An armored woman riding a giant bird.

Ardenvale Tactician by Jason Rainville

Last time, we started through the paladin’s nine subclasses. Now we wrap up that journey. As a reminder, there are three main categories I am looking at as I judge the power level of each subclass: combat strength, allowance for a range of powerful builds, and how it interacts with multiclassing. So let’s finish up the paladin with the final four entries.

4. Conquest

An intimidating man in pointy armor.
Puresteel Paladin by Jason Chan

Moving into the top four we have one of the more aggressive paladin subclasses. Conquest is interesting in that the entire subclass is built around a single mechanic: the frightened condition. While I like subclass design that revolves around a theme, this theme in particular has two major issues.

Level 3 – Oath Spells

Paladin Level Spells
3rd armor of Agathyscommand
5th hold personspiritual weapon
9th bestow cursefear
13th dominate beaststoneskin
17th cloudkilldominate person

But before we cover those, let’s take a look at this spell list. On the bright side, Fear is a great control spell similar in power to Hypnotic Pattern.* Unfortunately, outside of Fear we’re left with bad buffs and single-target all-or-nothing save spells that are inefficient for paladins to be spending their entire action on.

Level 3 – Channel Divinity

When you use your Channel Divinity, you choose which option to use. You must then finish a short or long rest to use your Channel Divinity again.

Some Channel Divinity effects require saving throws. When you use such an effect from this class, the DC equals your paladin spell save DC.

Conquering Presence. As an action, you force each creature of your choice that you can see within 30 feet of you to make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, a creature becomes frightened of you for 1 minute. The frightened creature can repeat this saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Guided Strike. When you make an attack roll, you can use your Channel Divinity to gain a +10 bonus to the roll. You make this choice after you see the roll, but before the DM says whether the attack hits or misses.

You know a feature is good when +10 to hit is the weaker option. Both Conquest channel options are great, the one downside being the feature’s single use per rest. As I’ve mentioned earlier, area control effects are a weakness of the base paladin, and Conquering Presence is a great way to cover that weakness. Guided Strike makes a solid backup in the event that an area fear effect won’t be effective.

Level 7 – Aura of Conquest

You constantly emanate a menacing aura while you’re not incapacitated. The aura extends 10 feet from you in every direction, but not through total cover.

If a creature is frightened of you, its speed is reduced to 0 while in the aura, and that creature takes psychic damage equal to half your paladin level if it starts its turn there.

At 18th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 feet.

This is a great feature that is the source of those two problems I mentioned earlier. The first problem is that many monsters, especially at high levels, are immune to fear. Aura of Conquest is inviting the paladin to lean into causing as much fear as possible because the payoff is very good. This creates a problem that can punish a player for doing the thing their subclass is telling them to do.

The second issue is that this feature has incredible synergy with a warlock subclass that isn’t the Hexblade. The Undead warlock’s Form of Dread allows the Conquest pally to hand out fear effects every round, pairing perfectly with this feature. The problem is that you can’t take two level 1 warlock dips, so Conquest paladins have to choose between what is good for their subclass and what is great for their class.

None of this is to say that Aura of Conquest is bad. It’s a great feature that can shut down entire fights; however, it’s important to note the issues this emphasis on fear can cause.

Level 15 – Scornful Rebuke

Whenever a creature hits you with an attack, that creature takes psychic damage equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of 1) if you’re not incapacitated.

Generally it’s better to not be hit at all, and dealing up to five damage is not enough to change that. At level 15, this feature will barely be felt.

Level 20 – Invincible Conqueror

As an action, you can magically become an avatar of conquest, gaining the following benefits for 1 minute:

  • You have resistance to all damage.
  • When you take the Attack action on your turn, you can make one additional attack as part of that action.
  • Your melee weapon attacks score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20 on the d20.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

If you stick with Conquest to level 20, this is the best subclass payoff. More attacks, improved critical range, and resistance to all damage make for an amazing suite of bonuses held back only by the late level where it is acquired.

