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Pathfinder - Paladin Archetypes Breakdown

Last Updated: Mar 21, 2017

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Archetypes

The Paladin is generally a defender or striker with the ability to be a face and a healer if the need arises. Paladin archetypes completel ignore the Paladin's skill list, but provide some interesting options to emphasize the Paladins combat and healing abilities.

Divine Defender

The Divine Defender is a small change to the Paladin, and very slightly shifts the Paladin from a "kill them now, fix us later" policy to a "get through the fight in one piece" policy. Shared defense removes the Paladin's ability to remove negative status effects, but provides a few immunities to your allies for a few rounds. The change to Divine Bond is perhaps the biggest part of the archetype.

Shared Defense (Su): The bonuses are small, the area is small, all of the effects are situational, and the duration is terrible. You give up Mercy for this, so ensure that you have a capable healer in the party to handle conditions which you could cover with Mercy.

Divine Bond (Su): Dvine Bond is much better for weapons, but this is miles better than the Sacred Shield archety'es Divine Bond. The list of abilities is respectable, and the ability to add energy resistance adds some nice defensive versatility to the Paladin.

Oaths: Chastity, Corruption, Loyalty, Savagery, Vengeance

Replaced Features: Mercy, Divine Bond

Compatible Archetypes: Hospitaler, Undead Scourge, Warrior of the Holy Light

Divine Hunter

Most Paladins are melee characters, but the Divine Hunter takes a step back to use ranged weapons. The Divine Hunter is on par with the standard Paladin, and brings some nice feats and abilities which make archery easier.

Precise Shot: Absolutely essential for ranged characters. It hurts to give up heavy armor, but with enough dexterity to be a decent archer it shouldn't matter.

Shared Precision (Su): It's not often that you have allies who need precise shot.

Divine Bond (Su): If you are adding the Returning quality to your weapons, you should just buy a weapon with the Returning quality.

Distant Mercy (Sp): This is a fair trade for a Mercy, but it will take until fairly high level before the range exceeds your move speed.

Aura of Care (Su): This greatly mitigates the need for Imrpoved Precise Shot, especially if you spend all of your time just outside of reach.

Hunter's Blessing (Su): If your allies need these feats they should have them already. The only way to really use this is to hand everyone in your party a bow and point them at something far away.

Righteous Hunter (Su): Essential. At this level almost everything will have DR, and DR/good is common for evil creatures.

Oaths: No

Replaced Features: Armor Proficiency, aura of courage, divine bond, Mercy (6th level), aura of resolve, aura of justice, aura of faith

Compatible Archetypes: None

Empyreal Knight

The Empyreal Knight is a Paladin trying to become an Angel. While the concept is great, and the flavor makes sense, the archetype just isn't very good. You give up many important Paladin abilities for some abilities that could replaced with a single spell or a few skill ranks. Overall, the archetype just doesn't add anything worth having.

Voices of the Spheres: One rank of linguistics could replace this, and Divine Grace is one of the Paladin's best abilities.

Celestial Heart (Su): A nice range of resistances, and they scale with level. At higher levels you gain truespeech, completely invalidating Voices of the Spheres, and finally you gain the ability to create a protective aura for a few rounds per day.

Celestial Ally (Sp): Summon Monster is very powerful, but you get it three levels behind Clerics and Wizards.

Divine Bond (Su): Turn your Warhorse into a flying warhorse, which technically isn't a Pegasus. Flight is crucial at high levels, so it's nice to have access to a constant source of flight.

Empyreal Champion: A collection of cool abilities, and you can fly without needing your mount.

Oaths: Loyalty

Replaced Features: Divine Grace, Lay on Hands, Mercy, Channel Positive Energy, Divine Bond, Holy Champion

Compatible Archetypes: Undead Scourge, Warrior of the Holy Light

Holy Guide

The Holy Guide is a lousy attempt to introduce Teamwork feats and Favored Terrain to the Paladin. The Teamwork Feat ability is lousy and doesn't improved, and Favored Terrain has always been awful and boring.

Class Skills: Both skills are situational, and Paladins only get 2+ skills ranks, and Intelligence is their only dump stat.

Favored Terrain (Ex): I hate Favored Terrain. It's dull, the bonuses are mediocre, and in this case you have top give up Mercies to increase the crappy bonus.

Teamwork Feat (Ex): A free feat is nice, but by 5th level you won't be able to get anything particularly exciting, and you can only share this one feat with your allies.

Oaths: Corruption, Fiends, Savagery, Wyrm, Charity, Chastity, Loyalty, Vengeance

Replaced Features: Mercy (3rd, 5th)

Compatible Archetypes: Holy Gun, Holy Tactician, Hospitaler, Sacred Servant, Sacred Shield, Shining Knight, Temple Champion, Undead Scourge, Warrior of the Holy Light

Holy Gun

The Holy Gun merges the Gunslinger with the Paladin. You still get all of the Paladin's excellent healing and defensive abilities, and you get the ability to use a gun and a limited number of Gunslinger deeds. The biggest issue with the archetype is the Grit pool. Until you hit level 11, you may only have one or two points to use in a day, which will mean that many of your fights will be a repetetive series of full attack actions.

Be sure to read my Gunslinger Deed Breakdown.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Giving up heavy armor is annoying, but if you're using firearms you generally don't need it.

Have Gun: Two free feats and a weapon. Don't forget to pick your first level Gunslinger deed.

Divine Deed: You get one deed in addition to your free deed from Amateur Gunslinger.

Divine Bond: This adds a lot of versatility to your weapon.

Holy Grit (Ex): Finally you get a decent sized Grit pool. The additional deeds are great too, and can give you a lot of great options.

Holy Slinger (Ex): 1 Grit point for a chance to banish evil outsiders. Not quite as easy to use as regular Smite Evil, but you can use it on multiple targets in a round.

Oaths: Chastity, Fiends

Replaced Features: Weapon and Armor Proficiency, Detect Evil, Smite Evil, Divine Bond, Aura of Justice, Holy Champion

Compatible Archetypes: Warrior of the Holy Light

Holy Tactician

The Holy Tactician is a teamwork feat archetype. Like many teamwork feat archetypes, it assumes that not everyone in the party is taking teamwork feats, so it grants you the ability to share them with your party.

Weal's Champion (Su): A bit like a shared version of Smite Evil, Weal's Champion deals less damage, but grants your allies a bonus to hit your target and a tiny bit of extra damage.

Tactical Acumen (Ex): Losing Divine Bond is unfortunate, but 5 free feats is pretty great. When selecting your geats, remember that you can share them with Battlefield Presence.

Battlefield Presence (Su): It's not clear if your allies need to remain within 30 feet to continue to receive the bonus feat, but you can grant your allies a teamwork feat any number of times per day. Grant your allies something cool before going into combat like Coordinated Charge.

Guide the Battle (Ex): Using a move action to do this is hard because it prevents you from making a full attack or charging. However, this can get your weak characters out of melee, or it can help your allies position themselves in a round i nwhich you need to cast a spell.

Weal's Wrath (Su): This greatly improves your ability to fight multiple foes simultaneously.

Masterful Presence (Su): It's pretty rare that you will want allies to have different teamwork feats since teamwork feats typically only work if everyone has them. Confirming critical hits is great, assuming someone in your party relies on them.

Oaths: None

Replaced Features: Smite Evil, Aura of Courage, Divine Health, Divine Bond, Aura of Resolve, Aura of Justice, Holy Champion

Compatible Archetypes: Warrior of the Holy Light

Hospitaler

The Hospitaler gives up a bit of the Paladin's offensive ability for the ability to channel energy without using Lay on Hands charges, adding another pool of healing to the Paladin. The capabilities lost are fairly minor, which makes this archetype a good choice if your party needs additional healing.

Smite Evil (Su): Less smites per day, but they still work the same way.

Channel Positive Energy (Su): Channel Energy is not a great option at Paladin level -3, but it's free healing that doesn't consume your uses of Lay on Hands.

Aura of Healing (Su): Assuming your party is all the same level, this aura will provide less healing on average than a normal usage of Channel Positive Energy. The big draw is the ability to make an extra save against ongoing conditions, and the ability to heal allies without healing enemies.

Oaths: Charity, Chastity, Fiends

Replaced Features: Smite Evil, Channel Positive Energy, Aura of Justice

Compatible Archetypes: Divine Defender, Warrior of the Holy Light

Sacred Servant

The Sacred Servant reduces the Paladin's usual reliance on weapons, and introduces some exta spell slots and the ability to enhance your Channel Energy ability through a Divine Bond with your holy symbol. If you want to make a character focused on Channel Energy, this is a great options. Otherwise, you may be better served to play a Cleric.

Smite Evil (Su): Less smites per day, but they still work the same way.

Spells: Some domains have good options in their first few spell slots, and many have abilities which a Paladin will find very useful. Read my Cleric Domain Breakdown for help choosing a domain.

Divine Bond (Su): If you like to channel positive energy, this is the way to do it. Use your holy symbol to boost your damage/healing and your DC and go nuts.

Call Celestial Ally (Sp): The Planar Ally spells are very powerful, but their biggest limitation is their cost. Removing this costs allows you to do a lot of very cool things.

Oaths: Corruption, Savagery, Vengeance

Replaced Features: Smite Evil, Spells, Divine Bond, Aura of Resolve

Compatible Archetypes: None

Sacred Shield

If every enemy was nice enough to stand and hit you in the face with a pointy stick while you did the same, this archetype would be fantastic. Instead the Sacred Shield trades in the Paladin's Smite Evil ability for the ability to protect himself and his allies from pointy sticks and not much else. The Sacred Shield and his allies are still wholly vulnerable to spells, special attacks, falling rocks, and traps.

Bastion of Good (Su): Reducing damage to your allies by half sounds great, but this doesn't affect spells, special abilities, or other sources of damage. The bonus to your AC is also nice, but it certainly won't prevent your enemies from killing your allies.

Holy Shield (Su): The bonus to AC is nice, especially when combined with Bastion of Good, but the duration is fairly short and this ability stull doesn't protect you from spells or special abilities.

Divine Bond (Su): Effects like this are worse on armor and shields than they are on weapons. Armor costs half as much to enhance, and to get the most mileage out of Bastion of Good and Holy Shield, your shield's enhancement bonus should be high. The list of abilities is small and not very good.

Improved Bastion: This makes Bastion of Good considerably easier to use, and keeps pace with Holy Shield so that their effects affect the same area.

Perfect Bastion: This makes your party very resistant to the target of your Bastion of Good, but it still doesn't protect your from spells or special abilities.

Oaths: Chastity, Fiends

Replaced Features: Smite Evil, Channel Positive Energy, Divine Bond, Aura of Justice, Holy Champion

Compatible Archetypes: Warrior of the Holy Light

Shining Knight

Shining Knight doesn't add much, but it adds everything you need to be get by as a mounted combat Paladin. You need to take all of the feats on your own, but your mount will be very difficult to kill.

Skilled Rider (Ex and Su): Removing the armor check penalty from ride checks will really help for Mounted Combat checks, and adding Divine Grace to your mount will make it considerably tougher to kill with magic.

Divine Bond (Su): It would be a bit silly to take anything else on a mounted combat archetype.

Knight's Charge (Su): Taking an enemy straight to Panicked effectively takes them out of the fight. You can continue to hit them with mounted charges as they run around futily trying to escape from you.

Oaths: Chastity, Fiends, Loyalty

Replaced Features: Divine Health, Divine Bond, Aura of Justice

Compatible Archetypes: Warrior of the Holy Light

Temple Champion

The Temple Champion trades in the Paladin's spells for access to a Warpriest Blessing. While Warpriest Blessings are certainly powerful, the Paladin's spell list is much more versatile and effective than a single Blessing.

Spells: The Paladin spell list is surprisingly good, and includes a lot of very powerful buffs unique to Paladins. Losing access to spells is unfortunate.

Domain Granted Power: Most Cleric domain abilities available at first level won't help you much.

Blessing (Su): You only get one blessing, and you get the Minor Blessing power 4 levels late, at which point many of the blessings will have trouble remaining important.

Oaths: All

Replaced Features: Spells, Divine Bond, Aura of Justice

Compatible Archetypes: Holy Guide, Hospitaler, Warrior of the Holy Light

Undead Scourge

The Undead Scourge gives up a little bit of the Paladin's general evil-smiting ability for some extra powers to destroy the undead. If your campaign features an unusually large number of undead, this is great.

Smite Evil (Su): Not quite as good, but not notably worse.

Aura of Life (Su): Useful if you plan to Channel Energy to damage the undead around you, but other than that it's not very helpful.

Undead Annihilation (Su): Save or die for undead foes. This can be a great way one-shot the BBEG Lich.

Oaths: Charity, Wyrm

Replaced Features: Smite Evil, Aura of Resolve, Aura of Justice

Compatible Archetypes: Divine Defender, Empyreal Knight, Warrior of the Holy Light

Warrior of the Holy Light

Despite having a small spell list and very few spells per day, the Paladin has a lot of ver good spells which are exclusive to the Paladin. Giving up these options, especially great spells like Holy Sword, are difficult. Power of Faith is a cool ability, but it's very hard to make it compete with a full spell list.

Power of Faith (Su): This is what you get in exchange for your spells. You should always be wary of giving up spellcasting because it permanently locks you into whatever you get, but your class's spell list will expand with every new supplement. If you're okay with that, the bonuses are decent, and you can get a lot of useful effects in a single standard action.

Shining Light (Su): Like an awesome combination of Channel Positive Energy and Holy Word. The bonuses to your allies are small and the duration is short, but blinding enemies in an AOE for even one round can really do a lot of damage.

Oaths: All

Replaced Features: Spells, Aura of Faith

Compatible Archetypes: Divine Defender, Empyreal Knight, Holy Gun, Holy Tactician, Hospitaler, Sacred Shield, Shining Knight, Undead Scourge