More often than not when it comes to a fantasy roleplaying game like 5th Edition, you’re going to have gods. It usually doesn’t matter whether your character believes in them or not. Pantheons, deities, and celestials of all kinds reign supreme throughout 5e, and where you have gods, you have clerics.
Not that all clerics have to have a god bestowing them with power, but traditionally that is where our clerics are gaining their magic. When it comes to a cleric’s signature spells, there’s a certain amount of overlap here with some other Wisdom-based casters. So what we’re going to focus specifically on is what makes these spells and this magic both miraculous and divine. A bard’s deep connection with stories can produce wonders. A sorcerer’s magic is as alive within them and as their blood and bone marrow. But it is a cleric’s faith that rewards them with magic, and as we’ll see here with the spells below, a kind of magic that has effects that can only be produced with divinity alone.
You had to know this one was coming. One of my favorite cantrips in the game and your cleric’s first taste of true divinity. Look, an additional 1d4 may not feel very powerful, but when you’re level 1 and are desperate to make an ability check with a DC a little higher than you may be used to, well who’s going to turn up their nose at a little divine boost to help out? Some GMs may take umbrage with how often one can use Guidance, but I mean there’s a reason it’s a cantrip, a single d4, and that it takes an action with movement and vocalization. There are plenty of built-in boundaries to keep its usage fairly normal. My personal opinion? If your character has dedicated their faith to a deity providing them power, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the deity can muster up at least a d4 to help with juggling knives or whatever.
In addition to its mechanical benefits in and out of combat, it can also act as your character’s first taste of roleplaying divinity. What does it look like when your deity grants you or your ally Guidance? If you have a storm deity, maybe it takes the form of a snap of static off your fingers. If you follow a trickster god, maybe their Guidance causes a very minor mishap to happen within 60 feet of you, such as someone’s boots becoming laced together, or a pie falls off a sill into a waiting hound’s mouth. Play around with it and have fun! What’s the point in being a cleric if you can’t have a teeny bit of miracles at hand?
Guidance is good for your skill checks. Bless, that beautiful little first level spell is going to be what you need for every other situation. Adding 1d4 for an entire minute to attack rolls and saving throws is going to be a nice divine boost to any party, especially ones where certain first level spells can turn the tide. Typically a combat spell, it of course can be used outside of combat as well to aid in saving throws or various types of conflicts, (though that’s up to the GM to create scenarios like jailbreaks, outracing calamity, etc., where initiative can be rolled without combat). Bless is a fantastic spell at first level when everyone could use a little more oomph and as you grow stronger, being able to up-cast it and help more of your allies is only going to help.
Guiding Bolt (Combat)
You didn’t think clerics were all support, did you? Nonsense! For all their support and healing spells, clerics can thrive in combat as well. While I suggest taking a battle cantrip like Sacred Flame or Toll the Dead, for those turns where you want to do a little healing and a little damage (shout-out bonus action Healing Word!), Guiding Bolt is one of the cleric’s first major combat spells. Doing a whopping 4d6 at first level is nothing to sneeze at, especially because it has a little back-end support as well, granting advantage to the next attack roll made on the creature you wallop.
Once again, find the roleplay through it. Maybe your sun god makes a streak of light burst from your hand, burning away the shadows. Maybe your knowledge deity helps you target pressure points on a creature, weakening them in combat. For one of the first combat spells you learn to cast, there’s nothing as terrifying as watching an individual dedicated to faith and healing finally say enough is enough and remember that gods do more than shelter the weak; they also strike down the wicked.
As the first spell that clerics gain access to that brings someone back from the dead, this one had to come on the list. While there are higher level spells that certainly have the same impact, such as Raise Dead or True Resurrection, Revivify is here because it is the first time your cleric will have the chance to use their faith to return someone to life. Not healing on the cusp of death, not a cantrip to spare and stabilize them. No, Revivify is your cleric’s first chance to take a stand against death and say, “I will not let this happen.”
