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Pathfinder - The Paladin Handbook

Last Updated: Mar 21, 2017

Disclaimer

I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.

I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

  • 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.

Introduction

The Paladin is a divine-powered martial class. Similar to the Fighter, the Paladin makes and effective Defender and Striker, but the Paladin's other options also allow them to serve as a Face and as a Healer, though you'll need to take traits to get missing class skills to serve as a Face, and a Paladin can't match the healing capacity of a full caster like a Cleric.

Despite a fairly narrow set of roles, the Paladin's natural survivability and self-sufficiency make it an excellent choice for single-character campaigns.

Paladin Class Features

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

Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.

Saves: Paladins have the best saves in the game without making any specific efforts to improve them. Good Fortitude and Will saves, and Divine Grace adds an enormous bonus that stacks with nearly everything else.

Proficiencies: Heavy armor, shields, and martial weapons.

Skills: 2+ skill ranks and a very sparse skill list.

Aura of Good (Ex): Almost never matters.

Detect Evil (Sp): Not always important, but I have seen plenty of Paladins walk into social situations with this running so that they know who they can trust, and who needs a good smiting.

Smite Evil (Sp): A fantastic offensive option.

Divine Grace (Su): One of the Paladin's best abilities, this adds a huge bonus to your saving throws.

Lay on Hands (Su): An excellent healing mechanic. Mercies allow you to remove harmful conditions, and you can use it on yourself as a swift action so that you don't have to cut into your full attack.

Aura of Courage (Su): Situational.

Divine Health (Ex): Diseases become more common at high levels, which can make this very useful.

Mercy (Su): Mercies offer the ability to heal conditions which normally require a Cleric. However, remember that your paladin spells can often handle the same conditions.

  • Base
    • Fatigued: Fatigued is one of the least problematic conditions in the game.
    • Shaken: Frustrating, and effects which cause you to be shaken can have fairly long durations. Aura of Courage should improve your party's saves against these effects, but it doesn't work for Intimidate and it's not 100% effective.
    • Sickened: Effects which cause Sickened tend to have fairly short durations, but there are annoying exceptions like Stinking Cloud.
  • 6th-level
    • Dazed: Effects which cause Dazed it tend to have very short durations, but losing a turn always hurts. Of course, if you're spending your Standard action to remove Dazed, you're probably losing the same amount of actions by spending your turn healing the target.
    • Diseased: Diseases can be annoying to deal with, and some have horrifying secondary effects like Blinding Sickness. Paladins also can't cast Remove Disease.
    • Staggered: Staggered still allows you to take actions, and effects which cause it tend to have very short durations. The exception is being at 0 hit points, which will be resolved by the healing from Lay on Hands.
  • 9th-level
    • Cursed: Curses are permanent and debilitating, but Paladins can also cast Remove Curse.
    • Exhausted: Go take a nap.
    • Frightened: Potions of Remove Feat cost 50 gp. Go buy one.
    • Nauseated: Effects which cause nauseated tend to have very short durations.
    • Poisoned: Poison will very rarely kill your party, but sometimes it gets scary.
  • 12th-level
    • Blinded: Being blind sucks, and it's often permanent.
    • Deafened: Being deaf is annoying at worst.
    • Paralyzed: A paralyzed character is just waiting for a coupe de grace.
    • Stunned: Being stunned makes you extremely vulnerable to attack.

Channel Positive Energy (Su): Paladins aren't great at channeling energy, but if you need to heal more than two people in the party it's more efficient than use Lay on Hands on each of them. If you insist on using Channel Energy, see my Practical Guide to Channel Energy.

Spells: Paladins are 1/2 casters, and get very few spells per day from a limited spell list. However, their spell selection complements their other abilities really well. They get almost no utility options, but they get spells which help them serve as healers, strikers, and defenders. See the "Spells" section, below, for some notable spells.

Divine Bond (Sp): Both options are fantastic. The ability to enhance your weapon can solve a lot of problems, including DR, but a mount is an essential part of any mounted combat build. For help with the Paladins's Mount, see my Practical Guide to Animal Companions.

Spells: Paladins only go up to 4th-level spells, but what little spellcasting they get can be very effective is used carefully. Paladins cast spells at a caster level 3 lower than their class level, which seriously handicaps their spells, so consider the Magical Knack trait to boost your caster level.

Aura of Resolve (Su): Charm effects are very rare.

Aura of Justice (Su): Fantastic, but remember that allies must still use a swift action to activate Smite Good.

