An Introduction to the Paladin Class for Players New to Dungeons and Dragons 5e
Do you like the idea of being a front-line fighter but want to be able to do more than just swing a sword around? Do you enjoy forcing your personal code of ethics on everyone you meet? You just might be interested in the holy warrior of fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons, the Paladin!
Side note: This guide assumes you have the Player’s Handbook for more detailed information, and is more intended to give you an idea of what this class can do. If you also need help with the process of creating your first character, click here first for my character rolling guide for new players.
Overview: On a Mission from God
Paladins are the crusaders of the Dungeons and Dragons world, dedicated to upholding justice and righteousness while hunting down and destroying evil wherever it lurks. They are also often self-righteous pricks about it. To help them sniff out these forces, they are gifted with the Divine Sense feature, allowing them to detect the presence of celestials, fiends, or undead within 60ft.
Paladins are held to an oath (you’ll choose yours at third level in the class), which they must abide by in order to maintain their divine power. A Paladin’s magic comes from their commitment to this oath, not any particular god, though you will often find Paladins in service to the various religious orders around a world. Your Paladin could be an independent entity if you prefer, tied to the service of their ideal rather than any temple or god.
When building your Paladin, you should be considering what sort of god or ideal they serve, and what oath you might take when the time comes (you can find your options on p.85 of the Player’s Handbook). This will greatly inform how you play your character and interact with the world. You don’t have to play a Paladin as a noble do-gooder, there is room for Paladins in service to neutral or even evil deities (though more difficult to justify with the oaths found in the Player’s Handbook, you can pick up Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and check out Oath of Conquest for the best fit for this flavor of Paladin). The constant is always their lawful nature; even when they serve an evil god, or no god at all, Paladins must be loyal to an oath.
Role in the Party
In a party a Paladin could fill many different roles. They are best utilized as a Tank (soaking up damage for the party) or Damage Dealer, though in either case they will be doing a fair bit of Support (healing and buffing allies) as well. Heavy armor and shield proficiency along with their Lay on Hands feature and a good selection of support magic makes them durable on the front-line, with the ability to heal and bolster to other front-line combatants while they are there.
Paladins are multiple ability dependent (MAD) meaning they require better ability scores than other classes to be most effective. As a martial class, you are going to want a high Strength and Constitution (I’ve heard legends of the fabled “dexterity Paladin”, trading high strength and heavy armor for mobility and stealth, but I haven’t seen or played one yet). Your spell-casting and many of your class abilities use your Charisma, so that will need to have a good score as well.
With the Divine Smite feature, you can trade your spell slots for explosive burst damage in melee combat. This feature will grant 2d8 radiant damage on top of your attack damage at the price of one first level spell slot, with an another 1d8 per spell level you expend up to 5th, and additional 1d8 if your target is a fiend or undead. This ability is what makes Paladins fearsome as damage dealers, as long as you are willing to give up your spell slots. The best part about this ability is that you choose to apply it after you hit your target, meaning you can decide to throw your highest level spell slot into a smite after you score a critical hit (doubling the dice for that damage roll).
Looking Ahead: High Level Paladins
At higher levels, Paladins gain features that both improve their martial prowess (picking up a Fighting Style and an Extra Attack) and their divine spell-casting (first gaining the ability to cast spells at level two). You also receive features that allow you to inspire allies with your presence on the battlefield, adding your charisma modifier to their saving throws if you are near and also granting them immunity to fear at higher levels.
For your subclass, you are offered three choices of oath in the Player’s Handbook (starting on p.85). Make sure you read the tenets section of each, as these are the ideals your Paladin must uphold if they take that oath. The Oath of Devotion grants you better defensive capabilities, especially against the forces of evil such as fiends or undead. A Paladin of this oath can turn these creatures, forcing them to flee in fear. The Oath of the Ancients also grants you better defensive capabilities, but with a more natural flavor – such as the ability to cause spectral vines to spring from the ground and restrain enemies. These Paladins are also given the ability to turn fey creatures and undead. The Oath of Vengeance is for those that want to take a more aggressive approach, with abilities that empower you to better chase down and destroy your enemies.
So if you want to be a knight in shining armor, upholding the values of justice and good, a beacon of righteousness able to smite your enemies into dust with your divine fury – this is the class for you!