Paladins have held an important place in Dungeons & Dragons since Gary Gygax gave us the Greyhawk supplementary rulebook in 1975.
Since then, these holy warriors have changed significantly both in their features and their flavor. In 5th Edition, they're no longer bound to the Lawful Good alignment, plus they get a host of new abilities.
If you have a burning desire to mete out divine justice, there's no better class than the Paladin. Here's everything you need to know about how to build and play your first Paladin in D&D 5e.
This article is part of a series of D&D class guides for beginners. If you're interested in other classes, check them out as well:
- D&D 5e Barbarian Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Bard Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Cleric Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Druid Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Fighter Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Monk Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Paladin Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Rogue Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Sorcerer Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Warlock Guide for Beginners
Tip 1: Respect the Flavor of the Class
In 5th Edition, Paladins are no longer at risk of losing their abilities if they stray from the Lawful Good alignment. However, they're still seen as "warriors of Good" in most settings.
That means that even if you're playing a Paladin of a different alignment, you're still going to be defined—at least to some degree—by how you interact with the source of your divine powers (i.e. deity).
As a Paladin, you should expect to associate with the ideals of Good, even if you aren't affiliated with a particular god or goddess. Think about how your Paladin found their divine calling and, more importantly, what that calling means to them.
If your Paladin isn't Lawful Good, how does that impact how they use their powers? Do they see themselves as a protector of the innocent? Or a weapon to be wielded against the forces of Evil?
Answering these questions will make playing a Paladin much more fun and inform many of the decisions that will come as you level up.
Tip 2: Don't Neglect Your Charisma
While having a high Strength can make the Paladin better at hitting things, many core Paladin abilities rely on a high Charisma score for maximum efficacy and impact.
Having a high Charisma allows Paladins to know more spells, making you a more diverse spellcaster with spells that are harder to resist (i.e. increases the Difficulty Check for Saving Throws).
Higher Charisma also increases the number of times you can use the Divine Sense class feature, which locates the nearby presence of Celestial, Fiend, and Undead creatures. You can use it 1 + Charisma modifier times before recharging it with a Long Rest.
Several Sacred Oath abilities also depend on Charisma (more on Sacred Oaths down below), so boosting it as you level up will continually make your Paladin more effective, both in and out of combat.
So while it can be tempting to pump your physical stats, Charisma is just too important to forget about.
Tip 3: Balance Divine Magic With Divine Smite
At 2nd Level, Paladins get access to two of their most important class features: first, the ability to cast Divine Magic, and second, the ability to Divine Smite when you attack.
Divine Magic represents the spells you can cast as granted by your oath to whatever your source of power may be (e.g. deity).
Like Clerics, Paladins have a list of Known Spells and you must choose which ones you want to "carry with you" as Prepared Spells. Casting will expend Spell Slots, and you can regain Spell Slots via Long Rest. (You can also change your Prepared Spells via Long Rest.)
Divine Smite allows you to inflict extra damage whenever you land a melee attack, at the cost of expending 1 Spell Slot. Depending on the level of the Spell Slot you expend, it can do even more damage.
In past editions of D&D, Divine Smite could only affect Evil creatures. In 5th Edition, Divine Smite can be used on anyone but deals bonus damage against Fiend and Undead creatures (because it's Radiant damage).
Tip: Divine Smite's damage is doubled on a critical hit. Since you choose to use Divine Smite only after you've landed your melee attack, you can get maximum value out of it by only using Divine Smite when you've landed a critical hit!
Since both Divine Magic and Divine Smite consume Spell Slots, and since you can only recharge Spell Slots via Long Rest, you'll need to be thoughtful in how you balance their usage.
Until you get access to higher-level spells, you'll probably use your Spell Slots mainly for Divine Smite while relying on the Paladin's Lay on Hands class feature whenever healing is needed.
Tip 4: Choose the Right Sacred Oath for You
At 3rd Level, Paladins take a Sacred Oath, swearing themselves to a specific force for Good in the world. Each Sacred Oath grants bonus spells to choose from as well as a Channel Divinity feature.
Note: The Paladin's Channel Divinity is different from the Cleric's Channel Divinity, although they have a similar flavor.
The D&D Player's Handbook offers three core Sacred Oaths for Paladins, with subsequent releases adding more to choose from. For new players, we recommend one of the core Sacred Oaths below.
The Oath of Devotion
The Oath of Devotion is for Paladins who aim to live the most honest, courageous, and dutiful life. It offers players the most straightforward and classic playstyle for Paladins in D&D 5e.
With this Sacred Oath, you get two Channel Divinity abilities:
- Sacred Weapon: For 1 Action, you can empower a weapon for one minute, adding your Charisma modifier to your Attack rolls with that weapon. It also shines light in a radius around you.
- Turn the Unholy: For 1 Action, every Fiend and Undead creature in hearing range (30 feet) makes a Wisdom Saving Throw, and if they fail, they flee from you for one minute.
Furthermore, at 7th Level, you get Aura of Devotion which protects yourself and friendly allies within 10 feet from being Charmed. At 18th Level, the aura range increases to 30 feet. Very useful!
The Oath of the Ancients
While it's mostly Elves who take the Oath of the Ancients, it's by no means restricted to any specific race.
This Sacred Oath offers a connection to the natural world that grants you two natural Channel Divinity abilities:
- Nature's Wrath. For 1 Action, you can ensnare a target with spectral vines, which forces them to repeat Strength or Dexterity Saving Throws every turn until they succeed.
- Turn the Faithless. For 1 Action, every Fey and Fiend creature in hearing range (30 feet) makes a Wisdom Saving Throw, and if they fail, they flee from you for one minute.
However, the most useful ability of this Sacred Oath—called Aura of Warding—kicks in at 7th Level, which grants yourself and friendly allies within 10 feet resistance to damage from spells. At 18th Level, the aura range increases to 30 feet.
The Oath of Vengeance
Finally, there's the Oath of Vengeance, which offers Paladins the strength to right the evils done to the world. It's slightly more difficult to play due to greater restrictions in its features, but it can be powerful.
With this Sacred Oath, you get two Channel Divinity abilities:
- Abjure Enemy. For 1 Action, choose a creature within 60 feet to make a Wisdom Saving Throw. If they fail, they're Frightened for one minute. (Fiends and Undead have Disadvantage on the Wisdom Saving Throw.)
- Vow of Enmity. For 1 Bonus Action, choose a creature within 10 feet to gain Advantage on your Attack rolls against them for one minute. At 15th Level, you can also use your Reaction to attack the creature when they make an attack.
Furthermore, at 7th Level, you get Relentless Avenger, which triggers whenever you hit a target with an attack of opportunity and allows you to immediately move up to half your movement speed without provoking any attacks of opportunity on yourself.