Pathfinder - The Cleric Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- 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.
The Cleric is among the most powerful, versatile, and important classes in the game. When drawing a baseline for divine spellcasters, the Cleric is almost always the first example which comes to mind. With access to an excellent spell list and many of the most important skills in the game, Clerics are welcome in any party. On top of their formidable spellcaster, Clerics are also capable melee combatants, and with some magical enhancement can easily hold their own against the very best martial characters. The Cleric can fill nearly any role in the party, but their most important roles are as the parties Healer, Support Caster, and Utility Caster, with a secondary role as a backup Defender.
Because the Cleric is so versatile, it can be easy to become very MAD. Be sure to consider what roles you intend to fulfill before building your Cleric. If you plan to be heavily combat-focused, consider playing a Warpriest so that you can reduce your need for ridiculously high Charisma. If you plan to play a Face, you consider playing a Paladin instead. The Cleric can do almost everything well, but it is very hard to do everything well at the same time.
Cleric Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points is hard for any melee class, but with so much healing available the Cleric does just fine in combat.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB, but magical enhancement can easily overcome the BAB deficit.
Saves: Good Fortitude and Will saves, but with heavy armor most Clerics will have problems with Reflex saves.
Proficiencies: Medium armor and shields give the Cleric decent AC, simple weapons offer plenty of offensive options, and most Clerics get martial weapon proficiency with their deity's favored weapon.
Skills: 2+ skill ranks and no dependence on Intelligence, Clerics have terrible skills. Their skill list includes a lot of excellent options including Diplomacy and some excellent Knowledge skills. If you need skills to fill your role in the party, consider playing a Human, boosting your Intelligence, or using your favored class bonus to gain extra skill ranks.
Aura (Ex): Hardly ever matters.
Spells: One of the best spell lists in the game, and plenty of spells per day due to bonus domain spells.
Channel Energy (Su): Channel energy is a mediocre ability, and is rightly ignored by many builds. At best it is a splash of damage against undead, and at worst it's a mediocre mass-healing ability for your party. That said, with some focus it can become a useful asset. For help with Channel Energy, see my Practical Guide to Channel Energy.
Domains: Domains grant the Cleric a nice level of diversity, and offer a lot of fantastic options, including new spells not available on the Cleric spell list. For help selecting domains, see my Cleric Domains Breakdown.
Orisons: Fantastic and versatile.
Spontaneous Casting: You will very rarely need to drop spells to cast Cure spells in combat, but on those rare ocassions this is nice to have.
Chaotic, Evil, Good, and Lawful Spells: Limiting your spells by alignment can annoying, but rarely causes issues. I think the most annoying example is prohibiting good-aligned casters from casting Infernal Healing, which is the Pathfinder equivalent of 3.5's Lesser Vigor, which quickly became the basis for all out of combat healing in 3.5.
Bonus Languages: The Cleric can cast Tongues.
As a full caster, the Cleric's Wisdom is essential above all else.
Str: Useful if you plan to be in melee combat, but even then you can use Guided Hand to use Wisdom for attack rolls, so you probably don't need more than 13 Strength to get access to Power Attack.
Dex: Take 12 at most to fill out Full Plate, but even that isn't strictly necessary.
Con: Hit points are always important, especially if you plan to wade into combat.
Int: Only useful for skill ranks, and the Cleric isn't dependent on skills unless the party absolutely needs them to be.
Wis: Your casting stat. Maximize it, and enhance it as much as you can and as fast as you can.
Cha: Important if you plan to play a face or use Channel Energy.
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Bonuses to Wisdom are everything. All other benefits are secondary.
Dwarf: Exceptionally durable, and bonuses to both Constitution and Wisdom. The penalty to Charisma is a good excuse to dump Charisma, opening up points to improve your combat abilities or skills. The Dwarf favored class bonus adds additional uses of low-level Cleric Domain powers, but very few of those powers remain useful at high levels.
Elf: Despite being generally good spellcasters, Elves offer nothing useful to the Cleric.
