Ok, first I want to say that the advice that I’m about to give comes to you from someone that is a rather new player. I have some good tips for newer players in playing a Cleric at lower levels. Some of these tips will translate over to other Classes, but most of my tips are specific to the Cleric class.
My tips are aimed at players who use Fantasy Grounds to play D&D5e, so if you are playing using a different VTT, or you are playing Face to Face, some of the terminology may not apply. But hopefully the tips are general enough that anyone wishing to learn combat tactics as a beginner cleric will find this article helpful.
Types of Clerics:
Below are the different domains that you can choose when you make your Cleric. I’ve linked to a Wiki post which describes the features of each domain. The first 7 can be found as part of the Player’s Handbook. The final 3 are found in the “Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide,” or “Xanathar’s Guide to Everthing” respectively.
I have the most experience playing Life and Light Clerics; however I do have a bit of time playing a Tempest Cleric, but not enough to give any advice on Combat tactics. My very first cleric was a Nature Cleric, but that was before I knew what I was doing. So below, I will give you my tips based on the Life and Light Domains instead.
The Life Cleric As a Life Cleric, (and any domain cleric, actually) my main job is to buff my party when possible and to keep them from dropping too low in hit points. Because it’s important to save spell slots for healing and a possible “Bless” at the start of combat, I tend to use my “Sacred Flame” cantrip quite often. If you created your character using Xanathar’s Guide as a resource, you can also use the “Toll the Dead” cantrip. What I usually do is try and decide if my opponent is more Dexterity heavy or more Wisdom heavy as both of these spells have saves in Dex or Wis. Use your Cantrips and save spell slots to heal your party. If I think that an opponent has high Wisdom, I will use “Sacred Flame.” Same if the opponent is an undead creature as they are susceptible to radiant damage. “Sacred Flame” does 1d8 radiant damage until you reach level 5, then you add an additional d8. If I think an opponent has high Dexterity, OR if the opponent has taken damage, I tend to go with “Toll the Dead.” First, if it seems like it might not have a high Wis, and second, because “Toll the Dead” allows you to roll a higher damage die if the target is injured. It’s 1d8 for a healthy target, and 1d12 for an injured target. These also increase when you reach level 5, with an extra d8 or d12 accordingly. The importance of targeting opponents one at a time Something more important than which spells I use, is the fact of who to target. This is one of the best combat tactics. and one that is good one for all classes.
Keep your eye on the combat tracker and look for which targets have damage, and which are healthy. A target with 1 hit point can kill you the same as a target with 100 hit points. So, as a party, you all should focus on one target at a time. Don’t spread the damage around to multiple targets if you can help it. Buff your party members with a “Bless” spell Another thing I try to do as a Cleric is cast “Bless” on my first round. You would be surprised at how often that extra d4 comes in handy on your party members attacks, or their saving throws. Hopefully, I didn’t roll too badly during the Initiative and I can send a “Bless” to three of my party members. I generally will prioritize party members that are involved in melee battle. If my character has level 2 spell slots, I will bless 4 of my party members. Same tactic. Prioritize those in head to head combat, or those that have suffered damage already. Keep in mind this is a Concentration spell, so if you suffer damage, you may lose your Concentration, and everyone’s “Bless” will go away. Also, it will go away if you choose to cast an additional Concentration spell, as you can only have 1 Concentration spell active at a time.
