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My party and I are very new to D&D, so we are still learning a lot of the rules. Anyway, I have chosen the Oath of Vengeance for my paladin.

During a battle, I wanted to use Vow of Enmity against my enemy. However, my DM said I couldn't use it because I didn't have a specific vengeance against said enemy. He basically told me that I can only use the vow if I can come up with a reason as to why the enemy deserves it.

What are the requirements to use Vow of Enmity? Can I really only use it if I can come up with a reason to swear vengeance against the enemy? Or I am just able to use it whenever I want (once per rest, obviously, using Channel Divinity) simply because I have taken the Oath of Vengeance?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What reason did you have for being in that particular fight? Do you normally fight people who haven't done anything to deserve it? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Aug 26 '20 at 22:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ we were finishing a quest and had to remove a monster from the basement of a cursed house \$\endgroup\$
    – iamgordy
    Aug 26 '20 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 26 '20 at 23:51
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Vow of Enmity can be used if all of these are true

  1. You are able to use a bonus action.
  2. You are able to "utter" things.
  3. There is a creature within 10 feet of you.
  4. You can see that creature.
  5. You have a use of your Channel Divinity available.

That's it. There is no requirement that the creature even be hostile - you could utter a vow of enmity against a housecat that's calmly sitting at your feet.

D&D 5e is balanced around abilities doing what they say they do

A common mistake that new DMs make is applying "logic" to mechanics. I call it a mistake, not because it's forbidden by the rules - the DM has the power to describe the world as they see fit - instead, I see it as a fundamental misunderstanding of what 5e is as a system. D&D 5e is primarily mechanics-focused, particularly when it comes to combat - hence the scare-quotes around "logic".

If you start applying "logic" to the mechanics of 5e, it's really easy to break things. The classic example is DMs requiring rogues to actually sneak around to use their Sneak Attack feature (rather than just have advantage or an adjacent ally). This "makes sense", but it also completely guts a rogue's combat ability. On turns without Sneak Attack, a 20th-level rogue only deals slightly more damage than a 1st-level wizard.

Bringing it back around to your Vow of Enmity - Oath of Vengeance is balanced around having advantage against one creature per short rest. In exchange for this powerful ability, their 7th level Relentless Avenger feature is the weakest of the three PHB paladin subclasses. On the flip side, Ancients and Devotion paladins get less impressive 3rd-level options, but powerful 7th level options.

The answers to this question may also be of interest to you: What is the source of the "spells do only what they say they do" rules interpretation principle?

Class features may have non-mechanical names

When I say "abilities do what they say they do", I'm really talking about the text of the ability, not its name. There are many abilities with names that don't match their mechanics1:

The Sage Advice Compendium PDF covers this (p. 16)2:

I find it confusing that the mage armor spell is named that when it doesn't count as armor. Some spells and class features have figurative, not literal, names. The text of the spell or class feature explains what it does.

How does that mechanic work narratively?

The path to narrative justification should start with the assumption that the mechanic works as-written1. Once you and your DM are on the same page mechanically, you can examine the narrative why and how. For Vow of Enmity, that may be as simple as "that hobgoblin stands in our way - threatening our mission - so I vow to eliminate it".

Reskinning is another option3. You and your DM could reword Vow of Enmity, without changing any of the mechanics:

Precise Strikes. As a bonus action, you can utter a prayer for victory against a creature you can see within 10 feet of you, using your Channel Divinity. You gain advantage on attack rolls against the creature for 1 minute or until it drops to 0 hit points or falls unconscious.

In the end, you and your DM can agree to anything. Change any feature you want - D&D has a long history of homebrew. Before you go changing things, though, I'd recommend meeting D&D 5e on its own terms - as a reasonably well-balanced, mechanics-focused system.


1 Comment from V2Blast
2 Comment from Ruse
3 Comment from Please stop being evil

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    \$\begingroup\$ this is an excellent answer, but it may be of use to briefly address reskinning. If it bothers the GM that your power is described as functioning via vengeance when there's no reason for vengeance, then ask if you can have described as functioning via some other method, like intense focus or what not. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 27 '20 at 5:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a question about mage armor in the sage advice compendium, and the answer explains that the names of features/spells are often just figurative and do not alter the rules. I think it's the ideal quote to support your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruse
    Aug 27 '20 at 6:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be just me, but a very minor note I have is that the amount of bolding in this answer is a bit distracting. If you can, cutting it down would help (for me) to highlight things better. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rubiksmoose
    Aug 27 '20 at 16:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Another point, if playing with a DM who requires narrative "justification" for using your Vow of Enmity, I'd point them to the oath tenants, especially: "Restitution: If my foes wreak ruin on the world, it is because I failed to stop them. I must help those harmed by their misdeeds." You owe restitution because you didn't stop them. "With great power comes great responsibility", implies that you can and should use your paladin powers to stop your foes, before they can act. \$\endgroup\$
    – sharur
    Aug 27 '20 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ As an owner of two cats, I've definitely uttered more than a few vows of enmity against them. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 27 '20 at 19:20
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The only mechanical requirement is that you can see the creature and they be within 10 feet.

The DM is adding a role-playing requirement to the ability, which is their prerogative as a DM. The Oath of Vengeance follows specific tenets which "revolve around punishing wrongdoers by any means necessary", and the DM wants to you use your abilities in strict accordance with the oath.

I'd speak with your DM. If they want role-playing to be a requirement for all oaths, and you did not build your character with that requirement in mind, then you two need to discuss the issue and come to a compromise. Either they can lax the role-playing requirement to allow you to use your abilities a bit more freely, or you can rework your character in a way more conducive for the role-playing expectation.

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