In the PHB-vs-SRD series.
The cleric is an interesting case. Historically, it was aimed at the player of Sir Fang to knock a vampiric character down a peg. It used to be a sort of 3/4 caster, getting its spells late and only getting 7 levels of them. In the modern era, it’s become a plate-wearing full caster, with the balance coming from a weaker spell selection and weapon skills.
Of course, domains enter the picture. A sort of extension of the 2e specialty priest, they let us differentiate the Cleric of War from the Cleric of Light from the Cleric of Love. They are the primary means by which we categorize deities in 3e and 5e — which domains they grant. Warlocks and Paladins have patrons, of course, but Clerics are generally personally beholden to their deity, while warlocks are often rebellious, and paladins who fall are those who deviate from their code, not the commandments of a deity.
The domains push the boundaries of this “weaker spell selection”, because they add back in all of the missing spells and powers. They also add weapon skills.
Domains as presented are a huge mistake. There are deities of each character class. There are priests of each of those deities. Those priests will take on the characteristics of those character class, while remaining priests. If you try to fit all of those archetypes under “cleric”, your class will do everything. 3e definitely was vulnerable to this, with design eventually giving the cleric the world on a plate. 5e has restrained that impulse, mostly by presenting a more capable fighter, giving the cleric more room to grow. Still, I worry.
What could an alternate proposed core cleric be, instead?
It doesn’t make sense to me to model the Cleric after the deity they serve. It presupposes a henotheistic pantheon. It ties the cleric strongly to a specific NPC (the god). It fits every archetype under one banner.
The only domain we have in the SRD is the Life domain (the PHB is dead to us, in this section of the article).
The Life domain armors the cleric, gives us healing spells, and dramatically empowers them. It designates certain of the spells we already have access to as “domain spells” so that they’re always prepared, but it doesn’t extend our spell selection. It informs us that we worship a deity of vitality and life.
Good so far as it goes. We’re going to alter it a little, then start adding new content. First, a definition: A Cleric is a character defined in opposition to the undead, the party healer and blesser, and a source of divinatory and defensive magics. We’re going to double down on this definition. It means a lot of the faithful won’t actually be clerics: if your henotheistic priest of Thor is a fighter and a smiter, it’ll have to fit under a different class (and don’t worry, I’ve got you covered). It means that priests of Athena can’t necessarily raise the dead, because they’re not clerics. I’m okay with that: the class will mean something, and tightening its focus will hopefully give it a place in the world.
Clerical subclasses won’t be Domains. They’ll be Orders. The “Life Domain” is the “Temple Order”. We’re changing the name and the flavor, but the rules are already correct.
The Temple Order of Clerics are those clerics devoted to, y’know, healing, protection, divination, and driving off the undead. In a monotheistic campaign, we’re done; in a henotheistic one, they worship deities for whom these things are interests: deities of civilization, healing, light, that sort of thing. Members of this order are referred to as Templars.
Moving on to the interesting part: new subclasses!
The Invoker Order of Clerics are, by contrast, those clerics whose power is related to the spiritual beings of the world. They might call them up; they might put them down — my original name here had been Exorcist, but I think Invoker is closer to my intention. They also work well as any other spiritual intercessor-type priests, like shinto priests. Either way, their faith gives them an understanding and power over these forces. Members of this order are referred to as Exorcists or Invokers.
Invoker Order Spells
cleric level : domain spells
1st : detect evil and good, protection from evil and good
3rd : magic weapon, see invisibility
5th : dispel magic, magic circle
7th : banishment, phantasmal killer*
9th : dispel evil and good, hallow**
* This phantasmal killer appears as a creature-type over which you have authority.
** Hallow does not require an expensive material component for you.
When you choose this order at 1st level, you also select a creature type from the following list: aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend, or undead.
You have advantage on intelligence, wisdom and charisma checks dealing with your chosen type.
Your speech is always intelligible to creatures of that type.
You may select an additional Authority at 6th and again at 14th level.
When you choose this order at 1st level, you also gain a book of summoning lore. Similar to the wizard feature, you may maintain a spellbook of creation and summoning spells. It begins blank. The only spells which may be added due to this feature are those which are a level which you can prepare and which create, conjure, summon or contact aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends or undead. A partial list of potential spells includes: animate dead (3rd), conjure celestial (7th), conjure elemental (5th), conjure fey (6th), conjure minor elementals (4th), conjure woodland beings (4th), contact other plane (5th), create undead (5th), gate (9th), planar ally (6th), planar binding (5th), and speak with dead (3rd). The DM may provide additional spells.
If the spell is a ritual, you may perform it from your spellbook without preparation; you may consider spells in your spellbook as on your spell list.
Channel Divinity: Invoke Authority
At 2nd level, as an action, you may present your holy symbol and speak a prayer exhorting and commanding one of the creature types you have selected with your Authority feature. Each creature of that single type within 30 feet of you must make a wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is either turned (per turn undead) or awed for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. An awed creature is incapacitated and may not move, and may repeat its save at the end of each round.
If you have the Destroy Undead clerical feature, targets subject to your authority and of the proper challenge are instead destroyed (if turned) or commanded (if awed). Commanded targets obey your non-suicidal commands (though they will turn on their allies) for 1 minute. This is not a charm effect.
Undead subject to Invoke Authority to create a Turn Undead effect face a DC +2 higher, to compensate for the Turn Undead feature you already had.
Beginning at 6th level, your damaging cantrips affect even creatures that avoid the brunt of the effect. When a creature succeeds on a saving throw against your cantrip, the creature takes half the cantrip’s damage (if any) but suffers no additional effect from the cantrip.
