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Comparing and Contrasting 5E Clerics and Paladins: Exploring DnD’s Holy Warriors

You might find yourself torn between choosing the Paladin or the Cleric if you’re looking for a class with divine magic and the ability to smite evil in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. Both of them are holy warriors who serve a deity or a cause, but they have significant differences in how they approach their roles. So, what exactly sets the Paladin and Cleric apart in D&D 5e?

Paladin and Cleric Classes: Gaining Divine Insights and Understanding Expectations

If you’re considering playing a paladin or a cleric in D&D 5th edition, chances are you like the concept of being a holy warrior, but you may not be sure which class aligns best with your character concept. While both classes can be a lot of fun, it’s important to understand the basics of each class. This way, you’ll ensure that your character is well-equipped with the spells, equipment, and core stats needed to fulfill the role you’re aiming for.

Let’s briefly explore the Paladins and Clerics in 5E before delving deeper into each class and their unique offerings.


Paladins are holy warriors who pledge to uphold justice and righteousness. They gain their powers through a divine oath. In close combat, paladins excel at tanking and can withstand incoming attacks due to their high AC and solid hit point base. As they level up, they acquire great passive abilities and can smite their enemies with devastating attacks. Some players choose paladins because:

  • They prefer a class that is better suited for tanking and leadership roles.
  • They want to play as a holy warrior who seeks out and smites evil.
  • They value having auras that grant benefits to allies.
  • They like the idea of having spellcasting abilities focused on buffing and protecting allies.
  • They want strong martial abilities and access to limited spellcasting.

Paladins are an appealing class for long-time players who have primarily played melee characters but want to dabble in spellcasting.


Clerics, on the other hand, are divine spellcasters who serve a deity or a cause. They possess a vast spell pool and can cast spells to heal allies or harm enemies. Clerics shine as powerful support characters in a party, often acting as the first line of defense against enemy spells and providing healing when battles get rough. Some players choose clerics because:

  • They prefer versatile spellcasters who can fulfill a wide range of roles beyond combat.
  • They enjoy the ability to heal and support the party with spells.
  • They are interested in a wider variety of domains and deities to serve.
  • They value having access to a larger spell pool with a broader range of spells compared to paladins.
  • They want to play a character who can serve either good or evil gods, allowing any alignment depending on the character’s backstory.

While paladins possess divine power and religious training, they may not be the best choice to lead theological discussions or conduct ceremonial events like weddings. On the other hand, although clerics are capable combatants, they may not be the best fit to lead a group of soldiers. Paladins tend to be more fanatical and individualistic, while clerics tend to connect with each settlement they encounter.

While a cleric may not be the first choice for solo-dueling an adversary, they still possess combat abilities. And while both classes are divine spellcasters, their roles and abilities significantly differ. To discover what makes each class unique and how they can complement each other in a party, keep reading as we explore their differences and similarities.

The 5E Paladin Class: Role, Abilities, and Playstyle

Paladins are the holy knights of D&D, equipped with heavy armor, powerful weapons, and divine magic to smite evil and defend the innocent. Paladins dedicate themselves to their oath and deity and are focused on serving and protecting those in need. Beyond their combat prowess, most paladins possess a fiery faith that drives them to reach the limits of their capabilities.

As per the 5th Edition Player Handbook, page 82, paladins are involved in the powerful bond of taking vows. They often consider themselves true paladins after reaching the 3rd level and taking up their Sacred Oath. When creating a paladin, it is essential to plan and consider the nature of their holy quest. Discussing this with your Dungeon Master is crucial to ensure that your quest aligns with the campaign or can smoothly integrate into it.

The Role of a Paladin

Paladins excel in two primary roles: leader and defender. They are often the first to charge into battle, leading the charge and protecting their allies with their shields and armor. Paladins feel right at home in the front line, alongside barbarians and fighters. They tend to earn the respect of their comrades due to their bravery and dedication.

