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DnD 5e - The Cleric Handbook

Last Updated: March 29th, 2021

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses 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.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Introduction

Clerics are among the most diverse and interesting 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. However, they are by no means limited to healing and support roles. Clerics have abundant offensive options, and can even be effective with weapons.

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

Cleric Class Features

Optional Class Features are detailed below under Optional 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 subclasses Breakdown.

Divine Domain: Cleric subclasses are briefly summarized below. See my Cleric Subclasses Breakdown for help selecting your subclass.

  • Arcana Domain: Borrow spellcasting and utility options from the Wizard.
  • Death Domain: Highly offensive, and focused primarily on dealing necrotic damage.
  • Forge Domain: A front-line, heavily armored cleric with a good mix of offensive fire options and utility spells.
  • Grave Domain: Straddling the line between life and death, the Grave domain adds a mix of offensive, defensive, and healing options.
  • Knowledge Domain: Blessed with both magical and mundane knowledge, the Knowledge Domain grants Expertise in two knowledge skills, a number of excellent divination options, and the ability to temporarily gain proficiency in a set of tools.
  • Life Domain: The iconic healer, but also a strong heavily-armored Defender.
  • Light Domain: Praise the sun, then blast your foes with fire and radiant damage.
  • Nature Domain: Heavy armor, numerous spellcasting options from the Druid spell list, and powerful abilities to deal and resist elemental damage.
  • Order Domain: A heavily-armored commander, the Order Domain adds great options to lead their allies and enchant their foes in battle.
  • Peace Domain: Nominally themed around a peaceful approach to problems, the Peace Domain offers powerful options to heal and defend your allies, turning them into efficient, resilient, nearly-unstoppable combat monsters.
  • Tempest Domain: Heavily armored and ready to command thunder and lightning to destroy your foes.
  • Trickery Domain: Skilled in stealth and illusion, the Trickery Domain is welcome among a party or rogues, sneaks, and ne'er-do-wells.
  • Twilight Domain: Use the mystical power of twilight to empower and defend both yourself and your allies to overcome any challenge.
  • War Domain: Direct and simple, the War Domain brings heavy armor, martial weapons, and spells and abilities which allow you to thrive on the front lines of combat.

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. As you gain levels you'll gain additional uses per Short or Long Rest which makes Channel Divinity and easy go-to tactical option which you might consider using before resorting to spells.

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.

Optional Class Features

Introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everyting, Optional Class Features offer ways to add additional features or replace existing ones. These rules are optional, and you should not assume that your DM will allow these features without consulting them first.

Assessments and suggestions for specific Optional Class Features are presented here, but for more information on handling Optional Class Features in general, see my Practical Guide to Optional Class Features.

Additional Cleric Spells (Addition): Everything added by this optional feature makes sense on the Cleric's spell list, And some spells like Aura of Vitality and Aura of Life make more sense on the Cleric's spell list than on the spell lists where they were previously.

I recommend allowing the expanded spell list on all clerics. The new spells are mostly situational options which won't be go-to spells for the vast majority of clerics, so nothing here is going to unbalance the game.

Harness Divine Power (Addition): For divine domains with poor or situational Channel Divinity options, this offers a great way to make use of a resource which might otherwise be ignored for several sessions at a time.

I recommend allowing this on all clerics who take divine domains which I have rated orange or red. The cleric won't get anything bigger than a 3rd-level spell slot, and since Proficiency Bonus improves so slowly that this won't cause any huge problems. But the Cleric is also one of the stronger classes in the game, and they don't need any improvements to keep the class interesting and effective. Consider allowing this on clerics who take divine domains that I've rated green on a case-by-case basis, especially if the domain has particularly poor Channel Divinity options.

Cantrip Versatility (Addition): Retrain one cantrip every few levels. Sometimes a cantrip doesn't work out how you hope it would, or maybe as you gain levels you've found that your leveled spells can fill needs which previously required cantrips (attack options, etc.).

I recommend allowing Cantrip Versatility on all clerics. You can't get anything which you couldn't already have, so it doesn't make your character more powerful. Hopefully it will make your character more satisfying to play.

Blessed Strikes (Replacement): Blessed Strikes makes cantrips more appealing for domains which which get the Divine Strike feature at level 8. The math on Divine Strike is disappointing, so taking Blessed Strikes and using cantrips in favor of weapons makes domains designed to use weapons roughly comparable to cantrips for domains designed to focus on spellcasting. I go into more detail on my Cleric Subclasses Breakdown.

I recommend allowing Blessed Strikes on any cleric who takes a divine domain with the Divine Strike feature which is rated orange or red. Consider allowing this on clerics who take divine domains that I've rated green on a case-by-case basis. You might also choose to mandate it for all clerics. The 4.5 bonus damage isn't far from the expected +5 for Potent Cantrips, so it doesn't weaken anyone significantly, but it might encourage caster clerics to grab a mace from time to time.

Ability Scores

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 and your role in the party. Martial clerics will want more Dexterity and Constitution, but caster clerics might make some room for Intelligence or Charisma in order to expand into skill-based roles within the party.

Str: Lightly-armored and medium-armored Clerics can dump Strength. Heavily-armored Clerics can afford more Strength since they can dump Dexterity, but it's only strictly necessary if you want to avoid the speed penalty from heavy armor. Weapon attacks are mathematically a poor choice compared to cantrips, so there is very little reason to invest heavily in Strength and Strength-based weaponry.

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 the usefulness other abilities depend on your build and your choice of Divine Domain. Constitution is similarly useful regardless of build, but easy access to healing spells means that you can mitigate damage by healing yourself so Constitution isn't as crucial as it is for martial classes.

Strength or Dexterity increased can be helpful for clerics planning to use weapons, but since weapons are mathematically a poor choice for the Cleric increases in those abilities don't make a race an effective cleric by allowing them to limp along by using weapons at the expense of their spellcasting. A weapon-based cleric is playable, but a well-built weapon-using cleric will struggle to be just barely as effective as a cleric who is using cantrips. Your racial traits won't fix that no matter how good they are.

Beyond your race's ability score increases, look for useful things like Darkvision (the spell Darkvision isn't on the Cleric's spell list, though you can cast plenty of spells to produce light), additional skill proficiencies and weapon proficiencies if you'll use either, and other things that can broaden your capabilities beyond what your class offers or complement your class features.

