Learn all about clerics and how to use these powerful healers in our guide
What are clerics in D&D 5e?
Clerics are wielders of divine powers and are devoted adherents of one of the many gods/religions of the universe from whom they receive their power. Clerics worship a wide range of deities with differing personalities, powers and desires. While many clerics may fit the priestly carer of the sick and injured, others follow a different path.
Some will seek to purge evil and enact retribution upon the wicked, others will seek to bring about the desires of conquest and murder of their god, still others will be adherents of knowledge, pain, nature and all manner of other things. In reality, a cleric is less defined by a desire to do good or heal and more by a devotion to a higher being that grants them god-given powers.
Clerics operate primarily as healers and support casters, but are also capable of dealing large amounts of damage with their powerful spells. Wisdom is their primary ability as they use it for spellcasting, but abilities that will assist them in combat are also useful such as Strength, Dexterity and Constitution. Some clerics are capable of wading into combat, clad to the teeth in armor and weave deadly spells among their foes. In fact, clerics are often considered one of the more capable spellcasters of dealing large amounts of magical damage (alongside wizards and sorcerors).
How to play as a cleric
Clerics are healing specialists and this can often be their primary function. But clerics are much more than simply field medics. Many clerics are capable of high damage spells, doling out generous buffs, or even wading in as a tank in profuse amounts of armor and wielding a hefty mace to dole out hefty levels of retribution. In reality, you can kit your cleric out in a manner that suits how you want to play.
Clerics are primarily spellcasters and are extremely useful support characters that can heal and buff others. They can deal out a lot of damage with their spells too such as lightning bolt and spirit guardians. They’re not quite as capable in the heat of battle but are tough enough and potentially armoured enough to manage themselves capably, though if they have the spell slots for it, their best friend for dealing damage most certainly are their spells. This battle-readiness is aided in no small part by their proficiency in medium armor (and some subclasses get heavy armor proficiency too) and shields as well as d8 hit dice. This makes them gnarlier than your average full spellcaster like a wizard or sorceror.
It should also be noted that clerics gain access to a subclass at level 1 (their divine domain) granting them early access to subclass features and making them an interesting multiclass option. Wisdom is also a great speciality ability score because wisdom saving throws are really common making clerics more resilient to spells and effects than most other classes.
Being a healer is not as exciting as delivering a good old butt whooping, and as a cleric, you’re likely to be the designated healer. This means you will be a useful asset, but there may be the temptation to unleash the wrath of your god, until you realise the barbarian’s fainted again and needs reviving.
The other challenge for clerics is the number of concentration spells they have at their disposal, often meaning there’s a limit to how many of these spells you can use in an encounter. And if you’re not careful, too much damage to your cleric can lead to lost concentration and wasted spell slots.
Cleric class features
|Party Role||Support Caster, Healer, Damage Dealer|
|Saving Throws||Wisdom, Charisma|
|Hit Dice||1d8 + Consitution modifier per level|
|HP at 1st Level||8 + Constitution Modifier|
|Spell Casting Ability||Wisdom|
|Armour Proficiency||Light armour, medium armour, shields|
|Weapon Proficiency||Simple weapons|
Saving Throws: Proficiency in wisdom and charisma saving throws is great because both are fairly common (especially wisdom saving throws).
Hit Dice: D8 hit dice is pretty standard for a caster. It’s low enough that you do need to take some care if you want to wade into melee action, but your armor will help compensate somewhat for that. Some well-picked spells and a healthy constitution can also aid your durability.
Proficiencies: Proficiency in light and medium armor plus shields means you can make yourself more durable for those frontline fights. We’d highly recommend saving your dexterity a bit and maxxing it at 14 and taking medium armor and a shield. Clerics will rarely deal their most damage with melee weapons so there’s little reason to go with two-weapon fighting or two-handed weapons so it’s best to take the shield.
