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My current mini-campaign has come to its finale and we just advanced to level 4 ahead of the final episode. My Paladin has been doing great so far, but when looking at what he gains at level 4 ASI and some other minor buffs seem underwhelming compared to what I would gain from multiclassing as Warlock. Lore-wise an Archfey patron would make the most sense, so here's a comparison of what the two options provide.

Paladin 4

  • 1d10 hit die
  • Ability score increase (or a feat)
  • 5 additional Lay on Hands points
  • 1 additional Paladin spell prepared

Paladin 3, Warlock 1

  • 1d8 hit die
  • Two Warlock cantrips
  • Two Warlock spells known
  • One additional level 1 spell slot which can be used to cast Warlock or Paladin spells
  • Fey presence

When comparing these options, the Warlock seems to add far more options and utility. I understand that for a longer campaign this would delay access to higher level Paladin stuff, but since the campaign will end on level 4 this point is moot.

Is my analysis correct? How can I compare these options in a more structured way?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I understand your question. You've listed the features given by each choice, observed that one gives more options, then just asked if your analysis is correct. Are you just asking if you read that feature descriptions right? What is your goal here? What are you trying to optimize? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 20, 2022 at 12:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ This depends on things we don't know like your play style, party and what you'll be up against in the finale. 5 lay on hands points could be vital if you've no healers. If you're the only melee and the party need someone to hold the big bad then you won't get much out of eldritch blast and the extra ASI or feat (sentinel perhaps) could be key. If the enemy is flying and you'd hardly use melee then eldritch blast could be a game changer. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 20, 2022 at 12:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think we need to know more about your character to answer this one well. An asi can be amazing, or less so if your primary stat is already 20 for example if you rolled for stats at creation. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 21, 2022 at 9:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov thanks for the comment. I think I am looking for a (more) structured way of comparing options (than mine) when "optimising", which Groody provided with his answer. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 9:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ But what exactly are you optimizing for? Depending on what you’re looking for, one or the other may be better, because they are just really different choices. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 10:26

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The difference is very small

Let's line up the options to see how they do compare:

Aspect Paladin Warlock Better
Hit Die 1d10 1d8 Paladin
Spell Selection 1 Spell 2 Cantrips 2 Spells Warlock
Spell Slots 0* (5 Lay on Hands worth 1 level 1-2) 1 level 1 per rest Warlock
Other 1 ASI or Feat Fey Presence Paladin

Lay on Hands for 5 points is worth a first or second level spell slot. It can heal 5 points of damage, comparable to a cure wounds on spell level one (5-8, depending on ability modifier), and it can cure a disease, comparable to a lesser restoration on spell level 2. The warlock spell slot may have more flexibility, and be worth more overall levels depending on the number of short rests but overall the value is not much different -- the average number of encounters in play is about 3, which means 3 levels if you rest after each.

Fey Presence is a pretty powerful daily ability maybe comparable to a one-time use of the fear spell, which would be a level 3 effect, and would be a strong feat, but a plain ASI can increase both your to-hit and damage, a reusable effect, and is generally considered to be preferable to a feat. The ability to pick any feat also makes it a lot more flexible, so here I think the Paladin has the upper hand - for example taking a feat like Great Weapon Master can deal a lot of damage against lower-AC opponents. A free pick of a feat is worth 20 points on Detect Balance, while a level 3 spell per day would maybe count 6 points.

Another way to look at this is to consider the situation if you picked the Magic Initiate feat with your ASI. This would give you one additional spell to cast per day, one additional known spell, and two cantrips, nearly making the score on both spell selection and slots even (the spell you gain would be limited to just the one spell, so less flexible than a full slot).

The remaining difference then would consist in one more hit point and the 5-point Lay on Hands with Paladin vs Fey Presence with Warlock. Mostly on the strength of Fey Presence and free spell selection with the slot, Warlock appears to be slightly better flexibility and utility. However, the effective difference is very small. I think it would be overstating it to say the Warlock offers "far more" options and utility. It might offer slightly more.

If it does make sense to stick with Paladin or not will not depend on the mechanical difference here -- both are entirely viable. This will depend on your character concept, and on if you enjoy playing a paladin.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "[...] you picked the Magic Initiate feat with your ASI. This would give you one additional spell slot per day, [...]" You do not gain an additional spell slot per day, you gain the possibility to cast the chosen spell once per day, at its lowest level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Oct 21, 2022 at 7:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Yes, I was using the term figuratively as "one more spell you can cast" as shown by the parenthesis it is limited to the one spell, and you of course are right, that is not technically a "slot". I reworded to be more precise with that language now. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21, 2022 at 8:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer could be improved by clarifying in the comparison table that the warlock spell slot is one level 1 spell per short or long rest, which is table dependent but very likely more than one per day. This also works with smiting, so is valuable even if you never cast a warlock spell with the slot. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26 at 15:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon You are right, I updated it. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26 at 19:10
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You're right that the warlock multiclass adds more options and utility (mostly in the form of cantrips, like mold earth and minor illusion).

One thing you might consider is that you're about to hit the final episode of your adventure, and the final episode is likely to be mostly combat. The ASI from staying in paladin will definitely help you out in combat, but the added utility from cantrips and a first-level spell slot seems less likely to be helpful in a major battle.

If it were up to me, I'd probably stick in paladin, just because I like to imagine my character having a good long-term build and a bright future even after the adventure is over. Either choice seems reasonable though.

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One more Paladin

If it gave you nothing but an ASI, it still would be worth it. There is only one class feature that gives you more power (Extra Attack), but that is out of reach.

The somewhat more HP, the spell slot, the extra healing from Lay on Hands is just gravy on top.

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