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DnD 5e - The Cleric Handbook

Last Updated: March 17th, 2020

Disclaimer

I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

Introduction

Clerics are among the most diverse and interest classes in 5e DnD. Because your choice of Divine Domain so greatly affects your capabilities, Clerics can fit a variety of roles and play styles. More generally, Clerics are the best healers in the game, and have among the best support, utility, and divination options in the game.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Cleric Subclasses Breakdown and my Cleric Spealls Breakdown.

Cleric Class Features

Hit Points: d8 hit points is good for a full caster, but it can be problematic since many Clerics fight on the front lines. Fortunately, Clerics have the best healing abilities in the game, so they can easily compensate for a small pool of hit points.

Saves: Wisdom and Charisma saves cover some of the most debilitating effects in the game.

Proficiencies: Medium armor and shields will give you a decent AC, especially if you're not building for melee combat. Simple weapons will be fine, especially once your spells eclipse your damage output with weapons. Clerics don't get any tools, and get two skills from a very short list of options.

Spellcasting: The Cleric is a Wisdom-based full caster. With the ability to prepare any Cleric spell at the beginning of the day, the Cleric's spell list is even more open than the Wizard's. Your choice of Divine Domain also grants 2 to 10 free prepared spells, allowing you to play to your domain's theme without cutting into your normal prepared spells. Clerics have some of the best divination options in the game, all of the best healing options, and many of the best buffs and debuffs.

For help selecting spells, see my Cleric Spell List Breakdown.

Divine Domain: See my Cleric Sublcasses Breakdown.

Channel Divinity: While Turn Undead is situational, Channel Divinity itself is a great ability. Your domain will provide one or more additional uses, many of which can and should be used once per short rest because their effects are both potent and extremely useful.

Destroy Undead: Enemies weak enough to be destroyed by this will be easy to kill with any number of AOE spells.

Divine Intervention: This won't be reliable until 20th level (10%-19% of the time, works every time), but when it works it should be extremely potent. You'll need to work with your DM to determine the exact effect of the ability, but if your DM is open-minded you can get away with something very exciting.

Abilities

Cleric's abilities all center around Wisdom, but depending on your build you may need to shuffle your other abilities around to accomodate whatever type of armor you're using.

Str: Lightly-armored Clerics can dump Strength. Heavily-armored Clerics can afford more Strength since they dump Dexterity, and they are better-equipped to survive in melee. Medium-armored Clerics may want to dump Strength and stick to spellcasting unless they also get proficiency with Rapiers.

Dex: Lightly-armored Clerics need Dexterity for AC and for their weapons. Medium-armored Clerics should try to have 14 to boost their AC. Heavily-armored Clerics can dump Dexterity.

Con: Hit points are always important, and if the Cleric goes down the rest of the party typically follows.

Int: Dump stat. Keep a bit if you're a Knowledge Cleric, or if you need to use Knowledge skills.

Wis: The Cleric's spells depend on Wisdom.

Cha: Persuasion is the Cleric's only Face skill, so you can probably dump Charisma unless you need to serve as a Face. If you decide to be a Face, be sure to pick up a Background which gets you other Face skills like Deception and Intimidation.

Light Armor Medium Armor Heavy Armor
Point Buy Standard Array Point Buy Standard Array Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 12
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 10
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 12
  • Str: 12
  • Dex: 13
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 8
  • Str: 14
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 12
  • Str: 13
  • Dex: 8
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 15
  • Cha: 10

Races

Wisdom is crucial, but other abilities depend on your build and your choice of Divine Domain. Unfortunately, no published race has a +2 to Wisdom, so you'll need to survive with a +1 bonus.

AarakocraEEPC: Dexterity and a bit of Wisdom are great for a lightly-armored Cleric, and flight is always fantastic.

AasimarVGTM: Charisma doesn't do much for a cleric, but the flavor works very well, and the Aasimar's other racial traits and their subraces work for a variety of cleric builds.