Simple weapons is enough for a cleric whose main damage output should be spells. You don’t benefit from many skill proficiencies with just the 2, but your role isn’t to be the skill master, that’s for rogues and bards.
|Level||Proficiency Bonus||Features||Cantrips Known||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th||6th||7th||8th||9th|
|1st||+2||Spellcasting, Divine Domain||3||2||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|2nd||+2||Channel Divinity (x1), Divine Domain Feature||3||3||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|4th||+2||Ability Score Improvement||4||4||3||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|5th||+3||Destroy Undead (CR1/2)||4||4||3||2||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|6th||+3||Channel Divinity (x2), Divine Domain Feature||4||4||3||3||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|8th||+3||Ability Score Improvement, Destroy Undead (CR1), Divine Domain Feature||4||4||3||3||2||–||–||–||–||–|
|11th||+4||Destroy Undead (CR2)||5||4||3||3||3||2||1||–||–||–|
|12th||+4||Ability Score Improvement||5||4||3||3||3||2||1||–||–||–|
|14th||+5||Destroy Undead (CR3)||5||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||–||–|
|16th||+5||Ability Score Improvement||5||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||1||–|
|17th||+6||Destroy Undead (CR4), Divine Domain Feature||5||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||1||1|
|18th||+6||Channel Divinity x3||5||4||3||3||3||3||1||1||1||1|
|19th||+6||Ability Score Improvement||5||4||3||3||3||3||2||1||1||1|
|20th||+6||Divine Intervention Improvement||5||4||3||3||3||3||2||2||1||1|
You can use this to either turn undead or use a domain specific version. Turn undead is great if you’re up against lots of undead, but generally is highly situational. The domain specific powers tend to be great though.
Another highly situational ability that only affects enemies that would be easy to kill anyway so you’ll likely get little use out of this.
A fantastic ability allowing your deity to intervene at a given moment. Of course this highly depends on how creative your DM is willing to be but could create some very exciting moments. Of course, just because your deity intervenes, doesn’t mean they’ll do something useful (or as useful as you wanted).
Cleric subclasses in D&D 5e
Clerics belong to a fairly exclusive club of classes that gain their subclass at level 1 alongside sorcerors and warlocks. This can be very handy if you’re considering multiclassing as a cleric. Cleric subclasses are known as their divine domains and they also have the most plentiful list of subclasses in D&D 5e due to the variety of the D&D pantheons.
Rather than picking a god you worship with your divine domain, you choose a domain you focus on. Obviously a cleric can choose which god they worship, but this gives clerics the flexibility to worship gods from any setting or even pick a domain that suits them despite worship of a specific god. For example, a worshipper of Mystra might be part of the knowledge or arcana domains.
|Cleric Subclass||Subclass Abilities||Source Book||Description|
|Knowledge Domain||Blessings of Knowledge, Channel Divinity: Knowledge of the Ages, Channel Divinity: Read Thoughts, Potent Spellcasting, Visions of the Past||Player’s Handbook||Knowledge is power and it’s understanding must be preserved.|
|Life Domain||Bonus Proficiency, Disciple of Life, Channel Divinity: Preserve Life, Blessed Healer, Divine Strike, Supreme Healing||Player’s Handbook||Consider life to be a wonderful thing to be preserved.|
|Light Domain||Bonus Cantrip, Warding Flare, Channel Divinity: Radiance of the Dawn, Improved Flare, Potent Spellcasting, Corona of Light||Player’s Handbook||These clerics serve the light in order to fight back the shadows.|
|Nature Domain||Acolyte of Nature, Bonus Proficiency, Channel Divinity: Charm Animals and Plants, Dampen Elements, Divine Strike, Master of Nature||Player’s Handbook||These clerics serve nature and take their power from the natural domain.|
|Tempest Domain||Bonus Proficiencies, Wrath of the Storm, Channel Divinity: Destructive Wrath, Thunderous Strike, Divine Strike, Stormborn||Player’s Handbook||See the power in nature and the elements.|
|Trickery Domain||Blessing of the Trickster, Channel Divinity: Invoke Duplicity, Channel Divinity: Cloak of Shadows, Divine Strike, Improved Duplicity||Player’s Handbook||See the power of trickery and deception to keep the world moving in whatever direction they see fit.|
|War Domain||Bonus Proficiency, War Priest, Channel Divinity: Guided Strike, Channel Divinity: War God’s Blessing, Divine Strike, Avatar of Battle||Player’s Handbook||Follow the ideology of war, whether that’s to conquer or protect.|