Paladins can also serve as healers and support characters, using their spells and auras to buff and heal their allies. Their best buffs are passive, meaning that as they level up, they provide support to fellow front-line members simply by being present in the front line.

However, the primary focus of a paladin is to seek out and destroy evil while defending those who cannot defend themselves. This can sometimes inadvertently cause chaos within the group, as a paladin’s personal code might demand immediate intervention, even if the party believes restraint or a more strategic approach is wiser.

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Paladins possess distinctive stats, class proficiencies, and abilities that set them apart:

  • Hit Points: Paladins have 10 + Constitution modifier hit points at level 1 and gain 1d10 per level after that, making them excellent tanks.
  • Armor: With proficiency in all armor types and shields, paladins are excellent frontline fighters and can utilize heavy armor from Level 1.
  • Weapon Proficiency: Paladins are proficient in all simple and martial weapons, providing them with a wide range of combat options.
  • Divine Sense: From the very first level, paladins can sense the presence of undead, fiends, consecrated and desecrated areas, making them great protectors against supernatural threats. They can use this ability multiple times a day, depending on their Charisma modifier.
  • Lay on Hands: Paladins have a pool of healing energy that they can use to restore hit points to themselves and others, making them valuable supports in combat or even self-sufficient tanks, alleviating the burden of other healers.
  • Divine Smite: From level 2, paladins become overpowered damaged dealers. Divine Smite packs a radiant punch to most melee attacks and becomes even more potent when multiclassing.
  • Spellcasting: While less versatile than clerics, paladins still have access to a range of spells. These spells can be used for offense, defense, and support. However, there is no issue if a paladin primarily uses spellcasting for smiting.

Paladins are known for their charging into battle and protecting their allies. They are heavily armored and can take a lot of damage, making them great tanks. Paladins can also deal a considerable amount of damage with their weapons, especially when they utilize their smite abilities.

However, paladins are not simply mindless brutes. They possess a strong sense of honor and duty and can act as the moral compass of the group. This may require them to make difficult decisions or act as mediators during conflicts.

Pros and Cons: Is the Paladin the Right Choice for You?

As with any class, the paladin has its pros and cons that you should consider when comparing them to clerics. However, note that within the narrow range of what paladins tend to do, they are surprisingly versatile.

For example, paladins can readily switch from a defensive tank role to a damage dealer depending on the enemy’s threat level. However, running out of spells or abilities during a lengthy dungeon crawl can leave the paladin unable to provide healing support. Despite this, their tankiness and passive bonuses still make them valuable assets in a party.

Furthermore, a paladin’s alignment can create tension within the group if their oath conflicts with the party’s goals. Additionally, their code of conduct may limit their interactions with certain NPCs or factions. Oaths are oaths for a reason, and paladins adhere to them strictly.

While the above examples can be avoided through creative thinking, both the advantages and disadvantages can become a reality in most campaigns. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep these general pros and cons in mind when considering a paladin for your next campaign:

Pros to Playing a 5E Paladin:

  • Versatility: Paladins can fulfill different roles in a party, including tanking, healing, and dealing damage, depending on their build and equipment. This allows them to adapt to various situations and complement other party members, including clerics.
  • Powerful Abilities: Paladins have access to some of the most potent abilities in the game, such as smites, auras, and spells. These abilities can significantly damage enemies, heal and buff allies, or remove adverse effects.
  • High Survivability: With their heavy armor, shields, and pool of hit points, paladins can withstand significant damage and protect themselves and their allies. They also have access to healing spells and Lay on Hands, allowing them to recover quickly from injuries.

Cons to Playing a 5E Paladin:

  • Limited Resources: Paladins rely on their spell slots and abilities to be effective and have a small pool of these resources. This means they must manage them carefully and may struggle if they run out or face extended encounters without a break.
  • Alignment Restrictions: Paladins are usually required to be of Lawful Good alignment due to strict alignment requirements. They may have to make difficult choices that align with their beliefs, even if those choices conflict with the party’s goals or morals.
  • Roleplaying Limitations: Paladins can often be limited in their roleplaying opportunities due to their specific code of conduct and values that they must uphold. At the DM’s discretion, they may have to avoid certain actions or behaviors that conflict with their oath or deity, as doing so could result in the loss of their powers. For new players, this can be challenging initially.