  • Fallen: A more direct option for offensive clerics that prefer to use weapons.
  • Protector: Wisdom and a temporary ability which turns you into a flying death machine.
  • Scourge: A decent option for a cleric in heavy armor, but the short range on Radiant Consumption makes it hard to rely on spells offensively. As a cleric you have plenty of healing to offset the self-inflicted damage.

BugbearVGTM: Without a Wisdom increase your spellcasting will lag, but if you're built to swing a weapon and consider spellcasting a secondary concern you can make the Bugbear work.

DragonbornPHB: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

Dwarf: Dwarfs are very durable, which is a good thing when you're the party's healer.

  • DuergarSCAG: x Similar to the Mountain Dwarf.
  • HillPHB: A bit of Wisdom and additional hit points further improve the Dwarf's durability.
  • MountainPHB: While the bonus Strength isn't particularly useful for the Cleric's spellcasting, a heavily-armored Cleric may welcome the extra help with weapon attacks.

ElfPHB: High Dexterity is nice for lightly armored Clerics, and Perception is a great skill for Clerics due to their high Wisdom.

  • Drow: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • EladrinMToF: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • High Elf: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • Wood Elf: A bit of Wisdom, plus access to Shortswords means you have a Finesse weapon to make use of your high Dexterity. Mask of the Wild looks like a great option for Trickery Clerics.

FirbolgVGTM: Strong, wise, and with a small pile of active abilities and innate spellcasting.

GenasiEEPC: The Constitution bonus matches that of the Dwarf, but Genasi don't get any other base racial abilities.

  • Air: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • Earth: Nothing sspecifically useful for the Cleric.
  • Fire: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • Water: A bit of Wisdom, and access to Shape Water, which is one of my absolute favorite Cantrips.

Gith: Both good options for different builds.

  • GithyankiMToF: Strength is nice for melee clerics, and the new weapon proficiencies offer you some better options than most clerics get.
  • GithzeraiMToF: An excellent option for back-line clerics, the Wisdom increase is great and Mental Discipline will help keep you from being incapacitated when your allies need you most.

Gnome: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • ForestPHB: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • RockPHB: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

GoblinVGTM: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

GoliathVGTM/EEPC: Nothing specifically useful for the Cleric.

Half-Elf: Abilities similar to the Human, but much of the vanilla Half-Elf's abilities are wasted unless you're a Face.

  • AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
  • DrowSCAG: Faerie Fire provides a way to handle invisible creatures which isn't normally available to clerics, and Darkness can be very useful if you're clever, but because the spellcasting is Charisma-based it's difficult to rely upon Faerie Fire unless your Charisma is at least moderately high.
  • High/Moon/SunSCAG: Several wizard cantrips are very good, but cleric cantrips do nearly as much damage and the utility options likely aren't as useful as two skills. Melee clerics might enjoy options like Booming Blade since clerics never actually get Extra Attack, but if you just want Firebolt you're not going to get much compared to Sacred Flame or Toll the Dead.
  • Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
  • WoodSCAG: Weapon training is tempting since Clerics are generally limited to simple weapons, but most melee clerics will do fine without them, and ranged clerics will deal better damage by relying on cantrips than they would do with weapons. The other options are wasted on most clerics.
  • VanillaPHB: Two skills allows you to pick up any Face skills you didn't get from your class/background or some knowledge skills if your party needs them.

Half-OrcPHB: Nothing specifically useful for the Cleric.

HalflingPHB: Ghostwise halfling puts the halfling on par with the wood elf, making it a viable option for trickery clerics.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: An interesting choice for trickery clerics, but I wouldn't consider it for other builds.
  • LightfootPHB: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • StoutPHB: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

HobgoblinVGTM: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Vanilla: Clerics have a weird skill set which demands a broad range of abilities. If you don't need a feat, the Vanilla Human can get you bonuses to several skills if you buy your ability scores carefully.
  • Variant: You still get crucial bonus to your Wisdom and something else, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1.

KenkuVGTM: Potentially a good trickery cleric, but Dexterity can be hard for a cleric to use.

KoboldVGTM: Nothing helpful for Cleric.

LizardfolkVGTM: Durable, extra skills, and some other useful traits. Excellent for any kind of cleric.