Attack with your Cantrips unless in Melee combat On successive rounds after I’ve already blessed my party, I will use my Cantrip, (either “Sacred Flame” or “Toll the Dead,” as mentioned above) and if I have injured party members, I will use “Healing Word,” which is a Bonus Action to heal 1 of my party members. The “Cure Wounds” spell will do greater healing but 1) you have to be next to the person you are healing, and 2) if you use this spell, you can’t cast another spell unless you have a Bonus Action Cantrip, which Clerics don’t have. Another 2-part combo that I like to use if my character is level 3 or higher, is to cast my Cantrip of choice (“Toll the Dead” or “Sacred Flame”) then cast “Spiritual Weapon.” The “Spiritual Weapon” is a bonus action and it will allow you to get a second attack on a creature that you choose next to where you place it. With “Spiritual Weapon,” you can use a Bonus Action to move the weapon to a place near a new target if your previous target moved or died. When playing higher level Clerics, you need to remember that you can always cast lower level spells in higher level slots if they are available. For example, I made an error in a game recently, where I had a single 4th level slot, and we had injured party members. All I could think of was, I only have “Banishment” and “Death Ward” spells prepared at level 4. I totally forgot I could have cast a “Cure Wounds” or “Healing Word” at level 4 and given a nice heal to one of my party members. Learn from my mistakes, folks! 🙂 Channel Divinity: Preserve Life If your Cleric is level 2 or greater, you have access to Channel Divinity. With the Life Cleric, you can heal 2 of your party members up to 5x your level. So, at level 2 you can heal up to 10 hp worth of damage between two people. The only catch is that you can only heal up to 1/2 the party member’s hit points, so you only want to do this if you have 2 party members that are really hurt. You tell the DM how many points each person gets, since this is not automated. You are not obligated to split it evenly, so if one person seems a lot more hurt than the other you can give a greater portion of the healing to that person. The best thing about all Channel Divinity spells is that they do not require a spell slot. The bad thing is that you only have one use per long rest, so make it count. Turning Back the Undead Hordes Every Domain gets access to “Turn Undead,” which you can do once per long rest, so if you’re in a game where you are facing a lot of undead, wait until you have a good number of them within 30 ft. Then, cast your “Turn Undead,” as that can help turn the tide of a combat that looks like your party might not make it through. You do not need to see all of them, but they must all be able to hear you within that range. A good thing to remember once you have cast “Turn Undead,” is to tell the other party members not to target the undead creatures that are turned, as they will continue to try to get as far away from you as they can. If they target undead that are turned, they will no longer be turned and will go back to attacking your party. So, instead, everyone should concentrate on those that were not turned, as they will continue to attack, and again, as I said before, to work on them one at a time.
Light Clerics I really enjoy playing Life Clerics, but I also really love playing Light Clerics. The two things I like the best about the Light Cleric is the Domain spells that you get, which includes “Burning Hands,” “Faerie Fire,” “Flaming Sphere” and “Scorching Ray.” The latter two are for level 3 and above. While these spells do take a spell slot to cast, it’s nice to have an alternative type of spell than your ordinary Life Cleric for example. Faerie Fire rocks! Similar to using “Bless” to buff your party, if you have opponents bunched up in a 20 foot area, no more than 60 feet from you, you can cast “Faerie Fire,” which consists of a 20 foot cube. The opponents that are targeted must make a Dexterity saving throw (This is 8 plus your Wisdom Modifier and your Proficiency bonus). If they fail their save, they are outlined in a blue, green or violet light (your choice). Anyone making an attack on a creature affected by Faerie Fire gets advantage on their attack. This can be significant to your Rogue party member who can now possibly get “Sneak Attack” damage if they hit the target on their turn. Nice! The spell is a Concentration spell, but it lasts up to a minute. The Light Cleric is a powerful one in a campaign that you know you will be facing many Undead creatures, as your light-based spells are extra effective against those types of creatures. Warding Flare Reaction Many of the tips I gave for the Life Cleric apply to Light Clerics as well. One thing that I do appreciate having with a Light Cleric is “Warding Flare,” which is a Reaction. If you are attacked, you can use your Reaction to interpose Divine light between yourself and your attacker. This will impose disadvantage on their attack. (One of the DMs I played with used to call this my “Flash Bulb” spell :D) You can use this feature a number of times up to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). If your Cleric has a Wisdom of 16, that is 3 times per long rest. Channel Divinity: Radiance of the Dawn At 2nd level the Light Cleric gets “Channel Divinity: Radiance of the Dawn.” Like the Life Cleric’s “Preserve Life,” your cleric can use this feature once per long rest, and it doesn’t cost a spell slot. “Channel Divinity: Radiance of the Dawn” will dispel any magical darkness within 30 feet of you, also any opponents in this same range must make Constitution Saving Throw. (This is based on 8 plus your Wis Modifier, plus your Proficiency bonus) If they fail their save, they take 2d10 plus your level, and half that if they succeed. Nice ability. Well, I hope my tips were helpful. If you have any tips to add for domains I didn’t mention, or if you see any inaccuracies in my tips, please use the Comments to let me know.
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