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Dwarven Cleric in DnD 5e: How to Build A Bulwark Healer

So, you want to heal people, do you?

Well, you came to the right place. Grab a hammer and a holy amulet and we’ll set your dwarven cleric on their way. It’s a great build so without any adieu, let’s get into it.

Creating a Dwarven Cleric

When it comes to race/class combos, this one is a classic, and not just because the picture the PHB uses for the cleric is a dwarf decked out in armor with an epic warhammer.

If there’s any race that really takes a spiritual view when it comes to fighting, it’s the dwarves. So, what makes dwarves so equipped to take on the role of D&D’s healer class?

Quickstart Guide: Dwarven Cleric

Stats:  You’ll prioritize Wisdom first, followed by Constitution and then Strength or Dexterity.

Armor and Weapons:  The best build has a Warhammer, heavy armor, and a shield.  Crossbows or hand axes are great for ranged attacks. 

Offensive Actions:  Mostly you’ll want to deal as much damage as you can with your melee weapons, improving your damage or getting off massive spell attacks at the right moments. 

Defensive Actions:  You’re going to have great armor, and plenty of cleric spells can buff or heal you and your allies. Use cantrips to do this as often as you can, and pull out the spell slots when you’re going to get the best bang for your buck

Subclass Decisions:  Dwarven clerics specifically are typically going to choose domains that Moradin rules over, Life, Forge, Order, and Knowledge being the main ones. Forge domains are going to provide much more offensive and creative options, with healing as a backup, while life domains are focused typically in preserving life, and come with a plethora of healing and support abilities.

Ability Scores

It all starts here. With any class there are ability scores that we’ll prioritize, and for clerics that’s typically going to be wisdom, strength, and constitution.

How you build your own character will decide what that order is, but since the cleric is primarily a caster, that wisdom, or your spellcasting ability, should be pretty high.

After that, it’s whether you want a strong or sturdy dwarf.

A term you may or may not be familiar with is M.A.D., which stands for multiple ability dependent. As opposed to a S.A.D., single ability dependent, class, a M.A.D. class functions best when they have two or more abilities that are all pretty high.

Because a cleric wants to be strong, sturdy, and spell-worthy, they’re really going to need all three pumped up as much as you can.

This is where the dwarf race steps in with a few subrace options to give you the choice of how to build. All dwarves get +2 in constitution, a great start. Hill dwarves get a +1 to wisdom while mountain dwarves get a +2 in strength.

Then, of course, there is also the duergar subrace, but let’s steer away from the deep dwarves in favor of the better fits.

Dwarf Racial Features

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2.
  • Age. Dwarves mature at the same rate as humans, but they’re considered young until they reach the age of 50. On average, they live about 350 years.
  • Alignment. Most dwarves are lawful, believing firmly in the benefits of a well-ordered society. They tend toward good as well, with a strong sense of fair play and a belief that everyone deserves to share in the benefits of a just order.
  • Size. Dwarves stand between 4 and 5 feet tall and average about 150 pounds. Your size is Medium.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor.
  • Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
  • Dwarven Resilience. You have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage.
  • Dwarven Combat Training. You have proficiency with the battleaxe, handaxe, light hammer, and warhammer.
  • Tool Proficiency. You gain proficiency with the artisan’s tools of your choice: smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies, or mason’s tools.
  • Stonecunning. Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to the origin of stonework, you are considered proficient in the History skill and add double your proficiency bonus to the check, instead of your normal proficiency bonus.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Dwarvish. Dwarvish is full of hard consonants and guttural sounds, and those characteristics spill over into whatever other language a dwarf might speak.

Hill Dwarf

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
  • Dwarven Toughness. Your hit point maximum increases by 1, and it increases by 1 every time you gain a level.

Mountain Dwarf

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2.
  • Dwarven Armor Training. You have proficiency with light and medium armor.

You can read that, but I’ll cover the important pieces a bit more in-depth so you have a deeper understanding.

Dwarven Resilience is an excellent ability since it gives you resistance to a very common damage type and advantage on saving throws against poison. In 5e, poison is more than just a green liquid that can deal some damage.

