D&D Party Composition — Playing an All Paladin Party
Over on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted explore the idea of an all paladin party for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. This video series continues to prove popular and I’m sharing my take on the concept of single party composition here on the website. Playing an all paladin party in 5E D&D makes for one strong party with solid defense, offense, buffs and healing — the total package, right? While Dave and Ted share their insights into 5E D&D party composition in the video I’m more concerned about a different kind of strength from a paladin — the strength of their conviction. When it comes to a campaign setting of academia for each particular character class, let’s get into it and see how students at Sacred Oaths get graded on how well they uphold the tenets of their oath and not how awesome they are in combat.
How I would run an all paladin party for 5E D&D
I’ve been waiting for the all paladin party video to release for some time now, mostly because when this series began the name of the paladin school amused me more than most. Sacred Oaths is most certainly a private school, prestidgious and deeply rooted in tradition. But times are changing, and students no longer need to be lawful good humans with really high ability score minimums. Paladins carry a lot of baggage when they matriculate to Sacred Oaths and that’s going to make our all paladin party really dynamic. Skeptical? Check out the description of Sacred Oaths inside the 5E D&D Player’s Handbook.
“Becoming a paladin involves taking vows that commit the paladin to the cause of righteousness, an active path of fighting wickedness. The final oath, taken when he or she reaches 3rd level, is the culmination of all the paladin’s training. Some characters with this class don’t consider themselves true paladins until they have reached 3rd level and made this oath. For others, the actual swearing of the oath is a formality, an official stamp on what has always been true in the paladin’s heart.”
When new students arrive for orientation at Sacred Oaths in our 5E D&D academia setting they’ve already got a strong idea about their future. Choosing the life of a paladin isn’t for the undecided, and admissions require even low level students to write an essay about their personal holy quest. Over the years admissions requirements have lessened and thankfully and what was once an institution exclusive to humans with extraordinary attributes is now open to any character whose cause remains true. Playing on the tradition of the class itself in D&D history creates roleplaying space to explore lots of themes like bullying and prejudice but also progress and inclusivity as tradition clashes with social development. Out of all the single class party compositions we’ve covered so far, paladins present perhaps the most complex dynamics between fellow party members and NPCs at Sacred Oaths where all the characters go to school.
An all paladin party also comes with a useful resource for Dungeon Masters in the form of tenets attached to each oath. Long before character reach 3rd level and players choose their oaths, having an idea about the direction to go at that time is quite common and even suggested in the Player’s Handbook. Knowing players’ intentions from the get go means a DM can design encounters to highlight and test the various tenets. This gives players and characters an opportunity to experience what being a paladin means far beyond the mechanical benefits. Whatever their oath and tenets paladins are expected to uphold them with the utmost strength of conviction. Incidentally I like the idea of calling 1st and 2nd level characters gallants. In first edition AD&D that’s the title for a 1st level paladin.
In this all paladin party campaign these convictions will be tested and graded by Sacred Oaths faculty, so introducing the concepts early, especially before making the choice of an oath, can be thought provoking for the players. Sure, Oath of Vengeance sounds cool in combat but is the player prepared to show no mercy to the wicked? How will they deal with the guilt brought on when any of their foes cause harm in the world, and are they willing to make the sacrifice to help those affected by the misdeeds? On an even more personal scale what happens when their tenets conflict with a companion?
Adventures for an all paladin party strike me as straightforward affairs and paladins are more than suited to take direct approaches to problems. Where there is injustice, a paladin does what they can to put things right. A DM can feel fairly confident presenting an adventure as an assignment to be completed immediately. A squad of 4-6 heavily armored damage dealers who can all heal themselves and each other makes an impressive strike team, the kind who can get up from their desks, strap on their gear and go save the day at a moment’s notice.
The idea of challenging paladin characters with moral quandaries or tough decision making seems appropriate. An adventure could begin as an assignment to investigate claims about a duergar mining operation. Longtime silver miners complain about the new comers making life difficult. The duergar assume the miners are escalating hostilities by sending a squad of paladins and take an aggressive stance. But it turns out the duergar have a legitimate mining claim. The other miners are simply jealous of the duergar work ethic and results.
Creating scenarios to give challenge the convictions of the all paladin party could be tricky. At the same time paladins are no strangers to action and stepping up against terrible monsters and villains is their bread and butter. A D&D group can feel free to cut loose a bit with this party composition. Like Dave and Ted mention in the video it’s going to be numbers that’ll make things difficult for paladins. Against a small group of enemies or a single target, woe be to them.
