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.

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  • Trampas Whiteman

    This Dragonlance fan is very pleased to see the mention of the Knights of Takhisis (now known as the Knights of Neraka). When I saw the Oath of Conquest, my mind immediately went to my favorite villainous knights.

    I am biased, of course. 😉

    So for the Dark Knights (as they are also called!), there are three orders.
    1. Lily Knights (warriors) – the body of the Dark Knights
    2. Thorn Knights (mages) – the mind of the Dark Knights
    3. Skull Knights (clerics) – the soul of the Dark Knights

    Typically, Skull Knights are clerics, as there were no evil paladins back in the day. However, nothing says that an evil paladin with the Oath of Conquest couldn’t be a Skull Knight. In fact, they would fit in perfectly.

    Perhaps it’s time for the mighty Dragonhelm to write up the Knights of Neraka for 5th edition.

    As the Dark Knights would say, submit or die!

    • Dragonlance does a great job providing a black hat opposite for each order of their shining Knights of Solamnia. Thanks for sharing!

      p.s. I’d love to see the next chapter of Dragonlance. After WotC worked with Hickman on Curse of Strahd… I’m hopeful we get the next chapter in some form from Weis and Hickman during 5e’s run.

    • Luis Arturo Fabre Ortiz

      if i remember the poll correctly the most waited was black sun and the dragonlance

    • Ish

      I seem to remember Dark Sun and Eberron leading that poll. Although I prefer Dragonlance to either of those (or Forgotten Realms for that matter!)

      But, as one of the twelve people out there who remembers Birthright, I’d rather see it return.

    • Marsupialmancer is doing great work on a Birthright fan conversion, if you’re not already following it: http://marsupialmancer.blogspot.com/2016/11/another-birthright-conversion-update.html

    • Appreciate the mention! 🙂 Feedback is always welcome.

    • Trampas Whiteman

      While I try to remain optimistic that WotC will someday revisit Dragonlance, I am also a realist enough to know that it may be some time. We have seen them dust off Dark Sun and Gamma World after years of being unused, so I think it’s just a matter of time.

      I would like to see Dragonlance for 5e, but I think a different approach is in order. Since 2e, we fans have been conditioned to think that every role needs a prestige class, kit, etc. I like archetypes, but I sometimes think we try to re-invent some wheels that don’t need to be re-invented.

      Dragonlance was a great world for prestige classes in 3e. The article on the Knight of the Crown prestige class on this site was a great example of how to do that in 5e.

      That being said, these days I am leaning more towards base classes and subclasses + background + faction.

      We already see where multiple classes and subclasses can fit certain roles. Sure, I could make an Oath of the Sword subclass for paladin to fit Knights of the Sword, but what if I want to play a Sword Knight during a time without divine magic, such as right after the Cataclysm? Fighter would be a more appropriate choice.

      Boy, I need to write this up for the Dragonlance Nexus.

    • Obviously, everything in DL was built without 5e design constraints. In a lot of ways it would be better to build classes from the ground up for the KoS and KoN, if you really want 1:1 fidelity. If you’re okay with deep character rebuilds as you advance through the ranks, probably the sane thing to do is:

      Lily Knights – fighters, Champion or Battle Master (or Knight, now that that’s a thing), Acolyte background encouraged. (But I just saw your comment on Knights in the other article, so I guess I know where you stand on that point! ;))
      Thorn Knights – either EK fighters, warlocks, or wizards
      Skull Knights – Conquest paladins or clerics with some appropriate domain

      I am, however, a filthy casual when it comes to DL fandom, so… your thoughts?

  • MTi

    I really liked this one. They went full on dark (hey, happy Xmas everyone) and it turned out just fine. Both of them seem a bit OP though.

    Only concern is about the Implacable Spirit of the Conquest Paladin, as it is a bit lame if you’re an Elf.

    • Immunity to charm doesn’t belong in the game in the first place, because it grants immunity to a huge range of spells and monster effects. Graah. (I mean, I go on about this in damn near every article I write, so it’s not like I’m going to drop it now.)

      I think Conquest is probably more or less okay, though like anything it will inform the kinds of encounters the DM needs to run to challenge the party.

      I’m already sold on Treachery being OP, but I’ve decided to interpret that as a useful thing. 😉 After all, Treachery is one of the two “oaths” that all paladins could switch to at any time. For once, I’m caught up in story potential and not worried about mechanical balance as much. I would love to have a Vengeance paladin as an antagonist, who gets more and more enraged in a big showdown with the PCs… and finally when you’d expect Avenging Angel, oops, sorry, Icon of Deceit! It’s not so much bait and switch as an interesting signifier of a fall from grace.

  • Ish

    I disagree with you, in part, on Implacable Spirit. I think you’re spot on with always-on immunities being a problem and would prefer this sort of thing to simply be a resistance. But I disagree with you on the thematic nature of the power. In my mind, the sort of fictional characters that are best represented of this archetype — the unyielding conqueror who is still a man of honor — tend to be even more chilling when they serve the Big Bad Evil Guy / Cosmic Horror that they work for not out of compulsion, but of their own free will.

