When you picture the classic Dungeons and Dragons party, it’s hard not to see a cleric standing side by side with a rogue, fighter, and wizard.
This was the class you played to support your allies before there even was such a thing as a “support role.”
Clerics are soldiers of faith, holy crusaders who harness the strength of their gods to fulfill a higher calling.
In a world where gods make regular appearances in the affairs of mortals, it’s not surprising that this class has so many amazing abilities.
Clerics often get branded as healers or support casters, but there is so much more to this class than that.
Even when compared to classes that get their abilities from dark contracts or years of studying, the cleric class is easily one of the most versatile ways to build a powerful hero.
Even when we’re not talking about all of the incredible abilities that this class has at its fingertips, clerics bring a lot to the table (literally).
With a host of gods to choose from and more waiting to be created, your role playing has a direct effect on the world around you more so than just about any other class.
In this article, we’re going to be telling you all there is to know about playing a cleric in your next campaign.
From the basics of the class’s features, to creating unstoppable multiclass builds, even down to the seemingly inconsequential character-creation decisions, we’re covering it all.
You can jump to any of this guide’s sections using the contents table or keep scrolling to jump right in.
Why Play a Cleric
Whether you’re building your first character or your 51st character, choosing your class can be a stressful activity.
Knowing what you’re looking for in a character is extremely helpful. Luckily, the cleric class is built in a way that lets you do most things you could be planning on.
Looking for a weapons specialist that can stand like a tank amidst a horde of enemies?
Looking for a wise spellcaster who has an answer for every problem?
Maybe you’re interested in the classic healer that controls the battlefield while keeping their allies standing?
Well, if you’re looking to play those characters or just about any other archetype you can think of, this is the class to do it in.
Clerics Harness the Power of the Gods
This isn’t just “the healer class;” this is the class you choose if you want to play an adventurer that harnesses incredible power from the highest of sources.
In D&D, gods aren’t just cool stories with inspiring messages. Gods of a multitude of different pantheons exist, watching over the mortal realms from far-off planes and even intervening when necessary.
Gods are the supreme power in the multiverse, and clerics serve them.
Of course, that’s a bit of a limited definition. Not every devout person in the fantasy worlds we explore has the powers gifted to a cleric. No, clerics are chosen for a higher calling, a divine purpose.
You might not be playing “the chosen one,” but you are one of the chosen, and that means you can do things beyond the scope of what many could imagine.
There Are Many Gods To Serve
All classes have subclasses, a way to further customize your character and unlock special abilities. For clerics, these subclasses are called domains and are related to which god or gods you have devoted your services to.
Think of the Grecian gods. The vast pantheon of Olympus had dominion over everything from the seas to war, from love to death itself, and everything in between.
Having pulled a lot of inspiration from the many mythologies of our world, all of those pieces of existence you could imagine a god having influence over are represented in the clerics choices.
As of right now, clerics have the most subclasses from which to choose. At a whopping 14 domains, there are certainly many options for you to choose.
These just aren’t vague differences either. From one domain to the next you really get the feeling that you’re playing a significantly different character.
Gods Are Extremely Powerful
While being a cleric doesn’t make you into a god, it certainly allows you to use a fraction of their power. Because of this, clerics have a host of abilities that far surpass their capabilities as a caster or martial combatant.
There are many abilities out there with a lot of power behind them, but the cleric’s channel divinity easily brings some of the strongest options to the table.
Even the base class gets the ability to destroy undead — not killing them or reducing their hit points; we’re talking about instant destruction.
Then, as we look through the cleric spell lists we see more of this divine power.
Cleric-exclusive spells like Guiding Bolt, Conjure Celestial, and Spirit Guardians are the envy of other classes.
While the clerics might not have as many spells available to them as the wizard class, they see a finely tuned selection of powerful magic.
All together, the cleric class boasts a lot of variety without sacrificing power. As you’ll see when you read on, clerics are far more than just healers. Their god-given abilities allow them to be whatever they set out to be.
The Cleric’s Defining Features
Clerics are probably most known for their casting and their channel-divinity feature. On top of that, clerics can hold their own without even resorting to magic.
This class provides a really solid foundation to build a character out of, and the variety in subclasses uses that foundation to its fullest potential.
Clerics cast spells in a rather unique way. Sure, they use spell slots like most everyone else, but most classes also have to decide which spells to learn whenever they level up.
Instead, clerics can prepare any cleric spell at the start of a new day.
Choosing your spells is one of the hardest and most stressful things a caster will ever have to do because once you’ve made your decision, you’re locked in.
This ability to prepare from the entire list of over 100 spells means that you get to play around and decide which spells you like and which you’d rather ignore.
As a cleric, preparing spells actually feels like sitting down and preparing for the day.
