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DnD 5e - Paladin Spell List Breakdown

Last Updated: March 31st, 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

Paladin spells are primarily buffs, healing, and support options, many of which are borrowed from the Cleric's spell list. However, they have numerous powerful and unique options, including Smite spells, Compelled Duel, and Find Steed.

Paladin Spells

Optional spells are marked below with (Optional) following the spell's name. These spells are considered optional rules, as described in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Consult your DM before deciding to use these spells.

1st-Level Spells

  • BlessPHB: If you don't have something else on which to use your Concentration, use Bless. +1d4 to attack rolls is huge in 5e.
  • CeremonyXGtE: This is a weird spell. The fact that it exists implies that clerics perform burial rites, wedding ceremonies, and rites of passage magically at a cost of 25gp each, placing a heavy financial burden on poor commoners, and removing the possibility of non-magical clergy performing these functions. It certainly feels cool for a cleric to have a decicated mechanic for performing these functions, but I don't know why this isn't just a Religion check or something.

    Regardless of all of that, the spell provides weird incentives to do things like getting married before a dungeon crawl or a boss fight. As a DM I would discourage players from abusing these options.

  • CommandPHB: Difficult for the Paladin to use with few spell slots and relatively low save DC.
  • Compelled DuelPHB: Forcing a foe into single combat with you is extremely helpful. You are your party's Defender, and while much of the time that only requires you to stand in the right place, sometimes you will need to actively force enemies to attack you instead of your allies.
  • Cure WoundsPHB: Use lay on hands. You don't get enough spell slots to spend them on healing.
  • Detect Evil and GoodPHB: Situationally useful, and you can use it to find invisible enemies or detect enemies through thin walls.
  • Detect MagicPHB: Someone in the party needs this, and ideally it should be someone with the ability to cast rituals.
  • Detect Poison and DiseasePHB: Very situational, and unless you can also cast Protection From Poison there's little you can do about it anyway. Fortunately, this can be cast as a ritual, but you can't do that so leave it to someone who can.
  • Divine FavorPHB: More damage than you'll get from Divine Smite, and it's especially effective if you have Polearm Master and Extra Attack.
  • Fey TouchedTCoE: Misty Step is great and isn't available to most paladins. The 1st-level spells are hard for the Paladin. Bless is a solid buff, but without proficiency in Constitution saves it can be hard to maintain Concentration, though Aura of Protection helps a lot. Hex is a good offensive option, but with only two attacks it may not be especially helpful.

    For more advice on Fey Touched, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • HeroismPHB: A truly fantastic buff for a 1st-level spell, but you're going to be the one taking damage and Concentration will make the spell difficult to rely upon. Shield of Faith may be more effective, especially if your AC is already high.
  • Protection from Evil and GoodPHB: A fantastic defensive buff, and even though it requires Concentration it will be reliable between Disadvantage on attacks against you and your high AC while stomping around in heavy armor.
  • Purify Food and DrinkPHB: Cast this as a ritual and you'll never need to worry about spoiled food again. One of many reasons that Dungeons and Dragons makes a terrible wildernesss survival game.
  • Searing SmitePHB: A great way to deal ongoing damage to an enemy with poor Constitution saves which you're having trouble hitting (like a spellcaster with defensive buffs), but if you just want damage you'll get more consistent results from Divine Smite or Divine Favor.
  • Shield of FaithPHB: Not very exciting, and it takes Concentration, but a paladin with full plate, a shield, Defense fighting style, and Shield of Faith has an AC of 23, which will keep you very safe for a very long time.
  • Thunderous SmitePHB: You only lose 2 damage on average compared to Divine Smite, and knocking enemies prone is easily worth the lost damage.
  • Wrathful SmitePHB: Many big tough creatures like beasts and giants have poor Wisdom saves, which which makes this an easy way to handicap them.

