5E Clerics Vs Paladins: Comparing & Contrasting DnD’s Holy Warriors

You might be torn between the Paladin and 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 are holy warriors serving a deity or a cause, but they significantly differ in how they approach their roles. So, what is the main difference between Paladin and Clerics in D&D 5e?

Paladins are knights whose primary role is to seek out and smite evil, while clerics can be seen as priests who can serve either good or evil gods. Paladins are better suited for tanking and leadership roles, while clerics are the best healers, have a vast spell pool, and can fill more support roles.

From a roleplaying perspective, the Cleric is more likely to be tied to a Temple, to other brothers/sisters in the ranks, while the Paladin is more of the lone wolf or small group adventurer willing to strike out wherever faith, the gods, or their own instincts take them. While this isn’t true 100% of the time, Paladins can be a bit more on the fanatical and individualistic side while Clerics will reconnect in each settlement they approach.

While the Cleric may not be the first choice over the Paladin to solo-duel an adversary, they still know how to handle themselves in combat. And while both can be divine spellcasters, their roles and abilities differ significantly. So, to find out what makes each class unique and how they can complement each other at a party, keep reading as we explore their differences and similarities.

5E Cleric and Paladin
Stripped of color and down to the bare bones – who comes out on top: Cleric or Paladin?

Paladin And Cleric Classes: Divine Insights And Expectations

If you’re considering playing a paladin or a cleric in D&D 5th edition, chances are that you like the idea of playing a holy warrior but you don’t know which one fits your character concept best. While both parties can be a lot of fun, and there’s no hard and fast rules saying how you have to play a certain class, it’s essential to understand the basics of each class to make sure you have the spells, equipment, and core stat setup needed to have a character designed to play the type of role you’re looking forward to.

Let’s take a brief look at 5E Paladins and 5E Clerics before diving deeper into each class and what they have to offer.


Paladins are holy warriors sworn to uphold justice and righteousness, gaining their powers through a divine oath. They excel in close combat able to tank incoming attacks with a high AC and solid hit point base, not to mention great passive abilities as they level up, and can smite their enemies with devastating attacks – waiting to add the damage through the fury of their faith until the hit has already landed.

A few examples of why players choose paladins over clerics are because they:

  • Prefer a class that is better suited for tanking and leadership roles
  • Want to play as a holy warrior who seeks out and smites evil
  • Value having auras that grant benefits to allies
  • Like the idea of having a spellcasting focus on buffing and protecting allies
  • Want to have strong martial abilities and access to limited spellcasting

Paladins are a fantastic class for long-time players who have always gone with melee but want to dip their toes into the water of spellcasting.


Clerics are divine spellcasters who serve a deity or a cause. They have a vast spell pool and can cast spells to heal allies or harm foes. Clerics can be powerful support characters in a party and are often the first line of defense against enemy spells and the first to bring healing when a battle gets rough.

A few examples of why players choose Clerics over Paladins are because they:

  • Prefer a versatile spellcaster who can fill a wide range of roles beyond combat
  • Enjoy the ability to heal and support the party with spells
  • Interested in a wider variety of domains and deities to serve
  • Value having access to a larger spell pool with a broader range of spells than paladins
  • They want to play a character who can serve either good or evil gods, any alignment, depending on character backstory

While a paladin possesses divine power and religious training, there may be better candidates to lead a theological discussion or conduct ceremonial events like weddings (cough, Cleric). Similarly, a cleric, despite being capable in combat, may not be the best fit to lead a group of soldiers because if the healer goes down, well that’s it.

Plus most clerics do more damage via spell not from hand-to-hand combat while Paladins are happy to smite with sword or axe or war hammer and can do serious damage doing it.

Tip: A cleric can mentor and counsel a member of royalty, while a paladin can offer protection and serve as a champion for them.

Look at Paladin first if…

  • You want to be frontline and smack things hard
  • You’re a beginner to magic and just want to dip your toes
  • You like supporting the team…but not from using your actions or bonus actions
  • You’re looking to play a strongly lawful character
  • You like the idea of causing chaos via an explainable moral code that falls right into your roleplaying
  • You’re thinking a more “fanatical” build

Look at Cleric first if…

  • You’re all about the healing
  • Supporting a party is how you love to play
  • You want more freedom to roleplay outside of lawful good
  • You want a full casting class
  • You want to be more of a team player but you’re a chaos goblin at heart

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

Paladins are the holy knights of D&D, armed with heavy armor, powerful weapons, and divine magic to smite evil and defend the innocent. Paladins are all about serving their oath and deity and protecting those needing protection. Even beyond the heavy armor and ability to fight, the defining characteristic of most paladins in some form is that fiery faith that drives them to the very limits of what they are capable of.

