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DnD 5e - The Paladin Handbook

Last Updated: March 3rd, 2021

TEMPORARY NOTE: RPGBOT is undergoing a massive update for DnD 5e content to accommodate rules changes and new content introduced by Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Please be patient while these changes are made. I maintain this site as a hobby, and I got access to the book on the same day as everyone else and I am rushing to catch up as quickly as I can. Please check "Last Updated" date below the title of each page. If it was updated before November 17th, it has not been updated to include the new content. To see what I still need to complete to catch up with Tasha's, see my To-Do List. To watch for ongoing updates, please follow me on Twitter.

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • 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.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

Introduction

Paladins are the most durable, survivable, and self-sufficient class in the game. As such, they both make excellent solo characters and are excellent additions to nearly any party regardless of existing capabilities. In a party, they serve as a Defender, Face, and Striker. They do have some healing and utility options, but not enough to replace a full spellcaster in most parties. Your choice of subclass will influence which of those roles your character emphasizes, though typically it's just a sliding scale between Defender and Striker.

Paladins are extremely durable and can survive a long hard day of adventuring, but none of their abilities except Channel Divinity recharge on a short rest, so you need to ration your resources more strictly than many classes. They also have nearly no options for fighting at range, which means that nearly every paladin is a heavily-armored melee monster.

Paladins are also one of the more complex classes to play. They have a long list of class features, touching on all of the games core mechanics. While this makes them challenging for new players, this also makes the Paladin a great introductory class because the player needs to learn so much to play it. This complexity phases in gradually over the first three class levels, which is a perfect trajectory for a new player to settle into the game and their character.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Paladin Subclasses Breakdown and my Paladin Spells Breakdown.

Paladin Class Features

Optional Class Features are detailed below under Optional Class Features.

Hit Points: d10 hit points is standard for a martial fighter-equivalent class.

Saves: The Paladin's saves will keep you from being charmed or mind controlled, but you'll have problems with Constitution saves, in which Barbarians and Fighters both get proficiency. When you pick up Aura of Protection, you suddenly get a huge boost to all of your saves, potentially giving you better saves than a Monk with Diamond Body. Even so, many paladin spells require Concentration, so consider Resilient (Constitution) or invest heavily in Constitution.

Proficiencies: All armor, all weapons, and two skills from a decent skill list which the Paladin actually has the ability scores to use effectively.

Divine Sense: Certainly better than relying on Insight.

Lay On Hands: This is among the most efficient healing options in the game. Since it has such a deep pool and allows you to pick exactly how much you heal, it's actually viable during combat (healing in combat is typically a poor tactical decision). With such a large pool you can easily bring many allies from 0 to nearly full health in a single Action, or you can spend 1 point to bring them back to consciousness long enough to finish a fight so that they can rest and spend Hit Dice.

Fighting Style: Paladins get a smaller list than Fighters, but your choice will frequently define how you approach combat.

  • Blind FightingTCoE (Optional): This one is hard. Blindsight, even at just 10-foot range, is extremely useful. It solves issues of invisible enemies, it helps make up for lack of magical options for Darkvision, and it addresses effects which block line of sight like fog, magical darkness, or other stuff. But those effects don't appear in most encounters, so this is only situationally useful. When it works it's great, but the rest of the time it's useless. Unless you have allies in the party who plan to frequently use magical darkness or other options to obscure vision I would skip this.

    Races which suffer from Sunlight Sensitivity might consider this as a solution to their sunlight issues. If you don a blindfold (or close your eyes), your DM may allow you to overcome the effects of Sunlight Sensitivity by willingly blinding yourself. The text of Sunlight Sensitivity isn't perfectly clear if it only applies to attacks which rely on sight, so this may not work RAW, but the idea makes sense.

  • DefensePHB: Not very exciting, but since AC scales so little in 5e a +1 can be a big difference.
  • Blessed WarriorTCoE (Optional): Access to cantrips allows the Paladin to build around spellcasting as their primary combat option. Unlike the Ranger with Druidic Warrior and Shillelagh, this doesn't mean using a magically-enhanced weapon. Instead, it means switching to offensive cantrips. I recommend Word of Radiance so that you can handle crowds plus one offensive option with longer range and ideally a damage type other than radiant (though Sacred Flame is a perfectly fine choice).

    Unlike the Ranger's Druidic Warrior, Blessed Warrior doesn't have any effect on the Paladin's armor choices. You'll do just fine marching around in heavy armor, though you may want 15 Strength to avoid the 10 ft. speed penalty. It's hard to run into melee to use Word of Radiance when you're stuck at 20 ft. speed.

    You might (and probably should) ask yourself: If I want to use Blessed Warrior, what am I getting mechanically that I couldn't get from playing a cleric or a divine soul sorcer instead? That's a great question. The paladin has some unique defensive options like Aura of Protection, plus their subclasses are really neat. That might be enough. If it's not, maybe stick to a full spellcasting class.

  • DuelingPHB: Note that this works while using a shield. 2 damage closes the damage gap between a longsword and a two-handed weapon (4.5->6.5 vs. 6.5/7).
  • Great Weapon FightingPHB: This adds an average of just over 1 damage per attack on average, and even then the only with a greatsword. If you're using a greatsword, the average increase in damage per round is roughly equivalent to Archery, but if you plan to use two-handed weapons other than a greatsword, pick up Defense instead to compensate for lack of a shield. Note that the reroll does not apply to Smite damage dice. If you plan to use two-handed weapons, consider picking Defense instead to compensate for lack of a shield.
  • InterceptionTCoE (Optional): Conceptually similar to Protection, but there's no nuance in how the two styles protect your target. Protection imposes Disadvantage, so if there's a good chance that the attack would miss it's the better choice. Interception reduces the damage, so it always work but for big attacks it won't negate the whole attack. The decision between the two comes down to who you're going to be protecting. If you're protecting other allies with decent AC (a melee cleric or rogue, for example), go for Protection. If you're protecting allies with awful AC (most wizards), Disadvantage won't help much so go for Interception.
  • ProtectionPHB: Tempting for Defender builds, but allies need to remain adjacent to you for this to work. Being adjacent to the front line tank is generally a bad place to be unless you can do so safely without someone defending you. This also appeals to mounted combat builds because you can use to compensate for your mount's relative fragility.

Spellcasting: Paladins get a nice mix of buffs and healing options, but they also get a set of mostly exclusive "smite" spells. Instead of relying solely on Divine Smite, they can cast various smite spells which deal damage and sometimes have rider effects, like Searing Smite.

Divine Smite: This will eat through your spell slots very quickly, but it's also the Paladin's greatest source of damage. When you get this at level 2, the base damage plus a longsword is enough to one-shot a decent chunk of the enemies you might encounter. However, you need to resist the temptation to feed all of your spell slots into Divine Smite as quickly as possible, or you will find yourself out of options at the end of the day. You should also consider the utility of smite spells. Searing Smite, Thunderous Smite, and Wrathful Smite can do comparable damage with helpful rider effects which may be more appealing than the small amount of extra damage that Divine Smite provides. The biggest appeal of Divine Smite over those spells is that you can choose to use it after you've rolled a critical hit, guaranteeing that you'll double the additional damage dice and therefore getting considerably more out of your spell slot than you might otherwise.

Divine Health: Diseases can be very problematic, but you already have the ability to cure them with Lay On Hands, so this isn't terribly helpful.

Sacred Oath: Paladin subclasses are briefly summarized below. See my Paladin Subclasses Breakdown for help selecting your subclass.