|Death Domain||Bonus Proficiency, Reaper, Channel Divinity: Touch of Death, Inescapable Destruction, Divine Strike, Improved Reaper||Dungeon Master’s Guide||Respected and gatekeepers of death understanding all things must come to an end eventually.|
|Arcana Domain||Arcane Initiate, Channel Divinity: Arcane Abjuration, Spell Breaker, Potent Spellcasting, Arcane Mastery||Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide||Adherents of the magical arts.|
|Forge Domain||Bonus Proficiencies, Blessing of the Forge, Channel Divinity: Artisan’s Blessing. Soul of the Forge, Divine Strike, Saint of Forge and Fire||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything||Honour the powers of creation, using it to enhance.|
|Grave Domain||Circle of Mortality, Eyes of the Grave, Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave, Sentinel at Death’s Door, Potent Spellcasting, Keeper of Souls||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything||Servants of life and death seeking balance between each aspect.|
|Order Domain||Bonus Proficiencies, Voice of Authority, Channel Divinity: Order’s Demand, Embodiment of the Law, Divine Strike, Order’s Wrath||Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything||Seek order through law and justice.|
|Peace Domain||Implement of Peace, Emboldening Bond, Channel Divinity: Balm of Peace, Protective Bond, Potent Spellcasting, Expansive Bond||Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything||Seekers of peace that avoid violence at all costs.|
|Twilight Domain||Bonus Proficiencies, Eyes of Night, Vigilant Blessing, Channel Divinity: Twilight Sanctuary, Steps of Night, Divine Strike, Twilight Shroud||Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything||Work to stop those that would disrupt balance in the world.|
Creating a cleric
So you’ve decided to play as a cleric? Brilliant! But how do you make an effective and powerful cleric? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ll take you through some of the more advantageous options for creating a cleric. Of course, D&D 5e is hugely flexible and there are many great ways to create a cleric so you don’t need to stick to our advice, but the below advice will show you how to create an effective cleric character.
Cleric ability scores
Wisdom: Clerics use wisdom as their spellcasting ability so you’ll want to make sure this is maximised.
Constitution: Constitution is important for giving you the extra durability you’ll need, especially if you’re on the frontlines.
Dexterity: If you’re opting for light or medium armor, then you’ll want at least 14 dexterity (more if you’re going with light armor if you can). You may want it for the odd attack too, but your spells will be more powerful than your weapons for the most part.
Strength: If you’ve opted for heavy armor (some subclasses and feats will allow that), then you may want to spend a little on strength for your attacks, otherwise, this can be dumped.
Charisma: You’ve got little need for this unless you’re needed to be the face of the party. Your only charisma skill is persuasion though so you’ll need a background with charisma skills to compensate.
Intelligence: This can be dumped, you don’t need it.
Clerics get 2 skills out of a small pool of options. As a general rule though, clerics are not going to be your skill masters (rogues and bards do this better). We’d generally prioritise them in the following order of importance for a cleric, but this may change depending on your role in the party (for instance, you may want to prioritise persuasion if you’re going to be the face of a party):
- Insight: Excellent wisdom based skill and you’ll likely be the best at this in the party
- Religion: Useful in quite a few situations and as the resident religious expert, you’re likely to know this best.
- Persuasion: Important if you’re going to be the face of the party.
- History: Situational and doesn’t come up overly often.
- Medicine: Pointless as magic does this much better.
Best cleric races
There are several things to consider when picking a race for your cleric:
- Ability score: Wisdom is always the most important ability scores for a cleric with constitution coming second. Dexterity is also often a good option too and charisma can be useful if you plan on being the face of the party. With more recently updated races, any race can have any ability score increased giving you more options here.
- Innate spellcasting: Clerics have plenty of spell slots and are great at casting spells so innate spellcasting gives you a chance to grab some spells from other class lists that you can repeat use effectively.
