Hipsters & Dragons

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Is Paladins’ Divine Smite Overpowered?

Regular readers of this blog (hypothetical beings of extreme awesomeness) will know that I like to have a little bitch and moan about elements of the game that – in my gaming experience at least – have proved overpowered, creating imbalance in the gameplay.

Under my probing microscope I’ve analysed and dismantled the lucky feat and come up with ways of dealing with problematic spells like banishment and counterspell. In fact I’ve been so efficient in dealing with the peccadillos of 5th edition that I’m surprised Mr. Crawford hasn’t looked me up and offered me a job on the 6e team. It’s duncan@hipstersanddragons.com in case you’re trying to reach me Jeremy.

Today’s topic is a pet peeve of mine: Divine Smite.

I once made the mistake of asserting that the Paladin class is overpowered on a large Facebook forum and, whilst a few people heartily concurred with me, the majority shot me down with lots of assumptions about how I was playing the game all wrong, but little in the way of convincing argument. Since then I have detected a massive communal Paladin love-in with both players and game designers alike, which might account for why this class is the only one that has it all in their locker: fighting ability, spellcasting, some of the strongest features/powers in the game and – in the Divine Smite ability – the potential to do mega damage.

Every 5e Paladin ever… (Image from Orclabs.)

The Paladin class in general I’ll bitch about in a separate post, but let’s take a specific look at Divine Smite (p.85 Player’s Handbook). Using a 1st level spell slot you can 2d8 damage extra damage with a melee attack that hits, and an extra d8 on top of that for every spell slot above 1st you are willing to expend.

At first it doesn’t look outrageous. After all you have to sacrifice a spell slot, but why it turns out being too powerful is because it’s a melee attack and spell attack combined. It allows you to effectively cast a high damage spell without expending an extra action and with no saving throw, and in fact once the Paladin gets multiple attacks he can in effect have two melee attacks and cast the equivalent of two spells all in one round. The result is that a Paladin at 9th level attacking with a longsword can do a total of 10d8 damage (+ str modifier doubled) against a baddie in one round with no save (ie. two attacks at 1d8 [longsword] plus 4d8 [3rd level spell slot] each). If his opponent is undead – and who hasn’t fought in a campaigns where every foe was undead? – that goes up to 12d8 total. When the Paladin gets improved Divine Smite at 11th level he could deal 14d8 damage in one round to an undead foe. In all these cases he has to hit with both his melee attacks, but by 9th level that’s pretty likely against most monster ACs.

After that the 9th level Paladin can use up two of his 2nd level spell slots to do another 8d8 (10d8 if undead) the following round, and then back that up with another 7d8 (9d8) in the third round of combat, and then 6d8 (8d8) and still have a spell slot left. Which basically means that one character of the party gets to take down the biggest monster of the day every day, whilst the others twiddle their thumbs. Which is just a bit boring, if you’re not the one playing the Paladin.

The only thing vaguely comparable in the game is the Rogue’s sneak attack, but that can only be dealt once a round, even if the Rogue gets a second attack (which he might if they use their bonus action to attack with an off hand weapon), meaning at 9th level a Rogue is limited to 6d6 damage (1d6 shortsword + 5d6 bonus damage). Of course the Sneak Attack never runs out, unlike spell slots, but unlike smite it does rely on the right circumstances (having advantage, or an ally distracting the target) and is pretty much the only thing the Rogue has going for them vs. the Paladin’s durability and other divine powers and spellcasting options.

Maybe if your Dungeon & Dragoning only consists of waking up in the tavern and then fighting a large and unlikely succession of monsters on the road day after day (so DnD 1.0!) it might not prove to be too overpowered, as the spell slots would get burned up after one or two combats. But if you just fight two or three times in an adventuring day it basically means the Paladin in the party will be deciding the most important battle of the day with Divine Smite every time.

Hipster Rules Fix

Is there an easy fix? I would suggest two or three things that could easily reduce the impact of Divine Smite without Paladin PCs feeling they are getting nerfed.

The first would be limit its use to one time a round, like Sneak Attack. That means they can still do the same damage per spell slot expended but – in the case of fighting one big bad boss – not before at least some of the other PCs have a chance to contribute to the fight, as well as letting the big bad boss actually have a chance to show off his own abilities, making for a tenser, better fight.

