Spell Choices for the 4th-level paladin

I’m playing in +Rob Conley  Majestic Wilderlands campaign, using D&D 5th edition as the ruleset. I’m playing a Paladin of 4th level, following Oath of Devotion. The character background and full writeup can be found here.

I’ve got six spell slots plus Sanctuary and Protection from Evil/Good which are Oath abilities and therefore always prepared. What I’m wondering is, in the collective experience, what spells are effective in what conditions and fit with the character concept.

My experience with D&D magic is somewhat limited, and I’m very interested in actual play anecdotes about where each spell might be more and less useful.

Note that at fourth level, I am only selecting from the fifteen 1st-level spells, of which two are pre-selected. So I’m basically choosing from half the list. My paladin is focused on sharp combat, defeating those that oppress the weak, and putting himself in the way of harm.

I tried the Stack Exchange forum, but since I’m asking for actual opinions and data, that seems to be off topic – that forum seems to be strictly right/wrong answer driven, which is not what I’m looking for.

So, here’s the list from which I must choose:

  • Bless
  • Command
  • Compelled Duel
  • Cure Wounds
  • Detect Evil/Good
  • Detect Magic
  • Detect Poison and Disease
  • Divine Favor
  • Heroism
  • Protection from Evil
  • Purify Food and Drink
  • Searing Smite
  • Shield of Faith
  • Thunderous Smite
  • Wrathful Smite

I already have Proection from Evil (and Sanctuary, for that matter). Perhaps the right way to go here is to talk about what’s not appropriate. Detect Magic and Poison/Disease doesn’t seem the right thing for my guy. He’s all about putting himself between overt threats – that was the curse/blessing that the fey elf and Veritas called him for. Likewise, Purify Food and Drink seems equally off-base.

Compelled Duel almost screams at me that it’s mandatory, so I’ll mark it that way. “Face the wrath of the Hand of Veritas!” seems just perfectly in character. Shield of Faith fits in perfectly with the Protection fighting style, so that has to go on the list. Four more.

That puts me at

  • Bless
  • Command
  • Compelled Duel
  • Cure Wounds
  • Detect Evil/Good
  • Detect Magic
  • Detect Poison and Disease
  • Divine Favor
  • Heroism
  • Protection from Evil
  • Purify Food and Drink
  • Searing Smite
  • Shield of Faith
  • Thunderous Smite
  • Wrathful Smite

So, of the four remaining choices, where would you go?

Edit: Based on the comments and another day’s play, I’ve made some more selections, with the definites in bold, and the options in red. I actually used Command in the game on Feb 16 to cause the surrender of a person that we might have otherwise had to kill. Bless is twice-recommended, so that’s probably in. Healing never goes out of style, so Cure Wounds isn’t a bad call, but Heroism and Divine Favor also have some compelling qualities.

So I’m down to “Pick two of Cure Wounds, Divine Favor, and Heroism.” I agree that spending a spell slot on 2d8 extra damage for my channel divinity ability (and more still with higher level spell slots, which I don’t currently have) is worth more than the smite spells. Plus I enjoy the visceral feeling of whacking things with swords.

4 thoughts on “Spell Choices for the 4th-level paladin

  1. Here are some observations and data as a 10-or-so-sessions DM of a paladin:

    – The three Smite spells are superfluous since they rely on failed saves to be marginally better at best than your Divine Smite ability
    – Divine Favor looks great on paper but is hugely dependent on how long you expect the fight to take since you need to hit at least 5 times for it to be better than just using the slot on Divine Smite.
    – Whenever my party had access to Bless, they used it, no exceptions. It proved very effective. So if you don't have another divine caster in the party willing to cast it instead of you, go for it.
    – Heroism looks good on paper but my party always had access to it and never used it so I guess there are better choices.
    – The paladin in my party never had Cure Wounds memorized since that was handled by the druid
    – Command and Compelled Duel didn't see any use from the paladin (i think someone else used Command a few times), although if you go with one of them the other one seems superfluous
    – Detect Evil and Good was deemed too situational/weak for a non-ritual spell (see note below for why)

    As a general observation both from my time as the DM of 15 or so sessions and as a player of 5, we mostly steered clear of spells that do nothing on a successful save. We all chafe under less spell slots per day than in Pathfinder/3.5 so we tend to perceive that in order to maximize our mileage, we need to use spells that have the biggest chance of doing something, and both those that still do half damage or whatever on a save and those that require an attack roll are deemed more appropriate for that purpose. Even though the objectively speaking, monsters have a bigger chance of failing saves in this edition than the earlier ones, for the most part.

  2. Ill diverge from Marko in recommending Heroism. As a prep spell for a known tough fight, its pretty sweet. Cast on yourself, in your Tank roll, and it mitigates your Cha bonus in damage, every round you are hit… That can add up fast, even in Plate and Shield. Against boss fights, it is great. It is also exclusive to Bards and Paladins, so your Paladin might be the only one able to bring it to the table.

    Second the recommendation for Bless. It hits everyone and it provides a nice solid boost to every roll you care about.

    Divine Favor will save your ass against a horde of Zombies (and, likely, other undead). It is a bonus action to cast, so it has a low opportunity cost. Things in 5th Ed dont have the buckets of hit points they did in previous editions. Little increases in damage can dramatically shorten fights has been our experience. Being able to buff and still attack makes this a nice Paladin or War Cleric spell. If you dont memorize it now, do so when you get 2 attacks. It just gets better with time as a 1st level spell slot. Or if you have the Sentinel feat, and are getting lots of mileage out of your opportunity action to swing your sword around. I am not as sold on the "just use Divine Smite" argument, especially since they stack (Divine Smite is a "no action", you can buff up Divine Favor, attack, hit, and use Divine Smite for big burst damage).

    Your forth slot is really a "just pick something" though. I agree that the "Smite" spells are kind of lackluster compared to just using Divine Smite itself. Cure Wounds is always a nice to have though, if Lay on Hands is out and you need to stand the Cleric back up.

  3. Yes, if you get a lot of mileage from reactions and especially when you get that second attack, Divine Favor becomes a must. My comparison was purely based on assuming 1 attack per round and also on using the cleaving optional rule from DMG which doesn't waste Divine Smite damage when fighting multiple weaker opponents.

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