What is the best build for a paladin 5e in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition? Stick with us and we’ll have you slaying unholy horrors in no time!
What Are Paladins?
Paladins are holy warriors who wield the wrath of their deities, sealed through binding oaths that grant them their powers so long as they uphold their honor and their word. Very often they fit into the role of “knight”, heavily armored and charismatic figures who charge headfirst into danger. Though it’s worth mentioning that not all paladins are “good”. Paladins are defined by their adherence to an oath and a code, and those codes can say wildly different things. Mechanically they bridge the gap between a cleric and a fighter, with significantly weaker spellcasting than a cleric but far more raw damage potential through divine smites that blast forth from their weapons. Their easy access to heavy armor and shields means they often fill the tank role, and their smite damage easily makes them a strong damage dealer. And since many of their features utilize Charisma, they can often fill the role of party face.
Some of the most iconic characters that would probably be paladins in D&D include Robocop, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman from the DC universe, Judge Dredd, and practically every single knight of the round table.
Building a Better Paladin
There are a few really sneaky exploits and wonky builds you can create as a paladin, but the “stock” paladin builds are all fairly similar. You armor up as much as possible, and with a bit of variation it all comes down to putting the hurt into whatever unholy thing has had the misfortune of crossing your path. To start building you’ll need to figure out your ability scores.
Paladin Ability Scores
Paladins are very straightforward when it comes to their abilities, they want high Strength, high Charisma, and high Constitution.
There is a strong argument to be made about dropping Charisma, your Lay on Hands, and Divine Smite abilities don’t need it, and you can essentially drop it if you don’t care about spellcasting, oath features, or party face roleplaying.
However, unless you’re trying to absolutely maximize your damage potential and survivability at the cost of other features, you’ll want at least some Charisma.
Beyond that, you should be rocking full heavy armor and swinging Strength weapons, meaning Dexterity won’t be much use to you. Similarly, Intelligence and Wisdom don’t fuel any of your class features and should be dump stats and only considered if you’ve got spare points and want to boost a few skills.
You can make any race into a paladin, but for optimization purposes you’ll want to select races that provide both Strength and Charisma. The following races gain at least +1 to both Strength and Charisma or can select those as options, making them optimal choices for a paladin character:
Base aasimar gain +2 Cha and the fallen variety also get +1 Str. Aasimar are a complete flavor win for paladins in general, and their stats are insanely good for them. Use your Necrotic Shroud to frighten your enemies and stack even more damage onto your strikes. You also snag resistance to both necrotic and radiant damage, types that crop up rather often.
Changelings gain +2 Cha and +1 to any other ability, which you can place into Str. Changelings are a thematically odd choice for paladin (and technically locked into Eberron) but they can be a sneakily strong one. Consider changeling as an option if you want to lean into the “party face” aspect of the paladin and have taken a less than honest oath.
Dragonborn gain +2 Str and +1 Cha. Dragonborn fit snugly into the role of paladin and while they don’t have many small “ribbon” abilities, the couple they do have are whoppers. Pick out a damage type resistance and a powerful dragon breath attack to compliment your survivability and damage output.
Half elves get +2 Cha and +1 to any other two abilities of their choice, which you can make Str and Con. This spread of ability points gives you a very unique opportunity to put a 16 in Strength, Constitution, and Charisma at level 1. Consider this your best option if you want to strictly min-max your paladin out.
Base humans gain +1 to each ability score and the variant human gains +1 to two abilities of your choice (and a feat). Humans in both forms are super flexible and are a decent default option if you’re building something that requires a flexible spread of abilities. Variant human is especially your best option if you’re going for a Sentinel build due to that free feat.
Zariel variant Tieflings gain +2 Cha and +1 Str. This variant of tiefling seems tailor made for paladins as you also get some of the better “smite spells” as racial spells, letting you free up some of your slots for more smites. This is on top of the quite tasty fire resistance as well.
Tritons gain +1 Str, +1 Con, AND +1 Cha. Just like half elves, tritons represent an opportunity for min-maxing on the three abilities you’ll want most. Even without the min-maxing, tritons are a very appealing option for paladins. Besides the aquatic features, you gain some very useful utility spells, and pick up resistance to cold damage.
