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I'm currently playing a Hexblade Warlock in a campaign who's considering picking up a Paladin multiclass. It will be for a maximum of 6 levels, so not enough for the 7th-level Sacred Oath feature. His current Ability Scores are as such:

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
13 (+1) 14 (+2) 14 (+2) 10 (+0) 12 (+1) 20 (+5)

My choice of Sacred Oath will be governed by its Channel Divinity options and Oath Spells list, due to the low levels I can spare. I also have the Great Weapon Master feat, and wield a greatsword. My question is this - which paladin subclass is better for my character?

  • Devotion: Sacred Weapon giving a +5 to attack rolls for 1 minute at the cost of 1 action
  • Conquest: Guided Strike giving +10 to one attack roll
  • Vengeance: Vow of Enmity giving advantage on attack rolls against one enemy for 1 minute at the cost of 1 bonus action

My Hexblade has most of the Conquest and Vengeance oaths' Oath Spells as known spells, but I don't know Spiritual Weapon or Hold Person, so that might be a deciding factor.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Best" is a bit loose mate. What's your goals here? This forum is for questions with a definite best answer, so I can't help much if I don't have some way to figure out what that is. Do you just want the highest burst damage at level 6? What's your current level? \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Mar 4 at 6:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ We’ve added a [dnd-5e] tag to your question, it is important to tell us what game you are playing. In this case numerous 5e feature names gave it away. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 at 6:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se. Consider taking the tour to figure out how we proceed here. What role does your paladin take in the group constellation and what exactly would you like to optimise? \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Mar 4 at 6:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @closers would this be an acceptable question? "Which Paladin subclass would add the most damage to my hexblade?" with stipulations that it would compare at level 20 and be a maximum of 6 levels? \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Mar 4 at 14:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri (I haven't voted at all on it), but I think we need a consensus of what level we should look at - the answer could be very different based on level 10 rather than level 20. or maybe it's not idk. I agree that "best" in this case is clearly combat effectiveness \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Mar 4 at 17:04

1 Answer 1

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Oath of Vengeance maximizes your combat damage

We’ll focus on damage output as that seems to be what you are concerned about based on the points you consider. Spells like sanctuary also have useful defensive applications in combat, and spells like zone if truth outside of combat, but from how the question is written, you ignore all these aspects for determining what is “better”.

Much of this will depend on what opponents you will be facing. Without information on the campaign world, we'll assume a "generic" setting populated with MM monsters whose CR is matching character level. We'll also ignore foes dying before the end of combat to simpify.

Base Numbers

The average 5e fight in theory takes about 3-4 rounds, and in practice often takes 4-5 rounds. We will assume four rounds. You thus can expect to have 4 actions and 4 bonus actions. Each is worth one attack. A lot of this answer will come down to action and bonus action economy, and thus is stongly influcened by the number of rounds you expect to fight.

Average raw damage: each of your attacks is Greatsword 2d6 for 7 points, +5 from stat, for a total of 12; more if you have a magic weapon, Great Weapon Fighting, are a Half-Orc etc. You can hexblade curse as a bonus action first round, for +5 damage plus double chance for critical wich adds a fractional point of damage we'll ignore. As it resets each short rest, let's assume use can use it every fight. This will boost your damage to 17. If you activate Great Weapon Master (GWM), add 10 for 27 total.

Average chance to hit a level-adequate monster based on expected AC without advantage or disadvantage is about 65% without magic weapons. GWM reduces this to 40%.

Net damage from attacks is average chance to hit times average raw damage. Either way, you are looking at 11 damage per attack. In practice, you will likely do quite a bit more, as you can select normal attacks for high-AC, and GWM attacks for low-AC foes.

Advantage helps to offset GWM's downside. The numerical effect on GWM's 40% to hit is 24%, worth about 6.5 net damage (5 without curse). We'll use GWM when you have advantage.

Advantage doubles your chance for criticals for extra divine smite damage. As a hexblade 8 / paladin 3 you'll have a lot of slots to burn. Even with hexblade curse you are unlikely to get more than 1 crits, so you can burn high level slots for raw extra damage of 22.5, or added average damage of 2 points per attack (1 without curse). This brings damage to 8.5 (6 without curse).

Devotion

Adds protection from evil and good, sanctuary, lesser restoration, zone of truth.

None of the spells has direct damage impact. Damage contribution: 0.

