Playing a Cleric in D&D can be incredibly rewarding. They’re one of 5E’s most versatile classes, and with this guide, you’ll be holier than thou in no time.
Let’s talk Clerics. They’re one of the most popular classes in the game ranking in in the top three classes, behind only Fighter and Warlock. And it’s easy to understand why, as natural healers with a lot more to them than restoring the occasional hit points, a good cleric can be one of the most effective characters in the game. With access to powerful spells and domains that can suit them to any role from frontline fighter to party anchor, there’s no end to what a good cleric can do.
Which is why we’re going to look today at how to play a Cleric. In this guide, you’ll learn
- What makes Clerics work
- What spells to pick
- What subclass to play
What Makes Clerics Work
Clerics are an odd duck in D&D, because they’re casters through and through, and even the most martial-minded cleric will always benefit from casting spells moreso than attacking, but you can also create a cleric who’s a melee powerhouse without trying too hard. Your spells make you incredibly versatile, but what really shapes your playstyle is your domain. We’ll cover those in depth down below, but if you’re a cleric you need to know how your spells work, and what you can do with your channel divinity. Every cleric has the ability to channel their divine energy to create powerful effects. All clerics can cause undead to run away from them, which is situationally useful, but nothing to write home about–the real fun comes from your domains.
A good channel divinity power will give you an idea about how the class can play, whether it’s protecting allies, healing creatures, or making your enemies vulnerable, your channel divinity powers are an extra tool that no other class has access to. When playing a cleric you’ll want to look at what these do, and you’ll want to remember to use them. The best advice is to use them early on, when you think a fight might be tough. Otherwise, you might forget about them and one of the best class features kind of sits there unused. Better to use it too early than too late. Especially since your main abilities come from your spells.
What Spells To Pick
Clerics have access to some of the best spells in the game. Sure wizards might have more variety, but pound for pound, level per level it’s hard to match the spells that top the cleric lists. They have the easiest access to the most popular spell in the game: Cure Wounds, which is always useful. But they are so much more than that.
Depending on how you want to play, spells are there for you. Do you want to play a melee fighting Cleric? Look for a subclass with Divine Strike and make sure you know the Shillelagh cantrip, you’ll be able to pour everything into Wisdom and still be just as effective. At 2nd level, you get the best bonus action spell in the game, spiritual weapon, which essentially gives you an extra attack that’s always going to be good.
And if you want to protect your party there are plenty of options from sanctuary to death ward. Here are a few spells to check out at any level:
- 1st – cure wounds, bless, guiding bolt, healing word, sanctuary
- 2nd – aid, spiritual weapon, enhance ability, augury
- 3rd – spirit guardians, revivify, bestow curse, dispel magic
- 4th – banishment, death ward, divination
- 5th – commune, summon celestial, scrying
- 6th – heal, true seeing, heroes’ feast
- 7th – plane shift, etherealness, conjure celestial
- 8th – holy aura, antimagic field
- 9th – mass heal, true resurrection, gate
What Subclass To Play
Clerics can vary wildly of what you do with this class is determined by your subclass. Your domain determines your weapon and armor proficiency, any extra skills you get, what spells get added to your list (and are always available), what actions you can take with Channel Divinity, and whether or not you’re better suited for fighting in melee or casting spells. It’s a huge deal–which is why you get it at 1st level. Subclass is basically the determiner for how the Cleric operates. So while there’s always like a baseline “every Cleric can do these things” (heal, turn undead, cast Cleric spells), they can vary wildly depending.
Some things to look for include: what does your channel divinity power do, what spells are added to your list, and do you get potent spellcasting or divine strike?
Forge Domain Clerics are capable melee combatants. They excel at Resilience in a fight thanks to their heavy armor and abilities like Blessing and Soul of the Forge in order to add extra armor bonuses and resistance to Fire, which becomes immunity at higher levels. Their additional spells let you make a sizable impact in melee, buffing yourself or enemies, and at higher level they’re able to really control the battlefield with spells like Wall of Fire or Animate Objects.
Pick this class if you want to be a heavily armored brawler who can use spells for that extra boost in between fights.
