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