War is a terrible, inevitable thing.
In hopes for a swift victory against one’s enemies, it’s not uncommon to pray for strength and guidance from the deities that preside over the domains of war, protection, and strategy.
As armored priests devoted to these deities, War Clerics are a staple in any military force. They offer healing to their allies and dish out punishment to those who would stand against them.
Just as war can destroy entire nations, it can also create heroes whose deeds will be remembered for centuries to come.
With guidance from your deity, will you lead your party to victory?
This is the full subclass guide to the War Cleric in D&D 5e!
What is the War Cleric in D&D 5e?
Offering blessings, healing, and good old-fashioned beatdowns, War Clerics are vital to any military.
There are three primary types of War Clerics based on their philosophy, beliefs, and methods. But war is never exactly a straightforward topic, is it?
Some War Clerics serve as defenders of their homeland, people, and nation. They fight out of duty and commitment to protecting what they hold dear. These Clerics pray for the strength to repel invading enemies.
Other War Clerics see war as an inevitable fact of life and an opportunity for the greatest feats of heroism to manifest. To them, war is the ultimate proving ground, and they offer divine inspiration to those on their side.
Still, others relish war for the destruction that it causes. They seek nothing less than total domination and view acts of violence as a type of worship and offering to their deities.
Deities commonly revered by War Clerics include:
- Torm, the God of Law, Loyalty, and Righteousness
- Tyr, God of Justice and Law
- Tempus, the God of War and Honor
- The Red Knight, the Goddess of Strategy and Battle Tactics
- Erythnul, God of Hatred, Malic, and Slaughter
- Gruumsh, Orc God of Strength, Survival, and Conquest
- Bane, God of Tyranny, Oppression, and Fear
- Hextor, God of Warfare, Destruction, and Tyranny
The War Cleric can be found in the 5e Player’s Handbook.
Role in the Party
Fitting with the name of their Divine Domain, War Clerics are very combat-focused. These characters belong on the party’s frontlines and wouldn’t have it any other way!
War Clerics gain proficiency with heavy armor as well as martial weapons. Focusing more on combat abilities with some supplemental spells, they can be a shield to defend their allies and a divine weapon against their enemies.
They’re definitely geared towards melee combat, but you’ve got plenty of room to build them in whatever suits your interest and party dynamic. The Cleric spell list is remarkably powerful with a ton of excellent options to supplement both your and your allies’ performance.
War Cleric Features 5e
All of the features you gain from the War Domain are meant to boost you and your allies’ combat performance. Meanwhile, you’re also getting access to several useful spells thanks to the War Domain spell list.
Specifically, you’ll be able to make extra attacks, use your Channel Divinity to get a large bonus to an attack roll, deal extra damage with melee attacks, and resist incoming damage.
In fact, you’ll eventually be able to pass that attack roll bonus from your Channel Divinity to an ally!
So, let’s take a closer look at the War Cleric’s features and how they work.
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War Domain Spells
Every Divine Domain (Cleric subclass) also comes with its own unique list of bonus spells. These are called Domain Spells.
You gain these Domain Spells when you hit the level on the table below. These spells are considered to always be prepared for you and they don’t count against the number of spells you can prepare each day.
Some Domain Spell lists might include spells that aren’t normally on the Cleric spell list. In these cases, the spell counts as a Cleric spell for you and uses your Wisdom modifier as the spellcasting ability.
So, let’s check out what you get for choosing the War Domain!
|Cleric Level||Domain Spells|
|1||Divine Favor, Shield of Faith|
|3||Magic Weapon, Spiritual Weapon|
|5||Crusader’s Mantle, Spirit Guardians|
|7||Freedom of Movement, Stoneskin|
|9||Flame Strike, Hold Monster|
There are some great options on the War Cleric’s spell list with only a few being situational or forgettable.
Just be aware that you will want to know the rules for maintaining concentration.
All but a few of your spells from this Divine Domain require you to keep your concentration up which can be pretty tough for a character that’s meant to be on the frontline.
Thoughts on the War Cleric Spell List
Shield of Faith is a great boost to your AC and is fantastically useful at every level. At low levels, you’ll likely get some good use out of Divine Favor but you will outgrow it beyond those early levels.
