I'm finding it hard to DM for an Oath of the Ancients Paladin PC in my group. My concern is he's not following his tenets as well as he could be, but I'm more curious about what standards I should be holding his role-playing at rather than how to punish/deal with him.

Kindle the Light- Through your acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness, kindle the light of hope in the world, beating back despair.

Shelter the Light- Where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world, stand against the wickedness that would swallow it. Where life flourishes, stand against the forces that would render it barren.

Preserve Your Own Light- Delight in song and laughter, in beauty and art. If you allow the light to die in your own heart, you can’t preserve it in the world.

Be the Light- Be a glorious beacon for all who live in despair. Let the light of your joy and courage shine forth in all your deeds.

The main point that we disagree on is that his oath is all about nature and isn't concerned with things that don't directly affect it.

Example: He's okay with overlooking corruption in a government that would result in the death of innocents, so long as a forest doesn't get burned down in the process and no animals are harmed.

The Oath of the Ancients is as old as the race of elves and the rituals of the druids. Sometimes called fey knights, green knights, or horned knights, paladins who swear this oath cast their lot with the side of the light in the cosmic struggle against darkness because they love the beautiful and life-giving things of the world, not necessarily because they believe in principles of honor, courage, and justice. They adorn their armor and clothing with images of growing things—leaves, antlers, or flowers—to reflect their commitment to preserving life and light in the world.

While the description of the oath as well as some of their spells certainly imply a deep connection to nature, I feel as though the tenets are written to encompass more than just matters concerning the safety and preservation of nature.

I feel as though there is a certain level of contradiction between the tenets and the above text in bold, specifically their belief in honor, courage, and justice.

So long as it doesn't affect nature, could this oath allow a paladin to:

  • Travel with evil aligned characters without any attempt at reforming them?
  • Forego forgiveness in favor of killing someone who betrayed him?
  • Overlook the evil and wrongdoings of man? (or any sentient race)
  • Inflict injury on someone for lying to him?

The question to be answered: Leaving character alignment out of the equation, how much separation should be allowed for this oath when it comes to the laws of nature vs the laws of man?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this disagreement a show stopper? How many other people are in the party? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2017 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are 4-5 other party members (our cleric has a rough schedule so she joins the adventure when she can) I wouldn't call it a show stopper, but that's partly because none of us know how his actions are meant to be handled, thus why my curiosity has brought me here to ask. If these actions are completely out of character for a paladin then perhaps it would add more weight on how the other characters feel about it and lead their roleplaying in a different direction. For gameplay sake it's easy to overlook something but for immersion sake it would be interesting to know this stuff :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shameless
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 23:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ "what standards I should be holding his role-playing at" is suspicious. I would warn: His character isn't required to be a boring copy of whatever the book says, and his character is actively interesting. Don't change the character; instead change how npcs interact with the character. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2017 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would agree with this for most classes, but paladin's are special with having the Oathbreaker path. I have no intention of forcing him to change his ways, as long as my players have fun I'm willing to keep doing what works. There is a difference in an edgy unconventional paladin, and a downright monster who doesn't deserve the name. (the examples I gave don't fully represent his character, for better or worse they were just examples) Again, being a more lenient DM, I have no interest in ruining the fun of my players over silly semantics :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shameless
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 3:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, Oathbreaker is an option from the DMG. It won't be found at all tables (though if you want to use it go for it!) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 21:22

7 Answers 7


Paladins are not Druids

The Oath of the Ancients has nothing to do with nature; it is about life and light.

A Green Knight has committed to fighting for a world where things can live and grow and flourish. Here, "things" includes plants and animals, true, but also includes people and ideas and art and concepts and societies.

Green Knights use growing things as their symbols because those things are the opposite of death and decay, which symbolise what the Knight is fighting against.

They do not necessarily have to kill wicked people and monsters. A Green Knight's focus is providing an environment where the light can prosper. If that can be done without killing (perhaps by moving the creatures on), then that is OK (though individual Paladins may differ on the level of restraint they feel is acceptable). If the evil creatures can be redeemed and brought over to the side of the light, that is (in my opinion) the best outcome. (Hat-tip Molot.)


Travel with evil aligned characters without any attempt at reforming them?

No. Green Knights are supposed to stand against wickedness, not stand beside it.

If there is a greater evil, the Knight might put up with a lesser evil, but only temporarily. Even so, the Knight should at all times try to redeem the wicked, through the example of their own actions (Be the Light).

Forego forgiveness in favor of killing someone who betrayed him?

Maybe - there should always be a hope of redemption. However, a strict Knight might feel that one transgression is one too many. Any Knight might refuse forgiveness to one who has betrayed them several times.

Overlook the evil and wrongdoings of man? (or any sentient race)

No. Again, the Knight is supposed to stand against wickedness, not stand aside.

