Paladins are an iconic class in Dungeons and Dragons. They’re holy warriors and divine zealots who smite their foes with righteous fury. And with a wide variety of features and subclasses, Paladins are also a ton of fun to play in DnD 5e.

This article will touch on the basics of Paladin gameplay, character building, features, and subclasses. Because taking an oath to play a Paladin is not a thing to take lightly.

Paladin 5e Features

Paladins get a nice array of features, as laid out in the table below:

Level Proficiency Bonus Features 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
1st 2 Divine Sense, Lay on Hands
2nd 2 Fighting Style, Spellcasting, Divine Smite 2
3rd 2 Divine Health, Sacred Oath, Harness Divine Power (Optional) 3
4th 2 Ability Score Improvement, Martial Versatility (Optional) 3
5th 3 Extra Attack 4 2
6th 3 Aura of Protection 4 2
7th 3 Sacred Oath feature 4 3
8th 3 Ability Score Improvement, Martial Versatility (Optional) 4 3
10th 4 Aura of Courage 4 3 2
11th 4 Improved Divine Smite 4 3 3
12th 4 Ability Score Improvement, Martial Versatility (Optional) 4 3 3
14th 5 Cleansing Touch 4 3 3 1
15th 5 Sacred Oath feature 4 3 3 2
16th 5 Ability Score Improvement, Martial Versatility (Optional) 4 3 3 2
18th 6 Aura improvements 4 3 3 3 1
19th 6 Ability Score Improvement, Martial Versatility (Optional) 4 3 3 3 2
20th 6 Sacred Oath feature 4 3 3 3 2

Player’s Handbook, pg. 83

Paladin Gameplay

Paladin gameplay can change a bit depending on subclass, fighting style, and feat choices, but some aspects of Paladin gameplay are true no matter what.

These are the roles that Paladins really excel at in 5e:

  • Tank. Paladins are proficient with all armor and shields, giving Paladins a serious AC advantage right from level one. While there are limited ways for characters to “taunt” enemies in DnD, Paladins are usually in the front line of a fight, and try to absorb as many enemy attacks as possible.

  • Burst Damage. Divine Smite is the signature feature of Paladins, and its bonus damage doubles on a Critical Strike. Because of this, Paladins are able to put out massive damage in a single round of combat every once in a while.

    Players can lean into this playstyle with feats like Great Weapon Master and smite spells.

  • Support. Most Paladin features and spells are focused on boosting the party’s power and defense or providing healing effects.

  • Face. Paladin’s spellcasting ability is Charisma, meaning that building a Paladin automatically leads to good social skills. Players who want to lean into this element of being a Paladin should choose proficiencies in social skills like Intimidation, Persuasion, and Deception.

Paladin Spellcasting

Paladins are half-casters that don’t have cantrips or access to as many spell slots as full caster classes. However, the spells that Paladins do get can be quite impactful, both for themselves and the rest of their party. Here are the basics of Paladin spellcasting in 5e:

  • Preparing and Casting Spells. Paladins get acceess to two 1st-level spells when they reach 2nd level, and this scales to 2nd-level spell slots at 5th level. This continues and eventually caps out at 5th-level spells at 17th level.

    Paladins have full access to their entire spell list when they reach the appropriate level. You prepare spells at the end of a long rest. You can prepare a number of Paladin spells equal to your Charisma modifier plus half your Paladin level.

  • Spellcasting Ability. Paladin’s spellcasting ability is Charisma. Your spell attack rolls are d20 + proficiency bonus + Charisma modifier, and your spell save DC is 8 + proficiency bonus + Charisma modifier.

  • Spellcasting Focus. Paladins can use a holy symbol as their spellcasting focus.

More on the best Paladin spells at each level later on.

Paladin Proficiencies

Paladins have the following proficiencies in DnD 5e:

  • Armor: All armor, shields

  • Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons

  • Tools: None

  • Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma

  • Choose two from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion, Religion

Good skill proficiencies are italicized

Paladin Fighting Styles

At 2nd level, Paladins choose a fighting style. They can also choose to replace this fighting style whenever they reach a level where they get an Ability Score Improvement (4, 8, 12, 16, 19) with the Martial Versatility feature (TCoE 53).

  • Blessed Warrior (TCoE). Learn two Cleric cantrips, which you can swap out every time you level up.

  • Blind Fighting (TCoE). 10-foot blindsight and ability to see anything that isn’t behind total cover or is invisible within 10 feet.

  • Defense. +1 AC while wearing armor.

  • Dueling. +2 damage while attacking with one-handed weapon and weapon in offhand.

