The Cleric in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is one of the most flexible classes in the game. You can cast spells, engage in melee combat, support and heal your allies, and aid in exploration.
But, for new players, the overwhelming options may give them pause.
What Ability Scores do Clerics need? Is the class easy to play? What do Clerics even do?
This beginner’s guide on how to play a Cleric in D&D 5e is meant as an introduction for new players looking to try out the class for the first time. I’ll cover the basic ideas of the class, their role in the party, and a few things to keep in mind when playing a Cleric if you’re just staring out.
Without further ado, let’s first take a look at the basics of the Cleric’s theme.
Basics On Playing a 5e Cleric
The Cleric class in D&D 5e is one of the classic player classes in the game. It represents followers of deities or followers with an firm faith in their beliefs.
Playing a Cleric in 5e means playing one of if not the most versatile class in the game.
Clerics represent devout followers of a deity OR faith and conviction in their beliefs. It’s important to note that belief in a deity is not a requirement of the class. Todd Kenrick even went so far as to clarify this on his Twitter.
So, you can play your Cleric as having a strong faith in their chosen Domain without needing to worship a specific entity.
Usually, 5e Clerics utilize spells as their primary focus. They wield many spells which run the gamut of healing to damage to support to social. This means you have a variety of ways to play your Cleric from a spellcasting standpoint.
That said, a number of Clerics opt for more martial builds, picking up a hammer, axe, or sword to fight for their beliefs. The best part is; this is also a valid way to play a Cleric in 5e. You’re not stuck in the back of the party relying solely on your ever-dwindling number of Spell Slots. You can get right up in a monster’s face and slap them around with your bare hands if you want to.
I wouldn’t recommend it. That’s usually the Monk’s job. But, you could do it.
From spellcasting to martial prowess, the Cleric class is capable of many things in D&D 5e. Many of 5e’s backgrounds work for Clerics, giving players a wide variety of ways to play their character both mechanically and thematically. As such, knowing how to play a Cleric well means understanding the many options available to your character.
Is a Cleric Easy to Play?
It depends on how you play a Cleric. Thanks to their versatility, playing a Cleric is fairly easy as you can build your character to cater to your play style. On the other hand, that same versatility may become overwhelming especially for newer players.
Now, any spellcasting class in D&D 5e is more complicated than their martial counterparts. So, you could argue that the Cleric isn’t as easy to play as, say, a Fighter or Barbarian.
That said, Clerics might be a bit tougher to play than even other casters due mostly to their versatility and range.
When I first started learning how to play D&D, the guy teaching me told me how much he loved the 5e Cleric. He loved it because you can move, attack, and heal all in the same turn.
While this is fantastic, I don’t think that makes the Cleric easier to play. Especially for newer players.
Sure, once you get the hang of balancing all your options, playing a Cleric becomes easy. But, getting to that point requires understanding the various systems of D&D 5e.
This all said, I do think this same versatility and flexibility makes for a relatively play experience. Since Clerics can be viable in both spellcasting and some sort of martial capacity (usually with melee weapons as well as the ability to wear armor), you never feel like a burden or like you’re not contributing to the party even when you’re out of Spell Slots.
So, I’d say that the Cleric is a moderately easy class to play.
What Do Clerics Do in D&D?
The 5e Cleric is actually the most versatile class in the game. Meaning there’s little they can’t do. Clerics in 5e can fill almost any of the D&D party roles depending on how you want to play your character.
Now, Clerics tend to get pigeonholed as the Healer of the group. Yes, they have access to the most healing spells in D&D 5e and stand as one of, if not the best healer class in D&D 5e, but they have so many other spells and class features for pretty much any aspect of the game. It all depends on how you want to play your Cleric.
For example, Clerics who follow the Tempest or War Domains (which we’ll get to in a bit) make phenomenal Damage characters. On the other hand, Clerics of the Peace and Trickery Domains may prioritize their Charisma-based skills to navigate social encounters as the party’s Face.
To put it simply; Clerics in 5e can:
- Take a good amount of damage (depending on the Domain)
- Deal decent damage to their enemies
- Heal their allies of damage and other afflictions
- Support the party with a variety of buffing spells
- Hinder their enemies’ capabilities
- Control and manipulate the battlefield
- Use spells and features to better deceive or persuade NPCs
So, Clerics can do just about anything in D&D 5e. It’s up to you as a player to decide how you want to play your Cleric.
5e Cleric Ability Scores
Clerics in 5e use Wisdom as their primary Ability Score. Which stat you prioritize after that depends on how you want to play your Cleric.
Wisdom is hands down the most important Ability Score for Clerics. Their spellcasting relies on it and many of their features need a decent score to stay viable.
That said, you have some flexibility in what stat you prioritize next. The Basic Rules and Player’s Handbook suggest Clerics use either Strength or Constitution as their secondary Ability Score. Both of which are good options, but not necessary.
Here’s a quick rundown of each Ability Score and how they interact with Clerics in 5e:
- Strength is a good stat for Clerics in 5e as most players choose to play melee builds. Related, it helps for Cleric Domains, like the Life Domain, that get proficiency in Heavy Armor.
- Dexterity is a decent Ability Score to prioritize as a Cleric. While most Clerics opt for melee weapons and combat, Dexterity helps in Armor Class calculations for non-heavy armor pieces of equipment, raising your Initiative bonus, and some weapon attacks and damage rolls.
- Constitution is a great Ability Score to use as a Cleric in 5e. If you’re playing a melee Cleric, having a high Constitution stat means having more hit points to withstand the attacks from your enemies. Also, it helps in maintaining Concentration on your spells.
