Flavour Shots are short descriptions of game artefacts and phenomena for use by Dungeon Masters, Game Masters and Storytellers in their games. Feel free to drag and drop these into your own games, and modify to suit. Let us know if you end up using them. Some will be portals to other realms, some will be magic items, others will be monster encounters. This time, it’s fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons paladins, what it means to Lay on Hands and different ways to use this iconic class feature.
D&D paladins should use more Lay on Hands
Fifth Edition D&D paladins are warriors of spirit and virtue! Drawing inspiration from various places like Knights Templar myth and Arthurian legend, they are stalwart protectors and vengeance seekers. Today we’re going to dive into a new way to use the Lay on Hands feautre to deepen the spiritual aspect, like how we explored how the druidcraft cantrip can be used in your own worlds. A D&D paladin can be a rich trove of story and character. here we’re just going to lay our hands on something to enrich the experience.
Lay on hands can activate artefacts
As with the previous entries where we’ve explored how to squeeze more utility out of druids simply by placing something in the world or making fighters more functional by fulfilling a suggestion made in the Player’s Handbook, here we’re concentrating on the paladin.
D&D gives fantastic options for all of the classes in their entries but leaves plenty of how to integrate that into your game worlds in the hands of the players and Dungeon Master. This can seem very daunting, especially to those new to the game.
Most classes have one or two unique abilities that make them what they are. Paladins are one of those that receive more than one at 1st level. Divine Sense has obvious utility already, interacting with the world by allowing the paladin to detect outside or inherently evil forces such as fiends or undead. Lay on Hands has less obvious utility, though. It heals damage and, in larger doses, can cure diseases and poisons. It’s useful, but there’s something about D&D that other systems don’t always have, and that’s history! We can use this history to our benefit for inspiration.
Paladins used to channel energy
In third edition D&D, paladins were the chosen of their deities imbued with the power to channel godly forces. This translated into Positive Energy and Negative Energy channeling, a trait shared with clerics and a few others. (Classes became an excessively expansive list in this edition…)
Positive Energy was used to damage undead and heal the living, with vague allusions to other minor effects like activating certain magic items and locations, might be used to identify your alignment, etc. It was through channeling Positive Energy that paladins could heal using their Lay on Hands class ability.
Considering this, let’s bring this abstract concept with us into 5E D&D and not actually change the ability, but simply our understanding of how the ability works. We can even recontextualise it so that it’s not divine energy from the gods that we’re channeling but rather our spirit, our sense of justice, or another type of energy. Either way, we’re pumping out some kind of radiation or power that reshapes the world in a positive way. It just so happens that it commonly heals and cures diseases.
Expanding our options for paladins
With this, all that’s needed is to populate our world with items and artefacts that can make use of the Lay on Hands ability. Let’s create a shrine that activates whenever Lay on Hands is used on it. This restricts it to paladins only for now, but this can be expanded to allow any healing magic to work so clerics, druids and bards can use them too.
The shrine can look like anything. It should give some clue as to what happens when it’s activated and should present a magical aura with detect magic but appear strange and indistinct. A shrine can be a statue in a crypt, simple fountain with etchings of a goddess of life and healing along the rims, or an archway ornately carved with small dragons around the edge.
Once you have what it looks like, and a suitable place in your world to place it (perhaps in a hidden tree grove a few miles outside the town, deep in the catacombs of the city temple or in a dungeon somewhere), we can then describe what it does when the Lay on Hands class ability is used.
In 5E D&D, Lay on Hands allows a paladin to spend points from a pool to activate certain effects. One point from the pool heals 1 hit point, 5 points removes a disease or poison, and any number of them can be expended in one action to achieve the desired effect.
These shrines are going to have decent effects and so are going to require 5 points to activate. This means a 1st-level paladin can only activate them once per long rest, and not be able to heal their companions that day.
The Ancestor Shrine
A stone shrine carved in the shape of someone. Perhaps it’s a statue of a mighty warrior set above their burial site. Activation costs 5 points from the Lay on Hands ability. For every 5 points spent thereafter, improvements to the effect are made.
