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Can a paladin use Smite Evil to gain pluses to attack and damage when the attack is a touch attack against an undead creature for the purpose of damaging the creature using the Lay on Hands ability?

Smite Evil says (in part):

Once per day, a paladin may attempt to smite evil with one normal melee attack.

Lay on Hands says (in part):

Alternatively, a paladin can use any or all of this healing power to deal damage to undead creatures. Using lay on hands in this way requires a successful melee touch attack

So I guess the question comes down to whether a melee touch attack is a "normal" melee attack or not. I'm inclined to think not, but I'm uncertain.

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I would argue Yes.

Lay on Hands is a supernatural touch attack, meaning that it follows the rules of “weapon-like spells” found in Complete Arcane (yes, even though it is not a spell). These rules do not cover Smite Evil specifically, but generally clarify that touch-attack effects are effectively weapons in all ways but name – that is, if something enhances “weapon attacks” or “weapon damage” (e.g. Inspire Courage), it won’t work, but otherwise the touch-attack effect works like a weapon. Sneak Attack, for example, is explicitly called out as working. Rules Compendium clarifies further by saying that someone who has such a touch-attack effect is considered armed.

So in general, any touch attack that deals damage should be treated as a weapon in all but name. You make attacks with it, and things that improve attacks affect it. This should include Smite Evil. When you take your standard action to use Lay on Hands, you make an attack, which you may choose, at your option, to modify with Smite Evil by expending one of your daily uses of that ability.

Now, Smite Evil does say “normal attack.” What does that mean? No one knows. It’s not a defined game term and it’s unclear what counts as normal and what does not. Ruut’s argument that it means the Attack Action, which is used as a standard action, definitely seems wrong: not only is “normal attack” not the term they use for that (for that they say Attack Action), it also has pervasive impact on the paladin in general, making Smite Evil completely useless, rather than mostly useless. Jack’s argument that touch attacks are not “normal” attacks is more tenable – the rules, awkwardly enough, don’t have a good way to specify “not-touch attacks,” but ultimately this seems extremely flawed to me as well: does this mean a paladin cannot use Smite Evil in conjunction with a brilliant weapon? I don’t think so.

Ultimately, the paladin is a very weak class, and both Smite Evil and Lay on Hands are very weak abilities. The rules are ambiguous, but it is a very minor advantage to allow it, for a class that desperately needs every advantage it can get.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your answer and it makes sense to me, but I'm not going to accept an answer for this question since there doesn't seem to be an "authoritative" answer, so we just have dueling opinions. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Aug 12 '14 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont Ultimately, the accepted answer doesn't have to be authoritative; it just has to be the one that actually helped you most. But it's also valid to not accept any, if none have totally solved your problem. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 12 '14 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont personally I'd go with KRYAN's answer as the rules cited seem to support it, but more so due to the low tier/power level of this weak class. However, RAW wise, Jacks answer calls in explicit text ruling otherwise even if I'd encourage houseruling otherwise \$\endgroup\$ – Ben-Jamin Apr 12 '15 at 16:02
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No.

'Normal' is used rarely in the rules but clearly seems to refer to a melee attack as outlined in the PHB 'Combat' chapter that i'm not going to quote extensively here for reasons of brevity. A spell touch attack, class ability, SLA or Special Attack may reference the rules for attacks outlined in the PHB but they are not themselves 'normal' melee attacks.

Thanks to the text in Complete Arcane, you can actually make an argument for Weaponlike spells (especially those that summon a weapon that you then use normally with some extra proviso, like touch attacks or free trips) counting as 'normal' attacks (and if melee ranged weaponlike spells, 'normal melee attacks').

Lay on Hands is not a weaponlike spell. It is a standard action that involves a melee touch attack. Ergo, it is ineligible as the target for the Smite Evil class ability.

However, I would houserule this is effective simply because it's two class features on a weak class and allowing them to work together in this rare circumstance allows the 'holy beatdown' that we all secretly want paladins to be able to dish out. In this circumstance, i'd treat the Lay on Hands as an unarmed strike (Lay on FIST) and then apply Smite Evil normally to the Unarmed Strike. This is even balanced - a Touch Attack is vastly superior to an Unarmed Strike in terms of hitting the target.

If I wanted to create some content for a Paladin who wanted to pursue this path, perhaps going into an Undead-Smiting PrC later, i'd do it in feat form like this.

Justiciar of the Dead

Prerequisites: Smite Evil or Smite Chaos class ability

You dispense Justice not just to the living but also to the dead. When using Smite Evil or Smite Chaos ability to attack a foe with the [Undead] type, you may also activate your Lay on Hands class ability using the same action/attack, channeling as many points of positive energy as you would normally be able to channel as part of Lay on Hands to damage the target.

In addition, you add your Paladin level twice to damage when Smiting the Undead, instead of once.

Normal: You cannot activate both your Smite Evil ability and Lay on Hands ability using the same action, your Smite Evil ability only adds your Paladin level once to damage when Smiting the Dead.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I'd go with @KRyan's answer above as it makes the most sense following the wording of the relevant rules. HOWEVER, here you have pointed out an explicit written rule contradicting those assumptions. So RAW you are correct & +1, but since as KRYAN mentioned Paladin is one of the weakest classes, wasting a valuable feat would only serve to weaken it further And personally I'd "Rule-0" this out. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben-Jamin Apr 12 '15 at 15:57

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