You might not be anticipating combat for the day and choose some social spells. You might know exactly which monster you’ll be facing and choose the spells that are tailor-made to send it back to its maker.
The choice is yours – because you actually have a choice.
Each cleric subclass also brings you 10 domain-specific spells, two for each spell level up to 5th. These are spells you’ll always have prepared.
While some subclasses just let you use more of the same cleric spells, others bring some really amazing spells that you wouldn’t normally have access to.
Then we get into the cornerstone of a cleric’s abilities: Channel Divinity.
This ability has some serious range, but before we even look at that, we have to talk about what the main class does. Every cleric will have two channel divinity options, one from the main class and one from your subclass.
The option presented in the main class is the classic Turn Undead. This powerful ability can send undead running or even destroy them on the spot.
But would you believe me if I said that’s just the start?
Since you’re channeling the divine power of your god, each domain has a vastly different ability that they can use in place of turning undead.
From getting a huge bonus on your attack roll to dealing massive amounts of necrotic damage with a deathly touch, clerics can do a whole lot with their otherworldly power.
Clerics don’t suffer from the d6 hit die that wizards and sorcerers have, but they’re not working with a d12 either.
They sit where most classes do with a d8 hit die, meaning they’ll stay alive just about as long as a ranger, druid, or monk. Then you add in the fact that they can wear armor and use weapons, and we’re off to the races.
While the class as a whole isn’t designed to be a superior martial class, there are multiple subclasses that let you get close to that style of play with bonus proficiencies in heavy armor or martial weapons, sometimes even both.
From there it’s a simple jump into a few feats to really tailor your cleric into whatever playstyle you’re looking for.
Of course, that same concept can make you an even better spellcaster if you’re not into swinging weapons around.
Choosing the right subclass and the right feats allow you to take the base that this class provides and really do just about anything with it.
Now, you might be saying, “Couldn’t I do that with any class?” Sure, if you wanted to miss out on what your class has to offer.
With the exception of the Eldritch Knight subclass, you wouldn’t want to turn a fighter into a spellcaster because you lose the focus of what your class is meant to do.
You wouldn’t turn a druid into a martial class without a heavy focus on your wild shape or spells.
It’s true that most classes have variety, but that variety exists within the bounds set by the class features.
With a cleric, your class features open you up to variety. They don’t railroad you into a few paths of playstyles. Instead, they give you a sturdy class with some great spellcasting options and let you build it how you want it.
The Cleric’s Limitations
One of the biggest limitations of this class has less to do with the class itself and with the way it’s viewed.
People always want to think that clerics are the healer class and that their sole purpose is to support the party, and god forbid if they try to have fun on their own. After that, our only real problem is limited resources.
There’s a concept in D&D called “railroading.” Typically, it refers to a storyline that is extremely leading, where the DM offers only a single path for the characters to progress upon.
This idea of being trapped in a single story is something that often happens to clerics.
It’s often the assumption that having a cleric in your party means you’ve secured a healer. In some cases, that’s just straight up wrong because a cleric can still be whatever kind of character they want to be.
In other cases, the belief that a cleric is dedicated to healing can lead to people making extremely reckless decisions in and out of combat.
While D&D is largely a cooperative game, it should never fall on the shoulders of a single player to be the backup for poor planning.
Is this a limitation of the class itself? No, not really. It’s more of a gripe and something to be aware of when taking this class.
Some people absolutely love to be a constant source of healing; others want to do it only when necessary.
If you choose to play a cleric, it’s wise to discuss your intended playstyle with the group during a session zero or before you get into actually playing the game.
As far as class abilities go, channel divinity can be extremely powerful and versatile. Still, it is an extremely limited resource.
When you first get it, you have one use that you regain every time you take a short or long rest. This increases to two and eventually three, but most people don’t see 18th level, so we can call it at two uses for the average D&D player.
Two uses that you can regain on a short rest means four uses in one day. If this were something like wild shape, which lasts for several hours, it would feel nowhere near limited. Instead, most channel divinities are rather short lived.
The Turn Undead channel of the main class is a great example. It’s an instantaneous effect that lasts for a minute (or until the undead take damage) on whichever undead you’re able to deal with.
So, sure, it lasts for a whole combat, potentially splitting one combat up into two, but you only get to do that a few times.
Perhaps that’s a bad example because you get to just instantly destroy undead with it at a certain point – oh well.
Another example could be the War Domain’s features. Both of them give a single boost to an attack roll, either yours or an ally’s. The boost is substantial, a +10, but it only happens once each time you use it.
All in all, this is an interesting limitation for most of the cleric class.
Channel divinity is a feature unlike most out there. It is extremely powerful and extremely limited, rather than powerful and somewhat limited or decently strong and abundant.