  • Oath of Conquest: Use crowd control and defensive options to crush your foes in combat.
  • Oath of Devotion: The iconic paladin, Oath of Devotion provides a diverse mix of options to heal, to defend yourself and your allies, and to smite your foes.
  • Oath of Glory: Strive for perfection and glory, making yourself the greatest hero and athlete that you can be.
  • Oath of Redemption: Focused on nonviolent solutions to problems, Oath of Redemption adds spells and abilities to protect yourself and your allies, and to inhibit enemies without harming them.
  • Oath of the Ancients: Use the power of nature to ensnare and restrain your foes.
  • Oath of the Crown: An excellent Defender, Oath of the Crown offers new ways to defend your allies, including forcing foes to attack you instead of your allies.
  • Oath of the Watchers: Guard the material world against extraplanar foes like elementals, fey, and fiends.
  • Oath of Vengeance: Focused primarily on Offense, Oath of Vengeance adds powerful new ways to boost your damage output and destory your foes through force of arms.
  • Oathbreak: A paladin who has broken their oath, the Oathbreaker evil abilities to harm their foes and to fight alongside undead and fiends.

Extra Attack: A second attack is a sharp increase in your damage output, but you're still reliant on Divine Smite to keep up with Barbarians and Fighters.

Aura of Protection: Better than proficiency in every save. You can potentially have +15 in a save before the possibility of magic items.

It won't benefit you directly, but your allies can apply this bonus to death saves if they're within the area. Even though they're not tied to an ability score, they're still a saving throw, and accoring to Jeremy Crawford, "If all saves are affected by a thing, death saves are affected."

Aura of Courage: Fear effects generally won't kill you, but they're certainly inconvenient and it's nice to be able to ignore them.

Improved Divine Smite: Paladins don't get as many attacks as Fighters, but this will help with your damage output.

Cleansing Touch: Fantastic for removing pesky effects like paralysis or charm.

Optional Class Features

Introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everyting, Optional Class Features offer ways to add additional features or replace existing ones. These rules are optional, and you should not assume that your DM will allow these features without consulting them first.

Assessments and suggestions for specific Optional Class Features are presented here, but for more information on handling Optional Class Features in general, see my Practical Guide to Optional Class Features.

Additional Paladin Spells (Addition): Few in number, but some interesting options mostly borrowed from the Cleric's spell list.

I recommend allowing the expanded spell list on all paladins. The Paladin gets just 5 new spells, few of which are truly fantastic for the Paladin. Warding Bond is the only spell which I would rush to suggest, but the other spell options do have some niche use cases. There's nothing here that's going to unbalance the game, and the fact that Warding Bond wasn't already on the Paladin's spell list feels like an oversight.

Fighting Style Options (Addition): Exciting new options. Blessed Warrior is notably exclusive to the paladin, allowing players to explore a more casting-focused paladin and potentially build around Charisma rather Strength or Dexterity. The new options are all interesting new build concepts, though they're no more powerful than those which are already available.

I recommend allowing the new Fighting Style options on all paladins. I don't expect the new options to supplant existing options as the best options for the Paladin, but the new options introduce exciting new build possibilities. Plus, paladins still only get one unless they spend a feat or multiclass.

Harness Divine Power (Addition): For paladin subclasses with poor or situational Channel Divinity options, this offers a great way to make use of a resource which might otherwise be ignored for several sessions at a time. It also helps stretch the Paladin's extremely limited number of spell slots.

I recommend allowing Harness Divine Power on all paladins who take oaths which I have rated green or lower. It's a great way to round out subclasses which are generally good but fall short with their Channel Divinity options.

Martial Versatility (Addition): Being locked into your choice of Fighting Style at level 2 gives you very little time to decide on how your paladin is going to fight. The ability to change styles occasionally makes that decision less permanent, and allows you to change styles if something happens like you find a cool weapon or you need to switch roles within the party.

I recommend allowing Martial Versatility on all paladins. Like with other retraining mechanics, players still can't have more options at the same time than they could get if they didn't retrain, so players will be more satisfied with their character but won't actually be any stronger than they could be.

Ability Scores

Paladins have three important stats, but also have three dump stats. That makes them a bit MAD, but as long as you're using point buy ability generation it doesn't really matter. You don't even have to worry about saves much since you can rely on Aura of Protection to boost your weak saves.

Str: Paladins don't get access to any ranged combat styles, so Strength is typically a given. However, if you want to go for a Finesse build you can dump Strength. If you're building around Charisma, you may still want the 15 Strength required to avoid a speed penalty from heavy armor.

Dex: Dump it and grab some Full Plate unless you want to go for a Finesse build.

Con: All martial characters need Constitution, but it's especially important for Paladins since they don't get proficiency with Constitution saves.

Int: Dump.

Wis: Dump unless you want a decent Insight score.

Cha: Charisma fuels many of the Paladin's abilities, including their spellcasting, Aura of Protection, and several Paladin skills. If you choose Fighting Style (Blessed Warrior), you may also use it as your primary offensive ability.

Strength-Based Dexterity-Based Charisma-Based
Point Buy Standard Array Point Buy Standard Array Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 15
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 15
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 15
  • Str: 14
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 15

Races

Bonuses to the Paladin's three big ability scores are great, and fortunately you have plenty of options to choose from to get them, which really opens up a lot of fantastic build options.

AarakocraEEPC

Customized Origin: The ability to rearrange ability score increases does little to help the Aarakocra. Your best bet is still a lightly-armored Dexterity-based build, and without a way to fight effectively at range you'll typically be flying into melee where your signature racial trait is of reduced impact.

Default Rules: Bonus Dexterity and flight in light armor are decent for a finesse-based Paladin, but that's really all you get. You could build around Blessed Warrior and fight using cantrips, but that negates a lot of what makes the paladin useful. You're essentially abandoning your role as a Defender to be a slightly more durable version of a cleric but with much worse leveled spells. It's more likely that you'll build around Dexterity and fly into melee, but that means that you're frequently giving up your most noteworthy racial trait.

AasimarVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, two damage resistances, and some innate spellcasting. The subraces are distinguished by their transformation, and that distinction makes a big difference in your tactics, but all three subraces remain effective choices for the Paladin.

  • Fallen: A fear effect is great crowd control for a class that's not great at handling crowds. The save DC is Charisma-based, which works great for the Paladin.
  • Protector: Temporary flight when you need it, and no restriction on what armor you're wearing.
  • Scourge: The Paladin has a good hit die and the ability to rapidly heal themselves, making the Scourge Aasimar's Transformation a great way to quickly eliminate crowds at minimal cost and risk to yourself.

Default Rules: An obvious and fantastic choice for a Paladin. Two damage resistances, Darkvision, and some extra healing are a good mix of traits that complement the Paladin's existing capabilities nicely.

  • Fallen: A fear effect is great crowd control for a class that's not great at handling crowds. The save DC is Charisma-based, which works great for the Paladin.
  • Protector: Wisdom doesn't do much for a paladin, but radiant soul is fantastic for temporary flight.
  • Scourge: The Paladin has a good hit die and the ability to rapidly heal themselves, making the Scourge Aasimar's Transformation a great way to quickly eliminate crowds at minimal cost and risk to yourself.

Aasimar (DMG Variant)DMG

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two damage resistances, and some innate spellcasting. The innate spellcasting is a good complement to the Paladin's limited spellcasting capabilities, and they're a bit easier to manage then the standard Aasimar's Transformation options, so you get the theme and the core benefits without the tactical complexity of Transformation.

Default Rules: Thematically this works great for a Blessed Warrior build, and the innate spellcasting offers some cleric-like options. Combined with the damage resistances, this leans really hard into the "trade cleric spellcasting for more durability" idea, but still doesn't answer the question "why do this instead of playing a cleric".

BugbearVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Surprise Attack can be useful, but you may want to build around Dexterity so that your initiative will be reasonably high. Long-Limbed is helpful for attacking, but it adds very little to the Paladin's role as a Striker.

