[RPG] Can a paladin use the Divine Smite feature with a thrown weapon


A paladin's divine smite says (PHB. 85), "…when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack…", which I'm seeing two ways to interpret.

  1. "A melee attack with a weapon", so as long as it's a melee attack and you're using a weapon smite away.

  2. "An attack with a melee weapon", is where things get odd. Under (PHB. 149), "Simple Melee Weapons", includes spears which have the Thrown property. Thrown states (PHB. 147), "…you can throw the weapon to make a ranged attack. If the weapon is a melee weapon…", so even while being thrown it is still a, "melee weapon"

Since it would be easy to house rule this (Rule of Cool: Smiting with a spear sounds neat) I'd like an answer that either references word of god or provides a convincing argument that this type of reading applied to other parts of the rules results in absurdities.

Best Answer

Per Crawford, No: you can't use the paladin's Divine Smite with a thrown weapon.

The problem here, as you have correctly identified, is that the language is ambiguous: does "melee weapon attack" mean "a melee attack with a weapon" (your option 1), or "an attack with a melee weapon" (your option 2)?

Helpfully, rules designer Jeremy Crawford has answered this exact question in a tweet from August 2015 (which is not an official ruling), and in the following Sage Advice Compendium question on p10 of the v1.14 PDF (which is an official ruling):

What does “melee weapon attack” mean: a melee attack with a weapon or an attack with a melee weapon?

It means a melee attack with a weapon. Similarly, “ranged weapon attack” means a ranged attack with a weapon. Some attacks count as a melee or ranged weapon attack even if a weapon isn’t involved, as specified in the text of those attacks. For example, an unarmed strike counts as a melee weapon attack, even though the attacker’s body isn’t considered a weapon.

As such, we should interpret Divine Smite's trigger to mean "...when you hit a creature with a melee attack with a weapon...", which means that you can't use Divine Smite with a thrown weapon, as it isn't a melee attack.