It doesn’t limit you in terms of capability, but it means that you’ll have to make some rather tough decisions.
The Cleric’s Role Within the Party
Clerics are amazing healers, the best in the game by far, but that’s not all they can do.
The subclasses and spells available to this class allow it to fill support and divination roles incredibly well and even become a formidable martial combatant.
If we look at all of the spells in the cleric’s magical arsenal, we can see that about 15% of them are healing spells.
We also can see that they have access to just about every published healing spell in 5e. That distinction is what sets them apart from the rest.
Druids and bards can make good healers, and paladins have a whole feature centered around it, but clerics have the ability to completely dedicate their prepared spells to healing and buffing their allies if that’s the sort of playstyle they’re looking for.
Since channel divinity is such a big part of each subclass, that’s one of the first places we look to see what kind of a role each subclass can effectively play.
Of course, there are also several other features that come from each subclass, often including bonus proficiencies.
This is why your subclass has such a large part in which role you’ll actually play.
The tempest, war, and death domains are all excellent for being a destructive force and bringing righteous reckoning upon your enemies. War clerics even get proficiency in both martial weapons and heavy armor.
How To Roleplay a Cleric
One of my favorite pieces of the cleric class is the diversity it allows you to explore in a roleplay setting.
Forget about all the abilities and amazing things you can do for a second, and recognize that you can worship just about any god that you can imagine.
With a class focused on piety, your roleplay really comes down to what doctrine you’ve been taught.
There’s certainly the common picture of a cleric that worships an exceptionally good god focused on good will for all, life, and that sort of thing. That’s an option, but that’s just one option.
There are quite a few published gods for each domain, and not each of them have the same motivations and philosophies.
While domains describe a general concept or category, each god has their own unique portfolio or things that they rule over.
Take the forge domain as an example. Moradin is one of my favorite options for this dwarven-centered domain since he is literally the creator god of the dwarves.
As such, Moradin’s portfolio is quite large, but it’s mainly focused on creation, protection, and dwarves. He generally encourages innovation, pride in battle, kindness toward good races, and strength.
Another forge deity, Gond, is much more focused on inventiveness, sometimes even to a dangerous extent.
Rather than striving for balance and a myriad of other principles, Gond’s followers seek to invent with a fervor that knows no bounds. Burning inside of their hearts is the passionate fire of the forge.
Where the choice of domain will impact your role within the party, the further choice of which god you choose will impact how your character comes to life.
I’m playing a character right now who worships a god I created named Staatra, our Lady of the Burning Fields. The concept is a god of true balance, and as such, my character gets to explore the spectrum between good and evil.
Rather than seeing things in black and white, I’m able to have a character that weighs their decisions carefully and thoughtfully.
This is the value of coming up with your own deity, which most DMs will be delighted to include in their worlds. However, you can still get this tailor-made feeling with existing 5e gods.
Remember, everyone’s interpretation of a deity’s goals can be different, and you get to choose which lessons your character takes heed in.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice but are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your character.
The Cleric Class Progression
Hit Dice: 1d8 per cleric level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + Con modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + Con modifier per cleric level
A d8 is the most common hit dice, so clerics are neither incredibly weak nor incredibly strong. They fit nicely into the average amount of health and will survive just about as long as anyone else.
Armor: Light Armor, Medium Armor, Shields
Clerics have a lot of options for defense. The only thing they’re missing here is heavy armor, and there are a few subclasses that come with a bonus proficiency so you can pick that up.
Essentially, you can be as armored as you want to be, and if you want to build a tank with heavy armor and a shield, that is definitely an option.
A high AC means that clerics can focus on their concentration spells with ease since it will be hard to actually hit them.
Weapons: All simple Weapons
Clerics don’t need weapons to be efficient characters. Still, they have access to enough weapons to be a formidable opponent without even touching a spell slot.
Again, if you want proficiency in martial weapons to become an even deadlier weapons specialist, there’s a domain for you.
Tools aren’t an essential part of D&D, but if you want to use them for crafting or any sort of exploration, you can pick up proficiencies through your background.
If you do try to pick some up, proficiency with the Herbalist Kit is an excellent choice as it allows you to craft healing potions.
Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma
Proficiency in these two saves is incredible, protecting the cleric from controlling spells and others that might target your mental faculties.
If we want to pick up another saving throw along the way, constitution is never a bad choice for casters since it will make us better at concentration saves.
Skills: Two from History, Insight, Medicine, Persuasion, and Religion
Skills are a variable part of the game; their frequency of usage is highly dependent on a DM’s style of play.
The cleric’s options give them the ability to build just about any character with a knack for assessing their surroundings.
Medicine checks are also one of the few skills used in combat, as you might use a medicine check to stabilize your allies when they drop to 0 HP.
