For this week’s Unearthed Arcana, I’d like to start us out with a quote.
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
–the Code of the Sith
It’s gonna come up this week, because this week we get two new paladin oaths, and these are some very bad paladins indeed: Conquest and Treachery. (Here by “bad” I am talking about them as people, not their mechanical design.) These both need some kind of preface on how to play them without just being a super-douche to the rest of the party for the whole campaign.
Oath of Conquest
You know, Arthurian fiction really needs black knights (it’s not a race thing) to challenge the Knights of the Round Table as they wander the countryside. This, though, presents them as the protagonists – possibly antihero protagonists, but all the same. I kinda want to play a revenant Oath of Conquest paladin, just to sew up the World of Warcraft death knight backstory. My own campaign setting recognizes some paladins as “Shadowguards,” usually sworn to the Dukes of Hell and enforcing their own merciless sense of justice. Up to this point, that has been one available interpretation of the Oath of Vengeance; the Oath of Conquest fits that bill very well also. Let’s see what it offers.
- The tenets sound a lot like the doctrine of Imperial Rome, particularly Augustus at his darker moments. But then, no one came out of that era with their hands clean.
- The Oath of Conquest spell list is incredibly good, even if all you bother to cast is armor of Agathys and spiritual weapon. Of course, casting those spells takes away from your lovely smiting damage, but that’s life.
- Like other Oaths, Conquest gets two new Channel Divinity options. Unlike other Oaths, these don’t take a separate action or bonus action.
- Conquering Strike forces a will save or the target is frightened for 1 minute. Much like a smite, you declare this expenditure after you know you’ve landed a hit. It requires a melee weapon attack, just to make sure you weren’t trying to play a Conquest paladin as an archer.
- Guided Strike is a copy-paste of the War cleric’s Channel Divinity option. I mention it most times when a sizable attack bonus comes up, but: this is about making sure you hit when Great Weapon Master gives you a -5 attack penalty.
- Aura of Conquest is a nice step down from the aura of fear that they would probably love to give these guys, except that that would be so overpowered that it’s really not okay. Instead, you radiate disadvantage on saving throws against the frightened condition.
- I like how this gets handled, since the Conquest paladin has multiple ways to cause frightened, and this might help your allies affect more enemies too. Conquest paladins get even fewer Good Team Player features than you might expect, so this is nice to see.
- Implacable Spirit does that thing I hate. It’s an always-on, player-accessible immunity to a common condition. Thumbs down.
- I also object to its thematic result. A lot of places where Conquest-type knights show up, they’re tightly bound to a chain of command, and the dominating power of their superior officers might be best handled with a charm-like effect.
- Invincible Conqueror turns the Conquest paladin into a straightforward murder machine for a minute: resistance to all damage, +1 Extra Attack, and melee attacks crit on 19 or 20. Pure combat brutality – I certainly can’t say it isn’t on message.
Thematically, this is a strong callback to 4e’s Vice of Domination blackguard, found in Heroes of Shadow, and to many of the anti-paladin class writeups over the years. Other than Implacable Spirit, I think these mechanics do a great job of communicating theme and creating an interesting gameplay dynamic. I am a little concerned about creatures with immunity to the frightened condition turning off a lot of the character’s powers, but they have a good breadth of options outside of frightened. I like what I see here and I would let a player try this out for a Shadowguard character concept.
Oh, right! I just remembered the Knights of Takhisis in Dragonlance. Assuming you’re comfortable using Devotion paladins for Knights of Solamnia, Conquest paladins are just about ideal for their counterparts. (Sure, there’s no help for the Knights of the Skull or Knights of the Thorn, but… you’re going to have to pick up some of your own multiclassing, homebrewing, or just respending class levels here.)
Oath of Treachery
Much like the Oathbreaker found in the DMG, this is for paladins who have forsaken all oaths and pursue only their own self-interest. They are to the Abyss as Conquest paladins are to Hell: “Many of these paladins pay homage to demon lords, especially Grazz’t, Orcus, and Ayn Rand.” The text mentions that a few of them serve Hell, even so. (This is not the ideal way to prove the Satanic-panic folks wrong. Ahem.) The flavor text spells out – in case Treachery didn’t give it away! – that these are the worst possible teammates.
