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Playing a Cleric in D&D for Beginners

Faithful servants of holy deities, clerics used to be a class people would hesitate to play, as they’d end up being used as healing machines. That changed in 5e. Thoughtless bots no longer, clerics can now be played in a myriad of ways to suit your chosen character path. Be the classic designated healer, pick up a mace, or carve a destructive path forward fueled by holy fervor with a combination of awesome abilities. Here’s how you can begin playing a Cleric in D&D 5e.

What Are They?

If you’ve played a game of Dungeons and Dragons before, you’ll know there’s a lot more to it than just really cool dice. Knowing the kind of background clerics generally come from, and the one yours comes from in particular is the first thing you should do before you begin playing.

Your cleric could be an exalted priest of a holy deity in a faraway temple, or just an ordinary follower who’s been chosen for greater things. If you’d like to spice it up, clerics in D&D 5e can be spiced up with inventive new backstories. Perhaps your particular cleric doesn’t worship a merciful god, but rather a destructive and maleficent force of destruction. The fun in D&D comes from what you can bring to your character, so consult your DM and feel free to play your cleric in 5e a way that speaks to you. 

Once you’ve chosen a backstory, you can always tweak the way you’d like to play your heretic by specializing into a particular playstyle. Clerics can be played in a similar way to paladins that tank damage for the party, or even as melee characters that get into close range with enemies using faith-based magics. If neither of these appeal to you, you can always play your cleric in 5e the classic D&D way - standing afar and healing your party.

Class Abilities

Actually getting down to play a cleric in 5e will involve at least a basic understanding of what your character can do. 

  • Spellcasting: Spellcasting is a cleric’s forte. Using the blessings of the particular god that is your patron, you’ll be able to cast a range of spells from generic area-based and individual healing to faith-based enchantments that increase a weapon’s damage. The first thing that determines the strength of your spells is the Wisdom ability. The higher this attribute is, the more spells you can prepare, the higher your attack modifier and the higher your spell save DC will be for enemies to resist your abilities.

    Clerics are prepared casters, which means you’ll be choosing a set of spells at the start of the day, and you’ll have to rely on these for the remainder of the day. If you’re having trouble keeping track of all the spells you’ve got available, a combat tracking pad might come in handy.

  • Channeling: As you’d expect from a cleric in D&D 5e, a major portion of your power comes from channeling the grace and fervor of the god you’ve chosen to worship. The most widely known use of channeling holy power is to ‘turn undead’, where, if you roll correctly, you’ll have the chance to cause all nearby undead within 30 feet to run away.

  • Later levels: People who play clerics in 5e will pick up a significant amount of power as they level up, which means the class scales very well into the late game. An example of this is the ability to simply destroy undead units if chance favors you. At level 10, you’ll even be able to commune directly with your god and ask them for a favor!

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Choosing a God

Channeling divinity isn’t the same for every cleric in D&D 5e. One of the most exciting aspects of playing such a class is the fact that the god you choose to follow as a cleric can completely change your playstyle as a cleric. Choosing different gods for different campaigns will completely alter your experience and is a perfect example of the kind of versatility that clerics can bring to the party.

Since the gods you can choose may change depending on the campaign you’re playing, it’s easier to classify them into domains rather than going into detail about every divine being. 

  • Death Domain: This domain is an edgier offshoot from what you’d typically see from an undead-busting cleric. As the name might imply, the death domain allows you to play a 5e cleric that’s more oriented towards dealing high DPS rather than sitting behind and healing, although you’ll still have access to rudimentary healing spells. Most of your damage will come from cantrips.

  • Arcana Domain: The arcana domain allows clerics in 5e to dip their toes into D&D wizardry. You’ll gain access to the classics like magic missile as well as cool new wizard cantrips that do much more than just firing spells off from a distance. An underappreciated quirk of the Arcana domain is the ability to create a melee-focused cleric that can get up close and personal while still having access to ranged abilities.

  • Life Domain: If the edge and violence of the nonconventional cleric divinities don’t appeal to you, playing a life/holy domain-based cleric is the way to go. If you’re looking to play a standard cleric build that focuses heavily on healing, it would be hard to do better than with the life domain. You’ll be able to use multi-member healing spells that can easily bring your entire party’s health back up after a grueling battle.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Pick your domain and squeeze the most out of it to really see how versatile clerics can be. If your chosen domain seems difficult to play or understand, stick with it for a while, you’ll be surprised how many struggling players later end up getting dice that match their characters.

The ‘Life’ of the Party

Clerics are one of the best classes to get into D&D 5e. They’re versatile enough to deal damage heavily in close quarters or rain magic from far away, there’s always going to be a play style that suits what you’re looking to do. Whether you’re looking to get into playing clerics, or aspiring to be the DM of your dreams, you’ll find a veritable arsenal of dice and D&D accessories to match your campaigns at Dice Envy.

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