From a mechanics perspective, I also love that you only have a single minute from the moment of death to shepherd your ally’s soul back into their mortal form. That means that at level 5 when this spell becomes available, success is not a given and your GM still has plenty of ways to make you work for that spell to go off. And maybe even more importantly, from an RP perspective, this is a great chance to really showcase what your character’s relationship is to their god. How does the Revivify manifest? Do you have to argue with your very strict deity about letting someone come back? Do you have to persuade them to help, offering something in exchange? As always, spells are a chance for you to help define and shape the truth of your character. This is a very good way to do that and save your friend’s bacon from an errant fireball.
Death Ward (Combat)
Look, clerics can’t be everywhere. They can try, but it’s going to happen to the best of them; someone is going to go unconscious and that cleric is not going to be in any sort of position to help them. Too far away, grappled, stuck, off in a pocket dimension; it doesn’t matter. You can’t save everyone and trying to is only going to put yourself at risk. But! With Death Ward, even that pesky, grey line between life and death can be negotiated.
With a word and gesture, you can protect your allies from being ripped into the currents of death, at least for long enough to get themselves out of trouble. With Death Ward being reduced to unconsciousness at 0 hit points causes that person to snap back to 1 hit point instead.
It may not seem like much, but Death Ward can abjure death’s cold grip for long enough to get a little help, or cast Dimension Door and get the heck out of the way. It’s a clutch spell, and one you can cast even before battle, giving it to some people and having it last for eight hours. Clerics can’t be everywhere, no. But with Death Ward, their faith and protection can still be felt.
Heroes’ Feast (Utility/Roleplay)
A personal favorite for a multitude of reasons, who doesn’t love a good feast? Especially when it’s provided by a deity who if they put their mind to it, is probably crafting Michelin star quality food, (c’mon, do you think a Heroes’ Feast made by a literal god is going to be mediocre?). Taking the form of any kind of food you’d like, this hour-long spell does more than create a massive feast in the middle of a corrupted swamp or whatever; its benefits are huge.
Allies who eat for the full hour gain immunity to poison and the frightened condition (take that, ancient dragons), gain advantage on Wisdom saving throws (very handy for charm and mind-controlled magic, especially for those Wisdom dump stat players regretting a lot), and 2d10 temporary hit points that increase your max; meaning you can heal back up to that new number. These benefits last for a full day, so dungeon crawls, sieges and more should all be covered, even if your party takes a long rest in there.
I love the image of a feast conjured from your divine connection, and all the myriad forms it could take; a god of life causing cakes and meats and pasta to bloom alongside vegetables and fruits and grain. A god of war crafting a protein-rich, starchy spread to keep your energy up in the conflict to come. Best of all, what I love is that amidst the larger narrative stakes you might see for characters at this level, a Heroes’ Feast causes all of you to slow down, eat a meal together, and reflect before headed back into the fray. A bubble of calm against the larger stakes and tension of your story, there is a full hour in which to feast, laugh, and catch your breath before heading back into the storm.
Fire Storm (Combat)
Clerics can smite too, and it’s with this high-powered divine explosion that will send even the most stalwart of evil running for the hills or making peace with their own gods. A high-level spell that does a major amount of damage, Fire Storm isn’t just potent because of these things; it’s the spell’s range that truly makes it a force to be reckoned with. With a truly staggering 150 feet range in which to cause your storm to erupt, with 100 feet within that 150 to chain it all together, unleashing such a devastation can truly be a miracle when Divine Intervention isn’t rolling your way.
Not just a major damage spell, Fire Storm is a mighty declaration from you and your god, that whatever is happening stops right now. A serpent of flame swarming across enemy combatants, leaving nature untouched, but ripping through evil minions. An electrical fire comes to life, sweeping through those who would conquer the skies. However it looks, it is an effusive and awe-inspiring image to remind players and villains alike: do not mess with the cleric.