One of the aspects of D&D that makes it so appealing to so many people, myself certainly included, is how many options there are available, so many ways to create a character and outfit them with all sorts of gear and abilities. That being said, some are just totally unnecessary. Such as the Hospitaler. One of the problems with a lot of prestige classes is that they don’t do anything new, whatever they bring to the table can easily be recreated in core so I don’t really see the point of them. The Hospitaler is a good example because as far as I can tell it is a Paladin, however one that is a little bit worse. Sounds great, right?
In theory the Hospitaler is some sort of traveling knight who is obligated to provide protection to travelers. In reality it is a paladin who gives up some abilities for a reduction in their normal abilities. So awesome. In order to get into this prestige class a character needs a Base Attack of +5, 5 ranks of ride and handle animal, the Mounted Combat and Ride By Attack feats, an ability to cast 1st level divine spells, and a non chaotic alignment. A 5th level Paladin easily qualifies for all of this, a Ranger could as well but based on some of the abilities the Hospitaler receives it is clearly intended for the Paladin. So the question really is, what does a character gain by giving up future levels of Paladin for this nifty prestige class? Let’s break it down.
Both classes have full base attack, good Fort saves, and 2+ skill points a level. Both also receive the Lay on Hands ability, which stacks if the character already had it, so that too is a wash. Remove disease? Ditto, they both get it. The Paladin has a d10 Hit Die, whereas the Hospitaler inexplicably gets a d8. The Hospitaler also has reduced spellcasting, only getting an increased caster level for 7 of 10 levels. The paladin has slow casting to begin with and this only makes them a poorer user of magic. The other thing that really strikes me as odd is the lack of focus on mounted combat. The only feat requirements for this class are both related to mounted combat, so it seems obvious that this class would give them some advantages there. It sort of does in a very roundabout way (we will get to that in a moment), but what it does not do it make the mount any better. A Paladin’s special mount is actually pretty good but class levels do not stack for the two classes, essentially leaving the mount in a state of stasis as they get no new abilities. Likewise, the smite ability is left behind.
So what does the Hospitaler get? A couple of bonus feats. At 1st, 5th, and 9th level they get an extra feat from the fighter bonus feat list. That’s it. At least with this they can improve on their mounted combat skills with some feats, but there really aren’t that many available. They already have two of them, Spirited Charge and Trample are nice but a normal progression of levels will get them soon enough. A human could have them both by 6th level. The other aspect of the class that deserves mentioning is that a Paladin can take levels of Hospitaler and return to Paladin levels, which I guess counts for something. You can dip in for the free feat and then return to the holy warrior that is the Paladin. It’s nice that you can go back to the Paladin once you realize how poor of an option this prestige class is. The better option would be to have Fighter be the 1st level, and then take Paladin but whatever.
The other great thing about Hospitalers is the Code of Conduct that they have to adhere to. They must swear an oath of poverty, obedience, and defense of those in their care. As if being a Paladin wasn’t enough fun, you now have to be a poor Paladin.
And where are the abilities related to protecting people? I fail to see them. A straight Paladin, or even a Knight, would fill the intended role of this class much better than the Hospitaler does. Some classes are clearly meant to fill pages in a book, rather than a role in a campaign and this is certainly one of them. Thumbs down.