not behind full cover. Additionally, they suffer psychic damage equal to half your paladin level at the start of each turn. The range increases to 30 feet at Level 18.
- Scornful Rebuke (Level 15). Characters that strike you suffer psychic damage equal to your charisma modifier.
- Invincible Conqueror (Level 20). Become an avatar of conquest! For one minute you get resistance to all damage, an additional attack, and critical hits on a roll of 19 for melee attacks.
Oath of Devotion
Considered the “Vanilla option” by some, this is essentially a subclass that merely enhances the class traits of a paladin. While not a bad option, it is arguably the least interesting.
- Oath Spells. Outside of a few gems, there is not much to get excited about here. Protection from Evil and Good and Flame Strike are great, but other options are pretty situational. Zone of Truth and Sanctuary don’t have a lot of uses, while dispel magic is not a great use of limited spell slot.
- Channel Divinity (Level 3). Two nice options. Sacred Weapon adds your charisma modifier to attack rolls made with a chosen weapon for one minute. This can offset the penalty from great weapon master nicely. Turn the Unholy lets you turn fiends or undead upon a wisdom saving throw.
- Aura of Devotion (Level 7). This prevents hostiles from charming you or friends within 10 feet. At level 18, this protection reaches 30 feet.
- Purity of Spirit (Level 15). With Purity of Spirit, you get a permanent benefit of a Protection from Evil and Good spell. Getting this benefit permanently is amazing.
- Holy Nimbus (Level 20). This lets you emanate sunlight in a 60-foot radius. The light is dim in the outer 30 feet. The bright light deals 10 radiant damage at the start of each hostile creatures turn. You also get advantage on saving throws against spells cast by undead or fiends.
Oath of Redemption
The Oath of Redemption provides one of the best role-playing options in 5E. True pacifists, the subclass eschews offense for utility spells and options for preventing violence. A lot of fun, if you can stay alive.
- Oath spells. Redemption paladins have a lot of strong spell options. Sleep, hold person, and counterspell are all strong options that fit the theme.
- Channel Divinity (Level 3). Emissary of Peace gives you +5 to persuasion checks for a 10 minute span. Rebuke the Violent can be used any time a creature deals damage to someone other than you within 30 feet of you. You can make the attacker face a wisdom saving throw; a failure means they take the same mount of radiant damage they just dealt. A successful throw halves the damages.
- Aura of the Guardian (Level 7). You can absorb damage meant for any creature within 10 feet of you as a reaction. You can’t reduce the damage, and effects that come with it cannot be reduced in any way. The aura increases to 30 feet at level 18.
- Protective Spirit (Level 15). At the end of each turn that you have less than half of your hit points and are not incapacitated, you will gain 1d6 plus half your paladin level in HP.
- Emissary of Redemption (Level 20). Become an avatar of peace! You get resistance to all damage, and creatures that damage you get that same amount of damage back as radiant damage.
Oath of the Ancients
This is essentially a paladin-druid hybrid. So-called “green knights” side with the light due to their love all things natural. All things considered, this is one of the weaker subclasses due to sub-optimal oath spells and some situational features.
- Oath Spells. Speak with Animals, Moonbeam, and Plant Growth are as situational as it gets. Many spells like Tree Stride are useless in campaigns that situated outside of forests or jungles. There are some nice options though, especially with Ensnaring Strike.
- Channel Divinity (Level 3). Nature’s Wrath lets you restrain a foe within 10 feet with spectral vines unless they pass a dexterity or strength saving throw. Turn the Faithless allows you to turn a fey or fiend within 30 feet if they fail a wisdom saving throw. Nature’s Wrath is nice, but is limited to a single foe.
- Aura of Warding (Level 7). The highlight of the subclass by far. In heavy-magic campaigns, this is extremely powerful. It gives you and friends within 10 feet resistance to damage from all spells. The aura increases to 30 feet at level 18.
- Undying Sentinel (Level 15). When you fall to 0 hits points but are not dead, you can choose to drop to 1 HP instead. This is available once per long rest. You also don’t age, which is cool flavor but fairly meaningless in game.
- Elder Champion (Level 20). For one minute per day you become an elder champion. You can take the appearance of any natural force. During this minute, you regain 10 HP at the start of each turn. You also can cast a paladin spell with a casting time of 1 action as a bonus action instead. Also, Enemies within 10 feet get disadvantage against your paladin spells and channel divinity options. Super powerful, but shortlived.
Oath of the Crown
The ultimate tank paladin. This oath is for paladins that believe in law and order, and it centers around not only soaking up damage but forcing enemies to target instead of your allies. If the rest of your build isn’t optimized for tanking you’re going to have a bad time, though.
- Oath spells. Not a bad list of spells, although several are situational. Compelled Duel is a great fit, except it’s redundant with Champion Challenge to a degree. Guardian of Faith and Circle of Power are also great.
- Channel Divinity (Level 3). Champion Challege really makes this subclass, as it allows you to force any creature within 30 feet to make a wisdom saving throw. If they fail, they cannot move more than 30 feet away from you. Turn the Tide lets you give a small HP boost to any creature that can hear you if they are below half of their hit points.
- Divine Allegiance (Level 7). This allows you to use a reaction and take the damage that was meant for an ally within 5 feet of you. Very useful, but only for other frontline fighters.
- Unyielding Saint (Level 15). You get advantage on all saving throws for being stunned or paralyzed. This is situational but strong, especially coupled with Aura of Protection.
- Exalted Champion (Level 20). For one hour, you get several great battlefield buffs. They include resistance to bludgeoning, pricing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons. What’s more, your friends get advantage one death saving throws if within 30 feet. Finally, you and your allies get advantage on wisdom saving throws.
Oath of Vengeance
The Oath of Vengeance exists to punish an evil force that has committed a grievous sin. This subclass is great at dealing damage, particularly against a single powerful enemy.
- Oath Spells. The oath spells for Vengeance paladins are strong, especially at lower levels. Bane can turn the tide on a fight, and you get some classic buffs like Haste and Protection from Energy. Higher level spells are somewhat situational, though.
- Channel Divinity (Level 3). Abjure Enemy frightens enemies within 60 feet if they fail a wisdom saving throw. Vow of Enmity is much stronger in boss fights, as it gives you a minute of guaranteed advantage against a single target.
- Relentless Avenger (Level 7). When you hit a retreating enemy with an opportunity attack, you can move half your speed as part of that reaction. This movement also doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks.
- Soul of Vengeance (Level 15). This gives you a free reaction attack against an enemy that you are targeting with Vow of Enmity. It is available any time the enemy makes an attack.
- Avenging Angel (Level 20). This allows you to assume the form of an angelic avenger as an action. It lasts one hour. During that time, you sprout wings and can fly. You also emanate a 30-foot aura. Creatures that enter that aura or start their turn there must make a wisdom saving throw or become frightened.
The Oathbreaker is a very cool subclass that deals a ton of damage. It will stick out like a sore thumb in many campaigns given its ties to the undead.
- Oath spells. There’s a lot of weak options here. Inflict Wounds is weaker than a normal attack plus smite, so why use it? Darkness isn’t ideal since you likely can’t see in the darkness. There are still enough spells worth having like Blight, Animate Dead, and Contagion.
- Channel Divinity (Level 3). Control Undead let’s you command an undead creature for 24 hours if it fails wisdom saving throw. Dreadful Aspect lets you frighten any creature of your choice within 30 feet if they fail a wisdom saving throw. This lasts for one minute.
- Aura of Hate (Level 7). Aura of Hate gives you a bonus to melee weapon damage equal to your charisma modifier. This bonus also applies to any fiends or undead within 10 feet of you. The bonus does not stack from more than one Oathbreaker paladin.
- Supernatural Resistance (Level 15). This gives you resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons.
- Dread Lord (Level 20). This power goes you an aura of gloom for one minute. This aura reduces bright light to dim light within 30 feet. Any creature that is frightened by you that starts its turn in this sphere takes 4d10 psychic damage. Also any creatures you choose that rely on sight are at disadvantage on attack rolls. Finally, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with these shadows. If your spell attack hits it deals 3d10 + your charisma modifier in necrotic damage.
Fleshing Out your Paladin
Ultimately, the way you play your paladin is up to you. For some, just optimizing your character is enough to get you started. However, we have accumulated a few tips that can help you flesh out your paladin beyond its spells and abilities.
Gods and Religion
The term paladin has religious connotations, but it is important to remember you are not required to follow one. After all, your paladin draws his power from their commitment to their oath, not to a particular god. Still, it is not unusual for paladins to also worship a god that fits with their oath. Below are some suggested Forgotten Realms gods for each Oath:
- Ancients: Ehlonna, Eldath, Mielikki
- Conquest: Bel, Bane, Trithereon
- Crown: Bane, Erathis, Tyr
- Devotion: Trithereon, Ilmater
- Redemption: Ilmater, Lathander, Torm
- Vengeance: Bahamut, Helm, Torm, Kelemvor
Unlike previous versions, the Fifth Edition of D&D does not require that your paladin either follow a god or hold a lawful good alignment. This is awesome, as it provides you freedom in pursuing your character.