They are not, however, stupid. They won't engage in pointless attacks. Throwing your life away for nothing violates the tenet of Preserve Your Own Light.

Inflict injury on someone for lying to him?

Maybe. A very strict Knight might be justified in punishing lying with injury.

Media Figures

I think Wonder Woman is an example of a Green Knight.

From an interview with Patty Jenkins, the director:

Jenkins goes on to describe Wonder Woman’s worldview as, “I believe in the betterment of you, and I believe in you, and I believe in truth. And I believe that you all can be better, and I will fight to protect you. But I also believe in better than that.”

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Inflict injury on someone for lying to him?" I'd say this violates kindle the light as it is most definitely not a merciful act. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2017 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Correct me if I'm wrong, but it is "against wickedness", not "against the wicked", right? So knight should refrain from killing wicked, and only injure them when it serves their redemption? (I don't disagree with your answer, just making sure about one point) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 13:39

No, it's not all about Nature, it's about the Light

The description as written and as cited demonstrate that. Let's look at some key words and phrases that paint a picture of the paladin oath:

... acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness, kindle the light of hope in the world, beating back despair.

Forgiveness is a particular human/humanoid gift, though mercy and kindness can extend across all domains.

... good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world

That's a very social, rather than anti-social, human/humanoid advocacy.

Delight in song and laughter, in beauty and art.

These are hallmarks of civilization and human/humanoid communal activity.

Let the light of your joy and courage shine forth in all your deeds.

The key themes come up repeatedly: setting a good example, emphasizing light and hope versus despair, a calling which implies engagement and involvement with humans/humanoids.

The above does not prevent spreading this general advocacy of hope, light and goodness into the natural world -- to be consistent, doing so would indeed be within the calling of this oath -- but the primary focus is on that which brings hope and light within; this points to something existential, abstract and perhaps esoteric.

Not quite "back to nature."

But that doesn't matter.

What matters is how you and your player collaboratively weave the nature of the oath, the general guidelines on alignment (which you need to apply with the core principle of "we play these games to have fun in a group" foremost), and the general makeup of your game world together.

It might be useful to poll the other players for their opinions, to get a feel for how the table as a group perceives this role, because if their expectations and what goes on in game clash too robustly, fun is decreased. Have they explained to this character what they expect from their paladin and team mate? (While this input need not be heavily weighted, it ought to at least be listened to).

What to do?

One on one, in person, sit down with your paladin player and together work toward an agreement/compromise on how the oath, a Paladin's general class description as fighting evil, advocating for light and hope against darkness and despair, your world, alignment, and teamwork all mix together to make the tasty stew that is a game of D&D among friends.

If you, as DM have some problems on how his paladin fits into your game world, you need to be honest and fair about how you address this. Let him know your concerns. Meet each other halfway.

Pro Tip: Telling your player that "these strangers on the internet say I'm right and you are wrong" isn't a good first move. ;-) You, and he, and the rest of the group will have to live with and enjoy your final recipe. Put in the effort, it's worth it in the long run.


I think it would help a bit to step back a few pages in the book.

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 [...]

There is no exception for the Oath of the Ancients. They are in fact required to protect against the encroaching darkness. However, sometimes they are forced to choose (if only temporarily) between defending against two darknesses.

The Ancient paladins actually specify a reason for taking the oath (something the other two PHB oaths don't do). The reason an Ancient paladin does what he does is to protect the beauty in the world. Supporting the tenets does require extraordinary commitment to honor, courage, and justice. However, for an Ancient paladins, these are just a means to the ultimate goal of protecting the beauty of the world as they see it.

Sometimes they have to make hard choices. In the example of forest vs. corrupt government, it's perfectly reasonable for an Ancient paladin to prioritize saving forests over purifying the city. On the other hand, it's entirely unreasonable for them to have no plans to get to that eventually. Shelter the Light and all that.

As for disagreeing on what the Oath and Tenets mean or how they should apply in a given situation, the DM and other players should feel free to ask the paladin at any time how his current action fits in with his Oath. The explanation given by the player is called character development.


You ask to exclude alignment, yet your specific questions include words like "evil", "betrayed", "wrongdoing" and "lying" all of which are only pejorative terms in the context of an ethical or moral code. I am happy to leave alignment out except for this: paladins can be of any alignment so long as they follow their oath. This gives them a tendency towards law and good but a chaotic evil paladin is a permissible (if challenging) option.

There is nothing wrong with an Oath of the Ancients being "all about nature", however, the player needs to realize that sentient creatures are a part of nature and that you need to realize that nature includes predation, parisitism and disease and you both need to realize that all of this is subject to the oath. Predation is bad for the prey but its good for the predator etc.

