DnD 5e - Paladin Subclass Breakdown
Last Updated: June 5th, 2020
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.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : 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.
The Paladin's subclass doesn't do a lot to change the mechanics of the class, but it does a lot to define your theme. Your oaths, your spells, and your Channel Divinity options all have a significant effect on how your character presents themselves to the world.
Paladin Subclasses - Sacred Oaths
Aside from the spell list, Oath of Conquest is spectacular. It's a fantastic mix of crowd control and offensive options, and provides meaningful improvements to the Paladin's damage output, and gives them several useful abilities for handling groups of foes which other paladins often struggle with.
: The spells are good, but they're mostly offensive spells that require saving throws. Unless you invest most of your Ability Score Increases in your Charisma, you won't have the spell DC to make them reliable. And if you're going to invest most of your resources in offensive spellcasting, why not play a Cleric or a Sorcerer?
- : A warlock-exclusive is interesting. With a 1-hour duration Armor of Agathys is a great buff to start before you go into a fight. Command is interesting, but you probably won't have the DC to make it work reliably.
- : Spiritual Weapon is a great way for you to handle multiple foes, and since it's cast as a bonus action it won't cut into your attacks. Hold Person will still be unreliable since you won't have a spell DC high enough to compete with full casters.
- : Good offensive options, but you're still handicapped by a relatively poor spell DC. Still, Fear is essential to capitalizing on Aura of Conquest.
- : Stoneskin is an excellent buff for a front-line character like a Paladin, but the material component is very costly, so you don't want to use it all the time.
- : Good offensive options, but you're still handicapped by a relatively poor spell DC.
: Both options are excellent, and they're usable and effective in almost any encounter.
- : An excellent debuff in an encounter with numerous enemies.
- : Great for when you absolutely need to hit. If you use Great Weapon Master for extra damage, this can be a nice way to salvage a missed attack. However, Channel Divinity still only works once per short rest, so save this for when you really need it.
- : Combined with Channel Divinity: Conquering Presence and the ability to cast Fear you have multiple ways to make enemies frightened. If the enemy in question doesn't have reach or ranged weapons, you can stand safely 10 feet away and hit them with reach weapons or just wait for them to die from the aura damage. Their speed is reduced to 0, so they're very little that they can do about it.
- : Combine this with Compel Duel, and consider foregoing a shield. You have plenty of healing capacity.
- : Even with a 1-minute duration, this is fantastic. If you're in a serious fight, turn this on and start killing stuff.
The "Vanilla" option, Oath of Devotion doesn't really have a specific focus beyond "be a Paladin". If you're not sure what to pick, or if you're new and trying to get a handle on the game, this is a fine option with a decent mix of abilities.
: A few gems, but much of the list is either situational or unnecessary.
- : Sanctuary probably won't see much use, but Protection from Evil and Good is a fantastic buff.
- : Both options are situational, and Lesser Restoration is partially redundant with Lay on Hands.
- : I would almost never use Beacon of Hope in combat (especially since you have Lay on Hands, which Bean of Hope doesn't affect), and Paladins don't have enough spell slots to spend them on Dispel Magic.
- : Freedom of Movement is situational, but Guardian of Faith is surprisingly good area control for a partial caster.
- : Commune is a very powerful divination if you're clever enough to ask useful questions. Flame Strike gives Paladins a much-needed option for handling crowds of weak enemies, especially those which aren't effected by Turn Whatever. However, at this level Flame Strike's damage will be underwhelming and unless you're built around Blessed Warrior your spell save DC will be probably be too low to make Flame Strike Reliable.
- : A decent buff to your attacks. This works particularly well with the Great Weapon Master feat since it will offset most or all of the attack penalty. One minute should be enough to get through a typical fight, but remember that since Channel Divinity recharges on a Short Rest you'll only be able to use this three times per day at most.
- : A great way to handle overwhelming crowds of foes.
- : Situational, but Charm is a potent and dangerous status effect.
- : Protection from Evil and Good is an amazing defensive buff, and having it permanently running without needing to concentrate is spectacular.
- : 10 damage isn't a lot at this level, but this costs nothing but an Action to use, and it has a big enough area that you can clear whole rooms of enemies on your own. The defensive buffs are also great, especially since at this level the fiends and undead you'll be facing are typically powerful spellcasters.