AarakocraEEPC

Customized Origin: The Aarakocra was already a fantastic option for the Cleric. Shift the +2 increase into Wisdom and the +1 into either Dexterity or Constitution, but your tactics don't change from the default rules. However, with the ability to customize your origina and rearrange ability score increases the Winged Tiefling becomes a better option than the Aarakocra.

Default Rules: The increases are great for a lightly-armored Cleric, and flight is always fantastic. Remaining safely out of melee is a massive tactical asset, and most of the Cleric's best offensive options work at range. The Dexterity increase makes it easy to compensate for being limited to light armor, but your AC will still lag medium armor because you need to increase your Wisdom before your Dexterity. if you want to be able to wear medium armor, check out the Winged Tiefling.

AasimarVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two damage resistances, Darkvision, and Healing Hands and Light Bearer feel like natural additions to the Cleric. Each subrace offers a transformation with a damage boost (plus other stuff) which notably applies to both attacks and spells. Since clerics never get Extra Attack, the most reliable way to use this in conjunction with AOE damage spells. But even Spiritual Weapon can apply the damage bonus, so if you get one or two of those going you're probably fine.

  • Fallen: Fear is a great crowd control effect, but due to the limited range this is only useful on heavily-armored clerics who can handle being in melee.
  • Protector: Once daily flight is typically enough to address your tactical needs, and it's a great way to get yourself out of harms way if you can't handle being in melee.
  • Scourge: Scoure gets more damage at the cost of your own health. That's a gamble for many classes, but for the cleric is just means that you need to spend a couple spell slots to heal yourself. Easily worth the extra damage, especially against small numbers of powerful enemies.

Default Rules: 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.

Aasimar (DMG Variant)DMG

Customized Origin: Rearrange the increase to +1 Con/+2 Wis, but otherwise my advice under the default rules still applies.

Default Rules: You get the crucial Wisdom increase, and the two damage resistances are nice since you can't address them with spells. The innate spellcasting is already on the cleric's spell list so there's nothing new there, but it could save you some prepared spells.

BugbearVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Surprise Attack only works with attacks, but it works with Guiding Bolt which is a great opener at low levels, and it looks like it works with Spiritual Weapon, too. The biggest problem you'll have is that clerics rarely have the Dexterity to act early in initiative, and you may have trouble making more than one attack in your first turn. Long-limbed is neat and can help with delivering spells like Inflict Wounds and Harm, but it only works with attacks so you can't use it to deliver Cure Wounds for some reason.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread, and none of the cleric's cantrips use attack rolls so you'll need to rely on weapons to benefit from Long Arms and Surprise Attack. So your spellcasting will lag and your racial traits encourage you to focus on weapon attacks which are mathematically just barely as good as spells in your best-case scenario. You could argue that combining Surprise Attack with an attack spell like Inflict Wounds is worthwhile, but I don't think that gimick is good enough to make this a go-to option.

Custom LineageTCoE

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Custom Lineage.

Default Rules: A +2 increase, a feat, and either Darkvision or a skill. I recommend Darkvision since the spell Darkvision isn't on the cleric's spell list.

DragonbornPHB

The Draconblood and Ravenite subraces are addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one damage resistance, and a breath weapon. The existence of Word of Radiance makes breath weapon less impactful since you can get an AOE damage option at low levels, and even without Word of Radiance the Dragonborn's breath weapon isn't enough to match the benefits of races with other comparable traits like the Goliath (replace Breath Weapon with Stone's Endurance) or the Tiefling (replace Breath Weapon with innate spellcasting or flight).

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

DwarfPHB

Customized Origin: +2 increase, Darkvision, and resistance to poison. Retrain the weapon proficiencies unless you're dead set on using them. Even then, you get four and only need one.

  • DuergarSCAG: Numerically great, but Sunlight Sensitivity is a pain if your campaign doesn't take place underground.
  • HillPHB: Put the +1 in Constitution and Dwarven Toughness will give you even more hit points. Great for melee builds, and the extra hp will close the gap between the Artificer's d8 hit dice and the d10 hit dice of classes like the Fighter.
  • MountainPHB: The second +2 is really tempting, but it's not essential since the Cleric really only needs to raise Wisdom to 20. Still, starting with two ability scores at 17 makes it easy to get both to 20 if you want to do that. It also leave lots of room for feats in your build, and makes it easier to start with a second ability at 16 while spending fewer points, which then lets you raise your lower ability scores. Trade the armor proficiencies for two more tool proficiencies.

Default Rules: +2 Con, Darkvision, Poison Resilience, and some extra proficiencies, including martial weapons which aren't available to most clerics, including some that are built to be in melee in heavy armor. Dwarfs are very durable, which is a good thing when you're the party's healer.

  • DuergarSCAG: The innate spellcasting is a good complement to the Cleric's spellcasting, offering some options which most clerics can't replicate. But be careful with Sunlight Sensitivity.
  • HillPHB: A bit of Wisdom and additional hit points further improve the Dwarf's durability.
  • MountainPHB: The Strength bonus is helpful for those clerics who will benefit from the martial weapon proficiencies, but weapons are mathematically not a good choices for clerics. The armor proficiencies are redundant, unfortunately.

ElfPHB

The Palid Elf subrace is addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, and one skill which you'll probably leave as Perception.

  • DrowPHB: Retrain the weapon proficiencies unless you're dead set on using a weapon. The innate spellcasting is hard since it's Charisma-based. Sunlight Sensitivity is a pain. If you just want the Innate Spellcasting, consider the Drow Half-Elf instead.
  • EladrinMToF: Fey Step is great, but the secondary effects are Charisma-based so you may find them difficult to use.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Functionally similar to the regular Eladrin, but you give up the rider effect on Fey Step to get 4 weapon proficiencies which you can trade for tool proficiencies.
  • High ElfPHB: Booming Blade is good enough to make weapon-using clerics not only viable but extremely effective, and it notably doesn't care about your Intelligence. You'll generally want to avoid other options. If you want effective wizard cantrips on the Cleric, consider the Arcana Domain.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: Only in an aquatic campaign
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Damage resistance, and the teleportation effect is a better fit for the Cleric than the Eladrin's secondary teleportation effect. Teleport into a crowd and cast Spirit Guardians.
  • Wood ElfPHB: None of these traits improve the Cleric.