You start with the following equipment in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a mace or (b) a warhammer (if proficient)
- (a) scale mail, (b) leather armor, or (c) chain mail (if proficient)
- (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) any simple weapon
- (a) a priest’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
- A shield and a holy symbol
One of the really cool things about the cleric class is that they get to choose their subclass at 1st level. This is why an option for both martial weapons and heavy armor are included in the possible starting equipment.
Clearly, if you have the proficiency in a stronger weapon or armor, that’s the option you should go for, but nothing here is a bad choice.
As for the packs, both are good options, but if you want to roleplay a more priestly figure, the priest’s pack includes alms, incense, and vestments that you might use for some forms of rituals.
Also, you automatically get a shield as part of this class. It makes a strong case for you to actually use it, but you can choose to ignore it if you want more free hands.
Spellcasting can often feel overwhelming, but this short guide should make it extremely simple to understand.
Clerics use wisdom for their spellcasting. This means that they add their wisdom modifier and proficiency bonus to their spell-attack rolls, and the DC for any saving throws their spells require is 8 + Wis modifier + proficiency bonus.
If you’re confused by what that means, don’t worry, we’re going to explain it all below.
To start off, there are essentially three types of spells you’ll cast.
- Cantrips – Cantrips are like 0th-level spells. These can be cast at any time. You start off knowing three cantrips, learning a fourth at 4th-level and a fifth at 10th level.
Clerics don’t have a huge selection of cantrips, but it’s a good idea.
- Spells of 1st-level and higher – Leveled spells actually require you using a spell slot to cast them. The cleric table above shows you how many slots you have at each level. You gain back all spell slots that you used whenever you finish a long rest.
There are nine levels of spell slots that you’ll unlock access to as you level up.
For example, as a level five cleric, you will have access to four 1st-level spell slots, three 2nd-level spell slots, and two 3rd-level spell slots.
- Ritual Spells – Some spells of 1st level and higher will have a ritual tag on them. This means that you can cast them without using a spell slot, it just takes 10 extra minutes to do so.
Next up, let’s familiarize you with the anatomy of a spell.
- Level – The level of spell slot needed to cast this spell. Again, cantrips don’t use slots.
- Duration – The duration of a spell varies, but there are some consistent keywords you’ll often see in this area of a spell’s description.
- Instantaneous spells happen immediately after you cast them.
- 1 Minute is the length of a typical combat encounter.
- Concentration is a mechanic in spellcasting that means a spell requires your focus. If you lose concentration, the spell ends.
You can only focus on one concentration spell at a time, although you may cast other non-concentration spells with no penalty.
You will need to make a constitution saving throw to hold concentration if you take damage. The DC for this save is 10 or half the damage you took, whichever is greater.
If you are incapacitated or killed, you lose concentration.
- Casting Time – This is how long it takes to cast a spell. In combat you can cast spells that have a casting time of action, bonus action, or reaction. Typically, you can only cast two spells on your turn if one is on a bonus action and the other is a cantrip that takes an action to cast.
Unless you have access to extra actions, you won’t be able to cast two leveled spells in a single turn
- School – The school of a spell doesn’t matter much to a cleric, but it can inform you as to the basics of what the spell is going to do.
- Range/Area – How much space the spell covers.
- Attack/Save – Spells that affect others may require you to make an attack roll, or they may require the target(s) to make a saving throw.
- Components – Spells can require verbal, somatic (gestures), and/or material components. Material components that don’t have an indicated cost can be supplemented with your holy symbol, which is your spellcasting focus.
- Damage/Effect – If you’re scrolling through DNDBeyond.com, you will see this helpful little guide that gives you the basics of the spell.
- Spell Text – The actual text of the spell tells you everything you need to know about how it works. Some spells are complicated (and we’ve got plenty of guides to make them less so), but most are fairly straightforward once you understand the rest.
That’s how spells work! Now let’s talk about how you as a cleric actually use your spells.
Clerics cast spells as normal, but they prepare their spells differently from most classes.
If you don’t take this class, you’ll end up learning new spells as you level up. Then you would prepare spells each day from the list of known spells you’ve accumulated.
Clerics get to prepare a set of spells from the entirety of the cleric spell list at the start of each day, opening up the option to test out all of the spells available to you and the ability to prepare for each unique situation you might face.
You prepare a number of spells equal to your wisdom modifier + your cleric level, and they must be of a level that you have spell slots for.
This makes for a very linear progression as far as how many spells you’ll have ready to go each day.
Whenever you can increase your wisdom modifier, you should as it impacts just about every aspect of your spellcasting and will allow you to carry more spells in your mind.
Each domain also offers up a list of spells that you always have prepared. These don’t count against your list of prepared spells, so when you reach 9th level, you’ll have an additional 10 spells prepared each day.
That’s that. See, spellcasting isn’t as hard as they make it out to be. As a cleric, you don’t even have to worry about choosing the “wrong” spells.
Each day you’ll get to test things out and figure out what you enjoy and what works for your playstyle.
Channel divinity is a great ability. We’ve already addressed the limitations of it, but all great abilities need limitations so they don’t become overpowered.
The strength of this ability really lies in its versatility with each subclass offering up one or two domain-specific options on top of Turn Undead.
Turn Undead itself allows you to force any undead within 30 feet of you to make a wisdom saving throw. On a failed save they are turned, which means they must continuously attempt to run away from you.
This is a great ability if you’re dealing with a lot of undead in your campaign. Otherwise, it will come up when it does, and you’ll have more uses of channel divinity to pour into your domain’s version.
This feature isn’t spectacular, but it’s functional. It’s an upgraded version of Turn Undead, allowing you to instead destroy any undead underneath a certain CR threshold (specified in the table above).
The problem with this is that the CR progression is remarkably low for the levels you’re at. These creatures could just as easily be destroyed via other means.
Of course, it helps to get rid of minions in a quick and easy fashion, and that’s clearly the purpose of this feature.
With this feature you can pray to your god for divine intervention, which can take a lot of different forms. The feature states that “the effect of any cleric spell or cleric domain spell would be appropriate.”
That means you can surpass your current capabilities with a prayer, which takes an action.
The downside of this ability is that it has between a 9% and 19% chance of success. When you attempt to call for divine intervention, you must roll a percentile die.
If the result is equal to or lower than your cleric level, it succeeds. Otherwise, you can try again later.
When you do succeed, you can’t use this ability again for a week (7 days), so be sure to choose your interventions carefully. The power of a god is nothing to scoff at after all.
Now, cleric’s don’t have access to wish, but it’s not insane to include that in the capabilities of this spell, and, in fact, most DMs will (depending on the deity of course).
Certainly, once you have access to 9th-level spells, this should be able to do more than what you have the power to do.
The Variant Features
Harness Divine Power
This is an optional channel-divinity option available to the cleric class. The feature allows you to spend a use of channel divinity to recover a spell slot of a level no higher than half your proficiency bonus (rounded up).
Generally, your subclass’s channel divinities are going to be much stronger than a single spell slot, and proficiency bonuses don’t really get high enough to change that.
Still, an extra spell slot can help you out in a pinch. It’s just a bummer that this maxes out at 3rd-level spells.
At ASI Levels (4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 18th)
Whenever you reach a level that provides you with an ASI, you can choose to switch out a cantrip you know for another cantrip in the cleric’s spell list.
Since cantrips are the only thing you can’t freely change out at the end of a long rest, this makes for a refreshing change of pace.
At 8th level, each subclass offers either Divine Strikes or Potent Spellcasting. These features allow you to deal extra damage with either your weapon attacks or spell attacks.
This replacement feature allows you to get that bonus for both weapon and spell attacks, although the extra damage changes to radiant.
For most subclasses, this just means more versatility in when you can deal extra damage. For a select few, this also puts an extra damage type in your roster (i.e., the tempest domain’s divine strikes deal thunder damage).
Creating a Cleric: Step-by-Step
Now that you know just about all there is to know about the cleric class, it’s time to learn how to build one.
This section goes over all of the choices you’ll have in the character-creation process along with some choices you’ll make as you progress in your build.
The options that we present here are generalized options. While they are definitely useful, certain subclasses may call for a different approach.
In our subclass guides, we get a lot more specific with how to fine-tune the builds from this process.
Wisdom is definitely the most important ability for any cleric as it dictates every piece of your spellcasting. After that, we want to look at what kind of build we’re going for.
Your secondary ability score is going to be dependent on how you build your character.
Spellcasters will likely want to put their constitution up high so that they can make a lot of concentration saves while also amassing a decent amount of hit points.
Those who want their clerics to be martial combatants will want to consider strength as their second-highest ability score. In some builds, you might even choose dexterity for a solid AC and dexterity-based weapons.
Because there are many ways to build a cleric, there are many ways that you can put your cleric together.
Tier II: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity
Tier III: Charisma
Dump Tier: Intelligence
Strength: Clerics focused on melee combat, like the war or tempest domains, will want to have a healthy strength score. This should never pass your wisdom score, but it can come close if your build requires it.
Dexterity: Dexterity gets into tier 2 for many of the same reasons strength does. The big difference is that dexterity can also benefit your AC.
Having a high AC means that you’ll be taking less hits, and that can also help avoid concentration saves.
Heavy-armored clerics won’t want to go with this option, but a medium-armored cleric with dexterity-based weapons can be a formidable character.