Gnome: Small size is nice for straight casters, and the Charisma bonus is nice if you plan to play a Face or use Channel Energy, but the Strength penalty makes it hard to serve as a secondary Defender. The Gnome favored class bonus improves the healing effects of Channel Energy, but only for a very small set of creature types.
Half-Elf: Versatile and useful for a variety of builds, but not as useful as the Human. The Half-Elf favored class bonus improves Channel Energy Healing/Damage, but not by enough to justify taking it.
Half-Orc: On par with the Half-Elf. The Half-Orc favored class bonus adds additional uses of low-level Cleric Domain powers, but very few of those powers remain useful at high levels.
Halfling: The same issues as the Gnome, but the Dexterity bonus is much less useful than a Constitution bonus. The Halfling favored class bonus adds additional uses of low-level Cleric Domain powers, but very few of those powers remain useful at high levels.
Human: Humans work for any Cleric build. Unfortunately the favored class bonus is very situational.
- Appraise (Int): Too situational.
- Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for any face.
- Heal (Wis): A fantastic supplement to magical healing, and with the Cleric's Wisdom you can reliably hit the DC 25 to treat serious wounds and heal bonus damage with only a few skill ranks and some cheap items.
- Knowledge (arcana) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Knowledge (history) (Int): Situational depending on your campaign.
- Knowledge (nobility) (Int): Situational depending on your campaign.
- Knowledge (planes) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Knowledge (religion) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Linguistics (Int): Cast Tongues.
- Sense Motive (Wis): Useful for any Face, and with Cleric Wisdom you should be very reliable.
- Spellcraft (Int): Situational, and your Intelligence is probably poor.
This section does not cover feats related to Channel Energy. For help with Channel Energy, see my Practical Guide to Channel Energy.
- Divine Interference: Sacrifice a 1st-level spell slot to make an enemy reroll an attack roll. The reroll is much more important than the penalty, especially if the attack is a critical hit.
- Divine Protection: If you have a bit of Charisma to play a Face or use Channel Energy, Divine Protection can provide a massive boost to your saving throws. 14 Charisma makes this the equivalent of three feats, and boosting your Charisma makes it even better.
- Channel Smite: An excellent way to get some burst damage, but the target still gets a Will save to halve the damage, and it only hurts undead if you channel positive energy. If you channel negative energy it's considerably better.
- Greater Channel Smite: Allows you to split up the bonus damage dice from Channel Smite. You get to keep dice applied to any attack that you miss, but that won't matter until you have enough BAB to get multiple attacks.
- Guided Hand: This allows you to leave Strength at 13 and still be a melee monster. Note that this also works for ranged weapons, even though Channel Smite only works for melee.
- Power Attack: Essential if you plan to be scary in melee combat.
Your best bet is either a Morningstar or your deity's favored martial weapon.
3.5 migrants should note that in Pathfinder clerics only get medium armor proficiency, so the days of clerics in full plate are largely gone.
- Hide: Good, cheap starting armor if you don't want to spend the gold to get four-mirror.
- Four-Mirror: The best AC bonus which you can afford at first level.
- Heavy Shield: Great for the AC bonus, but using a heavy shield makes it difficult to cast spells because you need to drop your weapon or shield to get a free hand. However, many GMs will hand-waive this rule.
- Buckler: Superior to the light shield in every way, but you can switch to using a weapon two-handed without dropping it, and you always have a hand free to cast spells.
- Breastplate: The same AC bonus as four-mirror, but a slightly better ACP and lower weight.
This section won't address every spell on your spell list, but it will point out some especially notable options. For a complete list of spells, see the SRD Spell Index.
- Guidance: +1 to basically any d20 roll except a saving throw. Absolutely fantastic out of combat to buff people's skill checks.
- Virtue: There's nothing stopping you from walking around and casting this repeatedly to ensure that you always start a fight with 1 temporary hit point.