Default Rules: High Dexterity is nice for lightly armored Clerics, and Perception is a great skill for Clerics due to their high Wisdom, but only one subrace that isn't setting-specific provides a Wisdom bonus so the Elf is a hard choice.

  • DrowPHB: Bad ability spread.
  • EladrinMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Bad ability spread.
  • High ElfPHB: Bad ability spread.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: Bad ability spread.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • Wood ElfPHB: A bit of Wisdom, plus access to Shortswords means you have a decent Finesse weapon to make use of your high Dexterity. Mask of the Wild looks like an interesting option for Trickery Clerics, but it's only situationally useful due to the limitations on where it can be used.

FirbolgVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. Firbolg Magic and Hidden Step offer some interesting magic options which most clerics can't replicate, but it doesn't add much to the Cleric's capabilities.

Default Rules: Strong, wise, and with a small pile of active abilities and innate spellcasting which nicely complements the Cleric's spellcasting.

GenasiEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), but the vast majority of the Genasi's traits come from the subraces.

  • Air: Clerics don't get access to Water Breathing, so the ability to breath anywhere is very occasionally useful. Similarly, the Cleric has few options for magical flight compared to the Wizard, so Levitate may be a useful way to get out of the reach of melee enemies stuck on the ground.
  • Earth: Pass Without Trace is helpful, but it's not enough to give up everything else that your race could give you.
  • Fire: Damage resistance and Darkvision. Produce Flame is a decent offensive option, but not as good as Sacred Flame. The innate spellcasting is also Constitution-based, so it will lag behind your regular spellcasting so you'll almost certainly forget about the innate spellcasting after very low levels.
  • Water: Damage resistance, amphibious, swim speed, and some innate spellcasting including Shape Water. Shape Water is one of my absolute favorite spells, but unless you're in an aquatic campaign I don't think it justifiable. Consider the High Elf or the High Half-Elf instead.

Default Rules: A Constitution increase is a great starting point.

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

GithMToF

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +2), but the bulk of your notable racial traits come from your subrace.

  • Githyanki: One skill, and trade the armor and weapon proficiencies for as many as five tools. All of the innate spellcasting is new to the Cleric, and Misty Step is a spectacular tactical option. However, remember that it's still a level spells so you can't Misty Step then immediately cast Revivify or Spirit Guardians.
  • Githzerai: Shield is a great spell on any character, and Mental Discipline provides some insurance against status conditions which can take you out of a fight. If you want a durable cleric, this is a fine choice.

Default Rules: An Intelligence increase is wasted on the Cleric.

  • Githyanki: The Githyanki will make the cleric better with weapons, but weapons are mathematically a poor choice for the Cleric. The innate spellcasting is appealing if you want to be in melee, but you'll still do better with cantrips than with weapons.
  • Githzerai: A Wisdom increase, Mental Discipline, and innate spellcasting borrowed from the Wizard which works well on any cleric.

GnomePHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1) and Darkvision. Gnome Cunning are great on any character.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Superior Darkvision is nice, but the very few clerics delve into Stealth. This would work for a trickery cleric in a subterranean campaign, but otherwise you'll struggle quite a bit.
  • ForestPHB: Minor Illusion is a great spell, but it doesn't solve any problems for the Cleric. Speak with Small Beasts is rarely useful.
  • RockPHB: Tinker doesn't do anything that you couldn't do better with other options.

Default Rules: Not a single Wisdom increase to be found.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Bad ability spread.
  • ForestPHB: Bad ability spread.
  • RockPHB: Bad ability spread.

GoblinVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and Darkvision. A great option for caster clerics. Nimble Escape makes it easy to get out of melee safely if you find yourself there by accident, and Fury of the Small works with spells (though it only affects one target). If you go for Arcana Domain, Booming Blade combines well with Nimble Escape, allowing very effective hit-and-run tactics in melee.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread. Nimble Escape is great for getting out of melee if you don't want to be there, but if you're worried about getting dragged into melee you can learn Word of Radiance and suddenly getting into melee with you is much less appealing for your enemies.

GoliathEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, damage resistance. Stone's Endurance is great on front-line clerics and easily makes up the difference between the Cleric's d8 hit die and d10 hit dice more common among front-line martial classes, and it saves you healing resources which might otherwise cut into your spell slots. A great option for heavily-armored subclasses intended to be in melee.

Default Rules: A great package for a melee tank, but absolutely nothing helpful for the cleric's spellcasting or other capabilities. I would only consider this for a domain which provides heavy armor proficiency.

Half-ElfPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1/+1 increases, Darkvision, and Fey Ancestry. Excellent, versatile, and it works for any subclass.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only in an aquatic campaign, and even then there are better options.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: 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 Half-ElfSCAG: Booming Blade is good enough to make weapon-using clerics not only viable but extremely effective, and it notably doesn't care about your Intelligence. You'll generally want to avoid other options. If you want effective wizard cantrips on the Cleric, consider the Arcana Domain.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: You likely moved the +2 increase out of Charisma and into Wisdom, but even then two skills are very useful. Unfortunately, Darkvision and two skills are very common with customized origins, so the standard half-elf doesn't stand out unless you desperately need that third increase.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: If you want more tool proficiencies on the half-elf, this is the way to get them. Trade some or all of the four granted weapon proficiencies for new tool proficiencies. Maybe not as reliably effective as the two skills from the standard half-elf, but still very appealing. The Cleric doesn't need the speed boost of Mask of the Wild.

Default Rules: Two flexible increases is enough to make the half-elf work for any cleric build, and the Charisma increase makes it easy to make your cleric a Face without sacrificing your emphasis on spellcasting.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: 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 Half-ElfSCAG: Booming Blade is good enough to make weapon-using clerics not only viable but extremely effective, and it notably doesn't care about your Intelligence. You'll generally want to avoid other options. If you want effective wizard cantrips on the Cleric, consider the Arcana Domain.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: Between two skills and a Charisma increase, this is a go-to option if you want your cleric to be a Face.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: The weapon proficiencies look tempting on a cleric, but they're not as good as the cantrip from High Half-Elf, and none of the other traits are worthwhile for the Cleric.

