One D&DUnearthed Arcana

UA 2023 – Player’s Handbook Playtest 6 Breakdown, Part Five

Illness and wanting to get that Glory of the Giants review posted have delayed my progress through this UA packet, but I’m back today, baby. Paladins, it’s your turn.

PH Playtest 6: BardClericDruidMonk, Paladin


The previous version of the paladin was just two packets ago, and in a way it’s amazing that much has changed. I was generally positive on that earlier version.

  • No changes to the Hit Die, weapon, armor, skill, or saving throw baselines.
  • Lay on Hands is unchanged in amount, but now it’s a Bonus Action rather than an Action. I’m… honestly not convinced that’s a good idea, to let the paladin hang onto what will be most of a full heal that they can use without even giving up their Action for the turn, just their smiting.
  • Spellcasting is very close to being normal, except now you can only replace one prepared spell per long rest. No thank you. Paladins, like clerics, have prepared their whole list anew each day since time immemorial, and I see no compelling reason at all to change that here.
    • Paladins also no longer have cantrips. I don’t care strongly about that one way or the other. I like the option in TCOE to trade your Fighting Style for an attack cantrip, but sacred flame is mostly not a good use of your time as a Paladin.
  • Weapon Mastery lets you pick two weapons at a time, changed on a Long Rest. For those weapons, you can use their Mastery properties. This is fine, and probably relatively few Paladins ever need a third weapon at a time.
  • Paladin’s Smite at 2nd level renames the Divine Smite feature, which is itself now a spell. You always have this collection of the Smite spells prepared, and once per Long Rest you can cast one of them without a spell slot, as long as you’re high enough level to use that spell in the first place. Six free prepared spells takes a lot of the sting out of your limited spell prep and reassigning spells.
  • Fighting Style at 2nd level lets you choose from Defense, Dueling, Great Weapon, or Protection. This is more restrictive than the Fighting Style options of the previous packet, and the Protection Fighting Style is back to its bad version of 5e.14.
    • I dearly want them to figure out that restricting Paladins and Rangers to a subset of the Fighting Styles has absolutely no benefit to the game, and “permission” to pick up the one you actually wanted with a later feat is punishing the player. (Because the Fighting Style feats don’t offer +1 to an ability score the way other 4th-level feats do.)
  • Channel Divinity at 3rd level is mostly unchanged except that if you have two classes with Channel Divinity, the uses are siloed off from the other class’s feature – that is, you can’t Turn Undead with your Paladin Channel Divinity uses. You also now only go up to 3 uses per Long Rest at 11th level, rather than scaling up to 4 uses at 9th It’s interesting what they haven’t bothered noting in the changelog sidebar this time.
  • Paladin subclasses are back on levels 3, 7, 15, and 20.
  • Feats at 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19.
  • Extra Attack at 5th level, of course.
  • Faithful Steed at 5th level makes Find Steed (dude, where’s my steed?) always prepared for you, and gives you one free use of it per day. Pretty much fine.
  • Aura of Protection dropped back to 6th level, and doesn’t work while you’re Incapacitated. (The idea of a petrified paladin still granting protection to the village in statue form is delightful and should be supported.)
  • Abjure Foes at 9th level is a Channel Divinity feature that previously Dazed targets for 1 minute even on a successful save. That’s gone – now it just Dazes and Frightens creatures that fail their save. A target-discriminating AoE crowd control with a significant effect on a successful save was always too much. I still don’t really love this kind of control as a Paladin thing.
  • Aura of Courage, moved back to 10th level, adds immunity to the Frightened condition and suppression of the Frightened condition to your Aura of Protection. This didn’t need a big change from 5e.14.
  • Radiant Strikes at 11th level adds 1d8 Radiant damage to your melee weapon attacks and your Unarmed Strikes. There’s… still no reason I can see not to add this to thrown weapons or bowshots, but I’m happy that a monk/paladin can get something out of the deal I guess.
  • Restoring Touch at 14th level has moved from 15th level, but much more importantly it benefits from Lay on Hands going from Action to Bonus Action. Not giving up your turn to remove a serious condition from another character is a big deal.
  • Aura Expansion at 18th level makes your aura 30 feet rather than 10, as in 5e.14, and replaces the Channel Divinity currency fixer Divine Conduit.

Other than the change to Lay on Hands and its knock-on effect to Restoring Touch, this is almost entirely a reversion to the 5e.14 Paladin, brought on by moving the subclass features back to their 2014 levels. It’s sort of papered over here, because all of the Smites are now stored as spells, but Divine Smite becoming a Bonus Action spell is a massive nerf to the class as a whole. It isn’t common to stack Divine Smite with another smite spell, but it is common to want to use Divine Smite twice in a round, or more if some enterprising sorcerer has cast haste on you.

