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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!

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41 Comments

  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).

      https://www.sageadvice.eu/2014/05/22/quickened-spell/

      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.

      Cheers!

      • Stavros Saristavros

        You forget the sorc gets to do this at range vs melee for the Paladin.

        The magic missile also Always hits. A paladin has to hit first (which it prob will against most foes (but there are some foes with very high AC or shield reactions)
        You got to way up the pros and cons for both.

        • duncan

          A 9th level sorcerer casting magic missile with 5th level spell slot does 24.5 hp of damage. A 9th level paladin attacking with a longsword plus 3rd level divine smite does (5d8) 22.5+strength modifier per attack, and can attack twice. Plus an offhand weapon would be another 4d8 using an offhand weapon, with str modifier if they selected dual wielding feat. So another 18 damage + str.

          That would be (with 16 strength) a total of 72 damage, almost three times as much as a sorcerer’s highest level spell slot (ok sorcerer I guess could use quicken and cast a cantrip as well to do another 10-15 damage).

          It’s true that paladin can miss, but he doesn’t waste a spell slot when he misses, which is unfair. He could also crit (not possible with magic missile).

          In general it’s hard to compare martial characters with casters, but the problem is that the paladin is a martial character, who outperforms other more specialist martial characters thanks to his divine smite PLUS is a caster, healer and tank.

          Anyhow, the solution is simply to make using divine smite require a bonus action (see comments below) and that makes the game a lot more fair.

  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
        [Thereafter]
        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

        ___________________________________________

        BLOOD HUNTER VERSION 2.0

        [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

        ___________________________________________

        BLOOD HUNTER VERSION 1.2

        [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…
          [Thereafter]
          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
          [Thereafter]
          Arcane Archer: 4d8 + 20 = 38

          • TimingLight

            I’ve got some more classes for you, at level 20 for whatever reason, even though level 10 would be a better measure of where most people play.

            Wizard 20
            One 9th level spell
            Either meteor swarm for 40d6 (140 damage) HALF ON A SAVE, to like as many as many as 1650 people in one round
            If allies are in the way psychic scream 14d6 (49 damage) to ten people and they’re stunned, half on a save
            That means no attack roll to miss. If it hits all ten, and all ten SAVE they’re doing more damage than a paladin at 245 damage
            This spell hitting only 3 people can do as much as your paladin in a round
            8th level spell
            Sunburst for 12d6 (42 damage) on everyone in a 60 foot radius. Save for half. Beats your pally with 4 targets.
            7th level spells
            Delayed blast fireball for 12d6 damage (42 damage) in a 20 foot radius. Thats pleanty of space to get 4 targets. You could fit more than 20 in an area that big.
            He can get 2 of these per day
            6th level spells, 2 more
            Freezing sphere is 60 feet again, 10d6 (35 damage) save for half. He could be freezing hundreds
            If his friends are in the way than chain lightening same damage (35) but hits 4 targets who save for half. That’s a total of 140 for a 6th level spell, same as your level 20 paladin but the wizard can do it al level 11!
            that’s 6 entire rooms per day he can nuke from the door and hit everone at this point

            Bard 20
            With magical secrets can do exactly as above.

            Sorcerer 20
            Exact same as above but can empower to reroll 1s and 2s. He can careful it to save his allies or quicken it so he can toss in an extra 4d10 fire bolt.

            Warlock 20
            Warlock isn’t as good at direct damage, probably the weakest of the casters other than cleric who just cant. they’re better at “boring” things like dominate monster and true polymorph. They can still keep up with paladins though.
            Level 9 – psychic screams as above
            Level 8 – maddening darkness – 8d8 damage (36), half on failed save, 60 foot radius. Everyone round for ten minutes though.
            Level 7 – finger of death. 7d8+30 (63.5) single target,half on save
            I think crown of stars is better though. 4d12 as a bonus action 7 times. Not one big burst but it totals 182 average damage
            Level 6 – circle of death 8d6 (24 damage), half on save to everyone in 60 ft radius. Could hit more than a hundred people. Only needs to hit 10 to keep up with paladin even if every save is made. Alternately mass suggestion to suggest 12 people attack another 12 people for 24 hours gets the job done pretty well.