Half-OrcPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, a skill, Darkvision, and Relentless Endurance. Savage Attacks is neat, but not especially impactful since clerics don't use weapons enough to benefit in any meaningful way. Relentless Endurance is great since the party's cleric dying often means that the rest of the party is going to die, too.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread, and few of the Half-Orcs other traits work well for the Cleric. Relentless Endurance is helpful since the cleric dying in combat is often a death sentence for the party, but beyond that there's little to gain here.

HalflingPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1. Brave and Lucky are good on literally any character, but the Cleric makes surprisingly few attack rolls compared to most characters, so Lucky may be less useful than you'd like.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Silent Speech is great, but unless you're built for stealth your party may have trouble benefiting. That means Trickery Domain and few other options.
  • LightfootPHB: Naturally Stealthy could be useful for a cleric who takes a dip into rogue to get Cunning Action. Cast a spell, then hide behindd an ally. Sounce like a fun Trickery Domain build, but one build doesn't make this a strong option.
  • StoutPHB: Stout Resilience is really great, providing some of the Dwarf's durability.

Default Rules: Ghostwise halfling puts the halfling on par with the wood elf, making it a viable option for builds which might enjoy high Dexterity like the Trickery Domain.

  • 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

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and some weapon and armor proficiencies which you can trade for tool proficiencies. The Hobgoblin's defining trait is Saving Face, which I recommend reserving for saving throws or for powerful spells that require an attack roll like Inflict Wounds. Just be sure not to hang onto Saving Face too carefully. It's a great resource, but if you're not actively using it, you've payed a huge opportunity cost for little benefit.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Human

Customized Origin:

  • Standard: With perfect ability scores on the table for every race, there is no reason to play the Standard Human.
  • Variant: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Variant Human.

Default Rules: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Standard: Increases beyond Constitution and Wisdom are wasted on the vast majority of builds, and builds which need Strength or Dexterity don't need it enough to justify this.
  • Variant: You still get crucial bonus to your Wisdom and something else, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1.

KenkuVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Expert Forgery and Mimicry do little to help the Cleric.

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

KoboldVGtM

Customized Origin: +2 increase, Superior Darkvision, and Pack Tactics. Clerics rarely make attacks on their own, but it looks like you can attack with Spiritual Weapon at Advantage if you meat the criteria for Pack Tactics. Spiritual Weapon is a staple offensive option for the Cleric, and adding reliable Advantage to that calculation is nice. But that's one combination, and one decent combination doesn't make the Kobold a consistently good race choice.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

LizardfolkVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Natural Armor matches the AC of heavy armor, provided that you can get to 20 Dexterity, which is appealing for a stealthy cleric since you can get 18 AC (not counting shield, spells, etc.) without Disadvantage on Stealth checks. Bite and Hungry Jaws are great, but they're Strength-based which is a hard choice, especially if you're also raising Dexterity to get your AC up without using armor. If you go this route, expect parts of your racial traits to be ignored so that you can make others work.

Default Rules: Durable, extra skills, and some other useful traits. Excellent for any kind of cleric. The Lizardfolk's natural armor can match full plate's AC if you can get your Dexterity to 20.

LocathahLR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills.Limited Amphibiousness can be difficult in land-locked campaigns, but in campaigns where you're at least water-adjacent it's manageable. You can cast Create or Destroy Water, but the amount of water produced simply isn't enough to submerge yourself.

The Locathah's distinguishing trait is Leviathan Will, which provides resistance to an impressive list of conditions. This would be a difficult choice of race in most campaigns, but in the right game this could be an interesting choice for a front-line Defender build.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

OrcVGtM

Note that errata has corrected the multiple versions of the Orc to all provide the same traits. The Intelligence decrease has been removed, and the Primal Intuition now allows selecting two skills from a list. The Orc of Exandria entry from Explorer's Guide to Wildemount omits the Powerful Build trait, but it's not clear if that was an intentional change.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and two skills. Aggressive helps you get into melee, but as you gain levels you may find that your Bonus Action is better spent on other things like Spiritual Weapon or Healing Word.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

TabaxiVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and two skills. Feline Agility and Cat's Claws are the Tabaxi's signature traits, but the claws are useless. Feline Agility is a great speed boost, and it's pretty common in combat to need to rush into position then stand still for several turns, especially if you need to deliver short-range healing spells.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

TieflingPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and fire resistance. Most subraces/variants offer innate spellcasting of some kind. The innate spellcasting is Charisma-based, so anything which requires an attack or a save is largely worthless.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: The innate spellcasting is fine, but Hellish Rebuke is the only part that you'll be able to use consistently.
  • BaalzebulMToF: The leveled spells are both offensive and require saving throws.
  • DispaterMToF: Thaumaturgy might look tempting on a cleric since it fits the theme, but it's a bad spell.
  • FiernaMToF: All three spells require saves.
  • GlasyaMToF: All illusions, but very few clerics can cast these spells, and most of them don't allow saves.
  • LevistusMToF: Armor of Agathys is tempting, but it'll only last for one hit because the spell ends when the temporary hit points go away.
  • MammonMToF: Mostly situational utility options.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Tries to split the difference between Asmodeus's fire stuff and Mammons utility stuff, but the offensive stuff ends up just being worse.
  • ZarielMToF: Some interesting options borrowed from the Paladin's spell list, but if you want those you can get them from your subclass.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: The Customizing Your Origin optional rules make the Feral variant obsolete. All it does is rearrange your ability score increases.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: All three spells require saves.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Hellish Rebuke is better for the Cleric since it doesn't cut into your turns, though not by much.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Permanent non-magical flight. The Aarakocra is faster, but the Tiefling gets Darkvision, fire resistance, and can fly in medium armor.

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

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: Bad ability spread.
  • BaalzebulMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • DispaterMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • FiernaMToF: Good for a cleric that wants to be the party's Face.
  • GlasyaMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • LevistusMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • MammonMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • ZarielMToF: Bad ability spread.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: Bad ability spread.

    According to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants.

  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Bad ability spread.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Bad ability spread.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Bad ability spread. If you want flight, go for the Aarakocra.

TortleTP

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and fixed 17 AC from natural armor. That's enough to match medium armor with 14 Dexterity, so for a subclass which is going to be in light or medium armor that's pretty great. Dump Strength and Dexterity, and focuys solely on spellcasting and mental skills.