Aura of Faith (Su): Fantastic for combating evil-aligned outsiders, and saves you the trouble of casting Bless Weapon.

Aura of Righteousness (Su): DR 5/evil will protect you from everything except enemy divine spellcasters and evil outsiders like demons.

Holy Champion (Su): Good, but not great. The Banishment effect forcible ends your Smite even if it fails, and you can't choose to forego the effect. Personally I would rather outright kill the outsider so that it can't come back.

Abilities

Paladin abilities look similar to any other melee martial character, but Divine Grace drastically reduces the need for Dexterity and Wisdom to fix bad saves.

Str: Paladins are almost exclusively melee characters, so Strength is essential.

Dex: In heavy armor and with Divine Grace, Dexterity isn't paticularly important. Take 12 at most, but you can survive with less.

Con: Essential for hit points, but Fortitude saves shouldn't be a problem.

Int: The Paladin's skill list is better than the Fighters, but 2+ skill ranks offer you very limited options.

Wis: With Divine Grace and good Will saves you can easily dump Wisdom to 8 without any problems.

Cha: Fuels the Paladin's spells and abilities.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str: 16
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 16
  • Str: 16
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 14
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 14

Races

Bonuses to Strength of Charisma are nice, and medium size is nice if you plan to play a Defender so that you can be enlarged.

Dwarf: The Charisma penalty is annoying, but the Dwarf's other racial traits still make it a viable option. The bonuses to Constitution and Wisdom offset most of the lost bonus from Divine Grace, and the Dwarf's other abilities complement the Paladin's natural durability very well. Unfortunately the Dwarf favored class bonus adds to Concentration, which is nearly worthless for Paladins.

Elf: Nothing useful for the Paladin, and bonuses to two of the Paladin's least important abilities.

Gnome: Bonuses to Constitution and Charisma are enough to offset the penalty to Strength, making the Gnome a solid choice for small Paladins. This can be helpful for mounted combat builds because you can fit into spaces which are too small for horses. The Gnome favored class bonus improves the healing/damage provided by Lay on Hands.

Half-Elf: The flexible ability bonus is nice, and the Half-Elf has some nice alternate racial features which can work well for the Paladin. The Half-Elf's favored class bonus expands the area of the Paladin's auras. Considering the Paladin has 5 auras (not counting Aura of Good), this can be a fantastic buff.

Half-Orc: Flexible ability bonus and some nice racial abilities which complement the Paladin well. Unfortunately, the Half-Orc favored class bonus is awful, so take the Human favored class bonus instead.

Halfling: A little less effective than the Gnome because the Dexterity bonus isn't as helpful.

Human: Always a good option, and the Human favored class bonus adds energy resistance to one type of energy. Pick up a few points in the four basic energy types (acid, cold, electricity, fire), but don't worry about sonic. Remember that this resistance stacks with magical energy resistance such as the Resist Energy spell.

Traits

  • Axe to Grind (Combat): Paladins spend a lot of time in melee by themselves, so this can pay off frequently if you don't have any other melee allies.
  • Deft Dodger (Combat): Reflex saves are your worst save, though they'll still be fantastic thanks to Divine Grace.
  • Birthmark (Faith): Charm and compulsion effects are scary, but you have Divine grace and good Will saves. The free holy symbol is neat, but not really necessary.
  • Omen (Faith): Intimidate is one of your missing Face skills. On top of the usual +1 bonus and free class skill, you also get to Demoralize once per day as a swift action!
  • Magical Knack (Magic): +2 caster level adds hours to your buffs. Nearly every Paladin should take this.
  • Dangerously Curious (Magic): A weird choice for a Paladin, but you have the Charisma to use UMD, and it's still the best skill in the game.
  • Unscathed (Magic): If you're human, this is a close contender with Magical Knack. The human favored class bonus is an easy way to get a few points of energy resistance in every type, and this can up to quintuple its effectiveness if you pick up 1 point of resistance to all 5 energy damage types. Even if you skip sonic damage you're still getting 8 levels worth of favored class bonus out of one trait. Normally I don't worry about sonic damage, but I think you can spare one point to get 3 points of resistance, especially for the smug satisfaction of telling people that you've got sonic damage resistance.
  • Bully (Social): Omen is better.
  • Fast Talker (Social): Bluff is one of your missing Face skills, though as a Paladin you may have moral obejctions to lying.
  • Influence (Social): Pick up whichever missing Face skill you didn't already get.
  • Seeker (Social): The most rolled skill in game.
  • Unpredictable (Social): Bluff is one of your missing Face skills, though as a Paladin you may have moral obejctions to lying.
  • Brute (Half-orc Racial): Omen is better.