Default Rules: A Strength increase and reach are both nice, but you can do better with other races, and since paladins are typically a party's Defender, you want to be adjacent to enemies rather than using Long-Limbed to keep enemies at a distance.

Custom LineageTCoE

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Custom Lineage.

Default Rules: A single +2 increase and a feat is great, but the Variant Human's ability to split their increases means starting with two of the Paladin's three key ability scores at 16 which may be preferable. You can still pick a feat which provides another +1 increase, of course, so there are numeorus ways to make the Custom Lineage extremely effective.

DragonbornPHB

The Draconblood and Ravenite subraces are addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 inceases, damage resistance, and a beath weapon which will help you handle crowds. The Dragon Fear racial feat works great for Paladins, especially Conquest Paladins once they pick up Aura of Conquest.

Default Rules: The ability scores are great, and energy resistance is excellent, and the Dragonborn's breath weapon provides a nice way to handle crowds for a class that isn't great at it. The Dragon Fear racial feat works great for Paladins, especially Conquest Paladins once they pick up Aura of Conquest.

DwarfPHB

Customized Origin: One +2 increase and a second increase from your subrace, plus poison resilience and some weapon proficiencies that you can retrain into tool proficiencies.

  • DuergarSCAG: Enlarge/Reduce and Invisibility can both be very effective on a paladin, but Sunlight Sensitivity is a huge pain so I wouldn't risk this outside of a subterranean campaign.
  • HillPHB: Extra hit points never hurt.
  • MountainPHB: Two +2 increases is really good. Starting with two scores (probably Strength and Constitution) at 17 makes it easy to fit feats into your builds. You also get some more proficiencies which you can trade for tool proficiencies.

Default Rules: Bonus constitution, and some other stuff which makes the Paladin even more durable.

  • DuergarSCAG: The magic options can be fun, but Invisibility doesn't really play to a Strength-based Paladin's strengths, and Sunlight Sensitivity really hurts.
  • HillPHB: The Wisdom is wasted, and the bonus hit points are probably unnecessary.
  • MountainPHB: Strength! Everything else is wasted.

ElfPHB

The Palid Elf subrace is addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, one skill (which you should leave as Perception).

  • DrowPHB: The innate spellcasting is good and Charisma-based, which works well for the Paladin. Faerie Fire can even offset Sunlight Sensitivity (although only once per day). Still, I would reserve this for subterranean campaigns. If you want the spellcasting, consider the Drow Half-Elf.
  • EladrinMToF: Teleportation on a Short Rest cooldown with a Charisma-based rider effect.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Trade the standard Eladrin's rider effect for four weapon proficiencies which you'll trade for tool proficiencies.
  • High ElfPHB: Booming Blade is your best bet for the free cantrip.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: The teleportation is good, but less frequent than the Eladrin's. In exchange you get resistance to necrotic damage and your teleportation briefly grants you resistance to all damage. It's an interesting trade, but personally I prefer the more-frequent teleportation, especially since you can get so much out of the rider effect.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Unremarkable. If you want speed, play a centaur. If you want to be sneaky, play something that can cast Invisibility as an innate spell. If you want weapon proficiencies to trade for tool proficiencies, several other subraces will give them to you. The Wood Elf isn't bad, but it's not good at anything noteworthy and it simply can't compete with the broad range of viable races when you're using the Customizing You Origin optional rule.

Default Rules: Dexterity works for a finesse build, and the Elf's other abilities are tangentially useful for Paladins. Unfortunately, none of the subraces are particularly good.

  • DrowPHB: The Charisma is nice and the innate spellcasting can be helpful, but Sunlight Sensitivity is a huge problem in most games.
  • EladrinMToF: Charisma and free teleportation work great for the Paladin. The rider effects on the teleportation are Charisma-based, too.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Trade the standard Eladrin's rider effect for four weapon proficiencies which you won't benefit from.
  • High ElfPHB: Booming Blade is your best bet, but the Half High-Elf is a considerably better choice.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Dexterity and Constitution can work for a paladin, and teleportation is great. Resistance to necrotic damage is nice, too.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Nothing useful for the Paladin outside of the core racial traits.

FirbolgVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, and some innate spellcasting. Unfortunately, the spellcasting won't do much to help the Paladin. Hidden Step is good, but if you want invisibility there are several races which can do it better.

Default Rules: A bit of Strength and some fun innate spellcasting, but it's not stuff that the Paladin benefits from in any major way.

GenasiEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), but the vast majority of the Genasi's traits come from the subraces.

  • Air: Even without magic options to handle flight, Levitate isn't great.
  • Earth: Earth Walk is neat and Merge With Stone suddenly makes you very good at stealth, but those effects are only situationally useful, so you're mostly leaning on the same +2/+1 increases that nearly every race gets.
  • Fire: The fact that the Fire Genasi's innate spellcasting is Constitution-based makes them a profoundly weird racial option, but if you're increasing your Constitution regularly you may be able to rely on Produce Flame as a ranged attack option. You also get Darkvision and damage resistance, but if that's all you want the Tiefling is a better choice.
  • Water: Fine, but I would only consider it in an aquatic campaign.

Default Rules: Extra constitution is great, but none of the subraces work for the Paladin.

  • Air: The Dexterity might be useful for a finesse-based Paladin, but Levitate is totally useless for a melee class.
  • Earth: A bit of Strength, but the other traits are very situational. Pass Without Trace looks tempting for heavily-armored character in sneaky parties, but if that's a concern you should build around Dexterity instead.
  • Fire: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • Water: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

GithMToF

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +2), but the bulk of your notable racial traits come from your subrace.

  • Githyanki: One skill and some armor and weapon proficiencies which you can trade for a total of 5 tool proficiencies. The innate spellcasting offers some utility options, including teleportation via Misty Step, but if you just want teleportation the Eladrin is a better choice.
  • Githzerai: Mental Discipline will provide additional protections against common status conditions, but the Githzerai's innate spellcasting may be less useful for the Paladin than the Githyanki's, and the Githzerai does nothing to expand your capabilities outside of combat like the Githyanki does.

Default Rules: Nothing useful that you can't get elsewhere.

  • GithyankiMToF: Strength is the only significant thing you get.
  • GithzeraiMToF: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

GnomePHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace offers a +1 increase), Darkvision, and Gnome Cunning. Gnome Cunning coupled with Aura of Protection allows you to easily overcome spells which target your mental saving throws, protecting you from all manner of annoying nonsense.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Even though they don't suffer Sunlight Sensivity like the Duergar or the Drow, I would still only consider the Svirfneblin in subterranean campaigns where you know that Stone Camouflage will be consistently useful, and you'll want to build around Dexterity.
  • ForestPHB: As much as I like Minor Illusion, it doesn't add a lot to the Paladin.
  • RockPHB: Nothing useful. Tinker is a fun novelty, but it doesn't actually make your character better.

Default Rules: Nothing useful for the Paladin except Gnome Cunning.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Bad ability spread.
  • ForestPHB: Bad ability spread.
  • RockPHB: Bad ability spread.

GoblinVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and Darkvision. Fury of the Small is a nice damage boost, but it won't change your tactics. Nimble Escape is a weird choice for the Paladin since your party is probably relying on you to stand on the front lines and keep enemies at bay.

Default Rules: A perfectly fine option for a Dexterity-based build, but Nimble Escape is a weird choice for the Paladin.

GoliathEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and damage resistance to cold. Stone's Endurance is a great additional defense on top of the Paladin's already impressive durability, but it brings you into "Tank Fallacy" territory where your only distinguishing feature is how hard it is to kill you.

Default Rules: Good abilities, Athletics for free, and cold resistance and Stone's Endurance adds a bit of additional durability.