Default Rules: Fantastic for any cleric who would normally be in medium armor, the Tortle's ability increases are perfect, and their natural armor means that you don't need to put points into Dexterity to fill out medium armor's dexterity cap. That flexibility will allow you to invest points elsewhere to support skill-based roles.

TritonVGtM

Customized Origin: Three +1 increases, Amphibious, Darkvision, cold resistance, and some innate spellcasting. The innate spellcasting is neat, but not especially impactful for the Cleric. I would strongly consider this in an aquatic campaign, especially if you're going to invest resources to be your party's Face to capitalize on Emissary of the Sea.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

VerdanAcInc

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and one skill. Black Blood Healing might keep you from dipping into spells to heal yourself, and Limited Telepathy is neat, but neither are going to impact your tactics in any significant way.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, darkvision, immunity to poison, magic resistance, and some innate spellcasting. The innate spellcasting is borderline useless, but magic resistance and immunity to poison are extremely helpful for front-line builds which will attract a lot of attacks. And excellent choice if you need durability and expect to encounter spellcasters.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

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 under the general Races section.

ChangelingERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills. Shapechanger is neat, but very few clerics can use it in any meaningful way. I wouldn't consider the Changeling for anything except Trickery Domain.

Default Rules: 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 beyond the Wisdom increase.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: See above under the general Races section.

KalashtarERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. Dual Mind and Mental Discipline make the Kalashtar very resilient to mental attacks. Mind Link is neat, but won't be particularly impactful.

Default Rules: 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

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, and one skill. Shifting is the Shifter's signature feature, and the benefits from your subrace affect Shifting's usefulness significantly.

  • Beasthide: More temporary HP and +1 AC. Perfect for any front-line cleric..
  • Longtooth: An extra attack as a Bonus Action, but it's Strength-based and there is very little reason to invest in Strength. If you really want to lean into Divine Strike, the extra attack can make Divine Strike more reliable, so its average expected damage may be good enough to make it useful while you're shifting.
  • Swiftstride: Useful for quickly getting into and out of melee to deliver spells.
  • Wildhunt: Too situational.

Default Rules: 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

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Warforged. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: 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 without resorting to spells. 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.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Warding: Most of the options are only situationally useful. The spells add Armor of Agathys and Knock to your spell list, both of which are excellent additions, but that's just not enough to make this work for the Cleric.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread.
Dragonmarked ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Shadow: Absolutely stellar for Trickery Domain, but still good for other domains. The skill bonus to Stealth will compensate for your Dexterity being relatively poor compared to a rogue, allowing you to sneak effectively without putting resources into Dexterity and ignoring Wisdom. The spellcasting is almost entirely new options to the Cleric, and there's no overlap with the Trickery Domain spell list, so between the two you can add an impressive number of illusions to the Cleric's spell list.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Shadow: Bad ability spread.
Dragonmarked GnomeERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Scribing: The skills don't line up, and the added spells are all either very situational or they're already on the Cleric's spell list. There is nothing of value for the Cleric here.

Default Rules:

  • 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.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Detection: +2/+1 increases. Insight is a great skill for the Cleric thanks to their high Wisdom, so Deductive Intuition is a great benefit. The innate spellcasting will save you spell slots frequently comitted to staple divination spells, and the dragonmark spells add some excellent spells the Cleric's spell list including Arcane Eye. If you light investigation and divination spells, this will be a lot of fun.
  • Mark of Storm: +2/+1 increases, damage resistance, and a lot of very situational options.

Default Rules:

  • 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.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: +2/+1 increases and Darkvision. Hunter's Intuition applies to two Wisdom-based skills. The innate spellcasting is week, but several of the dragonmark spells are interesting additions from the Druid's spell list.

Default Rules:

  • 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.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Healing: Everything that Mark of Healing gives you is already available to the Cleric. There are a few spells that are only on the Cleric's spell list if you use the expanded spell list Optional Class Feature, but they aren't nearly good enough to justify comitting your subrace to get them.
  • Mark of Hospitality: A handful of useful options from the Druid and the Wizard's spell lists, but the skills and innate spellcasting aren't great, and there aren't enough new spells to make this a good option.

Default Rules:

  • 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 normal racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: You get several options from the Druid and Ranger's spell lists, but the over-emphasis on beasts can be a problem if you get past level 10 where beasts generally stop appearing as threats.
  • Mark of Making: Several useful options from the Wizard's spell list. This combines will both thematically and mechanically with the Arcana Domain and the Knowledge Domain.
  • Mark of Passage: Significantly improve access to teleportation option which the Cleric normally doesn't get. Misty Step is obviously a big gain, but if that's all you want you can get that from the Eladrin or the Shadar-Kai.
  • Mark of Sentinel: There's a lot to like here. Bonuses on two excellent Wisdom-based skills, great options for defending both yourself and your allies from attacks, and some new spells which will help you protect allies in combat. Compelled Duel will force enemies to attack you, and Counterspell will allow you to respond to enemy spellcasters. There are some dragonmark spells already available to the Cleric, but the rest of the benefits are still good enough to make this a great choice.

Default Rules:

  • 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

Customized Origin: Relying on Strength-based weapon attacks is not a good idea for the Cleric. The Centaur's speed is excellent, but unless you're using Charge and Hoof you can get the same speed from the Aarakocra with the added benefit of flight.

Default Rules: Fast with a Wisdom increase, and maybe a way to make weapon attacks worthwhile for the Cleric. Charge offers an additional attack as a Bonus Action, and that additional attack might make Divine Strike appealing since the second attack provides insurance in case your first attack misses. But the best time to use that combination is early in a fight when you should be casting spells to set the stage for your party to succeed, and if you want to use your Bonus Action for damage there's nearly nothing that competes with Spiritual Weapon.

GoblinGGTR: See above under the general Races section.

LoxodonGGTR

Customized Origin: The Loxodon's ability score increases are already perfect for the Cleric, so my advice under the default rules still applies. However, the ability to shift ability score increases makes almost any race that can match Loxodon Serenity a better choice. Consider the Locathah, the Kalasthar, and the Vedalken (I've never seen a charm/feat effect on a physical save, so Vedalken Dispassion applies).

Default Rules: Excellent ability score increases for a cleric. Natural armor won't matter, and Trunk is mostly a novelty since you won't be using it to grapple. That leaves Loxodon Serenity as the Loxodon's only interesting trait, and consider how common Charm and Fear effects are it's a good asset.