Skills

  • Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for any Face.
  • Handle Animal (Cha): Helpful for training and handling your mount, but you likely won't need to maximize it.
  • Heal (Wis): A helpful supplement to magical healing, but Paladins typically dump Wisdom, so they won't be as effective as someone with a decent Wisdom score.
  • Knowledge (nobility) (Int): Situational, and very depenedent on your campaign.
  • Knowledge (religion) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills in the game.
  • Ride (Dex): Useful if you take the Mount option of Divine Bond, but otherwise useless.
  • Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful for any Face.
  • Spellcraft (Int): Situational, and Paladins aren't particularly suited to do anything with the information which they could gain.

Feats

Paladins fight much like a fighter with a similar combat strategy would, so your feats will frequently depend on your combat style. Instead or re-hashing an analysis of every combat feat available, this section will focus primarily on feats which cater specifically to the Paladin.

  • Adept Champion: This can add an impressive bonus to your CMB at the expense of damage, which is fantastic if you're building a Defender.
  • Channel Smite: Unless you're fighting undead, this won't help you deal damage.
    • Greater Channel Smite: Allows you to split up the bonus damage dice from Channel Smite. Largely pointless.
    • Guided Hand: This is for Clerics.
  • Channeled Revival: If your party lacks someone who can cast Breath of Life, this is a great investment. It takes three uses of Channel Energy, which means 6 uses of Lay on Hands, so you won't be able to use this until 12th level unless you take Extra Lay On Hands or you go for the Hospitaler archetype.
  • Extra Channel: The Paladin isn't good at channeling energy, but this can provide some extra healing for your party.
  • Extra Lay On Hands: If you like Lay on Hands a lot (and you should), this is worth considering.
  • Extra Mercy: It's difficult to know what Mercies to select, but you can probably choose ones that work well enough that you don't need to spend a feat on this. If you feel absolutely compelled to pick up additional mercies, buy a Merciful Baldric.
  • Radiant Charge: Consumes all of your remaining uses of Lay on Hands for the day, so you can only use it once per day. The most efficient use is to use it with your final charge of Lay on Hands, but that makes it really hard to find time to use the feat.
  • Reward of Grace: Probably only useful if you use Lay on Hands on yourself a lot. Tiny bonus with 1 round duration. Sacred bonuses are really rare, but Weapon Focus is probably better.
  • Reward of Life: If your party doesn't have a cleric or someone else who is better than you are at healing, this is a great way to expand the effectiveness of Lay on Hands as a source of healing.
  • Unsanctioned Knowledge: Unsanctioned Knowledge can open up a lot of really great spell options. Clerics in particular have a lot of really great buffs, and many have long durations. Magic Vestments, for example, is a 3rd-level Cleric spell with hours/level duration that can save you a fortune on armor enhancement. However, remember that Paladins get very few spells per day and that the Paladin's caster level is 3 lower than their class level.
  • Word of Healing: A standard action and 30 foot range to heal half as much as normal. Walking over to your target will generally be better.

Weapons

  • Falchion: If you want a two-handed weapon without reach, the Falchion is the two-handed equivalent of the Scimitar.
  • Longsword: Iconic and flashy, but past low levels the Scimitar's critical threat range will have a better payoff.
  • Greatsword: Iconic and flashy, but past low levels the Falchions's critical threat range will have a better payoff.
  • Reach Weapons: Any reach weapon is a good choice for a Defender. If you plan to use combat maneuvers, the Guisarme is an obvious choice, but beyond that polearms are largely interchangeable.
  • Scimitar: A slightly low damage die, but the threat range will pay off better beyond low levels when your bonus damage eclipses your weapon's base damage.

Armor

  • Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
    • Hide: Good, cheap starting armor if you don't want to spend the gold to get four-mirror.
    • Four-Mirror: The best AC bonus which you can afford at level 1.
    • Heavy Shield: Unless you plan to use a two-handed weapon, a heavy shield is a good choice.
    • Full Plate: The best armor you can get.

    Spells

    This section won't address every spell on your spell list, but it will point out some especially notable options. For a complete list of spells, see the SRD Spell Index.

