Divine Smite 5E: Laying the Holy Smack Down

There are a lot of reasons to play a paladin in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. This is a hardy class with a good spell list and the innate ability to heal. If you are like me, you also love the paladin for its ability to deal huge damage to singular targets. But divine smite is about more than just the increased chance of damage. It gives you the opportunity to trade a spell slot for guaranteed damage that is double effective against the undead, and to which few monsters are resistant. Want to learn more about why I love Divine Smite? Dive right into our Divine Smite 5E Guide.

How Does Divine Smite Work?

divine smite 5e
Divine Smite Text
Divine Smite:Starting at 2nd level, when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend one spell slot to deal radiant damage to the target, in addition to the weapon’s damage. The extra damage is 2d8 for a 1st-level spell slot, plus 1d8 for each spell level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8. The damage increases by 1d8 if the target is an undead or a fiend, to a maximum of 6d8.

Divine Smite kicks in at level two for paladins. When you succeed with a melee weapon attack, you have the option to expend a spell slot. This does not count as casting a spell, nor does it use up your bonus action. Expending a spell slot in this way allows you to tack on 2d8 radiant damage to your strike. That damage scales up depending on the level of spell slot you expend. What’s more, doubling that damage is possible if the target of the attack is undead.

There are tradeoffs that come with using Divine Smite. Spell slots are an expendable resource, and every use of smite is one less spell you can cast between now and your next long rest. That said, the primary purpose for many paladin builds is dishing damage to big targets. Divine Smite does that as well as anything. It is a great option for any number of paladin oaths. I especially like it in combination with the Oath of Glory feature Living Legend.

When you think about it from the standpoint of efficiency, it is hard to do better than using a spell slot for Divine Smite. Other spells can fail or see their damage reduced with a successful monster saving throw. With Divine Smite, you never expend the spell slot until after you already know your attack roll will be successful. That means every use of Divine Smite will land the maximum number of damage dice. It’s hard to get more efficient than that.

Is Divine Smite Overpowered?

Paladin fans everywhere might handwave the suggestion, but there is an interesting case for Divine Smite being overpowered. On the surface, there are tradeoffs that come with using Divine Smite. Sure, you get a huge boost to your damage, but you have to expel a spell slot to use it. Fair, right? I’m not convinced.

Divine Smite is certainly fine at low levels. As you level up, however, it can really impact the action economy. As a paladin, you can tack on Divine Smite to any successful melee attack. Seeing as you can eventually make multiple attacks in one turn, you could unleash more than one smite on one turn as well. This is not just a lot of damage. You can burn a spell slot and deal substantial damage without the need for a successful spell attack roll or saving throw.

Of course, your spell slots run out eventually. That does not change the fact that there could be balance issues in short bursts before you expend all of your slots. Combat rarely lasts that long, and it is easy for a paladin to burn a few spell slots and deal significant damage just by landing a single melee attack. It’s not a dealbreaker for me as a DM, but it is something to consider! If you want a deep dive on the subject, Hipsters and Dragons has a great breakdown.

Divine Smite vs. Smite Spells

There are plenty of similarities between Divine Smite and many paladin spells. Not only are these spells similar, but even the names themselves are identical. Take a look at the list yourself. Searing Smite? Blinding Smite? There is a reason these names are similar, as the effects are too.

Smite spells operate in virtually the same way as Divine Smite. They take a bonus action to cast, allowing them to be used in conjunction with a melee attack. They also add extra damage to a successful melee strike, as well as other conditions depending on the spell.

Of course, there are some differences. Divine Smite is not a spell, so it cannot be counterspelled. What’s more, Divine Smite simply involves expending a spell slot as part of your attack action. You retain your bonus action, unlike with the smite spells.

Does Divine Smite Crit?

Divine smite benefits from a critical hit. A critical hit allows you to double any die related to the attack damage – not the weapon damage. This is an important distinction, because it allows you to double damage related to features like Divine Smite or Sneak Attack.

Wrapping Up

that’s it for our Divine Smite 5E guide. To me, it is one of the highlights of the class and a powerful tool that scales for any campaign. Divine Smite can deal absurd damage, and you are never at risk of burning the spell slot for nothing.

Divine Smite is only one of the reasons why I love the paladin. If you need more paladin in your life, be sure to check out our Paladin 5E handbook. Have any thoughts on Divine Smite? leave us a comment below!

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