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DnD 3.5 - The Paladin Handbook

Disclaimer

I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which tend to be more consistent than 3.5 handbooks. Because so little of 3.5 is available on the SRD, I will attempt to tag items with a superscript indicating their book of origin. For help identifying sourcebook abbreviations, see my Sourcebook Abbreviations Guide.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

It's important to note that I generally omit campaign-setting specific content. I am of the opinion that those options are intended to be limited to campaigns run in those settings, and as such they don't really apply to a generic campaign. Those options also tend to be wildly unbalanced and rarely recieve errata. I also omit the use of "Flaws" since they allow a massive increase in power with essentially no cost to the character.

Introduction

The Paladin is a fantastic class in a lot of ways. It is extremely durable, has a huge pile of resistance and immunities, it can heal, it can cast a few spells, and you get a cool horse. Paladins are a fantastic class for new players because they are simple to play, don't require a ton of build decisions at every level, and the Paladin's abilities make it easy to recover from damage and negative status effects. The Paladin has a short skill list and few skill points, but even with these limits the Paladin can still serve as a very effective Face.

The Paladin suffers a few of the same limits as a Fighter. Without the versatility of a large spell list, Paladins typically serve purely combat roles (unless they invest skill points to also serve as a Face), and they lack abilities to overcome other challenges. Some of the Paladins feature, like Turn Undead, have very little function for Paladins. Their wide range of abilities also comes with horrile MAD. These limitations place the Paladin very low on the class tier list, but that certainly doesn't make them useless or boring to play.

Paladin Class Features

Hit Points: d10 hit points is standard for martial classes.

Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.

Saves: Paladins have the best saves in the game by a wide margin. They have good Fortitude saves, and need both Constitution and Wisdom, giving them good saves in the two most important saves. On top of that, Divine Grace allows them to add their Charisma bonus to all of their saves. Even with modest Charisma, this is likely at least the equivalent of Great Fortitude, Iron Will, and Lightning Reflexes for free.

Proficiencies: Heavy armor, tower shields, and martial weapons.

Skills: 2+ skill ranks is very limiting, and because Paladins are so MAD Intelligence is frequently a dump stat. Paladins get a few important skills, but don't expect to use them much.

Aura of Good (Ex): This essentially never matters.

Detect Evil (Sp): Consider so much of the Paladin's flavor involves hunting evil, this makes your life a lot easier. Use it to check potentially disguised enemies, or to peek through thin barriers.

Smite Evil (Su): There's some debate about what constitutes a "normal melee attack", so check with your DM. You get very few uses per day, the damage isn't huge, and missing wastes your already limited attempts. Smite Evil is also limited to melee attacks (unless you spend a feat), which forces Paladins into melee.

Divine Grace (Su): The source of the Paladin's insanely good saves, and a good reason for a two-level class dip in some builds.

Lay on Hands (Su): The pool of points isn't huge, but the ability to precisely set the amount of healing you use is useful for getting those last few hit points without wasting more charges from your Wand of Lesser Vigor. You can also burn this on undead creatures, potentially turning Lay on Hands into a huge pile of guranteed damage.

Aura of Courage (Su): Situational. Fear effects aren't terribly common, they're easy to mitigate, and if they affect you the worst thing that generally happens is that you run away.

Divine Health (Ex): Diseases, especially supernatural ones, don't become common until high levels. Even then, they generally don't tale effect for a few days, during which time you have had plenty of time to cast Remove Disease.

Turn Undead (Su): Turn Undead is a really boring ability, and Paladins are considerably worse at it than Clerics. Your best bet is to use feats to turn your Turn Undead uses into some other useful ability.

Spells: Paladins are a half-caster, so they only get up to 4th-level spells. Their spell list is small, but includes a lot of really fantastic buffs. You only need 14 wisdom to cast even the best Paladin spells, and you don't need to boost your Wisdom much because you should never be casting anything with a save DC.

Special Mount (Sp): A Paladin's mount is typically just a fancy horse, and frequently gets ignored because it's hard to take a horse into cramped dungeons. Despite these issues, the Paladin's mount can be a powerful and useful companion, especially when enhanced with a few feats.

