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Short question
How does the family of Smite spells work when a Paladin is mounted on a Paladin's Steed that was summoned by Find Steed spell?

Steed and Paladin share the effects of some spells.

Long Question
Based on the range of "Self" (Basic rules p. 79, PHB p. 202), and the application of spells to one's Steed (Find Steed, p. 240, PHB) some players assert that when the Paladin casts a Smite spell while mounted on his Steed, both the Paladin and the Steed are under its influence. In the case of a Steed that can fight while bearing the Paladin into battle, they argue that the Steed will also apply the Smite spell's effects to an enemy in a given combat. I don't think that's how it works. A combination of the rules under discussion leads me to three cases.

  1. A Smite spell is cast. (spell descriptions, see Supporting Text). When the Paladin lands a blow while the spell is still active (it lasts for one minute, basically it is a charge up) the effects are applied to whomever the Paladin hit with his attack.

  2. A Smite spell is cast, it charges up both the Paladin and the Steed, and whichever of them lands the first blow would trigger the effect within the next minute.

  3. A Smite spell is cast, it charges up both the Paladin and the Steed, and both the Paladin and Steed trigger the effect upon landing a blow within the next minute.

Supporting Text

Range of "Self"

Most spells have ranges expressed in feet. Some spells can target only a creature (including you) that you touch. Other spells, such as the shield spell, affect only you. These spells have a range of self. Spells that create cones or lines of effect that originate from you also have a range of self, indicating that the origin point of the spell’s effect must be you (see “Areas of Effect” later in the this chapter).

Thunderous Smite:

The first time you hit with a melee weapon attack during this spell's duration, your weapon rings with thunder that is audible within 300 feet of you, and the attack deals an extra 2d6 thunder damage to the target.

Branding Smite

The next time you hit a creature with a weapon attack before this spell ends, the weapon gleams with astral radiance as you strike. The attack deals an extra 2d6 radiant damage to the target ...

The ambiguity arises from the spell description of Find Steed. (PHB 240)

"While mounted on your steed, you can make any spell you cast that targets only you also target your steed."

Argument

Case 1 is vanilla application of a Smite regardless of Cases 2 or 3 being True or False.

Case 2 might be true, but I don't think it is RAI. Is it within RAW? I say no, due to the text describing the weapon as glowing with the magical energy and releasing it to the target of the weapon's melee attack.

  • IF case 2 is not true, THEN case 3 is not true. But, IF case 2 is true, THEN what?

Case 3 is still NOT true, since the spell text indicates by my reading of it that "one charge up, one release of the smite upon a successful hit."

Conclusion

Case 1 is the only true case. The text in each smite spell shows that the weapon itself is charged up and varies in its appearance based on which spell is charging it up.

Case 2 is not true, but I may have missed something. Since warhorses can fight, and a warhorses hooves are weapons, the argument that it might trigger the damage has some support, but the spell description about glowing weapons suggests to me otherwise.

Case 3 is not true, since that provides TWO triggers for one cast of the spell. IF that were true, you'd also be able to argue that a two weapon wielding Paladin would get two smites from one spell.

A Good Answer

A good answer will either confirm I am right, or show what I've missed or misunderstood in the rules for Cases 2 and 3.

Question restated: How does a Smite spell work on a Paladin mounted on his Steed from Find Steed spell?
(Note. IF the steed cannot fight while bearing the Paladin in battle, THEN the entire point is moot).

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a Q&A somewhere on here about casting flame arrow as a beastmaster ranger, where a target:self spell with an effect upon the next weapon hit is applied to two people at once. You could try to compare that answer to your case. \$\endgroup\$ – ammut Apr 8 '16 at 5:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Found it: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/76694 although the topic asked isn't exactly the same, I feel the accepted answer - while being wrong about animal companions being unable to make a weapon attack, natural weapons and such - makes a strong case for your case 2. \$\endgroup\$ – ammut Apr 8 '16 at 5:49
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Edit: This answer predates several rulings and clarifications made by WotC and Crawford in particular. I'm leaving it in place for historic purposes, but it's no longer a particularly useful answer.

Strictly speaking, there is no clear interpretation. All three cases are justifiable. Also note that 5e discourages literal "rules as written" meanings. As the designers have repeatedly said: "rulings, not rules." The rules were explicitly not written to be scrutinized as a lawyer scrutinizes the law, so we should not be surprised when the end result of "it's ambiguous" is what we find.