LocathahLR: The only useful parts are the Dexterity increase and the free skills.

OrcVGTM: Bad ability spread.

TabaxiVGTM: Bad ability spread.

Tiefling: With the exception of the Fierna Tiefling, Tiefling's don't work well as clerics due to their lack of a Wisdom increase.

  • AsmodeusMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • DispaterMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • FiernaMToF: Good for a cleric that wants to be the party's Face.
  • GlasyaMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • LevistusMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • MammonMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • ZarielMToF: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: Bad ability spread.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • Variant: VanillaPHB: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Nothing helpful for the Cleric.

TortleTP: Fantastic for a melee cleric, the Tortle's ability increases are perfect, and their natural armor means that you don't need to get heavy armor to get a high AC.

TritonVGTM: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

VerdanAcInc: Bad ability spread.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.

Races of Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above.

ChangelingERLW: The Flexible increase can go into Wisdom, and with a Charisma increase and two Face skills, the Changeling can be a fantastic party Face. Unfortunately, there's little here that contibutes directly to your primary function as a cleric.

GoblinERLW: See above.

ElfERLW: Eberron's elves are mostly the same as core elves, but include some additional subraces.

  • Aerani High: Trade the core High Elf's Weapon Training trait for expertise in a single skill or tool of your choice.
  • Aerani Wood: Trade the core Wood Elf's Weapon Training trait for expertise in a single skill or tool of your choice.
  • Valenar Wood: Trade the core Wood Elf's Weapon Training trait for slightly different weapon proficiencies, including the double scimitar. If you already get proficiency with martial weapons it doesn't matter, and if you don't you might prefer the original set of weapons because they include short swords. The two sets are roughly equivalent, so use whichever you like (or whichever your DM allows).

HobgoblinERLW: See above.

OrcERLW: Bad ability spread.

KalashtarERLW: A Wisdom increase is a great start, and the resistances are nice, but the Kalashtar isn't actually good at doing anything. They're great at not having stuff happen to their minds, but that's about it.

ShifterERLW: Darkvision is a great start, but there's little that we want from the Shifter's subraces.

  • Beasthide: Workable for a melee cleric, but lacks a crucial Wisdom increase.
  • Longtooth: If you want melee, go for Beasthide. If you want to attack with your Bonus Action, cast Spiritual Weapon.
  • Swiftstride: Bad ability spread.
  • Wildhunt: Dexterity and Wisdom can work, though they're not ideal. The shifting feature is easy to overlook, but Wisdom checks will include ability checks with Counterspell and Dispel Magic.

WarforgedERLW: Put the flexible increase into Wisdom and you've got an extremely durable cleric. Pick a Divine Domain which provides heavy armor proficiency (or use a feat), and you can outdo the AC of most other characters. Combined with the Warforged's other resistances and immunities, you're very well-suited to standing between your allies and danger.

Dragonmarks

While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you're not playing a spellcaster you're giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can't cast spells.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Shadow: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked GnomeERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Scribing: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

  • Mark of Detection: The ability increases are perfect for any cleric, and the remaining traits add a lot of interesting options to the Cleric's existing capabilities. See Invisibility isn't on the Cleric's spell list, and several of the dragonmark's spells are new additions, too.
  • Mark of Storm: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: Perfect ability score increases, Darkvision, bonuses to some skills, and a bunch of new additions to your spell list. Hunter's Mark adds a nice damage boost at very low levels, but expect to forget about it the second your can cast Spiritual Weapon.

