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The Divine Sense feature of the Paladins looks underwhelming to me. It has limited uses, takes an action to use, and

  • you know the location and type of any celestial/fiend/undead within 60ft, not behind total cover
  • you detect any place/object that has been consecrated/desecrated within same area

Divine Sense gets blocked by a window, basically detects hallow but not any of its features, or even whether it's consecrated or desecrated, and does not detect possessions. On the plus side, you can find invisible imps?

My problem with this feature is that it seems to be close to useless. Unless you decide to randomly use it because your spidey-sense told you about invisible monsters or hallowed grounds, you can only use it to learn types of enemies you're already on the same room as. But because it takes your action to do so so, you probably won't this if you're already in combat.

Compare this with other class features at level 1. Barbarian get Rage, Bard gets Inspiration, Clerics, Sorcerers and Warlocks get a subclass feature, Fighter gets a Fighting Style and 2nd Wind, Monk get Martial Arts, Rangers get Favored Enemy, Rogues Sneak Attack, and a few get Spellcasting. Paladins get Lay on Hands (great ability), and Divine Sense.

TL;DR: Divine Sense looks very niche, has limited uses, costs an action, and doesn't seem to provide useful rewards. What am I missing?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not a spell, it is a class feature. (It does not use a spell slot, but is 1+your Cha mod per long rest). I revised your question slightly. (If you have ever played in a game/adventure where the bad guy has an invisible imp who spies on you .... I'll just say that being able to uncover that is an immense help ... YMMV ... there is a published adventure where that is an imbedded problem to deal with) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 3 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Having played a paladin in 5e, "The [pick a feature] feature of the Paladins looks underwhelming to me." \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Bouchard Oct 4 at 17:16
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It's not as useful as detect evil was in 3e, but it still has niche uses.

Divine Sense is basically the 5e version of the 3rd edition Paladin's detect evil, which could be used at will. It penetrated some barriers, detected lingering auras, identified evil NPCs, and helped find hidden enemies.

The problem was that 3e paladin used detect evil on every single NPC outside of combat, since it was unlimited-use. Every empty room got a sweep with it, just in case. As a result, the 5e version appears to have been weakened substantially, but left in the game because it's traditional rather than because it's very useful.

That's not to say Divine Sense is entirely useless, but it has a very narrow range of applicability... so it's often useless. It's primarily useful in non-combat situations where you're hunting fiends or undead. Some particular uses:

  • Identify a suspected vampire in human guise. Particularly useful if you're hunting vampires.
  • Locate invisible fiends. This is useful even in combat so that you don't waste time swinging at empty space or waste spell slots on things which counter invisibility.
  • Identify shapechanged fiends, such as an imp disguised as a toad or a succubus disguised as a harmless peasant woman.
  • If a celestial appears before you with a mission, determine their authenticity before you believe them. Beware of fiends in disguise.
  • Determine if an enemy is indeed undead before the cleric wastes multiple turns attempting turn undead against it.
  • Determine if the area is desecrated before the cleric wastes turns attempting a turn undead that will be more difficult.
  • Detect hiding or concealed celestial, fiends or undead, as long as they don't have total cover.
  • Detect celestial, fiends or undead in the dark.
  • Double-check the room for invisible shadow demon assassins before you go to bed.
  • Detect illusory celestials, fiends, or undead. Incorporeal undead enemies float silently and make good illusions, but if they're illusory they won't show up on Divine Sense.
  • Detect a fiend or undead in a crowd of people.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ It is also blocked by Ring of Mind Shielding and since I consider it "divination" because of the name of the ability I also have the Amulet of Proof against Detection and Location as well as Nondetection affect it. I obviously depends on the setting and will be heavily DM dependent on the usefulness of it. Old 3.X it was a joke though. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 3 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth I never associated divination with divinity/DIvine Sense. That seems to be a pretty strict ruling to further limit something that already has quite a few limits. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 3 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do it simply because I require Paladins to have a faith and the rest of it is a play on the relationship between the words Divine and Divination which are inexorably linked at least in my mind since the root word of divination is divine. But I also enforce the schools of magic and I have no delusions I am in the minority in those things. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 3 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth That seems very strange to me. There are quite a few (almost one-third of) divination spells that exclusively exist within classes that use arcane magic (as in arcane casters can use them but divine casters can't). The spells that fit this category include true strike, comprehend languages, detect thoughts, mind spike, see invisibility, contact other plane, and rary's telepathic bond. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Oct 3 at 21:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth: Do whatever you want at your table, of course; I'm fine with that not making sense to anyone but you :) I hope people are only objecting to the implication that others might want to follow your example. The Paladin Divine Sense ability isn't third-party knowledge, it's just innate to the Paladin, so I don't think that argument holds up as justification for treating it like divination spells. It's not using divination-like ability, it's using your normal perception to sense the Divine. (Divine is the object/target, not the mechanism.) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Oct 4 at 4:17
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Divine Sense can be very useful in particular campaigns/social situations

I have played in a number of campaigns where Divine Sense was useful. The most prominent of which was when I ran Curse of Strahd. It was used so much that the paladin player was often running out of uses. Helping the rampant use of this ability is the fact that unlike a spell it has no components so you can usually use it without fear of repercussions1. Here are some examples of situations where it was useful (spoilers naturally)

  • Strahd himself, the first time he showed up, there was already an in-character reason to be distrustful of someone that is actually undead

  • That old lady selling pastries is actually a fiend

  • Checking what's wrong with the priest's son (vampire spawn)

  • This maid and young man living in the castle are probably more than they appear (both are vampire spawn, the maid in particular, tries to convince characters she's a victim to ambush them later). However this girl, a commoner, is actually probably innocent. (Not perfect as a number of other denizens can't be distinguished this way but it certainly helps a lot)

  • Finding The Abbot is a celestial actually doesn't help much as he's evil but it is still interesting for the plot

  • Getting the jump on suspicious looking statues that are actually fiends

  • The Lady of the House does not detect as anything bad but the presence of an invisible imp with her is good to know

These are just some examples of where it was particularly useful that I can recall. Making this test for any suspicious NPC met (in CoS that's just about everyone) can often help and makes certain potentially dangerous encounters far easier.

Of course, CoS being what it is, Divine Sense is a lot more useful in this kind of campaign than in general. This is an ability that is going to be very campaign dependent2 but in certain situations it can be very relevant.


1. Noted by Ryan Thompson

2. Potential SPOILER: KorvinStarmast affirms that "the latest hardcover has NPCs with imps" making Divine Sense potentially useful there as well (I didn't check to avoid spoilers)

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I had the party camping in the countryside, and I planned a Mud Mephit ambush. So I had them do Perception checks, and told them they felt watched and they could feel something was wrong... but then only saw mud, and never rolled high enough to see the mud actually moving towards them.

So the paladin says "this looks fishy", and uses Divine Sense. Welp. He realizes there are 10+ creatures in their immediate surroundings. Great moment.

Why am I telling a story? My point is that, basically, even if it has its limitations it is available at very low levels, and can be useful in certain situations. It can be easily bypassed by a smart enemy aware of its existence, but... so can most things?

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