As the 5th Edition Player Handbook puts it on page 82, Paladins are involved with the powerful bond of taking vows and sometimes only consider themselves true paladins once reaching their 3rd level and have taken up their Sacred Oath.

So when creating a Paladin, you should take some extra time to plan and consider the nature of their holy quest, discussing this with your DM, of course, to make sure it’s in line with what they have planned for the game or helps to make sure the details of your quest work in a way that can easily work as part of the campaign.

Half Orc Paladin from 5E
The ferocity of a half orc fits in well with the fierce single-mindedness needed to succeed (and survive) as a paladin.

The Role Of A Paladin

Paladins are natural leaders and defenders, and they excel in both roles. They are often the first to charge into battle, leading the charge and protecting their allies with their shields and armor. They will be right at home in a front line that includes a barbarian and fighter and probably have the respect of both, to boot.

Paladins can also serve as healers and support characters, using their spells and auras to buff and heal their allies. This is a secondary ability as the Lay on Hands ability and very limited number of spell slots means it’s best not to rely on them as a group healer. Their best buffs are passive as they level up, meaning they give support to fellow members of the front line by simply being in the front line.

Their leading role, however, is to seek out and destroy evil and to defend those who cannot defend themselves. This can mean that even the Lawful Good Paladin can inadvertently cause chaos because while the party might know the best move is “Let’s hold off and catch them by surprise later,” the Paladin’s personal code might demand immediate intervention, causing things to kick off in a chaotic and non-optimal way.

The main reasons that make a Paladin’s role unique are their raw stats and class proficiencies and abilities. Among the many noticeable differences, some of them include:

  • 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 with a high AC as they can dive into heavy armor right 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 the Undead, fiends, consecrated and desecrated areas, making them great for protecting against supernatural threats. This can be used serval times a day depending on the Charisma modifier.

On the other hand, a Cleric can only gain access to Divine sense at level 2 and may only use it once per short or long rest. 

  • 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, taking off a small load from other healers.
  • Divine Smite: Becoming overpowered damaged dealers from level 2, Divine Smite packs a radiant punch to most melee attacks and can be magnified even further down the line when multiclassing.
  • Spellcasting: While less versatile than Clerics, Paladins can still have access to a range of spells that can be used for offense, defense, and support, allowing them to adapt to various situations, but if you use 100% of your spell casting on Smite, no one is going to have a problem with that.

Paladins are all about 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 lot of damage with their weapons, mainly when they use their smite ability.

Still, Paladins are not just mindless brutes, they also have a strong sense of honor and duty and can be their group’s moral center, or at the very least, a corrective conscience. This means they may be called upon to make difficult decisions or act as conflict mediators.

Pros And Cons: Is The Paladin The Choice For You?

As with any class, the Paladin also has pros and cons that you should consider when comparing them to Clerics. However, know that Paladins are surprisingly versatile within the narrow range of what they tend to do.

For example, a Paladin’s versatility can allow them to switch from a defensive tank to a damage dealer, depending on the enemy’s threat level. On the other hand, running out of spells or abilities in a lengthy dungeon crawl can leave the Paladin unable to lend healing support, but they still have enough tankiness and passive bonuses to boost up the party.

Similarly, a Paladin’s alignment can create tension within the group if they have to choose between their oath and the party’s goals, while their code of conduct can limit their interactions with certain NPCs or factions. Some things simply cannot be negotiated – at least in the eyes of a Paladin, and no Paladin would disagree with that statement. Oaths are oaths for a reason.

While the above examples can be avoided with a creative mind, both the advantages and disadvantages remain a possible reality in most campaigns. Still, to keep the general idea in mind, here is a list of basic pros and cons to consider if you are thinking more along the lines of Paladin in 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: They have access to some of the most potent abilities in the game, such as smites, auras, and spells. These abilities can damage enemies significantly, heal and buff allies, or remove adverse effects.
  • High survivability: With their heavy armor, shields, and pool of hit points, Paladins can withstand much 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: With strict alignment requirements, Paladins are usually required to be Lawful Good Alignment. It means they may have to make difficult choices that align with their beliefs, even if it conflicts with the party’s goals or morals. This is true even if serving a deity who is more chaotic since that just means their personal code will appear chaotic to outsiders, but it’s still a strict code of conduct.
  • Roleplaying limitations: With their specific code of conduct and values that they must uphold, Paladins can often be limited in their roleplaying opportunities. With the DM’s discretion, they may have to avoid particular actions or behaviors that conflict with their oath or deity or risk losing their powers. There are workarounds for this, but for new players it can be difficult at first.