Dragonmarked HalflingERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Healing: Thematically it makes sense, and an extra free use of both Cure Wounds and Lesser Restoration are nice, but with the exception of the three aura spells everything is taken from the Cleric's spell list. If you just want a healbot this is a fine option, but it doesn't actually expand your capabilities beyond what you could already do.
  • Mark of Hospitality: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked HumanERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: Great ability score increases and a great thematic combination for nature clerics, Mark of Handling improves your ability to work with animals, and adds some more spells from the Druid spell list to your spell list. Unfortunately, many of the dragonmark spells are already on the Cleric spell list.
  • Mark of Making: The ability score increases aren't great, but the spellcasting offers several new ways to buff your allies. Thematically this is a great combination with the Forge Domain.
  • Mark of Passage: Dexterity and Wisdom can be a difficult combination for clerics, but if you're building a Dexterity-based cleric Mark of Passage has a lot to offer. Nearly every one of the dragonmark spells is new to the Cleric's spell list, and the spells are mostly teleportation and movement spells which will help you address challenges which most clerics can't solve with magic.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Great ability scores, and some really great abilities for a protective, tanky cleric. Unfortunately you don't get an increase to Strength or Dexterity, so expect to rely on cantrips in combat even if you're in melee, but with options like Compelled Duel you can draw a lot of attention away from your allies. Unfortunately, many of the dragonmark spells are already on the Cleric's spell list, so you don't gain as much from Mark of Sentinel as other spellcasters do.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: Strength and Wisdom are a great combination for the Cleric, and the Centaur's other racial traits offer some helpful options for melee clerics. However, they don't work well for cleric builds which don't emphasize melee combat.

GoblinGGTR: See above.

LoxodonGGTR: Excellent ability score increases for a cleric, and a handful of other passive benefits which make it easy to capitalize on a high Wisdom score.

MinotaurGGTR: Nothing useful for the Cleric.

Simic HybridGGTR: Fantastic and versatile.

VedalkenGGTR: The ability scores work fine, but the Vedalken doesn't bring anything else useful to the Cleric.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above.

AasimarEGtW: See above.

BugbearEGtW: See above.

Dragonborn: Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn's ability score increases and damage resistance.

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • StandardPHB: See above.

ElfEGtW: Wildemount elves share the core traits of core elves, but Wildemount adds two new elf subraces. See above for information on core elf traits.

  • Pallid Elf: Similar to the Wood Elf, but less of a martial focus. Incisive Sense offers some useful options outside of combat, and the innate spellcasting offers some great tools not normally available to the Cleric.
  • Sea Elf: See above.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above.

GenasiEGtW: See above.

GoblinEGtW: See above.

HalflingEGtW: Wildemount halflings share the core traits of core halflings, but Wildemount adds a new halflings subrace. See above for information on core halflings traits.

  • Lotusden: A Wisdom increase and some interesting spellcasting from the Druid's spell list.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above.

GoliathEGtW: See above.

KenkuEGtW: See above.

OrcEGtW: See above, under "Races of Eberron". Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above.

TortleEGtW: See above.

Skills

  • History (Int): Situationally useful depending on the style of your campaign and your DM's play style.
  • Insight (Wis): Helpful for a Face, and you have the Wisdom to back it up. Since many Faces tend to have low Wisdom, it's a very good idea for you to pick this up.
  • Medicine (Wis): You can do this much better with magic.
  • Persuasion (Cha): Crucial for a Face, but you can skip it if someone in the party has more Charisma than you.
  • Religion (Int): The Cleric's best Knowledge skill, and important to the theme of the class.

Background

This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.

Clerics have high Wisdom, so skills like Insight and Perception are helpful, but other skills will be of varying usefulness depending on your ability scores.

