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This is a mechanics question pertaining to the maximum allowed damage for the Paladin's Divine Smite ability.

Divine Smite: ...you can expend one [Spell Slot] to deal Radiant damage in addition to weapon damage. The extra damage is 2d8 for a 1st level slot, plus 1d8 for each spell level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8....

"...to a maximum of 5d8..." is the part I'm having issues with figuring out how to rule.

Can the extra damage, beyond the 2d8 for filling a 1st level slot with the ability, be up to 5d8? Which would require a (Multiclass gained) spell slot of 6th level to add an extra 5d8 to the attack, making it 7d8 total (The default 2d8 + the maximum allowed extra of 5d8). Or, are the rules saying that the total allowed maximum damage can't exceed 5d8 total; which would only take a 4th level spell slot to add a max of 3d8 to the default 2d8?

2d8 + 3d8 = "to a maximum of 5d8" damage total?
2d8 + "to a maximum of 5d8" extra total = 7d8 ?

My guess is the first choice, since without Multiclassing a Paladin can never have more than 5th level spell slots and could never have the 6th level slot required to add 5d8 to the attack. My PC differs though.

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The maximum is on all the extra radiant damage that Divine Smite adds to your normal weapon damage, necessarily including the first 2d8 (emphasis mine):

[…] you can expend one paladin spell slot to deal radiant damage to the target, in addition to the weapon's damage. The extra damage is [a variable amount], to a maximum of 5d8.

The 5d8 maximum is a limit on the extra radiant damage that Divine Smite is adding to the weapon's damage.

(For Improved Divine Smite, see the question Improved Divine Smite Differentiation.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I see. I was of a like mind with Javelin on the sheer requirements it would take to add a max of +5d8 to the base 2d8 being a little much for that to even make sense. It was still worth throwing up as a question though. Some things aren't as clear as they read in the PHB...some things really ARE as simple as they read. Thank you Javelin and SSD. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Feb 20 '15 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ One important note here is that improved divine smite damage is added to the possible 5d8 cap, not included in the cap. As such you could utilize 5d8 DS + 1d8 IDS These are two separate abilities and the cap only applies to basic "Divine Smite". \$\endgroup\$ – Spoo Sep 30 '16 at 19:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ For clarification, this would include Improved Divine Smite, right? It describes it as "extra damage", so if you're level 11 paladin you'll only want to use at most a 3rd level spell slot? \$\endgroup\$ – Bobbito Apr 3 '18 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bobbito See instead the question Improved Divine Smite Differentiation. (I've added a link to it in the answer here, to make it easier for future readers to find that.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 4 '18 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might also want to edit in the "Sage Advice" tweets by Jeremy Crawford here and here to support your (correct) answer. And as I've answered to the other question, Improved Divine Smite allows you to add an extra 1d8 to your damage, entirely separate from Divine Smite's damage cap. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 5 '18 at 2:58
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The regular maximum for Divine Smite is 5d8, but increases to 6d8 against undead and fiends

As of the 2018 PHB errata, the description of the Divine Smite feature says:

Starting at 2nd level, when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend one spell slot to deal radiant damage to the target, in addition to the weapon’s damage. The extra damage is 2d8 for a 1st-level spell slot, plus 1d8 for each spell level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 5d8. The damage increases by 1d8 if the target is an undead or a fiend, to a maximum of 6d8.

As other answers have pointed out, 5d8 is the regular maximum for the total amount of "extra radiant damage" done by Divine Smite, regardless of the spell slot used. 5d8 is an overall limit for the feature - not just for the additional radiant damage done when using a higher-level spell slot.

The portion after the comma in the last sentence ("to a maximum of 6d8") was added in the 2018 PHB errata, and now makes it perfectly clear how the 1d8 extra damage against undead and fiends interacts with the 5d8 damage cap - the damage cap is increased by 1d8 as well.

Jeremy Crawford explains the reason for the change in the November 27, 2018 episode of Dragon+ (relevant segment starts around 23:52 into the episode). He describes it as a clarification to the feature that matches how many groups were interpreting it, not a change in how it works.

(As clarified in my answer to the Improved Divine Smite Differentiation question, the Improved Divine Smite 11th-level feature adds an extra 1d8 radiant damage, not constrained by this 5d8 limit. In other words, Improved Divine Smite always adds an extra 1d8 radiant damage to qualifying attacks, separately from any spell slots expended to use the regular Divine Smite feature. Crawford explains in the Dragon+ episode that they removed the last sentence of Improved Divine Smite because it was causing people to mistakenly assume it was constrained by Divine Smite's limit.)


Pre-errata, rules designer Jeremy Crawford answered this question (as asked by you!) in a January 2016 tweet:

Does the 5d8 damage cap on Divine Smite count the 2d8 base damage, JUST the extra 1d8 per slot > 1st, or all of it 2gether?

Still unsure what the mac allowed damage of Divine Smite as a whole is. 5d8 using a 4th level slot? or 7d8 using a 6th?

Divine Smite can deal a maximum of 5d8 radiant damage, or 6d8 if the target is an undead or a fiend.

As clearly stated by Crawford, Divine Smite has a regular maximum of 5d8 radiant damage - but that maximum increases to 6d8 if the target is an undead or fiend (since Divine Smite automatically does an extra 1d8 radiant damage when used if the target is an undead or fiend). This was ambiguous before the errata, but is now explicitly stated in the feature description.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the correct answer. Straightforward. No guesswork. From the official rules designer himself. And bonus points for including what others didn't with respect to clarification on the additional d8 that undead/fiend adds which is what I was specifically curious about. \$\endgroup\$ – Code Maverick Jan 3 at 4:07
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I've assumed that 5d8 was the maximum for the whole Divine Smite, not the extra damage. Maybe this isn't really a good answer, but I can't see why it'd be the other way given that multiclassing is optional at the DM's discretion. If it was the other way then at most you could only get 5d8 out of it with 4th level spell slots, and to get any higher the DM would have to allow multiclassing, and not every DM will have it in their game. Furthermore, it seems highly impractical to require leveling another class high enough to grant the character 6th level spell slots.