    You’re right to call out the Knights of Takhisis from ‘Dragonlance,’ but I think it goes even farther. I’m thinking of Mordred from the Arthurian mythos, Ashram from ‘Record of Lodoss War,’ Guy d’Lusion from ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’ Darth Vader or Count Dooku from ‘Star Wars,’ or even the Operative from ‘Serenity.’

    Men who have become monsters voluntarily in order to bring about a “better” world.

    • Marandahir

      Thank you for remembering Ashram!

      Beld, too, could be an anti-Paladin, though he might also be a Barbarian. Lodoss is tricky because the lines between Fighter, Barbarian, Paladin, and Ranger are very thin. Less so than having Paladins, they have Fighters that are sort of like a divine version of Eldritch Knights – having picked up the ability to cast a bit of what they call the “sacred sorcery” like that of the Clerics. D&D Paladins are a little bit more high magic than Lodoss “Paladins” would be. But it’s pretty close. Parn would never have been a Paladin, even though he learned the fighting stance and battle-prayers of the Holy Knights of Falis/Pharis. But neither Ashram nor Parn ever cast spells, sacred or otherwise. They DO use the Demon Sword Soulcrusher and the Holy Sword of Valis, through which they really reflect design elements of the Paladin character but still act like plain Fighters who gain power through their equipment and good usage of it.

    • Ish

      Part of the “drift” between what we see in Lodoss and what we see in the D&D game is due to age and also just the nature of adaptation.

      The origins of the Lodoss story actually WAS a Dungeons & Dragons campaign! The group published transcripts of their game sessions in a video gaming magazine and it proved popular enough that their original Dungeon Master, Ryo Mizuno, turned them into a series of novels. The novels inspired the anime OAV and a franchise was born. Of course, when your gaming group consists of artists, video game designers, and sci-fi / fantasy novelists I guess you get some pretty good roleplaying! (Deedlit, for example, was the PC of science fiction novelist Hiroshi.)

      Thing is that they were playing the Japanese translation of either the Mentzer or Moldvay edition of Basic D&D. Hence a lot of things that strike modern gamers as odd… Parn isn’t a “Paladin” nor a “Fighter” as we know them now, he’s a “Fighting Man.” Deedlet isn’t a Druid nor a Sorcerer; she’s just an “Elf” and Ghim is just a “Dwarf,” because race and class were pretty much one and the same for demihumans back then.

      Over time as the story was adapted from game session transcript to novel to anime… Well, inevitably changes for the sake of a tidy narrative or whatever set in. The directors of the anime don’t need to worry about Parn’s THAC0 and Ashram’s AC, they just need a cool looking fight scene. So they draw one.

      I’d have to revisit the History of the Paladin articles, but if I remember correctly, magic was a much smaller part of the Paladin repertoire back then… So Ashram might have been a Paladin mechanically or he might have just been a Fighting Man or Cavalier. (Honestly I’m not 100% certain that Paladins even existed in Basic.)

      Regardless of the exact game mechanics, Ashram is my platonic ideal of how Lawful Evil should be depicted in D&D.

    • First off, I appreciate the history lesson on Lodoss!

      Secondly, here’s a link to the first Paladin article: http://www.tribality.com/2015/03/26/the-paladin-class-part-one/

      The teal deer version is that paladins show up in Supplement I: Greyhawk, and there’s none of this spellcasting business except for Detect Evil and Dispel Evil.

    • Ish

      Okay, so Paladins were around… At least in the English edition(s) of the game. I have zero clue what was or was not present in the Japanese translation… Plus, early roleplaying was very much a “little of this, little of that, lot of houserules to make it all work” melange of different games. I’ve read that the original Lodoss group also mixed in RuneQuest, Tunnels and Trolls, and Sword World RPG, into the mix with Dungeons & Dragons… Probably best not to get too hung up on the exact game mechanics they used back then.

      Lodoss is a great inspiration for roleplaying today. It’s a great story (a fairly basic series of fetch-quests, true, but paced so well and in the service of a epic war), beautiful artwork, and full of compelling character archetypes.

      If I’m ever in a position to teach a class on how to DM, the original Lodoss OVA would be “required reading.”

    • I’ve always wanted to explore what the Lodoss setting would look like after the events of the series. Would Parn become king of Alannia like Kashue suggested he could? Would Marmo remain the Land of Monsters, and would its alluded-to human population seek refuge elsewhere?

      Thank you for reminding me about it. I need to rewatch the OVAs and the TV Series now (if only the latter’s animation wasn’t so spastic between episodes!).

    • Ish

      Unfortunately, the closet we come to a sequel series is 1995’s ‘Legend of Crystania,’ which isn’t set on the island of Lodoss, doesn’t focus on any of the main characters (it’s nominally about Ashram and Pirotess, but it really isn’t), and is just generally poorly done. 1997’s ‘Rune Soldier’ is set in the same world, but takes place on Alecrast – the continent north of Lodoss – and doesn’t have much to do with its siblings.