The Conquest subclass was built with a plan in mind, and as long as that plan works, it’s great. Its biggest problem lies in the large amounts of fear immunity at high levels and the opportunity cost of taking the warlock subclass best suited to its subclass features. Fourth place.

3. Vengeance

A winged, armored woman blasting a demon with lasers.
Take Vengeance by Randy Vargas

Continuing the theme of angry holy folk, we have Vengeance. Where Conquest focuses heavily on spooking their enemies, Vengeance is more of a generalized hatred for all things that stand in the paladin’s way.

Level 3 – Oath Spells

Paladin Level Spells
3rd banehunter’s mark
5th hold personmisty step
9th hasteprotection from energy
13th banishmentdimension door
17th hold monsterscrying

This is easily the best paladin spell list. Bane and Hunter’s Mark are solid debuff and buff spells at low levels, Misty Step grants some much-needed mobility to the base paladin kit, Haste is an awesome boost to both offense and defense, while Dimension Door grants the paladin and one ally even more mobility.

Level 3 – Channel Divinity

When you use your Channel Divinity, you choose which option to use. You must then finish a short or long rest to use your Channel Divinity again.

Some Channel Divinity effects require saving throws. When you use such an effect from this class, the DC equals your paladin spell save DC.

Abjure Enemy. As an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer of denunciation, using your Channel Divinity. Choose one creature within 60 feet of you that you can see. That creature must make a Wisdom saving throw, unless it is immune to being frightened. Fiends and undead have disadvantage on this saving throw.

On a failed save, the creature is frightened for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. While frightened, the creature’s speed is 0, and it can’t benefit from any bonus to its speed.

On a successful save, the creature’s speed is halved for 1 minute or until the creature takes any damage.

Vow of Enmity. As a bonus action, you can utter a vow of enmity against a creature you can see within 10 feet of you, using your Channel Divinity. You gain advantage on attack rolls against the creature for 1 minute or until it drops to 0 hit points or falls unconscious.

While Vengeance’s spell list might be its best feature, it’s not the only good one. Abjure Enemy is a great choice to take a medium-threat enemy that lacks legendary resistances out of the fight while you deal with their boss. If you’d prefer to murder said boss instead, then Vow of Enmity will make sure every smite-laden attack lands.

Level 7 – Relentless Avenger

When you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, you can move up to half your speed immediately after the attack and as part of the same reaction. This movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks.

A small boost to opportunity attacks isn’t great compared to what other subclasses get at 7th level, but at least it doesn’t cost any additional resources.

Level 15 – Soul of Vengeance

When a creature under the effect of your Vow of Enmity makes an attack, you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against that creature if it is within range.

This feature should equal an additional attack most rounds against whatever big bad monster you’ve used your Channel on. It’s not terribly exciting, but more attacks are always good.

Level 20 – Avenging Angel

Using your action, you undergo a transformation. For 1 hour, you gain the following benefits:

  • Wings sprout from your back and grant you a flying speed of 60 feet.
  • You emanate an aura of menace in a 30-foot radius. The first time any enemy creature enters the aura or starts its turn there during a battle, the creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened of you for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. Attack rolls against the frightened creature have advantage.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

This is a fine capstone, although it feels more at home with Conquest than Vengeance. Nothing in Vengeance’s kit specifically synergizes with fear, but as long as enemies aren’t immune, Avenging Angel should feel impactful.

A great spell list and solid Channel Divinity are enough to propel Vengeance this high on the list. Unfortunately, its later features are a bit of a letdown. Third place is taken with a vengeance.

2. Oathbreaker

An angel with creepy tentacles.
Gisela, the Broken Blade by Clint Cearley

From theoretically healthy anger management, we move to the definitely unhealthy kind. Oathbreaker paladins join Death clerics in being the only subclasses printed to be used by NPCs. Despite these origins, Oathbreaker functions just fine as a player option and is my suggestion to anyone looking to play an offensively minded paladin.