A great concept with some challenges. The spell list is too reliant on Concentration, and while the Channel Divinity options are great their effects won't last long and you'll need to look for other options. The rest of the subclass's features are interesting, but they're not good enough to make Oath of Glory really appealing.
Probably the single best piece of advice I can give is to start with a Variant Human with the Resilient feat. Adding Constitution saving throw proficiency will make the spell list considerably more effective, which might be enough to salvage the subclass. The fact that the subclass's spell list depends so heavily on Concentration is really worrying for class which doesn't get proficienc with Constitution saves and which already depends on Concentration for so many of its interesting spells (smite spells, buffs, etc.).
: While many of the spells on the list are fantastic, many require Concentration. Aura of Protection helps, but the Paladin isn't proficient in Constitution saving throws. If you plan to rely heavily on these spells, consider the Resilient feat or the War Caster feat to improve your success rate with Concentration checks.
- : Guiding Bolt is hard because paladins generally can't invest enough in Charisma to be good at spell attacks. Heroism is a great defensive option, but it also requires Concentration which can be hard to maintain as a front-line melee class without proficiency in Constitution saving throws.
- : Enhance Ability is just an all-around good spell, useful both in and out of combat, though your most likely use case in combat is for Strength, and you can use Peerless Athlete for that. Magic Weapon is great, but requires Concentration.
- : Two fantastic buffs, but both require Concentration.
- : Freedom of Movement is great, but situational. Compulsion is bad and you'll be bad at casting it.
- : A divination which everyone else has been casting for 8 levels and a mediocre AOE damage spell which will likely have a below-normal save DC.
- : Strength (Athletics) includes checks to Grapple and to Shove, both of which are staple tactical options for front-line melee classes like the Paladin. The fact that you can activate this as a Bonus Action makes it easy to use this without cutting into your attacks, and the 10-minute duration can last through several encounters if you move quickly.
- : A decent number of temporary hit points, and while usually you'll horde them for yourself the ability to share them with allies offers a fantastic tactical option. Keep in mind that you need to use Divine Smite before you can activate this, so be sure to keep a spell slot ready so that you can smite something.
- : 10 ft. of extra speed is nice, but it's difficult to make this affect allies reliably. It works really well for mounts, but other players will likely be able to move further by positioning themselves well than by working to stay within the aura's tiny radius.
- : This is a fantastic defensive ability, so be sure to grab a weapon with Reach to enjoy the effect to its fullest.
- : The effect doesn't improve. Just the radius. Of course, the tiny radius is the biggest problems with the base ability.
- : The effects are all spectacular, but the 1-minute duration is really small. Work quickly.
Unlike other Paladins, the Oath of Redemption Paladin emphasizes nonviolent options. Expect to invest more in your Charisma than in your Strength/Constitution, and to rely more on spells and special abilities than on hitting stuff. The Oath of Redemption's Oath Spells all offer saving throws, so you'll need high Charisma to back them up. Be sure to invest in options that will keep you alive while you try to end combat nonlethally. Heavy armor, a shield, the Defensive Fighting Style, and protective magic items if they're available.
: A lot of excellent spells. They all fit the theme, and nearly all of the options are great additions to your spellcasting options.
- : Both great ways to discourage violence.
- : Calm Emotions is situational, but in fights where anger drives creatures to violence, it's a quick end to an encounter. However, in encounters with creatures fighting to defend their homes or their food or whatever, emotions aren't usually the problem. Hold Person is fine, but you're left without options to address most creature types.
- : If you can get Counterspell, you should get Counterspell. It's one of the most powerful spells in the game. However, it's also dependent on being cast at spell levels higher than the minimum, and you only go up to 5th-level spell slots and don't have a lot of spell slots to spend countering.
- : Resilient Sphere is wonderful offensively or defensively, and Stoneskin will help you to withstand attacks while you figure out how to end a fight.
- : More great ways to end a fight nonlethally.
: Both options are excellent, and very easy to bring into play.
- : Excellent for a face, and one of very few Channel Divinity options which works outside of combat.
- : Great for creatures with large single attacks, including spellcasters. Did a lich just disintegrate one of your party members? Hit it with this.
- : Don't try to combine this with the Protection fighting style. Both consume your Reaction, so you won't be able to use them together. You don't want to use this constantly, but when your allies start running short on hit points it's a good idea. Be sure to invest in your Constitution and consider the Tough feat. so that you have enough hit points to absorb damage for your allies.
- : This makes Aura of the Guardian much safer to use.
- : Expect to spend a lot of time grappling and tripping enemies while you try to talk them out of fighting you.
The Druid of Paladins, Oath of the Ancients shares a lot of style and options with Rangers and Druids. It includes abilities to restrain and inhibit enemies, allowing you to keep them right where you want them during a fight.
: About half of the options on the list are bad, but you generally get one viable option from each pair spells.
- : Speak With Animal is extremely situational, but Ensnaring Strike is a great option for a bunch of reasons. If you need to switch targets or go help an ally, spend your bonus action and an attack to ensare the target, then let them bleed out a bit while you're off dealing with more pressing issues. Note that after the initial save it's a Strength Check (not a Save), so even creatures proficient in Strength Saves will have trouble escaping.
- : Moonbeam is situational unless you can restrain a creature inside its effect long enough to justify the spell slot. Misty Step is a fantastic option and solves a lot of mobility issues, including pits, chasms, difficult terrain, walls of fire and other nasty materials, enemies, etc. Misty Step to the BBEG and wave your sword in his face.
- : Plant Growth is very situational, but Protection From Energy is a fantastic and very important defensive option.
- : Ice Storm is a decent AOE with a touch of area control, and Stone Skin is an extremely good buff. The 100gp component cost for Stone Skin may seem daunting, but by this level you likely have a mountain of gold and nothing to spend it on.
- : Commune With Nature is a useful divination, especially in unfamiliar areas, but Tree Stride is extremely situational and totally useless if you're not in a forest or jungle.
- : A good way to disable a single foe, but somewhat redundant with Ensnaring Strike.
- : Fey aren't as common as Undead, but this is still useful occasionally.
- : Resistance to damage from spells will prevent a huge amount of damage.
- : You shouldn't need this frequently, but it's a great fallback in case of a lucky crit or a big, unexpected attack.
- : One minute per day isn't a lot, but for the brief duration this is very good.
Crown is a fantastic Defender build. Between Compelled Duel and Champion Challenge you have two built-in mechanics which will keep enemies focused on you instead of your squishy allies. The oath's other abilities allow you to take damage for your allies, reducing the need for your party to spend actions and resources healing multiple characters in combat.
: A really mixed bag; some of the options are essentially required for a Paladin, but several are situational or outright bad.
- : Compelled Duel is basically a requirement for Paladins, and Command can be very effective if you're clever. Note that Compelled Duel is somewhat redundant with Champion Challenge, but Compelled Duel only affects single targets, while Champion Challenge is an area effect.
- : Warding Bond is nice if you have another ally who is taking a lot of damage and you're sick of spending your turns healing them. Zone of Truth is very situational.
- : Aura of Vitality is an extremely efficient use of a spell slot as far as magical healing goes, but I wouldn't use it in combat because it requires Concentration and monopolizes your Bonus Action. Spirit Guardians is a much better option in combat, but you'll need to chase enemies around to force them to take damage since Champion Challenge still allows enemies to remain up to 30 feet away.
- : Banishment is situational and can be difficult due to the Paladin's comparably poor spell save DC, but Guardian of Faith is great area control.
- : Circle of Power is an excellent buff, especially with the Aura of Protection boosting all of your save bonuses. Geas is situational since most of the things on which you might cast Geas can be handled better by killing them.
Enemies can escape by doing silly things like pushing or pulling each other out of the area, but if your DM tries that they are either pulling some very serious metagame shenanigans or the affected creatures have had time to experiment and figure out how this effect works.
The ability doesn't allow additional saves beyond the first, and doesn't list a duration, so you can technically keep enemies trapped within 30 feet of your forever. It also doesn't specify the Action type, but Mike Mearls (one of 5e's co-creators) belives that it's intended to be a Bonus Action. Somehow we have never gotten errata to address this. I recommend a Bonus Action usage with a 1-minute duration. : This is a great way to keep enemies where you want them, especially in open areas outside of the confines of a dungeon. 30 feet is close enough for most characters to get into melee without Dashing, so even if enemies try to run they can't get far enough that you need to go to great lengths to chase them. If you position yourself correctly, you may also be able to keep enemies away from your allies, allowing your allies to attack at range while you enemies either struggle at the edge of your 30-foot radius or resign themselves to fighting you.
- : Basically Mass Healing Word, but with one extremely problematic limitation: The creatures need to be able to hear you. You can't hear while unconscious, so you can't use this to rescue dying allies which would be the best tactical use case for this ability. If this didn't require that creatures could hear you, this would shoot straight up to , but the limitation really hurts.