It would also mean less dice rolling per round, something that has a negative effect on gameplay as others look at their watches while the Paladin PC finishes calculating the massive damage of their first smite of the round and then gathers up all the d8s on the table for the second… super tedious!

(I’ve just considered the possibility of a Paladin using an off hand weapon as a bonus action and getting a third smite per round… *shudder!*).

I would also suggest that a Paladin should only be able to use a maximum of half their spell slots of any given level to deal Divine Smites, rounding up. So a 9th level Paladin could do 2 x 1st level smites, 2 x 2nd level smites and 1 x 3rd level smite. This has the added benefit of forcing the Paladin PC to be more interesting and use some of their actual spells rather than just turning into a damage dealing machine.

Also you should definitely rule that Divine Smite can only be invoked using Paladin spell slots, something that is not clear from the Player’s Handbook. Unless you’re trying to break the game that is a no brainer, as how could you channel divine power via picking up a spot of sorcery?

I’ve also seen a lot of people on forums mention that they always wait until this score a critical hit to use their smites. As a DM I would rule that Divine Smite damage doesn’t double up on crits… scoring a critical hit is a physical thing, striking the enemy in just the right place at just the right time, and it doesn’t make sense that divine energy would in anyway be reliant on that. In my imagination at least the righteous power of the god is summoned and flows through the Paladin’s weapon in relation to the Paladin’s spiritual power (ie. what spell slot he extended) and it flows in the same strength no matter how sweetly or not the blade strikes. But maybe that’s just me being a spoilsport.

Alternatively you could rule that the PC has to declare if he will use Divine Smite should his attack hit and what spell slot he will expend in that case. This would rule out cynical attempts to do insane damage, but still allow for the fun of a mega critical hit.

Ok hopefully these fixes help balance the game, whilst still keeping your Paladin PC more than potent enough to wreak havoc in the next session.

While you’re here did you check out my post on phobias? It’s a fun way to add some flavour to your PC! And don’t forget never to do these 11 irritating thing as a D&D player!


The White Scorpions: An Assassins’ Guild (5e D&D)


Group Stealth & Other Ability Checks


  1. Talis Mithrane

    Sorcerers can do 13d4 + 14 by level 9 without anyone rolling at all (Magic Missile Quickened). Just guaranteed.
    Or a Draconic Bloodline Sorcerer can do 22d6 (+ CHA Mod x 11)
    then 20d6 (+ CHA Mod x 10)
    then 16d6 (+ CHA Mod x 8)

    (Scorching Ray Quickened)

    • duncan

      Hi Talis

      I am not too familiar with sorcerers, however as I understand quickened spells allow you to cast a spell that takes an action as a bonus action instead, however you can still only cast one spell a round (plus a cantrip).


      So a 9th level sorcerer could cast magic missile with a 5th level slot and do 7d4+7 damage.

      Using scorching ray it could use its 5th level spell slot to do 12d6 + Charisma modifier, if it succeeded on all six spell attack rolls. (The Elemental Affinity allows you to add your Charisma modifier to ONE damage roll of that spell). They would then have another three 4th level spell slots and therefore could do another 10d6 + Charisma modifier damage per round for three rounds (if successful on 5 spell attack rolls), so still pretty good.

      Overall sorcerers are very good at dealing damage as well, but the Paladin is equally as good, and also performs the roles of tank, buffer/healer, and has channel divinity powers, making it an overpowered class IMO.


  2. Dungeons & Deserters

    I agree. I actually made a damage table comparing the maximum damage output of various classes, subclasses, and multiclasses, and even Matt Mercer’s Blood Hunter class. The Paladin clearly needs to be nerfed, and severely. Unfortunately, WotC seem to really like the OP Paladin, as Xanathar’s Guide actually makes their insanely high damage output more sustainable. I’ve lost most of my interest in playing Dungeons and Dragons because of this one class. Why play anything other than a Paladin, right? Well, I’m not interested.

    • duncan

      hey there, that’s a shame! Couldn’t you just reach an agreement with your group to choose other classes, or implement some rules changes? I would be interested to see your table btw.

      • Dungeons & Deserters

        Oh, I still play with my groups. My DM’s are reasonable. But, you know, the core game of DnD 5e just doesn’t interest me anymore. I was really into it until I realized that this one class, according to the RAW, outshines all the others by a huge margin, at least in a melee. And that WotC, with the release of Xanathar’s Guide, only made its damage output crazier with the Conquest Paladin (You’re worried about a third Smite with an offhand weapon? How about a third Smite with the main-hand weapon?!) and significantly more sustainable with the Holy Weapon spell. Also the fact that the only solution people seem to put forward is making the party battle 6-8 encounters per day, which is really a crap solution if you play for more than just combat.