In fairness, this is probably a good change. The burst damage potential, especially against a Stunned or Paralyzed target, can get pretty excessive.

Oath of Devotion

The most traditional and core of all paladin concepts, and thus the baseline against which all paladin subclasses are judged.

  • Since the Smite spells are now prepped as part of the Paladin’s Smite feature, the Oath of Devotion spells are back to what they were in 5e.14. Not that I can readily imagine Guardian of Faith being a good use of a spell slot at any level of play, but especially not at 13th level and above.
  • Sacred Weapon is unchanged from the previous packet – as a reminder, that means it’s gone from an Action in 5e.14 to a Bonus Action, and you can have the weapon deal Radiant damage rather than its usual flavor. (Radiant is just about always equivalent or better.)
  • Aura of Devotion is unchanged from 5e.14.
  • Smite of Protection is 15th level rather than 6th. Now, when you use any Smite spell, you and allies in your Aura of Protection gain Half Cover until the start of your next turn, rather than one creature of your choice gaining Temporary Hit Points.
    • “Smite of Protection” is still a bad name. You don’t smite someone protectively. That’s not what smiting means.
    • Short-duration Half Cover is not particularly satisfying as an effect – it’s relatively unlikely to turn any hits to misses – and the generic “radiate protective energy” is narratively very weak. I’d like to see this one go all the way back to the drawing board.
  • Holy Nimbus at 20th level once again provides Advantage on saves against Fiends and Undead. That does have narrative weight – you expect paladins to be better than others at shrugging off the influence of cosmically-evil creatures.

Smite of Protection still needs work, but the rest of the subclass is the same as it was in 2014 but slightly better (Action changed to Bonus Action in important places). I support replacing always-on protection from evil and good with something that focuses on protecting other people around you, though.

Oath of Glory

I’ve got at least reasonably extensive experience with DMing for a Glory paladin in tiers 1 and 2 (using TCOE rules). I mainly remember how much the player used Peerless Athlete to reach enemies in elevated locations.

  • Oath of Glory Spells are unchanged from TCOE.
  • Inspiring Smite and Peerless Athlete are described as separate features, though both still use your Channel Divinity. Inspiring Smite lets you spend your CD when you use any Smite to give a total of (2d8 + paladin level) Temporary Hit Points to nearby creatures, divided as you choose. It’s a lot like the previous version of Smite of Protection, but with CD expenditure. It no longer has its own Bonus Action cost, but is folded into the Bonus Action cost of smiting.
    • Compared to TCOE, it now works for all Smite spells, not just Divine Smite. That’s definitely better.
  • Peerless Athlete now grants its Advantage on Athletics and Acrobatics, and its greatly increased jump distance, for 1 hour rather than 10 minutes. Fine, no problem.
  • Aura of Alacrity at 7th level is now tied to your Aura of Protection rather than being its own separate 5-ft-radius aura. It’s still kinda… bad, though? It exists so uncomfortably in the initiative flow of a round that if you and some allies are all trying to move faster toward the same destination, it only works if everyone starts clustered and the Glory paladin is last to act. This could use redesign for the realities of turn order.
  • Glorious Defense at 15th level is, in a lot of ways, the flashy defensive feature that Smite of Protection wants to be. It is unchanged from TCOE, but it lets you potentially turn a hit against an ally into a miss, then make an attack roll against the triggering attacker if they’re within your reach. This sounds incredibly fun, and it nudges you in the direction of wielding polearms, so that’s pretty awesome.
  • Living Legend at 20th level is your special henshin transformation. Unchanged from TCOE, it grants advantage on Charisma checks, a Reaction to reroll failed saving throws, and 1/turn you can change any attack you miss into a hit instead. This lasts for 1 minute, and you can use it 1/Long Rest, or spend a 5th-level slot to refresh your use.
    • The narrative theme of this one works for me – instead of angelic power, you’re just the best a mortal can be for a minute, converting failures into successes in your personal interactions, resistance to harm, and combat prowess.

I think Aura of Alacrity doesn’t deliver on its promise as well as one would like, but other than that, the Oath of Glory is good fun. Giving players lots of reasons to change elevation or cross chasms with extraordinary leaps is already a DMing best-practice that doesn’t get enough attention. (But if you’re playing a lot of BG3, and the odds are very good that you are, you’re getting a great lesson in it right now.)

Oath of the Ancients

The story of this Oath is probably my favorite out of the three amazing Oaths in the PH. The paladin in my Dragon Heist campaign belongs to this Oath, using the 5e.14 mechanics. He’s never used Nature’s Wrath, but gets good mileage out of Aura of Warding and some of his spells.