- Murderous Command: Admitedly less versatile than command, but most of the time you just need Command to take an enemy offline for a round. This wastes the enemy's turn, positions them near one of their allies to make them easy to hit with AOEs, and might get you some damage against an enemy. Overall I think it's a minor improvement over Command.
- Sanctuary: This spell took me a long time to understand. I overlooked it for years in the 3.5 days. Enemies only get to attempt the save once, and if they fail they can't attack you until the spell ends. Using this when you're low on hit points is the obvious benefit, but you can do so much more than that. Enemies still can't move into your square, so suddenly you're an unassailable road block. Shove yourself between allies and enemies to tactically position your party. The last line of the spell description says "The subject cannot attack without breaking the spell but may use nonattack spells or otherwise act." That's a bit unclear, but it's explained in the Special Spell Effects section of the magic rules. Anything that requires a save to resist, does damage, or otherwise "harms or hampers" count as attacks. So basically any spell that doesn't have (Harmless) after the saving throw entry. You'll need to stick to healing, buffs, and utility spells, but that's still a fairly large set of spells to choose from.
- Grace: Situational, but worth considering. It's a swift action to cast, so you can cast this, move, and spend your standard action healing a downed ally or hitting an enemy with a nasty touch spell.
- Life Pact: I really wish the duration on this were longer, but that would probably raise the spell level considerably. Having an ally fall below 0 hit points in combat is scary. Wether they survive and for how long is largely random, so your party's healer (usually you) needs to rush over to their rescue, potentially wasting several turns which you should be using to win the fight and prevent additional allies from dropping. This is an insurance policy, guaranteeing that you allies won't bleed out on the floor and potentially even saving them from death if they would fall just below their negative hit point cap. Until you get Breath of Life, this is the next best thing. Even then, a 2nd-level spell might be enough to prevent you from needing to waste a powerful 5th-level spell slot.
- Shield Other: If you're not in melee tanking for the party, you're probably hanging around the back casting spells. If you're in the back, you're probably not taking damage. If you're not taking damage, your hit points are a resource that you're not leveraging. Shield Other is a great way for back-line casters to help the party tank. Sharing hit points among multiple players also lets you benefit more from group healing effects like Channel Energy and Path of Glory, so you may spend less resources healing whoever is subject to Shield Other.
- Sound Burst: The damage is terrible so this is easy to overlook. The real draw the 1-round stun effect. If you have someone in the party with Sneak Attack this can really help them out.
- Align Weapon, Communal: If you need an aligned weapon, chances are good that the rest of your party does too.
- Magic Vestment: One of my favorite buffs. If you're using armor and a shield, this will save you as much gold as Greater Magic Weapon. Consider a 3rd-level Peal of Power if you need the 3rd-level spell slot. If your allies want their armor buffed, suggest that they buy you another pearl instead.
- Stone Shape: Adventuring tends to involve a lot of caves, caverns, and mountains, all of which have enough unworked stone that this offers a ton of utility. Make bridges, make cover, make a temporary shelter, fix the collapsing ceiling, lower the ceiling if a flying enemy is bothering you, raise the ceiling if you're flying and your enemies are't, put your enemies in a nice box and leave them there. The spell's biggest limit is your own capacity to imagine how to use it. Oh, and the unworked stone requirement.
- Stunning Bearier, Greater: An excellent defensive option, but the defensive bonuses won't stack with common defensive items. RAW you can stun the same creature repeatedly ("It is not discharged until it has stunned a number of creatures..."), but the intent is clearly that you can stun things a number of times equal to your caster level.
- Air Walk: It's not technically flight, but you also don't have to worry about maneuverability. If you don't have a better option to move around in the air, this is crucial.
- Aura of Doom: 10 minutes per level duration means that by this level you're getting over an hour of the effect. Bringing enemies to Shaken with no action is a fantastic debuff, even if you don't plan to use fear stacking. If you use fear stacking this is irreplaceably good.