- : This is a great way to keep enemies where you want them, especially in open areas outside of the confines of a dungeon. 30 feet is close enough for most characters to get into melee without Dashing, so even if enemies try to run they can't get far enough that you need to go to great lengths to chase them. If you position yourself correctly, you may also be able to keep enemies away from your allies, allowing your allies to attack at range while you enemies either struggle at the edge of your 30-foot radius or resign themselves to fighting you.
- : This is considerably better than the Protection combat style because it's 100% reliable. As a Paladin, you are the party's Defender, so sometimes tanking comes down to taking damage destined for your weaker allies.
- : Between this and Aura of Protection, you're basically unstoppable.
- : For one hour a day you and your allies are exceptionally difficult to kill.
The Oath of the Watchers is good at what it does, but what it does is intentionally limited. In many campaigns, your paladin may go long periods of time without facing extraplanar enemies, in which case most of Oath of the Watcher's features will be largely useless. In campaigns where extraplanar enemies are common (maybe there's an extraplanar incursion or you're traveling the planes), Oath of the Watchers is spectacular. But that is the nature of myratings: it's not bad, but it's only great when the situation fits.
In most published campaigns, you may have an idea of what you'll face. Out of the Abyss and Descent into Avernus both feature fiends, so those seem like great games to play an Oath of the Watchers Paladin. Curse of Strahd and Tyranny of Dragons feature undead and dragons in abundance, but none of the extraplanar threats which the Oath of the Watchers cares about, so you may find yourself less useful. In a homebrew campaign, you'll need to check with your DM to see if the character makes sense, or if the DM can add story points to the campaign to cater to your character.
Beyond the situational nature of the subclass, there's also an unusually heavy dependence on Charisma. Most paladins with rush Strength or Dexterity to 20 before even thinking about raising their Charisma from where it started at level 1. This would be an interesting subclass to use in conjunction with Fighting Style (Blessed Warrior) to create a Charisma-focused paladin that relied primary on cantrips in place of weapons. However, that is certainly not the only viable way to play the subclass, and disregarding the handful of offensive spells is likely more effective than disregarding weapons and the Paladin's Divine Smite feature.
: A good mix of utiliies and buffs which will help you resist effects common to Oath of the Watchers' enemies. The spells (with some exceptions) work great against any creature, but this is clearly a toolkit designed to solve a specific set of problems.
- : Two staple spells, but hopefully you have a ritual caster in the party so you don't need to spend your precious few spell slots.
- : See Invisibility is absolutely crucial, and a great option for a martial character who can't restort to AOE damage when they can't see their enemies. Moonbeam is very situational, but it makes sense consider your intended foes. However, your save DC is likely poor so it won't be reliable.
- : Counterspell is a fantastic spell, but unless you have the Charisma to back it up you'll struggle with the ability check to counter things. Nondetection seems like an odd choice on a paladin, but many of the enemies which Oath of the Watchers cares about can cast spells, including divinations.
- : Aura of purity offers a lot of useful defenses, but it's technically situational. Banishment is a staple a save-or-suck spell, but you may not have the Spell Save DC to back it up.
- : Hold Monster is a great save-or-suck spell, but you may struggle with a low save DC unless you've gotten your Charisma up to 20 by this level. Scrying is situational, so it's annoying to have prepared every day, but it's also not on the Paladin's spell list so it's nice that it's available.
- : Match the Gnome's Cunning trait for one minute. Note that you are not counted in the number of targets, so it's you plus a number of creatures equal to your Charisma modifier. The duration is only one minute, but this is still a great buff when you face enemy spellcasters or enemies with charm or fear abilities (both of which are common). Still, against enemy spellcasters they can just revert to AOE damage spells in many cases, but at least they're not mind-controlling your party.
- : Technically situational, but between 5 creature types you have enough coverage to almost guarantee that this is useful in any campaign where it makes sense for an Oath of the Watchers Paladin to exist. Turning a foe takes them out of combat up a full minute unless you bother them, and in group encounters where you'll use this you can greatly simplify an encounter by removing a portion of your opponents temporarily.
- : Keep your allies close. This bonus is significant. If you're worried about being caught in an AOE, remember that Aura of Protection has the same 10-foot range. The range does eventually expand, but you may still prefer to keep allies in your Aura of Protection as much as possible.