MinotaurGGTR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and one skill. The Minotaur is built around melee weapon attacks almost entirely, and not in a way that the Cleric can use to make Divine Strike viable.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Simic HybridGGTR

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Simic Hybrid. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: Fantastic and versatile, you have plenty of room to customize your traits to suit your needs and your role in the party.

VedalkenGGTR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill and one tool. The Vedalken's signature traits are Vedalken Dispassion (which makes you very mentally resilient), and Tireless Precision. Tireless Precision adds a d4 to the selected skill/tool proficiency, and thanks to the Customizing Your Origin rules that can be any skill. I recommend Perception, but don't limit yourself to that just because it's the best choice. The best way to capitalize on the Vedalken's traits is to go for a back-line caster build where spells and special abilities will make up a larger portion of the things pointed at you since you're typically out of range of melee attacks.

Default Rules: The ability scores work fine, but the Vedalken doesn't bring anything else specifically useful to the Cleric. With a little bit of Intelligence you can make knowledge skills a good option, and Knowledge Domain seems like a natural choice for the Vedalken.

Races of Theros

CentaurMOoT: See above under the Races of Ravnica section.

HumanMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

LeoninMOoT

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and one skill. Daunting Roar is the Leonin's signature trait, offering a helpful crowd-control option for clerics who are frequently in melee.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the Ravnica Races section.

SatyrMOoT

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills, one instrument. The Satyr's non-humanoid creature type and Magic Resistance make the Satyr very durable, which is a great asset when you're the party's healer, and the additional skills make you very durable.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

TritonMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

AasimarEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

BugbearEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

DragonbornPHB

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

Customized Origin:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and Forceful Presence. Helpful if you're a Face, especially since the Cleric can't afford as much Charisma as classes better suited to the role. Not getting additional Face skills is hard, too, so races with additional skills are likely a better choice.
  • RaveniteEGtW: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and Vengeful Assault. The Cleric's attacks aren't dangerous enough to make Vengeful Assault meaningful, especially since Divine Strike doesn't apply outside of your own turn.

Default Rules:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.

Elf

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

Customized Origin:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: Decent skill bonuses and innate spellcasting, but sleep is obsolete immediately.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

Default Rules:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: 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 ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

HalflingPHB

Wildemount halflings share the core traits of PHB halflings, but Wildemount adds a new subrace. See above for information on other halfling subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • LotusdenEGtW: Some innate spellcasting from the Druid's spell list, and since it's Wisdom-based the DCs will be useful.

Default Rules:

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

HobgoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoliathEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

KenkuEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

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 under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

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): This skill is useless. Medicine is best done magically.
  • 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.

If you're having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

  • 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 feats which I think work especially well for the class or which might be tempting but poor choices.

  • 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.
  • ChefTCoE: With the choice of a Constitution or Wisdom increase, it's easy for many clerics to fit this into their build. The temporary hit points are easy to share, especially with allies who don't rely heavily on their Bonus Actions, and the hit point mitigatiokn added by the treats means that you can spend fewer spells healing your allies. However, clerics frequently commit their Bonus Action to spellcasting (Spiritual Weapon, etc.) so you may find that Chef provides little direct benefit to you. And if you plan to share the treats, you'll likely find that Inspiring Leader is more effective.
  • 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 and to hold your holy symbol, and Divine Strike only works once on each of your turns.
  • 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.
  • Fey TouchedTCoE: Misty Step is a fantastic spell that's not on the Clerics's spell list, so getting it once per day and the ability to cast it again using your spell slots is a huge benefit. The additional 1st-level spell known is good, but there aren't many great options for the Cleric since the best spells which Fey Touched can get you are mostly cleric spells. Compelled Duel may be worthwhile for clerics build for melee.

    For more advice on Fey Touched, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Fighting InitiateTCoE: Clerics simply don't get enough attacks to make the offensive options viable, and if you're looking at Defense you should just cast Shield of Faith. Protection/Interception may be interesting, but those are unusual choices.
  • 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: This can be a great way to supplement your healing abilties and reduce the need for you to heal your allies in combat, but few clerics have enough Charisma that this feels like a good idea. Remember that while you do add your Charisma modifier to the temporary hit points granted, you also add your level so as you gain levels your Charisma modifier will be less important.
  • 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.

    For more advice on Magic Initiate, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Metamagic AdeptTCoE: Excellent on any spellcaster. The Cleric has some great options for Extended Spell like Aid. For advice on Metamagic Adept, see my Sorcerer Metamagic Breakdown.
  • 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: Proficiency in Constitution saves really helps with Concentration, not to mention how common Consitution saves are. If you care primarily about Concentration it's easy to compare this to War Caster. Advantage works out to a little more than +3, so once your Proficiency Bonus hits +4 Resilient becomes the more effective option of the rwo.
  • 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.
  • Shadow TouchedTCoE: Invisibility isn't available to most clerics, and the 1st-level spells are mostly new options, too. Even the Trickery Domain can't cast Invisibility or Silent Image, so adding those options can make for a very interesting trickery cleric.

    For more advice on Shadow Touched, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • 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.
  • Skill ExpertTCoE: With your high Wisdom, Expertise in Perception is a massive asset for your party. Spend the skill proficiency on Perception if you don't already have it, get Expertise in Perception, and increase your Wisdom by 1. If you have an odd-numbered Wisdom score, this is an easy, reliable feat choice.
  • 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, and the only viable spells that you can get are from the Druid's spell list and there is nothing that you want from the Druid that qualifies for Spell Sniper.

    For more advice on Spell Sniper, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: You should be saving your Bonus Actions for spells.
  • TelekineticTCoE: This is objectively great, but if your Bonus Action is idle it should be spent on Spiritual Weapon in almost every case.
  • 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 (Toll the Dead is a great go-to), but if you pick up Magic Initiate for Booming Blade it's a very effective option. The ability to perform somatic components with your hands full of weapons/shields is nice, but easy to overemphasize. If your spell requires inexpensive material components, you can use your shield as a focus (assuming that it's emblazoned with a holy symbol, which it should be). Otherwise, you can just put away your weapon for a round. You might hesitate to put away your weapon, but unless you've picked up Booming Blade or something, there's very little need to hold a weapon between turns since you're going to be using cantrips for Opportunity Attacks anyway.
  • Weapon MasterPHB: Weapons are not a good choice for the Cleric, and upgrading to martial weapons doesn't solve that problem.