Remove Disease (Sp): Paladins are already immune to disease, but this is helpful if your party lacks a Cleric.

Code of Conduct: The Paladin's code of conduct is the primary reason the "Lawful Stupid" stereotype exists. It expects that the Paladin be upstanding, honorable, and just at all times, even when it doesn't make tactical sense to do so. This often requires the Paladin to take stupid risks like walking into a room full of enemies and demanding surrender instead of surprise attacking them. Your DM may interpret this in any number of ways, so be sure to consider this when determining how your Paladin will fit into the party.

Associates: It's pretty rare for parties to include characters of both good and evil alignments, so this probably won't be a problem.

Alternate Class Features

  • Charging SmitePHB2: If you didn't want a mount, this is probably the best way to replace it. This triples your bonus smite damage on a charge, and saves the smite use if you miss, dramatically improving the reliability of Smite Evil. Note that the additional smite damage is based on your paladin level, so if you multiclass into something like Gray Guard you only gain 1 damage per level.
  • Curse BreakerCM: I am far more scared of curses than diseases, and you can recover from a disease by resting.
  • Divine CounterspellCM: This is questionably useful for Clerics, and Paladins take a -3 penalty to your check compared to a Cleric.
  • Divine SpiritDs: The spirit abilities are interesting, but the limited user per day make this hard to justify.
  • Dragonscale HuskDrM: Paladins are MAD enough as it without needing the 14 dexterity to make this keep up with medium armor.
  • Drakeensteed MountDrM: Drakkensteeds aren't as good as the options available from the Dragon Mount feat, but they're much better than a horse since they can fly, and this doesn't cost a feat.
  • Holy WarriorCC: Giving up spells is always hard, but since spellcasting dramatically increases the Paladin's MAD, it's not such a bad option. You get four additional bonus feats, helping to close the feat gap between Paladins and Fighters without cutting into the Paladin's ridiculous durability. Unfortunately, the list of feats is very slim, with few worthwhile options. The list includes all of the essential mounted combat feats, as well as Extra Smiting and Improved Smiting, so you should have enough options if you're going for a mounted combat build. If you're not going for mounted combat, I would skip this.
  • Spell-less PaladinCW: The Paladin's real spells replicate many of the same effects and have considerably more uses per day.
    • Blessed Weapon: Helpful, but a real Paladin can cast Bless Weapon.
    • Divine Might: Once per day, and the duration itsn't huge, but it's a divine bonus so it stacks with your items.
    • Tend to Mount: Buy a wand of lesser vigor and make friends with the Cleric.
    • Holy Sword: A real Paladin can cast Holy Sword.
  • Rebuke DragonsDrM: Undead are far more common than dragons, and you can't use Rebuke Dragons to fuel Divine Feats.
  • Skilled City DwellerWeb: Trade in Ride and Handle Animal for Tumble and Gather Information. You won't use Tumble, but Gather Information is great for a Face. This is especially good if you give up your special mount.
  • Stand FastWeb: Trade in your mount for the ability to boost your nearby allies' saves a few times per day. Definitely worthwhile if you don't need a mount, and if your party is squishy.
  • Underdark KnightCC: Only useful in games which take place mostly underground, and even then it's not very interesting.