- : Situational. Against enemies that use these affects, this is very powerful especially when combined with Watcher's Will. However, it's absolutely useless against many enemies.
- : Truesight is a fantastic ability, but the rest only applies against suitable enemies. It also doesn't include a way to keep enemies banished, and at this level many of the affected types of creatures can cast Plane Shift.
Oath of Vengeance emphasizes the Paladin's abilities as a striker, seeking to kill enemies quickly rather than relying on defensive tactics.
: Most of the spells are absolutely fantastic, but a lot of them require Concentration, and the list starts to fall apart at high levels.
- : Bane is a solid debuff that can significantly reduce the difficulty of an encounter, especially if there are a lot of enemies. Hunter's Mark is a nice damage boost against a single high-priority target, but its usefulness is limited by the Paladin's low number of attacks per round.
- : Paralysis is an off-switch for an enemy, but since your spell DC is low compared to a full spellcaster Hold Person is unrealiable. Misty Step is a great way to get around the battlefield, especially since it's a Bonus Action to cast.
- : Haste and Protection From Energy are two of the most important buffs in the game.
- : Both situational options, and the appeal of Dimension Door is reduced because you already have Misty Step.
- : Hold Monster makes Hold Person redundant, but it's a significant improvement. Scrying is very situational, and your full caster allies have had it for a very long time by this level.
- : It's like turning enemies, but they can still stand there and cast spells and attack you, so actually it's a lot worse than turning enemies.
- : One minute of guaranteed advantage against one target. Very helpful against powerful single foes. Use it early, use it often.
- : Absolutely fantastic for a Defender build, especially if you also have Polarm Master.
- : An extra attack presents a potentially large boost to your damage output.
- : For one hour a day you can chase your terrified foes around and murder them. The move speed is great, which is important since you'll need it to chase down the room full of enemies who are now all running directly away from you.
A bit difficult to bring into many adventuring parties, but Oathbreaker has a lot of excellent options which make the Paladin difficult to defeat alone or in a party.
: Some of the options are outright terrible, but there are enough good options to make the spell list viable.
- : Hellish Rebuke is fantastic for a Defender who spends a lot of time drawing fire. Inflict Wounds will almost never see use because your weapon plus Divine Smite with the same spell slot will do more damage.
- : Crown of Madness is difficult to use because it consumes your Action and only does anything if your target is adjacent to something which you want the target to attack at the beginning of their turn, and Darkness isn't very helpful since you can't see inside the area.
- : Animate Dead is always nice to have, and Bestow Curse has several excellent options. Consider combining the two by cursing your foe to give them disadvantage on Strength checks and saves, then have your undead pets grapple them and shove them to the ground.
- : Blight is decent single-target damage, especially against plants, but I have never liked Confusion because it's so unreliable. Even though Confusion is an AOE I would much rather us a more predictable single-target spell like Hold Person.
- : Contagion is incredibly powerful, especially if the foe fails their three saves. Slimy Doom will essentially end an encounter, especially if you can apply a damage over time effect. Dominate Person is a powerful way to temporarily gain an extra party member.
If you're worried about the creature's behavior at the end of the duration and you think it might pass a save to renew the effect, you can command the creature to destroy itself right before the duration expires. But given enough time, you and your allies could hit the creature with effects which penalize saving throws (bane, mind spike, cutting words, etc.), then you can re-use Control Undead to reset the duration. : Save-or-suck an undead creature for up to 24 hours. Turn powerful undead into slaves. They must obey your commands, they don't get additional saves, and they can't break the effect by any means specified in the feature. Undead aren't every creature, so this is technically situational, but they're still a very common creature type in many games.
- : Considerably better than the Turn Whatever abilities other oaths get since it affects everything.
- : Save-or-suck an undead creature for up to 24 hours. Turn powerful undead into slaves. They must obey your commands, they don't get additional saves, and they can't break the effect by any means specified in the feature. Undead aren't every creature, so this is technically situational, but they're still a very common creature type in many games.
- : Not terribly helpful in an adventuring party, but even if it only applies to you, you can get a bunch of extra damage on your weapon attacks.
- : Permanent Stoneskin. This makes you very difficult to kill, especially in games with no magic items. However, in games where magic items are common or where the world is dominated by spellcasters this might be completely useless.
- : Lots of damage, a good use for your Bonus Action, and it makes it hard for enemies to see. Be sure that you have Darkvision so that you're not a victim of your own effect.