[RPG] Do paladin oaths have to be taken seriously


My friends are planning a game with a group of paladin characters. One of my friends is interested in the Oath of Devotion, which has the following tenets:

Honesty. Don’t lie or cheat. Let your word be your promise.

Courage. Never fear to act, though caution is wise.

Compassion. Aid others, protect the weak, and punish those who threaten them. Show mercy to your foes, but temper it with wisdom.

Honor. Treat others with fairness, and let your honorable deeds be an example to them. Do as much good as possible while causing the least amount of harm.

Duty. Be responsible for your actions and their consequences, protect those entrusted to your care, and obey those who have just authority over you.

However, he doesn't want to have to actually do any of these things when he takes the oath. Does he have to keep these vows to have his paladin abilities and spells, or can he ignore them?

Best Answer

A paladin must adhere to their oath, although they don't specifically need to be lawful good.

Before it was edited, this question asked if the paladin has to be lawful good. It was later clarified that they want to take Oath of Devotion, whose ideals suggest lawful goodness. It's worth noting that you don't actually have to be lawful good to be a paladin in D&D 5th edition, and technically you don't actually need it to take Oath of Devotion.

A paladin in D&D 5th edition takes the Sacred Oath class feature when they reach 3rd level. The fact that it's called sacred oath strongly suggests that it's meant to be taken seriously.

The penalty for disobeying an oath, and determining when you have disobeyed it, are largely up to the DM. According to Player's Handbook p.86, sidebar "Breaking Your Oath", you might lose your paladin status if you wilfully violate your oath and show no sign of repentance. (Carcer's answer covers this scenario very well, and deserves your upvotes.)

Oath of Devotion requires you to adhere to the tenets of honesty, courage, compassion, honor, and duty. Breaking any one of those directly (i.e. lying, being cowardly, failing to show compassion, acting dishoborably, and shirking duty) is a violation of your oath. You don't strictly have to be lawful good—perhaps your character focuses on some of the tenets over the others—but it's right there in the rules that you have to adhere to the tenets of the oath you swear to.

If you don't want to follow this oath, there are others in the Player's Handbook, in the Unearthed Arcana documents, and in other sourcebooks. The core rules include:

  • Oath of the Ancients: This is explicitly good (it refers to mercy, kindness, and forgiveness), but not lawful. In fact, chaotic good would work well for this.
  • Oath of Vengeance: These are called dark knights, and don't even sound necessarily good aligned. They destroy their enemy by any means necessary. It sounds like they can even commit evil acts as long as it's in the greater good.
  • Oathbreaker: An explicitly evil paladin in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Although you don't automatically become an Oathbreaker when you break your oath, it does note that a paladin can fall from grace, and that you can become an Oathbreaker if you break your oath in order to deliberately serve evil. It's also unlikely for an Oathbreaker to work well in a party with other lawful good paladins.

Unearthed Arcana also has the Oath of Heroism (now Oath of Glory in Mythic Odysseys of Theros), Oath of Treachery, Oath of the Watchers, Oath of Conquest (updated in Xanathar's Guide to Everything) and Oath of Redemption (also updated in Xanathar's). Further sourcebooks may provide other options, but a complete list of all Paladin oaths is beyond the scope of this question.