There are often some pretty nasty effects poisons might carry, like being turned into an abyssal wretch or a mane. 

While a cleric does have proficiency in simple weapons, they can benefit greatly from access to the battleaxe and warhammer. Thank you dwarven combat training for that beautiful d8 damage die.

The other main race abilities are either fun or commonplace. Tool proficiencies are pretty easy to snag up, darkvision comes with most races out there, and stonecunning is excellent if you actually make history checks

The subraces are both pretty impressive, but there’s a clear winner from where I sit. The mountain dwarf gives us two proficiencies that as clerics, we already have, and gives us nothing to work our spells with.

The hill dwarf on the other hand, gives us a +1 in wisdom, which isn’t as good as a +2, but is definitely better than nothing. It also gives us an excellent ability that boosts our hit point maximum by quite a bit.

The wording they use is confusing, but whenever you calculate your HP max upon gaining a new level, just do everything that you normally would, and then add your total level on top of that, easy peasy. 

You can still opt for the mountain dwarf if you want to focus on the fighting portion, but more often than not we’ll grab the wisdom modifier and the good ability. It all depends on how you want to build… and a bit on the dice rolls that you get.

Skills

Clerics get to choose two skills from History, Insight, Medicine, Persuasion, and Religion. Medicine is a great skill to have proficiency in if you’re a healer, since you might not always be healing with spells or special abilities.

After that, history is really an excellent choice for specifically dwarven clerics. It allows you to make checks about more than just the origin of stonework and still use your proficiency bonus.

Backgrounds

I’m a huge proponent of backgrounds being used to further who your character is, not what they can do. They allow you to start exploring your backstory through a profession or lifestyle, so the question is, what’s yours? 

A cleric spending some amount of time in the clergy as an Acolyte could make sense, and the Insight and Religion proficiencies are a nice touch to your character’s mechanics.

On the other side of things, a great background for any dwarf is the clan crafter background. Specifically, learning the craft of the dwarven clan you were a part of is a great way to get access to artisan tools and have a deep connection to your heritage.

Starting Gear

If you’re filling out your character sheet while we go through this, there’s probably a big empty equipment section, so let’s get you your starting gear. I’ll put the options in bold that we want to choose.

  • (a) a mace or (b) a warhammer (if proficient)
    • We are proficient, and getting a martial weapon with a d8 damage die is an excellent way to start.
  • (a) scale mail, (b) leather armor, or (c) chain mail (if proficient)
    • For the subclasses that are proficient in heavy armor, we should definitely be taking the strongest armor here, chain mail with 16 AC. The second best is scale mail, which can get us up to 16 AC if we have a +2 DEX modifier. Alternatively, if for some reason we’re trying for a stealthy cleric, we can take leather armor
  • (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) any simple weapon
    • Getting us a ranged option is very nice, but not essential. We can take a simple weapon if it feels essential to our character.
  • (a) a priest’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
    • If you’re familiar enough with , or have the drive to learn about, things like alms, censers, and incense, then the priest’s pack is for you. If you’re not worried about the religious aspect of your priest, then don’t worry, grab up an explorer’s pack and be on your way.
  • A shield and a holy symbol

Making the Best Choices: Subclasses and Feats

So now we have to build a character. We’ve got the foundations, we know what we’re doing, but there’s still a bit of ground to cover. We’ll have to choose a subclass, which is very important for clerics since they choose a domain at 1st level.

We should also start thinking about which feats we’ll want to pick up, figuring out the ins and outs of what our character needs to succeed.

Subclasses

Cleric subclasses each fall into a different divine domain, the domain which the god they worship oversees. For most character’s there are a lot of gods to choose from. Dwarves aren’t any different, but there’s one god that is almost always going to take the cake. 

Moradin**, the creator god of the dwarves, is the choice to make when considering which god your dwarven cleric will worship. His domains typically include Knowledge and Forge, but you could go as far as including Order, Life, and War.

Of these possible Moradin domains, we’re going to look at Forge and Life as serious options for you, being two of the best cleric subclasses out there.

