Once upon a time, a character came across a shrine deep within an abandoned Dwarven stronghold carved deep into the Iron Mountains. Struck by reverence to the shrine of the lost deity Dumathoin, he knelt and prayed. So his character changed forever.
I worked with the player to create a Paladin subclass devoted to the knowledge of keeping secrets. I tried to caution him against multiclassing. He was playing an Eldritch Knight. It was a conceptual disaster. Here’s my build notes on the design.
Oath of Secret Knowledge
Since the major conceit of the subclass is possessing secrets in reverence to a deity of knowledge, the major shift was to shift the primary ability score from Charisma to Intelligence.
Any time we change an ability score reliance, there’s a risk for overpowering, especially with multiclassing. However, moving an ability score into Intelligence is often a safe choice. Wizard is the only class that relies on Intelligence as a primary ability score. Because of the way Wizards work, there’s little incentive to dip outside the class, since a straight progression is often the strongest option.
There’s also some overlap with Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster. However, the prospect of multiclassing third-caster with a half-caster into is so unappealing from a spell progression standpoint that there’s little risk of creating something overpowered.
The expanded spell list defines the nature of the Paladin’s subclass. The opportunities for flavoring a secret knowledge subclass speak for themselves:
While these spells speak for themselves, we can categorize them into a few different concepts.
Gathering Knowledge. To be deemed worthy of secret knowledge, the Paladin must be skilled in gathering information. The breadth of knowledge available to the Paladin allows them to comprehend a wide variety of disciplines, from foreign tongues to magic items. This manifests in spells like comprehend languages, identify, tongues, divination, and scrying.
Sealing Secrets. Spells like arcane lock, Nystul’s magic aura, nondetection, and Leomund’s secret chest provide a great toolkit for keeping secrets like a devoted spy.
Secret Passages. Imagine you’re scouting through an ancient ruined with a Paladin in your party and they recall studying the temple in their books. As a result, they know of a secret passage used by the monks in the temple to move between different areas, or to access a sacred shrine. This is where passwall comes into play.
In all, this provides a nice toolkit to enable the Paladin to serve as a spy for their god.
The greatest difficulty in this design was its focused intent on helping spellcasters. We want a class to be usable in any party, even if its a Barbarian horde with no spellcasting ability. While this can be alleviated by making abilities that target spellcasters, you’re not guaranteed to face a spellcaster in every fight. So, there’s times when the subclass features can feel lacking in terms of their benefit to party members other than the Paladin.
I encountered difficulty being loyal to these principles in creating the Oath of Secret Knowledge Paladin. Ultimately, I realized that it was OK to create a Paladin against-type that wouldn’t work in every party, so long as the feel of the subclass was maintained. Of course players who coordinate with their party in character creation will have a better time, but that’s always true anyhow. Even if you don’t, D&D Beyond stats show us that you’re likely to have at least one other caster in your party who can benefit from the Oath of Secret Knowledge class features.
The Paladin gets new class features at 3rd, 7th, 15th, and 20th levels. Following this progression reveals certain patterns which should be followed in creating your homebrew Paladin.
At 3rd level, the Paladin gets an expanded spell list (covered above) and a Channel Divinity class feature (or perhaps two).
Here’s where the real meat of the subclass comes in: spell slot transfer. You may recall last week’s discussion on the Magic Reserves class feature–an Unearthed Arcana release which operated on a different mechanic. Since Divine Confluence is a part of the Paladin’s Channel Divinity class feature, there is a natural limiter on the number of uses, unlike Magic Reserves. The absorption mechanic is a little onerous, but it needs to be in order to limit the power level.
The Oath of Secret Knowledge Paladin also gets a flavorful Channel Divinity feature that allows them to do detective work. This should be a boon to Dungeon Masters who care to drop a hint on a party that may be headed the wrong direction, or want to spice up the lore of their world. The degree of meaning drawn from Truthbringer is completely subject to DM fiat, opening the possibility for ways to use it.
At 7th level, the Paladin gets an aura with a radius of 10 feet. The aura can have a variety of effects, but generally helps to boost the fortitude or efficacy of the party.
Like the Channel Divinity option, this class feature is very powerful, leading to a class that’s somewhat frontloaded. While this class feature was adapted from Mind Blank–and 8th level spell–it can be fine to give powerful features earlier, so long as they fit the thematic mold of the class. We’ve also toned down the strength of Mind Blank, which can overcome Wish spells. Additionally, the aura limitation means you can’t just target your allies with the effect. The Paladin will have to decide whether to defend the squishy spellcasters on the back line or go mix it up in melee so the big, dumb meat shield doesn’t flip on the party after failing a Wisdom save against an aboleth.
At 15th level, the Paladin typically inherits a class feature that boosts their own defensive power. This is expressed as expansions on lower-level class features, improved defenses, and reaction opportunities.
Divining Rod provides the classic defense boost, but in a new way. The Oath of Secret Knowledge Paladin possesses occult knowledge on cursed relics, allowing them to identify when a new item might be harmful to the party. Nobody wants to put all their newfound loot into a Bag of Devouring.
While not technically a class feature level, the aura the Paladin earns at 7th level expands its radius from 10 feet to 30 feet at 18th level.
As with most capstone features, the Paladin subclass features vary wildly in power. You can hardly go wrong as long as your class feature matches the flavor.
The aura was originally based around helping spellcasters, but I found that it made the class too focused on assisting spellcasters and left the rest of the party out in the cold. In order to turn this on it’s head, I swapped the 7th and 20th level abilities. While this is a little weaker than the other level 20 features, it works out fine since the subclass is a little front-loaded.