Oathbreaker Paladin 5e Guide
Published on June 13, 2022, Last modified on February 20th, 2023
Learn to channel the corrupt power of your paladin’s broken vow in our Oathbreaker Paladin 5e guide!
Richard Kane Ferguson - Wizards of the Coast - Dakkon, Shadow Slayer
Oathbreaker 5e Guide Rating Scheme
This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Oathbreaker Paladin subclass. For a full overview of the Paladin class, check out our paladin 5e Guide.
For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange Situationally good, but a below-average option otherwise
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
For our subclass guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options, because the other options are discussed in the parent guide or other subclass guides. We also discuss options that normally would be good for a typical build, but underperform when used in a subclass.
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What Is the Oathbreaker Paladin in 5e?
Unlike traditional 5e paladin subclasses, where a paladin adopts a sacred oath that grants them the divine powers they need, the 5e Oathbreaker has forsaken that oath. These unholy warriors use the darkness in their hearts to serve their own needs and are often evil-aligned warriors.
Paladins already boast a beefy, hard-hitting melee class. This subclass adds onto that playstyle by adding in some extremely potent Oath spells and the ability to raise the dead and shrug off damage in later levels. If you want to play a hybrid tanky necromancer, this class is for you.
This subclass really shines in higher levels, so ideally, you’ll be playing this character for a while, or at least in a high-level one shot. If your DM plans just to do a short, low-level campaign, like Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, you may want to pick another subclass.
These wicked warriors embody ambition and selfishness, so they don’t work super well in teams. If they aren’t surrounded by their undead minions, their Aura of Hate can aid enemies, and their Dreadful Aspect will actively harm allies nearby, so you need to be careful.
The biggest drawback is that your spells at later levels aren’t that great. If you aren’t getting undead minions, you’ll want to just smite away. They also offer very little in terms of ranged damage, so you’ll have to find a way to catch up.
Best Races for Oathbreaker Paladins 5e
Like all paladins, Oathbreakers are best at smacking things in melee range and soaking up damage. STR and DEX are the main stats you’ll want for your attacks, and the rest of your stats can go to CON or CHA. You don’t have a lot of mobility, though, but that may end up being your ally’s problem.
Many non-standard races are available, so we will only list those that are good options for this class. Remember that these are typically limited by the setting and source material chosen by the DM. Check with your DM before selecting any of the races listed below.
Dragonborn: Adding +2 to STR and +1 to CHA is great for paladins overall, and this is no different. The added bonus of damage resistance and a breath weapon is stellar and helps keep you going.
- Mountain: You get +2 to STR and CON, which means you’ll be very beefy as you level up. The poison resistance is nice but not necessary.
Half-Elf: You get +2 to CHA and then +1 to two other stats, so you’ll already be off to a great start. You're a force to be reckoned with the two free skills and Darkvision.
Half-Orc: You get some great starting stats in a similar tone to half-elves. I think that Relentless Endurance and Savage Attacks are better than two skills for Oathbreakers, plus you still get darkvision.
- Lightfoot: Halflings get a bonus to DEX and Lucky, which is extremely helpful when swinging as much as paladins. This is an excellent base for a DEX-build Oathbreaker paladins.
- Variant: Variant Humans get a bonus to two ability scores of their choice (STR and CON for most Paladins) and an extra feat, both of which are wicked for Paladins. See the Feats section for suggestions on what to choose here.
Aasimar: These make stellar paladins regardless of the subclass you choose, as they get a +2 to CHA off the bat, plus a couple of bonus abilities. They’re a solid pick, though not as effective as the next one.
- Scourge: These are even better than the original subclass, as they get +1 to CON as well as a damaging aura once per day.
Minotaur: Minotaurs are surprisingly good paladins, with +2 STR and +1 CON. They also get the bonus of being able to dash and make an attack with their horns, meaning you can charge into the fray and still deal some damage.
Best Backgrounds for Oathbreakers
Backgrounds are usually for roleplaying more than combat, so you can pick whatever you want. However, you should be looking for a background that fits not only your character but also the stats you have. Opting for skills based on CHA and STR is your best bet overall.
