Paladins are a beloved class in D&D 5th Edition. These holy warriors deal tons of damage by smiting their foes, can tank hits and have the ability to heal/support allies. The class is considered to be one of, if not the, most powerful classes in the game due its utility in pretty much any scenario. Their power level tends to make up for the disadvantage you get on stealth-checks when in plate armour, because who needs sneak when you can smite?
Yet there’s one part of the description above that never really works for me. And that’s also partly due to how it shapes the perception of Paladins overall. My point?
Paladins are not just holy warriors.
Personally I believe that talking about a paladin in a way that makes them just do the bidding of their deity really reduces their range, so to say. Since the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons the class have basically been tied to their connection to a deity as a defining aspect of their abilities. Before that they were usually just extremely righteous warriors.
When we’re talking about D&D 5e though, a paladin’s source of strength is their Oath. The Player’s Handbook states that said oath is the thing that blesses their quest against evil (for paladins are rarely evil). It doesn’t particularly matter under what circumstances or to who the character swears its allegiance, just that they do. All of it in service of justice.
Personally, I believe this limits the class severely.
Think about it. Your D&D character pledges to an Oath of Vengeance and through sheer force of will, hatred or belief that they’re justified, they manifest magical powers and become stronger. To me, that’s just much cooler. It doesn’t have to replace the pledging to a celestial entity or other god-like being, but I wish this was a more prominent option.
For the thing is, by all accounts it can already go like that. Nothing in the rules states that your paladin needs to be attached to a deity, just that their oath gives them powers.
Yet their class features still rely on them being holy warriors.
It’s this disconnect that makes paladins a difficult class for me to build a character with. I really like the idea of a character manifesting powers through their willpower, yet the class very much leads you into the direction of a good, honorable character that smites evil. The features only reinforce this idea.
It’s that disconnect that turns me away from the class. Of course D&D is a game that allows for a lot of homebrew and changing the flavour of certain abilities to make a character feel more like you envision them, yet anytime I try to do so with a paladin, it very quickly burns me out, and I instead start looking at a fighter again (Psi Warriors are basically Jedi, it’s so cool!).
Paladins both in history (the closest retainers of Roman emperors got the name Palatinus) and the early editions of Dungeons and Dragons are known as defenders, and they fill this role in the game very well. It’s just that certain degrees of flavour are so baked into the class that it’s hard to look past.
This seemingly isn’t changing anytime soon. OneD&D mostly balances the 5e version of the class some more, and even expands on the ‘righteous warrior’ portion of its characterization. It’s a personal pet peeve that is of little consequence, but it’s something I think about quite often.
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