Smites Without Spell Slots

Let’s hack smites to reinvigorate Paladin spellcasting, discourage multiclassing for the sake of powergaming, and promote more dynamic play styles.

The Mechanic

The 5e Paladin’s Divine Smite feature keys off of spell slots. When you hit, you can burn a spell slot to deal extra radiant damage, with bigger damage rolls for higher spell slots.

The Problem

The primary problem this produces is that Paladins often skip casting spells so they can preserve their spell slots for smites. Why give Paladins spells if they’re not going to use them? When players get a new feature that keys off a resource they already have, they don’t feel like they’re getting as much. While this is not fatal design, it can be improved.

The secondary problem this produces is that it encourages players to multiclass into Sorcerer. The driving function of the multiclass is as a spell slot engine, fueled by the Sorcerer’s full spellcaster progression and Font of Magic (which can be used to create spell slots).

The Fix

If we divorce the smites from their cost, we can get the Paladin back to using their spells for actually casting spells! And Paladins can still multiclass into Sorcerer, but it will be a flavor-driven choice, not a siren song for single-mode powergaming.

If we’re separating smites from spell slots, we need to deal with two things: uses and scaling.

# of Uses

Since spell slots reset on a long rest (and Paladins don’t get any neat spell slot recovery tricks), we can start with the same long rest reset paradigm. We can always convert it to short rest later (by doing the opposite of what we did with the Agnostic Adventuring Day), but this also gives us more room to work with.

The next question is how many uses we give. In balancing this number, we need to consider the power we’re giving the class. Currently, the Paladin can use anywhere between 2 and 12 smites, depending on their available spell slots. But, we can’t use this as a benchmark. If we let the Paladin double-dip on smites and spell slots, we’re imparting a lot of power creep to a class that definitely doesn’t need it. Conversely, a Paladin’s power is balanced by their multiple ability score dependence (MAD).

We can lean on the Paladin’s MAD-ness to balance the number of smite uses. Give the Paladin a number of smite uses per long rest equal to their Charisma (CHA) modifier.

Another alternative is proficiency scaling. We’ve previously explored the benefits and drawbacks of proficiency scaling.

While these systems won’t let you use as many smites as you could before, there are always smite spells to supplement if you want more smites. While you can’t wait until you hit to cast smite spells, they can be stacked with the regular Divine Smite.

Damage Scaling

Since we can no longer peg damage to the spell level expended, we need another way to scale damage.

Using ability score modifiers again would be really convenient, because it emulates the range of d8s available under the present iteration of the Divine Smite feature (up to 5d8 vs. non-undead). However, it presents some problems if you’ve already used it for scaling the number of uses. You’d get a duplicative effect where your Charisma investment makes the damage go up as well as the number of uses.

It makes some sense to me that the smites should get more powerful as you level. So, we can use level scaling to accomplish this! Smite damage is a number of d8s equal to your Paladin level/4 (rounded up). This emulates the progression that we get from powering up smites with stronger spell levels. It also keeps our smites from being super powerful at low levels just because we pumped the right ability scores.

New Text

Here’s our Divine Smite rules hack all tidied up. I hope it gets your wheels turning about how to improve Divine Smite at your table!

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18 thoughts on “Smites Without Spell Slots

  1. I like it sir! I appreciate the thought you gave to not inducing power creep in an already strong class, but giving it back the ability (“option”) to use its spells for spellcasting.

    Can you stack this with Smite Spells?

    One detracting thought: The paladin now stockpiles his spells anyway, and uses them for healing since he doesn’t need them for Smiting. You’ve increased the resilience of the party.

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  2. Instead of putting level math in the feature text, why not tie the power level to something that already goes up with level – proficiency bonus. Make the number of d8s equal to proficiency bonus and tweak the number of uses, or use proficiency bonus – 1 for the same result you have now mathematically.

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  3. 5e standard is to always round down. Your increments should follow accordingly. Perhaps 1d8 + (Level/4)d8. The amount of d8 match your progression except at level 20. As a capstone, the Paladin’s Smite is one die better.

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  4. Interesting that the smites are one damage die lower than what a paladin can do until level 20. They do as much damage as a normal smite with the SECOND most powerful spell slot the paladin has. Which is fair, 5 max level smites is crazy when paladins dont have 5 max leveled spells, but, crits are a bit smaller which is kinda sad.

    But also, realize: Smite using spell slots isn’t the only reason paladins cast so few spells, they are limited by two other resources, same as the ranger. 1: action economy, their attack action is good their spells are half the level of full casters it’s takes a strong press in utility to get them to cast instead of thwack. 2: Concentration. All the best paladin spells take concentration but you can only use one at a time. With their bonuses to saves, this is a spell slot maybe 2 per fight at max unless they use smite spells or the rare non-concentration paladin spell such as cure wounds.

    I don’t think paladins will be casting much more spells just because smite is no longer the best thing to do with spell slots. It’s still the best thing to do as an action, and they’re still pressed for concentration. But now if your charisma is high your total damage output with smite is about the same as just using your spell slots, (but done more favorably if fewer attacks hit in a day) and you have more resources overall so this is a really strong buff to a class that didn’t need it, to half fix one of the two problems they have, in exchange for making them even more of a MAD class. Which I don’t think they need be.

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  5. The synergy with sorcerer is not as overpowered as you make it sound. Yes, they get more spell slots. But by taking sorcerer levels, they potentially miss out on abilities that make a Paladin’s melee attacks competitive with magic, like extra attacks, improved divine smite, and sacred oath features. Not to mention Divine Smite caps out at 5d8, which requires a 4th-level spell slot. So yes, a 2 Paladin / 18 Sorcerer can do many more smites… But with only one attack. If they miss, they’re done for that turn. Meanwhile many 4th, 5th, and 6th level spells are ranged and do damage even if the target saves, over time much more damage on average than smites.

    It’s a fun and powerful synergy, but it definitely has drawbacks. It’s not objectively better than full paladin.

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  6. The dice calculation formula is a bit… Complex. Just have it start out as a 2d8 then increase by a d8 as they level up, following Cantrip damage progression. End cap is still 5d8, and less math to introduce.

    The issue is this would mean the Tank/King DPS, is now able to act as a high tier healer. Not neasicarily a bad thing but it would be a massive power boost to your Paladins, and to the survivability of the entire party.

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  7. So, my 20th level paladin would cast the spell at 5d8. Figure, by the time you reach 20th level, your charisma is going to be 20 at a minimum. That is 5 castings of Divine Smite per long rest. You have 3 4th level spell slots, so you end up with an extra 2 castings, but you also loose all the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st level possible smites. You gain all the extra spells you can cast, such as bless, or even haste. Also, the actual smites spells. Seems like a good balance, and with the new rules for character creation, people are not going to only pick races with Chr racial mods.

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  8. 5e has specifically avoiding using division in class builds. Why not just balance it off Adventuring Tiers, like cantrips? 1d8+1d8 at 5th, 11th, and 17th. This effectively reduces max damage by 1d8 per tier, preventing it from being overpowering.

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  9. I like the idea, however, consider changing the amount of casts they get. Paladin spellcasting isn’t that great to begin with, most of them taking their action, or half of them being smites or weapon buffs. They were made to go up and smack people, not spell cast.

    The only problem I see is that it has no reward for increasing your paladin level except the damage you do, being able to only use it 5 times per day from level 1 to level 20 feels entirely bad. Think if a rogue could only sneak attack a number of times per day equal to their dexterity mod, it would feel terrible at high levels.

    Change the function so that you get a number of casts equal to your charisma modifier plus half of you paladin level rounded down and I think it’d be a very viable and effective ability.

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  10. I actually quite like the existing implementation of Divine Smite. It gives players who don’t want to delve into the minutia of spellcasting a different, yet very effective way to use spell slots. I think adding additional uses on top of your spell slots which you can use for “smite spells” might just make the class even more powerful, but more complicated now that you have yet another extra resource to track.

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  11. I think if you do this you should trade out Lay on Hands for a healing “smite” spending spell slots to heal without needing *cure wounds* prepared.

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