However, it’s essential to remember that the Oathbreaker class was initially designed to be a class for villain NPCs, so backgrounds don’t fit them. You can easily make them work depending on your backstory, or you can just create your own (PHB 125).
Oathbreaker Ability Scores
You gain Ability Score Increases at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.
As a frontline tank and damage dealer, the 5e Oathbreaker paladin want to prioritize STR/DEX and then CON or CHA. When choosing between STR and DEX for your build, keep the following questions in mind:
- Are you looking to maximize damage by using a greatsword + Great Weapon Master build? If so, you’ll need to go STR.
- Are you looking to sacrifice some damage output for versatility outside of combat? If so, DEX is the way to go.
STR is your bread and butter, so you should always prioritize that. Dex paladins exist, but the Oathbreaker wants to be in the heat of things at all times, so you shouldn’t worry about it.
CHA is your spellcasting modifier and is great if you want to focus more on crowd control spells and supporting your team. It’s not as crucial as CON, as you don’t have a lot to offer your allies for the most part. CON will keep you alive longer, which means you’ll be able to keep dealing damage. You aren’t a tank, but you are tanky.
STR: This is your most important stat, which gives you the most damage. DEX paladins do exist, but they aren’t Oathbreakers.
DEX: If you really want to play a stealthier paladin, a DEX-based build can work. However, that playstyle doesn’t mix with the Oathbreaker subclass, as you want to be wading into battle and keeping enemies nearby.
CON: You’ll absolutely need plenty of CON since you’ll be in the action almost all of the time. High CON adds too much survivability to pass up.
INT: Not relevant at all for paladins, so you’re free to treat this as a dump stat.
WIS: Outside of saving throws, this is on the same level as INT. Dump stat.
CHA: This is important if you want to use your crowd control spells effectively, so pump it if you need it. It also helps your Aura of Hate, Divine Sense, and a few other paladin abilities.
Oathbreaker Paladin 5e Class Progression
Hit Dice: You get a d10 to start with, meaning you’ll be nice and beefy.
Saves: Wisdom and Charisma aren’t great for paladins that will be in the thick of combat. Obviously, WIS and CHA effects are devastating at higher levels, but they just don’t come up all that often otherwise. That said, Oathbreakers only have a couple of spells worth keeping concentration for, so prioritizing a good CON save isn’t necessarily needed.
Weapon/ Armor Proficiencies: You have access to everything you can wear or swing in the game so you’re already set.
Skills: Because you’re much more combat-focused than other subclasses, this is your chance to pick up some relevant skills for RP. Refer to the 5e Paladin Guide.
Divine Sense: Refer to the 5e Paladin Guide.
Lay on Hands: This isn’t super relevant to you, as you’re not playing much of a support role. It’s nice to have in a pinch to heal yourself up, though.
Fighting Style: Refer to the 5e Paladin Guide to overview all of the Fighting Style options.
- Defense: Oathbreaker paladins in 5e love going for heavy weapons + Great Weapon Master builds. Defense helps make up for the lack of a shield.
- Dueling: For those who prefer to go sword-and-board. This option helps the more defense-oriented builds keep pace with heavy weapon builds.
- Great Weapon Fighting: At first glance, this looks like the best style for DPS. In reality, the effect is relatively marginal and less effective than Defense.
- Blessed Warrior: For some decent cantrips and a ranged damage option, if you like switching it up.
Spellcasting: You get a couple of nice spells early on, but for the most part, you’ll be burning these slots on smites. I wouldn’t worry too much about your spell list.
Divine Smite: You’ll use this a lot, so get used to it. It’s your most damaging attack throughout the game.
Divine Health: Refer to the 5e Paladin Guide.
Harness Divine Power (Optional Rule): You may use this feature slightly less than other paladins, depending on how often you need to use mobility spells to get around. However, Divine Smites are still your go-to for spell slots.
(Lack of a) Sacred Oath: Oathbreaker
Channel Divinity: Both of your options are nice, though one of them is pretty situational.