Substitution Levels

  • Dragonborn PaladinRotD: The Dragonborn Paladin gets access to Knowledge (Arcana) at substituted levels, but with so few skill points to spend it's hard to consider that a benefit.
    • 1st level: Unless your campaign is entirely dedicated to dragons, this will be considerably less useful than Detect Evil.
    • 4th level: This removes the ability to use Divine Feats or to trade in Turn Undead for a more useful class feature, and the damage bonus isn't significant even in dragon-heavy campaigns.
    • 5th level: As a front-line martial class you need all the BAB you can get. If your mount is cowardly, feed it potions of Remove Fear.
  • Elf PaladinRotW: The Elf Paladin looks like it might work surprisingly well with the Devoted Hunter.
    • 1st level: Trade the ability to make melee smites for the ability to make ranged smites at up to 30 foot range. You don't give up heavy armor proficiency, so consider Zen Archery and running your bow through your Wisdom score.
    • 3rd level: Enchantment effects make up a much larger set of effects than fear effects, and a +4 bonus is very nice.
    • 5th level: Unicorns radiate a constant Magic Circle Against Evil, and can cast some cure spells as spell-like abilities a few times per day. They're smarter than all but the best of Paladin mounts, they have both darkvision and low-light vision, and they are faster than light horses by 10 ft. Altogether, they're a very solid mount.
  • Half-Orc PaladinRoD: Half-Orc Paladins get bigger hit die and Intimidate in place of Diplomacy, opening up some interesting feat options like Imperious Command.
    • 1st level: Righteous Fury replaces Smite Evil with a rage-like mechanic. The bonus is a morale bonus, so it won't stack with things like Bless or Inspire Courage, but because the effect lasts for several rounds you may be able to considerably more damage than you could with Smite Evil.
    • 3rd level: Aura of Awe is without question better than Aura of Courage. If you have anyone in your party who enjoys fear stacking, they will be very happy to see this in play. Combined with access to Intimidate and feats like Imperious Command, this can make you a truly terrifying force on the battlefield.
    • 6th level: Fatigued goes away after a few minutes of rest. It's the second-lead impactful status effect, falling very slightly behind dazzled.
  • Planar PaladinPH: The Planar Paladin gets access to Knowledge (The Planes) at substituted levels, but with so few skill points to spend it's hard to consider that a benefit.
    • 4th level: Smite Evil Outsider is as situational as Turn Undead, but you can't use it to fuel Divine Feats.
    • 6th level: Celestial Mount is a mediocre feat, but getting it for free might be better than Remove Disease or Curse Breaker, especially if you have a Cleric in the party to deal with diseases and curses.
    • 10th level: Very situational, and you give up one of your precious smites per day. I would only take this in a campaign involving an unusually large amount of planar travel.

Unearthed Arcana

Check with your DM before consider any content from unearthed Arcana. The variant Paladins are especially popular because they allow Paladins to play in parties which would otherwise violate the Paladin's moral code. They aren't considerably more powerful than the vanilla Paladin, in my oppinion, and I would certainly allow them in my games.

  • Paladin of Freedom: Largely identical to the vanilla Paladin, but with Chaotic-Good alignment they will have a much easier time fitting into many parties.
  • Paladin of Slaughter: A more offensive version of the Paladin. Deadly touch can only heal undead, but can hurt everything else. Debilitating Aura only imposes a -1 to AC, but it's better than Aura of Courage. Cause Disease replicates Contagion, which is a great way inflict Blinding Sickness.
  • Paladin of Tyranny: The better of the two evil Paladin options, in my opinion, the Paladin of Tyranny is largely identical to the Paladin of Slaughter, but Aura of Despair imposes a -2 penalty to all saves, leaving enemies more vulnerable to all manner of nasty effects.
  • Variant Paladin: Favored Enemy is garbage and I hate it.

Abilities

The Paladin is one the most MAD classes, so don't expect to start with an 18 in anything unless you're willing to sacrifice everything else.

Str: Paladins are melee monsters and lack the feats and abilities to use Weapon Finesse, so Strength is a given.

Dex: Dumping Dexterity hurts your AC, but it's not crippling and the loss to your Reflex saves is negligible thanks to Divine Grace. Heavy Plate means you can get away with as little as 10, assuming you don't want to go for an area control defender build.

Con: Paladins are very durable, but you need hit points to keep you alive until you can heal yourself, and Fortitude save bonus never hurts.

Int: Paladins get very few skill options, and with so much MAD Intelligence is probably a dump stat.

Wis: You never need more than 14, and you get spells at the same levels at which you get ability increases, so you could theoretically start with 10 and increase Wisdom just enough to get new spell levels.

Cha: Charisma fuels most of the Paladin's abilities.

Races

Bonuses to Charisma are exceptionally rare, so instead look for other useful ability bonuses or other racial benefits. Medium size is generally a good idea, but since Paladins typically don't go for an area control defender build, you don't particularly need to be enlarged. Small size can be nice for mounted combat builds, especially in cramped dungeons.

