Have I been playing my paladin wrong?

I’ve been playing in +Rob Conley‘s Majestic Wilderlands game for a while now, and I’ve grown to like my character, Marcus. 

Still, there have been issues with how the game feels to me playing fighter-types (this is true of Swords and Wizardry as well), but looking over a few things, I’ve decided that part of the problem, if not all of it, is me. In short, system mastery has long been part of the D&D experience, and 5e is no exception. Sure, the requirements for mastery are toned down over, say, Pathfinder . . . but they’re still there.

So let’s start. It would appear my errors lie in a poor appreciation for what I can do each turn, and the duration and power of my spellcasting. Still – always good to start with the foundation.

Marcus the Paladin: The Basics

Lets start with the relevant stats:

6th Level (+3 proficiency bonus)
STR 17 (+3); DEX 12 (+1); CON 16 (+3); INT 12 (+1); WIS 14 (+2); CHA 18 (+4)
Max HP: 55 (max possible at this level would be 78)
Oath of Devotion

His equipment is top-notch. Part of a prior adventuring loot haul was a full set of +2 Plate Armor, and a looser hand with magical items than the normal 5e game seems to encourage has left him with a +2 shield and a +2 longsword as well. That makes standing to face him in melee combat look like this:

AC 24
1d20+8 to hit
1d8+5 (6-13) damage; 2d8+5 (7-21) on a critical. 
2 attacks per turn, so net 12-26 damage, 14-42 on two crits.

He also carries a non-magical longbow; that comes in handy from some of the distances we encounter, and at 1d20+4 to hit and 1d8+1 damage, twice per turn, it’s not great but not awful, either.

So in a lone fight, bereft of magical abilities, he’s going to be tough to hit at all (a 1st level fighter with a STR 18 would roll 1d20+6, hitting Marcus only 15% of the time). You’ll need a 1d20+13 to hit him 50% of the time, or probably about 1d20+9 with advantage. Marcus is a tough nut to crack with AC this high.

That being said, he’s got powers.

Passive/Always-on Abilities

By 6th level, there are things that just happen for me. 

Divine Health makes Marcus immune to disease.

Aura of Protection gives me and any friendlies within 10′ of me +4 (thanks to my CHA) to saving throws.

Available Every Turn

One thing I don’t think I fully appreciated is exactly how to get maximum advantage over the things he can do routinely. This is foolish – abilities unused are basically ignoring the benefits of grabbing a niche (a class) to begin with. 

Protection Fighting Style

This is something that doesn’t help me directly, but if a partner of mine – any friendly character – stands within five feet, I can give one attack per turn disadvantage against him by using my reaction. With a wise choice in partner (say, a rogue-type), this will make a usually lower-AC friend a lot harder to hit (non-magical studded leather tops out at AC17 if you have DEX 20).

Available Every Short Rest

A lot of my abilities can run out, but are replenished on a short rest, which means they’ll likely be available nearly every encounter, and multiple times per encounter at that.

Channel Divinity

These are the go-to abilities for each Oath type, with two abilities per Oath.

Sacred Weapon: This one’s pretty cool, and using it allows, for one minute, CHA bonus to be added to attack rolls with one specific weapon (you power-up the weapon, not the user). This does not, I don’t think, apply to damage, so much the pity. You also get 20′ radius light and the weapon counts as magical, so in the case you don’t manage to pick up a magical sword somewhere, you can still harm creatures only affected by magical weapons.

Turn the Unholy: This one has simply not come up yet in the Majestic Wilderlands. Wisdom saving throw for fiends or the undead, or they have to stay more than 30′ away from you and can’t use reactions.

Available Every Long Rest

Obviously the coolest stuff has more limits, and much of my oomph comes from things that require a night’s sleep or the equivalent to refresh. Some of them are limited in multiple ways, to boot (spell slots). Still, it’s a nifty list and bears thinking on.

Divine Sense 

Can be used 5 times in between each long rest (1+CHA modifier) and will tell me if there are celestials, fiends, or undead within 60′. Perhaps even more usefully, if an object has been consecrated or desecrated or otherwise hit with something like the hallow spell. Good for detecting the presence of things that will pose a more-than-physical challenge.

Lay on Hands 

This is the prototypical Paladin ability to heal. I can heal 30 HP per day, equivalent to about 4 healing potions (2d4+2) in Rob’s game. 5 HP worth can also cure one disease or poison. It’s not huge healing, but it’s not bad, either.

Divine Smite 

This is an ability I’ve used a lot, but it’s tied to my spell slots, so is somewhat limited. Expending a 1st level spell slot adds 2d8 to my melee damage, and a 2nd level slot is 3d8, so that’s a nice adder. Fiends or undead take an extra 1d8. So twice per day I can land a single blow that’s 4d8+5, and four times per day it’ll be 3d8+5, with an extra d8 on a crit and another vs. particularly evil creatures. The down side here is that it drains spell slots.

Oath Spells

My oath spells are always prepared, so they don’t count against my usual limit for how many spells I can know. 

Protection from Good and Evil: I have to maintain concentration to keep this one up, but for 10 minutes, a single creature that I touch cannot be charmed, frightened, or possessed by aberrations, fey, celestials, fiends, and undead. Those critters also have disadvantage when attacking that one creature. I suppose I can cast this on me as well, but given that if I’m doing this I can be broken out of my concentration by getting hit, this seems  a bit less useful than I’d like.

Sanctuary: Again, this impacts one creature. With a bonus action, for one minute my chosen target gets a bit of an out when attacked. The creature must make a Wisdom saving throw, and if it fails, he can’t attack my chosen subject with that power or ability or blow – he has to do something else. The down side is that if my chosen creature attacks or casts a harmful spell, the effects stop. So this allows a friend to . . . sit there and take it, assuming the foe continues to fail saving throws. Well, it is only a 1st level spell.

Lesser Restoration (2nd level): This one ends a condition: blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned. That’s a tough use for a 2nd level spell slot, but there you go. When you need it, you need it right then.

Zone of Truth (2nd level):  Pretty much what it sounds like. Wisdom saving throw fails, and creatures within 15′ radius can’t lie. The good news is, if impacted creatures are affected by the spell, you know it. Dodging questions is possible even if you succeed, so this makes a nice interrogation aid without being an auto-win plot-breaker.

Honestly, it’s a good thing these are always prepared, because otherwise they’re kinda lame. Protection from good/evil would be rather more interesting if it were a radius spell.

Memorized Spells

Each day I can prepare 7 spells total (4 for CHA, 3 for half my Paladin level), and cast 4 1st level spells and 2 second level. Other than the four spells I have always prepared due to my paladin-ness, I would have to choose among 13 1st level spells, and six 2nd level spells.

Even though these are available every long rest (and are thus properly part of the prior section), I’m going to treat them differently. Each day, I have to pick about 35% of the possible list to memorize, and what I choose to do will depend on what threats and challenges I expect to find in a given day. Good luck guessing, but sometimes you can choose well.

1st Level Options

The following spells are basically buffs.

  • Bless: Add +1d4 to any attack roll or saving throw for 10 rounds. Three targets.
  • Divine Favor: +1d4 damage per hit for 10 rounds. Self.
  • Heroism: One creature cannot be frightened and gains 4 temporary HP per turn for 10 rounds.

These are protection and healing.

  • Cure Wounds: 1d8+4. +1d8 for each extra level of spell slot.
  • Detect Evil and Good: 10 minutes. Detects creatures (aberrations, fey, undead, etc.) within 30′.
  • Detect Magic: 10 minutes. Detects critters or magical items within 30′. 
  • Detect Poison and Disease: 10 minutes. 30′. Does the obvious.
  • Purify Food and Drink: Does the obvious within 5′ sphere.

And these are for laying down the Holy Smack on thine enemies.

  • Command: Resisted by saving throw (Wisdom). Can’t be directly harmful to target. But Drop, Flee, Grovel, Halt, and Yield all work. More creatures at higher level.
  • Compelled Duel: This is surprisingly useful. Disadvantage on attack rolls against everyone but me so long as the target is and stays within 30′. Even if they save, the disadvantage holds, and if they don’t, they have to move to me. The disadvantage even if they save is something I missed here.
  • Searing Smite: +1d6 fire damage for the first blow, and the creature stays lit, taking 1d6 more fire damage per turn on a failed saving throw. This is for one creature, and it ends if someone puts out the flames.
  • Shield of Faith: +2 to AC for 10 minutes.
  • Thunderous Smite: On the first hit, does 2d6 thunder damage. Failed STR save means he’s knocked 10′ and prone.
  • Wrathful Smite: One hit gives 1d6 psychic damage, and on a failed Wis save is frightened.
These combat spells run a bit of a distance second to Hunter’s Mark, which is 1d6 for an hour on every blow. So these mostly take backseat to the damage-dealing capability of Divine Smite at 2d8 per hit using the same 1st level spell slots.

2nd Level Options


  • Aid: Three targets get 5 HP and +5 HP max for 8 hours.
  • Find Steed: This summons a paladin’s mount – a celestial warhorse. It’s affected by buffing spells in addition to me at the same level. Telepathic communication, and a warhorse is kinda badass.
  • Magic Weapon: Makes a mundane weapon +1 for an hour.

Protection and Healing

  • Locate Object: Does what it says if the object was seen in close quarters (within 30′) and is currently within 1,000′ of the caster. Lasts 10 minutes.
  • Protection from Poison: For an hour, a targeted creature is cured of poison, has advantage on saving throws vs. poison, and is resistant to poison damage.


  • Branding Smite: 2d6 radiant damage, one time. The target is made visible if it’s invisible, and glows with subtle light.

Again, this is compared to 3d8 for the same spell slot for Divine Smite.

Parting Shot

Hrm. Well. 

I’d thought I’d been misinterpreting the spell options, but no, they’re pretty weak sauce on offense compared to Divine Smite. Given these options and seven slots (and that Rob provided me with a paladin’s mount without the spell), the 2nd level options are all lame (or highly specialized).

So, looks like mostly I’d be picking seven buffing or protection/healing spells. Mostly go-to would be

  • Bless – three allies with better chances to hit? That’s good.
  • Divine Favor – an average of 50 HP extra damage in a 10-round fight. That’s worth it.
  • Command – not always effective, but a chance to get a foe to yield without a fight is sometimes a good thing.
  • Compelled Duel – I didn’t realize that the disadvantage applies regardless. 
  • Detect Evil – always a nice ability
  • Heroism – an extra 40 HP in a long fight makes for quite a boost; if there were another fighter in the party that would be a powerful buff.
  • Searing Smite is kinda nice, in that you get repeated instances of the fire damage.
  • Shield of Faith – not for me at AC 24, but for others. At only +2 AC, this is last priority.
With a little extra prep some of the other combat spells would be good, but only if the victim/foe is known and known to be vulnerable to a particular damage type.
So I need to use Sacred Weapon more often, and also Divine Favor for long fights. Beyond that, my use of spell slots for extra damage is the right call. 
Making Spells Worth It

Some of the spells really could be cool, but probably only if they were potentially effective more than once, or slightly higher damage. Some of the effects are OK if creatures are vulnerable to it, but 2d8 is 2d8, and even double damage from (say) Wrathful Smite is less. 
None of these compare well to the extra 1d8 per turn for Collossus Slayer, plus Hunter’s Mark for 1d6 per attack. Or the extra 3d6 per turn for a rogue’s sneak attack as long as another combatant is attacking the target and within five feet. Or 8d6 for a fireball spell, though of course that is limited to spell slots – but a 6th level Sorcerer or Wizard can cast three of these, so those slots are good for a minimum of 12d6 damage (assuming a save) and 24d6 if they don’t.
Toe to toe with a melee expert should be a bad idea

This is really what I’m getting at here, and something +Peter V. Dell’Orto has remarked on before. Going face-to-face with Sir Cuisinart should really be scary. Granted, with plate and a shield, AC 20 (more with magic) is nothing to sneeze at, so they’re harder to hit. But the per-turn damage ability of fighters is really second to a lot of characters that are second-rankers.
I was thinking that it might be interesting to allow something like a fighter to spend his own actual Hit Points for more damage. Say, 2d4 to a blow for every 5 HP you spend. You probably don’t have to limit it other than not being able to spend below 10 HP plus your CON bonus times your level – those are mostly physical toughness, not skill or grit or honed combat instinct. So Marcus could exchange HP for extra damage dice as long as he’s above 28 HP (3 for CON x 6th level + 10 HP). 
If you did want to limit it, perhaps you can only do it a number of times equal to, say, half your level plus some attribute score. Not STR, because that double-dips. CON might work, but that seems odd since those are physical HP, and this bonus damage is from skill. DEX might be fun, since honestly for heavy fighters there’s not much reason to do DEX. Well, unless you’re an archer. WIS might be a good one, as it’s the ability to notice an opening (tied to Perception). CHA makes no sense, nor does INT. Half level plus WIS? That would allow Marcus to do this five times, trading 25 HP for 10d4 damage to his foes.
I’d make you select whether or not to spend HP before you roll to hit, because I would double these damage dice on a critical hit (if you miss you don’t lose the HP, I’d think?). So Marcus might announce that he’s spending 5 HP. On a hit he would do 1d8+2d4 + 5 (8-21 HP), but on a critical hit the dice would double: 2d8+4d4+5, for 11-37 HP range. 
This would leverage a fighter’s higher HP for something other than a damage sink and pincushion, and make it quite risky to stand face-to-face with a fighter type. For that reason (and since Hunter’s Mark and Colossus Slayer stack already for archers, and give plenty of extra damage from a distance where the archer can’t get hit back) I’d make it melee only. 
Hrm. That might be a good Feat, actually. Or even a Fighting Style? Class feature for combatives, and Feat for those that might want it. 
Anyway, this is just me being an inveterate rules tinkerer. But it allows the fighter-type to make the choice of using his hit points to be a wall between his enemies and his friends (this is how it plays now), or to menace his foes, but be not that much harder to kill than the softer-skinned second-rank types. It would also give fighters a much-needed (in my experience, which doesn’t hold for everyone) damage boost.

2 thoughts on “Have I been playing my paladin wrong?

    1. I want standing toe to toe with a fighter to be scary. At any moment, the fatal blow may fall sort of thing. Not "well, I can always disengage since he's going to whittle me down 6-13 HP per attack."

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