Another fun aspect to this D&D academia setting for the all paladin party would be the NPC faculty and professors. Coming up with ideas for each oath becomes important to the campaign because they’ll be powerful mentors for the various characters. The interplay between different tenets and perspectives could play out between these NPCs and individual players, and then among the player group itself. I think even players who aren’t into roleplaying as much might enjoy this campaign too, because paladins have such rich material to draw on. In our duergar miner scenario, to an Oath of Devotion paladin perhaps they see the duergar as honorable, pursuing their work on the up and up while the existing miners absolutely display dishonor in trying to run off the competition. At the same time, compassion might garner sympathy for the existing miners whose lives are so disrupted. And that’s a conflict of conviction for just one particular oath!
As a side note our D&D academia setting assumes the various institutions represent the subclass options from official 5E D&D sources. But your Sacred Oaths and other schools can certainly include your favorite third party or homebrew character options. As this post publishes we are putting the last touches on our Patreon rewards for April, which includes a whole bunch of new subclasses for 5E D&D barbarians, clerics, monks, rogues, sorcerers and paladins. The Oath of Vanity in Hairable Ideas along with all the other content is a follow up to last year’s Beardomancy. Now the strange energies from the Beard Dimension empower other character classes and turn every single D&D monster into a potential agent of the entities in the darkest regions of the strange realm. Find out more about the Oath of Vanity and the rest of Hairable Ideas including how to get it for $2 right here.
D&D academia course catalog
We’re more than halfway through our D&D academia campaign setting for party composition! With Eberron: Rising from the Last War we got a brand new 5E D&D class — artificer — so that was added to the list. When we’re all done maybe we’ll come up with a location for all these institutes of learning. I’m leaning towards this D&D academia hub being extraplanar in nature. But you could just as easily place all the educational organizations we’re imagining in a major metropolitan city like Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms or Eberron’s Sharn or even smoosh them all together into a single university. Perhaps Morgrave University offers these new programs to characters in Eberron or the bards of New Olamn open their doors to the rest of the character classes with a large expansion to the Waterdeep campus.
The all paladin party feels more able to deal with any situation than other single party compositions. Because of this and the inclusion of oath tenets and baked in motivations this kind of campaign lends itself to exploring some heady territory. A group playing an all paladin party would do well to have a discussion beforehand about this. While it can be incredibly fun and rewarding to suss out philosophical differences between characters it can also turn uncivil pretty easily — between characters and players. I recommend talking about this possibility and discussing some safety tools to use during play if things get too heated.
When we finish up this series we’ll have ourselves a solid foundation for an entire 5E D&D campaign setting in a world of academia. For a running recap, here’s the list of 5E D&D class-related institutions. I’m looking forward to exploring the next one along with the video from the YouTube channel.
- Bard College carries on a fine tradition of arts and arcane education
- Primal Paths sounds like a private school
- Domains is a seminary
- Circles is a new age school
- Martial Archetypes is a either a military school or a certified training program
- Monastic Traditions maybe a charter school
- Sacred Oaths is definitely a private school
- Ranger Conclaves is a series of correspondence courses (I know they’re called Ranger Archetypes but I think Conclaves sounds cool)
- Roguish Archetypes a trade school for sure. I learned how to pick pockets and now I’m doing great. Thanks, Roguish Archetypes!
- Sorcerous Origins get to attend Arcane Traditions U on a full-ride scholarship
- Otherworldly Patrons is 100% charter school
- Arcane Traditions clearly is the premiere institute for arcane study
- Artificer Specialists is a for profit university that confers certificates and degrees
Any of these individual campaign ideas really makes me want to play or run a campaign with these elements. 5E D&D party composition with all the characters of the same class is more about your group discussing their character choices together than about filling traditional roles. An all paladin party’s strong offense and defense is a great start for all the characters. Planning the party together and making choices to benefit the group is a nice way to not only cover bases like skills, tool proficiencies and backgrounds but these things can also contribute to interesting character quirks, secrets and peculiarities. I also like the idea of working with the players to develop their characters’ holy quest before arriving at Sacred Oaths, and coming up with their NPCs oath mentors.
What do you think? Do you hear the call to play an all paladin party campaign? Do you like the idea of a 5E D&D campaign set within academia? Let me know in the comments!