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As I understand, in the Forgotten Realms, when a paladin breaks their oath (assuming the optional class option from the DMG is used) they can change their subclass to an oathbreaker.

It functions just like any other subclass and you maintain the base class features.

So... How? If you've broken your oath why is your god still giving you powers and why does breaking it give you new powers? Or if your god isn't the one giving you those powers, what does?

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It's a common misunderstanding of paladins to think that they draw their powers from a deity, but in 5e1 , this is a flavor thing. (If they drew their powers directly from a god, after all, they would be a cleric or warlock.) A paladin's strength comes from their dedication to their ideals alone. They may swear their oaths in the service to a god, but that god does not provide their power.

For an Oathbreaker, this means that their dedication is to betraying the lofty ideals they once held. Their power stems directly from their own hate and desire to destroy what they once held dear, regardless of what deities they may or may not venerate.


1 I have no idea how paladins worked in previous editions, but seeing as this is a 5e-specific question, I don't think it matters overmuch.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Everything makes so much more sense now thank you! You have no idea for how long this has been in the back of my mind. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yuval Amir
    Jul 8, 2022 at 20:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is pretty much correct, but just to address your footnote, in prior editions Paladins were specifically tied to a god and got powers from them the same way as a Cleric, just with a different set of strictures and a slightly different manifestation of the power. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 8, 2022 at 20:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer, upvoted. A possible improvement would be to reference the supporting rules, there are plenty of them. And is it just flavor? There's actually a section on "Breaking Your Oath". Sure, it's not strictly numeric, but there's certainly the structure there to make the oath as substantial to the paladin as a warlock's patron or a cleric's deity, or the foundations of any other class. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Jul 8, 2022 at 21:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a small correction, while Clerics can get their power from a deity, it doesn't have to be a deity. On page 18 of XGtE, there's a side bar that includes, "In certain campaigns, a cleric might instead serve a cosmic force, such as life or death, or a philosophy or concept, such as love, peace, or one of the nine alignments." \$\endgroup\$
    – RallozarX
    Jul 8, 2022 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Not always so. In the Forgotten Realms, it was that way (and still is really), but otherwise, paladins got their power more from sheer cosmic Good than any deity they may worship. Also, warlocks don’t get powers from deities/deities don’t make pacts with warlocks, barring extreme edge cases. Or, at least traditionally, it was so, though recent deification of Asmodeus (stupid, stupid ret-con that that was) plays havoc there. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 9, 2022 at 3:16
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The answer is not really defined in 5e.

Before we talk about where Oathbreakers get their power from, we should discuss Paladins as a whole.

The Player's Handbook doesn't clearly define the source of a Paladin's powers, whatever oath they are attached to. Oaths might be "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", which implies a diversity of power sources (divine, nature spirits/old gods, ancestral spirits, maybe just your own gritty determination). It's not clear cut because it's really up to the player to define where their power comes from. It's a space where the player can be creative.

We sometimes say their power comes "from the Oath itself" but that doesn't mean you have power just because you really want to, or generated by your pure belief -- rather it means whatever you've sworn the oath to, that's the source of your powers.

So what about Oathbreakers? Well, it kind of tells us right there in the DMG: Oathbreakers "pursue some dark ambition or serve an evil power." It's as much up to the DM or player to determine what power they now serve as it is in the more general case of Paladins as a whole. Most likely we're talking about dark gods, devils, or some such thing, but it could be the same natural or ancestral power they had before, twisted to darker manifestations.

Earlier editions are different.

In prior editions, Paladins were specifically empowered by the same kind of divine connection that Clerics have, which includes, in some editions, being allowed to revere a broad concept like Good or Law without declaring a specific deity. Paladins manifest that power in a different way, martial might rather than miraculous spellcasting, but it's explicitly the same source.

By default, paladins were what we'd now call a Devotion paladin -- the code of conduct was central to the class, though sometimes you'd have optional prestige classes to alter it. (I recall a particular prestige class that was the first version of what became the Oath of the Ancients.) A paladin who broke their oaths in previous editions would lose their powers until absolved in some way, which was often a point of friction between players and DMs who disagreed on what exactly the oath entailed and how strict it was.

In older editions, what we now call Oathbreakers would have been called Blackguards or (if you go way back) Anti-Paladins. They were generally reckoned to have sworn to an evil deity or a fiend of some sort, and had powers similar but opposite to a Paladin's. To the extent that 5th Edition's Oathbreakers are defined at all, it seems pretty much on the same line.

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Other gods give you the power. https://www.sageadvice.eu/does-a-paladin-need-to-serve-a-god-deity/

In the Forgotten Realms, only gods can grant power to the paladins. But the paladin can choose what god he serves. If a paladin changes his god, usually from a good to an evil one, that can be described as oathbreaker. As Ed Greenwood wrote "you could disobey one god but remain a paladin by obeying the will of another, but that’s a very dangerous game."

Also about the source of paladin power outside of the Forgotten Realms. You can see it in the PHB:

The spells of clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers are called divine magic. These spellcasters’ access to the Weave is mediated by divine power — gods, the divine forces of nature, or the sacred weight of a paladin’s oath.

So even in other worlds there must be some external divine entity that grants power to paladins. It may not be a person like Helm, but something like the Force from Star Wars. The source of a paladin's power cannot be his own ideals or emotions, as someone can expect; it must be some external source existing in the realm that the paladin approached by betraying old ideals.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPGSE. Tour, Help center, How to Ask and How to Answer are guides for how to get the best out of an SE Q&A site. Your answer would be better if you also cover the case the oath, not a deity, originally granted powers. That is explicit in D&D 5e: the oath provides the powers (although a deity can be involved). Your answer only covers the deity case, and the non deity case is an embedded part of the question. If you've broken your oath why is your god still giving you powers and why does breaking it give you new powers? Or if your god isn't the one giving you those powers, what does? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 11, 2022 at 13:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your own PHB quote literally says a paladin's divine power does not have to come from "gods" or "the divine forces of nature", but can be from "the sacred weight of a paladin's oath". Unless I'm missing something, it seems the quote you provide disproves your own argument. \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Jul 11, 2022 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ A paladin's magic does not come from the paladin. This is the main difference between divine and arcane. He is not a sorcerer. If the paladin suddenly begins to believe in some crazy idea, he will not receive any power. Instead, there should always be some external source. For example, it can be god, as in the realms of the Forgotten, who empower the paladin. Or there may be some rules that give you power if you follow them. If the paladin dies, this entity will remain and can grant power to any other paladin. So there should be some such entity that adore oathbreakers. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 11, 2022 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer is a bit unclear. Where does Ed Greenwood state your quote? Why does the PHB quote seem to contradict your answer? What other sources support your answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Jul 11, 2022 at 18:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aaron9eee The sage advice link is the source of the Ed Greenwood quote. It does seem to be a bit of setting-specific Forgotten Realms lore, so not necessarily applicable to other D&D settings. \$\endgroup\$
    – 8bittree
    Jul 12, 2022 at 20:54

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