2nd-Level Spells

  • AidPHB: Not essential, but a good way to pad your party's hit points throughout the day. Just be careful; if the spell ends while you're below 5 hit points you'll fall to 0 and fall unconscious.
  • Branding SmitePHB: You need to hit an invisible enemy to use this meaningfully, and that's hard to do unless you already have a way to make them visible. If you already have a way to make invisible foes visible, why do you need this spell?
  • Find SteedPHB: Exclusive to the Paladin spell list, Find Steed gives you a magical horse. While this steed doesn't get anything to make it more durable than a normal horse, it's smarter than a typical animal and has some cool abilities. Among them, you can share the effect on any spell that you cast which targets only yourself. That means many buffs like Protection From Evil and Good, but you can also use spells like Cure Wounds to heal yourself and your mount at the same time. Unfortunately, you can't do this with spells like Branding Smite because the target of the spell is the creature which you attack.
  • Gentle ReposePHB (Optional): Very situational, but it solves some interesting problems. Normally you can cremate a body to prevent it from becoming undead, but cremating a body takes an alarmingly large amount of fuel which you probably don't have laying about. You can multilate the body, but that's gross and in many campaign settings the gods vew that sort of thing as evil. So if you need to maintain a body until you can give it a real burial, this is your best bet. Fortunately, you can cast it as a ritual.

    Gentle Repose also pauses the timer on effects which raise the dead. While this is specifically called out as working with Raise Dead, it works with anything that raises creatures from the dead. That includes Revivify. So if you keep this prepared, you can haul your allies around until you can cast 3rd-level spells and until you can scrape together enough diamond dust to raise them.

    Remember that while spells don't stack, their durations can overlap so if you cast Gentle Repose early to avoid gaps in spell duration you can keep bodies preserved indefinitely.

  • Lesser RestorationPHB: Situational, but a situation that comes up often. If you don't have a cleric in the party you may be the only one with access to this spell, so you'll want to take it at some point.
  • Locate ObjectPHB: Too situational, and too easy to counter. Anyone with any knowledge of magic that's trying to hide something will wrap it in lead.
  • Magic WeaponPHB: If your game uses magic items, skip this. If it doesn't, someone in your party needs to have this available. I hope that it's not you, but it needs to be someone.
  • Prayer of HealingPHB (Optional): Essentially a Short Rest worth of hit points in 10 minutes. Fine, but not especially important since Hit Dice exist.
  • Protection From PoisonPHB: Situational, but poison is common across the full CR range, so this is a fantastic defensive option at any level. The 1-hour duration means that you can get a lot of mileage out of a single spell slot even if you cast it ahead of time.
  • Warding BondPHB (Optional): Few characters are so well-suited to use this spell as the Paladin. With d10 hit dice and Lay on Hands you have a huge well of hit points, and using this provides a great deal of protection to comparably fragile allies. This also doesn't require Concentration, so you can combine it with options like Heroism to further mitigate damage.
  • Zone of TruthPHB: Situational and much less reliable than you would hope. Creatures are aware that they're under the effect, and they can choose to "be evasive", which means that they could give you true but useless answers or simply not answer. Creatures other than the caster also don't know who passed or failed the save, so unless they already trust you other creatures might not believe you when you tell them that a creature is telling the truth.

    If a creature is willing to talk, they can prove that they are saying what they believe to be true, and you can know whether or not they believe it to be true. But if the creature is incorrect, if you're lying to other creatures (which they might believe that you are), or if any other number of other things go wrong, this spell simply fails to meet its intended purpose.

    In short, this helps honest creatures prove to you that they are being honest. Nothing else. If you want to get answers from an unwilling or unhelpful subject, cast Detect Thoughts.

