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We have a long-running D&D 5e game in which there is a Paladin who worships a god invented by the Kuo-toa.

Per the Monster Manual:

Kuo-toa worship gods of their own insane creation, but if enough kuo-toa believe that a god is real, the energy of their collective subconscious can cause that god to manifest as a physical entity.

In our campaign, the Paladin, who is not a Kuo-toa but worships a god created by them, increasingly believes that the god does not represent what he thought it did. It turns out that the god is evil. This is creating a crisis of faith for him, and he will likely turn his back on the god entirely.

This is different than the Oathbreaker as described in the DMG, which is about Paladins who turn towards evil. The character has not broken his oath and is still following the tenets, but does not believe in the god.

My question is: If a Paladin abandons belief in a god, but does not seek to "pursue some dark ambition or serve an evil power," as stated in the DMG's Oathbreaker section, what happens?

Without faith, is he still a Paladin? Does he lose his magical abilities? Or should the character be re-classed into some other martial class upon abandoning his faith?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 21:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just as a point of semantics, when you say "does not believe in the god" I believe you're trying to use the real-world idiom for lack of faith, but that is not something you'd ever hear from a sane person living in the Forgotten Realms & co. Kuo-toa aside, it is never that you believe or not in gods, gods are real, miracles happen daily, and people even ascend to godhood before the eyes of the entire world. It's more whether or not people are aligned to what gods stand for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blindy
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just posting this so it's linked as a related question: What happens when a Paladin falls from grace? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 16:42

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Changing to a new Oath may be appropriate

Other answers cover that there aren't any rules or flavor for Paladins which are fundamentally incompatible with your player's character realizing that he no longer agrees with the god he was worshiping. A Paladin's powers aren't necessarily derived from a god in the first place and it is entirely reasonable for the Paladin to abandon the god but keep his oath both flavorfully and mechanically.

However, if your player wants a mechanical change to represent such a profound shattering of their beliefs, especially if their oath isn't compatible with what they've learned (perhaps the original oath was specifically related to serving the deity) then an option from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything could be what you need (emphasis added):

Sometimes a character undergoes a dramatic transformation in their beliefs and abilities. When a character experiences a profound self-realization or faces an entity or a place of overwhelming power, beauty, or terror, the DM might allow an immediate subclass change.

I think that the situation you described certainly qualifies as a dramatic transformation of beliefs, possibly with an accompanied profound self-realization. The decision should not be unilateral from either the DM or the player, but if you discuss this option you may be able to find a new Oath that better aligns with the character's new priorities. Maybe an Oath of Vengeance against an individual or group who deceived the Paladin about the true nature of the god (or even against the god itself), an Oath of Devotion to a new god or to specifically finding his own "justice" without a specific god, or an Oath of Redemption after realizing how someone might be following evil without being evil. It definitely depends on what his previous oath is, and how his character plans to react to his revelation.

I don't recall any specific guidance for entirely changing class, but I don't think it would be particularly disruptive to move to a Fighter if the character is so distraught that they don't even want a new oath. The specifics of that change would also depend on a lot more details about the character's existing Paladin build and their new intentions; there aren't any official rules about how the conversion should happen.

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Paladins are not powered directly by their god, but by their oath

A paladin may address their god while making the Sacred Oath—but their god is there only as a witness. The oath is much, much bigger than that one god. The paladin swears themselves to Devotion, or the Ancients, or Vengeance, or whatever, themselves.

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

(Player’s Handbook, pg. 82)

This makes it clear that 1. a god isn’t required (“many paladins are devoted,” i.e. some are not), and 2. the god’s power isn’t required either (since those paladins who don’t have one still have powers). Particularly in the case of a god that was never good to begin with, the power the paladin may have attributed to that god didn’t actually come from that god in the first place. “The power was always within you,” and all that.

All paladin powers come from the oath. They lose those powers only when they break the oath. Even if a god of good supported their paladin status and granted them some powers, if their oath proves stronger than their faith in that god, and they leave that god’s service, their oath can and will pick up the slack.

A paladin going through a crisis of faith is going to suffer, as would anyone else who truly believed and was let down. But their paladin powers aren’t going to suffer at the same time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that this directly and explicitly contradicts how paladins worked in some prior editions, at least in some settings. 1e-3e Forgotten Realms, in particular, make a big deal about the various knightly orders that good gods sponsored and how you had to be a part of one of those orders to be a paladin, because that’s where paladin powers came from. 4e and 5e each do things differently. For that matter, non-FR 3e paladins seemed to be empowered by “Good,” itself, and also could operate even if they lost the blessing of one particular god. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ "a paladin’s power comes as much from commitments to justice itself as it does from a god" - that would also imply that a paladin's power comes as much from a god as it does from commitments to justice itself. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 4:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2357112supportsMonica In isolation, perhaps, but the context here is discussing the subset of paladins who worship a god at all—since there exist paladins who don’t worship a god at all, there are paladins whose power comes solely from the Oath. This is addressed in the answer with “Even if a god of good supported their paladin status and granted them some powers, if their oath proves stronger than their faith in that god, and they leave that god’s service, their oath can and will pick up the slack.” \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 4:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MasonWheeler As much as I love The Stormlight Archives, and as much as Sanderson puts some wonderful and unique twists on the concept, the concept itself is far, far older. I’d guess there’s pretty good odds that it’s actually older than writing itself, that heroes empowered by sacred oaths, even independent of gods, were part of oral traditions before anyone came up with a way to write them down. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 4:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Yep, it’s an ancient concept, though ‘paladins’ specifically have somewhat more modern roots. The term ‘paladin’ in modern usage comes primarily from Carolingian legend (the Twelve Paladins were Charlemagne’s equivalent to King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table), and much of the early portrayal of paladins in D&D was influenced heavily by Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions (which was also a primary influence for the Law/Chaos dichotomy in D&D). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 14:06
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The paladin suffers no mechanical consequences whatsoever.

From the PHB on paladins, p82 (emphasis mine):

Paladin
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Whatever their origin and their mission, paladins are united by their oaths to stand against the forces of evil. Whether sworn before a god's altar and the witness of a priest, in a sacred glade before nature spirits and fey beings, or in a moment of desperation and grief with the dead as the only witness, a paladin's oath is a powerful bond. It is a source of power that turns a devout warrior into a blessed champion.

The Cause of Righteousness
A paladin swears to uphold justice and righteousness, to stand with the good things of the world against the encroaching darkness, and to hunt the forces of evil wherever they lurk. Different paladins focus on various aspects of the cause of righteousness, but all are bound by the oaths that grant them power to do their sacred work. 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.

Paladins get their powers from their oaths, not from their deities (they don't even have to have a deity). A paladin could change their mind about their deity, denounce them, and crusade against other followers of their former deity, and absolutely keep all their normal paladin abilities as long as they do not break their original oath.

They may, however, have a number of roleplayed consequences.

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