            Druid 20
            Level 9 – storm of vengence – it’s a little convoluted but first round is 2d6 save none, secound round 1d6 no save, third is 10d6 save half, more damage to come in subsequent rounds but lets ignore that. That’s about 40 damage to everyone in a 360 foot radius. That’s a army killer.
            Level 8 – sunburst as above, or tsunami if you like more convoluted druidy stuff
            Level 7- fire storm, 10-10ft cubes of 7d10 (38.5) save for half.
            Level 6 – wall of thorns is 7d6 (24.5 damage) save for half to people in a shapable 60 foot like and also again if they want to get through the wall. Only has to hit 5 people to keep up with paladin, but it’s got utility beyond that
            They can also be a bear and get seperate “bear hitpoints” infinite times per day thus making them unbeatable, because they can just be a new bear every round and get those hitpoints back. That’s why you don’t compare classes at level 20. So the druid can keep up with blasting but the paladin can only cry about his measly 100 lay on hands points.

            There’s nothing wrong with the paladin. They really tried to make caster martial disparity smaller this edition and the paladin was the greatest success on that front. Every class ive played has still been fun to play, and i’ve played most of them.

        • Pdgeorge

          This table is really impressive, but ultimately pointless.

          D&D is a game focused on a lot more than just combat, and even combat is focused on a lot more than “party versus one enemy” and there is also full utility to parties.

          Paladins against destroying single targets? GREAT! Against groups? Not so great.
          Paladins helping the group solve puzzles/non-combat encounters? Mediocre.

          Paladins are just one character in a party. They can do things great that other characters can’t do great and they can’t do things that other characters can do things great.

          • Dungeons & Deserters

            You can say the same thing about Barbarians and Fighters.

            “(Barbarians and Fighters) against destroying single targets? (Good, not anywhere near as great as Paladins.) Against groups? Not so great.
            (Barbarians and Fighters) helping the group solve puzzles/non-combat encounters? Mediocre.”

            “(Barbarians and Fighters) are just one character in a party. They can do things (good) that (one other class can do great) and they can’t do things that other characters can do great.”

            Yeah, I definitely don’t see a problem here.

  3. John Marston

    Also.. Sneak attack is per turn, not per round. AFAIK it’s always been this way (in 5e) too.

    • duncan

      Thanks John, you’re right of course!

    • Brian

      Turn doesn’t have the same definition in 5e as it used to. Turn used to represent 10 6 second rounds in a combat encounter, but that language has been eliminated. A turn in 5e simply represents a players chance to do something within the round. So a round is 6 seconds, a turn is a portion of that up to 6 seconds in which that character acts. Really in 5e, the terms are almost interchangeable.

      • duncan

        They are almost interchangeable, but not quite. Going back to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack, they can do it once per turn, which sometimes means they can do it more than once per round… for example when they get an attack of opportunity as a reaction, and they have advantage etc. on that attack, they could get their SA damage again because then they are acting during someone else’s turn.

  4. Matt

    I’ve been watching the D&D promo story “The Lost City of Omu” and noticed that the Paladin in that group consistently deals far more damage than the other characters, as well as being better armored and having more HP. He does 50-60 damage per round consistently at level 6 or 7 while the other characters struggle to do more than 30-40.
    In 3.5, the Paladin would have to declare the smite before rolling to hit. I think I’m going to institute that house rule, as well as the one from 3.5 that doesn’t multiply the bonus damage dice, just the weapon damage dice.

    • duncan

      Hi Matt

      Yes I watched the Lost City of Omu too! (I wrote this post thanks to it: http://www.hipstersanddragons.com/matthew-mercer-dungeon-master-tips/ that you might enjoy!)

      You’re right Arkhan the Paladin does the most damage, and whilst the game is written around 6 encounters a day that never happens, meaning a Paladin can do Divine Smite more often than not in combat.

      I never played 3.5… I was on a 20 year D&D hiatus between ’96 and 2016! So if the Paladin calls it and misses do they still burn a spell slot then?

      I didn’t understand this point ‘as well as the one from 3.5 that doesn’t multiply the bonus damage dice, just the weapon damage dice.’ Can you explain?

      Thanks to smite Paladins lead Barbarians in doing damage, and thanks to Lay on Hands they lead Fighters in durability. Given that Paladins also have spellcasting and other special abilities that frustrates me quite a lot.