- No oath, no tenets.
- Their spell list has VILLAIN written on it in huge neon letters. It is full of manipulation and getaway powers – tactical and strategic survivability, rather than mitigation or damage boosts.
- Their two Channel Divinity options are Conjure Duplicate and Poison Strike, and their chief limitation is that paladins never get more than one Channel Divinity per short rest. Otherwise, they would work incredibly (er, abusively) well together.
- Conjure Duplicate does what it says on the tin, much like the Trickery cleric’s Invoke Duplicity. For the next minute, you have an identical flanking buddy (you gain advantage when it’s adjacent to the same enemy), and it can be the source point of your spells.
- Poison Strike is into Crazy Overpowered territory, as your CD grants a damage boost of 2d10 + your paladin level to your next attack, or 20 + your paladin level if you have advantage on the attack.
- The super weird thing about this is that critting without advantage (2 * 2d10) averages 2 points better than critting with advantage (since 20 + paladin level is a flat add and doesn’t change on a crit). If that’s an intended consequence, I don’t get why.
- Aura of Treachery doesn’t behave like any other paladin aura feature that we’ve seen (noting that Vengeance doesn’t get an aura). This aura has two features:
- Cull the Herd, which punishes your enemies for clumping together by granting you advantage when they’re adjacent to one another.
- Treacherous Strike, despite being part of an aura, is a 3-per-short-rest power. It lets you redirect an attack that misses to potentially attack another nearby creature. (Obviously, there was no way this could be always-on and balanced.)
- Blackguard’s Escape is another getaway power, because the Treachery paladin is like a bad penny. Or because, well, Treachery paladins don’t get a lot of allies, so they have to be ready to beat feet when their attempt to ace someone goes south. In combination with Conjure Duplicate, the Treachery paladin can more or less spoof mislead.
- Unscientific poll time: If you’ve played a spellcaster that habitually used mislead, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. It’s one of those spells that has been in the game since forever, but I’ve never seen it used or heard about people using it.
- Icon of Deceit grants greater invisibility (without costing Concentration), gives you a chance to temporarily control anyone that does hit you (my personal favorite: dispel your see invisibility spell), and grants your paladin level as a damage bonus when you strike with advantage. Obviously, the first part means that the third part is nearly always working.
It feels to me like the Conquest and Treachery paladins are the clarification of the sort of muddled concept of what an anti-paladin is, going back across many editions. (For a review of those iterations, this article and the directory at the top of it should help.) Are they like paladins, but with armor taken from a heavy metal album cover and stronger, tougher, meaner? Or do they exemplify the furthest point from a paladin’s honesty, behaving more like assassins? Now there’s the Oath of Conquest for the former and the Oath of Treachery for the latter.
Let’s be real for a moment, though. The Oath of Treachery is crazy overpowered. Poison Strike is completely bonkers, even once-per-short-rest. Stacking it with a divine smite and a smite spell of some description… aie. At the same time, I honestly don’t care that it’s way too powerful. Paladins are all about the idea that the virtuous road is hard, while evil is a quick and easy path to power. If Treachery is balanced with other paths, where’s the temptation? Sure, you might be tempted just to violate the tenets of your oath, but making the dark side tempting for its power is completely in keeping with the source fiction. I would use this as written… but I would use them as NPCs only. Everything written about the Treachery paladin shows that they’re grossly unsuited to group play, and they only belong in games where everyone is okay with squabbling and possibly even open PvP violence. I know people that are going to be on this like white on rice (hi Neal!), but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Solid article, and I’m looking forward to the next one. Mearls has tweeted about mystics a few times lately, so it’s good to know that that has been back-burnered rather than ditched. Until we see otherwise, though, I assume the next UA article will be something ranger-related, Crawford’s tweet that they’re not married to alphabetical order notwithstanding.