  • Oath of the Ancients Spells are unchanged. Heavy primal/elemental themes there.
  • Nature’s Wrath now targets multiple creatures – each creature of your choice, in fact – within 15 feet, rather than one creature within 10 feet. It now has an upper limit to its duration, rather than just its practical limit of “eventually they’ll pass the save, probably.” This is a huge power increase to a Channel Divinity that previously wasn’t worth the action it cost you to use.
  • Aura of Warding at 7th level no longer talks about “damage from spells,” since NPCs mostly don’t use spells anymore (yeah, I still hate that), but now halves Necrotic, Psychic, and Radiant damage for creatures benefiting from your aura, because those damage types are “from beyond the Material Plane.” Eh, sure. AoE Necrotic and Psychic resistance are a huge deal.
  • Undying Sentinel at 15th level still stops you from falling to 0 hit points once per Long Rest, but now it also heals you 3 HP per Paladin level, so that you don’t just get hit again on the next attack of the enemy’s Multiattack and thus gain no real benefit from this feature. Good improvement, no notes.
  • Elder Champion at 20th level is your cool henshin transformation, of course. The 5e.14 rules want these to be an Action, which was always too costly for endgame play. This fixes that to a Bonus Action, and that’s fine and good. It now quickens all of your spells, not just your paladin spells, though since you’re obviously not multiclassing and getting this feature, it’s more about making your magic items and spells from feats or species work better. You also still regenerate 10 hit points on your turn and impose Disadvantage on saves against all of your spells and your Channel Divinity. You can also refresh this feature with a 5th-level spell slot now.
    • Ultimately, the action-economy fix is the biggest deal here. Everything else is a corner case that depends on parts of your build outside of Paladin class levels, and so is fairly unpredictable.

Oath of the Ancients got some very needed mechanical fixes in Nature’s Wrath, Undying Sentinel, and Elder Champion. Big fan of that, and given their other design decisions, the change to Aura of Warding is necessary.

Oath of Vengeance

I unironically love the Oath of the Edgelord paladins too (no, not you, Oath of Conquest). Its early game isn’t quite strong enough in 5e.14, though, because of the scarcity of Channel Divinity uses.

  • Oath of Vengeance Spells has traded hunter’s mark (easy to use, obvious applications, but heinously nerfed in this packet) for Compelled Duel (so limited as to be nearly useless).
  • Vow of Enmity still lets you Channel Divinity to gain Advantage on attacks against one enemy for a minute, but now you can also transfer your Vow to another enemy if you drop your current target. This is a large and much-needed improvement.
  • They previously also got Abjure Enemy at 3rd level, which Frightened a single target if they failed their save. Of course, the paladin didn’t have enough CD uses to get anywhere with that, and the effect wasn’t necessarily enough to matter. Now all paladins get Abjure Foes, which is the same thing but AoE. AoE makes it a lot more worth your time, but the justice/vengeance theme doesn’t land if you’re not choosing your targets carefully.
  • Relentless Avenger at 7th level previously let you pursue a character who provoked Opportunity Attacks, and your movement didn’t provoke OAs. Now it also reduces the enemy’s speed to 0, so… the whole point of letting you move isn’t there. You’re not being Relentless, you’re just walking around them or going off and doing something else.
    • On the plus side, at least now you have a way to ground flyers.
    • My point is just, give them either pursuit or a speed debuff. Both is weird.
  • Soul of Vengeance at 15th level is an absolutely amazing feature, and only lightly reworded from 5e.14. It still lets you attack your Vow target as a reaction, triggered whenever they attack anyone. Just make sure you figure out which enemies depend on forcing saving throws for their combat style, because this won’t help you at all against them.
  • Avenging Angel at 20th level is everything you want in a feature name. It’s your big transformation, and now uses a Bonus Action rather than an Action, but lasts only 10 minutes rather than an hour. That duration reduction wasn’t really important. Also you can now refresh your use of it with a 5th-level spell slot. It still gives you a flying speed (there are definitely easier ways than this to get a flying speed, even a much longer-duration flying speed!) and adds a Frighten effect for enemies that start their turns in your Aura of Protection. In addition to the usual effects to Frightened targets, you also gain Advantage on attacks against them.

The greater number of CD uses paladins get now and the ability to change Vow targets is the great majority of all that the Vengeance paladin needed. Relentless Avenger needs to get its narrative locked down a little more. Soul of Vengeance remains great, and Avenging Angel got the change it needed (but they should restore its duration).

Which brings us to the end of the Paladin section of this document. Devotion, Glory, and Vengeance still have some issues in about one feature each, while Ancients looks like it’s in the best shape it’s ever been. The change to smiting always taking a Bonus Action is a huge reduction in burst damage, where paladins have reigned supreme since 2014. Feats or magic items that rely on Bonus Actions are just kinda… not for you, thanks to the Bonus Action dependency of Lay on Hands, all smites, and several Channel Divinities.

Next time: ranger danger. Spoiler, uh, there is some total nonsense coming up.