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One of my players has come up with a really interesting backstory. Basically, he was brought up in a cult worshiping an evil god as a paladin of that god. Due to an event that happened, he realised that the path he had been led down from birth was the wrong one and decided to break his oath and instead work to thwart that god.

To my mind, this would be a perfect for the oathbreaker paladin class, but the description for that indicates that the oathbreaker must be evil for they have done horrific things.

Now this was a character who was evil but is becoming good trying to atone for the bad his family have done, stop his god and his agents, and try and live a good life. He is actually talking about writing his own treaties down which will be the opposite of everything his god believes. Therefore I think the oathbreaker class in this case should be allowed to be on the good end of the spectrum. We have said that the player will be neutral when the campaign starts and still having to consciously not slip back, but there is a clear arc here where he can then find his own redemption and become good.

Is this an acceptable change to the oathbreaker class, or should I be looking at pointing him to something different for the same storyline?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As written, the question in the body of your post seems very opinion-based to me - what's "acceptable" in terms of reflavoring/fluff (i.e. apart from mechanics) is entirely a matter of personal opinion, with no way to determine a single "best" answer. We can tell you (as current answers have) what the subclass is designed for as stated in its description, but you may want to edit your question to clarify what you're asking. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 21 '20 at 6:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bacskay: Don't answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 21 '20 at 7:00
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The Oathbreaker paladin subclass from the DMG is designed for evil characters, but you have other options

As you have noticed, the flavour of the class features and oath spells for the Oathbreaker (DMG, p. 97) are heavily leaning towards an evil character*, which makes sense given that it's under the Villainous Class Options section.

However, it sounds as though there might be another way to match this backstory with the paladin class.

You mention that:

He is actually talking about writing his own treaties down which will be the opposite of everything his god believes.

This, to me, sounds a lot like an oath, which is what paladins are all about. Ok sure, he's broken whatever oath he may had sworn to this old god, but he seems to have sworn (or be interested in swaring) a new oath. This makes him a regular paladin, not necessarily an oathbreaker (even though he has also broken his previous oath).

Also, remember that in 5e, a paladin's powers come from their belief in their oath, not necessarily a god (paladins in 5e aren't tied to gods as much as in previous editions):

Although many paladins are devoted to gods of good, a paladin’s power comes as much from a commitment to justice itself as it does from a god.

Personally, given other clues in your question, such as:

we have said that the player will be neutral when the campaign starts and still having to consciously not slip back, there is a clear arc here where he can then find his own redemption and become good.

So the Oath of Redemption subclass sounds like it might be a good fit.

But really, any of the subclasses (that aren't Oathbreaker) would fit, depending on the nature of the paladin's new oath, that detail is up to the player (and you, the DM).

Don't feel like breaking an oath necessarily forces you to use the Oathbreaker subclass. You are in control of the rules, not the other way around.


* I won't say that you have to be evil to use the Oathbreaker subclass, because, although it leans towards evil, someone can make a character for whom those evil-ish abilities make sense without them having to actually be evil, if they can make it work. But the implication is that Oathbreaker paladins are probably evil, given the description of them in the DMG.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Their naming conventions have always been sketchy... Breaking an oath isn't necessarily evil but it is chaotic. Think of Jaime Lannister breaking oaths for not necessarily the wrong reasons. I know I am in the minority but the old paladins were fun to play if you didn't believe that LG = stupid. Of course you had to have a DM that had the same belief. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Aug 20 '20 at 20:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it is a bit odd how they've tied "breaking an oath" to "you are an evil oathbreaker now", when breaking an oath is, as you say, more chaotic than evil. That said, LN paladins can be great fun, so I wouldn't go as far as 3.Xe's "LG only", but "lawful only" makes sense to me, at least. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Aug 20 '20 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ The pbh oaths are still mostly intended for good characters, and the DMG came out before the more grey xgte subclasses. So the idea is more a fall from grace than just breaking the oath. Name could better reflect that though. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Aug 20 '20 at 21:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Paladins in my games have to be Lawful and have a deity (latter is personal preference and the older gamer in me)... Waiting for a player to try a Paladin of Asmodeus, that will be so much fun to run. Monks can't be chaotic and clerics have to be within one step of their deity... other than that everything else is fine with me. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Aug 21 '20 at 0:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know if you remember the UA article with the Oath of Treachery... I wrote a 3 page scathing review on that one. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Aug 21 '20 at 0:20
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Ask your players.

In theory, any character concept and backstory can be feasible in the right setting and with the right group of players. You know your game's setting, and your players generally have some idea of what kind of game they want, so your best bet is to ask them if they think this character is "acceptable".

The Dungeon Masters Guide says the following about the Oathbreaker paladin:

A paladin must be evil and at least 3rd level to become an Oathbreaker.

You're the DM and have the authority to bypass this restriction. Mechanically, there's nothing about the Oathbreaker subclass features that strictly requires an evil character or playstyle. The subclass generally emphasizes offense and debuffs, but they still get all the other Paladin class features.

Aura of Hate could be an issue.

Starting at 7th level, the paladin, as well any fiends and undead within 10 feet of the paladin, gains a bonus to melee weapon damage rolls equal to the paladin’s Charisma modifier (minimum of +1).

This feature synergizes well if the Oathbreaker counts undead and fiends among their allies. The subclass was likely intended for such enemy groups.

However, this feature does not synergize well if undead and fiends are usually the paladin's enemies. The Oathbreaker cannot turn off this feature, or select which undead or fiends who benefit from the aura. If undead and fiends are usually enemies and not allies, then this feature would backfire by helping the enemies more than their allies. Depending on your campaign, this feature may become a major complication, especially at 18th level when the radius increases to 30 feet.

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