  • Great Weapon Fighting. Reroll damage rolls of 1 or 2 when attacking with a two-handed weapon.

  • Interception (TCoE). Use reaction to protect an ally within 5 feet, reducing the damage they take from an attack by 1d10 + proficiency bonus.

  • Protection. Use a reaction to protect an ally within 5 feet, imposing disadvantage on an attack roll targeted at them.

Your choice of fighting style can have a big impact on Paladin gameplay:

  • Blessed Warrior. More spellcasting utility and reliability.

  • Defense, Interception, or Protection. Lean into your role as the party’s tank.

  • Great Weapon Fighting or Dueling. Double down on your burst damage potential.

  • Blind Fighting. General utility in darkness-focused group or setting.

dwarf paladin fights a demon

Paladin Features

Here’s a bit more detail on each of the Paladin’s features in 5e:

  • Divine Sense. 1st-level feature that allows you to sense celestial, fiend, and undead creatures within 60 feet.

  • Lay on Hands. 1st-level feature that allows you to heal an ally or cure them of a disease or poison. Your pool of available healing scales with level.

  • Divine Smite. 2nd-level feature allows you to add radiant damage to a weapon attack. This is the primary source of Paladin’s significant burst damage capability.

  • Divine Health. 3rd-level feature that makes you immune to disease, permanently.

  • Harness Divine Power (TCoE). 3rd-level feature that lets you use a bonus action to expend a use of Channel Divinity to restore an expended spell slot.

  • Extra Attack. 5th-level feature that allows you to attack twice whenever you take the Attack action.

  • Aura of Protection. 6th-level feature that grants you and nearby allies a flat bonus to all saving throws by a value of 1 + your Charisma modifier.

  • Aura of Courage. 10th-level feature that prevents you and nearby allies from becoming frightened.

  • Improved Divine Smite. 11th-level feature causes all weapon attacks to deal a small amount of radiant damage.

  • Cleansing Touch. 14th-level feature that removes a spell on an ally.

  • Aura Improvements. 18th-level feature that triples the range of your Paladin auras, including the one granted from your subclass.

Paladin Spells

Paladin spells are largely centered around utility, support, healing, and boosting Paladin attacks with various smite effects. Very few spells are better than a Paladin’s regular weapon attack, and most in-combat spells a Paladin casts (smite spells) have a bonus action cast time so as not to interfere with this fact.

Plus, Divine Smite expends spell slots, so Paladin gameplay usually involves always maintaining at least one spell slot in reserve for when you land a critical strike and want to apply big-time Divine Smite damage to it.

That being said, Paladin’s spell options are solid, and the fact that they can prepare them daily and swap them out with ease means they always have the right tool for the occasion.

Without getting into all the various uses, here are some of the best Paladin spells in 5e by level:

Paladin Feats

Paladins should usually focus on maxing out their Charisma ability score as fast as possible by spending their Ability Score Increases on it rather than feats. This increases your number of prepared spells and makes Aura of Protection more effective.

However, unlike other classes, Paladins can choose to forgo maxing out Charisma for a while, since they don’t have many low-level spells that rely on their spell attack bonus or spell save DC.

Plus, there are some really terrific feat options to help complement the class’s strengths.

Some of the best feats for Paladins in 5e include:

  • Polearm Master. A free low-damage bonus action attack and the ability to make an opportunity attack when someone enters your reach. This is okay on its own, especially since Paladins don’t have a lot competing for their bonus action most of the time outside the occasional smite spell. This feat really shines, however, when paired with the Sentinel feat.

  • Sentinel. Drops your opportunity attack targets’ speed to 0 for a turn, prevents Disengage from working on you, and lets you take a reaction to attack an enemy win range who attacks someone other than you.

    Good for a tank, and great when paired with Polearm Master — because it prevents an enemy from even getting in range to hit you if you freeze them 10 feet away from you with a reach weapon.

  • Inspiring Leader. Temporary hit points for your whole party once per short rest is very good, and you’re already maxing out your Charisma modifier anyway.

  • Great Weapon Master. Gives you a free attack after a killing blow or critical strike and allows you to deal bigger damage at the cost of a less accurate attack. This is a very good weapon for a two-handed weapon-wielding Paladin who’s fully committing to the burst damage element of a Paladin’s tool kit.

  • Resilient (Constitution). +1 Constitution and proficiency in Constitution saving throws, including concentration checks. Always useful, especially if your Constitution score is currently sitting at an odd number.

  • War Caster. Advantage on concentration checks, ability to use somatic components of spells while your hands are full, and the ability to cast some spells as an opportunity attack. This is a popular choice, and it’s decent if your DM is a hardass about having your hands full when casting spells, but Resilient (Constitution) provides more overall utility, in my humble opinion.

