The noble Paladin has an interesting history with Dungeons and Dragons, as a martial focused cleric, the class has evolved into an archetype and play style of its own over the many years. One of the aspects that always deterred players from playing the class in earlier editions had to do with the alignment restrictions placed upon them. Most paladins had to be Lawful Good, believing in order and the destruction of evil. I’ve had my fair share of playtime with the paladin in earlier editions, using the alignment restrictions as a guide to playing in a morality I normally would not find myself. I liked the challenge but not everyone can play within such restrictions and therefore lead to advancements in alternative Paladins. We had tyrannical paladins, fallen paladins, carefree paladins, homicidal paladins, and even grey paladins.
Wizards offered the Oathbreaker as a Paladin archetype for primarily NPCs in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but it would seem that somewhere in the pits of R&D there was something sinister brewing. The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide added the Oath of the Crown as a civilization centric paladin, a knight that protected the people and cities from harm. So the two new oaths presented in the playtest are the Oath of Conquest and the the Oath of Treachery. The Oath of Conquest is essentially a Paladin of Tyranny like in D&D 3.5, which was a lawful evil paladin variant that focused on using fear and domination to rule the people. The Oath of Treachery is supposedly the new “blackguard” oath for the Paladin, essentially a Paladin without any creeds of their own other than for themselves.
Wizards is continuing their trending of offering playtest material for all of the core Player’s Handbook classes, and after the Paladin we shall see new Rogue Archetypes next. You can check out my Monk review here.
Check out the new playtest for the Paladin here.
Also, don’t forget Wizards’ new Monk survey here.
Let’s get onto the review.
Oath of Tyranny – Rule with an Iron Fist
This oath focuses on ruling through fear and displays of strength, that a life is not enough when you could shatter the hopes of a populace.
Spells: The spells chosen reflect the theme rather well, we have spells like command, dominate person, and dominate beast to remind us about the need to control, while we have spells like blight and insect plague to reinforce dominance through damage.
Conquering Strike: I enjoy this Channel Divinity since it does not use the Action economy and incorporates itself into a melee attack instead and that this can triggered whenever the paladin hits with their attack as well. The frightened condition has a strong theme both flavor wise and mechanically in this oath, as an early ability for the paladin to unlock and start inspiring fear into their foes this fits very well. I really like that this feature doesn’t use the action economy at all and is instead a reinforcement of what the paladin already does well.
Guided Strike: Sadly this is not War God’s Blessing, while they both do the same thing, this feature uses up a more limited resource. It makes sense that a Tyrant Paladin would want to hit more often, especially if their tenets involve defeating their foes utterly to the ground. What makes this Channel Divinity option viable is that it works in sync with Conquering Strike, especially if the Paladin needs this to hit.
Aura of Conquest: I love this aura, it really fits with the fear the Tyrant Paladin wishes to exemplify, from its Conquering Strike to casting fear. I wish they included a part where a frightened creature from Conquering Strike would not get the chance to repeat their saving throw while inside the aura.
Implacable Spirit: This feature seems to describe an unwavering warrior who would not compromise their quest for dominance and battle. Thematically appropriate and even terrifying for creatures that may rely on charming their enemies into submission, like fey creatures or even some aberrations. Even humanoid creatures who would rather talk their way out of a fight. I really enjoy this feature even if it only goes the Paladin instead of other features that benefit the party.
Invincible Conqueror: All 20th-level capstones for Paladin normally, if not always, involve making the Paladin assume some sort of avatar for their oaths or creeds. I was rather impressed that the Paladin gains resistance to all damage, which includes seldom damage types like Force or Psychic (which even a Totem Warrior Barbarian is not resistant to). Very much like a juggernaut or an unstoppable object, this feature grants the Tyrant Paladin those qualities and brings down the pain. Besides the resistances, the Paladin gains an extra attack when using the Attack action, meaning they get 3 attacks per Attack action now. Giving more opportunities to exercise Conquering Strike and making creatures frightened or dealing buckets of damage for along with the Paladin’s powerful Smite ability. Lastly, the Tyrant Paladin gains the Champion Fighter’s 19 to 20 critical threat range for that 1 minute, which fits the motif and tenant of beating your foes to submission. While initially I felt that there was something more that could added to this feature but realized that along with the Paladin’s Smite feature and the various smite-like spells, the Tyrant Paladin is a strong position to simply damage things very well. Sacrificing a 4th-level spell for Smite at this point would would math out: 5d8 radiant + 1d8 radiant (Improved Divine Smite) + 1d10 (assuming two-handed longsword) which averages to 29 damage on a single strike. Ignoring the Divine Smite, and simply adding the 1d10+1d8 still equates to 9 plus whatever Strength modifier. Assuming an Strength of 18, the Tyrant Paladin dishes out an average of 13 points of damage for each attack if they hit, making it 39 points of damage per Attack action. It may seem mild considering the amounts of damage that casters deal at this point but the Paladin, like other martial characters, focus on consistent damage over time as opposed to explosive bursts of damage. If any of those strikes land as a critical hit, assuming even one of those strikes being a critical hit, the average becomes 48 to even 50 points of damage in some instances. Again most of the math may seem subpar but between Divine Smites and smite spells, along with magic weapons, the damage can truly reach greater heights.