Dwarf: Despite the penalty to Charisma, Dwarves can make perfectly viable Paladins. They function well in heavy armor, and their racial bonuses make them very durable. Couple with Divine Grace and even modest Charisma, Dwarf Paladins are nearly unstoppable.

Elf: The elf offers nothing helpful for Paladins.

Gnome: The bonus to Constitution is nice, and small size can be nice for mounted combat builds in cramped dungeons, but the gnome's other racial bonuses are terrible..

Half-Elf: Awful.

Half-Orc: Darkvision and a strength bonus are nice, but penalties to both intelligence and charisma are hard to deal with.

Halfling: The Halfling's abilities are terrible for Paladins, but small size can be nice for mounted combat builds in cramped dungeons.

Human: A bonus skill point helps if you dump Intelligence, and a bonus feat opens up a lot of wonderful options.

Non-Core Races

Raptoran: Flight (eventually), and the raptoran's flying charge ability does double damage. Double damage combined with Charging Smite and Rhino's Rush is a huge pile of damage..

SpellscaleRotD: The Charisma bonus is nice since they're so rare, but the Constitution bonus hurts and nothing else about the spellscale is especially useful.

Skills

  • Concentration (Con): If you are in a situation in which you need to cast defensively, you should be fighting instead.
  • Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for a Face.
  • Handle Animal (Cha): Unless you invest a feat to get something other than a warhorse, this is worthless. If you want a cool mount, you may need to combat train it.
  • Heal (Wis): You have ways to handle healing without investing your very previous skill points.
  • Knowledge (nobility and royalty) (Int): Too situational to justify the skill points.
  • Knowledge (religion) (Int): A few ranks are great for identifying undead and handling religious stuff, but with poor Intelligence and few skill ranks, the Paladin is not great at Knowledge skills.
  • Ride (Dex): Helpful if you're going for a mounted combat build, but otherwise worthless.
  • Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful for a Face.