Firstly, "natural" melee weapons are, as far as I'm aware, considered melee weapon in 5e. [ See also.] There is no distinction between a mace and a hoof as far as "counts as a weapon" is concerned in 5e. I don't know if this is explicitly stated anywhere (I thought it was) but Unarmed Strike is explicitly listed as a weapon on the weapons table, and it's strongly implied since all monster stat blocks say things like "Bite Melee weapon attack: [...]". As far as I can tell, if you make an attack with it, it's considered a "weapon" in 5e. Something is a weapon if it's used to make an attack, then, not because it's got a weapon tag on it.

You could argue a Case 1 by saying that find steed only modifies the target of the spell. The spell still refers to "you," so even though it effects your mount, that extension does nothing. In other words, you argue that for Range: Self spells, "you" in the spell description means exactly, "you, the spell caster," and never, "you, the spell's target." This interpretation, however, also modifies spells like divine favor, detect evil and good, crusader's mantle (that one's a bit of a pickle to decode with a mount), and every other Range: Self spell. I'd argue it's all or nothing here. Either they all work on the mount (in some way), or none of them do. It doesn't matter how you rule here, but you should be consistent. Given the number and range of Paladin spells that are Range: Self I question an interpretation this narrow as being the design intent, but it's certainly supportable. About the only thing that reinforces this interpretation is the fact that the Smite class ability does not work on a find steed mount, but that's only because the class ability isn't a spell so it doesn't qualify for find steed's expansion.

The difference between Case 2 and Case 3 is deciding if find steed changes the wording of spells to "The first time both you and your mount hit with a melee weapon attack [...]" or changes to "The first time either you or your mount hit with a melee weapon attack [...]". Honestly, there's not enough information to decide either way. The spells are not written with find steed in mind, and find steed is not worded to make the end result clear.

You can argue Case 2 by saying, "The spell is intended to only affect a single melee attack; if it were intended to affect multiple targets, it would be higher level or otherwise deal less damage."

You can argue Case 3 by saying, "Find steed, like find familiar or hunter's mark, is a class ability masquerading as a 2nd level spell, and that wording was put there to have an intended effect. Furthermore, making a Paladin more deadly while mounted -- a fairly rare situation in most campaigns, IMX, and small Paladins are already less threatening -- is in-line with the desired result of the theme and flavor of the class. Given also the relative scarcity of spell slots, the additional power is probably not significant in most cases." This is not a particularly crunchy argument, but given that 5e does not separate crunch and fluff, it is legitimate.

If I were to rule conservatively, I would probably rule Case 2. If I were in a more liberal frame of mind, Case 3 would be reasonable. As it stands, I don't see any compelling justification for any one interpretation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ With the recent errata on unarmed strikes not being weapons ... does this change your answer? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 7 '16 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast unarmed strikes and natural weapons aren't the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden May 17 '18 at 16:40
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Case 1 only: The smite spells have additional targets, so only the paladin benefits from them

According to Jeremy Crawford, by RAW, the smite spells don't target only the caster, so their steed doesn't also gain the benefits of the spells:

Some disagreement here with Blinding Smite and Find Steed. Does the spell qualify for Find Steed's spell effect duplication? (I personally think it doesn't, as I consider the attacked creature a second target, but we're arguing about it over at r/dndnext)

Blinding Smite has a range of self, and it refers to the creature you attack as a target. Those two facts together mean the spell doesn't target only you.

Absolutely no offense spells can be cast on the Steed? The 'target' mentioned in the spell is a target of your physical attack not a target of the spell itself. It's a 'cupid' effect. Next thing you hit catches some heat. I'd allow it. It's enchanting you not the creature.

The spell, not your weapon attack, is causing the target to make a saving throw and to take radiant damage. But if you're the DM, follow your bliss!

All 7 of the smite spells - banishing smite, blinding smite, branding smite, searing smite, staggering smite, thunderous smite, and wrathful smite - cause extra damage and an additional effect on your next hit with a weapon attack (all but banishing smite and branding smite specify a melee weapon attack) to what each spell refers to as the "target".

And as pointed out, the description of find steed says:

While mounted on your steed, you can make any spell you cast that targets only you also target your steed.

Since the smite spells don't target "only you", your steed does not gain the benefits of those spells.