Just like with clerics and their gods, you might find internal or intraparty conflict due to your oath. Redemption paladins should have a lot to deal with if their party keeps slaughtering people, for instance.
The important thing to remember is having fun. Even if you have to put in some effort to address your character’s oath in relations to your party’s actions, it is an opportunity for storytelling and adding layers to your character.
Paladin 5E Optimization Tips
For some of us, squeezing every bit of advantage out of our characters is part of the fun. To that end, we have put together a comprehensive guide for optimizing your paladin in 5E.
One of the biggest drawbacks with paladins is that they require higher abilities than most other classes. Strength and Constitution are vital for a frontline character, and charisma fuels your spells. While you can in theory dump dexterity, intelligence, and wisdom, you risk a lot of problematic saving throws when you do.
Unless you plan a finesse, dexterty-based paladin then strength should be your top priority.
Unless you have a specific finesse build in mind, dump dexterity and protect yourself with full plate armor.
Constitution should be your third priority, as you can expect to soak up some damage and be the target of many attacks.
Charisma is your second-highest priority, as it powers your spellcasting. If you intend to sling more spells and abilities that actual weapons, you might make this your top priority.
Best Races for Paladin in 5E
Like with all classes, the reality is there are no truly bad options for a paladin. As you level your character, any race can will work. There are some options that work better that others, of course. What we look for are races that have complimentary ability score boosts and racial features.
- Aasimar. Hard to beat an Aasimar with the boost to Charisma, healing hands, and resistance to necrotic damage among other things.
- Half-Elf. Half-elves make excellent paladins. You get a boost to the major attributes you need, extra skills, useful resistances, and Darkvision.
- Human. Due to their versatility, humans are good for any class. This is true for paladin.
- Tiefling. Tieflings offer a nice spread of ability score boosts and some excellent recial feats.
- Triton. Good ability boosts, innate spellcasting, and cold resistance are all very strong for a paladin build.
- Dragonborn. Dragonborn offer nice abilities, and Dragon Fear fits well for a Conquest Paladin.
- Dwarf. Constitution makes this work well.
- Goliath. Nice abilities and Stone Endurance make this a good fit.
- Tabaxi. Not strong for a traditional paladin, but excellent if you are going for a dexterity-based build.
- Tortle. excels in the early game thanks to natural armor. However, this option lags at higher levels when magical plate armor becomes available.
For a paladin, your background will not make or break your character. The tools rarely make a difference, but additional languages and proficiencies are nice. Here are a few good options
- City Watch. Athletics and Insight are always helpful, plus you get two languages. This is a great option.
- Courtier. A good choice if you plan to be a party face.
- Faction Agent. This gets you insight plus a mental skill of your choice. Throw in two languages and you have an ideal background. The faction you are an agent for could be based on your Oath as well.
- Soldier. This gives you athletics plus a face skill, which is great. Whether or not your vehicle or dice set are useful depends on the campaign.
- Great Weapon Master. Paladins have a number of ways to increase their attack score, making the tradeoff for Great Weapon Master worth it.
- Inspiring Leader. This is a great temporary HP buff, and most paladins have the charisma to make it worthwhile.
- Polearm Master. This gives you a bonus attack with the blunt end of a polearm. Very useful if your weapon of choice is a polearm.
Paladin is one of the best classes available, meaning there is no need to multiclass if you don’t want to. That said, there are a few other classes worth taking a dip into. We discuss those below.
Good Multiclassing Options for Paladin
- Bard. A weird fit at first blush, bard works given they cast using charisma. While I am a little on the fence with this one, it is a great choice if you are already running support for your party. A few spells and bardic inspiration is worth a dip.
- Sorcerer. Not a bad choice here if you want more spellcasting options. Sorcerer casts with charisma, and you get a lot of value for dipping just one level.
- Warlock. Potentially the best option, the warlock gives you access to some cool spells that recharge on short rest. What’s more, you can use those spell slots for smites.
Avoidable Multiclass Options
- Artificer. Not worth giving up higher-level Paladin features.
- Barbarian. No casting during Rage plus no plate armor makes this a weird fit, although divine smite during rage sounds pretty great.
- Cleric. Requires wisdom, making your stat spread a problem.
- Druid. Nope.
- Fighter. On the bubble. Taking a few levels for Action Surge is awesome, but probably not better than just sticking with Paladin.
- Monk. Ugly mix for stat spread.
- Ranger. The stat spread is as bad as with Monk.
- Rogue. Not worth losing levels of Paladin.
- Wizard. Intelligence is a dump stat for Paladin, so no.
Concluding our Paladin 5E Guide
That wraps up our Paladin 5E Guide. We hope this has been helpful for you!