Some of these feats are better than others, depending on your character build. Consider what you want to specialize in and how these feats interact with your fighting style and subclass choices — which you’ll already be well-acquainted with by the time you access your first feat (barring the custom lineage option).

Paladin Subclasses

Here’s a bit about the low-level features and general playstyles of each of the Paladin’s nine subclasses:

  • Ancients. Ensnaring Strike and Speak with Animals spells and the ability to restrain creatures with Channel Divinity at 3rd level. Moonbeam and Misty Step spells at 5th level and an aura that grants spell resistance to nearby allies at 7th level.

    This nature-themed subclass leans into the control aspect of the Paladin, adding multiple methods for restraining enemies. It also amplifies their supportive and tanking capabilities quite a bit by mitigating spell damage by 50%. Misty Step is also useful on just about every character in DnD. Overall, a solid subclass with an easy-to-parse set of tenets.

  • Devotion. Protection from Evil and Good and Sanctuary spells and the ability to add damage and a light effect to your weapon with Channel Divinity at 3rd level. Lesser Restoration and Zone of Truth spells at 5th level and an aura that protects against charm at 7th level.

    This is a balanced Paladin archetype that focuses somewhat on damage and utility. Paladins already have access to the Protection and Truth spells, and the other bonus spells are okay. Protecting against charm can be big against a spell like Hypnotic Pattern, but this aura is definitely on the weaker side.

  • Vengeance. Bane and Hunter’s Mark spells and the ability to frighten and freeze in place an enemy with Channel Divinity at 3rd level. Hold Person and Misty Step spells at 5th level and the ability to instantly chase an enemy after hitting them with an opportunity attack.

    This subclass is all about control, mobility, and pursuit. Hunter’s Mark is usually a Ranger-exclusive spell, but the long-term bonus damage it offers is also quite effective on a Paladin. Misty Step is great, and Hold Person sets you up for big damage critical strikes. The chase effect is situationally nice, but this subclass does miss out on the utility of a party-wide aura.

  • Oathbreaker (DMG). Hellish Rebuke and Inflict Wounds spells and the ability to control undead creatures with Channel Divinity at the 3rd level. Crown of Madness and Darkness spells at 5th level and an aura that causes nearby fiends and undead to take extra damage at 7th level.

    This is the “fallen crusader” subclass that leans into power and control. A Paladin can’t really afford to use spell slots on either Hellish Rebuke or Inflish Wounds, and Crown of Madness is a pretty bad spell. Controlling undead creatures can be cool, but unless your campaign features a lot of them, this subclass is ultimately one of the weaker ones.

  • Conquest (XGtE). Armor of Agathys and Command spells and the ability to frighten creatures in a large area with Channel Divinity at 3rd level. Hold Person and Spiritual Weapon spells at 5th level and an aura that drops a nearby creature’s speed to 0 and causes psychic if it is frightened of you at 7th level.

    This subclass is all about controlling big crowds of enemies. All four low-level spells that Conquest Paladins get are great and useful to have prepared at all times. The “mass fear” effect of their Channel Divinity is phenomenal, especially when paired with the control offered by their aura at 7th-level.

  • Redemption (XGtE). Sanctuary and Sleep spells and the ability to either boost your Persuasion checks or use a reaction to deal mirrored damage at an enemy attacker with Channel Divinity at the 3rd level. Calm Emotions and Hold Person spells at 5th level and an aura that transfers damage taken by an ally to you instead at 7th level.

    This subclass focuses on control and a bit on being the party’s “Face,” while also serving as a great tank. Sleep and Hold Person are good spells, and the ability to have both a useful out-of-combat Channel Divinity is nice, even if the rebuke power is ultimately more powerful when used in the right situation.

  • Glory (TCoE). Guiding Bolt and Heroism spells at 5th level and the ability to gain advantage on Athletics and Acrobatics checks or grant temporary hit points to allies after using Divine Smite with Channel Divinity at 3rd level. Enhance Ability and Magic Weapon spells and an aura that increases the movement speed of nearby allies at 7th level.

    Glory Paladins are both great supports and able grapplers, with their Channel Divinity being one of players’ favorites for building grapple-based support characters. Enhance Ability furthers this even further. Heroism and the Inspiring Smite facet of Channel Divinity both help solidify this subclass as a wonderful support as well.

  • Watchers (TCoE). Alarm and Detect Magic spells and the ability to grant advantage on mental saving throws with their Channel Divinity at 3rd-level. Moonbeam and See Invisibility spells at 5th level and an aura that boosts initiative at 7th level.