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

This section briefly details so obvious and enticing multiclass options, but doesn't fully explore the broad range of multiclassing combinations. For more on multiclassing, see my Practical Guide to 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.
  • Druid: The Cleric and the Druid share Wisdom-based spellcasting, so a few levels to get low-level class features and some low-level spell options like Shilleagh and Faerie Fire can be very effective. However, Magic Initiate will typically suffice if you just want spelcasting, and the prohibition on metal armor can be a problem.
  • 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.

Magic Items

Common Magic Items

  • Clockwork AmuletXGtE: Only works once per day, but in many encounters a guaranteed 10 on attack roll will guarantee a hit (Players will hit an average CR-appropriate enemy's AC on an 8 or better. See my article on The Fundamental Math of Character Optimization.) For high-value attacks like an attack with a leveled spell like Guiding Bolt or Inflict Wounds, that can be great insurance. Even better: you don't need to attune this, so you can rotate through a stack of them if your DM is somehow crazy enough to let you get away with it.
  • Ruby of the War MageXGtE: Clerics can emblazon a holy symbol on a shield to solve the same problem that Ruby of the War Mage solves.

Uncommon Magic Items

  • Adamantine ArmorDMG: Curiously, due to the insanely high price of full plate and the inconsistent price of magic items, adamantine full plate can often be less expensive than regular full plate. Based on the expected gold awarded per level, most characters can't afford full plate until around level 5 without borrowing from their party, while Uncommon magic items may be available several levels earlier. This mechanical oddity is a popular trick in Adventurer's League. For heavily-armored clerics this is a great item, but for medium-armored clerics it's much less important.
  • Amulet of the Devout: +1 to spell attacks and save DC's, and you get an extra use of Channel Divinity per day. If you're using the Harness Divine Power Optional Class Feature, this effectively serves double duty as a spellcasting focus and as a Pearl of Power.
  • Cloak of ProtectionDMG: Good on any character, but it requires Attunement and it's not very interesting.
  • Eyes of the EagleDMG: A Sentinel Shield is a better option for the Cleric.
  • Gloves of Missile SnaringDMG: Similar to the Monk's Deflect Missiles feature, this is an interesting defensive option for melee characters. However, ranged missile attacks are relatively rare since so many monsters can't fight at range and many ranged enemies will be spellcasters, so this is situational by nature.
  • Guardian Emblem: This can prevent a ton of damage to your party. Three times per day may not sound like much, but it's still enough to make a huge impact.
  • Pearl of PowerDMG: Useful on any spellcaster.
  • Sentinel ShieldDMG: Perception is the most frequently rolled skill in the game, and you are likely the person in the party who is best at it (provided that you got proficiency from your race or your background). Advantage provides a great deal of insurance and protection against ambushes and other surprises. Advantage on Initiative rolls is really nice so you can get a buff or and are control effect running before everyone else starts moving. This is a great item on any character using a shield, but the Cleric and the Druid are probably the two characters best-suited to using it.
  • Shield, +1DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Slippers of Spider ClimbingDMG: The next-best thing to flight. Walking up a wall has all the benefits of flying out of reach, making this an excellent option for ranged builds.
  • Staff of the AdderDMG: Very easy to overlook, but a fantastic weapon for melee clerics. Activating the staff as a Bonus Action is somewhat annoying and I don't think you can use Shillelagh in conjunction with the snake attack, but if your Strength is good enough to make Strength-based weapon viable, the possibility of 3d6 poison damage is a huge boost. The attack doesn't specify that it's a weapon attack, but it's not a spell attack and being a weapon attack is the only other option, so it appears that Divine Strike works with the snake attack. You need to be cautious about the snake's 20 hit points if your enemies figure out that they can attack the snake, but deanimating then reanimating the snake (which takes two Bonus Actions) restores it to full hit points so you can quickly repair your snake whenever it's hit.
  • Staff of the PythonDMG: A decent low-level summon. At CR 2, the Giant Constrictor Snake is excellent at incapacitating single targets, especially if they have poor bonuses to Athletics and Acrobatics. With blindsight, the snake can even function is area of magical darkness or other sight-blocking conditions like fog or smoke, allowing the snake to be useful well above what its CR would suggest. Keep in mind that the snake's 12 AC and 60 hit points won't stand up to repeated attacks, so plan to revert the snake to its staff form quickly or risk losing the item permanently.
  • Stone of Good LuckDMG: Excellent on literally any character, but if you just want better defense a Cloak of Protection may be more effective. Stone of Good Luck shines if you're heavily reliant on skills and ability checks.
  • Wand of the War MageDMG: Amulet of the Devout is strictly better.
  • Weapon, +1DMG: Potentially helpful for clerics who insist on using weapons, but it's not enough to make weapons more effective than your cantrips.
  • Winged BootsDMG: Excellent on its own, but Winged Boots are more limited in use than a broom of flying, and they require Attunement. If you're wearing heavy armor you might prefer Winged Boots because they don't care about weight.