A big standout on the War Cleric’s spell list is Spiritual Weapon which gives you some good use of your bonus action and increases your damage output.
Magic Weapon can be useful for getting around resistances against nonmagical weapons, but it’s ultimately pretty situational.
Both spells you gain at level 5 are exceptional. Crusader’s Mantle is a nice buff to your entire party’s damage output which means its value is compounded based on the size and composition of your party. Meanwhile, Spirit Guardians is an incredible AoE spell that is a staple option for any Cleric.
The only real downside to Stoneskin is how expensive it is. You’ll eventually get its effect as a permanent passive buff with your capstone feature, but you’ve got quite a bit of time between level 7 and level 17. In a pinch, it’s nice to have Stoneskin.
Freedom of Movement is incredibly situational though and you might never even have a reason to cast it.
There might be situations where an AoE spell like Flame Strike might be preferable to just casting Spirit Guardians, but I imagine those are pretty rare in most campaigns. It’s not that Flame Strike is bad, it’s just that Spirit Guardians is that good (especially considering your role in the party.)
Hold Monster can be a quick “game over” for enemies that can’t make their Wisdom saving throw. It’s a nice addition for the War Cleric’s spell list.
Bonus Proficiencies (Level 1)
As with most Cleric subclasses, we’re kicking it off with some bonus proficiencies!
You gain proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor.
As you’d probably expect, brutal weapons and heavy armor are a big part of the War Cleric’s whole schtick.
Since you’re on the party’s frontlines, these will be very useful. Wearing heavy armor makes for a great boost to your Armor Class while martial weapons generally deal more damage.
There’s no real need to invest in your Dexterity ability if you’re going to be wearing heavy armor. Focus on your Strength (for melee attacks/damage), Wisdom (for your Cleric features), and Constitution (for survivability).
Related: D&D’s Ability Scores Explained
War Priest (Level 1)
I try to be a “glass half full” kind of person, but this… is something…
When you use the Attack action, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
I’m trying to think of a nice way to put this, but…
The War Priest feature is an action economy nightmare.
Not only will this be eating your bonus action, but you can only use this up to 5 times per day (assuming you have a Wisdom score of 20.)
Those bonus actions are much better spent smacking enemies with your Spiritual Weapon!
Trying to find some redeeming quality to this, I will say that the other martial classes aren’t getting their Extra Attack feature until level 5. So, you at least have a few levels where you’re not using this feature and a bonus action to do what others can just do for free.
If you have nothing else to do with your bonus action, you might as well use this.
I hate that we’re starting this guide off with such an underwhelming feature, but at least it can only get better from here, right?
Channel Divinity: Guided Strike (Level 2)
Every Divine Domain gives Clerics new options for ways to use their Channel Divinity feature. At level 2, you’re able to use yours to give yourself a pretty sizable bonus on an attack roll.
When you make an attack roll, you can use your Channel Divinity to gain a +10 bonus to the roll.
You make this choice after you see the roll, but before the DM says whether the attack hits or misses.
In the vast majority of cases, this bonus can turn most misses into a hit. While you might not know an enemy’s exact AC, you can at least have a general idea of what it will take.
If a bandit is wearing medium armor and you roll a 2 on your attack, using this feature to turn it into a 12 isn’t likely to help you. But turning a 5 into a 15 just might do the trick and is a safer bet!
Use your best judgment. Sometimes all it takes is one final hit to stop an enemy from retreating and coming back later with reinforcements!
Also, note that this feature works with any attack roll. This means that spell attack rolls are included.
In fact, adding this to a spell attack is an excellent idea.
If you throw a Guiding Bolt at an enemy but miss, you’ve just wasted the spell slot. Adding a +10 to the attack helps you make it worth the spell slot while also setting up your allies to pounce if the enemy is still standing!
Channel Divinity: War God’s Blessing (Level 6)
War Clerics actually get two new ways to use their Channel Divinity instead of just one!
War God’s Blessing works very similarly to your Guided Strike feature. However, now you’re able to pass that beautiful +10 bonus on to an ally!