Half-ElfPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1/+1 increases, Darkvision, and Fey Ancestry. That's already a great start for any paladin, and your subrace offers a lot of interesting options.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only in an aquatic campaign, and even then there are better options like the Locathah and the Triton.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: If you want the Drow's innate spellcasting, this is the best way to get it. Faerie Fire is a great offensive option and Darkness is a great way to cover an escape. Even better, you don't need to worry about Sunlight Sensitivity.
  • High Half-ElfSCAG: Booming Blade is your best bet.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: Two skills make it much easier to fill out the Face skills without locking you into only those skills.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: Fleet of Foot is nice for getting into melee, but the other options won't help you much, and if you want more speed you should try the Centaur.

Default Rules: Incomparably good. The Half-Elf is one of the best races in the Player's Handbook, and they are practically tailor-made to be Paladins. You get bonuses to all three of the Paladin's important ability scores (regardless of whether you go for Strength or Dexterity), Darkvision, and Fey Ancestry adds another immunity to the Paladin's existing laundry list of immunities and resistances.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: The innate spellcasting includes some powerful options in Faerie Fire and Darkness, and the save DC is Charisma-based which can work very well for the Paladin.
  • High Half-ElfSCAG: Booming Blade is tempting, and its damage output can outpace your normal weapon attacks (see my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack). That may change if you're relying on Divine Smite and Improved Divine Smite, but at least in the level range from 1 through 10, Booming Blade is a better source of damage than straight weapon attacks.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: Two skills make it much easier to fill out the Face skills without locking you into only those skills.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: Fleet of Foot is nice for getting into melee, but the other options won't help you much, and if you want more speed you should try the Centaur.

Half-OrcPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Rearranging your ability scores doesn't change much for the Half-Orc. They remain an effective choice for aggressive builds, and if you grab a greataxe and reserve a spell slot for Divine Smite your critical hits are truly terrifying.

Default Rules: Good ability scores, a free Face skill, Darkvision, and a couple of fun abilities. Still not as good as the Half-Elf, but a good option that works really well for an aggressive build like Oath of Vengeance.

HalflingPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1). Rearranging your ability scores means that Brave and Lucky are the Halfling's most defining traits, and paladins become immune to fear at level 10 so Lucky is the big draw here.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Silent Speech isn't especially helpful unless you're built for stealth, and even then it's not crucial.
  • LightfootPHB: Useless without a rogue dip, and even then you're basically playing a rogue who's trying not to rely on Sneak Attack for no readily apparent reason.
  • StoutPHB: Basically a short dwarf. Poison damage is common, so resistance to it will save you a lot of damage over your career.

Default Rules: Dexterity is okay for a finesse build, and Lucky is always fantastic. The Halfling racial feats in Xanathar's Guide to Everything are both potentially good options for a Paladin.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Nothing useful for the paladin.
  • LightfootPHB: The Charisma is tempting, but Naturally Stealthy is worthless for a Paladin.
  • StoutPHB: Nice and durable.

HobgoblinVGtM

Customized Origin: 2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and three proficiencies which you'll trade for tool proficiencies. The Hobgoblin's noteworthy feature is Saving Face. It provides a great way to turn near-miss failed rolls into successes, especially if you have numerous alies nearby. This provides great insurance against problematic saving throws.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Human

Customized Origin:

  • Standard: With perfect ability scores on the table for every race, there is no reason to play the Standard Human.
  • Variant: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Variant Human.

Default Rules: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Vanilla: +1 to all of your ability scores can help create a well-rounded Paladin, but it's not terribly interesting.
  • Variant: You still get crucial bonuses to your Strength/Dexterity and Charisma, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1.

KenkuVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Expert Forgery and Mimicry aren't particularly impactful, so basically any other race with two skill proficiencies will be linearly better than the Kenku.

Default Rules: Paladins generally don't handle stealth well, but with two skills and a Dexterity increase the Kenku makes that easily achievable.

KoboldVGtM

Customized Origin: +2 increase and Darkvision. The Customizing Your Origin optional rule does little to change the Kobold unless you're dead set on a Strength-based build for some reason. Pack Tactics is still great, and Sunlight Sensitivity is still a pain, but Pack Tactics conveniently provides a way to negate it. The biggest problem for kobold paladins is that just one increase is a hard prospect for a MAD class.

Default Rules: Possible for a Dexterity-based paladin, and Pack Tactics is amazing, but that's probably not enough. Sunlight Sensitivity is a pain, too.

LizardfolkVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills, and natural armor. The Lizardfolk's most interesting traits are their natural armor (which will at best match full plate) and Hungry Jaws. Hungry Jaws is neat, but if you want temporary hit points you can cast Heroism.

Default Rules: The ability increase don't help the paladin much, and the other racial traits are largely redundant with paladin class features.

LocathahLR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills, and Leviathan Will. Among the better aquatic options, Leviathan Will provides a robust defensive option against a long list of harmful status conditions which any adventurer is sure to face. Combined with the Paladin's high saving throws, you're incredibly difficult to harm. However, beware the Tank Fallacy.

Default Rules: Strength increase, two great skills, and Leviathan Will. Leviathan Will offers protection from several status conditions not already covered by the Paladin's class features, and combined with Aura of Protection you'll be very difficult to incapacitate.

OrcVGtM

Note that errata has corrected the multiple versions of the Orc to all provide the same traits. The Intelligence decrease has been removed, and the Primal Intuition now allows selecting two skills from a list. The Orc of Exandria entry from Explorer's Guide to Wildemount omits the Powerful Build trait, but it's not clear if that was an intentional change.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two skills. Aggressive is the Orc's signature trait, and while it's nice, it's not a huge improvement to your tactics.

Default Rules: The Standard Half-Elf gets better ability scores plus two skills that aren't restricted to a pre-defined list. Aggressive is nice, but probably not worth what you give up to get it.

TabaxiVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two skills. Feline Agility is the Tabaxi's signature skill. It's roughly equivalent to the Orc's Aggressive, but it also allows you to run away (rather than only toward an enemy) and doesn't eat your Bonus Action so it's arguably a litle better

Default Rules: Excellent for a finesse build, and feline agility can help to quickly close to melee even if you're in heavy armor.

TieflingPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and damage resistance. Most subraces/variants offer innate spellcasting of some kind. The innate spellcasting is Charisma-based, which works really well for the Paladin. The Flames of Phlegethos racial feat is tempting if you really enjoy Searing Smite, but probably not worth the feat.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: Hellish Rebuke and Darkness are both fine options for the Paladin. Thaumaturgy is neat, but not especially useful.
  • BaalzebulMToF: If anyone is going to use this, the Paladin is a fine choice. But Ray of Sickness isn't great, and Crown of Madness is outright bad, so this is a difficult choice at best.
  • DispaterMToF: Situational utility options.
  • FiernaMToF: Good magical complements to your Face skills.
  • GlasyaMToF: Introduce some trickery to the Paladin.
  • LevistusMToF: Roughly equivalent to the Asmoedues Tiefling. Armor of Agathys won't last long, but Ray of Frost gives you an easy ranged attack option which should remain reasonably effective.
  • MammonMToF: Situational utility options.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Flame Blade is garbage.
  • ZarielMToF: Two free smite spells play perfectly to the Paladin's Strengths, but they don't add any new capabilities or solve any problems for you.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: The Customizing Your Origin optional rules make the Feral variant obsolete. All it does is rearrange your ability score increases.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: A good mix of offensive and utility options.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Roughly equivalent to the Asmodeus Tiefling. Burning Hands is a decent option for handling crowds, but as you gain levels you may find that spending the Action to cast Burning Hands loses its appeal. By comparison, Hellish Rebuke is an easier action cost.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Flight in up to medium armor, which probably means that you're going to build for Dexterity and light armor. The Winged Tiefling is better than the Aarakocra, and permanent nonmagical flight is useful even though you're basically locked into melee. If nothing else, you can fly into melee.

