An Introduction to the Cleric Class for Players New to Dungeons and Dragons 5e
Have you ever prayed that something bad would happen to somebody that wronged you? What if you had the power to actually call up your god and ask them to deliver some swift and righteous justice? It’s probably for the best that we can’t, but that’s exactly one of the powers you would be granted as a Cleric in Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.
Side note: This guide assumes you have the Player’s Handbook for more detailed information, and is more intended to give you an idea of what this class can do. If you also need help with the process of creating your first character, click here first for my character rolling guide for new players.
Overview: Holier Than Thou
The cleric is the quintessential support character for Dungeons and Dragons, but if you are getting visions in your mind of a dainty robe-wearing priest you should banish that image now. A cleric is a representative of whatever god they serve, meaning you will find a lot of variety within their ranks – including heavily armed and armored war clerics, for instance. Clerics often act as the moral compass of the party, keeping an eye on allies’ emotional and spiritual health as well as their physical health in combat.
Your choice of domain at first level will be a major deciding factor in the kind of cleric you play, so make sure you take time to read through those domain choices (starting on p. 59 of the Player’s Handbook). This is where you will decide what sort of deity you worship and gain your divine powers from, and each domain comes with its own unique features and a special list of spells (which often includes spells not typically on the cleric spell list).
Role in the Party
No matter your choice of domain, the cleric is best utilized as a support character, meaning you will excel at healing your allies and enhancing their abilities. Clerics lack the explosive damage potential of other spell-casters, but their spells can be every bit as impactful despite their effect being less obvious. Bless, for example, grants your party members increased accuracy and may account for far more damage over a whole fight by turning missed attacks into hits than an equivalent 1st-level damage spell from a wizard. You aren’t committed to this role though, and can still build an effective cleric with a more aggressive focus if you like!
Thanks to their proficiency with medium armor and shields, the cleric functions more as a mid-line combatant in most circumstances. They have enough survivability to deliver touch spells to allies or enemies on the front lines during a fight, and perhaps even trade a few blows while they are there. You usually don’t want to find yourself in extended fights, though, as you won’t have the same staying power as more martial-focused classes in those situations.
An additional closing thought; when I say clerics are a support class this does not mean they are a healbot. Healing spells in fifth edition are not very impactful during a fight, as you simply can’t heal enough per turn to make up for how much damage the party will be taking. Rather, healing spells tend to be saved for those moments when party members fall, as you can bring them back quickly from the brink – and, in the unfortunate case that you aren’t quick enough to save them, you can even yank their soul from the fiery clutches of the underworld with resurrection spells. You are much better off leveraging your spells during a fight to buff allies, hinder enemies, and be a general nuisance by shutting down areas of the battlefield with spells like Guardian of Faith.
Looking Ahead: High Level Clerics
A high level cleric will look very different depending on which domain you have chosen, so it’s hard to say for sure what you will end up with. As you level up, you will gain the ability to cause undead to flee at the sight of you with your Channel Divinity – eventually even outright destroying weaker undead as you grow in power. This mostly means your Dungeon Master will be afraid to use undead enemies against you, since you turn every fight against them into a Benny Hill routine.
You will also be able to directly intercede for the assistance of your deity once per day with the Divine Intervention feature. The chances of your god hearing your prayers are slim at first, since gods generally have better things to do than bend to the whims of every mortal that hits them up for help. At the highest level, though, this call for intervention succeeds automatically without a roll, as you’re on more of a first name basis with your god at that point. Either way, you can’t overuse this privilege – if successful, you cannot call upon your deity in such a way again for a week.
If you like having a god on speed-dial and holding the moral high ground over your friends and loved ones, this is the class for you. Show your enemies the meaning of divine fury!