Grave Domain Clerics are surprisingly good at supporting their friends. If you have ever been leery of paying a healer, or want to try other things while doing so, this class has got you covered. They are all about death, whether preventing, causing, or reversing it. With their Circle of Mortality, your healing spells are maximized when healing a target at 0 hit points, which means you can really get the most out of your heals in dire straits. But they do more than heal, they are superb casters as well. Their Channel Divinity lets them set up a foe to take double damage from a crucial attack, their spells allow them to debuff or outright kill their enemies, and you get a little bit more of the protection from death as you go on.
Pick this subclass if, when the party is half dead, you want to rub your hands together and say, “Not bad… now it’s my turn.” Or if you want to really put the hurt on your DM’s big bads.
The Knowledge Domain is an interesting one. With a name like Knowledge, you might think this one is a powerful casting class, but where it excels is at finding information. Whether through their skills, or through their investigatory spells (which will never be in short supply), or taking them from the minds of their enemies. They can also be good at making friends, at least for a while with copious suggestions at their disposal.
Pick this class if you want to be the party’s information specialist. If you like playing characters who have the answer, this class is for you.
Life Domain Clerics are, as the name suggests, the best at keeping the party alive. The quintessential supporting class, Life Clerics are masters of healing. They are the best at keeping their party at top form, and in later levels can take even the most wounded party member and get them back up to full in no time flat. And with heavy armor and divine strike, as well as spells that lend themselves well to resilience, this subclass makes an excellent addition to any party’s front line.
Play a Life domain Cleric if you want to keep the party going, and want to get in the middle of things.
Light Domain Clerics are casters who have the power of the sun in the palm of their hands. If you envision a Cleric smiting foes with holy fire and light, then you’ve got these Clerics figured out. They have access to some of the best damage dealing spells in the game, though they tend to be better at damaging multiple enemies than a single target. But they are excellent at blasting enemies and keeping themselves (and the party) in it for the long haul.
Pick this class if you want to smite foes, and cast fireball, or some variation, on your foes with aplomb, but still have more hit points and armor options.
Clerics who choose the Nature Domain can turn the environment against their foes. In heavy armor, and with spells that either let them control the battlefield, or add extra difficulty to navigating it, these are surprisingly resilient controlling types. Especially with their defensuve Channel Divinity. But they can also hit fairly hard against an unprepared enemy, especially if they catch them out in the open.
Pick this class if you want to reshape the battlefield, or if you want to make the most out of your environment.
Peace Domain Clerics are an interesting subclass. Introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of everything, they are all about forging bonds that make their team much better at doing violence. They can forge a bond between creatures that lets them add an extra d4 to attack a few times per day, they’re great healers thanks to their Channel Divinity powers, and the real work from the Peace Domain comes with a list of bonus spells that will make sure you can always protect someone in need.
Pick this class if you want to protect your friends and make them better at fighting each other.
Tempest Domain Clerics are probably one of the most powerful subclasses. With one of the best Channel Divinity’s (max damage with thunder bolts and lightning? very very frightening), and some of the most generally useful fight-directing spells–AND good weapons and armor, this subclass has much to offer. Even when you run out of spells you can still hit and rely on most of your abilities working.
Pick this class if you want to do it all. You’ll do a couple of things really well, control and damage, but this subclass is really good at anchoring a party.
Trickery Domain Clerics are stealthy, and masters of illusion. They can misdirect foes, tie up combatants with polymorph and dominate, and in general be where they need to be, in a fight or out of it. With their spell selection you also have a number of answers to enemy shenanigans, especially with dispel magic and dimension door at your disposal.
Pick this subclass if you want to pull off cunning victories. If you enjoy incapacitating foes and using stealth and guile to accomplish your goals, this class is the one to go with.
An option for those who want to feel more mystical, Twilight Domain Clerics are all about transitions. They are heavily armed and armored, gaining proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor, as well as a channel ability that grants you the ability to immediately grant temporary hit points to any friendly creature nearby (including yourself). It’s a strong contender for melee clerics, especially since they can eventually fly. Pick spirit guardians and hound your enemies until they drop.
Pick this subclass if you want to be the powerful center around which your party fights.
Finally there are War Domain Clerics who are the most melee-oriented of the Clerics. With abilities that buff their attacks, or help them buff others, they are great at holding the fight down. They can turn the tide of a fight in a couple of crucial turns. And they can reliably do that in every fight.
Pick this class if you want to be at the forefront of every fight. If you want to lead your companions into battle and unflinching, face fearsome foes.
That’s the Cleric. Powerful whatever you pick, they can add a lot to any party.