You can sacrifice one action worth 11 net damage for Sacred Weapon to add a full +5 to attacks, worth 7 damage each with GWM, which will net you a damage contribution of 3*7-11 = 10.

Actions will be worth two attacks after you get Extra Attack at Paladin level 5; then Sacred Weapon will cost you two attacks, and add the bonus to 6 attacks, for a contibution of 6*7-22 = 20.

Total damage contribution: 10 (20).

Vengeance

Adds bane, hold person, hunter's mark, misty step.

Hold person at base value is about damage neutral. I omit the detail calculations, the post is long enough as it is; if you use divine smite or others also attack the victim it is accretive. At mid to high CR humanoids are uncommon, so it will not apply most of the time. Bane and misty step have no direct damage impact. Hunter's mark adds 1-2 damage net per attack, but you you already have it, so the Oath does nothing. Net damage contribution from spells: 0

Vow of Enmitiy gives advantage, adding 6 net damage to attacks without hexblade curse. Since this is more than hexblade curse's contribution of 2 damage, use it first turn, for +4 improvement that turn. Then use curse with your second bonus action to get 3 attacks with +8.5 net each. Hunter's Mark comes one round later, -1.5 damage. Damage contribution: 4+3*8.5-1.5 = 28.

Actions will be worth two attacks after you get Extra Attack at Paladin level 5, then the vow will yield twice that, or 56 damage.

Total damage contribution: 28 (56).

Conquest

Adds command, armor of agathys, spiritual weapon, hold person.

Command nets you no damage, a prone opponent adds 6.5 from advantage per attack for 11 you give up with your action. We discussed hold person already.

Spiritual weapon adds a bonus action meelee attack of d8+5 force damage per round, at 65% hit chance worth 6 net damage. Hexblade curse adds more over the fight than one such attack, so use that with the first turn bonus action and spiritual weapon with the next three. You won't be able to cast hunter's mark, losing about 4 damage. Damage contribution 3*6-4 = 14.

Armor of agathys costs you an action worth 11 net damage (later on 22) to recoup 5 points whenever you get hit. This will depend how often you get hit. If you expect more than 2 (later 4) times, it will be worth it. Damage contribution: ?

You will gain +10 to one attack with Guided Strike, or 50% increased chance to hit, worth about 14 points of damage with GWM. Damage contribution: 14.

Total damage contribution 28.

Conclusion

By this reconning, Oath of Vengeance or Oath of Conquest are best with Oath of Devotion far behind. In the long run, Oath of Vengeance will be stronger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have not voted on this question yet, but I feel like the whole answer is a bit loose (though, laid out well). There's not a commitment to what level the character would be and the numbers, as you admitted, are approximate. Also as a minor nitpick, it should be 65% to hit across all levels (see my answer here) \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Mar 5 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi @goodguy5: I calculated these based on all the MM monsters, their ACs and challenge ratings, and the expected "focused" to hit without magic items IIRC for the PCs, across the first 20 levels/CRs. This is an area I'm interested in and would be happy to discuss/share separately. For the answer as you say, I think it does not make a major difference. And yes, this is not super exact, one could be more exact if the querant provided their actual stats. (Although I'm not sure I wanted to invest the effort on that) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 I adjusted the to hit to 65%. If they have magic weapons, it would go up to 70% or even higher. In a "normal" magic campaign I'd expect level 11+ characters to have access an uncommon magic item such as a +1 weapon, but of course it is not guaranteed. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 28 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ this analysis is extremely detailed but makes many assumptions, from average length of battle (long - i've rarely seen one go past 2 rounds, and given the asker has a 20 in their primary stat and not like, a 12, likely their battles don't go for 50 rounds or w/e either) to utterly ignoring the possibility of buffing before a fight. Assumes hexblade's curse every fight, but ignores the spell slot cost of spells over the action cost, and doesn't consider divine smite in damage calculations (and the utility of landing divine smite hits early to take foes out of the fight). Overall, flawed. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Apr 29 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2754, Thank you for the feedback. I do think I have sufficient support for the length of battle cited, and in our games most fights take much longer. Your other points are valid, in particular the one about divine smite. I do not think you can answer the OP without making some assumptions as he has not responded with more information, so either the question needs to be closed until clarified, or one needs to make reasonable assumptions. However, I do not think I have it in me to do yet another rework here. Feel free to post a superior answer, I'd be happy to upvote it and remove mine. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 29 at 17:24

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