    Watchers are dedicated to not being caught off guard, as their extra spells and class features show. Advantage on mental saving throws (Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) for a full minute is quite strong, but the extra spells they get are a bit weak. The initiative bonus aura is definitely nice for them, but allies who want to benefit from it need to stay close to the Paladin in “might-be” dangerous situations to benefit from it.

  • Crown (SCAG). Command and Compelled Duel spells and the ability to prevent enemies from moving away or heal allies with Channel Divinity at 3rd-level. Warding Bond and Zone of Truth spells at 5th level and the ability to transfer damage taken by an ally within 5 feet at 7th level.

    Crown Paladins are all about forcing fights and protecting allies, while also being able to heal those they can’t protect. However, they sadly miss out on a subclass aura.

What Race Is Best for Paladin in 5e?

The best race for a Paladin is one that comes with a Charisma bonus and useful racial traits for the Paladin playstyle.

Most dungeon masters use Tasha’s rules for variant race ability scores, making your choice of race more about flavor and utility rather than ability score bonuses. But if you do use each race’s prescribed ability score bonuses, you want to choose one that gives +2 to Charisma — a Paladin’s most important ability score. Boosts to Strength are also welcome.

With concern for ability score bonuses, here are the best races for Paladins in 5e:

  • Half-elf (+2 Charisma)

  • Tiefling

  • Aasimar

  • Yuan-ti Pureblood

  • Verdan

  • Changeling

  • Satyr

  • Dragonborn (+2 Strength, +1 Charisma)

Without regard for racial ability score bonuses, the best races for Paladins in 5e include:

  • Aasimar. Thematically, an angelic being makes sense as a divine warrior class. Necrotic and radiant resistance and healing hands also go nicely with the class’s base abilities.

  • Half-elf. A versatile race, Half-elves offer Paladins two free skill proficiencies, an additional language, and resistance to charm and magical sleep effects. Good for the party’s Face.

  • Tiefling. While a half-demon race seems odd for a holy fighter, this dichotomy can actually lead to some interesting character design. Plus, fire resistance and some free spells are very welcome for rounding out a Paladin’s spell kit and defensiveness.

  • Duergar (MMoM). This Underdark dwarf race may also seem like an odd choice for a Paladin, but the superior darkvision, resistance to poison, charm, and paralysis, and free Enlarge spell are all excellent additions to the Paladin’s tanky-ness and utility.

  • Earth Genasi (MMoM). Limited free uses of the Blade Ward cantrip is very useful, especially at low levels. Pass Without Trace is good on any character, and Earth Walk can be handy for your mobility. Overall a good tank/utility option for a Paladin race.

  • Eladrin (MMoM). Free Misty Step-like ability, proficiency in Perception, and advantage on charms and immunity to magical sleep. The short-range teleport is very welcome on a Paladin who lacks any other way of doing that as a base class.

  • Githyanki (MMoM). Mage Hand and Misty Step are nice additions, as are the free extra language and tool proficiencies of your choice.

  • Minotaur (MMoM). Hammering Horns is basically the Shield Master feat, and proficiency in Intimidation or Persuasion is excellent for boosting whichever social approach you plan to take.

  • Satyr (MMoM). Magic resistance (advantage on saving throws against spells and magical effects) is very strong for tanking, and proficiency in Persuasion is nice for social encounters.

  • Yuan-ti Pureblood (MMoM). Magic resistance, poison immunity, and some decent innate spellcasting options.

Paladin Backgrounds

The best Paladin backgrounds complement their playstyle and grant useful skill proficiencies that a Paladin doesn’t otherwise have access to. With that in mind, here are a few good options:

  • Soldier. Athletics and Intimidation proficiencies are already on the table for Paladins, but getting them for free isn’t bad — it frees you up to take Persuasion and Insight.

  • Faction Agent (SCAG). Insight and one mental skill (Int/Wis/Cha) of your choice and two languages. Great for the party’s face.

  • City Watch (SCAG). Athletics and Insight proficiencies are already available to Paladins, but they’re both good skills. And having two languages is also good for the party’s face.

Are Paladins a Good Class in 5e?

Yes, Paladins are a good class in 5e. With so many great class features that define the class’s role without limiting it and so many options in playstyle, Paladins are many players’ favorite melee-weapon-focused classes in the game.

Between big burst damage, solid support, excellent tanking potential, and the opportunity to perform well as the party’s Face, Paladins have plenty of variety in their skill set to keep you interested throughout a campaign.

Take your oath today, and join with the finest holy warriors that Dungeons and Dragons has to offer.