Primary spellcasters give their full level towards the calculation, but secondary casters like Paladins only add half their level (rounded up I believe) to that. So you only have 4th level spell slots as a Paladin at 13th level and higher. For the spell slots you want here, the Paladin would have to multiclass into a Primary spellcaster for 4 levels, to get the one 6th level spell slot from there. That is all if multiclassing is allowed. And the end result is a 17th level character.

Actually, let's re-frame that whole thought. If you wanted to get maximum Divine Smite capability, you actually would try to multiclass very early on. The Paladin gets Divine Smite at 2nd level, where they get Spellcasting and 1st level Spell Slots. You could accomplish this feat of Divine Smite by taking 10 levels in a Primary spellcasting class, and then you'll still get 6th level spell slots. That would be the most efficient way of doing it, I suppose.

I hope that answers your question thoroughly enough. It would be preposterous to require an optional feature, and at a highly impractical manner at that, to get the Maximum Power of your Divine Smiting capabilities. (I feel like I really drifted off topic with that explanation of why it doesn't work.)

So I hope we can assume that the total maximum is 5d8.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What I would question, actually, is why the designers decided on a maximum for the Divine Smite. Because if you take a primary spellcaster they can do a lot of damage with their spells anyway (Disintegration is level 6 and generates 70 HP damage...) Also many spells can be used in higher slots to do additional damage without such limits. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Feb 23 '15 at 5:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that one reason Divine Smite has such a hard-cap as it does is that it is pinned onto a Melee Weapon Attack(Or maybe just weapon attacks, I forget). In any event, spell slots are very limited and precious resources! But the Paladin doesn't need to keep all of them, for like the Ranger he is quite capable in combat without them. And I just thought of this, but it might have to do with the ridiculous number of things you can do with weapon attacks. Just checked the Divine Smite wording, it is a melee weapon attack. But by the words, you can use it on opportunity attacks, even! Great. \$\endgroup\$ – Javelin Feb 24 '15 at 14:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah... if you still have 5 slots you can still use the Smite 5× in a round (with 2 attacks, times two with a feat, and one bonus attack) and assuming your hit 5 times with your 1d12+3 sword... that's a maximum of 300 HP damage with a Strength of 20 or about 185 HP with the standard average rule. That's indeed quite impressive. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Feb 25 '15 at 1:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Alexis Wilke I do believe you've figured it out, as Javelin stated, it's hard capped because it has SO many applications. The 1st of which being you can slap it on AFTER you hit with any melee attack. Your turn or otherwise, unlike the 'Smite' spells which have to be primed on your turn only before the triggering attack and concentrated on like a spell until you hit something. Secondly, you can slap Divine Smite on top of the Smite Spells. Lastly, Improved Divine Smite works separately of the normal Divine Smite. All that bonus damage @.@ \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Feb 26 '15 at 14:23
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A compelling argument can be made for either case. Using the total maximum as 5d8 best mirrors how other maximums are written throughout the book. Take, for example, the description of falling damage:

At the end of a fall, a creature takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage for every 10 feet it fell, to a maximum of 20d6. The creature lands prone, unless it avoids taking damage from the fall.

Player's Handbook, 183

And the "At Higher Levels" of "Hail of Thorns":

If you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 1st (to a maximum of 6d10).

Player's Handbook, 249

Both of these examples use "Some amount of damage, up to some maximum amount of damage". If we assume the goal was to write all maximums in the same way, then it makes sense to assume that the total maximum damage is 5d8.

However, since it wasn't clear, I asked Jeremy Crawford on Twitter:

Divine Smite: Total maximum is 5d8, or additional spell lvl damage is 5d8? (Can I use a 6th level spell to get 2d8 + 5d8?)

I will update when (if?) I get a response.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the best answer that points out the text is ambiguous. "Hail of Thorns" is actually worded the same as Smite here, it could be a max total of 6d10 or at most +6 levels for an additional +6d10 over the base. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jul 11 '17 at 19:50
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I believe the way it works is that by expending a 1st lvl spell slot gives 2d8, a 2nd lvl spell slot 3d8, a 3rd lvl spell slot 4d8 and a 4th lvl spell slot 5d8. a 5th lvl spell slot would also give 5d8. If you multiclass to get higher lvl spell slots they would still give only the max of 5d8.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please check out the tour and the help center to get an idea of how things work here. We require answers to back themselves up, so "I believe the way it works is" needs to be justified with reasoning beyond your belief. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 15 '15 at 22:01
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I've always seen it as being the additional damage beyond the 2d8 that is capped at 5d8. For example, a 20th level paladin has up to 5th level spell slots. As written, the damage progression is thus: 1st level slot - 2d8, 2nd level slot - 2d8 +1d8, 3rd level slot - 2d8 +2d8, 4th level slot - 2d8 +3d8, 5th level slot - 2d8 +4d8,

Why wouldn't they get to use their 5th level slots? I've always ruled at my own table that the 5d8 limit was for the bonus damage, meaning you can spend up to a 6th level on Smite, but nothing higher (For if you multiclass).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That WOULD be the optimal ruling and interpretation lol.....I'd vote for this only because this is how I'd want it to be. The wording proves otherwise though...since they are correct, ALL of Divine Smite is bonus damage, and the cap on bonus damage is 5d8's worth. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Jun 10 '15 at 19:10

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