- Control Undead: This ability is lots of fun and can get a bunch of undead on your side. If they fail the save, they must obey you for 24 hours, with no additional saves or other conditions that they may break the control with. Unfortunately, even if you run into a lot of undead in your campaign, this can be quite the gamble to use long term. If you manage to control an undead for 24hrs, they get a chance to re-save when you use your Channel Divinity again. Not being able to guarantee control of your undead buddies makes this okay in combat, but only if you plan on ruthlessly re-murdering all of your new undead buddies afterwards. Sadly this ability is pretty situational, but it’s nice on occasion.
- Dreadful Aspect: This is your prominent crowd control ability, and it can do wonders. The frighten ability can get you some breathing room or quickly empty a crowded room if you need peace and quiet.
Oathbreaker Spells: Your spells start off with some good damage before moving into mostly crowd control spells and debuffs. They aren’t bad but smites are usually better.
- 3rd level
- Hellish Rebuke: This spell gets you some ranged damage and a good use for your reaction. If you're already using your reaction for things like Sentinel, don't bother wasting spell slots here.
- Inflict Wounds: Between this or Divine Smite, I'd probably smite an enemy. The damage is great, but your weapon damage + Divine Smite will usually be higher unless they’re weak to necrotic damage.
- 5th level
- 9th level
- Animate Dead: The spell slot investment required to keep an undead horde under your control will likely be more hassle than it's worth for a paladin. If you want to command an army of the undead, go with a necromancer wizard who has the spell slots necessary to use this spell to the fullest.
- Bestow Curse: This spell oozes with flavor, but otherwise is just a debuff effect that's difficult for Oathbreakers to pull off. You need to maintain concentration to keep it going, which is inconvenient. It's excellent in boss battles, though.
- 13th level
- Blight: 4th-level single-target spell that targets a common save. It barely out damages 4th-level fireball and flat-out doesn’t work on some common creature types. SKIP.
- Confusion: Bestow curse is a better targeted debuff and is a full spell slot lower and even that isn't good for Oathbreakers to use. The only positive this have over bestow curse is that it's range.
- 17th level
- Contagion: Imposes the poisoned condition on-hit for at least three turns and doesn't require concentration. This is a decent ability when you're going up against a tough enemy, but may not be worth wasting an action especially if you haven't kept up with your CHA ASIs. If you're hasted and have a buffed out CHA, this can certainly be worth it.
- Dominate Person: Extremely powerful effect when fighting humanoids. If you're buffed your CHA, this is certainly worth the 5th level spell slot to 2-for-1 your enemies.
Extra Attack: Action economy is critical, so your DPS will effectively double from here on out. This makes your other combat tools even better since you’re hitting more often. Unfortunately paladins only end up with two extra attacks. You have to use your smites strategically to ensure you’re outputting the most damage possible. This strategy usually comes in the form of fishing for advantage, which will enable you to crit + smite all the more often.
Aura of Protection: You aren’t a supporting class here, but you’re still able to help an ally in need. Plus, this scales with your CHA and gives all of your allies bonuses to their saving throws with zero effort. This is one of the most important reasons to pump CHA, even if you’ll only be using it for yourself.
Aura of Hate: If you manage to build an undead army using your Control Undead Channel Divinity or animate dead, this can be a solid buff for your minions. However, this also affects enemy fiends and undead, meaning your allies can be in a world of hurt. Unfortunately for the Oathbreaker, the Control Undead Channel Divinity option is particularly viable long term and you don’t really have enough spell slots to grow an army using animate dead for this to be very effective. If you have a necromancer buddy, this can allow for a potent wombo combo. Otherwise, it can be more of a hinderance at times.
Aura of Courage: Again, Oathbreakers aren’t in the game to be a support class but this effect is potent nonetheless. The frightened condition is brutal for melee builds, so eliminating it entirely is one hell of a buff.
Improved Divine Smite: This is meant to help level out the damage output between paladins and fighters, as paladins don’t get as many attacks. It’s not as impactful as it would be on some other subclasses, but it’s plenty potent. This class feature pairs well with Polearm Master and Sentinel as well because it procs on the extra attacks.
