One D&D Changes the Paladin
Wizards of the Coast has released a new Dungeons and Dragons playtest of the Paladin class! These smashers of enemies’ faces have had some adjustments made to them. Let’s review the differences, the potential, and my thoughts on the new Paladin! Click HERE to follow along on the new playtest PDF!
The Warrior Priest
The Paladin is part of the Priest class group with the primary abilities Strength and Charisma. They still get 1d10 Hit Dice per Paladin level and have armor training on all armor and shields. The base stat information is pretty much the same as the 5e Paladin, so what does a 1st level Paladin look like in this playtest material?
At 1st level you get the Lay on Hands class feature. Using a Magic Action (one of the various Action choices available in the playtest material) and you can spend points from a pool to restore a number of Hit Points to a creature you touch. Alternatively, you can expend 5 Hit Points from the pool to remove the Poisoned condition.This version of Lay on Hands also lacks the restriction of having no effect on undead and constructs. So let those Warforged Paladins feel the power as well!
Spellcasting is now available at level 1! The Paladin prepares a list of spells from the Divine spell list. At level 1, you get the choice of two 0-level spells (cantrips) and two 1st level spells. With this early introduction of spellcasting, you get access to three smite spells: Searing Smite, Thunderous Smite, and Wrathful Smite. There are some changes to these spells as well. In 5e, they require concentration, meaning you have to start with the bonus action to cast Searing Smite, and then hope you hit with your attack. If you miss, the spell fades and you have wasted the spell slot. I’ll admit, I had not actually played the smite spells this way. When I have a player that wants to use their smite spell, I allow them to cast it as their bonus action when their attack hits. Turns out, that is the direction that this playtest material is headed. The smite spells no longer require concentration, and the casting time is a bonus action still, with the clause, “which you take immediately after hitting a creature with a weapon or an Unarmed Strike.” Did Wizards of the Coast just mention that a character can smite with an Unarmed strike and also not be restricted to melee weapons?
That’s right! Smite spells and the Divine Smite feature can now be used with any weapon and also Unarmed Strikes. You want to smite with your fists? Go ahead and get to punching and slapping with the Divine Smite behind it! Possible One-Punch Man opportunities? You bet! There is something to note though... Divine Smite does come in at 2nd level, but you can no longer stack Divine Smite with any smite spells. Divine Smite cannot be used the same turn you cast a spell anymore. So you must decide between using Divine Smite for 2d8 radiant damage using a spell slot, or using a smite spell that rolls d6s and has additional effects. Paladins no longer have the button to just blow everything into one target, such as a difficult enemy encounter or a big bad character, but have better control over when and how to smite.
The Faithful Nightmare…I mean Steed
What is a Paladin without their faithful steed? Still a Paladin, but something about having a horse companion just really adds to the imagery. Find Steed was a spell that a Paladin needed to commit to taking in 5e. Now, in this playtest, you get the Find Steed spell as a feature and it is always prepared, without counting against the number of spells you can prepare. The casting time is an Action for you and you get to cast it once without spending a spell slot once per Long Rest. You get your trusted steed without eating your spell slots or maybe you want to ride upon a Nightmare instead.
Find Steed has a bit of a change. There is now a stat block for the steed you summon in the spell. This stat block is called Otherworldly Steed. When the spell is cast, you choose the type of steed you summon: Celestial, Fey, or Fiend. Each of these will grant your steed a unique ability!. A Fey steed has Fey Step as a Bonus Action, which is a spell that allows the caster to teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space, and allows your steed to take you with it. A Fiend steed gets Fell Glare which can frighten a creature up to 60 feet away. The Celestial steed gets Healing Touch which allows it to heal 2d8 + the level of the spell slot you used to cast it. If you cast this for free using the feat, it’ll be second level.
What I like about this new take is it also enables a bit of extra flavor to the character being played and also provides additional effects that compliment that flavor. I have played with several Paladin players and almost none of them take the Find Steed spell. Having this feature does not negatively impact those players that do not want to have a steed. If they do not want to use it, that is fine. It is available whenever they want though without having to commit to using it. The players that love the flavor will feel great as they do not have to waste a spell slot of their Paladin, and they get their favorite steed!
That’s a Shiny Aura You Got There
A Paladin’s aura is as iconic as being able to smite. Aura of Protection moves from sixth level to seventh level in this playtest, and extends 10 feet in every direction (including up and down) but does not extend through Total Cover. It still grants the bonus to saving throws to creatures in the area, but also clearly states that if another Paladin is present, a creature can only benefit from only one Aura of Protection at a time, and that creature chooses which one when entering the aura. This is important to remember. A party with two Paladins of different subclasses will have different effects from those subclasses. In this playtest, they introduce the Oath of Devotion subclass so let’s take a look at those features that modify Aura of Protection.
At 10th level, Oath of Devotion Paladins gain Aura of Devotion. This adds to your Aura of Protection and grants immunity to being Charmed. This is a nice adjustment as it matches up with the radius of the Aura of Protection without having to think about the various overlaps or differences of range for auras. You do get access to this at a later level than in 5e, but from a design perspective, this makes it easier to incorporate new ideas than how auras were written before. Let’s compare to what Aura of Protection might look like if a Paladin chooses Oath of the Ancients in 5e. There is a feature called Aura of Warding which would add resistance to damage by spells to creatures in the Aura of Protection. When a creature enters a space where both auras overlap, the creature decides to benefit from either immunity to the Charm condition or resistance to damage by spells.
While talking about the Oath of Devotion Paladin a bit here, Holy Nimbus is now available at 14th level instead of 20th level. That is a big shift, as this was previously the capstone for the Oath of Devotion. What changed then? Is it worse than before? Not quite. It scales to be just as powerful as before. You also activate Holy Nimbus with a Bonus Action (as opposed to an Action) so you get to trigger this and also hit enemies on the same turn. That looks like a win to me! The radiant damage it deals is equal to the Proficiency Bonus + your Charisma Modifier. If you are playing a lower charisma Paladin, then you will deal less damage than the 5e Holy Nimbus at 20th level, but if you are up to 18 Charisma, then the damage is the same. If you get your Charisma to 20+ then you start to perform better than the 5e version. You do lose advantage on spell saving throws cast by Fiends and Undead, but that in itself is very narrow and at 20th level, you are probably facing creatures that are not Fiends or Undead.
I will be honest... I am not really a Paladin player. I like the expert classes: Artificer, Bard, Ranger, and Rogue. I also do enjoy the occasional mage, like Sorcerer and Wizard. I can imagine that players who love the fifth edition Paladin will not like these changes. Most of the changes reduce the damage per turn and that has been a highlight that players enjoyed. These playtest changes are a nerf to the class compared to previous versions. As someone who doesn’t normally play a Paladin, my outside perspective affords some objectivity and I like these changes.
First, the changes to Divine Smite and the smite spells. Being restricted to using only one smite per turn and unable to stack Divine Smite with another smite is a good change. You lose out on the single target nuke, yes, but what you now gain is the opportunity to introduce new ways to modify Divine Smite through Paladin subclasses or introduce new smite spells. As a gamemaster, I feel good about homebrewing smite spells for my players that would fit their character. Being able to use smite with your bow or your fists means that players can feel more creative with their paladins and make the Paladin class even more popular than before.
Consolidating the aura features to now be additional effects on a single aura is great! It is just one aura with multiple effects that are gained as the Paladin gains levels. When playing with multiple Paladins, if they have different oaths, then it is easy to track the radius of effects granted by the auras. Additionally, being able to clearly identify the benefits and which one a player wants to benefit from is great for making fast decisions during game play.
Having worked in design for a year, I find simpler designs tend to be best in the long run. Simplicity enables more opportunities for growth. Adding complexity to the design reduces or restricts the opportunities for creativity and growth which can hurt design in the long run. The changes to the Paladin in this playtest packet definitely give more creative freedom to Paladins from a design perspective.
Carl Francis is an IT Engineer with a love for games! Working in design for over a year, Carl has expanded to breaking down design in various game systems from tabletop games to video games and is looking to share those thoughts with you.