The 5E Cleric Class: Role, Abilities, and Playstyle

Clerics are divine spellcasters who act as intermediaries between their deities and the mortal realm. They utilize their spells to heal the wounded, banish the undead, and bring massive damage onto the battlefield when necessary. In a party, clerics serve as support characters, helping their allies overcome obstacles on their journey.

As the 5th Edition Player Handbook explains on page 56, one of the crucial factors when creating a cleric is choosing which deity to serve since not all deities are good. Some clerics embark on a life of adventuring and journey for various causes, whether good or evil. This journey is often due to their deity’s demand. However, modern games allow for flexibility in this regard. For example, a young cleric may be told by older warriors of their order to go out and earn their stripes, being the representative on a mission that may or may not be an actual problem.

It’s also worth noting that clerics can have vastly different appearances and styles even if they serve the same alignment. For instance, a cleric serving a god of law and order will behave differently from a cleric in service of a chaotic deity. The same applies to clerics serving a god of commerce versus a god of nature.

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Clerics have access to a wide range of spells and abilities and can choose from different domains to specialize in, depending on their deity. Although some domains are more prevalent, such as Life, Forge, and Twilight, they are still a versatile class that can fill various roles in a party, including support, damage dealing, and healing. Clerics are proficient in medium armor and shields, making them decent frontline fighters. Many players also choose to spend a feat to gain heavy armor proficiency.

The Role of a Cleric

Clerics are versatile and adaptable spellcasters with many options for support, healing, and combat. They often serve as the primary healers in a party, utilizing their spells to restore hit points, cure diseases, and remove harmful conditions.

Clerics can also be formidable damage dealers, using their spells to smite their enemies with holy light or striking them down with their weapons. Depending on their domain, they may have access to additional abilities that enhance their combat prowess or support their allies.

The unique aspects that define a cleric’s role are their spellcasting and domain abilities. Here are some notable differences:

  • Spellcasting: Clerics are renowned for their powerful spellcasting abilities and have access to the entire cleric spell list. This grants them a broad array of spells that can be used for offense, defense, and support. Compared to paladins, clerics have access to a much broader range of spells. They can heal one or multiple allies from a distance, cure curses and diseases, unleash columns of flames on enemies, or even resurrect the dead.
  • Domain Abilities: At level 1, clerics choose a domain that grants them additional abilities and spells. There are numerous domains to choose from, each with its unique abilities. For instance, the Life domain grants bonus healing abilities, while the War domain provides bonus combat abilities.
  • Turn Undead: At level 2, clerics gain the ability to Turn Undead, using their holy power to repel and control undead creatures. This ability can protect the party from undead threats or even turn undead enemies against their own allies.
  • Channel Divinity: At level 2, clerics gain access to Channel Divinity, allowing them to call upon their deity’s power to perform various effects. The specific effects depend on the cleric’s domain but can include turning undead, healing allies, or dealing extra damage to enemies.
  • Divine Intervention: At level 10, clerics gain access to Divine Intervention, enabling them to call upon their deity for aid in times of great need. The exact nature of the assistance is left up to the DM and can range from healing the party to summoning a powerful celestial ally.
  • Support Abilities: While paladins can provide support in combat, clerics possess a broader range of support abilities that can benefit their allies. Additionally, some domains grant bonus abilities that grant temporary hit points to allies.

Pros and Cons: Is the Cleric the Right Choice for You?

As with any class, the cleric has its pros and cons that you should consider when creating your character. However, due to the sheer variety of cleric types, some of these pros might not apply to all cleric builds, and likewise for the cons.