Cleansing Touch: Refer to the 5e Paladin Guide
Supernatural Resistance: This helps with your solo strategy and gives you a pretty good amount of survivability. Because this subclass is mainly designed for villain NPCs, it might not come into play depending on the enemies you’re facing, but they are pretty common damage types. At this level, a solid chunk of the enemies you come up against will have either magical weapons or other ways to deal damage, but this will help at least in some capacity every combat.
Dread Lord: We all love an epic capstone ability, and this is quite a potent one. Lots of fun stuff packed into 1 minute of pain for your enemies. When used in conjunction with Dreadful Aspect it shouldn’t be too tough to get your enemies frightened for that sweet aura damage every turn. Plus, you and your allies will be a lot harder to hit from creatures without Darkvision.
Best Feats for Oathbreaker Paladins 5e
- Great Weapon Master: This is one of the best martial feats out there, especially for paladins. Using two-handed weapons will be your best for damage output, which will be a considerable part of your build if you go this route.
- Lucky: While not everyone loves the Lucky feat; it’s too powerful to not mention in any build if you want the rerolls. You’ll be swinging a lot, which lets you secure those hits.
- Polearm Master: This is your other great option for melee combatants if you don’t want GWM. This allows you to keep up damage and burn your reaction, which you rarely use as a paladin.
- Sentinel: Paired with Polearm Master, this feat is incredible. However, even by itself, it is great to keep enemies within your aura and melee range.
- Crusher: All of the damage feats from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything are strong for a build as obsessed with melee damage as the Oathbreak. Crusher is easily the best of the damage feats, allowing you some crowd control options and extra abilities off of crits.
- Slasher: Slasher is excellent if you are going with Polearm master, as there isn’t a RAW polearm that does bludgeoning damage outside of a quarterstaff which doesn't really fit the vibe of an Oathbreaker.
- Resilient: Resilient (CON) grants +1 to CON and proficiency in CON saving throws. Oathbreaker paladins want to be on the frontlines, so the extra CON will help with HP. The high CON score and proficiency with CON saving throws will also be great for their concentration-heavy spellcasting.
Best Spells for Oathbreakers
In most cases, we would list all the best spells that work for Oathbreaker paladins. Similar to our Oath of Vengeance guide, the Oath spells are going to be better than your regular paladin spells. However, you’ll probably be smiting with spell slots over casting in most cases.
If you’d like to see what spells we recommend packing, just in case, check out the section below.
Oathbreaker Paladin 5e Build Example
Because this subclass was designed initially for villain NPCs, this class ends up being somewhat unique. You’ll be in melee range almost all the time, but you make it a little difficult to keep allies near you, thanks to your auras. Wielding heavy armor and some beefy two-handed weapons is ideal; you’ll want to be getting into those as soon as possible. The Defense fighting style is going to be your best bet because you’ll need to be durable, thanks to your lack of nearby allies.
We’re going to start off with a Minotaur (Theros) as our class because we want that STR bonus and the dash attack, and the STR/CON bonus. The Hammering Horns ability is also a nice way to get some breathing room when needed, but the real prize is the free horn attack.
Our starting spells are good to start with, but you’ll most likely be spending your slots on smites instead. Anything marked with an asterisk are your Oath spells and are always prepared.
For ability scores, we’ll want to have to keep a high STR in mind for our attacks and a good CHA score for your auras, but it isn’t as necessary if you can’t get it too high. CON will also be important to keep yourself alive while you’re in the fray.
Sources Used in This Guide
- BR: Basic Rules
- : Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants
- SotDQ: Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen
- ERLW: Eberron: Rising from the Last War
- EEPC: Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
- EGtW: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
- FToD: Fizban's Treasury of Dragon
- GGtR: Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
- MotM: Monsters of the Multiverse
- MToF: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
- MOoT: Mythic Odyessys of Theros
- PAitM: Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse
- PHB: Player's Handbook
- SAiS: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
- SCoC: Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
- SCAG: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
- TCoE: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- TTP: The Tortle Package
- WBtW: The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
- VRGtR: Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
- VGtM: Volo's Guide to Monsters
- XGtE: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything