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Paladin Smites
Design & Development
by Stephen Radney-MacFarland

The Design & Development article series premiered on the D&D website back in September 2005, and has been a staple ever since. With the approach of 4th Edition, and our designers and developers focused on the new edition, this column will be the primary vehicle for 4th Edition coverage. We’ll not only give you peeks at what’s forthcoming, but also the “how” and “why.”

Keep in mind that the game is still in a state of flux, as refinements are made by our design and development staff. You’re getting a look behind the curtain at game design in progress, so enjoy, and feel free to send your comments to

Smite -- since before 900 CE this word or some very similar Old or Middle English ancestor has meant, "That's going to leave a mark." In the first two editions of Dungeons & Dragons, smite was merely an interesting word used by folks laying down the smack. In my formative gaming years, a player of mine named Erol used to call his halfling paladin's reversed cure light wounds, smites. (Actually he was just a post-Unearthed Arcana fighter/cleric, but he called the character a paladin -- I was not farsighted enough just to let him play a paladin.) I think he just liked yelling "I smite the foul beast!" in that annoying high-pitched kid voice he used to play Sir Lore. (Yes, that's Erol's own name spelled backward in true high-Gygaxian fashion).

With the release of 3rd Edition, Erol's wildest dreams came true. Not only were halflings allowed to be true paladins, smite officially entered the paladin's toolbox. Sure, it was once a day. Sure, it wasn't nearly as good as you wanted it to be sometimes, but smites were promoted from verb to mechanic.

In 4th Edition, D&D smites really come into their own. Now a subset of the paladin's renewable (read, encounter-recharge) powers, smites allow a paladin to deliver a powerful blow with the character's weapon of choice, while layering on some divine effect (and I mean that in both meanings of the word) on allies or enemies. A divine defender, much of the paladin's smites are all about kicking the crap out of those they find anathema while ensuring that foes who want to hurt enemies have a harder time at it. Take, as exhibit one, safeguard smite:

Safeguard Smite
Paladin 1
Encounter • Weapon
Standard Action
Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. AC
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha.
Hit or Miss: An ally within 5 squares gains a bonus to AC equal to your Wisdom modifier until the end of your next turn.

This basic, entry-level smite has all the things a growing paladin needs to fulfill its role and lay down some hurt. A Charisma attack against the target's Armor Class, safeguard smite deals double her base weapon's damage plus her Charisma modifier in damage (paladins are a force of personality, after all), and grants a quick boost to an ally in trouble (including, in a pinch, the paladin herself). And there you have it. Your first smite -- simple, serviceable, and fun.

As your paladin progresses as a defender of the faith, smites, like all of your abilities, grow in power and utility. But unlike its defender cousin, the fighter, a paladin is more than just the guy who kicks butt and makes sure enemies focus (or want to focus) on him. Paladins have always been able to heal in some way and the 4th Edition variety is no different. Though this splash of leader flavor into the paladin's defender role comes in many forms, one of the more active and interesting ways that your paladin can come to the aid of a companion while fighting is our second example of a smite:

Renewing Smite
Paladin 13
Encounter • Healing, Weapon
Standard Action
Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. AC
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha damage and ally within 5 heals 10 + your Wisdom modifier damage.

You'll no doubt see the pattern between these two smites. They mix a fair portion of damage (scaled up by level, but not necessarily the amount of dice) while giving an ally a much needed boost of hit points at the most opportune moments. Selfish paladins (typically those who serve more self-centered gods or just the occasional egoist who venerates Pelor) can even heal themselves with the strike, as you're considered your own ally unless the effect of a power states otherwise.

Let's move on to smites that inhabit the levels over 20. Binding smite is another flavor of defender smite -- and as its high level demands, does the defender job more effectively, and thus more powerfully than the simple safeguard smite does.

Binding Smite
Paladin 27
Encounter • Weapon
Standard Action
Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. Will
Hit: 2x[W] + Wis damage and target cannot gain line of effect to anyone but you until the end of your next turn.

In binding smite you can see an example of how the effect of a smite goes up with level, while the numbers in their base form seem similar when not taking into account the accuracy and damage boosts that merely gaining levels (and having better weapons) affords. It just gets … well, better. Heck, it's epic, after all, so it has to be good, and you don't have to have 4th Edition books in front of you to realize line of effect denial is good. When you're fighting balor, ancient blue dragons, and sorrowsworn, it had better be good -- those critters don't fool around!

There you have it; just a small taste of what your paladin smites will look like in 4th Edition. While I have lost touch with Erol over the years, I hope that come this summer, somewhere out there, Sir Lore will return – a halfling with a high-pitched voice, yelling, "I smite thee, foul miscreant." I imagine his DM will just wince and sigh, just like I did all those years ago.

About the Author

Born on a stormy Christmas day, in our nation’s capital, during the Nixon administration, the stars were definitely wrong when Stephen Radney-MacFarland came screaming into the world. Spending most of his impressionable years as a vagabond and ne’re-do-well, Stephen eventually settled in the Northwest to waste his life on roleplaying games.

Once that RPGA guy, Stephen is now a developer in RPG R&D where he doesn’t create the traps … he just makes them deadlier. He also teaches a class on roleplaying design for the Art Institute of Seattle, molding the minds of young and upcoming designers. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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