Welcome to our guide to cleric cantrips in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, where we’re going to break down all the options available to this class.
Cleric cantrips are remarkably powerful, especially against the undead, and the nine options available to clerics can provide a great mixture of offensive, defensive, and utility magic.
Nevertheless, your supply of cantrips is limited, and considering the fact you’ll probably be casting them all the time, choosing the right cantrips for your character and style of play is hugely important — especially for a cleric.
How Does Cleric Magic Work?
Clerics are some of the most powerful spellcasters in all of Dungeons & Dragons 5e, able to call upon the power of their gods to rain fire down upon their enemies, heal the dying, resurrect the dead, and alter the fabric of reality almost as much as wizards.
Clerics approach magic differently than arcane casters like wizards, warlocks (okay, Pact Magic isn’t technically arcane magic, but I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to be, and it sure as hell doesn’t work like divine spellcasting), sorcerers, and bards.
Instead of carrying around all their spells in a book or memorizing a short list, clerics can repeatedly switch out their spells by praying to their patron deity for new ones each long rest.
This is more or less how — other than healing spells — magic users and clerics have been differentiated since the first edition of D&D.
Magic users get a huge spell list but can only choose from what’s in their spellbook; clerics have a smaller spell list but have access to all of it right from the start and can switch out spells as and when they need.
Of course, there’s an exception.
When you create a cleric, you choose three cantrips from the cleric spell list — in addition to whatever 1st-level spells you want from your god/goddess that day.
Now, if you get to the end of that day and realize that maybe picking up Detect Good and Evil and Purify Food and Drink instead of any healing abilities was a bad idea, no problem.
But, if you picked out three bad cantrips, you’re stuck.
Not only can clerics not switch out their cantrips when they change up their prepared spells (to be fair, no class can do this), but they also can’t be replaced in between levels like some other classes.
The cantrips you choose at 1st level are going to be with you all the way through 20th.
If you picked poorly, you wouldn’t be able to grab something more useful until 4th and 10th levels, when you can add an extra cantrip to your known pool.
Basically, picking the right cantrips is a surprisingly essential part of creating a useful cleric.
So, to help, we’ve put together our thoughts on all nine cantrips available to clerics in D&D 5e, including why you might or might not want to consider including them in your list of spells.
What Is a Cantrip?
A cantrip is a spell that you can cast repeatedly without using a spell slot, and they usually have smaller, less-impactful results than spells cast using spell slots.
They’re supposed to be magical effects your character has practiced so many times that they are permanently lodged in their brain and therefore always accessible — as opposed to leveled spells, which leave their minds when they’re cast.
Cantrips are actually a very old part of D&D — even though a lot of people seem to think they’re a very modern invention.
These small, level-less spells were first published in an issue of Dragon Magazine by Ed Greenwood (author of the Forgotten Realms setting), and they did a mixture of cool and slightly useless things, although early examples like bluelight, which was basically an infinite candle, or unlock, which was the Knock spell for simple locks, were undeniably useful tools for the wizard — especially back in a day when wizards had very little to do once they’d run out of spell slots.
Divine spellcasters’ cantrips were originally called orisons.
Cantrips were scrubbed from D&D in 2nd edition AD&D and didn’t really make a proper comeback until 3rd edition, when they were made significantly more powerful.
What Are the Best Cantrips for Clerics?
To help you get a grip on which cantrips are good at what, we’ve designated each of them as either an Offensive, Defensive, Utility, or Support cantrip and applied our Black Citadel Rating System.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
- 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. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.
- Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
- Purple – S Tier. The top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.
To cast this spell, touch one willing creature. Once before the spell ends, the target can roll a d4 and add the result to an ability check of its choice.
It can elect to roll the die before or after making the ability check. Doing so ends the spell.
If you want to play the kind of cleric who supports their allies, making the party fighter less likely to die on the front lines or the rogue more likely to succeed in their death-defying climb up the sheer sides of a tower, you really can’t beat this cantrip.
As long as you’re not in combat, there is absolutely no reason why every single roll your allies make shouldn’t get a little d4 bonus.
On average, you’ll be adding a roughly +2 bonus to hundreds of rolls over the course of a long campaign — well worth the investment.
* — (a firefly or phosphorescent moss)
You touch a single object that is no larger than 10 feet in any dimension. For the duration of the spell (a whole hour!), the object sheds bright light in a 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20 feet.
You can make the light any color you choose and can block it out by completely covering the object with something opaque. The spell ends if you cast it again or dismiss it as an action.
If you target an object held or worn by a hostile creature, that creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw to avoid the spell.
In addition to effectively ending your reliance on lanterns and torches forever — which isn’t the biggest deal in the world given how cheap they are, but it’s still nice to have an extra hand free to do other important stuff, like gesturing repeatedly at your cool, new, glowing hat — there are a few other interesting applications for the light cantrip.
With a little bit of preparation, the spell effectively becomes a signaling device since, if used outside at night, it should be very visible a long way away and you can attach all manner of meanings to colors.