- Blessing of Fervor: Similar to Haste but with more options. The ability to extend 1st and 2nd-level spells for free is fantastic if you don't already have Extend Spell. Even then, the cost of one 4th-level spell might be preferable to increasing a spell's effective spell level if you need to extend a lot of spells.
- Death Ward: At high levels save-or-die effects and negativy energy attacks become very common. You'll want this at some point.
- Dismissal: Save-or-suck on outsiders, but if they can Plane Shift they might come right back.
- Divine Power: The bonuses are luck bonuses so they won't stack with Divine Favor. 3.5 migrants should read the description and note that it has changed considerably from 3.5's version: you no longer alter your BAB. Instead, you just get a luck bonus and a haste-style additional attack.
- Imbue with Spell Ability: Put this on an ally so you have a backup healer, or let them cast buffs with range of "Self Only" on themselves.
- Magic Weapon, Greater: One of my favorite buffs. This will save you a fortune, but you'll still need to spend gold if you want interesting weapon abilities. Unfortunately you get it a spell level later than wizards.
- Path of Glory, Greater: In-combat healing is usually a bad idea, but I want to mention this spell as an alternative to Cure Critical Wounds. Cure Critical heals 4d8+CL hit points to one creature. That's an average of 18+CL (minimum 25 at CL 7). Greater Path of Glory heals up to 5 times your CL to as many creatures as you can fit into 4 squares, easily healing parties of any reasonable size. Creatures in squares created after the initial casting will be healed less, but that's really not the point. At CL that's 35 points of healing to everyone in your party. As you gain levels and 4th-level spells become less critical, this will become an excellent and reliable source of hit point restoration when you need a lot of healing and don't want to chew through your wand of cure light wounds.
- Air Walk, Communal: There is Communal Fly, so this is probably the msot efficient way to get your whole party in the air with one spell.
- Break Enchantment: A hugely important restorative spell, Break Enchantment heals a massive number of conditions. Notably, it can reverse petrification from Flesh to Stone, and it's a spell level lower than Stone to Flesh.
- Breath of Life: Too good to pass up. Prepare it once every day. It's basically a permanent tax on clerics.
- Holy Ice: Easily overlooked if you're not familiar with Ice Wall. The ice wall option could be amazing with a bit of luck. Creatures that take damage from holy water (undead and evil outsiders) take damage when they touch the wall, so the obvious choice is to make them touch the wall as much as possible. Ideally you want them to be pressed against the wall or walk on it. Ice Wall states that the wall can be oriented however you like so long as it's correctly anchored. Why not make the wall horizontal? Suddenly you've got a holy ice floor to fight on.
The Javelin option is extremely easy to overlook, and I've made that mistake myself. The attack is based on you Wisdom modifier rather than your Dexterity, so you're more likely to hit, but more importantly you still get to apply whatever attack and damage bonuses would apply to a ranged attack. If you had Divine Power running, for example, that luck bonus applies to each of the javelin attacks. If you've got +3 from Divine Power, each javelin deals 1d6+1+3 damage, +1 against targets that take damage from holy water. If you can get other bonuses from other spells or from things like Inspire Courage, it just gets crazier from there.
- Pillar of Life: Greater Path of Glory is miles better and a spell level lower. This spell is garbage.
- Plane Shift: Equal parts escape plan and banishment solution. Party in a bind? Plane Shift somewhere nice. Got an enemy that you're sick of? Plane Shift them somewhere unpleasant like the plane of fire.
- Righteous Might: The numeric benefits are better than Enlarge Person, but the rounds/level duration is hard. 3.5 migrants will note that Righteous Might no longer stacks with other size-increasing effects, so you can't combine this with Enlarge Person to become Huge.
- Slay Living: The damage dice are fixed, but they're also really high and you get to add your caster level. Not bad by damage spell standards.
- Banishment: Dismissal, but it can affect multiple creatures and there's an abusable mechanic for presenting stuff that the creature doesn't like. Say you were facing a Balor. It's an evil outsider, so holy water works. Its has DR cold iron and good, so a cold iron weapon works. A holy symbol of a good-aligned deity probably works. Beyond that it gets fuzzier, but you might be able to use things as simple as angel feathers or something.
