Dungeons & Dragons Nerfs Paladin's Core Ability

Paladins will no longer have as much freedom to Smite based on D&D's new ruleset.

The hotly debated Divine Smite ability is receiving a major nerf in the new Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. This week, Wizards of the Coast rolled out details about the new class rules for Paladins, one of the 12 classes appearing in the new Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook. The Paladin has received a whole slew of upgrades but many fans are upset that an intended rebalance to the Paladin's core Divine Smite ability went too far in limiting the character's capabilities and de-optimizes several multiclass builds. 

At the root of the Paladin's "nerfing" is the change to making Divine Smite a spell instead of an ability feature. In the 2014 ruleset, a Divine Smite is something that a Paladin can do whenever the character hits with a melee attack, at the cost of expending a spell slot. Now, Divine Smite is a spell that is always prepared by the Paladin and the player must cast Divine Smite using a bonus action. This functionally limits the Divine Smite to being triggered once per turn instead of (potentially) whenever a Paladin hits with a melee attack. Like other Smite spells, Divine Smite can be cast after a successful attack, meaning that a player doesn't "waste" a spell slot if they miss.  

By changing the Divine Smite to a spell, it also potentially limits the Paladin in other ways by making the Divine Smite potentially vulnerable to spells like Counterspell and Silence. It also impacts the action economy of Paladins, as they can no longer use feats like Polearm Master or Two-Weapon Fighting to make an extra attack with a Bonus Action if they have previously used a Divine Smite spell. Additionally, players can no longer Smite on an attack of opportunity made with a reaction. Some multiclass builds like a Paladin/Barbarian would also potentially be affected by the change. 

Generally speaking, there was a consensus among many Dungeons & Dragons designers and players that a change was needed for the Divine Smite ability. However, some believe that a softer approach was warranted by limiting Divine Smite to once a turn instead of tying it to Bonus Actions. Of course, without the full set of D&D rules, it's hard to determine whether the Paladin was truly nerfed or if the class's other abilities make up for this loss.