  • AcolytePHB: The default Cleric background, and it's a solid choice. Insight is great for Clerics and Religion is an obvious choice (though not particularly great since many Clerics dump Intelligence). Bonus languages are nice at low levels since Clerics don't get Comprehend Languages, but they do get Tongues as a 3rd-level spell.
  • City WatchSCAG: Insight is great, but Athletics is hard for Clerics.
  • Cloistered ScholarSCAG: Knowledge skills are hard for most Clerics, but if you put some resources into Intelligence you have the ability to get 4 knowledge skills.
  • CourtierSCAG: Insight and Persuasion are great if you get stuck playing the Face, and the bonus languages will be great until you can use Tongues.
  • CriminalPHB: A Trickery Cleric with decent Dexterity could use this to partially replace a Rogue in the party.
  • Faction AgentSCAG: Insight is great, and the free mental skill will let you pick up Perception or whatever other skill you decide you need. The bonus languages will be great until you can use Tongues.
  • Far TravelerSCAG: Perfect skills and a free language, but gaming sets and instruments aren't terribly useful.
  • Guild ArtisanPHB: Not a bad choice, but Artisan's tools aren't particularly useful so Acolyte is better.
  • HermitPHB: Medicine isn't a terribly useful skill, but Medicine and Insight both capitalize on your Wisdom and the Herablism Kit allows you to make healing potions.
  • NoblePHB: Persuasion and a Language are fine, but half of the background is wasted.
  • SagePHB: Knowledge skills are hard for most Clerics, but if you put some resources into Intelligence you have the ability to get 4 knowledge skills.
  • Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: A Trickery Cleric with decent Dexterity could use this to partially replace a Rogue in the party. Criminal and Urchin are probably better.
  • UrchinPHB: A Trickery Cleric with decent Dexterity could use this to partially replace a Rogue in the party.

Feats

This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.

  • AlertPHB: Going first can be helpful for setting up area control spells or buffs like Bless.
  • AthletePHB: Awful.
  • ActorPHB: Trickery Clerics might enjoy this.
  • ChargerPHB: If you're too far away to get into melee in one turn, cast a spell.
  • Crossbow ExpertPHB: Use spells.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Most Clerics won't use Finesse weapons, and the ones who do have plenty of options to boost their AC.
  • Dual WielderPHB: You won't use the Attack action enough to justify two-weapon fighting, and you need a shield for the AC bonus.
  • Dungeon DelverPHB: Traps should be handled by someone with Thieve's Tools proficiency.
  • DurablePHB: Use magical healing.
  • Elemental AdeptPHB: Most Cleric spells that deal damage deal either Necrotic or Radiant damage, both of which are very rarely resisted. However, some domains like the Light domain offer access to damage types which can take advantage of Elemental Adept.
  • Great Weapon MasterPHB: Very few Clerics can manage a two-handed weapon successfully, and it's unlikely that your attack bonus will be good enough to suffer the 05 penalty.
  • HealerPHB: Use magical healing.
  • Heavily ArmoredPHB: If you want heavy armor, pick a domain which gives it to you.
  • Heavy Armor MasterPHB: Heavily-armored Clerics might enjoy this, but you probably donm't have enough Constitution to max it out.
  • Inspiring LeaderPHB: If you have decent Charisma, this can be a great way to supplement your healing abilties and reduce the need for you to heal your allies in combat.
  • Keen MindPHB: Nothing useful for the Cleric.
  • LinguistPHB: Use magic.
  • LuckyPHB: Good on anyone.
  • Mage SlayerPHB: Too situational.
  • Magic InitiatePHB: Clerics get all of the spells they need, including Cantrips. If you want Cantrips from other spellcasting classes, several domains provide them. If you're considering War Caster, options like Booming Blade combine well. Shillelagh and Shape Water from the Druid spell list also have a lot going for them.
  • Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
  • Medium Armor MasterPHB: Trickery Clerics who can't afford to bump their Dexterity past 16 may prefer to stick to Medium armor instead of dropping to light, so this will help with both Stealth and your AC.
  • MobilePHB: Most clerics aren't terribly mobile in combat.
  • Mounted CombatPHB: It's hard to play a mounted character without a special mount ability of some kind.
  • ObservantPHB: Clerics already have high Wisdom, so Perception is a really great option.
  • Polearm MasterPHB: You should be saving your Bonus Actions for spells, and your attacks won't be dangerous enough to make this very effective unless you're handicapping your spellcasting.
  • ResilientPHB: If you were going to be good at a save, your class would have given it to you. If you depend heavily on Concentration spells, you might consider Resiliant (Constitution) to improve your saves to maintain Concentration, but you might get more mileage from War Caster.
  • Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
  • SentinelPHB: Melee Clerics can be very effective, especially once you get abilities like Divine Strike, so your opportunity attacks can be very lethal. However, you'll probably do better with War Caster.
  • SharpshooterPHB: Clerics generally don't need ranged weapons.
  • Shield MasterPHB: You should be saving your Bonus Actions for spells, and you'll use the Attack action very rarely as you grow in level.
  • SkilledPHB: Some Clerics already get a lot of skills, and if your abilities are set up to support a wide set of skills, you can benefit a lot from gaining extra skill proficiencies.
  • Spell SniperPHB: Very few Cleric spells require attack rolls.
  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: You should be saving your Bonus Actions for spells.
  • ToughPHB: Considering that you can heal yourself magically whenever you need to, there's very little reason to invest so heavily in an enormous pool of hit points.
  • War CasterPHB: Many Clerics, especially heavily-armored Clerics who like to wade into melee, can get a lot of use out of this. Advantage on your Constitution save to maintain Concentration goes a long way since many great spells require Concentration, though I would consider Resilient first if that's all that you care about. The reaction mechanic works fine with the Cleric's existing cantrips, but if you pick up Magic Initiate for Booming Blade it's a very solid option.
  • Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you need to function.