Pros of Playing a 5E Cleric

  • Versatility: Clerics are versatile spellcasters, capable of adapting to various situations and filling different roles in a party, such as support, damage dealing, and healing.
  • Healing: Clerics have access to many more healing spells than paladins, making them the primary healers in a party. They can keep their allies in the fight even during challenging encounters.
  • Spellcasting: Clerics can access the entire cleric spell list and select different spells daily, allowing them to adapt based on the situation.
  • Channel Divinity: This ability empowers clerics to perform mighty divine deeds and can be a game-changer in certain situations.
  • Variety: Clerics have numerous subclasses that grant them different features and spells, enabling them to customize their character and playstyle. They can also choose from various deities or causes that influence their personality and alignment.

Cons of Playing a 5E Cleric

  • Armor: Unlike paladins, clerics are proficient in medium armor and shields. This may limit their survivability in combat if you choose a cleric build that doesn’t provide heavy armor proficiency.
  • Spellcasting: While clerics have access to a wide range of spells, they still have limited spell slots that must be managed carefully. This can be especially challenging when balancing healing, support, and damage-dealing spells.
  • Alignment Restrictions: Like paladins, clerics are tied to their deity’s alignment and may have to make difficult choices that align with their faith.
  • Roleplaying Limitations: Clerics may have to avoid certain actions or behaviors that conflict with their oath or deity to maintain their powers. This can limit roleplaying opportunities for some players, although workarounds can be discussed with the DM.

Overall, the cleric is a versatile and adaptable class that can be a valuable asset to any party. Their access to healing spells and Channel Divinity ability makes them excellent support characters, while their spells and domain abilities make them formidable.

How Both Classes Can Combine Forces and Play Together

Paladins and clerics are two classes that can work exceptionally well together in any D&D 5e campaign. They share a common source of divine power and a dedication to a cause or deity. However, they have different roles and abilities that complement each other in combat and exploration.

Here are some examples of how they can cooperate and coordinate their actions to achieve their goals:

Combining Damaging, Healing, and Protection in Combat

Paladins and clerics form a deadly duo in combat, as they can deal massive damage, heal themselves and their allies, and protect themselves from harm. Having one of each makes for a powerful party, regardless of the choices made by other players.

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Here are some ways they can work together in combat:


  • Paladins can use their smites, which can be combined with spells like searing smite or branding smite, to deal extra radiant damage on a hit. Waiting until a hit is successful allows them to save a smite for a critical hit, doubling the damage dice.
  • Clerics can use their spiritual weapon and sacred flame to deal bonus force and radiant damage at range.
  • They can also utilize guiding bolt to grant advantage on the next attack, helping the paladin land a critical hit or a smite.
  • Furthermore, clerics can use their domain spells to deal damage of various types, such as fire, lightning, or necrotic.


  • Paladins can use lay-on hands to cure conditions or provide healing, allowing them and the cleric to conserve spell slots for other purposes.
  • Meanwhile, clerics can use healing word as a bonus action, enabling them to heal without sacrificing their action or other spells and attacks.
  • The paladin’s aura of vitality can provide consistent healing for up to 10 rounds, freeing the cleric’s bonus action for other necessary tasks. In turn, the cleric can use life transference to heal significantly by sacrificing some of their hit points while triggering their death ward if they have it.
  • Finally, the paladin’s revivify ability can bring someone back to life within a minute, allowing the cleric to save higher-level spell slots for other situations.


Protection is crucial in combat, and both divine classes excel at it. They possess unique spells and abilities that allow them to protect themselves and their allies in various ways.

  • Paladins have an aura of protection that boosts saving throws of themselves and their nearby allies by adding their Charisma modifier. They can also use their aura of courage to make themselves and nearby allies immune to fear.
  • Paladins can utilize spells like shield of faith, protection from evil and good, or sanctuary to protect themselves and others.
  • On the other hand, clerics also have spells like shield of faith, protection from evil and good, sanctuary, aid, or warding bond to shield themselves or others. Their channel divinity feature allows them to protect themselves or others, depending on their domain. For instance, a protection domain cleric can use turn the tide to heal themselves and nearby allies below half their maximum hit points.