Paladin Sacred Oaths
Paladins choose a sacred oath at 3rd level. This represents the promise and code you keep that drives your divine powers. Each oath grants you different abilities with different themes, and different tenets your character will have to keep to retain their powers. Choosing your oath is a major decision that will have major effects on how you play, take some time, and choose the oath you feel best fits your character and strategy:
Oath of Conquest
While you don’t technically need to be evil for this oath, it helps. You’re one step away from a hell knight (or all the way possibly) and you emit an aura of terror that can freeze enemies in place like a deer caught in the headlights. Grab this when you make an evil paladin or want to abuse the frightening aura.
Oath of Devotion
A good chunk of this oath’s power is locked up into tier 4, for most players the big feature you’ll care about here is Sacred Weapon that lets you utilize your channel divinity to inflict even more damage. It’s not the strongest option, but it’s a decent pick if your goal is maximizing damage, or you’re doing one of the oddball dual wielding paladin builds.
Oath of Glory
Essentially the oath of showing off, this oath seems tailor made for the “party face” paladin. Strangely well rounded, you gain the ability to inspire your allies with temporary hit points and boost your movement speed as well as the speed of your allies. Consider this oath if you like leading the charge and looking good while you do it.
Oath of Redemption
This is the pacifist oath. Not that you can’t deal a beating, but all the abilities are geared towards solving things diplomatically and preventing violence. I particularly love Rebuke the Violent that slaps somebody back for the damage they dealt. Grab this if you want to play your paladin like a diplomat.
Oath of the Ancients
Technically this oath is meant to bridge the gap between paladin and druid, you gain several very “nature-y” features including a channel divinity that’s essentially the entangle spell. However, the real strength of this oath is the 7th level feature Aura of Warding that flatly gives you and your allies resistance to all damage from spells. Consider this oath if you want to embrace the tank aspect of paladins.
Oath of the Watchers
This “unearthed arcana” oath is themed around defending against otherworldly threats. Mechanically you gain a strong defense against a lot of spellcasting with the Watcher’s Will that that grants advantage for you and your party against all mental saves for a minute. You also gain a boost to your initiative, a sore spot that most paladins lack.
Oath of Vengeance
This oath is a key part of some infamous Sentinel builds, mainly due to the Abjure Enemy feature that can freeze your opponents in place. Other than that build the Vow of Enmity option makes for a strong “dualist” style damage dealer and an overall powerful option for any paladin focused on damage dealing.
The evilest of the evil paladin oaths, and quite possibly the most damaging. Aura of Hate boosts not only your damage output but the melee damage of your nearby allies, making this oath an extremely strong damage multiplier if one or more of your allies are also melee fighters. Less powerful on its own but devastating in a party full of melee.
- If you’re going to be the party face, artisan and noble are good with artisan being slightly better due to insight.
Multiclassing with Paladins:
Warlocks - Since they get their slots back on short rests, and their primary stat is Charisma, a dip into warlock is a popular multiclass for paladins. Also, Eldritch Blast can solve range issues you may otherwise have with your paladin.
Fighter - (fighting style, bonus action heal, action surge, improved crit or battle master tactics) or increased chance for critical with champion are useful.
Sorcerer (Sorcadin) (insane nova damage) - Hold Person = auto critical hit. May be great for Dex paladin.
Bard - Bardadin - Do you want to improve the team? Dips into bard are great for adding utility but tend to not do as much damage as others (so probably best for not vengeance paladins). Also helps if the party needs a face character. Be wary of taking sentinel if you choose lore bard given action economy with reactions for cutting words/sentinel.
Barbarian- You can smite while raging; reckless attack gives you advantage and resistance if you’re not wearing *heavy* armor so you get twice the chance to smite. You’ll lose some ac, and won’t be able to maintain concentration, but stacked with Great Weapon Master and the great weapon fighting style, you’ll be a force of nature. If you stack barbarian with half orc, you could do 3d12 + 4d8 on a single critical hit….at level 2. Remember hold person = auto critical hit, so if you have a caster in the party this becomes a nice combo in the party.
Rogue - Useful if stacked with a Dex paladin and especially if the assassin is used.
Druid - you can smite while wild shaped since most wild shaped forms are “melee weapon attack” (See above about smiting while raging.)
You could do 3d12+4d8 on a single crit at level 2.
Best Feats for Paladins
What are the best feats for paladins? This question comes up a lot.
Polearm Master - (Great for vengeance paladins) given you’ll get a chance able to stop big bad from escaping or approaching.
Sentinel - Pairs well with Polearm master and the Oath of Vengeance relentless avenger ability.