- Armor restrictions: You’re likely going to want to wear at least medium armor so just be careful of flying races with armor restrictions on flight. You can still go for a lightly armored cleric, you’ll just need to go bigger on your dexterity and make sure you have a shield.
We’ve these considerations in mind, we’d recommend the following races as great options for a cleric:
Resistance to necrotic and radiant damage for extra durability, some extra healing and extra damage or temporary flight with celestial revelation are all really helpful for clerics that get close to the action.
Lots of extra durability from armored casing and mechanical nature and built for success is great at making you more likely to succeed on important rolls by rolling an extra d4.
The main benefits are the extra toughness with a little extra HP, resistance to poison damage and advantage on saving throws against the poisoned condition. Proficiency with a few martial weapons looks good, but your spells will almost always do more damage.
The main draw here is you can take booming blade which, if you’re insistent on having a weapon wielding cleric, makes the high elf your best option. Plus you get proficiency with a longsword for greater weapon damage. Perception proficiency is pretty good on a high wisdom character too.
Fury of the small works with your spells so you can make your spells a little more powerful against most creatures. Disengage and hide as bonus actions are pretty good for a class that will be close to the action, but isn’t hugely durable.
Reduce the damage you take and resistance to cold damage work great at making your cleric more durable. Plus you get athletics proficiency which is alright.
Draconic cry is great for a spellcaster on the frontlines and will allow you to maintain use of a spell for the turn. Kobold legacy can give you access to booming blade too if you really want to do some weapon fighting.
Teleportation as a bonus action without having to use spell slots is excellent plus a turn of damage resistance. Resistance to necrotic damage makes you more durable and proficiency in perception and advantage against charmed are both great extras.
+1 AC that stacks with your armor makes you more durable. Poison resistance, advantage against the poisoned condition and disease immunity are all great durability options too.
Lots of great durability options for a frontline cleric. Magic resistance is excellent and poison damage comes up often enough that resistance to it and advantage against the poisoned condition are great options.
Backgrounds are normally good for providing a few extra skills though these tend to be less important for clerics so there aren’t a lot of really good options here. Some that do work reasonably well for a barbarian include:
|Name||Feature||Skill Proficiencies||Tool Proficiencies||Languages||Equipment||Type||Source Book|
|Acolyte||Shelter of the Faithful||Insight, Religion||None||Two of your choice||Holy symbol, prayer book or wheel, 5 sticks of incense, vestements, common clothes, 15gp||Social, Religious||Player’s Handbook|
|Astral Drifter||Divine Contact||Insight, Religion||None||Two of your choice (celestial or gith recommended)||Traveler’s clothes, diary, ink pen, bottle of ink, 10gp||Social, Exploration||Spelljammer: Adventures in Space|
|Courtier||Court Functionary||Insight, Persuasion||None||Two of your choice||Fine clothes, 5gp||Social||Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide|
|Guild Artisan/Merchant||Guild Membership||Insight, Persuasion||One type of artisan’s tools||One of your choice||A set of artisan’s tools, letter of introduction from your guild, traveler’s clothes, 15gp||Social, Utility||Player’s Handbook|
|Faction Agent||Safe Haven||Insight and one other intelligence, wisdom or charisma based skill||None||Two of your choice||Badge or emblem of your faction, seminal faction text, common clothes and 15gp||Social, Utility||Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide|
|Far Traveler||All eyes on you||Insight, Perception||Musical instrument or gaming set||Any one of your choice||Traveler’s clothes, musical instrument or gaming set, poorly wrought maps from your homeland, small piece of jewellery worth 10gp and 5gp||Social||Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide|
|Hermit||Discovery||Medicine, Religion||Herbalism Kit||One of your choice||A scroll case stuffed full of notes from your studies or prayers, winter blanket, common clothes, herbalism kit and 5gp||Healing, Social, Utility||Player’s Handbook|
|Investigator||Official Enquiry||Two from Investigation, Insight and Perception||Disguise Kit, Thieves’ Tools||None||Magnifying glass, evidence from a past case, common clothes, 10gp||Social, Exploration||Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft|