Last Updated on January 22, 2023
An armored champion radiates light and fury on a hellish battlefield, banishing demons back to their home plane, and propping up their allies to stand in the gap between innocence and the jaws of evil.
A kindly minister heals a sick innocent before washing his hands, adjusting his mask, and heading back into a plague-ridden infirmary.
A sinister cultist laughs maniacally into the light as they wrap themselves in shadow and disappear.
All of these are channeling divine power as allies of extraplanar beings who work their will on the material plane for incomprehensible purposes.
This post is all about how to do that, when to do that, and what to expect when you do.
First, we will discuss what is common among all users of Channel Divinity, and then we’ll discuss how to take advantage of the unique aspects of Channel Divinity.
What Is Channel Divinity?
Channel Divinity is a supernatural ability that grants clerics and paladins unique powers according to their subclass. They are restored every short rest and can be anything from buffs, debuffs, attacks, or utilities.
What Is Common Across All Users of Channel Divinity?
Here is what you need to know about Channel Divinity to help you build your character.
- All Clerics and Paladins gain Channel Divinity.
- Clerics can use it once per short rest, twice at 6th level, and thrice at 18th.
- Paladins can only use it once per short rest at any level.
- The Amulet of the Devout is a magic item that grants you extra uses.
- If your Channel Divinity is an attack or a debuff, it uses your spell-attack roll and saves DC.
That’s it. From here on out, things get a little more specific. First, let’s talk about Clerics and Turning Undead.
If you ask a Paladin what it means to Turn Undead, they will say, “Where the head goes, the body follows! Hit it in the jaw and the thing will spin: Turn Undead.”
They’re right but oh, so wrong.
If you ask a Cleric, they will tell you it is the magical ability to repel or destroy an undead with the power of your faith.
By using their Channel Divinity feature, the Cleric forces any undead within 30 feet to make a Wisdom save.
If they fail, the undead must use all of its actions and abilities to move further away from you for 1 minute. It cannot take any other action. If it is trapped, it may Dodge.
If you are a high-enough level, you outright destroy the undead.
In 3rd edition, this was so much more difficult, like everything else from 3e. There was this complicated chart, and a damage table, and a level vs. CR table… it was nuts.
This is So. Much. Better.
There is only one Paladin subclass that also Turns undead, and that is Oath of the Devotion, and that ability also works on fiends.
Unique Channel Divinity Abilities
Clerics and Paladins can fulfill a lot of roles in the party. They can tank, nuke, face, support, or utilize (utility).
The Channel Divinity ability is one of the primary ways in which they do just that.
Channel Divinities do one of four things:
1. Debuff your enemies. The opposite of a buff or a support, a debuff penalizes your enemy somehow. This usually looks like imposing a condition on the enemy, such as blindness, paralyze, charmed, or frightened.
2. Buff your allies. The opposite of a debuff, a buff is a support that either heals hit points, frees you from a condition, or grants you a bonus to a saving throw, attack roll, or ability check.
3. Attack your enemies. This kind of ability allows you to do more damage to an existing attack or creates an entirely new attack for you.
4. Create a Utility. A utility is a new tool a character can use, whether that is a piece of equipment, an alteration to the battlefield (like creating difficult terrain), or a downtime ability that relates to the plot, such as research or item creation.
Channel Divinity Debuff Classes
Debuff specialists tend to favor mid-range spellcasters or melee combatants – perfect for Clerics and Paladins.
For flavor, these Clerics and Paladins tend to be “evil,” which means they don’t have many moral hang-ups about poisoning an enemy or sucking their life force out through a spiritual straw.
The following Cleric domains have Channel Divinities that Debuff your enemies.
The following Paladin Oaths also have Channel Divinities that Debuff your enemies.
Channel Divinity Buff Classes
Characters in a support role tend to favor mid-range spell casters or melee combatants, like Debuff characters.
For flavor, these Clerics and Paladins are your typical compassionate, inspirational, helpful people who want everyone to be friends and work well together… unless of course they’re the bad guys. They can fall on a sword.
The following Cleric domains have Channel Divinities that Buff you or your allies.
The following Paladin Oaths also have Channel Divinities that Buff you or your allies.
Channel Divinity Attack Classes
These Clerics and Paladins tend to be melee combatants. They also tend to be the most zealous and the most likely to worship a god of power.
These are not your heal-slaves. If you aren’t one of these, you’ll probably want to be behind them.
Alternatively, these clerics and Paladins will be spell casters who rain down hell on the enemy in large amounts. You’ll still want to stay out of their way.
The following Cleric domains have Channel Divinities that Attack your enemies.
The following Paladin Oaths also have Channel Divinities that Attack your enemies.
Channel Divinity Utility Classes
These Clerics and Paladins are arguably the hardest to play. So much of DnD 5e is based on combat, so to have a character that works just as hard out of combat can leave you feeling disadvantaged.
That being said, without characters like this, the DM will have to feed you every bit of plot with a spoon in order for you to know what the hell is going on.
If you play a Cleric or a Paladin of this type, at least you will have your core class abilities to fall back on when the idiots start trying to put holes in each other.
The following Cleric domains have Channel Divinities that create utilities.
Sadly, Paladins do not have any utility-related Channel Divinities. This doesn’t have to mean that your paladin is only good in a select few situations, but… it might?
For The DMs
Crisis of Faith
Channeling Divinity is technically an ability that all Clerics and Paladins can do whenever they have the slots for it.
However, you may want to consider which divinity are they channeling. How religious and/or spiritual is the character?
If the character has a relationship with a god or a religious institution, you could make the player defend why their god/temple would support them channeling divinity in that way.
If the character has more of a moral/philosophical stance, you could make them justify their action.
You could even force them to make a Religion or Insight check to back up their argument.
Now, nobody is overly fond of having to jump through extra hoops, so if you do decide to question your player and force them to do a little battlefield introspection, reward their success with an extra die of damage, advantage on the roll, or temporary HP.
If they fail, simply waste that action that turn. If they fail often, consider a sidequest to restore their faith.
Homebrew Channel Divinity
When Homebrewing a channel divinity, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Most Paladins have a Turn-like ability that works against a single type of foe.
- All paladins have two different ways to channel divinity at 3rd level. One is typically offensive, and the other is typically defensive.
- Clerics only have one channel divinity, but they can use it more often.
- Cleric Channel Divinity abilities generally either help allies or hinder enemies. Rarely do they just help the cleric do something.
Channeling Divinity is a limited-use but unique ability that offers roleplay opportunities as well as battlefield ingenuity.
Make sure to consider who or what your character is, why they are a vessel for this divine concept, and how they channel it.
And as always,
Roll on, my friends.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.