Level 3 – Oath Spells

Paladin Level Spells
3rd hellish rebukeinflict wounds
5th crown of madnessdarkness
9th animate deadbestow curse
13th blightconfusion
17th contagiondominate person

While most of the spells on this list are bad, Darkness and Animate Dead stand out as amazing additions. Given how much paladins benefit from Hexblade, the Devil’s Sight Darkness combo is always a tempting strategy. Oathbreaker’s ability to get Darkness for itself means it can bring the combo online without having to dip 3 levels into Hexblade.

As for Animate Dead, this allows the Oathbreaker to turn their spell slots into great sources of sustained damage in the form of skeletons. If you don’t mind risking said skeletons in melee,* the Oathbreaker’s 7th-level feature allows for even more impressive numbers than most necromancers.

Level 3 – Channel Divinity

When you use your Channel Divinity, you choose which option to use. You must then finish a short or long rest to use your Channel Divinity again.

Some Channel Divinity effects require saving throws. When you use such an effect from this class, the DC equals your paladin spell save DC.

Control Undead. As an action, you target one undead creature you can see within 30 feet of you. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the target must obey your commands for the next 24 hours, or until you use this Channel Divinity option again. An undead whose challenge rating is equal to or greater than your level is immune to this effect.

Dreadful Aspect. As an action, each creature of your choice within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw if it can you. On a failed save, the target is frightened of you for 1 minute. If a creature frightened by this effect ends its turn more than 30 feet away from you, it can attempt another Wisdom saving throw to end the effect on it.

Where Vengeance had the best spell list, Oathbreaker leads in Channel Divinity options. Control Undead is a total mind-control ability, which is very good even though it only works on undead enemies. When Control Undead isn’t working, Oathbreaker gets a stronger version of Conquest’s Conquering Presence. Where that ability allowed targets to save every round, Dreadful Aspects forces them to be 30 feet away before they can even try.

Level 7 – Aura of Hate

You and any fiends and undead within 10 feet of you gain a bonus to melee weapon damage rolls equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of +1). A creature can benefit from this feature from only one paladin at a time.

Prior to the introduction of Hexblade, this feature was an okay damage boost, netting two to three extra damage per hit. Now that paladins can stack everything on charisma, this boost becomes a lot more significant. A quarterstaff-wielding paladin with polearm master and the duelist fighting style is adding a flat 12 damage to each swing* they make while benefiting from a shield’s defensive boost.

Unfortunately, this feature does have the downside that it lacks the “friendly” denotation for who the aura works on. This means that Oathbreakers boost the damage of any enemy fiends and undead they meet, not just their friends. Depending on the campaign, this could either be a nonissue or a fairly significant one, so be aware when selecting this subclass.

Level 15 – Supernatural Resistance

You gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons.

This amazing feature is easily the best one paladins get at 15th level. Even high-level monsters rarely do magic damage, so for most fights this is a massive increase in survivability.

Level 20 – Dread Lord

As an action, you surround yourself with an aura of gloom that lasts for 1 minute. The aura reduces any bright light in a 30-foot radius around you to dim light. Whenever an enemy that is frightened by you starts its turn in the aura, it takes 4d10 psychic damage. Additionally, you and creatures you choose in the aura are draped in deeper shadow. Creatures that rely on sight have disadvantage on attack rolls against creatures draped in this shadow.

While the aura lasts, you can use a bonus action on your turn to cause the shadows in the aura to attack one creature. You make a melee spell attack against the target. If the attack hits, the target takes necrotic damage equal to 3d10 + your Charisma modifier.

After activating the aura, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.

A solid fear effect with a bonus action damage option, this is a fine boost. Unfortunately, the amount that Oathbreaker benefits from Hexblade levels even compared to other paladins means that almost no Oathbreakers will ever see this ability, even at level 20.

A subclass that deals great damage and requires less Hexblade investment than most to fully benefit, Oathbreaker is highly underrated. I love this subclass and highly recommend it. Second place.

1. Ancients

A lizard person with a glowing sword.
Nadaar, Selfless Paladin by Aaron Miller

Sadly, my love only takes you so far in the harsh world of D&D 5E rankings. As much as I love Oathbreaker, I knew Ancients would take the paladin crown. While I consider this subclass a bit boring, its protective power is unmatched, allowing the entire party to take the heaviest hits and keep on swinging.

Level 3 – Oath Spells

Paladin Level Spells
3rd ensnaring strikespeak with animals
5th moonbeammisty step
9th plant growthprotection from energy
13th ice stormstoneskin
17th commune with naturetree stride

Aside from the movement granted by Misty Step, this is a very bad spell list. Blast spells like Moonbeam are bad on half casters due to the late level they are received at, buffs like Stoneskin are not worth their cost, and flavor spells like Speak With Animals are just bad.

Level 3 – Channel Divinity

When you use your Channel Divinity, you choose which option to use. You must then finish a short or long rest to use your Channel Divinity again.

Some Channel Divinity effects require saving throws. When you use such an effect from this class, the DC equals your paladin spell save DC.

Nature’s Wrath. As an action, you can cause spectral vines to spring up and reach for a creature within 10 feet of you that you can see. The creature must succeed on a Strength or Dexterity saving throw (its choice) or be restrained. While restrained by the vines, the creature repeats the saving throw at the end of each of its turns. On a success, it frees itself and the vines vanish.

Turn the Faithless. As an action, you present your holy symbol, and each fey or fiend within 30 feet of you that can hear you must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is turned for 1 minute or until it takes damage.A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can, and it can’t willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you. It also can’t take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.

If the creature’s true form is concealed by an illusion, shapeshifting, or other effect, that form is revealed while it is turned.

Ancient’s Channel Divinity isn’t much better. Nature’s Wrath costs an action, targets the stronger of two saves, and has a weak effect if they fail. Turn the Faithless is better if it works, but is contingent on facing the correct creature type. Thankfully, the generic channel option from Tasha’s lets Ancients paladins recover spell slots.

Level 7 – Aura of Warding

You and friendly creatures within 10 feet of you have resistance to damage from spells.

At 18th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 feet.

The feature that single-handedly drove Ancients to the top of this list. Spells represent some of the strongest effects in 5E. This is true for monsters as well as players. Granting resistance to spell damage for both yourself and your party stacks with the already improved saves granted by base paladin features to ensure your party can survive long enough to murder everything in their path. This feature does of course lose effectiveness if the party never faces spell casters, but that means you’ll probably win fights much more easily as spells are some of the only ways to threaten a well-built party.

Level 15 – Undying Sentinel

When you are reduced to 0 hit points and are not killed outright, you can choose to drop to 1 hit point instead. Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Additionally, you suffer none of the drawbacks of old age, and you can’t be aged magically.

A simple whack-a-mole feature with an anti-aging flavor rider. This isn’t amazing, but we already have the best paladin feature, so there isn’t too much to complain about.

Level 20 – Elder Champion

Using your action, you undergo a transformation. For 1 minute, you gain the following benefits:

  • At the start of each of your turns, you regain 10 hit points.
  • Whenever you cast a paladin spell that has a casting time of 1 action, you can cast it using your bonus action instead.
  • Enemy creatures within 10 feet of you have disadvantage on saving throws against your paladin spells and Channel Divinity options.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

This is probably the worst paladin capstone, so it’s a good thing no one is going to see it. The healing from Elder Champion is arguably worse than what Redemption paladins get at 15th level, and paladins rarely cast spells that cost an entire action, so this feature will grant at most one extra attack action. If that weren’t enough, paladins don’t use many spells that require saves, so giving enemies disadvantage on those saves is of little benefit.

While not terribly exciting, there is no denying the power of Ancients paladins. I personally prefer Oathbreaker because I like murdering things harder, but keeping your whole party alive is a lot better than a bit more damage.


This was the hardest entry to write so far. The base paladin is such a solid chassis that no matter the subclass, you can make a powerful character. This paired with the relatively light impact of most paladin subclasses means that, especially on the weaker end, it was hard to decide which order to put all the subclasses in. Next week we take a look at the ranger, which should be a bit easier to tackle.

I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.

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