Rare Magic Items

  • Amulet of HealthDMG: Setting your Constitution to 19 means that you don't need to put Ability Score Increases into it unless you're really certain that you want 20 Constitution. Less ASI's into Constitution means more room for feats.
  • Amulet of the Devout: +2 to your spell attacks and spell DC's. See Amulet of the Devout under Uncommon Magic Items for more.
  • Armor of ResistanceDMG: Excellent, but unpredictable in most games since you can't perfectly predict what sort of damage you'll face. Fire and poison are safe choices.
  • Armor, +1DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Barrier Tattoo (Rare)TCoE: +1 breastplate will provide the same without requiring attunement and still doesn't impose Disadvantage on Stealth checks, so even lightly-armored clerics will do better in actual medium armor.
  • Belt of Giant Strength (Hill)DMG: An excellent way to keep melee weapons viable without investing in Strength, which for many clerics means not investing in Wisdom. If you have a strength-based martial character in the party this will usually be more effective if you give it to them, but if they're already at 20 Strength they won't benefit so you may decide to keep this for yourself.
  • Cloak of DisplacementDMG: Among the best defensive items in the game. Taking damage from any source (spells, etc.) suppresses the effect temporarily, so make a point to kill anything that can damage you without an attack roll.
  • Devotee's CenserTCoE: The damage boost stacks with Divine Strike, making this an interesting option for weapon-using clerics. However, a +2 weapon is the same rarity and will be considerably more effective. Even without Divine Strike, a +2 weapon will yield comparable improvements to damage output, but since clerics get just one attack per turn, you really want the reliability that a +2 weapon provides. The healing effect is neat, but it's not going to change your tactics much. Your best bet is either to use it when you might otherwise use Healing Word, or to use it outside of combat when the party can crowd around and everyone can enjoy the 10d4 healing.
  • Mace of DistruptionDMG: Slightly better at killing undead and fiends than your average weapon. The 25 hp cap will br a long-term source of frustration because enemies will often go from too healthy to dead between your turns, leaving no opportunity for you to attack them and hopefully destroy them outright. This is also no better than a general magical mace against creatures other than fiends and undead, so unless you face those foes exclusively a +1 weapon will be considerably more effective.
  • Necklace of Prayer BeadsDMG: Unpredictable, but potentially very powerful. You'll get an average of 4.5 beads, and the effectivenss of the item varies wildly depending on what you get. You can notably cast every spell from the beads as a Bonus Action (yes, including Planar Ally which normally has a 10-minute casting time), allowing you to quickly heal allies or get Bless running while leaving your Action for attacks or cantrips.
  • Periapt of Proof Against PoisonDMG: Poison damage is very common across the full level range, so immunity to it is a significant improvement in your durability.
  • Ring of EvasionDMG: A great way to mitigate damage from AOE spells and things like breath weapons which can often be problems from front-line characters.
  • Ring of ProtectionDMG: Cloak of Protection is lower rarity and has the same effect.
  • Ring of ResistanceDMG: A fine item in a vaccuum, but a Ring of Spell Storing full of Absorb Elements will be much more effective.
  • Ring of Spell StoringDMG: Fill it with Absorb Elements and Shield and recharge it whenever possible, and this is a spectacular defensive asset.
  • Shield, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Weapon, +2DMG: Potentially helpful for clerics who insist on using weapons, but it's not enough to make weapons more effective than your cantrips.

Very Rare Magic Items

  • Amulet of the Devout: +3 to your spell attacks and spell DC's. See Amulet of the Devout under Uncommon Magic Items for more.
  • Animated ShieldDMG: Tempting for anyone not fighting with a one-handed weapon, but a Cloak of Protection is two rarities lower, works persistently, and arguably provides a better numeric bonus.
  • Armor, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Barrier Tattoo (Very Rare)TCoE: The fixed AC matches full plate, so you don't need to worry about Dexterity to boost your AC and you don't even suffer Disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks. However, a suit of +2 medium armor will likely yield better total AC.
  • Belt of Giant Strength (Frost, Stone, Fire)DMG: A great item, but definitely overkill for the Cleric. You shouldn't be making enough weapon attacks for this to make sense.
  • Manual of Bodily HealthDMG: Permanent Constitution bonus and raises your cap by 2. Unless you're using a magic item that fixes your Constitution as a specific score, this is excellent.
  • Shield, +3DMG: +3 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Tome of UnderstandingDMG: Permanent Wisdom bonus and raises your cap by 2.
  • Weapon, +3DMG: Potentially helpful for clerics who insist on using weapons, but it's not enough to make weapons more effective than your cantrips.

Legendary Magic Items

  • Armor of InvulnerabilityDMG: Resistance (immunity sometimes) to non-magical damage may protect you from most weapon attacks. At high enough level that you might have this item there will definitely be enemies with access to magic attacks (spellcasters, magic weapons, natural weapons which count as magical, etc.), but in many encounters this will still provide a great deal of protection.
  • Cloak of InvisibilityDMG: Invisibility is extremely powerful in 5e. Note that this is just the invisible condition, not the spell spell Invisibility, so you can still attack or whatever while invisible. Unless you're playing a Defender and actively trying to draw attacks away from your allies, this is absolutely amazing.
  • Ioun Stone (Mastery)DMG: Proficiency Bonuses apply to a lot of things and a +1 bonus goes a long way. Attacks, saves, skills, etc. all benefit. However, most clerics rely mostly on spells which require saving throws so it's not as beneficial as it would be for other characters. A Stone of Good Luck may be just as useful.
  • Ring of Spell TurningDMG: Given the choice, I would much rather haqve a Mantle of Spell Resistance simply because the Ring of Spell Turning doesn't provide any protection against area effect spells. Otherwise, this is a really fun item, and if it provided Advantage on saves against area of effect spells it would shoot straight up to blue.
  • Ring of Three WishesDMG: Use this to do one of the things that risks permanently removing the ability to cast Wish, such as granting 10 creatures permanent resistance to once damage type. If you lose the ability to cast Wish, pass this off to another ally who will never be able to cast Wish by any other means. Repeat until the last charge is used.

    For more help with Wish, see my Practical Guide to Wish.

  • Scarab of ProtectionDMG: An upgrade from the Mantle of Spell Resistance, the Scarab of Protection adds a limited benefit against necromancy and undead creatures, and doesn't take up your cloak slot, leaving you free to take items like a Cloak of Protection or Cloak of Invisibility instead.
  • Talisman of Pure Good / Talisman of Ultimate EvilDMG: An Amulet of the Devout will be more broadly useful, but the unique ability to save-or-suck an evil is a great way to instantly defeat major enemies. You may also be able to weaponize the on-touch damage, but I think the intent is that the creature needs to willingly touch or try to pick up the talisman rather than being struck with it.

Example Build - Hill Dwarf Cleric (Life)

Sorilae the Hill Dwarf Life Domain Cleric

The dwarf rests a fist on a warhammer holstered at her hip, head bowed and eyes shut in prayer. With her other hand she wields a shield emblazoned with the hammer-and-anvil symbol ubiquitous among dwarven iconography, but in this case no doubt meant to honor Moradin, lord of the dwarf pantheon. Such devotion is common among dwarves of all stripes, but something about this dwarf’s presence hints at power behind that prayer.

-- Boxed text provided by dScryb (affiliate link)

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 65%. 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.