Constitution: Constitution is important to any character, so you should never let it slip below 12. Having it higher means that you’ll get more HP and you’ll be better at making those pesky concentration saving throws.
Intelligence: Intelligence isn’t important for clerics. There is certainly a case to be made for its impact on skill checks, but nothing in the cleric class actually calls for a high intelligence score. This is your dump stat.
Wisdom: Wisdom is what we use to cast our spells. Enough said.
Charisma: Now, charisma could easily be as much of a dump stat as intelligence is, but social interaction is an entire pillar of 5e D&D.
This doesn’t have to be a high score by any means, but if you have a choice between a 10 and an 8 for your last two scores, charisma shouldn’t be the ability receiving a negative modifier.
Picking your raise should primarily be about playing the race that you think is the coolest.
While that’s great in concept and nothing should hold you back from playing any sort of cleric you want, there are some benefits from picking a “good” cleric race.
Races give out ability score bonuses and abilities, so when we find a race that has the right bonuses for us and abilities that compliment our character, we jump on it.
We’re looking for a good boost to wisdom and then secondary ability we choose. It’s also nice when we can find healing features or other racial traits that align with the type of cleric we want to play.
Custom Lineages and 5.5e
It’s worth noting that if you like the aesthetics and roleplaying elements of a particular race but their abilities don’t fit a fighter, you can recreate them using the custom lineage options available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Also, the way that D&D 5e handles races and innate bonuses (or penalties) is set to change pretty dramatically over the next few years with the coming “Next Evolution of D&D” looking like it might do away with inherent ability score bonuses altogether, meaning you can play whichever race you want in whatever class and still have it be “optimal.”
With a +2 to wisdom and a +1 to strength, firbolgs make an excellent choice for melee clerics. They come with the ability to become invisible for a single turn and two spells, Detect Magic and Disguise Self.
The large elephantoid people make for an excellent cleric class.
Their +2 bonus to constitution and +1 bonus to wisdom set you up for a build centered on spellcasting, and they also have advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened.
If that wasn’t enough, they also have natural armor that gives you an AC of 12 + your constitution modifier when not wearing armor.
This extra incentive to give yourself a high constitution score will make you not just hardy but hard to hit. You could easily make a tank with this race.
The elven race in general offers up some great abilities for spellcasters, like advantage on saving throws against being charmed and protection from magical sleep.
Wood elves add a +1 wisdom bonus to the elven +2 in dexterity, which sets this subrace up nicely as a cleric (or druid).
The big draw of the wood elf is their increased movement speed of 35 feet. A nimble cleric can stay away from danger and support their allies without having to worry about taking hits.
A +2 in constitution and a +1 in wisdom is pretty good for a cleric, but there aren’t a lot of other things that aid in spellcasting.
What makes this class great is its weapon proficiencies, increase to HP maximum, and resistance to poison damage.
This race also gets a special mention because it’s probably the only race you’d want to take for a forge-domain cleric, which is a dwarf-exclusive subclass.
Since the forge domain is definitely one of the best subclasses, it would be insane of me to not mention the hill dwarves in this list.
Skills and Languages
Languages don’t have a huge impact on most D&D games. You’ll automatically know common and your race’s language, and if you get to pick another, it might make sense to pick up a language with ties to your religion.
Skills, on the other hand, are really important to a good game. Having proficiencies in good skills will greatly increase your odds of succeeding in various tasks throughout the campaign.
Of course, there are no right or wrong skills. Build the character you want to build, and you’ll have chosen the right skills for you.
The options a cleric has when picking their skill proficiencies are all useful. You have the choice of two from the following options.
Medicine can be used to stabilize an ally that has been reduced to 0 hit points, while Insight will allow you to understand the motivations of characters you come into contact with.
Both History and Religion can be used to learn or recall information, while Persuasion is useful for a myriad of social interactions.
Your background can give you skill, tool, and language proficiencies along with some useful abilities for survival in the world.
More than anything though, these give you a basis for what your character was doing before they became an adventurer. Often this is a great place to start if you’re struggling to pull together a backstory.
There are definitely no “right” backgrounds. They have little to no impact on your actual build. Still, here are some options that I think work well for the cleric class in terms of storytelling potential.
You’ve spent your life in service of a temple or other place of worship. The story of a character that has been devoted to their god since childhood works excellently and can go in a few ways.
A basic acolyte can be extremely knowledgeable about their god and religion, but they might know very little about the real world.
To prove your devotion, you have been sent on a mission to spread your ideology. You may be surprised by all of the new ways of thinking you come across as you travel.
Other acolytes might be more versed in the world. Your reason for leaving the temple can be more focused on recovering a lost artifact or making a pilgrimage to a holy site.
Your god guides you, but you are fascinated by other cultures and religions, seeing them as part of a greater whole.
