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DnD 5e - The Paladin Handbook

Last Updated: March 17th, 2020

Disclaimer

I will use 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.

Introduction

Paladins are on the most durable, survivable, and self-sufficient class in the game. As such, they make excellent solo characters. In a party, they serve as a Defender, Face, 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.

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 make them difficult for new players, this also makes the Paladin a great introductory class because the player needs to learn so much to play it.

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

Paladin 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.

Proficiencies: All armor, all weapons, and two skills from a decent skill list the Paladins actually have the abilities to use.

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 allow you to pick exactly how much you heal, it's actually viable during combat. With such a large pool you can easily bring many allies from 0 to 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.

  • DefensePHB: Not very exciting, but since AC scales so little in 5e a +1 can be a big difference.
  • 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. 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.
  • ProtectionPHB: Tempting for Defender builds, but allies need to remain adjacent to you for this to work. Being adjacent to the front line Fighter is generally a bad place to be unless you can do so safely without someone defending you.

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: See my Paladin Subclass Breakdown.

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.

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.

Abilities

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.

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 fuel's many of the Paladin's abilities, including their spellcasting, Aura of Protection, and several Paladin skills.

Strength-Based Dexterity-Based
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

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: Bonus Dexterity and flight are decent for a finesse-based Paladin, but that's really all you get.

AasimarVGTM: An obvious and fantastic choice for a Paladin.

  • Fallen: Great for oathbrakers.
  • Protector: Wisdom doesn't do much for a paladin, but radiant soul is fantastic for temporary flight.
  • Scourge: Makes you nice and durable.

BugbearVGTM: A Strength increase and reach are both nice, but you can do better with other races.

DragonbornPHB: The ability scores are great, and energy resistance is excellent, but the Dragonborn's breath weapon is really weak. The Dragon Fear racial feat works great for Paladins, especially Conquest Paladins once they pick up Aura of Conquest.

Dwarf: 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 the Paladin's strengths.
  • HillPHB: The Wisdom is wasted, and the bonus hit points are probably unnecessary.
  • MountainPHB: Strength!

ElfPHB: 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, but Sunlight Sensitivity is a huge problem in most games.
  • EladrinMToF: Charisma and free teleportation work great for the Paladin.
  • High ElfPHB: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • 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.

FirbolgVGTM: A but of Strength and some fun innate spellcasting.

GenasiEEPC: Extra constitution is nice, but not terribly exciting, and 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 abilities are very situational.
  • Fire: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • Water: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

Gith: Nothing useful that you can't get elsewhere.

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

Gnome: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • ForestPHB: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • RockPHB: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

GoblinVGTM: Could be excellent for a finesse build, but goblin doesn't cater to paladins any better than it caters to a fighter.

GoliathEEPC: Good abilities, Athletics for free, and Stone's Endurance adds a bit of additional durability.

Half-Elf: Incomparably good. The Half-Elf is arguably the best race 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, two free skills to round out your selection of Face skills, Darkvision, and Fey Ancestry adds another immunity to the Paladin's existing laundry list of immunities and resistances.

  • AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
  • DrowSCAG: The spells are great utility options, especially Faerie Fire, but giving up two skills means that you really need to get all of your Face skills from your class skills and background skills.
  • High/Moon/SunSCAG: Paladins can't get a lot out of Wizard cantrips. Options like Booming Blade are tempting, but Extra Attack makes them much less important, especially once you add Improved Divine Smite and want to make as many attacks as possible.
  • Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
  • WoodSCAG: Fleet of Foot is nice for getting into melee, but the other options won't help you much.
  • VanillaPHB: Faces need quite a few skills, and two free skill choices gives you some flexibility to pick up a more interesting background or some non-Face skills.

Half-OrcPHB: Good ability scores, a free Face skill, Darkvision, and a couple of fun abilities. Still not as good as the Half-Elf, but potentially a very fun option.

HalflingPHB: Dexterity is okay for a finesse build, and Lucky is always fantastic. The Halfling racial feats in Xanathar's Guide to Everything are both potential 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: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

HumanPHB: 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 and Charisma, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1. If you're looking at the Skilled feat, consider a Half-Elf instead.

KenkuVGTM: Paladins generally don't handle stealth well.

KoboldVGTM: Possible for a finesse paladin, and Pack Tactics is amazing, but that's probably not enough.

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

LocathahLR: The only useful parts are the Strength increse and the free skills.

OrcVGTM: Half-orcs are objectively better. If you still want to play a full-blooded Orc, ask your DM if you can use the Eberron version because it's a much better-written race.

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

Tiefling: +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.