      The Japanese Sword World RPG became the main roleplaying game for Lodoss-related work after Lodoss’ designers tried and failed to sell the setting to TSR. I’d have loved to have seen what TSR could have done with Lodoss, as for me, the Nineties are the high water mark of RPG world building.

      I like to think that Parn and his companions ride off on many further adventures and that Parn eventually would wear the crown of Alannia “upon a troubled brow.”

    • Marandahir

      To my understanding, Sword World RPG was a later creation to build
      mechanics based on their Lodoss, Alecrast, and Crystania games. In fact,
      the previous edition of Sword World took place predominantly in
      Alecrast. The new Sword World RPG uses a different setting, though it
      carries over some races like Grassrunners and carries over the magic
      mechanics from Record of Lodoss War, Rune Soldier Louie, and Legend of
      Crystania.

      The first games they recorded for home-replay were definitely OD&D games, and there was no romance between Parn and Deedlit, Orson and Shiris, Spark and Leaf, nor Spark and Little Neese in these. You did get a Ashram and Pirotess bad-guy romance, but only because they were NPCs. The DM later wrote mini-novelizations and the scripts for the various manga, and its in those that these romances arose to the surface. But by the time we had Record of Lodoss War the anime, it was 1990, and 2nd Edition was in full swing. The second anime was in 1998, well past the release of Player’s Option. The manga for each came years earlier, but even still: Quite a few things have changed, and a gulf between interpretations have happened. That’s why now we finally have a Dwarf Cleric in Father Greivus in Chronicles of Heroic Knights, rather than just a Dwarf-classed character in the earlier hero Ghim.

      There’s a fan-community that shared your idea that Alania would receive Parn as its king. There is some canon suggestion to this – King Kashue asks Parn to take up that role. But I personally don’t think that would fit Parn’s character, especially if you’ve read “Demon of Flame” and “Tale of Deedlit” which delve much deeper into Parn and Deedlit’s motivations in the inter-anime period. If he takes up the throne for Alania, what will happen to the people suffering in Kanon or Valis? In Raiden or Moss? By being a Free Knight, Parn is able to fight for the peace and prosperity of all peoples, rather than just one kingdom. The greatest issue Lodoss faces, even after the final defeat of Karla and the the cleansing of the island from the Destroyer’s curse, is the fact that it’s made up of tiny kingdoms squabbling over borders and rulership. Fahn tried to unify it as a confederacy, Beld tried to conquer it as an empire. But both failed due to the mechinations of Karla, who believed that power must not consolidate ever again. Even still, these wars drag on. Parn serves as this third-way answer: have just and good leaders in each country, but also have heroic agents who can keep the peace and are not beholden to the countries’ jurisdictions (Batmen, if you were).

      I’m not sure who would rule Alania though. Spark’s the Duke of Marmo post Chronicles, though I’ve never read the untranslated manga that tells of his further adventures there (supposedly Woodchuck reappears; I would have thought Karla moved onto a new body when Wood was killed). Would love to have a go at them even if I could just find the raws. I KNOW the English Voice Over cast would be game to come back and dub an anime if they ever adapted this sequel, unlike the original Japanese cast which changed entirely between the two anime.

    • Ish

      I will admit that I’m not familiar with much of the Lodoss “expanded universe,” for want of a better term. The OVA is a longtime favorite of mine from way back in the VHS days, I’ve read one or two of the manga that were translated to English, and I sat through ‘Crysania,’ ‘Chronicles,’ and ‘Rune Soldier’ despite my continued disappointment with each.

      But, nevertheless, I think the original is one of the best pieces of fantasy roleplaying in another medium that’s ever been made.

    • Ish

      Somewhat off-topic, but I think that the Basic D&D “Demihumans as Classes” could be an interesting side-trek for the History of Class series… They stand as both sort of an evolutionary dead-end for game design /and/ as a sort of prototype for how later editions’ multiclassing would work.

      (Heck, it might be fun to do a whole History of Race series… Exploring how Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits grew and expanded into the menagerie we have now.)

    • I am definitely interested in doing a history of multiclassing at some point, and that will absolutely start with the OD&D Elf. The only tricky thing is that, eventually, I also need to cover the various iterations of “arcane magic + fighter,” preferably without calling it the History of the Gish. 😉

      The History of Domain Rulership really is wrapping up soon, though! The current article is just monstrously long, for reasons, and I’m kinda working on it between UA breakdowns. I THINK the series will be the current article and one more.

    • Marandahir

      What’s wrong with Gish?

    • It’s a term of pure jargon, unintelligible to probably a majority of readers. (Setting aside for a moment the hatemail I’d get from the OSR.)

      You have to know the lore of the githyanki in order to get the term’s meaning, and while I employ slang and jargon fairly freely, I suspect that Gish is more obscure than most of my terminology. I like to think I stay fairly accessible to the novice D&D gamer. (This may be a mark of my own self-deception, but that’s life.)

    • Marandahir

      That would be fun!

    • Marandahir

      I agree with everything here. Glad to see another deep fan of Lodoss. Ashram even becomes admirable at the end of Chronicles as he sets off to find a new home for the people of Marmo.

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