- Blade Barrier: A decent area control spell, blade barrier can really change the shape of an encounter. What was probably a fight before the spell now becomes a game of "throw the other team into the wall".
- Heal: The best in-combat healing.
- Heroe's Feast: I like this enough to cast it every day when I have the option. It heals disease and poison, it grants a nice pool of temporary hit points, a +1 morale to attacks that lasts all day, and an impressive +4 to saves against poison and fear. 3.5 migrants will note that it no longer grants full immunity to fear.
- Undeath to Death: 40-foot radius save or die against undead. The 500gp material component cost is hard, but it's absolutely worth it in a fight with a lot of problematic undead.
- Jolting Portent: This sounds really cool, but the fundamental concept of the spell is flawed. If you can expect the target to fail a saving throw, why don't you just hit them with a save-or-suck?
- Repulsion: Choose when you want to go into melee. If you're against a melee enemy and you or an ally can fight at range, you can use this to hold enemies at range while you wittle them down.
- Waves of Ecstasy: Unlike Blasphemy and the other alignment-based AOE spells at this level, Waves of Ecstacy doesn't care about alignment and doesn't care about hit dice. Even on a successful save, the target is still staggered. At this level full attacks are important for many enemies, so denying them the ability to do so is a huge handicap.
- Cloak of Chaos / Holy Aura / Shield of Law / Unholy Aura: Excellent defensive buff for your whole party.
- Fire Storm: Simple fire damage AOE dealing 1d6/level, but the real draw is the ongoing fire damage. 4d6 is enough to cause some annoying Conenctration checks from spellcasters, and it's enough to quickly wear down enemies who can't take the time to extinguish themselves.
- Frightful Presence: The most important parts of Divine Power (size, Strength) plus a sizable natural armor bonus and some spell resistance. All for minutes/level. That enough makes this an excellent spell, but on top of that enemies within 30 feet are automatically shaken with no save.
- Stormbolts: AOE damage and 1 round stun on failed saves. AOE stunning is really good because it can buy your entire party a free turn.
- Overwhelming Presence: Make creatures helpless, then potentially deal wisdom drain and stagger them. Even if they save, they're still staggered for one round. You get to pick the targets, so you can exclude your allies. Send your allies around to coupe de grace your victims.
- Polar Ice: Not as immediately lethal as Overwhelming Presence, but still excellent. Ideally you want to find a way to prevent enemies from moving while in the area. Try combining this with spells like Entangle.
- Storm of Vengeance: Takes too long, does too little.
- Winds of Vengreance: The flight is nice and the defensive options are helpful, but I don't think this is good enough to be a 9th-level spell.
- Allying (+1): Even if you're built for weapon combat, you're still going to spend a lot of turns in combat casting spells or using other special abilities. In these cases, pass your weapon's enhancement bonus off to a friend. I wouldn't pick this up unless you're planning to get at least a +2 enhancement bonus because the effect won't be great enough to justify the cost.
- Courageous (+1): Clerics have a lot of great options to get morale bonuses, so a +1 Courageous weapon can do a lot for a cleric.
- Grayflame (+1): Channel Energy is a nice pool of healing, but you can also use it to power the Grayflame weapon ability. Unfortunately, the duration is short and without full BAB and iterative attacks to capitalize on the temporary damage boost, it's hard to justify.
- Spell Storing (+1): Clerics get a lot of damaging touch spells, but unfortunately Storing is capped at 3rd-level spells. So you can do Inflict Serious Wounds, but you can't do Harm. It's also limited to melee weapons.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Clawhand Shield (8,158 gp): This is a weird item. It's a bit more expensive than your typical +2 shield, so it may not be worth the cost compared to a mithral buckler. However, it allows you to perform somatic components with the hand holding the shield, which means that you can hold a weapon in your other hand without issue, and because it has no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure anyone can use it without issue. The ability to automatically damage enemies while in a grapple is a helpful deterrent for small or physical weak characters, but ion't go looking for excuses to use it.
