Class is back in session. This week, we have the opportunity to take a look at one of D&D’s greatest defenders: the Oath of Devotion paladin. Those who follow this path are warriors who have pledged themselves to a noble cause, such as the ideals of justice and altruism, or to a god whose tenets embody those ideals. As such, paladins who swear an Oath of Devotion become archetypal knights in shining armor, smiting evil wherever it may be found and protecting those in need.
Story of the Oath of Devotion
“I grant you the opportunity to gloat once more, villain,” the paladin said. A swashbuckling smirk danced upon her lips—perhaps the result of spending too much time jesting with the rogue that gallivanted with her party. “I speak no jest! You are fond of proclaiming my doom, cur, so why not boast once more? Enjoy your empty word, for I swear I shall make them last.”
Across the room, from behind a veritable army of shambling skeletons, a red-robed necromancer tried to meet the paladin’s steely gaze. Sweat beaded upon his cadaverous brow, and he thumbed frantically through his tome of spells—in search of some profane miracle.
The paladin’s jocular threat soured in the presence of the necromancer’s panic. “Your spells will not avail you, cad,” the knight said with a scowl. She took a step forward towards the skeletons, and with a simple stroke of her longsword cleft its skull from its spine. “If your well of hubris has run dry, I offer you a chance at mercy.” With every step she took, her words seemed to echo louder and louder. “I admit, it would please me to separate your own head from your bony shoulders,” she said, striking another animated skeleton down, then another. “But I am a believer in justice. I believe that you can set this evil path behind you and walk once more in the light of righteousness.”
The paladin held her blade aloft, and it glinted as if it caught the light of the sun, even in this shadowed tomb. Then, she swung the radiant blade wide, and a coruscating wave burst from its edge, catching all but the furthest undead warriors in its frightful radiance. The ancient bones were buffeted by the light, and a look of terror seemed to cross their expressionless faces. They turned and ran, abandoning their master.
The necromancer looked at the paladin. His gaze trembled, but he couldn’t seem to avert his eyes from the terrifying splendor before him. “I can’t,” he stammered. “I can’t stray from this path now. I’ve sacrificed so much for this. For immortality. For power. There’s nothing for me to go back to now!”
“I understand,” the paladin said. She offered the necromancer a solemn, almost sympathetic nod, but didn’t slow her gait. She pointed the tip of her blade at the wizard and said, “Then you too understand why I can’t show mercy to those who will not accept it.” She swung her sword.
Paladins of the Oath of Devotion defend their allies and their ideals with equal fervor. If their ideals include mercy, they offer it to those who are willing to accept it. In their eyes, necromancers, demon-summoners, and all those who infringe upon the sanctity of life deserve no such mercy.
Oath of Devotion Features
Paladins who swear an Oath of the Devotion are archetypal sacred warriors. They strike a fine balance between offense, defense, and support, crushing evil with their Divine Smites, protecting allies with spells and auras, and healing their wounds and ailments with holy magic. The paladin gains five subclass features starting at 3rd, 7th, 15th, and 20th level. You can read all of the Oath of Devotion abilities for free in the D&D Basic Rules. In summary, your subclass features allow you to:
- Channel your oath’s divine power in order to imbue your weapon with magic, or to strike fear into the hearts of undead and fiends.
- Gain permanent access to spells that define your oath.
- Project an aura of devotion that steels your nearby allies against supernatural charms.
- Purify your spirit, making it harder for supernatural creatures to attack you, and impossible for them to frighten, charm, or possess you.
- Enwreathe your mortal frame in a holy nimbus, radiating divine light that sears your foes and bolsters your defenses.
Benefits of the Oath of Devotion
The Oath of Devotion best suits paladins who wish to balance their abilities between smiting evil and protecting their allies. The abilities of the paladin class as a whole are likewise split between offense, defense, and support, making this an archetypal and well-rounded subclass for an already well-rounded class. Because of this, paladins who follow this oath tend to excel in parties that already have sufficient offense and defense, but lack support. Or who have defense and support, but lack offense—and so on. Even in parties that are already well-rounded, an Oath of Devotion paladin can lend their versatility to wherever it’s most needed.
Drawbacks of the Oath of Devotion
Because of the Oath of Devotion’s versatility, however, paladins who swear an Oath of Devotion often fail to stand out or excel in a way that sets them apart from other paladins. They don’t excel in offense like paladins who follow the Oath of Vengeance, nor do they thrive as defenders like those who follow the Oath of the Ancients or the Oath of Redemption. In parties that already have a strong healer (like a Life cleric or Circle of the Land druid), a high burst-damage-dealer (like an Assassin rogue or School of Evocation wizard), and a tanky defender (like a Path of the Totem Warrior barbarian), then you could find yourself feeling superfluous.
If you want to feel more essential to your party’s success, you may need to carve out a niche for yourself by choosing specific feats or spells. On the other hand, feeling like you don’t have a clearly defined role can be a blessing if you want to be a team player and support the party wherever they need it.
If you’re building an Oath of Devotion paladin from 1st level, be aware that you won’t gain your subclass until 3rd level. When creating your character, you should choose a race that gives you a bonus to Strength, Constitution, or Charisma—ideally at least two of the three. For this reason, dragonborn make excellent offense-focused paladins, thanks to their bonus to both Strength and Charisma. Half-elves likewise make good paladins, as do half-orcs, tieflings (particular tieflings of Zariel's bloodline, as described in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes), and humans.