    1st-Level Spells

    • Challenge Evil: Extremely tempting, but since Paladins don't have supremacy-caster Charisma and since they get spell levels so late the DC is going to be really low. Don't expect this to work reliably. Even when it does work, it only causes Sickened, which may not be enough of a deterrent to force targets to attack you.
    • Compel Hostility: A fantastic option for defenders. You'll have trouble with your spell DC, but since the target makes a save for each attack individually, it's likely that at least some of the saves will fail.
    • Hero's Defiance: You need this, without question. This means that you can afford to spend your swift action on something other than healing, even if your hit points are getting low.
    • Honeyed Tongue: Excellent for a Face, but I would only prepare this if you have time to rest before going into a series of negotiations or something of the sort.
    • Knight's Calling: More effective than Challenge Evil, but only one round duration and all of the same DC issues. If it works, it's fantastic.

    2nd-Level Spells

    • Fire of Entanglement: Paladins always have trouble with spell DCs, but even if the target succeds they're still entangled for one round. An absolutely essential way to keep enemies pinned down. If you can cast this repeatedly, you can hold enemies in place indefinitely.
    • Litany of Righteousness: If paladins didn't suck at spell DCs, this would be an amazing way to boost your charge damage.
    • Paladin's Sacrifice: Only works once per casting, but as an immediate action you can use this whenever you need it. Paladins are notoriously hard to kill, so this extends that durability to your allies. Remember that immediate actions cost your swift action in the following turn, so you won't be able to spend a swift action to use Lay on Hands in the following turn.
    • Righteous Vigor: Combined with Smite Evil this is an absolutely amazing option. The temporary hit points will allow you to focus completely on attacking, and the scaling attack bonus will make your attacks extremely reliable. Stand toe-to-toe with the scariest enemy you can find.
    • Saddle Surge: Absolutely essential for mounted builds. The damage should be multiplied by Spirited Charge and by using a lance. Get as far back as you can, boost your mount's speed as much as possible, and get a massive damage spike on your charge. A horse has 50 base speed, so you can move 100 ft. on a charge. Horsehsooes of speed add another 30 feet. Imagine charging 160 feet, adding 32 to your normal damage, then trippling all of it. Horrifying.
    • Shield Other: You have the ability to heal yourself as a swift action, so absorbing some damage dealt to an ally means that you can effectively heal that damage as a swift action. This means that you're spending your turns fighting stuff instead of healing your allies. However, it can be difficult to know which ally to use this on. You may use this and find that it never comes into play.

    3rd-Level Spells

    • Deadly Juggernaut: In an encounter with several weak foes to feed into this spell, this is absolutely amazing. Luck bonuses are hard to find, and luck bonuses to damage are even less common. With minutes per level duration, you may be able to carry it into multiple encounters with a single casting.
    • Fire of Judgement: By this level creatures should nearly always pass your spell saves, so you'll only get one round out of this. Even if the creature fails the save, 1d6 damage isn't much of a deterrant unless the creature has a huge number of attacks. Still, a swift action casting time makes this reasonably viable if you can make the 1-round duration work for you.
    • Magic Weapon, Greater: With hours per level duration, there's no excuse to buy a magic weapon with more than a +1 enhancement bonus. If you have a full caster willing to cast this for you, let them do it. If not, plan to cast this spell every day.
    • Sanctify Armor: Effectively Magic Vestments, but with minutes/level duration and the DR component if you use Smite Evil.

    4th-Level Spells

    • Blaze of Glory: This is a complicated spell, and I'm not sure how effective it will be in real play. Generally I would rather use Heroe's Defiance when I hit 0 hit points, but if you have multiple allies unconcious this might turn the tide of a fight. The damage is neat, but not significant enough to realistically kill anything. The prayer effect is great, and doesn't appear to be affected by a saving throw.
    • Break Enchanment: By this level, other spellcasters will easily outpace the maximum caster level bonus on Break Enchantment, so you'll have trouble using this effectively.
    • Fire of Vengeance: Swift action, no save, no spell resistance, and 3d8 damage is enough to be a passable deterrant. However, it only works on one attack. Fire of Judgement may actually be better unless your foe is especially low on hit points.
    • Holy Sword: Really good, but standard action to cast and only rounds/level duration mean that it will be hard to bring this into play easily without cutting into your normal actions. The effects also overlap the weapon option for Divine Bond,
    • Resounding Blow: Easy to overlook, but with a swift action casting time Resounding Blow is a great combat buff. Rounds/level duration and 1d6 damage per attack means that you can get an impressive amount of extra damage out of this. The stun effect works even against creatures which you're not smiting, so strongly consider using a weapon with a high critical threat range.
    • Sacrificial Oath: A lot like Shield Other, but you can choose to take the effects, and it also works on failed saving throws. If you're prepared to absorb everything that targets a creature, this is the way to do it.

