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I have a 9th level tiefling Valor bard, who I think would be interesting as a bard/paladin. Her current spell list is action/advantage denial heavy with a few utility spells; I'd like to enhance her supporter role with better healing abilities and an improved ability to tank, since her party recently lost its only melee fighter.

Current stats:

  • STR 19 (with equipment, attuned)
  • DEX 14
  • CON 19
  • INT 12
  • WIS 9
  • CHA 18

My question:

From a mechanical standpoint, how many levels of paladin should I take, and when, in order to make the most of this combination?

Sub-questions: Which oath is preferable, given a focus on protection and support and assuming that any of the three Oaths are viable from a roleplay perspective? Is there a pressing reason not to take Great Weapon Fighting in favor of a different style?

I would also welcome answers along the lines of "This is a bad idea, and this is why." In that case, I would definitely welcome alternate ideas on how to build my bard into a support-focused caster with some melee ability.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For potential answerers, this question was asked before additional Paladin Oaths were available in books like Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (pub Nov 2015) and Xanathar's Guide to Everything (more recently). Vengeance, Devotion, and Ancients Oaths are/were a constraint. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 14 '18 at 13:41
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I'll try to get the simpler issues done first - and the simplest one is Great Weapon Fighting. You should not take this. If you're using a spear, it is strictly inferior to the Duelling Fighting Style. See my answer here for the analysis. It's especially true for you because you want to tank, and for a quick and easy boost to your tankiness it's hard to go past a shield.

The next issue is how many levels of Paladin to take. This one gets a lot more complicated, but I'll start with the basics. When multiclassing in 5e, you want to take either 1 level or a number of levels that is a multiple of 4. This way, you don't lose any of the vitally important ability score increases.

The next thing to consider is what you actually want to get out of your Paladin levels, and what each number has to offer you. You also need to consider what Bard features you're missing out on by taking Paladin levels, but you've already got almost all the Bard features - from here on out your existing abilities mostly just get more powerful, rather than you gaining new things.

  • Paladin level 1: Gives basically nothing. You get the multiclassing proficiencies, Divine Sense, and Lay on Hands. Not a useful number.

  • Paladin level 4: Fighting Style, Divine Smite, Divine Health, and Channel Divinity. (And 1st-level Paladin spells, for what that's worth.) This is pretty good - a lot of the Paladin's core features for a minimal investment. If you're taking 4 levels, I'd recommend the Oath of Devotion, since (I think) it has the best Channel Divinity options.

  • Paladin level 8: All of the above, plus Extra Attack, Aura of Protection, and either Aura of Devotion or Aura of Warding. (Technically you could take Relentless Avenger, but it's not that great, especially for what you're trying to do.) Also 2nd-level Paladin spells, which is cool because one of them can be Find Steed, which is basically a class feature masquerading as a spell. This is a good place to finish taking Paladin levels because the next really good feature is at level 15. If you're going this far, the Oath of the Ancients starts looking as good as the Oath of Devotion, because Aura of Warding is so powerful.

I'd definitely recommend either 4 or 8 levels of Paladin if you're going to do this - 1 just seems like a waste of time. As for what order to take levels in, I'd actually suggest waiting till you've got your next ability score increase to do this, because doing it without War Caster might be a little awkward. Obviously, if you want to get better in melee sooner rather than later, you should start taking Paladin levels sooner rather than later, and you can work around the problems with casting your Bard spells with your hands full, it's just tricky.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The level of detail here is great, thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – user23518 Jul 8 '15 at 17:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a rebuttal to your multiple of four claim, I would recommend that a comparison of the abilities gained in the primary class at 17 against the ability score increase and 4th level abilities of the secondary class be made. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Jan 17 '16 at 2:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DrunkCynic It's not about what your character looks like at level 20; hardly any games get that high. Slowing down your ASIs, on the other hand, will negatively affect your character for the rest of their career. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 17 '16 at 2:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can't dispute that; but "17" could easily be any other milestone level for the primary character. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Jan 17 '16 at 3:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DrunkCynic I mentioned that in the third paragraph. I'm not about to do in-depth analysis of every Bard feature from level 10 onwards. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jan 17 '16 at 3:44
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While the multiple of 4 rule is a good general guideline for multiclassing, it falls short with both paladins and bards.