Activation grants a bonus action to the paladin that can be used to attack an enemy within 5 feet. The ancestral spirits summoned by the shrine bypass armour and do direct damage to their flesh, dealing 1d8 radiant damage. No need for an attack roll, it simply happens. Point and click. This is a special shrine, remember, and isn’t something the character can take with them. It’s an environmental effect they’re activating for an energetic and dramatic event, so feel free to embellish these effects as much as you feel comfortable.
Every 5 points pumped into the shrine thins the veil that much more, allowing a more powerful spirit to be brought through. Add 1d8 to the damage it does each time.
Now let’s start putting limits on this. We don’t want this to be an ability they now have forever, so a limit of the granted bonus action lasting only a minute seems reasonable. That’s the length of a good fight. Being in the right place at the right time, having the right conviction and the right resources grants you this timely boost to your prowess.
The statue can also grant access to the magic item held in its grasp that it releases upon activation. Another minor tweak that might be an interesting shrine in and of itself. Imagine finding the treasure of a dungeon trapped behind the petrified remains of another adventurer, and either smashing the stone warrior or laying on hands for 1 point will remove the obstacle.
The healing fountain
I alluded to another fantasy trope above, so I thought I’d outline it in the vein of another paladin shrine you can activate using Lay on Hands. Let’s take a fountain and say it’s bone dry. It has etchings and carvings on it referring to a goddess of life and healing. If the paladin uses their Lay on Hands class feature and spends 5 points it spouts forth with a healing solution: enough to heal 1d8 Hit Points when consumed. They have to be quick to bottle it up and it won’t be a lot.
By pumping more points into it, the more healing solution is let loose. Every 5 points produces another dose that heals 1d8. As something that might be found long forgotten in the basement of some ancient temple, the puzzle to work out how to use it would be enough to give the adventure at least a small amount of intrigue.
And remember, you’re not destabilising the economy of healing if this is a shrine that is in one particular spot. The party has to leave at some point. If they want to spend all that money on food and containers in order to spend a few months forcing the paladin to make healing potions, so be it. In the meantime, the orcs have demolished the nearby town.
The pseudodragon guide
In D&D, few creatures make me curious about the mindset of the designers more than the pseudodragon. I would love to be a fly on the wall, watching what I can only assume was a drunken argument about whether a polymorphed dragon could mate with a wasp.
Our subterranean archway with the dragon markings around it can, upon feeding it 5 points from the paladin’s Lay on Hands class feature, create a flash of light as a portal is quickly created and destroyed inside the archway in an instant. Out of it flies a pseudodragon.
This pseudodragon is a guide for the dungeon, providing limited insights and warning of some known dangers. Recently set traps, ambushes and the location of newer treasures and items will be completely unknown to it, and the information it has could be centuries out of date, but it’s handy to have something like this on hand if you want to describe the characters making their way through a maze-like structure without having to account for things like getting lost.
Lay on Hands can activate artifacts
How about portable items? The portability of it makes it immediately more useful and thus more powerful. What I propose here is, yes, by all means, create new magic items and artifacts for paladins, but 5E D&D has presented another mechanic that we can look at for this class ability to be used on: attunement.
Rather than require a magic item like a Holy Avenger to have an hour with a paladin before it’s useful, how about allowing use of the item that requires attunement for 1 minute if you use the Lay on Hands ability to pump 5 points into it?
Running into a lich’s throne room needn’t be terrifying: her ritual involves destroying the Holy Avenger in a font of fiendish origin. Simply dash towards the sword, wrest it from the beams of dark magic and wield it against the forces of evil! It’s dramatic, thematic and so much cooler than simply rocking up to the lair fully prepared. Who goes into a dungeon fully prepared? And if you think you do… where’s your 10-foot pole?
A note on Artefacts and Artifacts
Artefacts are things, phenomena out in the world. Constructs of language and society, ‘artefact’ is a word that can encompass anything given the right context. The air we breathe is an artefact of the planet Earth.
Artifacts are definite objects, things given status among others. Some magical items in D&D are called artifacts, and this simply means they’re special and have rules that usually aren’t duplicated elsewhere. They’re often unique.
This article is discussing the former, but that can include the latter. If you want to create a D&D artifact in your world that is activated by the paladin’s Lay on Hands class ability then, by all means, go ahead and let us know how it went in the comments below! [NERDITOR’S NOTE: Huh. I honestly thought it was just a British spelling of our American English word. Learn something every day.]