This ruling is consistent with his earlier ruling that a sorcerer can't use the Twinned Spell metamagic option on the dragon's breath spell (Xanathar's Guide to Everything, p. 154), because:

Dragon's breath has two sets of targets: the creature you give the breath weapon to and the creatures in the area of effect created by the spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ the dragons breath case does not support this answer very well. It's a transmutation spell while the smites are evocation spells. As such it has its effect only on the creature getting dragon's breath, and so can be twinned. I find the tweet on that dragon's breath/sorcerer spell to be a very bad ruling. The rest of your answer is at least internally consistent. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 30 '18 at 22:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast: I don't think the school of magic is all that relevant... But in any case the dragon's breath ruling is mentioned more as an afterthought than as support for this ruling - simply that I think Crawford's logic is fairly consistent there (even if you disagree with one or both rulings). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 1 '18 at 23:16
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Case 2 and 3 are both likely, but your steed can't smite while ridden.

If you look at the spells RAW, they state that the next time you make a melee weapon attack the effect occurs. In the monster stat blocks, many things that are natural weapons like hooves and claws are classified as melee weapon attacks. The "glowing weapons" description would still apply to a beast's natural weapons, just because they're hooves doesn't occlude them from being able to ring with thunder or gleam with astral radiance. If you were under the effects of Alter Self, your natural weapons would also be a valid means with which to smite someone. Case 2 and 3 aren't untrue because the steed definitely has a means to deliver the smite.

Continuing, the Find Steed spell description states,

While mounted on your steed, you can make any spell you cast that targets only you also target your steed.

Understanding that when the description refers to spells that only target you, it is referring to spells with the range of Self,

Other spells, such as the Shield spell, affect only you. These spells have a range of self.

we can reasonably assume that a smite spell such as Thunderous Smite which has a range of self would affect both the paladin and his steed.

Case 2 is definitely possible because the smite affects the steed.

So,

The first time you hit with a melee weapon attack during this spell’s duration, your weapon rings with thunder that is audible within 300 feet of you, and the attack deals an extra 2d6 thunder damage to the target.

Since both the paladin and his steed benefit from the spell effect it could be argued that, much like the Sorcerer's Metamagic Option Twinned Spell, two separate instances of the effect are created. In which case each would have an opportunity to "smite" on their first weapon attack during the spell's duration. This means the first time the paladin hits, the effects happen AND the first time the steed hits, the effects happen.

Since there is no real indication that either the spell or the paladin's concentration end after the extra effect of the smite is used, both the paladin's and the steed's first hit with a melee attack could fall within the spell's duration.

So Case 3 is plausible, but the rules are silent and take a some heavy speculation. This would fall into the hands of the DM to make a ruling.

In either case, it doesn't really help for your mount to benefit from your smites anyways. Let's explore.

Controlling a Mount

Normally, a mount acting independently would be able to use its natural weapons(Hooves, Claws, Horns, etc.) to make a melee weapon attack and benefit from the effects of the smite. However, the caveat here is regarding the Controlling a Mount section of the PHB on page 198.

While you're mounted, you have two options. You can either control the mount or allow it to act independently. Intelligent creatures, such as dragons, act independently.

While we are led to believe that the steed is an intelligent creature and would be able to act independently, we have clarification from the Sage Advice website. Jeremy Crawford tweeted:

The mount summoned by the find steed spell serves the summoner. It isn't an independent creature.

Link Here.

So now we know that the steed is always under your control, and never acts independently. From another Sage Advice tweet, we know:

While ridden, the steed follows the normal mounted combat rules (PH, 198). Unridden, it has normal action options.

Link Here.

So far we know that the steed can't act independently and that it follows normal mounted combat rules, so while mounted the steed would not be able to perform the Attack Action because:

It moves as you direct it, and it has only three action options: Dash, Disengage, and Dodge.

Interestingly though the second sentence of the tweet tells us that, "Unridden, it has normal action options." Looking back at Find Steed's description, there is no indication that the steed can't attack or move on it's own turn, and since it has all the statistics of the normal creature- save for its intelligence score and creature type- we can reasonably assume that the steed would be able to do so. Knowing this, if a steed still affected by a smite spell is not being ridden, it would be able to attack and benefit from the spell.

So long story short, if you want your steed to be able to smite something you would have to:

  1. Be mounted
  2. Cast one of your smite spells
  3. Dismount
  4. Have the steed attack
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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer that focuses on mounted combat, of which the find steed mount is a special (or specific) case. Unlike all other steeds, the spell quite clearly spells out that you and the steed fight as one ... which means ... mechanically ... what? All I can infer is something different from other mounts used in combat. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 8 '16 at 10:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Other mounts could either act independently, not be trained to accept a rider, or have some other feature that would take the control of the mount out of the hands of the player. The spell says, "you have an instinctive bond with it that allows you to fight as a seamless unit." Not to mention they can communicate telepathically. My interpretation of this is that, because the steed and player have this instinctive bond, if there's any question of whether the steed acts in the player's intent, mechanically, the player has near complete control its actions and movement. \$\endgroup\$ – FREE99 Apr 8 '16 at 22:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about Jeremy's tweet here twitter.com/jeremyecrawford/status/970111071955464198 from this year, your tweet was from 2015 \$\endgroup\$ – Voromir Kadien May 18 '18 at 16:53
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Initially, I went in supporting Case 2, but on retrospect, I think Case 3 is what is correct.