Beginning at 8th level, when you cast a cleric spell with a duration of concentration targeting a single creature of 5th level or below, you may expend a use of Channel Divinity in order to add yourself as an additional target for the spell if you wish. The effect ends for you if you are ever more than 30 feet from the primary target, the spell ends for the primary target, or you make an attack or cast another spell; the spell itself functions normally for the primary target.
Beginning at 17th level, when you cast a cleric spell with a duration of concentration targeting a single creature of 5th level or below on yourself, you may expend a use of Channel Divinity to add any number of additional targets to the spell. All targets must be within and remain within 30 feet of you, and the effect ends for them if you make an attack or cast another spell. The spell itself functions normally for you.
SIDEBAR: Evangelists and Ministers
A DM may permit an Invoker to take alternate types of creature as valid types for Authority. Unusual categories include Constructs, Dragons, Plants; or two subtypes of Beast, Monstrosity or Humanoid (arachnids, lizards, equines, canines, goblinoids, orcs, dwarves, humans, etc). If they do so, those creature types may be affected by any of the domain spells which normally affect the litany of authority types, so that for instance an Evangelist of Men and Wolves would be able to use magic circle to hedge out a wolf, command a human, and so forth. Lose the spellbook feature, and gain the additional Channel Divinity option “Form of Faith” to wildshape — per the druid ability — into a form of the appropriate type, with the usual restrictions.
Next, the Prophetic Order of Clerics. These clerics possess the most miraculous powers, and harnessing them is extremely strenuous. Oracles, judges, and madfolk join the order and carry their faith into dark places. They do not concern themselves as much with the protection of communities or the healing of wounds, though they can: Prophets of the order enact the will of the gods.
Prophetic Order Spells
cleric level : domain spells
1st : command, identify
3rd : augury, suggestion
5th : bestow curse, tongues
7th : divination, control water
9th : legend lore, insect plague
When you select this order at 1st level, you may select two of your intelligence or wisdom based skills. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any check you make with these skills, per the rogue ability. Instead of one choice, you may gain proficiency in an intelligence or wisdom based skill you did not already have proficiency in.
Also at 1st level, you gain advantage on initiative checks and checks to avoid surprise.
Channel Divinity: See Portents
Starting at 2nd level, you gain the ability to glimpse the nature of things. You may expend a use of channel divinity as an action to give yourself limited truesight 30′ for the next minute. You may see in normal and magical darkness and into the ethereal plane. You have a 50% chance to see any given invisible object, pierce any illusion and succeed automatically on any saving throw or skill check associated, or perceive the true form of shapechangers or creatures transformed by magic; this chance is evaluated once per use of this ability.
At 5th, 11th, 14th and 17th level, double the range of your truesight.
Starting at 6th level, your powers of foresight grow. At the end of each long rest, select either “weal” or “woe”. Twice before your next long rest but no more than once per round, you may grant advantage (“weal”) or disadvantage (“woe”) on an attack, save, or check involving a creature within 30′ (so the attacker or attacked, spell caster or target, etc). This is not an action (though you must be able to take reactions) and is taken after seeing the result of the roll; if the result doesn’t change, the use of this ability is not expended.
Starting at 8th level, you become better at taking advantage of the opportunities you foresee in a fashion similar to sneak attack, but more limited. When your attacks with advantage hit, you may increase the damage by 2d6. When you reach 11th level, the damage increases to 3d6. When you reach 14th level, the damage increases to 4d6.
Starting at 17th level, your powers of foresight reach their apex. You may use blessed seer not during each long rest, but during each short rest.
Additionally, when you use See Portents, it is actual truesight, not limited truesight: the chance to pierce invisibility, illusions and transformations becomes 100%.
Finally, there is the Monastic Order of Clerics. These individuals have taken oaths of purity, self-denial, service and scholarship, holding themselves apart and devoting themselves to their faith. The Monks and Nuns of the order are considered among the holiest.
Monastic Order Spells
At each of levels 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 select a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th level spell from any spell list. These are your domain spells, but are not actually cleric spells for the purposes of Holy Trance.
When you select this order at 1st level, while you are not wearing armor or using a shield, you may calculate your AC as 10 + your wisdom bonus + your charisma bonus.
When you select this order at 1st level, you may learn an additional cantrip from any class.
Channel Divinity: Holy Trance
Starting at 2nd level, you gain the ability to assume a holy trance similar to a barbarian’s rage as a bonus action. While in this state:
- Whenever you deal damage or restore hitpoints with a cleric spell, you may increase the value per creature by 2 (increasing to 3 at 9th level and 4 at 16th)
- You have advantage on Wisdom checks and Wisdom saving throws.
- You have resistance to necrotic, poison, psychic and radiant damage.
- You gain the ability to speak and understand a specific outsider language, such as Supernal or Infernal (chosen when you gain this feature)
Your trance state lasts for 1 minute. It ends early if you are knocked unconscious, make a weapon attack, manipulate an object, speak in any language other than the granted tongue, or if your turn ends and you haven’t cast a spell since your last turn.
Starting at 6th level, allies in your presence are quicker to recover from afflictions. Allies within 10′ beginning their turn may make an additional early save against one effect which normally allows a save at the end of their turn — and may also make that later save if necessary.
Allies within the aura also cannot be affected by confusion or insanity.
Starting at 8th level, your trance sustains and rejuvenates itself. Whenever you cast one of your order spells while in a Holy Trance, you temporarily regain a spell slot of a level lower than the expended one. This new slot is wasted if not used before the end of your next turn.
At 14th level, the new slot persists until the end of the Trance.
At 17th level, the range of your blessed presence extends to 30′. Also, you are permanently under the effects of a protection from good and evil spell.