If you want to shy away from inventing a grand-trunk-semaphore service, you can still use Light as a way of marking an enemy who’s trying to escape through the dark — possibly forcing them to drop something valuable, lest it give away their position.
* – (two lodestones)
Casting this spell magically repairs a single break or tear in an object you touch, such as a broken chain link, two halves of a broken key, a torn cloak, or a leaking wineskin.
As long as the break or tear is no larger than 1 foot in any dimension, you mend it, leaving no trace of the former damage.
This spell can physically repair a magic item or construct, but the spell can’t restore magic to such an object.
I have a real soft spot for this spell. Okay, it’s not the most mechanically impactful — other than the Rust Monster, there are very few ways that your equipment is ever going to get very badly damaged while adventuring — but it’s one of those great examples of magic that wants you to get creative.
Want to read somebody’s mail without them knowing? Use mending to reseal it. The same thing works with the lock on a door or the chain on a fence. It’s a great way to cover your tracks.
Mend all your broken arrows, perform a very ham-fisted form of encryption by tearing up or burning documents before mending them again at their destination and even hide sensitive information inside hollow statues — a la the Maltese Falcon.
* – (a miniature cloak)
Touch one willing creature to cast this spell, allowing them to roll a d4 and add the number rolled to one saving throw of its choice before the spell ends. It can roll the die before or after making the saving throw. The spell then ends.
Other than an adorable material component, this spell really is inferior to Guidance in every way. It’s much harder to set up, and there’s probably something better you want to be doing with your concentration.
5. Sacred Flame
Fiery white light engulfs a creature that you can see within 60 feet. You force the target to succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 radiant damage. Being behind cover does not confer any benefit to the target.
The spell’s damage increases by 1d8 when you reach 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8).
A great damage cantrip (ignoring cover is the icing on the cake) that no cleric should be without.
A great way to take down slower, dumber, weaker undead as it uses a saving throw rather than a spell attack — which also means you can cast it at enemies in melee range without disadvantage.
6. Spare the Dying
You touch a living creature that has 0 hit points. The creature becomes stable. This spell has no effect on undead or constructs.
At 1st level, this can be a real life saver — as there’s nothing quite as awful as running out of spell slots right as the party fighter gets dropped and realizing no one is proficient in the Medicine skill.
Still, something like Healing Word is so much better at this, and by the time you have a few more levels and spell slots to spare, this might start feeling like a waste of a cantrip.
You manifest a minor act of miraculous supernatural power within 30 feet, creating one of the following effects:
- Your voice booms up to three times as loud as normal for 1 minute.
- You cause flames to flicker, brighten, dim, or change color for 1 minute.
- You cause harmless tremors in the ground for 1 minute.
- You create an instantaneous sound that originates from a point of your choice within range, such as a rumble of thunder, the cry of a raven, or ominous whispers.
- You instantaneously cause an unlocked door or window to fly open or slam shut.
- You alter the appearance of your eyes for 1 minute.
If you cast this spell multiple times, you can have up to three of its 1-minute effects active at a time, and you can dismiss such an effect as an action.
While this is mechanically a worthless spell, alongside stuff like minor illusion and prestidigitation, thaumaturgy is a must-have for anyone who likes being creative with magic.
8. Toll the Dead
To cast this Toll the Dead, point at one creature you can see within 60 feet, filling the air with the sudden sound of a large, solemn bell. The target of this spell must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d8 necrotic damage.
If the target is missing any of its hit points, it instead takes 1d12 necrotic damage.
The spell’s damage increases by one die when you reach 5th level (2d8 or 2d12), 11th level (3d8 or 3d12), and 17th level (4d8 or 4d12).
The boosted damage against wounded targets makes this the perfect cantrip for following up on an ally’s attack with a devastating finisher. Seriously, 1d12 is the most damage you can do to a single target with any cantrip. It’s great.
9. Word of Radiance
* – (a holy symbol)
You utter a divine word and emit a burst of fiery radiance. Each creature of your choice that you can see within 5 feet of you must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 1d6 radiant damage.
The spell’s damage increases by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).
If you’re playing one of the tougher cleric domains that likes to wade into melee range and get their hands dirty, this is a solid cantrip, although standing at the back chucking out Sacred Flames, Toll the Deads, or even just sharp rocks is probably a smarter career decision.
When it comes to picking your first three, I’ve found a nice balance between an offensive, a defensive, and a support/utility cantrip serves me well.
For a combat-focused, classic high D&D 5e cleric, I might go Sacred Flame, Guidance, and Spare the Dying, whereas for the more mystical, grubby style of priest I usually prefer to play (with a head full of misremembered sex magic and astral self-help guides, who would love it if you’d listen to his exciting new idea for selling holy books and nutritional supplements door to door and finally being your own — but that’s enough about MLM Rasputin), I’d pick up Toll the Dead, Thaumaturgy, and maybe Light.
That’s it folks. Hopefully, this list helps you narrow down which three (then four, then eventually five) cleric cantrips you want to use to get your next character up and running.
Until next time, happy adventuring and remember: keep spamming those cantrips.