War Caster - If you’re going to be running a lot of concentration spells, super key. Vengeance paladins may want to have this.
Resilient - For constitution, great for that con plus AND saving through which can be HUGE. After level 6 you’ll be adding your charisma bonus AND your constitution which can save you from some really nasty spells AND help you maintain concentration while tanking.
Great Weapon Master - Don’t forget to use your +5 devotion via channel divinity (+ your Charisma mod) or bless to help offset the -5 from this.
Shield Master - This is an interesting feat for it’s shove ability and reaction to area of effect spells. It used to be extremely this *used* to be really good, but a recent ruling nerfed this if you were looking to do the smites yourself. However, on Oath of Conquest paladin, this is really nice as a movement speed of zero means that they can’t get up.
Inspiring leader - Really nice since you’re leading with charisma nice buff for the party; remember you can use this multiple times if there’s a large group. If you’re about to “hold the line” with a lot of lower levels, some time spent on a motivational speech could really turn the tide of battle.
Paladin Protection Strategies
A paladin’s aura is one of the most useful protection features. It can have a bad effect though as it causes people to bunch up in combat. It’s important to remember that Death Saving throws ARE saving throws, so standing near a party member that’s making them while your aura is up may just save them.
Oath of the Ancients really shines here as giving everyone a plus to saving throws AND resistance to spells is extremely useful.
All paladins get a pool of healing; unfortunately, it takes your action so it’s not extremely useful in combat. Remember this pool is limited, so 1 hp might be all you need to do to get your party member up and able to self tend. Why should you save these? Because you can also use 5 hit points worth to remove a disease or a spell at higher levels.
At 14th+ level a paladin's ability to remove a spell on themselves or a willing creature is extremely useful for getting that key party member back in the fight.
Oath of Vengeance is by far the biggest damage output for straight paladins. Add in a combination of Bless or Devotion +5 to hit for GWM (Bless) and you’re talking about a LOT of damage.
Divine Sense - useful for finding the bad guys that may be hidden
Find Steed and Find Greater Steed - Do you know what a group of rhinoceros are called? They’re called a CRASH. With this spell you can summon one. Also, flight is huge. FLYING HORSIES (I mean griffins), or a freaking rhinoceros
Curse Disease - Pretty underrated, but useful in a pinch.
Optional Paladin Features
In Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything every class got a set of optional features that act like a sort of upgrade patch to fix issues and improve things that needed improving. These features are technically optional, but assuming your DM allows them, make sure to include these class features with your new paladin:
Using the optional features, the following spells have been added to the paladin spell list:
Prayer of healing
Fighting Style Options
Just like the fighter, paladins get an expanded fighting style list that can dramatically change how they play. You now get to choose from the following in addition to the original list:
- Blessed Warrior. This lets you pick two cleric cantrips and cast them like paladin spells. Paladins don’t really get cantrips otherwise so this can open up some unique play styles. I particularly like taking guidance here to add a little extra to your own skill checks, and word of radiance as a damage cantrip, since as a tank you’ll likely be swamped with enemies and word of radiance gets better the more enemies are around you.
- Blind Fighting. Identical to the fighter version, this gives you straight up blindsight if the enemy is close enough. Try taking this with the oathbreaker archetype. Oathbreaker gets the spell darkness which you can take full advantage of as a blind fighter.
- Interception. Also identical to the fighter version, interception is a sort of inverted version of the existing protection fighting style. It’s a bit of a toss-up, but if you’re looking to tank but are using a two-handed weapon this is going to be the option for you since it doesn’t require a shield.
Harness Divine Power
Channel Divinity can be a situational feature depending on your class archetype. This new feature lets you sacrifice those unused channel divinities to restore used spell slots. This extra bit of flexibility can help you get just one more healing spell in or just one more smite. Keep it in mind when you’re running out of gas.
Just like the fighter, paladins can now exchange their fighting style for a new one whenever they reach an ability score improvement level. Most of the time you won’t need this at all, but this can let you switch play styles without going through messy “retraining” rules or making a new character.
Paladins are one of the best classes in Dungeons and Dragons 5e; they don’t have to be the old lawful stupid, and have a lot of roleplaying options available to them which can make them a lot of fun to play. With their continuous buff to the other party members from their aura’s, smites, healing abilities they are strong in a lot of areas and make a great addition to any adventuring party.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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