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

Clerics are divine spellcasters, acting as intermediaries between their deities and the mortal realm. They use their spells to heal the wounded, banish the Undead, and bring massive damage onto the battlefield when needed. Their role is to support their allies in combat and help their party overcome obstacles on their journey.

While that may sound similar to Paladins, and there are indeed similarities, there is still much to uncover in this versatile class.

As the 5th Edition Player Handbook explains on page 56, one of the essential factors when creating a Cleric is choosing which deity to serve since not all of them are good – unlike the Paladins’ list of choices. And when a cleric takes on a life of adventuring and journey – for whatever cause (good or evil) it is mainly because their deity has demanded it.

In modern games this doesn’t have to be held to a hard standard – and indeed in many campaigns a young Cleric is told by older warriors of his order that he must go out to earn his stripes, to to be their representative on this thing that may or may not be a problem – and off into a new 5E campaign you go!

It’s also worth pointing out that two clerics can both be good or good-adjacent but look completely different. A cleric serving a god of law and order will act much differently than a cleric in service of a chaotic deity. Same with a god of commerce versus a god of nature.

There are clerics in service of deities of all types, but even from these limited examples, you can see how radically different they can be in style to one another (not to mention spell choices and mechanics!)

Clerics can access a wide range of spells and abilities and choose from different domains to specialize in, depending on their deity. While the majority of clerics tend to be from a handful of sub-classes (we see you Life, Forge, and Twilight Domains), they are actually a very versatile class that can fill different roles in a party, including support, damage dealing, and healing. They are proficient in medium armor and shields, making them decent frontline fighters, though most domains also give heavy armor proficiency.

Most players I’ve seen will spend a feat for heavy armor proficiency even if their domain doesn’t grant it, wanting that extra protection since there is no Geneva Convention in D&D – enemies can and will aim for the healer.

Dwarf Cleric from 5E
Clerics come in many forms, and you can bet a Dwarven cleric is going to be able to use a war hammer in addition to spell casting.

The Role Of A Cleric

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

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

The main reasons that make a Cleric’s role unique are their spellcasting and domain abilities. Some of the noticeable differences include the following:

  • Spellcasting: Clerics are known for their powerful spellcasting abilities, and they have access to the entire cleric spell list, which includes a wide range of spells that can be used for offense, defense, and support. Unlike 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, bring down massive 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 several domains to choose from, each with its own unique abilities, such as the Life domain, which grants bonus healing abilities, or the War domain, which gives bonus combat abilities.

There are 22 Cleric Domains in 5e, including the ones from core rulebooks and carious supplements – each with its list of deities to choose from ( Note: Plenty of research would be required).

For each domain, you can find examples of gods who have power over that aspect of the divine. These gods come from various campaign settings such as Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Dragonlance, and ancient mythologies such as Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, and Norse.

  • Turn Undead: At level 2, Clerics gain the ability to Turn Undead, which allows them to use 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 (because you can!).
  • Channel Divinity: At level 2, Clerics gain access to Channel Divinity, which allows them to call upon their deity’s power to perform a variety of effects. The exact effects depend on the Cleric’s domain, but they can include things like turning undead, healing allies, or dealing extra damage to enemies.
  • Divine Intervention: At level 10, Clerics gain access to Divine Intervention, which allows them to call upon their deity for aid in times of great need. While the exact nature of the assistance is left up to the DM, it can be anything from healing the party to summoning a powerful celestial ally!
  • Support Abilities: While Paladins can also provide support in combat, Clerics have a more comprehensive range of abilities that can benefit their allies. Additionally, some domains grant bonus ability to give temporary hit points to allies.

Pros And Cons: Is The Cleric The Choice For You?

As with any class, the Cleric has pros and cons that you should consider when creating your character. Keep in mind that because of the sheer variety of Cleric types, some of these pros might not apply to all cleric builds just as some of the cons won’t apply to all cleric builds.

Pros of Playing a 5E Cleric

  • Versatility: Clerics are versatile spellcasters, able to adapt to various situations and fill different roles in a party, including support, damage dealing, and healing.
  • Healing: With access to many more healing spells than the Paladin, Clerics are considered the primary healers in a party and can keep their allies in the fight.
  • Spellcasting: Clerics can access the entire cleric spell list and prepare different spells daily, allowing them to adapt to the situation.
  • Channel Divinity: This ability allows Clerics to perform mighty divine deeds and can be a game-changer in certain situations.
  • Variety: Clerics have many subclasses that grant them different features and spells, allowing 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, which can limit their survivability in combat if you want to play a cleric that doesn’t get heavy armor as part of their domain.
  • Spellcasting: While Clerics can access a wide range of spells, they still have limited spell slots and must manage them carefully, especially if balancing healing, support,
  • Alignment restrictions: Like Paladins, Clerics are tied to their deity’s alignment and may have to make difficult choices that align with their faith.