When a creature within 30 feet of you makes an attack roll, you can use your reaction to grant that creature a +10 bonus to the roll, using your Channel Divinity.
You make this choice after you see the roll, but before the DM says whether the attack hits or misses.
Now, this will be using your reaction so be aware that you won’t be able to take any opportunity attacks until you regain your reaction on your next turn.
But that’s a very small price to pay in many cases!
If an ally is trying to land a high-damage attack on an enemy, this feature can make you their best friend.
Giving the party’s Rogue a +10 to land a well-timed Sneak Attack can make for a very powerful combo! Not to mention, they might find themselves in a bit of trouble if they missed their attack…
Divine Strike (Level 8)
As I mentioned earlier, most of your martial allies gained the Extra Attack feature at level 5.
While you won’t get to swing your weapon twice (at least without using your War Priest feature and bonus action), it’s going to hurt a lot more when your attack lands!
Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 damage of the same type dealt by the weapon to the target.
When you reach level 14, the extra damage increases to 2d8.
It’s not a bad idea to have one weapon of each damage type (bludgeoning, slashing, piercing) just in case.
Bludgeoning tends to be the most dependable, but variety is the spice of life!
Just don’t forget that this can only be applied once per turn. If you do use your War Priest feature to attack a second time, only one of those attacks can benefit from Divine Strike.
Avatar of Battle (Level 17)
The War Cleric’s capstone feature is simple but has a huge effect.
You gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons.
Even in this higher tier of play, you’ll be getting a TON of use out of this feature. It’s unlikely that every enemy you encounter is wielding a magic weapon.
If they’re dealing bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage, it’s going to be nonmagical more often than not.
Like I mentioned when discussing the War Cleric’s spell list, you’ve basically just got Stoneskin on permanently.
You’ve likely got a great armor class, so only taking half damage from most attacks that manage to get past that does a lot for your survivability in combat.
War Clerics thrive on conflict which means that they can be easily worked into just about any campaign.
As for these characters’ backgrounds, military experience with the Soldier background is definitely on-brand. However, other backgrounds like the Acolyte or Folk Hero options are also easy fits.
How your War Cleric connects to the party and story largely comes down to one question: why do they fight?
This goes back to what we were saying towards the beginning of this guide about what war means to different people. What does it mean to you?
Good or Neutral-aligned War Clerics would get along well with many different types of heroic characters, but I can particularly see them getting on well with Valor Bards, Champion Fighters, and Oath of Glory Paladins.
Just note that these types of War Clerics might be harder to work into a standard (i.e. good/heroic) campaign or party.
Is the War Cleric Good?
The War Domain isn’t necessarily a bad option for Clerics, but it’s not one of the better options either.
Considering that this is a subclass based around war and combat, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to be a much heavier hitter than it is.
The biggest problem with the War Cleric is that they can feel very clunky.
A huge portion of their spell list requires their concentration which limits their spellcasting performance. Not to mention, maintaining concentration while on the front lines can be challenging!
There’s a great concept behind the War Cleric and it can be really fun in the lower levels.
Giving it the Extra Attack feature and maybe a smite spell option would rocket the War Caster up toward the top of the Cleric subclasses. Alas, that’s not the case.
In a low-level adventure like Waterdeep Dragon Heist (review here!) that ends around level 5, you would likely have a better time playing a War Cleric.
War Clerics just don’t quite keep up once the party starts moving to level 5 and beyond. At least not with any features that are unique to the War Domain and aren’t available to all Clerics.
Honestly, if you’re looking for a Cleric subclass that’s built for standing on the frontlines in combat, I would point you toward the Forge Cleric instead. They are excellent combatants that also offer a great deal of utility to their party!
Conclusion – War Cleric in D&D 5e
I always feel a little bad when I have to be so critical of a subclass, so I would like to make one last point before we bring this article fully to a close.
War Clerics can be very fun and engaging characters to play. Even though the subclass has some issues, Clerics, in general, are incredibly strong.
If you’ve got a fun concept for a War Cleric in mind, by all means, go for it! (In fact, I’d love to read your idea in the comments!)
But with all of that said, I hope you’ve found this guide to the War Cleric in D&D 5e helpful!
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