December 20, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Paladin: Sacred Oaths

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

Coming down from the monastery of the new Monastic Traditions in the last Unearthing the Arcana, it is time to take new Sacred Oaths as Paladins for this week's Unearthed Arcana. Instead of giving us new oaths that would help banish evil, the designers have decided to turn a little to the dark side by giving us Oaths for evil-based paladins that I wouldn't be surprised that it is one of the most often requested subclass.

Let terror reign as new agents who have taken the Oath of Conquest and Oath of Treachery bring the darkness to all who would stand against them.

Oath of Conquest

  • On a flavor level, I can also see this being the Paladin equivalent for the War Domain of Clerics, so they may not necessarily bend towards evil per se. However, its tenets seem to remind me of tyranny since it considers holding the reins of power as important as defeating ones enemies. 
  • Most of the Oath Spells seem appropriate except for some odd choices like Blight and Insect Plague that could have been swapped with Compulsion and Planar Binding respectively.
  • While Conquering Strike works similarly to the Oath of Vengeance's Abjure Enemy, I like that it has a different means of ending the Frightened condition.
  • Guided Strike is the same feature as the War Domain Cleric's, which is a good place for both classes to have an overlap.
  • Aura of Conquest seems pretty standard in the base Paladin's design, but causing Disadvantage to Frightened means it has synergy with its Conquering Strike.
  • Not as powerful as the Devotion Paladin's Aura of Devotion but Implacable Spirit might be stepping into too much toes of other Sacred Oaths.
  • Invincible Conqueror can seem overpowered when compared to what the other 20th level Sacred Oath features can do in terms of combat, but somehow I feel that it fits with this Sacred Oath. If I had to adjust it, I might just reduce the Resistance to be similar with the Barbarian's normal resistances for Rage than getting the full package. 

Oath of Treachery

  • While the flavor strongly reads to be an alternative to the Oathbreaker in the Dungeon Master's Guide, the features of both Oaths could not be any different. I'm guessing they wanted to make a subclass similar to the College of Whispers for Bards for paladins, but reading the gods that are worshiped by these Paladins doesn't seem to support that idea as well.
  • The Oath of Treachery has an interesting choice of Oath Spells. None that I would replace though but it certainly seem to encourage a more stealthy and less combative style of play for a Paladin.
  • Conjure Duplicate has many similarities with the Trickery Domain Cleric's Invoke Duplicity, but it has a few nuances in the wording, which generally favors the Cleric's version more, since the Paladin's version has more limitations.
  • I'm not sure what the designers are trying to do with Poison Strike. Even though it requires a use of Channel Divinity, other Sacred Oaths do not deal as much damage as Poison Strike. I would have preferred if it stuck to the similar design with the other Sacred Oaths, causing the Poisoned condition and adding just extra damage according to the Paladin's Charisma modifier.
  • Another unorthodox design in the Aura of Treachery which has 2 features but can only affect creatures within 5 feet instead of the usual 10 feet. Cull the Herd would be deadly powerful if used in conjunction with Poison Strike. I might have been alright with this aura if it only had the Treacherous Strike ability, which might be something that you will see very often in future supplements or feats. Again, not a fan of a fixed number times of use.
  • Blackguard's Escape seems to do as much as other 15th level Sacred Oath features, but it could be considered one of the weaker ones.
  • I guess looking at what prior Sacred Oath features are doing, it should be no surprise of what Icon of Deceit can do, which is effectively a Greater Invisibility without having to Concentrate. With the Invisible condition, it deals maximum damage for Poison Strike and the doubles the Paladin's level (which is 60 damage in total). 

On a design perspective, I much prefer the Oath of Conquest but I can easily see how most people would want to play as an Oath of Treachery. However, while the Oath of Conquest does not require a strictly evil alignment, I can't say if DMs would appreciate having the Oath of Treachery being allowed on the table without requiring the DM's permission like the Oathbreaker. While I don't really care for imagining its impact on the Adventurer's League, but I probably wouldn't allow it on my table as it is now since I have more mechanic concerns. Even so, I don't think the Oath of Treachery would fit very well in most of my campaign ideas, which means I have to specifically design a campaign around this Oath, which is generally problematic in my eyes.

Wizards would be taking a break from their usual schedule for the next couple of weeks and so will I. I'm looking forward to see what would be introduced for the Ranger since the last Unearthed Arcana which I had covered. This could be my last post for the year, so I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! And see you in the next Unearthing the Arcana!

Last Updated: 20/12/16

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