Overall, the Oath of Tyranny fits the Vader archetype, an uncompromising juggernaut of death that inspires fear to all those foolish enough to take them in combat. If you ever wanted a Vader-esque character, this oath fits the bill. The damage is deceptively good but not outlandish for a martial character, landing critical hits makes this oath shine as a powerful force of reckoning.
Oath of Treachery – “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”
The Oathbreaker Paladin was presented in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to give DMs an NPC option for a fallen paladin who strayed away from their oaths, even give some players an idea on what to do once they forswore their oaths. While this oath deals with the same sort of a concept, with a Paladin what has forsaken their oaths but also incorporates aspects of a rogue-ish demeanor as the oath focuses on a Paladin that is characterized as selfish and “out for themselves”. Supposedly this oath is the “blackguard” Paladin of yore, which in previous incarnations these paladins were self-centered and only cared about their own desires and wellbeing. These are the sort of Paladins that are likely the stab you in the back when your usefulness is run out.
Spells: Several charm effects, a few defensive illusions, and effective combat spells like haste and the invisibility line of spells. The invisibility boosts the ability for the Betrayer Paladin to land blows due to having advantage but also for its Poison Strike Channel Divinity. The gaseous form spell was an unusual and unexpected choice until you consider that this particular paladin prefers being in a mob and exploit their togetherness but still needs ways for them to escape out of a dire situation.
Conjure Duplicate: Essentially the same feature as the Trickery domain Cleric. I like the idea behind this incarnation compared to older interpretations of simply an Anti-Paladin. This plays more of the trickster more so than a betrayer sort of imagery but if fits in the fact that the enemy would have a hard time differentiating between the two. Another aspect I enjoyed about this oath that didn’t make it a complete Trickery Domain carbon copy would have to be 20th-level feature and the Aura of Treachery. Conjure Duplicate is great for improving the combat efficiency of the Betrayer Paladin plus synergizes with several other features like Poison Strike below.
Poison Strike: This Channel Divinity initially felt unimpressive but when combined with other factors like Conjure Duplicate or the Cull of the Herd from the aura, this ability seems to actually have more likelihood of being used and implemented. Normally it grants the Betrayer Paladin the ability to deal 2d10 + their paladin level in poison damage the next time they hit. The average damage at say 10th-level would be 20 points, it is quite impactful when needed. The kicker for this feature is the second clause for damage, where the damage is maximized to 20 + paladin level, which using the previous example, would result in 30 points of damage within that instance so long as the paladin had advantage on attack rolls. My only concern is that while it does provide the paladin with a short boost in damage potential, it feels limited and situational even though it has great synergy with other features. I would have preferred if the weapon consistently dealt the poison damage through the 1 minute duration in order to up the damage over time.
Aura of Treachery: It’s odd to see a multi-faceted aura for a paladin, it’s something unexpected and yet thoroughly fits the theme of a trickster Paladin. The Cull the Herd aspect actually penalizes hostile allies to be together or adjacent to each other, granting the Betrayer Paladin advantage on attack rolls on the target. This synergizes with the Poison Strike Channel Divinity to maximize its damage output as well as improve the Paladin’s opportunities for landing a critical hit. It may not seem much for a potential 40 damage at 20th-level, but considering this Paladin does not have a whole lot of means to improve their damage other than through Divine Smite, it offers the Betrayer Paladin the same viability as an extra attack. If a Betrayer Paladin were to maximize their damage: 1d10 (longsword) + 1d8 radiant (improved divine smite) + 5d8 radiant (divine smite) + 40 at 20th-level, the average damage is about 69 to 70 points of damage on a successful hit. The average Meteor Swarm is about 120 damage from both fire and bludgeoning damage on a failed saving throw, granted there is a higher chance of a successful save due to the higher difficulty of the encounters at that stage which therefore reduces the average to about 60 points of damage. Looking at it from that standpoint, the Betrayer Paladin does not seem to fall too behind an arcane spellcaster that can only use one 9th-level spell, while the spellcaster is designed to dish out loads of damage so should not feel too inadequate when their damage output is inherently suppose to be consistent. Combining the Cull the Herd with Poison Strike merely grants the paladin greater leverage for damage. The final part of this two part aura: Treacherous Strike calls back to the trickery that this oath employs, capitalizing on having allies too close to the Betrayer Paladin and missing due to their possible high armor class (as a tank role). This feature is limited but fits the idea of using their foes to whittle down their resources and efforts while allowing the paladin to exploit their togetherness so to speak.
