As a cleric, you’re not always going to be focused on dealing out massive sums of damage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. While this class of adventurers might be devoted to their god, there’s nothing saying that you have to be some holy healer.
So, this article is dedicated to those whose divine purpose is more aligned with the crusader mentality than the caring priest vibe.
Today, we’re going to be talking about a cleric exclusive cantrip that can make you as much of a threat as a warlock gunslinging their Eldritch Blast.
Grab your holy symbol, and say a quick prayer; it’s time to cast Word of Radiance.
Word of Radiance
- Casting Action: 1 action
- Range: 5-ft radius
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Evocation
- Class: Cleric
- Level: Cantrip
- Damage/Effect: Radiant
- Attack/Save: Con Save, 1d6
- Components: V, M (a holy symbol)
You utter a divine word, and burning radiance erupts from you. Each creature of your choice that you can see within range must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 1d6 radiant damage.
At Higher Levels. This spell’s damage increases by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).
What Is Word of Radiance?
Word of Radiance is a great cantrip for clerics that are looking to dish out some radiant damage that’s also… radiant damage. That is, this spell forces creatures within a 5-foot radius of you to make a constitution-saving throw and take radiant damage on a failed save.
As a cantrip, this is a spell that you will always have access to. Since spell slots are a valuable resource, especially at earlier levels, having a consistent way to deal damage is incredibly important to any character.
Dealing 1d6 of damage means this is similar to carrying around a mace or shortsword.
Of course, this is a spell, so obviously it’s going to be a lot cooler to have on hand than some crude weapon. You are imbued with divine power after all.
A really important piece of this spell is that you’re not just dealing damage to everything around you. You get to choose your targets, which means your nearby allies will be safe.
Compare this with a spell like Sword Burst that indiscriminately throws magical swords at people, and we start to have some appreciation for radiance.
While this spell is damage dealing, it isn’t an attack spell. An attack spell would be something like Eldritch Blast that requires you to make an attack roll. Instead, the creatures you target will have to make a constitution-saving throw.
This definitely has its pros and cons. Saving throws are great if you suck at rolling dice, like me. They force the DM to make the rolls for the creature; then you just hope that they roll lower than your DC.
Also, it’s statistically more likely for something to fail your save than it is for you to hit above their AC. That’s really complicated though, so I’ll avoid math in this article.
Basically, if your DC is 16, there’s a 3 in 4 chance that they fail and a 1 in 4 chance that they save. This doesn’t account for bonuses, but yours get better at roughly the same rate as your enemies.
The downside of saving-throw-based spells is that you can never deal critical damage since you can never roll a 20.
This makes attack-roll spells a lot more favored in the eyes of players looking to deal a lot of damage, but I would remind you that critical hits are very rare and not something you should count on.
Now, I have seen some DMs adopt a critical-fail rule for saving throws, which I think is an excellent option, but that isn’t RAW.
This optional rule treats a roll of 1 on a saving throw in the same way you would treat a 20 on an attack roll. The creature rolls a 1 on their save, and now you’re dealing critical damage with your word of radiance.
Beyond this spell being a saving-throw-based spell, it requires a constitution save.
Constitution saving throws are extremely common to see in spells, and also the least effective saving throws against monsters.
Creatures tend to have a decent constitution score, and that only gets better as you face stronger creatures that want to stay alive longer.
Especially when facing spellcasters who are prepared to make concentration save after concentration save, you’re just not as likely to succeed in dealing that damage.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule though. I’m considering averages here, and there are certainly plenty of creatures with garbage constitution scores that this will work excellently on.
You shouldn’t necessarily avoid this spell based on this information, but if you notice in an encounter that the creatures keep successfully saving, you might want to switch up your tactics.
When To Cast Word of Radiance
Spells that deal damage to multiple targets are great in any game. D&D is no exception to this rule. Since you get to choose the targets within your 5-foot radius, this spell is a great choice whenever you’re in a crowd.
This spell is honestly a huge relief. Most AOE spells deal their damage with no concern for your allies. Anything in the blast zone is fair game, and you typically just have to hope that your allies are prepared to make a saving throw or take some damage.
As a cleric, you care about the survival of your party. Maybe it’s because they see you as their healer; maybe it’s because you take pity on their souls and don’t think they’re going to the afterlife they’re hoping for.
Either way, you don’t want to hurt them. They’re more useful to your cause if they’re alive.