- Intelligence is a less-than-ideal stat to prioritize as a Cleric. Your spells and class features don’t rely on it, so you won’t find much utility there. That said, the Religion skill uses Intelligence as its default Ability Score, so you may elect to have a higher stat there for thematic reasons.
- Wisdom is the primary Ability Score for Clerics in 5e. Your spellcasting and class features often rely on it. So, make sure you have at least a decent score to make sure you’re not dragging the party down.
- Charisma isn’t the best Ability Score for most Clerics. None of your class features use it with the exception of maybe gaining proficiency in Charisma-based skills. That said, having a good Charisma stat as a Cleric may help if you want to play as the Face of the party with spells to augment you during social encounters.
Personally, I like playing melee Clerics. Using a support spell to either increase my character’s Armor Class or hit points, healing my allies, and attacking all on the same turn is a lot of fun.
That said, Wisdom should be your highest Ability Score when you play a Cleric. How you prioritize your other stats is up to how you want to play your character.
Cleric Domains (Subclasses)
The Cleric subclasses in 5e are called Domains. These Domains correlate to different scopes of representation for deities or secular faith in them.
Like every other class in D&D, Clerics in 5e have a variety of subclasses available to them. The difference with Clerics which sets them apart from other classes is they choose their subclass starting at 1st-level, defining their unique playstyle earlier than a good portion of other classes. The only other classes which choos a subclass at level one is Sorcerer with their Sorcerous Origin and Warlock with Otherworldly Patron.
The difference between Clerics and other classes is Clerics have a lot of subclasses to choose from. Much more than some others.
Each Cleric Domain offers something slightly different and prioritizes a different playstyle from the others. For example, the Tempest Domain puts a heavy focus on dealing damage while the Life Domain seeks to the heal wounds of their allies. As such, you should take a look at each Domain so you know how to play a Cleric the way you want to.
The available Cleric Domains and which books they come from are:
- Player’s Handbook Cleric Domains
- Dungeon Master’s Guide Cleric Domain
- Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide Cleric Domain
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything Cleric Domains
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything Cleric Domains
- Order (also available in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica)
Spellcasting for Clerics in 5e
Clerics in 5e count as one of the Full Caster spellcasting classes. This means they get the maximum number of spell slots in D&D 5e. Their spell list includes a number of spells for healing, supporting, buffing, hindering, and harming creatures.
As a spellcasting class, Clerics follow most of the same rules as other magic-using classes. You have a Spell Save Difficulty Class (DC) and Spell Attack Modifier you use when casting as well as the option to use a Spellcasting Focus. So, you need to understand D&D 5e’s spellcasting systems to understand how to play a Cleric well.
The formulas for calculating your Cleric’s spell save DC and Spell Attack Bonus look like this:
Like other spellcasting classes, Clerics may use a Spellcasting Focus to ignore most Material component requirements on their spells. The difference is Clerics have to use a Holy Symbol as their Focus.
Your Holy Symbol options include:
These are a little ambiguous. Basically, any small item of some religious or faith-based significance may serve as a Holy Symbol. Now, you’ll want to discuss with your GM wheter your character may use it as a Spellcasting Focus. But, that’s anything representing a deity or faith usually stands as a Holy Symbol.
How Many Spells Does a Cleric Know / Prepare in 5e?
Cleric prepare a number of spells according to their Wisdom Ability Score and level in this class. They use the same basic formula as other spellcasting classes to determine the number of spells they may prepare for any given day.
Clerics in 5e prepare a list of spells after finishing a long rest. Now, the fun thing with Clerics is they can switch out their spells when they complete a long rest, a lot of other classes can’t do that.
Basically, a Cleric know all spells available to them for their level but they may only prepare a certain number of them for any given day.
The formula on how to calculate the number of Cleric spells you may prepare is as follows:
For example, a 1st-level Cleric with a 16 Wisdom score (+3 modifier) may prepare up to four spells per day. When they level up to 2nd-level, they may prepare up to five spells. So on and so forth, gaining higher spell levels as they make progress in the class.
Summary on How to Play a Cleric in 5e
That about covers the basics of how to play a Cleric in D&D 5e.
The Cleric class is one of the classic options available in the game. It’s primarily a spellcasting class that uses Wisdom in their magic, but it also often comes with solid martial capabilities for when your Spell Slots run out. And, the best part of playing a Cleric is just how versatile they are. You can build a Cleric to cover pretty much any aspect of D&D 5e and do well if not excel at it.
If you’ve played a Cleric, what’s your favorite part of playing it? What tips would you have for a new player about to play a Cleric for the first time? Leave a comment below!
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4 thoughts on “Tips on How to Play a Cleric in D&D 5e”
I was enjoying the article until I saw the sentence, “For Clerics, they choose their subclass, or Domain, once they reach 3rd-level.” Clerics are unique that they choose subclass at level 1. As soon as I saw that I had to question if this author really knew what they were saying.
Oh geez. All that and I forgot one of the most basic things about Clerics. Honestly, the last time I played a Cleric, we started at 5th-level and plumb forgot Clerics get their Domain at 1st instead of 3rd.
Thanks for pointing this out!
Clerics aren’t unique in that they are the only ones to choose their subclass at first level. Sorcerer’s do as well and Warlocks choose their patrons at first level.
Yeah, I made sure to point that out in my edits as well. I did flat out forget Clerics got their Domain at 1st-level so that’s on me, but I felt it was good information to include the other two which get their subclasses at creation too.