Weapons

  • Crossbow, Light: This may do more damage than your Cantrips at low levels because weapons add your ability bonus to damage. If you have good Dexterity, consider a crossbow until your cantrips scale at 5th level.
  • Javelin: Same logic as the Light Crossbow, but Strength-based.
  • Mace: The iconic Cleric weapon. It's not great, but it gets the job done. Carry one for when you need to wade into melee.

Armor

  • Leather: If you start with 18 Dexterity, this will match Scale Mail. Otherwise Scale Mail is strictly better.
  • Scale Mail: Starting gear for most Clerics.
  • Chain Mail: Starting armor for Clerics who get heavy armor proficiency from their domain.
  • Half plate: Most Clerics will max out at Half plate.
  • Shield: You can put your holy symbol on your shield, so there is almost no reason not to have one.
  • Full Plate: Life Clerics should absolutely upgrade to Full Plate as soon as they can afford it.

Multiclassing

  • Barbarian: Rage won't be particularly useful since Clerics don't get Extra Attack, and Unarmored Defense will only work if you have a third high ability score, which is hard to do.
  • Bard: The Bard's low-level abilities scale with class level, so they don't work particularly well for a class dip.
  • Fighter: A level or two of fighter might be a good choice, depending on your build. Fighting Style is always great, and Second Wind allows you to heal yourself a bit without cutting into your spell slots. Action Surge is especially tempting, as it opens up the possibility of casting two spells in the same turn. Remember that if you cast a bonus action spell you can only cast cantrips with your remaining actions, so in a turn when you plan to use Action Surge be sure to cast two spells with a 1 action casting time.
  • Monk: The Monk's Unarmored Defense works well for Clerics since they need so much Wisdom. 20 Wisdom with Unarmored Defense will match Half plate, but remember that Unarmored Defense doesn't work with shields, so you'll need 18 Dexterity to match the AC of a normal Cleric with a shield.
  • Rogue: Expertise and skills are tempting, but the Rogue doesn't really offer anything that the Cleric needs.
  • Wizard: Clerics and Wizards have access to some of the best spells in the game, but multiclassing between primary caster classes delays how soon your get higher level spells.

Example Build - Hill Dwarf Cleric (Life)

If you make your sibling/significant other/child play a healbot for their first character, you are doing them a disservice. But if they play a master healer who shoots divine lasers and smites the wicked, that's totally fine.

This is a "Staple Build". This build is simple, and relies on options from the SRD and the Basic Rules wherever possible. If you need a functional build with nothing fancy or complicated, this is a great place to start.

A life cleric is equal parts tank and divine artillery piece, but they're mostly a mountain of healing. While being a healbot is a curse I would never wish on a friend at the table, the utility of a reliable source of large amounts of healing is undeniable, and in a party with injury-prone members or members with big pools of hit points but terrible AC (looking at you, barbarians) a life cleric is an astonishingly useful asset. The Life domain's capabilities dramatically improve the Cleric's already excellent healing capabilities, raising them to the point that you're often free to focus your prepared spells on other concerns while still being a better healer than other clerics.