Paladins gain excellent abilities at level 2, 5 and 6 that frequently outweigh the feat / ability increase.

  1. At 2, they gain a fighting style, access to a couple of useful spells like bless and wrathful smite, and most importantly for a bard multi, the divine smite ability, which allows you to convert spell slots directly into damage. That synergizes well with bards, who have faster spell advancement than paladins.

  2. As Andras notes, if you weren’t a valor (or swords) bard, going to 5 as a pal is valuable for extra attack.

  3. At level 6 paladins add their charisma mod to their saves and to allies in a 10’ radius.

Bards and other full casters frequently break well at odd levels for spellcasting. Pal 2, bard 18 is a great split (if the game goes on that long) especially if you start paladin (for heavy armor).

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Unless you can redo your level 9 Bard into a level 8 bard level 1 Paladin, I'm not sure that taking 4 or 8 levels of Paladin is worth it. (4 or 8 levels of paladin would be your best option multi-classing, and you'd only want to take your first level of paladin at level 13)

I'm currently playing a melee bard dwarf which has much worse stats than you do, and he is doing a good job as a tank and melee fighter. (Though obviously not the best). There is a name for the Bard that plays upfront in melee, its called Skald and they do quite well.

Unless there is something very specific that you are looking for from being a paladin, I'm not sure there versatility that you gain, is worth the loss of focus in power. It's perhaps a 10% increase in accuracy, and on average an additional 6 hp worth of damage, and perhaps an extra 2hp per level. I'm not sure that is worth the loss in spell slots to cast healing word or cure wounds, or the other spells you will be able to cast as a support melee valor bard.

Also remember that at level 10, you'll be able to pick a spell from any class, that includes the level 5 spells from Rangers and Paladins, which tend to be more powerful for their level. You'll even be able to take the "find steed" spell if you want. Again, I'm not certain that channel divinity or the wider option of spell choices is worth the loss in spell progression from devoting half of your levels to Paladin.

There are many guides online on how to make a melee bard shine, I suggest going over them, to get idea to decide if you really want to multiclass as a Paladin.

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Taking Paladin now will not add a lot of tankiness. From Valor, you already have Medium Armor, Shields and Martial weapons, and most importantly, Extra Attack. As you can not swap existing levels to Paladin, I would not multiclass, unless:

  • You expect to meet a lot of casters/monsters that make you save, as Aura of Protection would help you a lot in that case
  • You have lots of unspent low-level spell slots at the end of the day. Divine Smite would help you convert them to damage

Even if you decide these are worth it, I would go for one more level of Bard before, Magical Secrets are that good. I would probably take Melf's Minuter Meteors or Spiritual Weapon to do something useful with my bonus actions, and Bless, as it is useful for most of the party.

After that go to 5th level of Paladin. As you want to make a Tank, the fighing style should be Dueling if you have place for a Sentinel feat, Protection if not. Convince the GM to let you change from Valor to Lore at this point, if you do it earlier you lose Extra Attack, if later, you get it from two sources, and one of them is wasted. Than 3 more levels of Paladin, and go back to Bard.
If you can not convince her, 4 levels are enough.

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Paladin 2 / Bard X is the way to go.

The point of multiclassing Paladin with a full caster is to get tons of spell slots to smite with. So you want to be gaining Bard levels early on. Go with college of valor for an extra attack at level 8 and later on the ability to attack and cast a spell on the same turn, which is enormous.

If it is at all a concern, this build can cast Wish and 1 other 9th level spell from any other class at 20th level, and that's crazy for a martial character.

One wrinkle. In the time since this question was asked, we got XGtE. The ol' one level of Hexblade is a pretty good choice here. You lose those 9th level wizard spells at level 20, but it's probably worth it. In addition to fighting with your Charisma modifier, it also gives you a short-rest recharge casting of Shield.

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