        As for the damage table, sure, here it is. All of it is RAW.

        Level 20 maximum average non-critical damage per turn using mundane weapons against random enemy with no resistances, immunities, or vulnerabilities assuming all attacks hit.

        D = Dueling fighting style
        TWF = Two-Weapon Fighting fighting style
        GWF = Great Weapon Fighting fighting style
        … = trailing decimals

        Berserker: 6d6 + 33 = 54
        Berserker D: 3d8 + 33 = 46.5
        Berserker GWF: 6d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 27 = 52
        Ancestral Guardian: 8d6 + 22 = 50
        Ancestral Guardian D: 2d8 + 4d6 + 22 = 45
        Ancestral Guardian GWF: 8d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 18 = 51.33…
        Storm Herald: 8d6 + 22 = 50
        Zealot: 5d6 + 32 = 49.5
        Zealot D: 2d8 + 1d6 + 31 = 43.5
        Zealot GWF: 5d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 27 = 47.83…
        Monk: 4d10 + 20 = 42
        Open Hand: (42 + 10d10) / 2 = 48.5
        Kensei D: 2d8 + 3d10 + 20 = 45.5
        Kensei TWF: 3d8 + 1d10 + 24 = 43
        Hunter D: 2d8 + 1d8 + 2d6 + 19 = 39.5
        Hunter TWF: 3d6 + 1d8 + 3d6 + 20 = 45.5
        Monster Slayer D: 1d8 + 2d6 + 12 = 23.5
        Monster Slayer TWF: 5d6 + 15 = 32.5
        Kensei/Hunter D: 3d8 + 3d10 + 2d6 + 30 = 67
        Kensei/Hunter TWF: 4d8 + 3d6 + 1d10 + 24 = 58
        Kensei/Monster Slayer D: 2d8 + 3d10 + 3d6 + 30 = 66
        Kensei/Monster Slayer TWF: 3d8 + 1d10 + 4d6 + 24 = 57
        Kensei/Rogue D: 5d8 + 3d6 + 30 = 63
        Kensei/Rogue TWF: 4d8 + 3d6 + 24 = 52.5
        Hunter/Kensei/Rogue D: 3d8 + 8d6 + 24 = 65.5
        Hunter/Kensei/Rogue TWF: 4d8 + 7d6 + 15 = 57.5
        Monster Slayer/Kensei/Rogue D: 2d8 + 9d6 + 24 = 64.5
        Monster Slayer/Kensei/Rogue TWF: 3d8 + 8d6 + 15 = 56.5
        Mystic D: 3d8 + 7d10 + 7 = 59
        Mystic GWF: 2d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 7d10 (d10 = 6.3) + 2d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 5 = 67.93…
        Soul Knife: 3d8 + 7d10 + 9 = 61
        Rogue D: 1d8 + 10d6 + 7 = 46.5
        Rogue TWF: 2d6 + 10d6 + 10 = 52

        [One critical hit on a surprised enemy only]
        Assassin D: ((1d8 + 10d6) x 2 + 7) x 2 = 172

        [1st, 2nd, and 3rd turns only]
        Samurai D: 5d8 + 35 = 57.5
        Samurai TWF: 6d6 + 30 = 51
        Samurai GWF: 10d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 25 = 66.66…
        [4th turn and thereafter]
        Samurai D: 4d8 + 28 = 46
        Samurai TWF: 5d6 + 25 = 42.5
        Samurai GWF: 8d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 20 = 53.33…

        [1st and 2nd turns only]
        Arcane Archer: 4d8 + 4d6 + 20 = 52
        [3rd turn and thereafter]
        Arcane Archer: 4d8 + 20 = 38

        [2 turns only]
        Hexblade D: 8d8 + 5d10 + 38 = 101.5
        Hexblade D: 2d8 + 43 = 52