      Cheers

      d

      • Matt

        3.5 Smite Evil
        “Once per day, a paladin may attempt to smite evil with one normal melee attack. She adds her Charisma bonus (if any) to her attack roll and deals 1 extra point of damage per paladin level. If the paladin accidentally smites a creature that is not evil, the smite has no effect, but the ability is still used up for that day. At 5th level, and at every five levels thereafter, the paladin may smite evil one additional time per day, as indicated on Table: The Paladin, to a maximum of five times per day at 20th level.”

        As you can see, in 3.5 a level 6 paladin is only going to be able to smite evil 3 times a day. It can’t be used against anything and everything, and must be declared before rolling. In 3.5, the Paladin is also a good class – it has full base attack bonus, a d10 HD, the ability to use most weapons and heavy armor and innate resistances or immunities to diseases and fear effects. If the Paladin misses though, they used their smite attempt up. No take-backs.

        As far as the multiplier point: In 3.5/Pathfinder, on a critical hit, EVERYTHING except bonus damage dice are multiplied. In 5e, the bonus damage is not multiplied, but the bonus dice are, meaning that the Paladin can wait for a critical hit, then apply smite and roll 6d8 while using a second level spell slot. The ability to wait until a hit or critical hit before choosing to apply the smite damage makes it far more potent than it should be.

        Granted, Paladins in 5e have limited spell slots, but most classes with spells don’t get to wait and see if their spell hits before deciding to use its slot. Imagine if the wizard could wait and see if the target of his spell failed their save before spending the spell slot!

  5. Val

    This would be a really easy issue to fix and does not require any new mechanics. Just add in a requirement that divine smite requires a bonus action. The fact that it can be applied after the to hit and it scales with higher level slots is balanced payoff for requiring both the bonus action and to burn a spell. This ability would then match very well with sneak attack which doesn’t have the spell requirement but is situational yet is still once per turn.

    • duncan

      I like that A LOT! It’s crazy that it’s currently a free action that can be done multiple times a round. This solves everything in one go, and also stops the Paladin’s round taking forever (a problem we had at our table given that our Paladin would cast a spell with his bonus action, use multiple smites – millions of d8s and maths – and probably attempt a free action as well!).

  6. MaesterOlorin

    Paladins have always been M.A.D. which was only part of their drawbacks. In the past Barbarian, Monks, Druids, Paladins, Rangers, and Clerics were made to be a sacrifice for a gain. This is not a MOBA or MMO, combat is not everything; you were not and should not be trying to balance every caster, skill, or combat class. In my experience, in the past you knew what you were getting into. You want to be a druid; then you have a code to live by and that was part of the bargain. The idea that every class will do the roughly the same damage in combat is both boring and immersion breaking. The wizard should be bending reality, the paladin should have to live by the laws of heaven in order to gain the favor of Heaven, the Fighter should be the stalwart soldier, and it was fun. The only people I saw complaining back then were the ones who wanted to get out of paying the price for power, usually they went wizard afterward. Back then a paladin was meant to roleplay himself to death rather than dying from being overwhelmed; dying because it was a fight he had to fight rather than one he was too stupid to turn down. With the search of the dollar and the attempt to “broaden the appeal” they are losing what made D&D different. They are trying to equalize everything; a tyranny of the vulgarization, and creates compressed and let’s say “streamlined” game; nevertheless, the game was not meant to be recoloring a few basic archetypes, even if that is what they seem to be trying to do now, it wasn’t always that way. That is why I play the old kinds when I can.

  7. My house rule is just to remove Divine Smite as a class feature for Paladins. They’re already a good class without Divine Smite, and they can still use their spell slots to, you know, cast actual smites which seem reasonably balanced. I still allow the +1d8 for Improved Divine Smite though. I’m struck by how the class still seems pretty solid even with this super powerful feature removed, though I haven’t crunched all the numbers to see how to compares in terms of damage to other options.

    Honestly though, I’d rather run or play in a game without Paladins than one where Divine Smite works as written.

    • duncan

      Hi Rory, good to hear from someone who’s had the same experience as me. You’re right, even without smite a paladin can still hold their own easily, and in fact is still more powerful than most classes IMO. I think what makes smite so powerful is that you can do it as a free action on the back of a melee attack, and there’s no save. Being able to cut foes down so quickly renders the rest of the party as spectators all too often.