    Magic Items

    Weapons

    • Holy Avenger: +5 Holy cold iron is pretty great on its own, but the ability to cast Greater Dispel Magic as many times as you want is absolutely astounding. You're limited to the area version, but that's still enough to do this like dispel static magic effects or debuff rooms full of buffed enemies.

    Armor/Shields

    • Champion (+1): A +2 bonus to AC against the target of your smite is nice, but a flat +1 will be much more beneficial unless you're somehow able to smite in nearly every fight.

    Rings

    • Protection: Even though Smite provides a Deflection bonus, a ring of protection is still a good investment since you won't be able to smite every enemy you face. You also have Protection From Good/Law, which can provide the same bonus.

    Rods

    • Metamagic (Any): Metamagic rods in Pathfinder are cheap, and since your spellcasting only goes up to 4th-level you can cover nearly all of your spells with less rods. If your party has dedicated spellcasters that used lesser metamagic rods at low levels, you may be able to buy them off of your allies at a significant discount. For help with metamagic options, check my Practical Guide to Metamagic.

    Wands

    • Honeyed Tongue: A 1st-level Paladin spell, it has a 10 minute duration at caster level 1. For 15 gp per charge, you can reroll diplomacy checks for 10 minutes. If you're your party's face, this is a fantastic investment.
    • Saddle Surge: If you use mounted combat, this is worth considering. You need to cast Saddle Surge as a standard action anyway and move back to get as much distance as you can. The rounds per level duration will get you a minimum up 5 rounds, but the wand will be expensive since the minimum caster level for the spell is 5 instead of 3 like most 2nd-level spells.

    Wondrous Items

    • Belt of Giant Strength / Belt of Physical Might: You need Strength and Constitution, but most paladins won't have a use for Dexterity.
    • Bracelet of Mercy: Good, but not worth 15,000gp. Get Braces of the Merciful Knight instead.
    • Bracelet of The Avenging Knight: Four more levels of Smite means 4 more damage per hit. Neat, but Bracelet of the Merciful Knight costs less and is much more useful.
    • Bracers of The Merciful Knight: Four more levels of Lay on Hands means 2d6 more healing and 2 more uses per day. The Lesser Restoration effect is nice, but it's a 1st-level spell for paladins so it's not a huge benefit.
    • Boots of Speed: At just 12,000gp these are a steal. Activate them as a free action one round at a time, and you can easily stretch their use throughout an entire day. An essential for nearly any melee character.
    • Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forego, even with Divine Grace.
    • Crystal of the Healing Hands: This is something your allies should buy so that you can charge it for them.
    • Insignia of Valor: Paladins aren't great at Channel Energy unless you build for it, and if you really want to use Channel Energy as a swift action you want to get Quick Channel.
    • Merciful Vambraces: Once per day isn't enough. If you're using Lay on Hands it's rare that you'll be removing more than one condition, so expect to go long periods without these being useful.
    • Headband of Alluring Charisma: Crucial. Boosts all of your saves, plus the normal benefits of Charisma.
    • Merciful Baldric: You probably won't need this. You get enough mercies for most campaigns, and if you can't cover everything it's much cheaper to buy scrolls of the spells that will remove whatever status conditions you can't cover.
    • Ornament of Healing Light: 15 ft. is not enough range to justify 10,000gp. Phylactery of the Shepherd costs 7,500, does more, and has twice the range.
    • Phylactery of the Shepherd: Put the Status effect on allies (it will last for three hours), then use Lay on Hands at 30 ft. range as a swift action when one of them picks up a nasty status condition.
    • Pearl of Power: Paladins get very few spell slots, but their spells can be more powerful than their spell level implies. A pearl of power 1 on a high level wizard is largely useless; a pearl of power 1 on a Paladin means another use of Hero's Defiance.

    Permanent Spells

    • Enlarge Person: Bonus strength and reach. Excellent for any melee paladin unless you're using a mount. If the dexterity penalty is a problem, you can offset it with an ioun stone instead of adding a bunch of extra cost to your belt.
    • See Invisibility: Expensive, but you don't have a way to deal with invisibile foes.