Reasoning: A spell cast that targets only the Paladin while mounted on steed will target both paladin and steed.

If Paladin casts Heroism on self while mounted, Steed would also get the benefit while spell is under concentration.

Smite spell would work the same way. The specific spell powers aren't important, it's the mechanic of how spells and find steed works that must be followed.

I'd say that as long as concentration is held, both Paladin and Steed could each use a smite once.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The reason I can't get on board of this is the language in the Find Steed Spell, about 2/3 of the way down. It refers to them "being one" when spell effects are applied, which makes a stronger case for case 2. The first one who lands a blow seems a logical application of that language. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 26 '15 at 11:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's where I was going at first, too - however all other 'shared' spells give the rights to both. I think the first one who lands a blow is a good compromise, but the language works for Case 2 as well if you look at it as a buff and not a damage spell (which I think makes sense.) If you consider that the spell charges up a weapon for delivering extra damage it's like holding the B button on a controller when gaming. But Find Steed allows it to happen to both horse and rider. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 26 '15 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see how it might come across that way. Horse and rider "as one" rather than separately, is how the language comes across to me, but I will look at the spell language again, and the language on shared spells, and try to see it with fresh eyes. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 26 '15 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the language was as you were saying, then one could conceivably say that about any spell cast on both that you need to pick one for it to be active on (say Divine Favor, for instance.) I honestly like the idea of a single smite that can be delivered first, but it doesn't really make sense if you are going to "power up a weapon" for a spell smite. The way I read "as one" was that the spell affects both parties, so the smite can be used by both parties once. I am having a hard time seeing the smite working only once with the mechanics of the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 26 '15 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Your steed serves you as a mount, both in combat and out, and you have an instinctive bond with it that allow you to fight as a seamless unit." Still leaves us with "either or" for cases 2 or 3. Your comments helped me get a better handle on the variations. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 27 '15 at 10:54
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Also the Smite Spells do not effect the Paladin's Weapon. Magic Weapon and Elemental Weapon affect the Paladin's Weapon. aka if cast either of those spells on your longsword, it only affects your long sword. if your longsword gets knocked out of your hand after it is cast and you switch to a backup shortsword it does not suddenly gain the benefits of the magic weapon spell. However if Smite is cast, and your longsword is knocked out of your hand before you hit with a melee attack, then switch to your backup shortsword. assuming you have passed concentration, when you hit with your shortsword all the effects of the cast smite spell would go off. AKA the effect is on the paladin, represented through the effect that occurs, glowing sword. The act as one jsut look at shield of faith. if shield of Faith is cast by a mounted paladin both he and his mount get a +2 to AC, not one or the other. It should also be pointed out that the spell Find Steed says spells cast when mounted and target only the paladin, may target the steed as well. it does not say the effect ends if the paladin dismounts. aka cast shield of faith while mounted dismount..You and your mount would both have +2 to ac. and under mounted combat an intelligent mount aka int 6 always acts independantly and is not controlled. However by wording of the paladin spell he would be loyal...wow this spell is so badly worded.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. Please take the tour and review the help center to get an idea of how our site works. As you are answering my question, I did not edit your reply but it needs some work to be clear and easy to read. Please edit your reply to break it into two or three paragraphs so that each major point in your answer is easily discerned by the reader. Happy Gaming! :-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 7 '16 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer needs to be a stand alone answer, and this answer looks like a comment on one of the other answers. Reorganizing this response to address what is in the question would improve this answer. I slightly changed the wording in my question to not imply that the spell was cast on the Paladin's weapon, as you noted. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 7 '16 at 21:04
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Smite spells apply only to weapon attacks, so in this case it doesn't matter: your steed wouldn't get the effects.

However, RAW, if your steed could attack with a weapon, its first hit would get the smite effect, independent of your attack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. Creature's "natural attacks" (bite, claw, hooves, etc) are classed as weapon attacks. If you read the stat lines they say, as an example, "Hooves. Melee Weapon Attack". If you're talking about weapon attacks in the sense of swords, maces, and all that, you'll have to very clearly explain how they are different from the weapon attacks a steed could make and how the Smite spells would only work with one such case and not the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 20 '15 at 23:57

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