Harbolfolk, Guild Artisan, Sailor, Soldier, etc.
Rather than a specific background, I want to focus on a concept. Not all devout people live their lives centered around their faith. Rather, this sort of background calls to mind the concept of a patron deity.
You might worship the patron deity of fishing, warriors, sailors, or whatever your profession was. You could’ve even done so in passing, casually paying tribute to your deity for good fortune.
One day you might’ve accidentally cast a spell or channeled the divine and realized that for some reason you’d been chosen as a cleric of your god.
How you play this concept is up to you. You can be reluctant, merely wishing to find answers so that you can be rid of the powers. You can be ecstatic, using this as a reason to move onto something larger than yourself and your job.
There are so many ways to go with this, but regardless, it’s a really fun concept.
At certain levels you have the ability to either take ASIs (ability score increases) or a feat. Feats are special abilities that represent a focused training or special ability that you’ve learned.
While ASIs are important to making you more powerful, the right choice of feats can really add to a build and make it customized just for you.
Naturally, feats are going to become more obvious when you decide how you want to build your cleric, but here are some feats that are just generally good for clerics of any domain.
This feat is almost essential for any cleric that wants to effectively use a shield and/or a weapon while also casting their spells. It allows you to do so without having to worry about somatic components for spells.
It also gives you advantage on concentration saves you have to make when you take damage, and it gives you the ability to cast spells when you have the ability to make an opportunity attack.
These abilities are all so key to making a smoothly functioning cleric that wants to be able to balance the two parts of their build – the warrior and the caster.
This feat increases your HP maximum by twice your level. No matter what level you are when you take this feat, this will be helpful.
Any sort of cleric can benefit from a hardy resolve, and not having to cast healing spells on yourself means there’s one less person to worry about when things get dicey.
Multiclassing is an option that allows you to take levels in a different class than the one you started out with, creating a more unique build.
I’ve included one option for multiclassing a cleric to give you an idea of what to look for if you decide at any point that you might be interested in diversifying your character.
Circle of the Shepherd Druid – 2 Levels
Druid and cleric complement each other well, as they are both wisdom-based casters with the ability to get into some martial combat when necessary.
Two levels gets you into a subclass and gets you access to wild shape, which you can use to basically give yourself some temporary hit points while you focus on a concentration spell.
This also means getting access to an excellent cantrip, Shillelagh. This spell lets you turn a normal quarterstaff into a magical weapon with which you can use wisdom for your attack and damage rolls.
As for the subclass, this circle gives you a different option for your wild shape, one that you can use to provide buffs to your allies.
The Spirit Totem feature lets you either give temporary hit points or advantage on attack rolls to your allies or improves your healing by letting your spells heal all of your allies within a certain radius.
Choosing your subclass is the pinnacle of the creation process for clerics. Since you get to choose it at 1st level, you’ll immediately start to see benefits from the domain you choose.
This will impact the spells you’re able to cast, your channel divinity, and quite a few other features as you level up.
We go further in depth on all of these in our subclass guides, so for now we’re just going to give you a brief synopsis of the themes for each domain.
If you like the sound of one, be sure to check out its guide to learn more and to fine tune your build.
The arcana domain strives to be a more spell-focused subclass than any other domain. Realistically, it gives you a few solid domain spells and then lets you add wizard spells.
The main thing keeping this from being in a higher tier is that its channel-divinity option feels really out of place, allowing you to turn more creature types than just undead instead of focusing on that spellcasting in some way.
A death domain cleric has a bit of a necromancer feel but mainly allows you to deal extra necrotic damage to your foes. You also get a necromancy cantrip from any spell list, which is nice but not enough to make this subclass great.
The biggest problem is that instead of striking a balance between weapon and spell combat, this subclass feels like it’s constantly pulling you between the two options.
One of the best domains and coincidentally my favorite, this subclass puts the fire of the forge in your hands. Excellent spells and heavy armor put you in a position to take a lot of hits while dishing out some serious damage.
You also get to improve your armor or weapons as soon as 1st level and get fire resistance and more bonus to AC later on down the road.
Rather than focusing on death, grave clerics are focused on getting people to death in an expedited fashion while also keeping your allies from reaching an untimely grave.
Your channel divinity marks a target for death, making the next attack deal a whole lot of damage.
On the other hand, you get a lot of healing spells and abilities that allow you to sit back and protect your allies when you’re not being an ambitious undertaker.
This divination cleric has very few abilities or domain spells that actually help in combat, but that doesn’t make it a bad class.
If you’re content with the normal cleric spells and abilities, this is a really nice subclass to build a character that focuses on what’s going on outside of combat.
This is the stereotypical cleric. Donning heavy armor and holding the line while you continue to heal your allies is made easy by the spells and abilities of this subclass, almost all of which reinforce your actual healing.