Abilities

We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above for clerics in heavy armor. If you want to emphasize knowledge skills like History and Religion rather than Face skills like Persuasion, consider switching Intelligence and Charisma. You might also choose to reduce your Strength to put those points into other ability scores. Cantrips work fine in place of a weapon, so physical ability scores are largely unimportant. However, low Strength means that you will suffer a speed penalty in heavy armor.

Base Increased
Str 14 14
Dex 8 8
Con 14 16
Int 8 8
Wis 15 16
Cha 12 12

Race

Hill Dwarf. Half of the reason to play a life cleric is that they're extremely durable, and while heavy armor and a shield go a long way, the Cleric still has d8 hit die and padding your defensive options will help keep you alive to heal and protect your allies. You also get the crucial Wisdom increase needed to keep pace with your spellcasting.

Skills and Tools

We'll take Insight and Persuasion. That positions us well to serve as a Face if no one else in the party has those capabilities. You might drop one of those skills in favor of Medicine, but Medicine is extremely limited and your healing capabilities come from your magic rather than your skills.

Background

Acolyte is tailor-made for clerics. Two skills from the Cleric's skill list, a free holy symbol, and some other stuff. Unfortunately, Religion is Intelligence-based so you'll be bad at it despite proficiency unless you switch Intelligence and Charisma.

If you're happy emphasizing Face skills, you might consider the Noble background instead, but all of the skills granted by both Acolyte and Noble are one the Cleric skill list so neither has a significant mechanical advantage over the other.

Feats

The Life Cleric needs high Wisdom, but little else. More Constitution is nice, but you may get more benefit from feats like Tough. Once you have 20 Wisdom, consider introducing feats once you're more confident in your understanding of the game.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Spellcasting
  • Domain Spells
  • Cantrips Known:
    • Guidance
    • Sacred Flame
    • Thaumaturgy
  • Life Domain
  • Bonus Proficiency: Heavy Armor
  • Disciple of Life

For your starting equipment, select a warhammer, chain mail, a dagger or a light crossbow and bolts, either pack, and a shield and holy symbol. If you took the Acolyte background you may end up with two holy symbols, but it's nice to have a spare.

At level 1 you have 18 AC while you're holding a shield. You can walk around with your hammer and shield out, but you'll need to stow your hammer to perform somatic components. Personally I would stick Sacred Flame and only draw your hammer if you might need to make an opportunity attack, but if you're going to cast Bless on the party you'll be accurate enough that your hammer will be a better source of damage.

You want to do most of your magical healing using Healing Word while you're in combat. With Disciple of Life you're healing 1d4+5, which is enough to get an unconscious ally back into a fight and maybe even enough for them to get hit again without going down. Using your action to deal damage will end encounters faster, which will lead to a smaller total strain on your party's healing resources for the day. Remember: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

2
  • Channel Divinity (1/day)
  • Channel Divinity: Preserve Life

Preserve Life is a great way to revive multiple dying allies. Even one hit point is enough to get them back into a fight, and even if they go back down they'll at least start fresh before they face death saving throws while they wait for another rescue attempt. This is a large pool of hit points, and it scales nicely, so even at high levels you can rescue multiple downed allies and still have enough points left to heal your front-line allies significantly.

3
  • Domain Spells

3rd level brings Spiritual Weapon as a domain spell, which is great because it's a significant boost in your damage output. Casting the spell and attacking with it are both bonus actions, which means that you're still free to cast spells and attack on your turns while your spiritual weapon flies around hitting things. Even at much higher levels, Spiritual Weapon remains a consistent, reliable offensive option in nearly every fight.

4
  • Ability Score Improvement (Wisdom 16 -> 18)
  • New Cantrip Known:
    • Spare the Dying

More Wisdom does a lot for the cleric. More spells prepared, more healing from Cure Wounds and from Healing Word, more damage from Spiritual Weapon, and of course higher DCs for our spells.

5
  • Domain Spells
  • Destroy Undead (CR 1/2)

5th level brings some important milestones. Cantrip damage increases, putting Sacred Flame consistently ahead of your weapon damage. Since Sacred Flame doesn't require you to make an attack roll, it works against adjacent targets. Unless you're making opportunity attacks, there's very little reason to hold a weapon.