Now, each paladin fulfills their oath in their own way and focuses their actions where they feel they can do the most to advance their oath.

A paladin is free to take a wide view of things like "corruption" and an Oath of the Ancients paladin may very well shrug and say "Its natures way that the strong prey upon the weak. When you are strong, you will prey upon them. In the meantime lets have a song and a beer."

  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate you putting things into a perspective I hadn't thought of. Though now I am curious how you would judge this PC's actions if you did take in to account his alignment of Lawful Good? \$\endgroup\$
    – Shameless
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 1:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Stragin Alignment questions are not well handled at this site. Indeed, RPG.SE has a phobia regarding alignment questions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2017 at 1:35

As a player of an Ancients paladin that follows Sune (yes, I know paladins aren't required to follow a god in 5e, this was my choice), it's fairly clear from the oath spells, Channel Divinity option, and the capstone ability at level 20 that Ancients is intended to be the oath most closely in tune with nature. Does that mean an Ancients paladin is required to act like a druid? Certainly not. But it does mean that doing so is a perfectly valid and reasonable choice for them to make.

Consider the tenets, specifically Shelter the Light;

Where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world, stand against the wickedness that would swallow it. Where life flourishes, stand against the forces that would render it barren.

That last line in particular sounds very Druid or Nature-domain cleric to me. Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps your player's paladin finds more beauty in the natural world than the artificial one, and thus chooses their priorities accordingly.

Now let's address your specific concerns, one at a time.

Travel with evil aligned characters without any attempt at reforming them? If it's in the service of something he considers for the greater good, then yes. Bear in mind that this is more of an alignment question than anything; you mention that he's declared as Lawful Good, and this sort of behavior seems to me to be more in line with Neutral Good, making judgements on a case-by-case basis rather than being bound strictly by rules. I actually play my Sunite as NG for precisely this reason; she generally follows the law, but also generally does what is morally good. Sometimes these two drives come into conflict, and she chooses which side to follow on a case-by-case basis.

Forego forgiveness in favor of killing someone who betrayed him? This is tricky. Which should a paladin prioritize, justice or forgiveness? It all depends on their Oath first (Conquest or Crown would prioritize justice, while Redemption would certainly prefer forgiveness). Ancients is kind of in the middle; like I mentioned above, he seems to be more of a case-by-case situation here as well. I can see support for either option without it doing any harm to his oath.

Overlook the evil and wrongdoings of man? (or any sentient race) This one is the one that feels out of line with being any flavor of paladin. Paladins are about seeking to right wrongs, not ignore them. Bring up this point when you talk to him.

Inflict injury on someone for lying to him? Again, this touches on the concept of justice vs. forgiveness. In a nature-loving sense, this feels like the 'rough justice' of the natural world; pull a wolf's tail, and you'll likely get bitten. As long as the injury is of a severity consistent with the damage done by the lie (or other crime), I wouldn't see a problem with it. Rough justice is still justice, after all. Obviously you shouldn't let him decapitate someone just for telling a fib or cheating at dice. Use common sense and your own discretion.

TL:DR version: While the Oath of the Ancients isn't about nature exclusively, there are strong elements of nature involved in the core mechanics of the build, and so being a tree-hugger paladin is perfectly in line with the intentions of the oath. Let your player play, and don't interfere unless it seriously affects gameplay.

You're here to guide the story, but the players write it themselves.


I feel that the ancients paladin is more for love and preservation of the good things in the word rather than nature, albeit that nature is a symbol of purity, and thus a lot of paladin players will go for a more druidic approach to the paladin. This is, of course, fine as you could consider humanity a scourge in which you try to "purify" it by bringing people back to nature, to the pure state at which man was intended to roam.

in short, they are not entirely wrong, just have them justify their druidic ways and if thats how they wish to approach it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE Shannon. Please take the tour and visit the help center to see how a Q&A site in the SE model is different from a discussion forum. Supporting answers with both at table experience and game rules/structures/sources is preferred. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 17:22

I'm currently playing a half-drow (half-elf in terms of stats) bard/paladin multiclass. I'm a strong CG, and my character has devoted himself to Eilistraee, the forbidden drow goddess of music, song, and beauty.
I wouldn't say that Jas (my character) has any focus on nature at all, rather the strong focus on the commandments of sheltering, kindling, preserving, and being the Light (PHB p. 87), and they overlap well with bards.
Mind you, Jas is primarily a bard and is chaotic, but Oath of the Ancients has nothing against that. I think that the focus for role playing should be to emphasize being a beacon against darkness and preserving love and joy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the half drow built per Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide variant? Also, how many levels of each so far? PS, rather than assert an opinion, in your last sentence, I suggest that you point out how taking that approach has worked in play in your campaign. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 21:20
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    – V2Blast
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 22:46

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