  • AsmodeusMToF: Charisma and good racial spells, but a front-line character like the paladin really needs a Strength or Dexterity increase.
  • 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.
  • FiernaMToF: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • GlasyaMToF: Interesting, but paladins aren't built to be tricky.
  • LevistusMToF: If you can handle the lack of a Strength/Dexterity increase at low levels, this is a fantastic option. Armor of Agathys is a great defensive buff, and Ray of Frost is a useful ranged option.
  • MammonMToF: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • ZarielMToF: Perfect ability spread, a great cantrip, and free smite spells.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: A Dexterity-based paladin is absolutely viable, but you can do better with numerous other racial options. According to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants, so if your DM allows it you may be able to use this in conjunction with another useful subrace to get more useful innate spellcasting, which might make for a very useful combination.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Vanilla with better spells. Charisma is already the Paladin's spellcasting ability, so you should already have a good ability to power these spells.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Hellish Rebuke is a better option for the Paladin since you'll be drawing a lot of attacks.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Flight is absolutely fantastic, and permanently available flight will be a huge advantage at every level.

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

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

VerdanAcInc: Constitution and Charisma are great, but you'll have trouble offensively without a Strength or Dexterity increase.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: Magic resistance and immunity to poison make the pureblood exceptionally durable, though the race offers little to help the paladin's offensive capacity.

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.

ChangelingERLW: 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.

ElfERLW: Eberron's elves are mostly the same as core elves, but include some additional subraces.

  • Aerani High: Trade the core High Elf's Weapon Training trait for expertise in a single skill or tool of your choice.
  • Aerani Wood: Trade the core Wood Elf's Weapon Training trait for expertise in a single skill or tool of your choice.
  • Valenar Wood: Trade the core Wood Elf's Weapon Training trait for slightly different weapon proficiencies, including the double scimitar. If you already get proficiency with martial weapons it doesn't matter, and if you don't you might prefer the original set of weapons because they include short swords. The two sets are roughly equivalent, so use whichever you like (or whichever your DM allows).

HobgoblinERLW: See above.

OrcERLW: The Half-Elf gets better ability scores plus two skills that aren't restricted to a pre-defined list, but Aggressive and Powerful Build may be good enough to give up the Charisma increase.

KalashtarERLW: Bad ability spread.

ShifterERLW: 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: 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 fighter 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Mark of Finding: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked HalflingERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • 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 mos tof 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 racial traits.

  • 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: While many of the spells are great, the ability score increases are difficult.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: Very little which directly contributes to the Paladin, but still an excellent option for an aggresive melee build.

GoblinGGTR: See above.

LoxodonGGTR: 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: 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: Fantastic and versatile.

VedalkenGGTR: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above.

AasimarEGtW: See above.

BugbearEGtW: See above.

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

  • 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.
  • StandardPHB: See above.

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

  • Pallid Elf: Nothing useful for the Paladin.
  • Sea Elf: See above.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above.

GenasiEGtW: See above.

GoblinEGtW: See above.

HalflingEGtW: Wildemount halflings share the core traits of core halflings, but Wildemount adds a new halflings subrace. See above for information on core halflings traits.

  • Lotusden: Nothing useful for the Paladin.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above.

GoliathEGtW: See above.

KenkuEGtW: See above.

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.

TortleEGtW: See above.

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.

  • 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 the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.

  • 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: If you have Athletics and can use it reliably, you can use Athletics to Shove your enemy prone and get Advantage without the use of a feat.
  • 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 CombatPHB: 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 actually makes 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. 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. Large 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).
  • 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: If you were going to be good at a save, your class would have given it to you. If you depend heavily on Concentration spells, you might consider Resiliant (Constitution) to improve your saves to maintain Concentration, but you might get more mileage from War Caster.
  • 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 any good options 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.
  • 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.

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: Neartly every Paladin's best option.

Multiclassing

  • Fighter: Fighters get better choices of Fighting Style, and a class dip is the Paladin's only option for getting a second choice. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 second level. 3rd level gets you Pact Boon, but none of the pacts are particularly useful for you. Blade pact would be fun conceptually, but it's little better than using a real weapon and certainly not good enough to justify giving up another level of Paladin. 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 totally ignore your Strength and Dexterity in favor of your Charisma.

Example Build - Dragonborn Paladin (Oath of Devotion)

Honor, justice, and mercy, but also incredible violence and aggression.

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 -> 19)

Very little excitement at this level, but Strength increases are important for your attacks to keep pace with the Attack/AC progression.

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 19 -> 20, Constitution 15 -> 16)

Assuming you didn't tweak the suggested ability scores, this is a nice improvement. Better attacks, more damage, and a pile of extra hit points.

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.