6
  • Channel Divinity (2/rest)
  • Blessed Healer

A second use of Channel Divinity means that you can use Preserve Life twice between short rests, dramatically increasing the amount of healing which you can provide in a day. The Dungeon Master's Guide's rules for planning an adventuring day suggests two short rests in a full day of adventuring, so you can expect to use Channel Divinity: Preserve Life up to 6 times in a single day, healing a total number of hit points equal to 30 times your cleric level (180 at 6th level).

With that dizzying number, you also get Blessed Healer. If you were going to spend a bunch of turns casting healing spells, this would be better because it would reduce your need to spend healing resources on yourself. But the majority of the hit-point restoration you'll be doing via spells is either going to be Healing Word to get allies back on their feat in a hurry, Heal, or Channel Divinity: Preserve Life which isn't a spell. So you're probably not going to see much healing from this ability.

7
  • Domain Spells

Nothing at this level except 4th-level spells. The big shiny spell you get at this level is Guardian of Faith.

8
  • Ability Score Improvement (Wisdom 18 -> 20)
  • Destroy Undead (CR 1)
  • Divine Strike

We're now at maximum Wisdom, which is great.

Divine Strike is tempting, but not especially helpful. By this level you're 3 full points behind the Attack vs. AC progression, so you have just a 45% chance to hit a generic CR-appropriate foe compared to the expected 60%. Short of opportunity attacks, Sacred Flame will be considerably more reliable and will deal comparable damage (2d8 vs. 2d8+2).

9
  • Domain Spells

Nothing at this level except 5th-level spells. Your domain spells are largely worthless at this level, but you notably gain the ability to case Raise Dead at this level.

10
  • Divine Intervention
  • New Cantrip Known:
    • Mending

Divine Intervention is really cool, but also totally unreliable. At this level you have just a 10% chance to receive Divine Intervention. Use this frequently, if only so that you'll have a chance to actually trigger the effects.

Unfortunately, this is also the last level at which we get an exciting and wholly new class feature. From here on it's all incremental improvements and new spell levels.

11
  • Destroy Undead (CR 2)

6th-level spells, and you can destroy undead of CR 2. Cantrip damage increases, so Sacred Flame again exceeds your weapon damage (3d8 avg. 13.5 vs. 2d8+2 avg. 11).

12
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 16 -> 18)

Your first ability score increase that doesn't need to go into Wisdom. Constitution will improve your hit points, but if you're brave enough to consider feats, I encourage you to look at Tough.

13

Nothing at this level except 7th-level spells.

14
  • Destroy Undead (CR 3)

Destroy even more undead.

15

Nothing at this level except 8th-level spells.

16
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 18 -> 20)

Bringing you Constitution to 20 means that you now get 11 hit points per level. For comparison: a barbarian with 20 Constitution gets just 12 hit points per level.

17
  • Destroy Undead (CR 4)
  • Supreme Healing

9th-level spells, and you no longer roll for healing spells! Of course, you don't do a lot of rolling for healing spells anyway. By this level, if you're healing in combat you're casting Healing Word or Heal, or you're using Channel Divinity: Preserve Life. Except for Healing Word, none of those options require rolling.

18
  • Channel Divinity (3/rest)

Your total amount of healing provided by Channel Divinity: Preserve Life is already immense, and a third use of Channel Divinity further expands that massive pool. You can now use Channel Divinity as many times per day as there are encounters in a full day of adventuring as recommended in the "Adventuring Day" rules in the DMG, allowing your party to recieve ample quantities of healing after every encounter.

19
  • Ability Score Improvement (Strength 14 -> 16)

This last ability score increase is largely pointless. Consider a feat instead.

20
  • Improved Divine Intervention

Divine Intervention jumps from 19% effective to 100% effective. At this level you're close enough to your deity that you can always request and recieve direct aid. This is an intentionally vague ability, so expect to do some amount of negotiating with your DM to determine what sort of aid you recieve.