3rd-Level Spells

  • Aura of VitalityPHB: Never use this in combat, but 20d6 healing for a 3rd-level spell is very efficient. Even Healing Spirit can't match this amount of healing at the same spell level (with the 2020 errata and a +5 spellcasting mod, 6 uses, 2d6 healing when cast at 3rd level, total 12d6 healing).
  • Blinding SmitePHB: Compared to burning the spell slot for Divine Smite you lose 1d8 damage, but you can blind the target. That's a really good trade even if the blindness only lasts for one round.
  • Create Food and WaterPHB: Rations are cheap, but it's good that you can prepare this if you somehow find yourself somewhere without food for extended periods. This also lets you create 30 gallons of water, which is enough for a nice bath but not enough to fill a 5-foot cube.
  • Crusader's MantlePHB: Divine Favor, but for yourself and all of your allies within 30 ft. It gets better in larger parties, especially if you have allies who make lots of attacks using Two-Weapon Fighting or Crossbow Expert.
  • DaylightPHB: Useful, but you get very few spell slots to throw around so it may be hard to justify if you have other ways to get light.
  • Dispel MagicPHB: Useful, but you get this so much later that your party should have access to this from a full spellcaster.
  • Elemental WeaponPHB: Divine Favor will get you the same amount of extra damage, so the only appeal is the +1 to attacks. If you need the +1 to attacks, cast Magic Weapon.
  • Magic CirclePHB: With a 1-minute casting time, you can't use this in combat unless you have time to prepare and your enemies are coming to you. Even then, using this in combat isn't reliable protection because it doesn't mitigate the effects of spells and abilities which don't require attack rolls like breath weapons or fireballs. The best use case is generally to invert the effects and use a spell to summon a creature so that you can bargain with it without risk of the creature escaping. Even then, the 1-hour duration may not be enough to guarantee your safety. If you want similar effects in combat, Protection From Evil and Good will do the trick.
  • Spirit ShroudTCoE (Optional): With a 1-minute duration and Extra Attack, you can get a lot of damage out of this. But, like any good paladin, you need to consider if this is going to be worth on your precious few smite slots. At 1d8 damage per attack, two attacks per turn, and one minute duration, you can deal at most 20d8 damage (avg. 90). Adjusting for the expected 65% miss chance, that's 58.5 damage, provided that you do nothing else with your Action and that combat last long enough. If you use the slame slot on a critical hit (the best time to smite) at any point in that full minute, you'll get 8d10 damage (avg. 45). You'll score a critical hit once in those 20 attacks made over the course of a minute of combat, so it's a fair comparison.

    So Spirit Shroud will deal more total damage, especially if you have a way to make more attacks, such as Haste or Polearm Master. However, that depends on combat being lengthy. A typical combat last 3 to 5 rounds, so you can expect to get half of that 58.5 damage, making Divine Smite a better us of a 3rd-level spell slot. Things tip more toward Spirit Shroud when you upcast it to 5th level, doubling the damage from Spirit Shroud but only adding 4d10 additional damage to your Divine Smite on a critical hit.

    To summarize: this is good if you have more than two attacks and/or if you upcast it to 5th level. Otherwise, skip it.

  • Remove CursePHB: Situational, but irreplaceable. Fortunately, you can usually wait a day to prepare this.
  • RevivifyPHB: Too good to forgo. Everyone who can get this should take it.

4th-Level Spells

  • Aura of LifePHB: Generally only useful if you know that you're facing the types of undead which reduce your hit point maximum (there are several), but the healing is also very efficient for the spell slot: 100 hit points to as many living creatures as you can fit into the 30-foot radius for the spell's 10-minute duration.
  • Aura of PurityPHB: Technically situational, but the defenses are broad enough that you can cover a wide variety of situations. In most encounters it's unlikely that you'll be hit with more than one or two negative status conditions, but Aura of Purity provides broad enough protection that you'll be able to common many of the most common conditions with the same spell.
  • BanishmentPHB: Useful, but drop it once you can cast Banishing Smite.
  • Death WardPHB: This will absolutely save your life, and with an 8 hour duration you can cast it at the beginning of the day before you go do anything dangerous.
  • Find Greater SteedXGtE: A linear improvement to Find Steed, cast this on a day when you're not adventuring and get an awesome new mount. Flight is a massive tactical advantage, so unfortunately cool options like dire wolf and rhinoceros aren't a good idea unless you spend most of your time riding around in dungeons with weirdly wide rooms but low ceilings.
  • Locate CreaturePHB: More effective than mundane tracking, but the 1,000-foot range can be a problem if the target is actively fleeing from you. If you're going to use this, be sure that you're moving faster than your target.
  • Staggering SmitePHB: This would be much better if the effect lasted more than one round.