While all paladins are well-suited towards wearing heavy armor and using powerful, strength-based weapons, you can also forgo heavy armor and use finesse weapons instead by prioritizing your Dexterity score instead of your Strength score. Dexterity-focused paladins are fairly uncommon, especially compared to Dexterity-based fighters and rangers, but it does happen. If you want to be an offensive striker, make Strength or Dexterity your highest ability score. If you want to be a tanky defender, place your highest ability score in Constitution. No matter what, make Charisma your second-highest score. It’s important, but you’re a warrior first and a spellcaster second.
As usual, your character’s background is up to you. Paladins are often acolytes who have received martial training, or soldiers who have found a sacred calling, but paladins from other backgrounds can make for exciting unlikely heroes. A reformed criminal or cultist serving a higher power by eliminating their former allies is a compelling story, as is a hermit who began training in isolation after receiving an apocalyptic vision from a mysterious deity.
Select EQUIPMENT when creating a character. You should probably choose a martial weapon and a shield, even if you’re a Dexterity-based paladin—for reasons that will be explained below. If you’re playing a Strength-based paladin, you can’t go wrong with an iconic longsword and shield, and a Dexterity-based paladin can use a rapier and a shield in tandem. Choosing five javelins is your best bet, since you’ll want a way to fight from range.
At 2nd level, you can choose a Fighting Style. You have four choices, each of which makes you slightly better in a certain type of combat role, but doesn’t preclude you from taking alternative tactics. The Defense style is a good, passive buff; you gain +1 AC while in armor. Great for surviving, but not very proactive. The Dueling style is great if you fight with a one-handed weapon, and improves your damage even if the other hand is using a shield. Great Weapon Fighting is useful if you like to fight with two-handed weapons, and can improve your damage even if you’re wielding a one-handed versatile weapon —like a longsword—in both hands. Finally, the Protection style helps make you a formidable tank, allowing you to deflect incoming blows if you stand next to your allies.
Notably, the Archery and Two-Weapon Fighting styles are absent from this list, though they’re both usable by fighters and rangers. Consider asking your Dungeon Master if you can use one of these styles if you’re playing a Dexterity-based paladin. These options aren’t game-breaking, so as long as you’re playing in a campaign where strict adherence to the rules isn’t required (such as in D&D Adventurers League games), I highly recommend that your DM allow houseruling these fighting styles into the paladin class.
The paladin also gains access to spells at 2nd level, drawing from their own unique spell list. While your spell selection is more limited and you gain access to more powerful spells more slowly than “full caster” classes, you balance it out with your robust combat arsenal. Take this time before you gain your subclass at 3rd level to feel out what your role in the party is. That way, when you do gain your subclass (as well as the host of permanently prepared Oath Spells that come with it), you’ll know what spells your party needs you to have access to on a regular basis.
Fortunately, you can choose a different set of spells at the start of each new day, just like a cleric. The entire paladin spell list is available to you, so you can adapt your spell selection to whatever challenges you think you’ll be facing. Either way, choosing a “standard loadout” of spells that you can rely upon on an average adventuring day is useful. You can prepare a number of paladin spells equal to half your level (rounded down) plus your Charisma modifier. So, if you’re a 2nd-level paladin with a Charisma score of 14 (+2), you can prepare three spells from the paladin spell list. I recommend having one spell labeled OFFENSE, one labeled DEFENSE, and one labeled SUPPORT. Note that this list only includes some spells from the Player's Handbook, so if you want to choose more unusual spells, or have other sources like Xanathar's Guide to Everything, you'll have to do a little self-directed research. This list is just here to get you started if this is your first time playing an Oath of Devotion paladin.
- Bless (SUPPORT)
- Compelled duel (DEFENSE)
- Cure wounds (SUPPORT)
- Divine favor (OFFENSE)
- Searing smite (OFFENSE)
- Shield of faith (DEFENSE)
- Wrathful smite (OFFENSE)
The last main method of character customization available to you as a paladin are your feats. You gain your first feat at 4th level, unless you’re playing a variant human, in which case you gain a feat at 1st level. While many feats are useful to paladins, there is one feat that no paladin should be without: War Caster. This feat suits the paladin playstyle perfectly by making it harder for their concentration to be broken in the heat of battle. Since paladins only gain a few precious spell slots, concentration spells are a good way to stretch their magic as far as possible—so it feels terrible when you cast a concentration spell, only to be hit by a goblin or two next round and lose your concentration from some meager damage.
The War Caster feat mitigates this by granting you advantage on saving throws to maintain concentration, as well as allowing you to cast spells with somatic components with a shield in your hand. Once you’ve gained this feat, feel free to use your future Ability Score Improvements to pump up your primary ability scores—or to take other good defensive feats like Sentinel or Heavy Armor Master. Paladin is a great class to multiclass out of, but it’s also a great class to go all the way to 20th level with, for your Sacred Oath’s explosive capstone. If you want to multiclass out of paladin, think hard before you do so!
If you want more advice for building a paladin, check out Paladin 101. Have you ever played an Oath of Devotion paladin? What advice would you give to players that want to play this subclass?
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their animal companions Mei and Marzipan. You can find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.