This makes this spell an excellent option for clerics that are up in the fray, since it is centered on yourself. Luckily, you also don’t have to worry about dealing damage to more enemies than allies.
If you’re surrounded by four allies and two enemies, feel free to cast this spell.
So, with friendly fire turned off, we’re in the running to use this spell every single turn of combat, right? Well, not exactly.
You do have some spell slots after all. I won’t assume that your build is based around this spell, but there are some things we can expect you to have at early levels.
For starters, the spell Bane is going to help you out a lot with making your word of radiance more effective.
This 1st-level concentration spell forces up to three creatures to subtract a d4 from their saving-throw rolls for the duration of the spell. It itself relies on a charisma-saving throw, but those are much more effective when we look at the averages.
We end up with a nice little combo here where we weaken our targets before actually using our word of radiance.
That d4 might not seem like a lot, but especially at lower levels when a creature’s bonus to save is 4 or lower, it’s going to be a huge benefit to you.
Who Should Take Word of Radiance?
Considering that this spell is only available to the cleric class, I’m going to have to say clerics. Specifically, this spell works great with clerics that are focused on keeping their allies safe and out of harm’s way.
First off, damage-dealing cantrips are good for clerics that don’t already rely pretty heavily on their weapons.
You can still use this spell even if you are the kind of cleric to run into battle with your sword drawn. In those scenarios though, you’ll probably be more reliant on spells that make your weapons more powerful.
That brings us to talking about the other cleric cantrips. This spell is one of only three damage-dealing cantrips available to the cleric class, alongside Toll the Dead and Sacred Flame. All three of these spells rely on saving throws, but each works a little differently.
Toll the dead is based on a wisdom-saving throw and can deal either 1d8 or 1d12 damage to a single target. Sacred flame works on a dexterity save and deals 1d8 radiant to a single target.
This makes word of radiance the only cleric cantrip that deals damage to multiple targets.
Sure, it might be a bit of a gamble, but if you want to deal with more than just one opponent at a time without relying on higher-level spell slots, this is your best and only choice as a cleric.
Clerics don’t have to deal damage though. There are some incredibly viable builds that only deal damage on rare occasions with larger spells.
That kind of build doesn’t need word of radiance or any other cantrip to make it functional. They are powerful because they make their allies stronger and their enemies weaker.
Best Word of Radiance Builds
Interestingly, the subclass you take doesn’t have much of an impact on how good this spell is going to be. The most important thing is that you take the variant Blessed Strikes feature at level 8 so your cantrips can deal an extra 1d8 of damage.
If your DM has outlawed variant features, you’ll just want to take any of the domains that give you Potent Spellcasting, which will let you add your proficiency bonus.
This should be just as good, letting you add what is essentially the average roll of 1d8.
After that, we tend to look for abilities that compliment our spells, but there isn’t really a lot that make your enemies worse at saving throws or that make your spells stronger in any way.
We have to think a bit outside of the box, and the next way we can make this spell better is by playing a character that can be where they need to be on the battlefield.
The peace cleric makes a surprisingly good candidate with their channel divinity. Their Balm of Peace allows them to move up to their movement speed without provoking opportunity attacks, healing their allies as they move.
Do this, and you can get right up to the area with the most enemies, healing your allies on the way, and then let loose some radiant damage.
Another great subclass is the trickery domain. They function like an echo knight fighter, making an illusory copy of themselves that they can move around and cast spells from.
Now you have a fun way to get next to a bunch of enemies without actually getting next to a bunch of enemies. You have created a radiant-damage bomb.
On top of this build, you’ll probably want to take the War Caster feat. This feat allows you to cast spells as an opportunity attack. However, there is one caveat.
You have to only target one creature with it. Still works amazingly, but this is more of just a generally good feat to have than it is a word-of-radiance feat.
Wrapping It Up
All in all, this is a great spell. It’s by no means the strongest cantrip out there, but it’s a cantrip that’s going to let clerics consistently deal damage.
If your goal is to be a spell slinger, cleric really isn’t the class for you, even if you pick the arcane domain. But, this spell will at least make you feel like a formidable mage at even early levels.
I hope you enjoy bursting out radiant damage in your next cleric build. As always, happy adventuring.
Common Questions About Word of Radiance
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When I’m not writing about RPGs, I’m playing Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, X-Wing miniatures, and many other lovingly-crafted tabletop games with the people I love.