5th-Level Spells

  • Banishing SmitePHB: 5d10 damage (avg. 27.5) matches the average damage of burning a 5th-level spell slot on Divine Smite (6d8, avg. 27), and the rider effect doesn't allow a saving throw. 50 hit points is a reasonably large window, and banishing the target could dramatically affect the outcome of an encounter.
  • Circle of PowerPHB: Technically situational, but spellcasting enemies are common at such high level.
  • Destructive Smite / Destructive WavePHB: This is a fantastic AOE for a class that otherwise struggles to handle groups of foes. 10d6 damage is a big pile, and the damage types are very rarely resisted.
  • Dispel Evil and GoodPHB: In most cases, Protection from Evil and Good will do the trick, but Dispel Evil and Good has two additional effects. You can prematurely end the spell to end a charm/frighten/possession effect, or to attempt to banish creatures from other planes. They do still get a saving throw, and if the creatures are native to the plane they're on, nothing happens.

    It's very important to note that the banishment effect isn't limited by the spell's duration: creatures banished this way are sent to another plane and must return by normal means. However, since the banishment effect doesn't effect creatures on their home plane, the banishment may not be as appealing as spells like Banishment which can affect creatures native to your current plane.

  • GeasPHB: This spell is situational by design. It has a 1-minute casting time and Verbal components, so you're not going to break this out in combat or while sneaking around in a dungeon. You're going to restrain the subject, and stand around chanting for a full minute and hope that they fail the save. Once that's done, you need to give them a suitable command (read the spell description). Generally you'll want it to be something that benefits you, but will also take the target most of the duration to keep them from becoming a problem for you. Also remember that the base effect of the Charmed condition makes it easier for you to talk the creature into doing things with Charisma checks, so a Geased creature may be a useful ally for the duration of the effect even if the original order isn't directly related to what you want them to do.

    Increasing the spell level extends the duration, but weirdly the damage doesn't increase. 5d10 is a nice pile of damage, but it doesn't scale with spell level and at some point the target will get smart enough to wake up, trigger the 5d10 damage, take a short rest, then go about their business. If the damage scaled this would be less of a problem, but damage is so easily repaired in 5e outside of combat that without further penalties Geas is more a tax on hit dice than the magical shackles it's intended to be. If you want a homebrew fix, add a level of fatigue each day that the target is out of compliance, or make the damage impossible to heal until they go a day without taking it. Neither of those is a perfect solution, but they're miles better than an average of 27.5 damage.

  • Holy WeaponXGtE: This spell is amazing. +2d8 radiant damage on hit means that you're doing as much damage as you would do by burning a low-level spell slot to use Holy Smite. Your weapon becomes a magic weapon so you can bypass many creatures' damage reduction. You get all of this for an hour with Concentration, and you can cast it as a Bonus Action. You can also dismiss the spell for a cool burst of damage, but that's probably not going to see a lot of use unless the duration happens to run out while you're fighting.
  • Raise DeadPHB: Essential, but by this level you should have access to Raise Dead already from other spellcasters in the party.
  • Summon CelestialTCoE (Optional): A really great spell, but it works much better on a full caster. You get this far too late to enjoy the full benefits of the spell, and for the same spell slot you could cast Holy Weapon.

    For more help, see my Practical Guide to Summoning Spells.