      Your blog is great by the way! Gonna take me a while to go through it properly, but was impressed that you were amongst the alpha testers of the Monster Manual!

      • Yeah, I totally agree. Smites just weirdly bypass the normal ways things are balanced in d&d 5e:
        -Don’t require an action or bonus action to use
        -Can be used multiple times a round
        -You get to decide whether to activate AFTER you hit
        -No Saving Throw
        -No need to maintain concentration like you would with a heavy hitting spell of a similar power level
        -Allow ridiculous Nova damage that is heads and shoulders above other classes.

        I like messing around with damage optimization and min/maxing classes for different roles, but it’s depressing when Paladins get to have the highest damage by far and are still great tanks, decent healers, and provide a lot of other benefits (such as bonus to saves, some utility spells, etc.).

        I also wonder at what kind of games people are running where they don’t notice this disparity; I think it’s possible that a lot of people playing Paladins actually don’t realize HOW insane the damage output can be and only occasionally use their divine smite.

        Glad you like Blogofholding! Honestly, my friend Paul has done the vast majority of contributions, especially these days, including a recent super useful article breaking down the actual math that is used to create monsters in 5e. But I’m pretty happy with a number of the articles I did at the start of 5e and much of the general theory-crafting stuff.

        Yeah, playtesting early 5e was super fun! Kind of crazy how much the game changed from the early playtests; I am super impressed with how much they were willing to adapt and change. And it’s really neat to see my name listed in the playtester credits for Monster Manual and DMG.

        • duncan

          Cool, I will definitely dip into the Blogofholding some more when I get a moment, as I only had a chance to peruse a few articles!

          One final thing on Divine Smite, I did like the comment on this post by Val (not sure if you saw it), who said that it should require the use of a bonus action. That solves a lot of the problems with it in one go!

          Cheers for now.

      • Matt

        I’ve noticed at my tables that Paladin players NEVER (and I do mean NEVER) cast their spells. In over 30 sessions worth of play between two groups and 3 paladin players, I don’t remember ever seeing a Paladin use their spell slots for anything besides juice for Divine Smite. I think simply banning the ability is balanced, but unfun for potential paladin players. I like the suggestion that it costs a Bonus Action.

  8. Bacon Awesome

    Isn’t the core problem that the game is designed for ~6 combat encounters per long rest? If that’s impractical, then you’re right that long rest characters like the paladin (and wizard, sorcerer, etc) need to be nerfed so they don’t overshadow short rest characters like the fighter and warlock.

    • duncan

      yes, I think that is a major contributor to the problem. But unless you’re in a dungeon, I don’t really understand the 6 encounters per day structure. How many fights do you fit in a day? You would have to a party of instigating-type murder-hobos to get in 6 fights a day, it seems to me!

      • Even in a dungeon where you do fit in 6 fights, I have to imagine that most of those aren’t really designed to be super challenging, but more to put a light to moderate drain on the parties resources. So really, it still comes down to 1-2 fights that really put the party to the test. I am not sure if others feel differently, but that’s how it’s always felt when I’ve run encounters where I intentionally throw a lot at the party before they rest.

        I also think it’s worth noting that other spell casters don’t seem to have quite the same problem. For example, a well built wizard can do some pretty incredible things, but even going full force, they still struggle to put out the kind of single target damage an optimized Fighter or Barbarian can dish out (area attacks are another matter of course), not to mention it’s still useful to have these characters in the front lines tanking. But a Paladin beats them soundly at their own game.

        So while I agree that if every day had 6 rounds of combat, this would be somewhat less significant of a problem, I don’t think it’s a case of “D&D is balanced if you play how the designers intended”.

  9. GG

    I find it more fun to find interesting challenges to the players abilities, not remove them outright.

  10. Sigil

    Typical complaints; resulting from two major misunderstandings.

    The first is building boss encounters purely around one strong monster, a fight paladins absolutely excel at. The second is letting players take long rests too often; this isn’t just for paladins but every single dedicated spellcasting class. In fact, it benefits paladins less. If you do the latter you’re going to have a very unbalanced time anyway. (I see at the top you complain about banishment – a spell that is not actually broken so much as excellent against specific encounters, the same ones Paladins are also excellent against).

