[RPG] Paladin Smite Spells and the Steed: Can either or both trigger the damage


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."


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."


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).

Best Answer

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.