Forge Cleric

Forge clerics are an excellent subclass that has a host of abilities making it a sturdy tank, aggressive warrior, and a spellcaster that’s sure to bring the heat. Immediately getting the heavy armor proficiency and the ability to make either our armor or weapons more effective is great.

Essentially, most of the abilities and spells that this puts at your fingertips are going to either deal a whole lot of fire damage, or they’ll boost the offensive and defensive abilities of you and your allies.

It’s really everything you could want in a cleric, having all the options of support, tank, and offense at your disposal interchangeably. And there’s really no penalty to switching modes, even in the middle of combat. 

Life Cleric

Another cleric subclass that gets proficiency in heavy armor, are you noticing a theme? This subclass also starts off with an almost overpowered ability that boosts the effects of any healing spell you cast by 2 plus the level of the spell, which could easily double some spells effectiveness.

Actually, pretty much every ability in this subclass makes the cleric’s healing way more powerful. The only one that doesn’t allow you to dish out extra HP is your 8th level ability Divine Strike, which from my point of view is just a slightly less powerful, far more frequent, smite that you get access to as a cleric.

This is an excellent subclass for a healing-focused cleric that still wants to dish out some damage here and there.

D&D Lore: Moradin

**Moradin, Dwarffather, Soul Forger. The creator god of the dwarves knows many names, and is known by many. While most races worship any number of deities and see individuals developing personal relationships with a god of their choosing, dwarves almost unanimously worship their benevolent overseer.

In turn, Moradin guides the dwarves in his two chief domains, knowledge and forge. It’s because of him that the dwarves pursue their craft with a tenacity unparalleled by any other races of the D&D universe.

Moradin counts Gruumsh, the god of Orcs, among his greatest foes. Devout followers of Moradin known as Sonnlinor are charged wiping out all orcs and any followers of Gruumsh, which is one of the darkest pieces of dwarven lore.

Feats

Clerics benefit from feats that let them cast spells with more ease. It’s also not a bad idea to put a feat in your roster that improves your martial prowess, but that will all depend on how you choose to fight. 

War CasterThis lets you hold concentration better, cast spells while wielding weapons, and perhaps the coolest, allows you to cast spells that normally take 1 action to cast as opportunity attack reactions. Truly made for a cleric or paladin, this feat should join you as soon as you can pick it up.

Elemental Adept – Spells of a chosen damage type ignore resistance of that type. On a forge cleric this is disgustingly good, and on any other cleric it’s amazing if you choose the right damage spells. 

Shield MasterA cleric with a shield is a great idea, and makes them that much more protected. This feat allows you to do so much more with your shield, even allowing you to block spells that require saving throws.

All Together Now: Using Your Abilities

You’ve got yourself a very sturdy, faithful cleric devoted to the god Moradin. What do you do now? Well, you play the game! Go ahead and start your adventure, and try to remember these tips as you’re out there fighting the forces of evil.

Channel Divinity Wisely

For such a core ability to the class, you really don’t get many uses of this cleric feature. So you should choose very wisely if you’re considering spending a use.

Typically, your domain ability is going to see a lot more use, since turn undead is rather focused. Get very familiar with your domain’s channel ability and figure out what it looks like at maximum effectiveness. Then just try to use it at that level as much as you can.

Priorities:  Weapons and Spells

If you can reliably deal the damage you need to deal with a weapon, you should. Wasting a spell slot on something that’s going to deal 1d8 while you’re wielding a warhammer would be hilarious, and a very poor choice. Similarly, you shouldn’t use a spell slot if all you need is to cast a cantrip. 

Your spell slots are your most valuable resource, and you should definitely use them, but only if you have to. You would never use Mass Heal when only one party member is a few points short of their maximum HP. It’s an extreme example, but the concept stays true. Make sure you understand your priorities.

The dwarven cleric is a fantastic class/race combo, ripe with plenty of lore to discover. They’re not too shabby when it comes to putting up a fight either. Between their warhammers and their holy spells, there’s not much they’ll be defeated by, and even less that they would admit to.

I hope you enjoy getting to know your dwarf, and as always, happy adventuring!