Working together, the paladin and cleric can create a solid frontline, with the paladin absorbing the brunt of attacks and the cleric providing backup protection and healing when needed. Their combined abilities enable them to handle any situation and protect their party from danger.

Combining Roleplay and Playstyle During Exploration

Paladins and clerics can also make excellent teams during exploration, utilizing their skills, senses, and spells to overcome obstacles and find clues. Here are some ways they can work together during quests:


Both classes possess different skills that they can use to interact with NPCs, objects, or the environment.

  • Paladins can use their high strength to break down doors or carry heavy objects. In contrast, clerics can use their high intelligence to solve puzzles or decipher ancient texts.
  • Paladins’ high charisma allows them to persuade or intimidate NPCs, while clerics’ high wisdom helps them with insight or perception to uncover hidden clues.


These divine classes have unique senses that they can use to detect enemies or allies.

  • Paladins can use their divine sense feature to detect the presence of celestials, fiends, undead, or consecrated or desecrated places within 60 feet of them.
  • Clerics possess the same ability to detect the presence of such entities within 60 feet of them. They can also use their knowledge of religion to identify symbols or rituals associated with different deities or cults.


Paladins and clerics have different spells that can aid them during exploration.

  • Paladins can use spells like detect magic, detect evil and good, locate object, zone of truth, find steed, and find greater steed.
  • Clerics have a larger pool of spells available to them. They can also utilize spells like detect magic, detect evil and good, locate object, zone of truth, speak with dead, augury, commune, sending, teleportation circle, word of recall, and plane shift.

Teamwork Tips and Tricks

Paladins and clerics share similarities, but they also have distinct differences that make them work well together. By combining their divine power and skills, they become a formidable team capable of handling any challenge thrown their way.

Here are some tricks and tips to maximize their teamwork:

Coordinate Actions and Spells

Both classes significantly enhance their effectiveness by coordinating their actions and spells. For instance, the paladin can attack twice using their action surge feature, then cast a smite spell with their bonus action. Meanwhile, the cleric can use their bonus action to cast healing word and their action to cast guiding bolt. Together, they can deal damage and heal in a single round.

Choose Complementary Subclasses

Choosing subclasses that complement each other can optimize their teamwork. For example, an oath of vengeance paladin and a war domain cleric are ideal for an aggressive and offensive playstyle. Conversely, an oath of ancients paladin and a nature domain cleric make for a solid defensive and supportive duo.

Share Resources

The paladin and cleric possess unique resources that can complement each other’s abilities. Paladins can use lay-on hands to heal or cure conditions, while clerics can use their channel divinity feature to heal themselves or others. Furthermore, they can buff each other or their allies with spells like shield of faith, aid, or bless.

Respect Differences

Both classes may have diverse personalities and motivations that can clash. It’s important to respect these differences and find common ground or compromise when possible. For instance, a paladin may be more rigid in their beliefs, while a cleric may be more pragmatic in their actions.

Paladin or Cleric: Both Are Great Choices

Both paladins and clerics are holy warriors devoted to their deities. They possess different strengths and playstyles. Paladins shine as tanks and damage dealers with divine smites, offering unique roleplaying opportunities that can be taken in numerous directions. On the other hand, clerics excel as versatile spellcasters with domain-specific powers, often becoming the heart and backbone of an adventuring party.

Both classes are valuable allies in and out of combat. So, choose your path wisely and let your faith guide your adventures in the realms!

Other 5E D&D Articles You May Enjoy:

  • Neutral Good Alignment Guide
  • Lawful Neutral Alignment Guide
  • Chaotic Good Alignment Guide
  • 5E DnD Schools of Magic
  • 5E DnD Conditions Guide

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