Whilst spellcasters such as wizards and sorcerers, and those able to emulate their magical skills, gain their power by manipulating and controlling strands of raw magic that run unseen through the fabric of the universe, those of a religious nature receive their powers from the Gods themselves.
The Gods exist, there is no question of that, and it is by allowing their followers to champion their own, personal cause that they retain their position as deities. Religiously-inspired magic can be seen as the Gods working through the character who has taken up their faith. And so, whether they are aware of it or not, they are in many ways a puppet-like plaything of the god that they follow. But, unlike puppets, the powers that they are granted can be very powerful indeed.
What Is Divine Smite
Divine Smite is a power that Paladins, warrior-monks who are the shock troops and faithful fighters of any lawful good faith, religion or cult, are granted to help them dispatch anyone deemed the enemy of the faith. This loose definition essentially means anyone that stands between the Paladin and their goal.
Starting at 2nd Level, when the Paladin lays a successful hit on a creature using any form of melee weapon, they can opt to expend one spell slot to deal additional divine damage onto the target. This is in addition to the weapon’s usual, non-magical damage. The extra damage is calculated by rolling 2d8 for a 1st-level spell slot, plus 1d8 for each Spell Level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8. The damage also increases by 1d8 if the target is an undead or a fiend as they are particularly susceptible to the divine forces at work.
How often can Divine Smite be used?
There is nothing stated in the rules regarding how often a Divine Smite can be used, which means that any blow landed on a target can be powered up into a Divine Smite attack. The limitation does come from the fact that any time it is used it requires the use of a spell slot. This means that although the ability can produce huge amounts of additional damage, particularly when fighting against undead and demons, you can quickly run out of steam.
If you run a campaign where magic is a more cautious commodity and the Paladin’s ability to lay waste to anything that stands in its way feels a bit over-powering, you could impose certain limitations. Perhaps make the ability only applicable to chaotic evil enemies or just chaotic creatures. You could even have the God that they follow only grant the power against specific creatures to fit in with the nature of the faith that is built around them. Remember the books are guidelines and this is your DnD campaign, adopt and adapt the rules to build the world that feels right for you.
Is the ability overpowered?
There is an argument about whether the ability is overpowered or not. Because the Paladin only has to declare the use of Divine Smite after they know if a hit is successful or not, many wait until they land a critical hit before taking up the option. On the one hand, this means that a Paladin is capable of dealing out unparalleled amounts of damage when they get that lucky or precision hit. On the other hand with the limited amount of spell slots available to them, such instances will be a fairly rare occurrence.
Again, if you feel that this situation is overpowering the balance of the game, you could always make the ruling that a Paladin has to declare that they are attempting Divine Smite before they roll to hit the opponent. This will mean that the Paladin will have to choose carefully as to when they use it, perhaps using it to hit more obvious targets or saving it for emergency situations only. Again, remember whose world this is!
Improved Divine Smite
There has always been. bit of confusion over the use of Improved Divine Smite caused by some unclear wording in earlier editions of the rule book. The use of Improved Divine Smite might have been clearer had it been called something else altogether as it can be used alongside Divine Smite and isn’t limited to the caps of this lesser ability.
It is assumed that by the time that they reach 11th level, the Paladin is so suffused with righteous might that all of their melee weapon strikes carry divine power with them a feature that doesn’t need to be turned on and neither can it be turned off. They are truly an instrument of their God. Whenever they hit a creature with a melee weapon, the creature takes an extra 1d8 of radiant damage. If the Paladin also opts to use their Divine Smite ability with an attack, then the combination of both abilities are added together.
Delivering the Divine Smite
Again, in the past, there has been some confusion as to what weapons are permissible when delivering this holy blow as the term used is “melee weapon attack.” Later clarifications from the writers of the 5e edition tell us that this means a handheld weapon used in melee, that is hand to hand combat as opposed to “ranged weapons,” such as missiles, bows, spears and anything else which needs to leave the hand of the Paladin on its way to hit the target.
Unarmed attacks such as kicks and punches are deemed melee attacks even though the body isn’t generally considered a weapon. Although some, more martial characters might argue otherwise.
Paladins are fun characters to play, they are warriors who are fired up by their dedication to a cause. They are, by their very nature, holier than thou, they are single-minded in their purpose and the first into the fray to defend their beliefs. Abilities such as Divine Smite and Improved Divine Smite are the rewards for such faith in their God above. Use them wisely and have fun in your holy crusade.