Default Rules: +2 Charisma, and some excellent options from the race variants. The Flames of Phlegethos racial feat is tempting if you really enjoy Searing Smite, but probably not worth the feat. You'll want to find a subrace/variant that provides either a Strength increase or a Dexterity increase, but between the subraces and the feral variant you have several options. The Tiefling's innate spellcasting is Charisma-based, which works great for the Paladin.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: Charisma and good racial spells, but you'll want to either use Blessed Warrior and build around Charisma or take the Feral variant and build around Dexterity.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • DispaterMToF: Disguises and the ability to detect thoughts may help you to locate and defeat enemies by more subtle means than a typical paladin, but these are situational options that may be hard to use consistently.
  • FiernaMToF: Workable for a Blessed Warrior build, and the spells suplement your Face skills nicely.
  • GlasyaMToF: An interesting option for a paladin that likes to be sneaky or otherwise tricky.
  • LevistusMToF: A good option for a Blessed Warrior build, Ray of Frost gives you a ranged cantrip option, allowing you much more flexibility with your two cleric cantrips from Blessed Warrior.
  • MammonMToF: A tough choice for Blessed Warrior builds since the spells are so situational.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Flame Blade is garbage.
  • ZarielMToF: Perfect ability spread, a utility cantrip, and free smite spells.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: A Dexterity-based paladin is absolutely viable, but several other Tiefling subraces offer ability increases which already work for the Paladin so you don't always need to add Feral on top of it.

    According to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants.

  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: A good option for a Blessed Warrior build, Vicious Mockery gives you a ranged cantrip option, allowing you much more flexibility with your two cleric cantrips from Blessed Warrior.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Roughly equivalent to the Asmodeus Tiefling.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Workable for Dexterity-based builds in light armor.

TortleTP

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and natural armor that you can exceed with heavy armor. So basically it's just the +2/+1 and the skill. Consider how many races offer two skills, that's a terrible choice.

Default Rules: Strength and natural armor are great, but once you can afford full plate armor the Tortle will fall behind.

TritonVGtM

Customized Origin: Three +1 increases, Darkvision, amphibious, and some innate spellcasting. Like the half-elf, having three increases is great for the Paladin since they need three high ability scores. The innate spellcasting is situational, but it's also Charisma-based, which is nice. In an aquatic campaign this is a great choice, but even on land it's still a good option.

Default Rules: Increases to all of the paladin's important abilities, resistance to cold, and some innate spellcasting.

VerdanAcInc

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Telepathic Insight combined with the Paladin's save proficiencies and Aura of Protection makes you nearly immune to Wisdom and Charisma saves. But, while the Verdan does a great job supporting what the Paladin is already good at, it doesn't expand your capabilities or address any vulnerabities.

Default Rules: Constitution and Charisma are great for a Blessed Warrior build, and Telepathic Insight combined with the Paladin's save proficiencies and Aura of Protection makes you nearly immune to Wisdom and Charisma saves.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, poison immunity, and Magic Resistance. Between Magic Resistance and Aura of Protection, it's very difficult to harm you with spells. If you can keep your AC high, you're extremely difficult to kill and can focus the rest of your resources on being an offensive threat. The innate spellcasting is Charisma-based, which is nice, but the spells are terrible.

Default Rules: Magic resistance and immunity to poison make the pureblood exceptionally durable, though you'll need to rely on Blessed Warrior to avoid lagging offensively, and unfortunately the Yuan-Ti Pureblood's terrible innate spellcasting won't help.

Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.

Races of Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above under the general Races section.

ChangelingERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Shapechanger might work for a tricky, highly-social paladin, but that's a pretty niche build. Consider a race which can cast Disguise Self as an innate spell like the Glasya Tiefling instead.

Default Rules: A Charisma increase and a flexible ability increase are great for the Paladin, and two skill proficiencies in Face skills help you to serve as your party's Face. However, unless you plan to frequently rely upon Shapechanger you'll get more from the Half-Elf.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: See above under the general Races section.

KalashtarERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. Resistance to psychic damage is nice, though psychic damage isn't common. Dual mind helps with Wisdom saving throws, but between proficiency and Aura of Protection you don't really need the help. Consider other options like the Verdan and the Yuan-Ti Pureblood instead.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

ShifterERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +2), Darkvision, and one skill. The Shifter's signature trait is Shifting, which is a Bonus Action combat buff which works great for most paladins since paladins often have few uses for their Bonus Action. It's a decent buff on its own, and your subrace will offer additional effects.

  • Beasthide: A bigger pool of temporary hit points and a modest AC bonus do a lot to complement the Paladin's already impressive durability.
  • Longtooth: Paladins don't have many uses for their Bonus Action, so adding the ability to make a bite attack with your Bonus Action is a significant increase to your damage output for Strength-based builds.
  • Swiftstride: The intent of this ability is to let you move away from enemies when they get into melee with you so that you don't need to Disengage on your turn. Paladins rarely need that.
  • Wildhunt: Too situational.

Default Rules: Darkvision is always great, and the Paladin doesn't rely heavily upon their Bonus Action, so it's easy to make time for Shifting.

  • Beasthide: Strength and Constitution are great, an extra skill that you want anyway, and extra Temporary Hit Points when you use Shifting.
  • Longtooth: While the Longtooth's ability increases don't line up quite as well as the Beasthide's, their Shifting Feature is absolutely spectacular. With little use for your Bonus Action, a bite attack provides a great way to temporarily increase your damage output.
  • Swiftstride: The ability increases work fine for a Dexterity-based paladin, but the Shifting Feature won't be reliably useful.
  • Wildhunt: Bad ability spread and the Shifting Feature doesn't help the Paladin in any significant way.

WarforgedERLW

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Warforged. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: Constitution, a flexible ability increase, a pile of useful resistances that cover things that front-lint martial characters frequently face, and a bonus to AC which puts you ahead of every other heavyily-armored character in the game. A warforged paladin with full plate armor, a shield, and the Defensive fighting style sits at 22 AC without magic items or spells, making you nearly untouchable. If you can force enemies to stay in melee with you (consider grappling), you're a fantastic Defender.

Dragonmarks

While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you're not playing a spellcaster you're giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can't cast spells.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Warding: Interesting for a Dexterity-based build, Mage Armor closes the AC gap between light and heavy armor, and the bonus with Thieves' Tools offers an additional way to put your high Dexterity to use. Most of the spells are situational utilities, but Armor of Agathys is a fantastic buff for a front-line class like the Paladin.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread, and the spells aren't good enough to make up the difference.
Dragonmarked ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Shadow: Considering that stealth and subterfuge are generally far outside of the Paladin's skillset, Mark of Shadow is surprisingly good. A Dexterity-based build will be the most effective use of Mark of Shadow, but Mark of Shadow can even offset trying to be sneaky in heavy armor between the Stealth bonus and Pass Without Trace.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Shadow: Considering that stealth and subterfuge are generally far outside of the Paladin's skillset, Mark of Shadow is surprisingly good. A Dexterity-based paladin could make great use of the ability score increases, and the spellcasting adds several interesting options that no other paladin has access to.
Dragonmarked GnomeERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Scribing: Comprehend Languages can help in your capacity as a Face, but that's basically the only thing here that's useful.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Scribing: Bad ability spread, and very little else contributes to the Paladin.

Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Detection: Some interesting utility options, but they're mostly situational and may be hard to justify spending your limited spell slots to cast.
  • Mark of Storm: The spellcasting is bad and the skill bonuses are too situational.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Detection: Giving up the Half-elf's Charisma increase is hard, and while you can make use of Mark of Detection's new capabilities they're not as good as the vanilla Half-elf's fantastic ability score increases.
  • Mark of Storm: The ability score increases are great for a Dexterity-based paladin, and none of the spells are on the Paladin's spell list so you get to enjoy a long list of new options across the Paladin's full range of spell levels.

Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: 2/+1 increases and Darkvision. A bit like a class dip into ranger, you get Hunter's Mark once per day and bonuses to some Wisdom-based skills. You get some good low-level spells including Faerie Fire and Longstrider, and at higher levels you add some useful divination options. It's a good mix of offense and utility.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: Bad ability spread.
Dragonmarked HalflingERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Healing: You gain essentially nothing except the innate spellcasting. If that's all that you want, consider the Variant Aasimar instead.
  • Mark of Hospitality: The skill bonus with Persuasion is nice, but the spellcasting is mostly situational utility options.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Healing: An interesting possibility for a Dexterity-based paladin who wants to do more healing than the average paladain. Mark of Healing expands your spell options to include Healing Word, Mass Healing Word, and Greater Restoration. However, if you're looking to invest your limited spell slots in additional healing options you'll likely have better results playing a cleric.
  • Mark of Hospitality: Dexterity and Charisma increases, and most of the added spellcasting includes new options for the Paladin. For a Dexterity-based paladin this is a viable option.
Dragonmarked HumanERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your normal racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: The Wisdom-based innate spellcasting is neither useful nor reliable, and the dragonmark spells are not even remotely appealing since the Paladin is only a half-caster and gets the spells way too late in their careeer for them to be relevant.
  • Mark of Making: Magic Weapon is a great buff, but it's basically the only new thing that you get.
  • Mark of Passage: Misty Step for free once per day, access to teleportation spells, and Pass Without Trace. It's a good mix of useful options that the Paladin typically can't match.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Most of the spells here are already on the Paladin's spell list.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: Bad ability spread.
  • Mark of Making: The flexible ability increase is enough to get by, and many of the spells can be very useful for the Paladin.
  • Mark of Passage: Most paladins can't teleport at all, and access to that capability offers numerous tactical options. The ability score increases work great for any Dexterity-based build, and the spell options complement the Paladin's existing capabilities nicely.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Most of the spells here are already on the Paladin's spell list, and the ability score increases are difficult.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and Fey creature type. The Centaur really shines with hit-and-run tactics and the Mobile feat, but that's hard for the Paladin since you have less room for feats than the Fighter. Expect to rely primarily on your initial charge into melee to make a big impact.

Default Rules: A good option for an aggresive melee build, but the Centaur is most effective when using hit-and-run tactics to repeatedly charge and get additional attacks on their Bonus Action, which is an unusual tactic for the Paladin. If your party doesn't have another Defender, be very cautious about repeatedly moving out of melee with foes who would happy run past you to attack your more fragile allies.

GoblinGGTR: See above under the general Races section.

LoxodonGGTR

Customized Origin: The natural armor is useless for the Paladin, and half of Loxodon Serenity is obsolete when you become immune to fear. The Loxodon's other racial traits are mostly novelties.

Default Rules: With neither a Strength nor Charisma increase, the Loxodon has a lot of ground to make up before it can compete with other race options.

MinotaurGGTR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and one skill. Hammering Horns is the most important part of Shield Master, and Goring Rush is the most important part of Charger. A great choice for a Strength-based build, especially since the Paladin has relatively few options to use their Bonus Action.

Default Rules: While the ability scores and other traits don't directly complement anything except the Paladin's martial capabilities, the Minotaur can still be a powerful and dangerous paladin.

Simic HybridGGTR

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Simic Hybrid. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: Fantastic and versatile.

VedalkenGGTR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, one tool. Vedalken Dispassion provides an additional layer of protection on mental saves, making you borderline immune to Wisdom and Charisma saving throws, and even decent at Intelligence saves once you add Aura of Protection. Your physical saves are still a problem, but that's not new. It's not totally clear how Tireless Precision works if you take a skill outside of the listed skills, but I think the bonus still applies so you can get a consistent +1d4 on Persuasion checks, making you an incredibly effective Face on top of your mental resilience.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Races of Theros

CentaurMOoT: See above under the Races of Ravnica section.

HumanMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

LeoninMOoT

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Daunting Roar provides a great crowd control effect, and since the DC is Constitution-based it should be reasonably reliable.

Default Rules: Strength and Constitution are great, and you can get Perception proficiency, and Daunting Roar is a great crowd control effect for a class which is frequently in the thick of things with few options for handling crowds.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

SatyrMOoT

Customized Origin: 2/+1 increases, two skills, and Fey creature type. Magic Resistance and the Fey creature type will protect you from problematic spells, though the spells that care if you're humanoid (Hold Person, etc.) are hardly a threat between proficiency in Wisdom/Charisma saves, Aura of Protection, and Magic Resistance. If you just want durability I would consider the Yuan-Ti Pureblood first, but the Satyr's additional skills offer some utility outside of combat that can be very helpful.

Default Rules: Perfect for a Dexterity-based build, and with Magic Resistance and Aura of Protection you're basically unstoppable, and you get two Charisma-based skills.

TritonMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

AasimarEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

BugbearEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

DragonbornPHB

Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn's ability score increases and damage resistance.

Customized Origin:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Forceful Presence is neat since you're likely going to be your party's Face.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Vengeful Assault is a great option on any martial character.

Default Rules:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: The standard Dragonborn's ability score increases work better for the Paladin, but the Ravenite can still make a fine paladin.

Elf

Wildemount elves share the core traits of PHB elves, but Wildemount adds two new subraces. See above for more information on other elf subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: The skill bonuses are neat, but don't fit the Paladin's ability scores particularly well. The innate spellcasting is rough. Sleep is obsolete the moment you can cast it, and invisibility is available from numerous other races with better innate spellcasting, such as the Glasya Tiefling.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

Default Rules:

  • Pallid Elf: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

HalflingPHB

Wildemount halflings share the core traits of PHB halflings, but Wildemount adds a new subrace. See above for information on other halfling subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • LotusdenEGtW: Rearranging the ability score increases doesn't salvage the Lotusden Halfling. In fact, it will more likely make the innate spellcasting worse since you'll likely move the ability increase away from Wisdom.

Default Rules:

  • Lotusden: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoliathEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

KenkuEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcEGtW: See above, under "Races of Eberron". Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

Skills

  • Athletics (Str): Very tempting for Grapple and Shove, but Paladins don't have enough attacks in a round to make knocking enemies prone a particularly good option.
  • Insight (Wis): Helpful for a Face, but you may not have enough Wisdom to back it up.
  • Intimidation (Cha): Important for any Face.
  • Medicine (Wis): Use magic.
  • Persuasion (Cha): The king of Face skills.
  • Religion (Int): One of the most important knowledge skills, but you probably dumped Intelligence.

Background

This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.

Paladins make an excellent Face, but with only Persuasion on their skill list you will want to find Deception and Intimidation from your background. Bonus languages also help since Paladins can't cast Comprehend Languages or Tongues.

If you're having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

  • AcolytePHB: Two skills from the Paladin list and two languages, but neither of the skills fit the Paladin's ability scores particularly well.
  • City WatchSCAG: Athletics and Insight are both fine choices, and two languages are great.
  • CourtierSCAG: Two Face skills, but they're the two that are already on the Paladin's skill list. Better than Guild Artisan because you get a second language instead of artisan's tools.
  • Faction AgentSCAG: Insight, plus the mental skill of your choice allows you to pick up Deception or Intimidation, and you get two languages. I don't think it was the intent of the background, but I can't see a reason why your faction couldn't be a church or a knightly order of some sort.
  • Far TravelerSCAG: Insight and Perception are both great skills, but Paladins frequently dump Wisdom. The bonus languages are also nice.
  • Guild ArtisanPHB: Two Face skills, but they're the two that are already on the Paladin's skill list.
  • Knight of the OrderSCAG: Half of the benefits are mostly wasted, but you get Persuasion and a free language.
  • Mercenary VeteranSCAG: Athletics and Persuasion are both great, but they're already on the Paladin skill list. The gaming set and vehicle proficiencies are situational.
  • SoldierPHB: Athletics is helfpul, and you get one of the two Face skills missing from the Paladin skill list. The gaming set and land vehicles might matter depending on the style of your game, but they're not guranteed to be useful.
  • Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: The skill options are great, and Thieves' Tools might work for a finesse build.
  • Uthgardt Tribe MemberSCAG: Athletics and a language aren't terrible, but they're also not great.