Blackguard’s Escape: While Wizards likes to paint the “blackguard” paladin as a crowd that only fights for themselves and only considers their own safety, I feel that this feature fits the role surprisingly well. As a martial character with access to heavy armor, more times than not, the Paladin will be in the thick of enemy front lines trying to occupy some of the enemy to allow the ranged characters the chance to destroy the more pressing enemies. Even with the Treacherous Strike from the Aura of Treachery will not be enough once the chances are spent and the enemy continues to land hits on the Betrayer Paladin. Having a means to escape a mob of enemies gives the blackguard a chance to heal and strategize for a better opportunity.
One of the flaws that happens with martial characters is that sometimes and eventually they might be overrun with a large mob of enemies and cannot escape especially if they have landed a few good licks into their hit points. Taking the time to heal reduces the paladin’s overall efficiency and slows down the consistent damage output. Having this trigger as a reaction gives the blackguard some time to strategize and heal up on their next turn.
Icon of Deceit: You basically become a trickster god, continuous invisibility for 1 minute grants the blackguard advantage on attack rolls which synergizes with Poison Strike but also another tacked on feature in this avatar form. There are a bit of trepidation built into this form for being struck by enemy combatants, having the blackguard whisper and charm them to do whatever the paladin wants on their next turn so long as the paladin themselves are not incapacitated. Granted creatures immune to charm effects will automatically save, but this can really turn ugly for grunts or large hulking creatures, especially if you make the creature jump off a cliff or find a way to hurt themselves since that is not a clause within this feature. I feel that this was intentional, worse would be if a creature could cast healing spells and the blackguard made the healer heal them instead of themselves or an ally. All of which is assuming the opponent can hit the invisible blackguard. The final bullet boosts the blackguard’s consistent damage per hit to include their paladin level as damage while they have advantage on attack rolls, which they will have while being invisible. Compared to a 20th-level Rogue with 10d6 Sneak Attack, the average the rogue deals amounts to 30 which just slightly better than the extra 20 damage while in this form. Essentially we gave the blackguard paladin sneak attack, which fits the sort of backstabbing theme this oath is meant to exemplify.
Overall I believe that the idea of making a trickster sort of Paladin was an interesting take, I’m not 100% convinced about labelling it this oath as the Blackguard since the old trope had a different sort of connotation but it fits the idea of a backstabbing fallen knight who are only interested in themselves. The features and spell choices fit and mesh well and do not seem to outshine one another but merely complement each other instead.
Wizards of the Coast seems to have heard the outcry for fallen paladin oaths, especially if people are interested in participating in an evil campaign from the traditional heroic campaign. Even having using these oaths can create interesting anti-heroes that perhaps adopted the tenants but has since struggle to find balance within their own morals and truths against the edicts instilled through their abilities. I can still see a Lawful Neutral Oath of Conquest Paladin who is about conquering and defeating his foes for the glory of their homeland, to better the world and bring a state of peace for all. I always enjoy giving darker player options, merely because these sort of anti-heroes offer great roleplay situations that may not arise in a more traditional heroic story. The Oath of Conquest reminds me strongly of an unstoppable force, which thanks to the recent Rogue One movie, instilled this vision of fantasy version of Darth Vader. The Oath of Treachery was the one that initially felt odd but was provided to be a more agnostic fallen paladin choice as opposed the Oathbreaker Paladin. The Oathbreaker is a knight who abandoned their cause for a different one, while the Oath of Treachery was a knight who abandoned their oaths because they no longer agreed with them and set themselves on a path of personal gain and ambition as described in the oath’s description. While I was hoping for different thematic paladins this playtest time around, I was quite pleased and surprised that Wizards presented more fallen paladin oaths since the traditional framework was always heroic adventurers. I would like to see other dark-aligned material in the future, such as the Shadow Patron Warlock.
If you want to check out the Paladin playtest material, click here.
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Due to the holiday season, I will be taking a break from the blog to spend time with family and friends for the holiday season. We look forward to seeing you all in 2017!
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