- Enhancement Bonus (+X): Magic Vestment comes online at 5th level, and will generally outpace or match the amount you could reasonably invest in your armor. As you gain more levels, Magic Vestment will get better and the cost to enhance your armor will gradually become less appealing. A 3rd-level Pearl of Power costs 9000gp, which is as much as a suit of +3 armor and slightly more than two +2 armor items, but with this pearl and one spell slot you can enhance both your armor and your shield, and get the advantages of Magic Vestment's scaling without spending another coin.
- Counterspells: Clerics spend a lot of time casting buff spells, often on themselves. If you put on a ring of counterspells and fill it with Dispel Magic and Improved Dispel Magic, you're protected from losing all of your buffs when you run into enemy spellcasters.
- Curing: Healbots are dumb, and this is nowhere near worth 10,000 gold. I might consider it at 2,000, but even then I would consider it vendor trash if I found it on the floor of a dungeon.
- Protection: A lot of cleric spells grant Deflection bonuses to AC, and they obviously won't stack with your ring.
- Metamagic Extend, Lesser: Many crucial cleric buffs are 3rd-level or less, including several communal spells. If you can't spare a feat for Extend Spell, a rod can be a nice substitute. Once the durations are long enough, you can cast extended spells at night before you go to sleep and the durations will last well into the next day.
- Metamagic Reach, Lesser: Cure spells have a range of touch, which can be a problem if one of your allies falls below 0 hit points and you're not right next to them. A low-level cure spell will at least stabilize them until you can get in range for something bigger. If you're worried that you'll need Breath of Life frequently, consider the regular rod. It also covers Heal, so even if your allies don't drop below 0 you can still get your money's worth.
It's difficult to recommend specific staffs without knowing your individual character, so instead I want to make a general endorsement of the concept of magic staffs in Pathfinder. If you are a 3.5 native, go read Pathfinder's rules for staffs because they have improved dramatically.
Staffs are a reliable, rechargeable source of extra spellcasting that can give spellcasters easy and reliable access to spells from their spell list which they might not want to learn, or which they might like to use so frequently that they can't prepare the spell enough times in a given day. On days when you're not adventuring (traveling, resting, etc.) you can easily recharge any staff even if you can only cast one of the spells which the staff contains.
- Cure Light Wounds: A classic pitall of DnD-style games is thinking of clerics as healbots. While they have the best healing options in the game, devoting all of their spells to restoring hit points is a tragic waste of resources.
- Belt of Physical Ability Scores: If you're built to go into melee, a belt is a good idea. However, what you want to enhance depends on how you're built. If you went for heavy armor, increasing Dexterity is pointless. Increasing Constitution may be unnecessary, too, if your defenses are good and you've got ample healing.
- Candle of Invocation: This is a complicated item, so I'll try to explain it. You get 4 hours of candle time before it burns out. The effects only apply if you stay within 30 feet of the candle and the candle is lit, so put it inside a lantern while it's lit. If it goes out, you lose the effects of the candle and you're out 8400gp. The candle provides some numerical bonuses which are pretty easy to understand. The complex part is the spellcasting aspect. Preparing spells takes one hour, so there goes a quarter of your candle time right off the bat. But you get to prepare spells as if you were two cleric levels higher. That means that you get extra spell slots and access to spells a level higher than normal in most cases. They go away after three hours when the candle burns out, so get to work.
- Cloak of Resistance: Usually too crucial to forego, but clerics have easy access to several spells which provide Resistance bonuses, including Protection From Evil.
- Headband of inspired wisdom: Crucial.
- Headband of Mental Prowess (Wis/Cha): No matter how much you like Channel Energy, you can't afford to handicap your Wisdom enhancements by adding the price of also enhancing Charisma.
- Quick Runner's Shirt: Tragically, the errataed version is useless to us.