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I know you've said you consider Pathfinder paladins to be tier 3. Could you please explain what makes them so much more versatile than 3.5 paladins?In combat, it seems to me that their versatility has decreased, if anything. 3.5 paladins have access to martial study and some cool CW feats that broaden their use of actions beyond hitting things with a stick. In Pathfinder, barring access to PoW/PoWE, the only big new in-combat trick it gets is Aura of Resolve, which seems relatively small given that it already had good will saves, and the fact that in 3.5 it is relatively easy to gain immunity to mind-affecting effects with items (which everyone lost in pathfinder). Though, I'll grant the ability to give your allies a save boost is nice. Otherwise, the new paladin class features seem to be mostly number boosts and damage dealing.
Out of combat, the big things it gains in pathfinder is Mercy. That, I'll grant, is a huge utility boost, but is it really enough to push the class up two full tiers?
Of course, as I am mainly just familiar with 3.5, I'm not accounting for systemic changes that work in the paladin's favor. I haven't checked whether the paladin spell list has been substantially altered for the better, or whether supplemental content pushes it up further the way fighters got pushed up in 3.5 via new feats, Dungeon Crasher, Zhentarim, hit-and-run fighter and some other ACFs.
I can see that the combination of the numerical buffs to its old features and Mercy can push it up into the borderline tier 3/tier 4 range. Basically, I am asking you to try to convince me that the paladin is actually tier 3 and not just borderline 3-4, using arguments that separate it from its 3.5 counterpart.
One of the biggest enhancement's to the Paladin's overall effectiveness is the shift from Wisdom for casting to pure Charisma for pretty much everything. In general it means that pushing Charisma gives you not only incredible saves but solid offensive options and ensures that you are not only able to cast your spells when they come online but will frequently have a number of bonus spells. It's a small change but it makes getting bonus spells (or spells at all) a much easier prospect than in 3.x.
Lay on Hands was drastically improved. In 3.x, Lay on Hands healed P_Level * Cha_Mod. At the top end, 20th level Paladin with 30 Charisma could heal 200 HP / day. At pretty much all levels, the amount of damage you can heal is pretty crappy. It also always takes a standard action to use, making it useful for nearly nothing save out of combat healing and very limited healing at that.
Lay on Hands in Pathfinder (before taking into account modifiers) heals Paladin level/2 * 1d6 hit points a number of times per day equal to 1/2 Paladin level + Charisma modifier (which means a 4th level Paladin with a 18 Charisma heals a total of 12d6 damage (about 42) per day (compared to the 16 a 3.x Paladin could. Since the Paladin can use it on herself as a swift action, the Paladin can continue to act while displaying astounding levels of resilience. When you look into Paladin options that are available in Pathfinder, you find things like Fey Foundling or favored class modifiers that add additional +healing to their LoHs.
Side Note: If you want to make an exceptionally study Paladin, a Demon-spawn Tiefling (+2 Str, +2 Cha, -2 Int) with the favored class bonus (+1 HP / level when using LoH on yourself), with the Fey Foundling feat (+2 HP / die rolled when you are healed) can allow you to ignore excessive amounts of damage (our hypothetical 4th level Paladin would be able to heal for 2d6+8 6 times per day as a swift action or about 15 Hp per use or 90 Hp / day).
Mercies allow Paladins to remove irritating or debilitating status ailments and again are part of the swift-action to use Lay on Hands on themselves which they will likely be doing already so it's essentially a free status-recovery of your mercy if applicable.
Paladins gained new immunities, such as immunity to Charms and Compulsions and passive DR 10/evil (which humorously even most evil enemies, save evil-subtyped outsiders, cannot easily bypass so in most cases it's as good as DR 10/- since +5 weapons aren't practical for NPCs).
Paladins can grant smite to their whole party + minions, which gets pretty silly.
Paladins were stealth-buffed by the changes to the item creation mechanics from 3.x->PF. Before, if the Paladin lacked the associated spell for an item they couldn't even attempt to make it so item creation was a futile endeavor for Paladins in 3.x (their spell list is small and specific, dealing with mostly focus combat and utility). However, Paladins can now very comfortably use their caster levels + class skill bonuses to fashion their own gear effectively which makes them less reliant on random-dice gods for gear and allows them to specialize comfortably (and can give them a virtual increase in WBL).
Their spells are prepared so they can craft Pearls!
They have access to Unsanctioned Knowledge which lets them pick up some cool spells off some other spell lists allowing them to do some interesting things.
Paladins in Pathfinder can be cornerstones of a party. Feats like Ultimate Mercy mean they can raise anyone who died by just dumping lay on hands into them and then getting a night's rest. They can even skip the component by taking a negative level for a day (freaking awesome).
Their divine bond no longer has to be a mount. Now I like the mount but in many campaigns it isn't very practical or helpful and it is clearly an issue for non-small sized characters, and the ability to increase or add properties to your weapon in a pinch can be pretty sweet.
So in the end we're left with a class that...
1. Is extraordinarily durable vs physical harm.
2. Is extraordinarily durable vs magical harm.
3. Is effective at making their own magic items.
4. Has immediate access to spell-trigger support items like wands.
5. Has access to daily abilities that let them do things like scaling energy resistances, pop Lay on Hands when they fall below 0 HP, move without provoking attacks, auto-confirm crits vs evil foes, recover ability damage, etc.
6. Brings resources to the party rather than draining them.
7. Has exceptionally good magic item synergies (ring of evasion + divine grace + ring of free action + celestial armor = unstoppable juggernaut; pearls of power can give tons and tons of uses of things like grace, hero's defiance, bless weapon, and lesser restoration; their abilities universally stack with magic items).
8. Immunities actually translate into more magic item potential. For example, being immune to fear, charms, compulsions, and poison (delay poison as a 1 hour/level spell) means that you can skip magic items that guard against those things and replace them with other things.
If we compare this to the Warblade or Crusader from 3.5, which last I checked were considered tier 3 classes on JaronK's tier list, the PF Paladin stacks up nicely. It's rare to find an adventure where they are just twiddling their thumbs. They are good in combat, social, survival, and party support and can either ignore or adapt to issues very well.
Other Notes: Divine Power was nerfed for clerics as it doesn't increase BAB but instead gives a rather substantial luck bonus to hit and damage. Paladins can pick up Divine Power via Unsanctioned Knowledge and it stacks with their goodies.
Paladins did receive a few buffs that were mostly numeric. However, the sheer scale of those buffs make those abilities worth far, far more than their 3.x counterparts. For example, smite lasted 1-attack and was wasted on a miss in 3.x, now it lasts until your foe is dead and auto-pierces DR. Lay on Hands was piddly healing, now it's amazing (so amazing that Paladins can just forget Constitution if they want in favor of Charisma).
I can't really think of a reason that a Warblade would be Tier 3 but a PF Paladin wouldn't be. Especially since the Paladin is actually more versatile overall than the Warlade. Virtually all of their awesome stuff comes either from their class features, feats made for them, or are from options that synergize with them well without being piled behind lots of prerequisite-walls.