    Paladins have extremely limited spell slots, divine smites are powerful but it’s also just 2d8 unless they’re spending higher level spell slots. Paladins are also giving up the chance to use spells for that, which is a fairly big opportunity cost. One bless spell is often far more cost-effective than one first level smite, for instance, unless that smite slot was spent on a crit.

    “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.”

    I can answer that.

    “(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!*).”

    It’s because you apparently don’t know the first thing about the game. (I apologise for sounding so harsh, but if you’re going to toot your own horn so blatantly then this is one bubble I’m going to burst with no hesitation)

    Even the most cursory look at two-weapon fighting shows that it’s absolutely pointless for most dedicated melee classes and absolutely worthless for the paladin in particular. Not only don’t they get the fighting style that is necessary to make it worthwhile, it requires them to:

    1. give up their shield with holy emblem, thus making their spell casting much more complicated (greatweapon, the other style they could go for at least allows them to have a free hand for a emblem around their neck)

    2. take a feat tax for the dual wielder feat, which is actually a pretty heavy deal for a fairly MAD class

    and all that for having less AC than sword-and-board (or maybe on-par AC if they took armoured – which at least they can with relief since it’s the only style that benefits them at all – while sword-and-board can either still have one AC more, or have +2 damage or protection… well, protection isn’t great either), doing the same damage with their main hand and having a bonus-action taking second hand attack that does barely any damage, with the sword-and-board having an extra feat or more likely better charisma overall thanks to not requiring a feat.

    Great weapon master is even more hilarious – they have two less AC, but trade it for an occasional bonus action attack worth a damn (and since it’s anti-horde it’s better for paladins than most classes, since Paladins suck at fighting those). They also have an at-will ability that does the same average damage as a 1-st level smite heavily compounded by their access to bless, which abrogates the to-hit penalty. So they benefit even more than usual from that.

    Two-weapon fighting on the other hand, only serves to enhance their nova ability… something which they are already suited for. In return they massively hamper their at-will damage and their access to their other paladin abilities.

    You are not, in fact, knowledgable about the “peccadillos” of fifth. You merely have fallen into the usual GM traps for 5th – very common and well known ones – and assume that it is in fact player options that are the problem.

    • duncan

      Sigil, it seems you wouldn’t recognise sarcasm if it hit you in the face with a saucepan, on the bottom of which was etched S A R C A S M.

      Obviously I’m not expecting a call from Mr. Crawford any time soon, but this post is for those who, like me have experienced problems with the Divine Smite ability.

      The point I made about off hand weapons was made as an aside (I even put it in brackets!), so trying to pull that apart as if you’re some kind of D&D guru is hardly doing you any credit. It just shows you misunderstood the post.

      Otherwise you make some good points, but please leave the swagger and the insults at the door next time.

  11. Tyler

    I’m of the opinion that Paladins Divine Smite itself doesn’t need to be nerfed or Even Limited in any major way. I play a paladin, and yes can get some crazy burst damage, But I am far from the Damage Dealing Powerhouse of our group. Consistently our Rouge dealt more then comparable damage using their sneak attack, and the Barbarian/Fighter with the expanded critical range AND pole-arm master out doe’s us on damage consistently, from a round to round basis. The Rouge could deal their damage every turn, and the Barbarian has no resource to expend at all, And can hammer away until his arms fall off. Once I’m out of slots, they will easily outpace me.

    The Paladin being able to Buff and Heal is also not as much a factor. They cannot Nova all their Spell slots and then buff an ally, unless its their lay on hands, which while a real nice single heal, when it comes to healing in DND its only really usefull once combat ends. Yes, Let me use my action to heal 10 Hp… that the orc is going to deal right away rendering my turn meaningless, when i could have just hit him and prevented that next hit anyway. Spell slots are either used for buffs and healing, or for damage, not at the same time. I also find that many buff spells are just not worth it in the game that we play, since so many buffs require concentration, and a Paladin should be in the fight, Possibly taking hits and risking losing that buff.

    It comes down to the problem of the ‘5 minute adventuring day’. When your group gets a long rest between almost every fight, why wouldn’t they nova all the abilities and spells? Our DM did this.