This is a simple, sturdy, and powerful cleric that is great for beginners and excellent at doing its one job.
If you can picture light doing something, this subclass probably does it. This is a great, versatile class that deals damage (mainly fire and radiant), blinds opponents, banishes darkness, and all around supports lofty ideas of goodness.
May the light of Pelor guide you as you figure out what kind of character you want to play with this domain since you’ll still feel like you have as much variety as a cleric without a domain.
This subclass really doesn’t need to exist. It’s essentially trying to be a druid without taking the extra step.
Cantrips and a domain spell list ripped from the druid class go nicely with elemental-focused abilities and the ability to charm beasts and plants.
Rather than take this class, go enjoy a nice walk in nature and then come back and build a druid or at very least a cleric that multiclasses into druid.
This domain’s idea of order is control, and I am totally here for it. Just about every domain spell and feature is focused on battlefield control in one way or another.
Whether you’re charming someone or straight up dominating the will of an individual, you’ll be sure to enjoy turning your DM’s encounter into an elaborate puppet show.
This subclass may support peace, but they’re certainly not pacificts. Their spells and abilities make for an excellent support character.
With your channel divinity, you can give your allies a boost to attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws or dish out some temporary hit points. Everything else you get compliments these abilities beautifully.
This domain strikes an amazing balance between casting spells and dishing out melee damage.
With heavy armor, martial weapons, and some killer storm-themed spells all in your arsenal, you’re a force of nature to be reckoned with.
And that’s before we get into the channel divinity, which lets you deal maximum lightning or thunder damage.
This subclass shifts between control and illusions in a very graceful dance. The channel divinity of this domain is amazing, allowing you to create an illusory double of yourself that can last for an entire combat.
You can even cast spells from its location – useful if you’re healing, dealing damage, or doing anything in between.
Another subclass that offers both heavy armor and martial weapons proficiencies. This is an amazing subclass that guides others through the darkness.
You’ll function well in a support role with the ability to dish out temporary hit points or remove status conditions. Of course, you can also just dish out a lot of damage and use your spells to control the battlefield.
Oh, and did I mention you can fly?
Now, we’ve seen that martial weapons and heavy armor proficiencies are great, but that’s when they compliment other spectacular abilities. This domain makes no attempt to do anything other than attack and attack well.
For what it’s worth, this is a decent class. It’s great for beginners who are worried about balancing a lot of abilities because it has very few of note.
Cleric Quickstart Guides
Here are a few sample builds to help you brainstorm what sort of character you might want to play.
The stereotypical cleric doing what it does best.
- Class/Subclass: Life Cleric 20
- Race: Loxodon
- Skills: Medicine, Religion
- Background: Acolyte
- Feats: Durable, Tough
- Cantrips: Resistance, Spare the Dying, Word of Radiance
- 1st Level: Cure Wounds, Healing Word, Guiding Bolt
- 2nd Level: Lesser Restoration, Warding Bond
Born on the high seas, yours is the rage of the storm. Your god saw that you conquered every wave, every hurricane, every impossible journey sent your way and so sent you to spread their fury.
- Class/Subclass: Tempest Cleric 20
- Race: Wood Elf
- Skills: Insight, Persuasion
- Background: Sailor
- Feats: War Caster, Fighting Initiate
- Cantrips: Toll the Dead, Guidance
- 1st Level: Inflict Wounds, Healing Word
- 2nd Level: Spiritual Weapon, Hold Person
“Nothing but a simple craftsman paying homage to Moradin.” Or so you say at least. The truth is there’s more to you. You’ve been chosen for more. You’ve been chosen as a protector of your people.
Your mission is to forge more than just an armory now. You must forge alliances and conquer an unstoppable evil.
- Class/Subclass: Forge Cleric 20
- Race: Hill Dwarf
- Skills: Insight, History
- Background: Guild Artisan
- Feats: War Caster, Tavern Brawler
- Cantrips: Mending, Sacred Flame
- 1st Level: Detect Magic, Sanctuary, Shield of Faith
- 2nd Level: Continual Flame, Spiritual Weapon
The Shepherd of Peace
Leading others to a more peaceful way of life has been your mission since you could walk. Now you teach others to walk in your path, protecting them from harm when you can.
- Class/Subclass: Peace Cleric 18 / Circle of Shepherds Druid 2
- Race: Wood Elf
- Skills: Religion, Persuasion
- Background: Acolyte
- Feats: Inspiring Leader, Observant
- Cantrips: Guidance, Resistance, Spare the Dying
- 1st Level: Cure Wounds, Detect Evil and Good
- 2nd Level: Prayer of Healing, Silence
So there you have it, the cleric race in its entirety. I wish you luck in your pious journey, and as always, happy adventuring.