Feats

  • Ancestral RelicBoED: It's hard to fit this into complex builds, but it's potentially a better way to get a cheap magic item than having a party member craft it. Since you can convert magic items' entire value, you don't lose half of your loots value by selling it. This can allow the rest of your party to take things like art and gems, and leave you with all of the vendor trash items, thereby setting the whole party well ahead of the normal loot curve.
  • Ascetic KnightCA: Take the two most MAD classes and combine them. The results are terrible.
  • Avenging StrikeToB: Too situational.
  • Awesome SmiteCC: All three options work very well, and if you don't need to overcome DR or a miss chance you can default to Overwhelming Smite.
  • Battle BlessingCC: Many Paladin buffs are extremely potent, but have short durations. Casting them as a swift action lets you bring them out when you need them most without cutting into your normal melee attacks.
  • Celestial MountBoED: The Celestial template grants your mount a 1/day smite, energy resistances, Darkvision, weak SR, and some shitty DR that nearly everything can bypass.
  • Combat ExpertisePHB: Requires both of the Paladin's dump stats.
  • Combat ReflexesPHB: Since Dexterity needs to be a dump stat for Paladins, Combat reflexes is very difficult to use.
  • Devoted InquisitorCA: Shadowbane Inquisitor is a fun class, and a really interesting concept. Devoted Inquisitor isn't required for the class, but it seems like an obvious choice. Dazing an enemy robs them of their turn, giving you an extra turn to murder them.
  • Devoted PerformerCA: Paladins and Bards don't really make a good combination. If you want a Paladin-Bard mix, a Crusader-Bard mix will work considerably better.
  • Devoted TrackerCA: Only interesting for Elf Paladins, and even then questionably useful.
  • Dragon SteedDr: A Dragonne is a CR 7 monster, but it's a fairly terrible mount because its flight speed is slow and it has poor maneuverability. However, Paladins get to use the rules for dragons as special mounts, opening up a bunch of other options starting at 9th level. Dragons are intelligent, they can speak, and they have a variety of senses which can fill in gaps in the Paladin's defenses. True dragons have status effect breath weapons which you can spam until you get lucky, and the DCs will scale with the dragon's bonus hit dice. Don't forget that you need to give you dragon a hoard, making this feat somewhat expensive. Since most of the true dragon options don't work for medium creatures until high level, this feat may be best left for small Paladins.
    1. DragonnelDr: Despite looking like a horrifying mix between a goat and a dragon (seriously the art is hideous), the Dragonnel is a great mount. With 90 foot speed and average maneuverability you can easily traverse any battlefield. The Dragonnel's Roar ability is mediocre, but it might work once in a while.
    2. Spiked FelldrakeDr: Spiked Felldrakes can't fly, which is half of the reason you want a dragon mount. The other half is that dragons are awesome, and Spiked Felldrakes barely qualify as "neat".
    3. Wyrmling Gold DragonMM: A fun option for small riders, wyrmling gold dragons have 200 foot fly speed, but poor maneuverability. Unfortunately the gold dragon's status effect breath weapon is very weak at this age category, and the wyrmling's attacks are as bad as you would expect from a wyrmling.
    4. Very Young Bronze DragonMM: Roughly on par with the wyrmling gold dragon.
    5. Very Young Silver DragonMM: Slower than the gold dragon, and still with poor maneuverability. The silver dragon's breath weapon causes paralysis. This is likely the best option for small riders.
    6. Very Young Gold DragonMM: Large size increases the dragon's natural weapon damage and adds a tail slap. This is likely the best option for medium riders.
    7. Young Bronze DragonMM: The first option with spellcasting, the young bronze dragon casts spells as a 1st-level sorcerer, and also picks up the Alternate Form ability.
    8. Young Silver DragonMM: Still not big enough for medium creatures, but the dragon is finally able to cast spells as a first-level sorcerer.
    9. Young Gold DragonMM: Finally able to cast spells as a first-level sorcerer, but that's really all that you get.
  • Empower TurningLM: Turning if for clerics.
  • Exalted SmiteBoED: You need to be able to make your weapon good-aligned for all of your attacks, not just your handful of smite attempts per day. Improved Smiting is better, but just barely.
  • Exalted TurningBoED: Turning is for Clerics.
  • Extra SmitingCW: Smite Evil is one of the Paladin's most iconic abilities, but it is severely limited by how few uses per day you get. 2 extra uses isn't much, but if you like Smite Evil it can be very powerful.
  • Gift of GraceBoED: Make your allies get their own saving throw bonuses. You should be up front drawing fire, and shrugging of spells and abilities like they're nothing.
  • GoadCA: The Paladin's best bet for a Defender option, Goad allows you to force enemies to attack you. It uses your move action, robbing you of your Full Attack, but it could very easily save your party's lives if it keeps a powerful melee enemy focused on you.
  • Hands of a HealerBoED: Improved Toughness is probably better.
  • Heighten TurningLM: Turning is for Clerics.
  • Improved Buckler DefenseCW: Great for TWF builds and Two-Handed builds which need a bit of help with AC, but once you can afford an animated shield it becomes useless.
  • Improved CriticalPHB: Fantastic for Scimitars and Falchions, but otherwise skip it.
  • Improved InitiativePHB: Never hurts, but going first isn't as important for Paladins as it is for spellcasters.
  • Improved SmitingCD: You need to be able to overcome DR with all of your attacks, not just your smites, and 1d6 extra damage is pitiful. Pick up Battle Blessing and cast Bless Weapon.
  • Improved ToughnessCW: An extra hit point at every level can be very nice if your AC isn't doing the trick.
  • Lunging StrikePHB2: One attack with slightly improved reach as a full round action. Garbage.
  • Mage SlayerCAd: Situational, but it really shuts down enemy spellcasters.
  • Nymph's KissBoED: +2 bonus to Charisma skill checks is great for a Face, a +1 on saves against spells is nice on top of your already insane saves, and the bonus skill point per level helps with your weak skills.
  • Martial StudyToB: Maneuvers are fantastic, and many of them offer great options for Paladins.
    • Martial StanceToB: Stances are fantastic, and many of them offer great options for Paladins. Remember that some stances may require you to take Martial Study more than once.
  • Mounted CombatPHB: Essential for mounted builds, but not very exciting on its own. Since Paladins get a special mount, mounted combat builds can work very well for them.
    • Mounted ArcheryPHB: Paladins are awful in ranged combat
      • Improved Mounted ArcheryCW: Paladins still suck at ranged combat
    • Ride-By Attack: The defining feat for mounted combat builds.
      • Spirit Charge: A huge boost in damage output.
    • TramplePHB: No one uses Overrun.
  • Power AttackPHB: Essential.
    • CleavePHB: Very rarely pays off unless your DM likes to use lots of weak enemies in fights.
      • Great Cleave: Almost never useful.
    • Improved Bull RushPHB: Less useful for Paladins than for Fighters since Paladins don't get Dungeon Crasher, but opens up Shock Trooper.
      • Cometary CollisionPHB2: This could potentially work for Defenders early in a fight when enemies are closing distance, but it's very passive and situational.
    • Improved OverrunPHB: I have been playing this game for over a decade and I have never once seen anyone use this feat. Stop running past people and hit them.
    • Improved SunderPHB: Don't destroy your own loot.
    • Leap AttackCAd: Essential for charge builds.
    • Resounding BlowBoED: If you use a scimitar or falchion and pick up Improved Critical, this could be a decent option.
  • Quicken TurningCD: Turning is for Clerics.
  • Sanctify WeaponBoED: The damage bonus is pitiful.
  • Stand StillEPH: A frequently overlooked feat from a frequently overlooked book, Stand Still replaces the need for complex Trip tactics and Combat Expertise, making Defender builds considerably easier for characters with low intelligence or few feats to invest. Getting reach is a good idea, but not required.
  • Strength of ConvictionEoE: Allows you to smite anything, regardless of alignment, once per day. I'm not sure if you can still use it with things like Charging Smite, but I would allow it in my games.
  • ToughnessPHB: Literally never.
  • Swift CallCC: If you're using a mount, your mount should nearly always be summoned.
  • True BelieverCD: Your saves are good enough on their own.
  • Weapon FocusPHB: A +1 to hit is always nice, and it's especially useful for archery and TWF builds which depend on multiple weak attacks.
    • Sanctify Martial StrikeBoED: The damage bonuse is pitiful.
  • Winter's ChampionFb: You get to add 7 new spells to your Paladin spell list (the 4th-level options are the same), but none of the spells really do anything for the Paladin.
  • Winter's MountFb: Adding the cold subtype is a lateral move. You get as much as you lose.