    Long Rest is not a Single nights Sleep. Its 24 hours of light activity/resting, and a short rest is the 8 hour sleep overnight. This absolutely shifted how I play. I used to Nova all my slots on only Divine smites just to keep up. Now that our slots are even more limited, they become even more valuable. I don’t smite every hit with my limited slot pool. I only really do so when i crit to make that slot worth spending. Otherwise, I’m now using spells i never anticipated using. Command. Locate Object. Aura of Vitality. Sanctuary. All spells that before I never used, and now make frequent use of because now I’m not using all my slots to smite.

    Making Changes to it/Removing It as some people have suggested would be the same as removing a Barbarians Rage, because since they have a High AC (High Dex+High Con, Shield Etc.) They don’t need resistance to Melee Damage With all that HP, Or a Monks Flurry of Blows, because 4 attacks for a single ki point is just to many attacks at 5th lvl…

    There is also the fact that not all encounters are created Equally. Think of the Action Economy. If you have a single big monster with no Backup, of course the group will destroy it in a round or two, Likely with the Paladin Using His Strongest Smites to help soften it up.

    Paladins Kryptonite is going to be groups, and Especially Ranged Combatants.

    This is, of course, just my take on things, and i fully understand we may continue to disagree.

    • duncan

      Hi Tyler, thanks for the comment. Some very good points. Rogue Sneak Attack is for me a bit incongruous at times, and bloody annoying when used as a ranged attack. Polearm Master is probably the strongest feat in the game, so yes I can imagine if you play enough encounters in a day these two characters you mention could deal more damage than a Paladin overall. Maybe I didn’t state it clearly enough in this post, but the problem with the paladin is the speed of which they can do their damage, meaning they get to decide the boss fight every time.

      Otherwise, some of your points need a counterpoint I feel…

      With Lay on Hands you could equally heal 50 hit points in one go at 10th level. That’s a formidable pool of extra hp, and combined with the paladin’s AC, that makes them tougher to kill than a fighter. In comparison, how many spell slots of cure wounds is that the equivalent to? And you can do it all at once. Not to mention the handy remove effect property.

      Fair point about buffs and concentration, although on top of Smite and spell options and lay on hands, you also have Channel Divinity, which also offers some really handy buffs, especially on the Oath of Vengeance if I recall correctly.

      Regarding the Barbarian / Fighter with Polearm Master, there’s nothing stopping a paladin getting Polearm Master as well.

      Interesting switch your DM has introduced… sounds like it might actually be making things more interesting for you!?

      Cheers mate

      d

      • Matt

        While sustained damage is useful, nova damage is worth far more than sustained damage. If the party is facing an ogre, 40 damage in one attack, combined with the rest of he party means a dead ogre. The ability to kill a monster in one hit is more valuable, since a dead monster cannot attack back.

  12. John S

    Compared to how much damage a 9th-level wizard or sorc can do by expending spell slots and landing cloudkill, cone of cold, or fireball on a group of bads, the single-target damage a paladin can do by expending spell slots and smiting a bad seems reasonable to me. Divine smite is very good, but not so good that it completely overshadows the things other classes do well. If all your fights revolve around single-target damage, the paladin will seem OP. If all your fights are against mobs, the aoe casters will steal the show. As with all situational abilities in 5e, it’s important for the DM to be aware of what the party can do and design encounter variety into the game that balances the challenges and opportunities for each player to shine over the course of the game.

    • My objection to this line of thinking is that it leaves all the other non-spellcasters/spellcasting-light classes in the lurch. So sure, when it comes to AOE, other spell-casters can do some really impressive overall damage, but Barbarians, Fighters, Rangers, and Rogues lag really far behind what a Paladin can do.

      At level 9, for example, a Paladin can lay down 9 Smites, choosing to space these out as needed or go absolutely Nova, potentially dropping an extra 11d8 damage to a target in one round. It’s really tough for a Fighter to keep up with that kind of damage (and they are probably the next most damaging for single target), even through multiple fights.

      Now, to be fair, WotC did throw the Paladin a nerf at level 11 so improved smite doesn’t add to smite damage anymore. That was nice, but it doesn’t really go far enough, as by level 5, the Paladin is pulling significantly ahead of the comparable non-spellcaster/spell-light classes.

      Ultimately, I am surprised WotC choose a versatile tank type to ALSO be the top (by far) when it comes to single target damage. I would have thought they’d have given that honor to the Rogue, a fragile spellcaster such as the Warlock, or two-handed weapon focused Fighter.

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