        [1st turn]
        Devotion Paladin D: 2d8 + 12d8 + 5d10 + 34 = 124.5
        Devotion Paladin TWF: 3d6 + 18d8 + 5d10 + 30 = 149
        Devotion Paladin GWF: 4d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 12d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 5d10 (d10 = 6.3) + 30 = 141.16…
        [2nd turn]
        Devotion Paladin D: 2d8 + 11d8 + 4d8 + 34 = 110.5
        Devotion Paladin TWF: 3d6 + 15d8 + 6d8 + 30 = 135
        Devotion Paladin GWF: 4d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 11d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 4d8 (d = 5.25) + 30 = 125.416…
        [3rd turn]
        Devotion Paladin D: 2d8 + 10d8 + 4d8 + 34 = 106
        Devotion Paladin TWF: 3d6 + 12d8 + 6d8 + 30 = 121.5
        Devotion Paladin GWF: 4d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 10d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 4d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 30 = 120.16…

        [1st turn]
        Oathbreaker Paladin D: 2d8 + 12d8 + 4d8 + 3d10 + 29 = 126.5
        Oathbreaker Paladin TWF: 3d6 + 18d8 + 5d10 + 30 = 149
        Oathbreaker Paladin GWF: 4d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 12d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 4d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 3d10 (d10 = 6.3) + 25 = 144.56…
        [2nd turn]
        Oathbreaker Paladin D: 2d8 + 12d8 + 4d8 + 3d10 + 29 = 126.5
        Oathbreaker Paladin TWF: 3d6 + 15d8 + 6d8 + 30 = 135
        Oathbreaker Paladin GWF: 4d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 12d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 4d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 3d10 (d10 = 6.3) + 25 = 144.56…
        [3rd turn]
        Oathbreaker Paladin D: 2d8 + 10d8 + 4d8 + 3d10 + 29 = 117.5
        Oathbreaker Paladin TWF: 3d6 + 12d8 + 6d8 + 30 = 121.5
        Oathbreaker Paladin GWF: 4d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 10d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 4d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 3d10 (d10 = 6.3) + 25 = 134.06…

        [1st turn]
        Conquest Paladin D: 3d8 + 18d8 + 5d10 + 21 = 143
        Conquest Paladin GWF: 6d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 18d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 5d10 (d10 = 6.3) + 15 = 166
        [2nd turn]
        Conquest Paladin D: 3d8 + 15d8 + 6d8 + 21 = 129
        Conquest Paladin GWF: 6d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 15d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 6d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 15 = 150.25
        [3rd turn]
        Conquest Paladin D: 3d8 + 12d8 + 6d8 + 21 = 115.5
        Conquest Paladin GWF: 6d6 (d6= 4.16…) + 12d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 6d8 (d8 = 5.25) + 15 = 134.5



        [When Blood Hunter is at or above 1/4th CURRENT max HP]
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter D: 3d8 + 3d10 + 36 = 66
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter GWF: 6d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 3d10 (d10 = 6.3) + 30 = 73.9

        [When Blood Hunter is below 1/4th CURRENT max HP]
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter D: 3d8 + 30 + 36 = 79.5
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter GWF: 6d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 30 + 30 = 85



        [When Blood Hunter is at or above 1/4th NATURAL max HP]
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter D: 3d8 + (3d12 + 15) x 2 + 21 = 103.5
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter GWF: 6d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + (3d12 [d12 = 7.33…] + 15) x 2 + 15 = 114

        [When Blood Hunter is below 1/4th NATURAL max HP]
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter D: 3d8 + (36 + 15) x 2 + 21 = 136.5
        Ghostslayer Blood Hunter GWF: 6d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + (36 + 15) x 2 + 15 = 142

        • Dungeons & Deserters

          Clarification: The Arcane Archer and Samurai don’t need that higher damage output to be in their first 2 or 3 turns of combat. They can split it up, just like the Hexblade, but can do it for only 2 or 3 turns in any combat encounter. If I could edit my reply, I would rewrite it like this so that it’s understood just like the Hexblade:

          [3 turns only]
          Samurai D: 5d8 + 35 = 57.5
          Samurai TWF: 6d6 + 30 = 51
          Samurai GWF: 10d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 25 = 66.66…
          Samurai D: 4d8 + 28 = 46
          Samurai TWF: 5d6 + 25 = 42.5
          Samurai GWF: 8d6 (d6 = 4.16…) + 20 = 53.33…

          [2 turns only]
          Arcane Archer: 4d8 + 4d6 + 20 = 52
          Arcane Archer: 4d8 + 20 = 38

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