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

How Both Classes Can Combine Forces And Play Together

Paladin and Cleric are two classes that can work together very well in any D&D 5e campaign, as they share a common source of divine power and a dedication to a cause or a 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 can be 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 what the other players choose to play.

Here are some ways they can work together in combat:


Both classes can deal significant damage when combining their spells and abilities.

  • Paladins can use their smites, which can be stacked with other spells like searing smite or branding smite, to deal extra radiant damage on a hit – which could make any form of evil force quiver in their boots. Since they wait until a hit to use smite, they can always save one for a critical hit, adding even more damaged dice to be doubled.
  • Additionally, Clerics can use their spiritual weapon and sacred flame to deal bonus force and radiant damage at range.
  • They can also use their guiding bolt to grant advantage on the next attack, which can help Paladin land a critical hit or a smite.
  • Finally, clerics can also use their domain spells to deal damage of different types, such as fire, lightning, or necrotic.


Both classes possess the ability to heal themselves or others, but by working together, they can ease the burden and support each other in various ways.

  • For instance, the Paladin can utilize their lay-on hands to cure conditions or provide healing, allowing themselves and the Cleric to conserve spell slots for other purposes.
  • Meanwhile, the Cleric can use their healing word as a bonus action, enabling them to heal without sacrificing their action for another spell or attack.
  • 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 simultaneously 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 their higher-level spell slots for other situations.


Protection is an essential aspect of combat that both divine classes can masterfully handle. Both classes have 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. Additionally, they can use their aura of courage to make themselves and nearby allies immune to fear.
  • Paladins can also use spells like shield of faith, protection from evil and good, or sanctuary to protect themselves and others from harm.
  • On the other hand, Clerics also have spells like shield of faith, protection from evil and good, sanctuary, aid, or warding bond to protect themselves or others from harm. 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.

The above example is a straightforward walkthrough of how both classes have an element of similarity but remain vastly different and can become a powerhouse duo when teaming up in combat situations.

Working together, the Paladin and Cleric can create a strong frontline, with the Paladin taking the brunt of the attacks and the Cleric providing backup protection and healing when needed. Their combined abilities allow them to handle any situation and protect their party from danger.

Combining Roleplay And Playstyle During Exploration

Paladins and Cleric can also be excellent teams in exploration, as they can use their skills, senses, and spells to overcome obstacles and find clues. Here are some ways they can work together in quest:


Both classes have different skills that they can use to interact with NPCs, objects, or environments.

  • Paladins can use their high strength to break down doors or carry heavy objects, while Cleric can use their high intelligence to solve puzzles or decipher ancient texts.
  • Another example would be that Paladins can use their high charisma to persuade or intimidate NPCs, while Cleric can use their high wisdom to insight or perceive hidden clues.


These two divine classes also have different senses that they can use to detect the presence of enemies or allies, for example:

  • 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.
  • A Cleric can use their divine sense feature to detect the same things within 60 feet of them. They can also use their knowledge of religion to identify the symbols or rituals associated with different deities or cults.


Paladins and Clerics naturally have different spells that they can use to enhance their senses, communicate with others, or travel faster.

Paladins can use their spells to aid them in exploration, including:

On the other hand, Clerics can use a far larger pool of spells to aid them in exploration, like:

Teamwork Tips And Tricks

Clerics and Paladins are two classes that have a lot in common but also have a lot of differences that make them work well together. By combining their divine power and skills, they can be a formidable team that can handle any challenge a DM can throw their way.

Here are some tricks and tips to make the most of their teamwork:

Coordinate Actions And Spells

Both classes can 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, while the Cleric uses 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 Subclasses That Can Compliment Each Other

With different subclasses that grant unique spells and features, choosing compatible subclasses can optimize their teamwork.

Share Resources

The Paladin and Cleric possess distinct resources that can complement each other’s abilities. For instance, the Paladin can use lay-on hands to heal or cure conditions, while the Cleric can use their channel divinity feature to heal themselves or others. Furthermore, they can buff each other or their allies with spells such as shield of faith, aid, or bless.

Respect Differences

Both classes may have diverse personalities and motivations that may clash. With that in mind, they should respect their differences and attempt to 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 have different strengths and play styles. Paladins excel as tanks and damage dealers with divine smites, and offer interesting roleplaying opportunities for creative players who can take the rigid code of a Paladin in many directions from serious to comedic or even both.

Clerics tend to shine as versatile spellcasters with domain-specific powers and are often the heart and spine of an adventuring party, keeping them together and standing through the most difficult of challenges.

They both 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