Divine Feats

Divine feats are a potent way to make use of your worthless daily run undead uses. With a dependence on Charisma, you probably have more uses than an equivalent Cleric, potentially allowing you to get a lot of mileage from divine feats.

  • Disciple of the SunCD: Turning is for Clerics.
  • Divine AccuracyLM: Nice in campaigns which feature a lot of incorporeal enemies. Affects your whole party.
  • Divine ArmorPHB2: DR 5/- is very good, but this will eat your turn undead attempts very quickly and prevent fairly little damage. Get an Ironward Clasp or a DR shirt (see Magic Items, below).
  • Divine CleansingCW: The bonus is small, and the duration is short.
    • Divine ResistanceCW: The resistances are small, and the duration is short.
  • Divine FortunePHB2: The bonus is big and you can apply it as an immediate action, but your saves should be good enough without this.
  • Divine JusticePHB2: Hard to use, and only useful if your enemy is dealing more damage than you.
  • Divine MetamagicCD: Metamagic is for full casters.
  • Divine MightCW: You'll burn through your turn undead attempts very quickly with this, but if you've got a big Charisma bonus (and you should), this can add up to a big pile of damage.
  • Divine ShieldCW: The bonus can be very large, but the duration isn't good enough to justify a standard action.
  • Divine Spell PowerCD: Too unpredictable, and it can actually make your spells weaker.
  • Divine VigorCW: At minutes per character level you can afford to use this every time you suspect a fight. Temporary hit points are fantastic, and the bonus speed will help overcome the impediment of your heavy armor.
  • Divine PHB2: Much more useful for Clerics; you should be using your spells on yourself.
  • Glorious WeaponsCD: Takes a standard action, and only lasts until the end of your next turn. Pick up Battle Blessing and cast Bless Weapon on yourself. Let your allies sort themselves out.
  • Elemental HealingCD: Too situational.
  • Elemental SmitingCD: Too situational.
  • Pierce the DarknessRoS: It's very rare that you need more than 60 ft. Darkvision, especially since Paladins aren't typically sneaking around in the dark.
  • Profane AuraPHB2: This can be very easily replicated by Fog Cloud.
  • Profance BoostCD: Inflict spells don't stay useful long enough to justify this feat, and you can't cast them.
  • Profane LifeleechLM: The damage and healing are pitiful. Use Lay on Hands. Only works for evil Paladin variants.
  • Sacred BoostCD: In-combat healing is almost always dumb, and out of combat a wand of lesser vigor is a better choice.
  • Sacred HealingPHB2: Only useful out of combat when you should be using a wand of Lesser Vigor.
    • Sacred PurificationPHB2: Essentially Mass Cure Light Wounds. Despite being a very high level spell, Mass Cure Light is extremely ineffective. Using it as a swift action is tempting, but so little healing will do very little at high levels.
  • Sacred RadiancePHB2: Most of the effect is covered by Daylight, and the save bonuses are situational.
  • Sacred VengeanceLM / CW: Divine Might will deal comparable damage, and affects all enemies instead of just undead.
  • Sacred VitalityLM: Too situational.
  • Spurn Death's TouchLM: Cast Lesser Restoration.

Weapons

  • Falchion: The two-handed equivalent of the Scimitar.
  • Lance: Paladins get the best mount ability in the game, so mounted charge builds are a great idea.
  • Longsword: Your likely go-to option at first level, but the Scimitar will be a better option once you have a significant damage bonus.
  • Scimitar: Your go-to option for sword-and-board builds. The higher critical threat range will be much more effective at high levels than the longsword's superior damage.

Armor

Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.

  • Scale Mail: Your starting armor.
  • Heavy Shield: Probably your best bet for sword-and-board builds.
  • Heavy PlateRoS: +1 more AC than full plate, and you don't need 12 dexterity to fill out the max dex bonus.

Spells

Remember that a paladin's caster level is only half their class level, so your spells will have short durations. Use them wisely.

1st-Level Spells

  • Rhino's RushSC: Swift action, double your charge damage. Use this every time you charge, and buy as many pearls of power as you need to allow you to use this all day long.

4th-Level Spells

  • Holy SwordPHB: Turn your sharp stick into a +5 holy weapon for rounds per level.

Magic Items

Weapons

  • Holy AvengerDMG: The gold standard of Paladin weaponry, but honestly it's not that great. It costs as much as a +8 weapon, but has only has the bonuses of a +7 weapon. The spell resistance is weak, and the ability to dispel magic is cute, but very situational. I would use one if I found it, but I wouldn't go looking for one.
  • Holy SurgeDMG2 (2000gp): 2d6 holy damage against an evil creaure as a swift action charisma bonus times per day. This combines well with Smite Evil, but it's not something you need to bend over backwards to get.
  • Sudden StunningDMG2 (2000gp): This ability really needs to be an enhancement bonus, because it's considerably too good to be a flat 2000gp. Stun enemies for 1d4+1 rounds, with a save DC based on your Charisma, charisma bonus times per day. There is no reason not to take this as a Paladin. It is simply too good to pass up.

Weapon Crystals

  • Energy AssaultMIC: Many weapon users pick up an energy enhancement for a bit of extra damage, but at 3000gp an energy assault crystal is cheaper than any actual enhancement (minimum of 6000gp on top of a +1 weapon). You can also swap out the crystals if your enemies are resistant to whatever you're using.
  • Life LeachMIC: Not terribly exciting, but stealing health from enemies you hit in combat can get you the extra hit points you need to get through a fight.

Armor/Shields

  • Animated ShieldDMG (+2): An animated shield is a crucial AC boost for two-handed and two-weapon builds of any kind. At 9000gp, a +1 animated shield is one of the cheaper ways to boost your AC once you already have cheap AC boosts like a +1 Ring of Protection. If you can handle the -2 penalty to attacks and the max dex bonus, you can apply this to a tower sheild for a fantastic +5 AC bonus for just over 9000gp.

Armor/Shield Crystals

  • Iron WardMIC: A splash of DR on your armor/shield. For 500 GP the lesser version is basically 10 hit points per day.

Rings

  • EvasionDMG: Excellent at high levels, especially with yur crazy Paladin saves.
  • ProtectionDMG: You're probably the party's Defender, so you need all the AC bonuses you can get.

Wondrous Items

  • Armbands of MightDMG: Special Attacks like Trip and Bull Rush aren't important for the Paladin, but the +2 bonus to Power Attack damage can be nice.
  • Belt of Giant's StrengthDMG: See Gauntlets of Strength, below.
  • Cloak of CharismaDMG: Essential, but I couldn't blame you if you went for a Strength item first.
  • Cloak of ResistanceDMG: Vest of Resistance is identical and takes up a much less useful slot.
  • Gauntlets of StrengthDMG: These are a glove slot as a throwback to previous editions (and to Thor), which makes it annoying to switch to a new belt when it's time to upgrade to +4. Check with your DM, and you may be able to get a +2 belt, or upgrade your gloves past +2.
  • Ioun Stone (Dusty Rose)DMG: At only 5000gp, a Dusty Rose Ioun Stone provides a cheaper boost to AC than upgrading your Ring of Protection from +1 to +2. The bonus is an insight bonus, which makes it easy to stack because insight bonuses to AC are extremely rare.
  • Reliquary Holy SymbolMIC: A great way to get more Turn Undead uses if you like to use Divine feats.
  • Shirt of Demonskin/The Fey/The Inevitable/Ironskin/The Moon/Slaadskin/The TreantMIC: DR 3/something for 15,000 gp. Expensive, but if you're not using adamantine heavy armor it's a great way to get DR. Absolutely do not get a Shirt of Resilience. By the time you can afford this nearly everything you meet can bypass DR/magic. DR/adamantine is my favorite because only things like Iron Golems can bypass it without an adamantine weapon.
  • Vest of ResistanceMIC: Same cost as a cloak, and takes up the largely useless "torso" slot. A strictly better choice than a Cloak of Resistance, unless you plan to buy a Shirt of X for DR.

Permanent Spells

  • Enlarge PersonPHB: Reach is always nice, and the bonus Strength can be a helpful damage boost.
  • See invisibilityPHB: With no way to handle invisible creatures, the ability to always see them is a fantastic benefit.

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

Multiclassing typically prevents you from taking additional Paladin levels, so either start in another class before becoming a Paladin, or plan to get all of your Paladin levels early before permanently switching to other classes.

  • BardPHB: Devoted Performer is bad for Paladins. The Paladin's defenses are great for the Bard, but the Paladin doesn't really benefit from the Bard's abilities.
  • BlackguardDMG: The Blackguard is a great flavor and an excellent plot device, but it makes much more sense as a player to just build a Paladin of Slaughter/Tyranny.
  • CavalierCW: Paladins get the best mount ability in the game, which rolls naturally into Cavalier. If you really like to charge things with a lance for massive damage, Cavalier is the way to go. Don't forget to cast Rhino's Rush!
  • Gray GuardCS: You give up advancing your mount and half of your spellcasting, but you continue advancing smite evil and can smite chaotic creatures, and can eventually smite anyone. Lay on Hands also turns into an offensive option, allowing you to harm living creatures.
  • MonkPHB: Ascetic Knight is a cool flavor, but combining two extremely MAD classes really doesn't work well. Neither class gets any significant benefit from the other. You might be able to cobble together a functional character with the Elf Paladin substitution levels, Zen Archery, and the Dragonscale Husk ACF.
  • RangerPHB: Devoted Tracker is a cool flavor, and might work for an Elf Paladin, but Paladin and Ranger are both very MAD, and Ranger is probably the second worst class in the game. The two classes offer very little to each other. The best way to optimize this is to focus on your animal companion/mount, but there are better ways to build a cool pet.
  • RoguePHB: Devoted Inquisitor is a cool concept, the ability to daze targets is excellent, and this rolls nicely into the Shadowbane Inquisitor class, which is a lot of fun but very weak.
  • SorcererPHB: Sorcadin gish builds can be very effective.