D&D 5e: Oathbreaker Paladin Guide

D&D 5e: Oathbreaker Paladin Guide

Role in the Party

The Paladin is traditionally a knight in shining armor, dedicating themselves to some higher ideal, and embodying goodness and virtue. The Oathbreaker, as the name suggests, has abandoned all of these in pursuit of greater power. 

Mechanically, there’s nothing that says the Oathbreaker has to be evil, but their powers all have a darker lean. Building on the base tankiness and damage of the Paladin, the Oathbreaker piles on even more damage, while also having situation abilities built around fear, curses, and the undead. 

 

Epic

Good

Meh

Bad

Oathbreaker Features

Oath Spells: The Oathbreaker gains Oath spells at the levels listed below. These are always considered to be known, without taking up spell options. 

3rd Level

Hellish Rebuke: This spell does decent damage for its level, but the big draw is that it’s cast as a reaction to taking damage. Out-of-turn damage is a great use of a spell slot, especially if you know an enemy is wounded and likely to die from this.  

Inflict Wounds: Requiring a spell attack roll on your CHA and dealing less damage than an equivalent Smite + weapon attack means this is a bad deal, especially when the Paladin gets Extra Attack at 5. However, there are incidental benefits if the Oathbreaker has some undead around, as the spell can be used to keep their HP topped up. 

5th Level

Crown of Madness: This takes an action to cast, and an action every turn to be useful. Just hit them instead. 

Darkness: Unlike many other classes, the Oathbreaker has no way to see inside their Darkness spell. You’re just as blind as everyone else. In case it has to be explained, that’s not good. 

7th Level

Animate Dead: While the Oathbreaker isn’t a full caster, this is nice to have, especially if you lean into it or multiclass, considering the class naturally buffs their undead allies. 

Bestow Curse: An excellent list of debuffs, cast in melee, where you want to be. This is a solid and dependable way to cripple a key target. 

9th Level

Blight: Another single target damage spell. This one requires a save, meaning that it’s almost certainly less efficient than just hitting someone and Smiting with the same level 4 slot you would use to cast this.

Confusion: A decent sized AOE and a list of effects mean that Confusion can wreak absolute havoc among a group of enemies. But nothing is guaranteed, and you’re still casting spells instead of hitting things. 

11th Level

Contagion: If you can land Slimy Doom on a big single target, you win the fight. It’s that simple. But this is still a spell attack roll that requires ongoing saves. Unreliable, but when it hits, super effective. 

Dominate Person: This is a very powerful spell, especially if it’s upcast. But the Oathbreaker can’t upcast it and isn’t the person who should be burning spell slots on this. 

Channel Divinity: Also at level 3, the Oathbreaker gains access to two Channel Divinity options.

Control Undead: In certain campaigns, this ability is hilariously strong. Failing a single save allows the Oathbreaker to essentially Dominate one undead at up to their CR, forcing it to follow their commands for an entire 24-hour period. 

To give an idea of how effective this is, at the level, the Oathbreaker gets this ability enemies like the CR3 Wight can be controlled with a 65% effective chance of success. That gives the party a 45hp, multiattacking monster that’s about as effective as a frontline melee character, entirely for free. 

Alternatively, your campaign might feature no undead at all, in which case this is completely useless.  

Dreadful Aspect: A 30ft AOE burst that causes fear to every target of your choice, and allows no further saves until the target is more than 30ft away from you. Yes, please. Frightened is a powerful effect. This can control entire encounters and makes a great opener if you’re fighting multiple enemies. 

Aura of Hate: At 7, The Oathbreaker can add its CHA bonus as damage to melee attacks, as well as applying the same damage buff to undead and fiend allies. For most of an Oathbreaker’s adventuring career, this is just CHA to damage for themselves and maybe one zombie ally, which is a decent effect, but not overwhelming. 

However, there are edge cases that drastically change the power of this ability. If the Paladin multiclasses or there is a spellcaster in the party who focuses on summoning the types of monsters this benefits, it suddenly becomes much more powerful. 

Conversely, the ability states that all undead and fiends in the aura gain the damage bonus. That includes hostile undead and fiends. Suddenly, the horde of zombies who were barely scratching you is tearing chunks out of your armor. If your campaign includes lots of these enemy types, the Oathbreaker’s aura can be more of a problem than a benefit. 

Supernatural Resistance: From level 15, gain resistance to the three main physical damage types, from non-magical weapons. Always-on damage resistance is great, even if the Barbarian has had this since level 1. 

Dread Lord: The Paladin’s level 20 capstone, Dread Lord is a big aura that affects everyone within 30ft, giving enemies disadvantage against allies of your choice, and dealing a bunch of damage every turn, especially against creatures that are afraid of you, which synergizes nicely with the rest of the Oathbreaker’s kit. 

Like all Paladin capstones, this is a once-per-day ability, but the biggest benefit, Disadvantage to attacking you and your allies, it doesn’t even require a roll, and the rest is pure value.  


Strengths

Like all Paladins, the Oathbreaker is an effective frontline fighter. Resilient and tough, but capable of dealing heavy damage with any weapon, plus divine smite for huge single target burst. 

Adding to that, all Paladins offer a lot to their party. Stackable auras offer multiple buffs, Lay on Hands is extra healing when necessary, and the stats of a Paladin naturally turn them towards being great at social and physical skills.

The Oathbreaker itself seems to turn this on its head (which makes sense, considering the archetype.) This subclass seems far more comfortable ranging off solo or operating from the shadows, building up a small army of ghouls and other beasties, before turning them on their enemies in an unstoppable wave. 

And that’s something the class is great at. The subclass has an ability list that’s filled with self-buffs, strong single target disables, and ways to break up big groups of enemies into smaller, more manageable numbers. 

The Oathbreaker is going to feel strongest when it’s played as the lore around the class suggests it should be played. Terrorizing weaker enemies into submission as it hunts down and systematically destroys the strongest amongst them, then raises the dead body as a helpless thrall. All while cackling like a madman. Or woman. We’re equal opportunities evil around here.   

Weaknesses

Let’s get this out of the way first. The Oathbreaker subclass almost feels like it was a prototype for the Oath of Conquest, which is also a darker flavor of the Paladin and has a lot of overlap with abilities and spells. (Fear, curses, etc.)

But unlike a Paladin of Conquest, which feels tight and focused, the Oathbreaker spreads a lot of its abilities over multiple aspects. It wants to fight in melee, but also wants to emanate waves of fear, cast spells, and command a horde of undead. That limits the power of each of these things and can make the subclass feel ill-defined and unfocused.

The spell list of the Oathbreaker is also relatively underwhelming, filled with filler spells that are more suited to be used against the party, than by it. 

There’s a reason for this. The Oathbreaker was released in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and it was intended for use by the Dungeon Master as a villainous character. Nothing is preventing a player from rolling up an Oathbreaker and playing it well, as the subclass is still very strong. But that’s more on the base power level of the Paladin, rather than the subclass, and playing an Oathbreaker is probably going to be less effective than many of the other options that are out there right now.  

Best Race Options

Half-Orc: Stats are perfect for an aggressive melee character, darkvision, intimidation proficiency, and a bonus on critical damage are powerful. But the ability to keep standing once per day when the character should otherwise be dead is absolutely incredible, especially on a character that’s tanky and has self-healing.  

Gem Dragonborn: An elemental resistance, a psychic speech ribbon, and breath weapons are all good things to have, topped off with a once-per-day ability to sprout wings and soar through the air after your foes.

Zariel Tiefling: Born to be Paladins, Bloodline of Zariel have the perfect stats, fire resistance and darkvision, as well as once-per-day spells, two of which are even more smites.  

Choosing the Right Skills

The Oathbreaker, like all Paladin subclasses, is limited in skill selection. Most Paladins will only have a total of 4 – 5 skill proficiencies to spread out, meaning that their options are limited. 

The stats almost all Paladins have made them great at being the party face, and the Oathbreaker is no exception. The best social skill is Persuasion, and it’s one every Oathbreaker should at least consider. After all, you might be an iron-fisted tyrant, but there’s no need to be rude about it. 

From here, Athletics for physical challenges, and Perception to see enemies, traps and other hidden problems are almost essential. The Oathbreaker will only have one or two choices left after this, so take whatever your party needs. 

Fitting Feats

Polearm Master: This is already a strong feat, but it’s stronger for the Oathbreaker. The ability to smite at an extra 5ft range can make a big difference in the scrum of melee, and the bonus action attack synergizes nicely with the extra CHA damage of the subclass. 

Crusher: If you’re using blunt weapons, added crowd control that allows you to move enemies is great, as is the Crit effect, which makes the incredibly strong critical hits of the Paladin even better. 

Heavy Armor Master: Reducing all non-magical damage taken by a flat amount, even a small amount, adds up incredibly quickly. This is much stronger at low levels (if you can get it at level 1, potentially through racial feats, it’s purple) but flat damage reduction is always amazing and synergizes perfectly with the Oathbreaker’s Supernatural Resistance ability. 

Optimal Backgrounds

Sailor: Almost perfect skills, and one of the few ways to get Perception from a background. The tool proficiencies are less useful, unless your campaign is heavily ocean themed, but might come in handy. 

Courtier: Perfect social skills and two languages turn the Oathbreaker into a social maven. Pro-tip, if you’re going to lean into the subclass aspects, take Abyssal so you can have a happy chat with any fiends you run into. 

Knight: History and Persuasion are fine skills, and the language and a gaming set are decent, plus the background and flavor are perfect for a fallen warrior. 

Multiclassing Options

Hexblade Warlock: The Hexblade shows up in almost every multiclass guide, but here, it makes absolute sense. The biggest draw is the ability to use CHA for attack and damage rolls with a one-handed weapon. Yes, this means you add twice your CHA bonus to your damage rolls. 

This instantly makes the Oathbreaker better, as it means you can pump CHA instead of physical stats, giving the spells and abilities of the subclass much more chance to go off. Add to this the Eldritch Blast cantrip, which is the best ranged cantrip in the game, the Hex spell, and several ancillary benefits for a multiclass that’s a powerful 1 level dip. 

Path of the Beast Barbarian: This might seem like a slightly strange multiclass, as a lot of the Barbarian’s abilities lock out spellcasting. But it’s worth pointing out that Smite isn’t spellcasting and spells that have already been cast that don’t require concentration continue. 

But what does this gain? Rage is a massive boost to damage, and makes the class much tougher by giving them early access to damage resistance. Also, whenever Raging, the class can choose from one of three bonus weapons, one that recovers HP, one that offers a bonus attack, and one that can be used to increase AC, all of which are useful. 

Shadow Soul Sorcerer: The Sorcadin is a widely regarded power multiclass, because what both classes offer complements the other perfectly. 

Taking multiple levels of Sorcerer will drastically increase the casting power of a build, adding a ton of blast spells and utility options. 

Specifically leaning into Shadow Soul gives the character super-Darkvision, a chance to shrug off lethal damage and stay standing, and if it goes as far as Sorcerer 6, the ability to summon a shadowy hound that tracks down and savages targets while reducing their ability to make saves against spells. 

Would I recommend playing an Oathbreaker Paladin?

As mentioned in the weaknesses section of this guide, the Oathbreaker was originally designed as a villainous character archetype, made to be pit against the party. 

That’s why most of its abilities feel a little bit off like they’re designed for a character that’s operating solo, as opposed to the party-oriented powers most Paladins benefit from. There’s wrong with the Oathbreaker. It’s still a strong subclass that can contribute a lot to most tables.

But realistically, if I wanted to play a darker-themed subclass, and I didn’t want to lean into the summoning the undead aspects of the Oathbreaker, I’d deeply consider running Oath of Conquest instead, as it does much of what this class does, but better. 

Sage Gamers

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