Feats

This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover feats which I think work especially well for the class or which might be tempting but poor choices.

  • AlertPHB: Going first isn't terribly important for the Paladin.
  • AthletePHB: Awful.
  • ActorPHB: Acting and infiltration don't really fit the Paladin's skillset.
  • ChargerPHB: Not a terrible option, but it's hard to bring into play more than once in a combat, and several Paladin Oaths get Misty Step, which allows you to cover the same distance and use your Action instead of making a single attack as a Bonus Action.
  • Crossbow ExpertPHB: Paladins are terrible at ranged combat.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Paladins don't have a lot of built-in abilities which rely on their reaction, but Defensive Duelist only prevents damage, and Paladins have plenty of ways to heal damage.
  • Dual WielderPHB: Improved Divine Smite applies to every attack, and TWF grants you an extra attack. Paladins do very little with their bonus action, so TWF might be a decent option. Unfortunately Paladins don't get the Two-Weapon Fighting style, so it's hard to justify investing heavily in TWF unless you take a class dip.
  • Dungeon DelverPHB: Paladins have neither the skills nor the abilities to back this up.
  • DurablePHB: Paladins have plenty of healing options.
  • GrapplerPHB: Just a terrible feat in general. You don't need it to grapple successfully.
  • Great Weapon MasterPHB: Paladins have several options for boosting their attack rolls, so you can find a way to offset the -5 penalty to attacks for that huge pile of extra damage.
  • HealerPHB: Paladins have plenty of magical options for healing.
  • Heavy Armor MasterPHB: If you find that you're drawing fire effectively but can't keep your hit points up, Heavy Armor Master is an excellent choice.
  • Inspiring LeaderPHB: Temporary hit points are great, and you have the Charisma to back this up.
  • Keen MindPHB: Awful.
  • LinguistPHB: Use magic.
  • LuckyPHB: Good on anyone.
  • Mage SlayerPHB: Too situational.
  • Magic InitiatePHB: Paladins get a spell list which meets their needs very well, and there isn't much the Paladin gets from most cantrips. If you plan to pick up War Caster, Magic Initiate combines well if you pick up cantrips like Booming Blade.
  • Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
  • Medium Armor MasterPHB: Paladins do heavy armor or light armor; never medium.
  • MobilePHB: Running away isn't typically something a Paladin does.
  • Mounted CombatantPHB: Paladins have exclusive access to the Find Steed spell, granting them access to a magical mount. However, this mount is little better than a mundane horse, and making the mount intelligent may actually it *less* useful in combat because it then acts as an independent creature, making it move on its own initiative and requiring a bunch of frustrating coordination between you and what is essentially an NPC.

    If that sounds too frustrating, ask your DM if they'll let you control your mount like a non-intelligent creature. Assuming that's not an issue, a medium player may be tempted to take this feat. Big sections of the monster manual are medium or smaller, so you have easy access to Advantage. The rest of the feat also makes it considerably easier to keep your mount alive, which is a constant problem since your mount's stats never improve (at least until you get Find Greater Steed).

    Regardless of how you handle your mound, be sure to read my Practical Guide to Mounted Combat.

  • ObservantPHB: Paladins don't have the abilities to back this up.
  • Polearm MasterPHB: A fantastic and popular option for Paladins. The ability to attack with the opposite end of the polearm adds an excellent readily-available use for your Bonus Action, and Paladins don't normally have a good go-to use for their Bonus Action except for smite spells which consume your extremely limited spell slots. This is especially useful once your get Improved Divine Smite, or if you have options like Hunter's Quarry (see Oath of Vengeance) or Aura of Hate (see Oathbreaker). The ability to make Opportunity Attacks when enemies move into your reach gives you a good way to use your Reaction consistently, especially if you use things like Compelled Duel to motivate enemies to attack you. You can even get away with using a quarterstaff or spear and a shield (spear was added in errata in 2018).
  • ResilientPHB: Paladins don't get proficiency in Constitution saves, and while Aura of Protection is typically sufficient you may still want extra protection. Many of the Paladin's spells require Concentration, and without proficiency in Constitution saving throws it's really easy to lose one of your extremely limited spell slots since you're on the front lines drawing attacks.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Leave this for full casters if you can.
  • Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn. Your best bet is to use it when you crit and use divine smite to toll a big pile of dice, but even then it's a tiny amount of damage.
  • SentinelPHB: Combines very well with Polearm Master, but I wouldn't take it unless I already had Polearm Master. The reaction option also makes things like Fighting Style: Protection redundant.
  • SharpshooterPHB: Paladins are terrible at ranged combat.
  • Shield MasterPHB: Sword-and-board is a good option for Paladins, and with high Strength and access to Athletics, shoving enemies with your shield is a great use of your Bonus Action.
  • SkilledPHB: You can get all the skills you need from your race, class, and background.
  • SkulkerPHB: Sniping is for Rogues.
  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: Leave grappling for people with more attacks.
  • ToughPHB: With numerous healing options readily available, Paladins don't need to dump a ton of resources into hit points.
  • War CasterPHB: Paladins don't have spells to use with War Caster's reaction mechanic. Advantage on your save to maintain Concentration is a solid bonus for Paladins since many very effective buffs require Concentration, but I would consider Resilient before you consider this. If you can pick up a Cantrip like Booming Blade or Word of Radiance, this becomes considerably more interesting.

Weapons

  • Halberd /Glaive / Pike: Want reach? Get a polearm.
  • Javelin: Likely your go-to ranged option.
  • Greatsword / Maul: The go-to two-handed options if you don't need reach.
  • Longsword / Morningstar / Warhammer: The go-to one-handed options.
  • Rapier: Go-to option for finesse builds.
  • Quarterstaff / Spear: Go-to option for Polarm Master builds.

Armor

  • Chain Mail: Starting armor.
  • Shield: Unless you want the Great Weapon Master feat, you're going to be using a one-handed weapon with the Dueling style, so a shield is a given.
  • Studded Leather: Armor for finesse builds.
  • Full Plate: Nearly every Paladin's best option.

Multiclassing

This section briefly details so obvious and enticing multiclass options, but doesn't fully explore the broad range of multiclassing combinations. For more on multiclassing, see my Practical Guide to Multiclassing.

  • Barbarian: As much as I would love to put Reckless Attack on a paladin, the Barbarian's class features often don't function in heavy armor and going for light or medium armor means that your paladin suddenly needs four high ability scores, which is simply unattainable in DnD 5e.
  • Fighter: Fighters get better choices of Fighting Style, and a class dip is the Paladin's only option for getting a second choice unless you can spare a feat for Fighting Initiate. Still, you don't need Second Wind, and you already get all of the proficiencies granted by multiclassing into Fighter. I'm not sure that Fighting Style is worth a level. If you do go this route, consider starting with a level of fighter to get proficiency in Constitution saving throws.
  • Sorcerer: If you want more spell slots to fuel your smites, Sorcerer isn't a terrible choice. It will advance your spellcasting twice as fast as Paladin levels, and a single level gets you cantrips and access to the 1st-level abilities of a sorcerous origin. Dexterity-based paladins may enjoy the Draconic origin for Draconic Resilience's AC, while other paladins may like Wild Magic for Tides of Chaos. If you want offensive spellcasting, Divine Soul unfortunately doesn't get you cleric cantrips, but you can still get options like Booming Blade and Sword Burst.
  • Warlock: A common, popular, and effective option. The Warlock's spell slots recharge on a short rest, giving you a reliable way to fuel Divine Smite. And yes, Divine Smite can definitely use Warlock spell slots According to Sage Advice. I wouldn't go past 3rd level. 3rd level gets you Pact Boon, and if you select Pact of the Blade you can retrain your Eldritch Invocation gained at 2nd level to get Improved Pact Weapon (+1 to attacks and damage!).

    Though other patrons have plenty to offer, Hexblade is simply too good to pass up. Hexblade's Curse is a fantastic offensive option for paladins, and Hex Warrior allows you to almost totally ignore your Strength and Dexterity in favor of your Charisma, though you'll need Improved Pact Weapon if you want to use two-handed weapons.

Example Build - Dragonborn Paladin (Oath of Devotion)

Abrash Delmirev the Dragonborn Oath of Devotion Paladin

The play of sunlight over the dragonborn’s jet-black scales is the first thing you notice about the paladin standing before you, imposing in his height and heft, as well as the scrapes and scuffs on his warhammer and chain mail, signs of recent combat. Yet his eyes, a reptilian, slitted green, seem entirely incapable of embracing malice, an observation that is reinforced by the holy emblem displayed prominently on his burnished shield.

-- Boxed text provided by dScryb (affiliate link)

This is a "Staple Build". This build is simple, and relies on options from the SRD and the Basic Rules wherever possible. If you need a functional build with nothing fancy or complicated, this is a great place to start.

For a Paladin, this is a very simple build. I've left the spell preparation up to you, but the advice provided above should give you all the information you need.

Abilities

We will assume the point buy abilities for a Strength-based Paladin suggested above. That gives us a character who excels at paladin things, but is otherwise very limited. If you're willing to give up some Constitution, reduce your starting Strength and Constitution each to 14, and distribute those points elsewhere, and at 4th level put the full Ability Score Increase into Strength. Lay on Hands gives you a generous pool of hit points to fall back on, so you're perfectly fine with 14 Constitution.

Base Increased
Str 15 17
Dex 8 8
Con 15 15
Int 8 8
Wis 8 8
Cha 15 16

Race

Dragonborn. Strength and Charisma is a great ability score spread, and a breath weapon offers a good way for us to handle groups of enemies, which is typically a problem for paladins who lack options for handling crowds.

Skills and Tools

We have a lot of flexibility here. I definitely recommend Persuasion, but your other choices can be dependent on the makeup of your party. Religion is a good choice, but if you have a Cleric in the party you may not need it. Athletics is a great choice too because it makes grappling and shoving good options. If you're the only Face in your party, you may want to pick up Intimidation.

Background

Acolyte, Noble, and Soldier all work really well for this build.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Divine Sense
  • Lay on Hands

For your starting equipment, take a warhammer, a longsword, or a battleaxe, a shield, five javelins, and either pack. You're locked into Chain Mail, but with 8 Dexterity that's what you want.

At first level you're very similar to the Fighter. Divine Sense gives you a taste of real divine power. It won't be useful especially often, but it's one of the paladin's only ways to locate invisible creatures.

Lay on Hands is an excellent healing resource. It allows you to precisely apply healing without any of the randomness of hit dice or healing spells, so you can easily fill in the last two or three hit points to get someone to full health without the risk of running over and wasting limited resources. Try to keep 1 point on hand at all times in case you need to save a dying ally.

Despite your high AC from Chain Mail, I really recommend sticking to sword-and-board at first level rather than going for a 2-handed weapon. Even with Lay on Hands, 1st-level characters are frail and a single attack could take you from full hit points to 0. A shield goes a long way to make sure you reach 2nd level.

2
  • Fighting Style (Any except GWF)
  • Spellcasting
  • Divine Smite

2nd level is where things really pick up for the paladin. Fighting Style helps define your role in the party. I recommend anything except Great Weapon Fighting. Even if you go for two-handed weapons, GWF doesn't pay off. If you want to use two-handed weapons, take Defense to compensate for your lack of a shield.

At this level, you have twice as many spells prepared as you have spell slots. I recommend preparing defensive buffs like Compel Duel and Shield of Faith, but it doesn't hurt to bring some Smite spells. Often using a spell will have a bigger impact on a fight than burning the spell slot for Divine Smite, but sometimes you just need a little extra damage to kill something in a hurry.

3
  • Divine Health
  • Sacred Oath (Oath of Devotion)
  • Channel Divinity
    • Sacred Weapon
    • Turn the Unholy

Divine Health is a good passive defense. Diseases can be really nasty, and they're commonly communicated through melee attacks from things like demons and dire rats.

Channel Divinity (Sacred Weapon) is an excellent buff. You already have 16 Charisma, and a +3 bonus to attacks is massive in 5e. The 1-minute duration means that it won't last longer than a single fight, but if you can activate Sacred Weapon just before jumping into a fight you will start with a huge advantage.

4
  • Ability Score Improvement (Strength 17 -> 18, Constitution 15 -> 16)

Since we have two important ability scores at odd numbers, we can split our Ability Score Increase to make them both even and increase both of their modifiers. This means better attack and damage bonuses, more hit points, and better saves. Don't forget that increasing your Consitution modifier increases your hit points retroactively, so you get an extra hit point for every previous level, too!

5
  • Extra Attack

5th level is really fun. Not only do you get Extra Attack, you get your first 2nd-level spell slots. You'll be able to prepare a total of just 5 spells at this level, so you'll need to be very picky.

6
  • Aura of Protection

Aura of Protection is one of the best defensive class features in the game. You and any ally within 10 ft. gets +3 to all of their saving throws. This is a great reason to keep your allies close to you, but remember that you're intended to draw attacks away from your allies so it may be safer for your allies to stay further away to avoid AOE damage.

7
  • Aura of Devotion

Immunity to Charm is more useful than it appears at first. Many spell effects won't function if you're immune to Charm.

8
  • Ability Score Improvement (Strength 18 -> 20)

Not very exciting, but more Strength is very important.

9

9th-level brings 3rd-level spells.

10
  • Aura of Courage

Fear becomes more common as you gain levels and encounter crazy things like ancient dragons and powerful undead.

11
  • Improved Divine Smite

A straight damage boost for your weapon attacks.

12
  • Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 16 -> 18)

An extra point of Charisma modifier means more prepared spells, better spell DCs, and a better bonus from Aura of Protection.

13

13th level brings 4th-level spells. Use Find Greater Steed as soon as possible to get yourself a cool new mount.

14
  • Cleansing Touch

Cleaning touch is really good for removing pesky debuffs and other ongoing spell effects that will be more common at this level.

15
  • Purity of Spirit

Purity of Spirit makes you much better at fighting foes of the affected types, but doesn't require Concentration or a spell slot or anything so you're always ready to go.

16
  • Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 18 -> 20)

An extra point of Charisma modifier means more prepared spells, better spell DCs, and a better bonus from Aura of Protection.

17

17th level brings 5th level spells at long last.

18
  • Aura Improvements

At this level all of your 10 ft. auras expand to 30 ft., allowing your allies to remain at much greater distance from you while still benefit from your excellent protections.

19
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 16 -> 18)

This is basically an extra ASI. Spend it on whatever you want, but Constitution is a good choice.

20
  • Holy Nymbus

In a fight with several enemies, this will deal a ton of damage very quickly, but even against single foes it may be a good option to turn this on and focus on just staying alive while you wear down a difficult foes.