This article was first broadcast in Episode Thirty-Six on 15th August 2018.
Killer DM: Where’s the numbers guy?
Lennon: Oh…hi Killer DM. What brings you here?
Killer DM: Clerics.
Lennon: Really? Here I thought you were created by a Warlock devoted to Asmodeus
Killer DM: *ominous spells in the background* I’m not in the mood, Limey. Now where is he? I need numbers.
Lennon: Who, Ostron? He’s not here, he’s been waylaid by kobolds
Killer DM: Shame. Still, kobolds need kidneys, too.
Mikey: I’m pretty good with numbers
Lennon: You are so going to regret that…
Killer DM: You are? Good. Grab your calculator and get over here. I need to tell people how wrong they are about clerics. Except you start. Tell me about clerics.
Lennon: Okay, well…
If you’re putting a standard adventuring party together, bringing along a cleric is such a good idea that it’s almost a requirement. The most obvious reason is healing. Clerics are the most reliable class for healing in D&D thus far, and have a couple of archetypes like Life and Grave domain that boost the efficacy even further. In addition to that, they make good second line defenders, keeping guard over the less solid archers or spellcasters in case someone gets through or around your front line fighters or paladins. Having a cleric moving back and forth defending your vulnerable damage dealers while keeping the front line topped off with hit points is a staple of D&D tactics.
Right. All of that is wrong. At best it’s an attitude held over from older editions where Clerics were the only way you got any kind of healing other than potions, at worst you’ve got powergamers whining that they’re supposed to be doing all the damage and don’t want to share. If all you’re doing with your cleric is standing around healing people who can’t find gelatinous cubes unless they walk into them, and blocking sneaky goblins waiting for the ranger to line up their shot, you need to rethink your party. Kill them all, go find some new friends.
Lennon: I don’t think the cleric can do that.
Killer DM: Oh new guy…Mikey? You want to help the Spoony Brit out?
Right, so if you look at the spells available to Clerics and focus on the ones that do damage, the cleric is extremely efficient at it. At the cantrip level, Sacred Flame and Toll the Dead both have d8s as base damage, putting them only slightly behind firebolt and Eldritch blast, arguably the most common damage cantrips. However, Toll the Dead has that quirk where you do d12 damage if the target has already been hit. That turns it into the cantrip with the best combination of range and damage in the game without special modifiers. If you take a 6-turn combat where a wizard is casting firebolt and a cleric does toll the dead at d12 damage, the cleric actually out-damages the wizard on average by 2 to 5 hit points.
Moving on to actual spells, at first level, Guiding Bolt again wins the range and damage comparison. At 120 feet the only spells that match it are Chaos Bolt and Magic missile and only Catapult beats it, but all of those spells do less than the 4d6 damage the Cleric enjoys. Moving a little higher on the chart, Spiritual weapon lets you do 1d8 damage as a bonus action while the spell is active, meaning you can still do spell or cantrip damage on top of it. After that, however, the Cleric begins losing by comparison to damage spellcasters. They don’t get any new ranged damage spells until 5th level, and even then Dawn and Flame Strike’s damage pales in comparison to spells like Immolation and Maelstrom, although Insect Plague’s lingering area of effect can increase the overall damage done.
Killer DM: Oh wow! No wonder you guys lost the war.
Lennon: Excuse me!?
Why does it matter that they only have a few damage spells? Do you see the rogue pulling a different weapon out of his belt every turn? But apart from that, why is the cleric standing in the back? They get d8s for hit dice, which isn’t great, but it’s better than the pure spellcasters, so they’re going to have a decent number of hit points. But apart from that they can wear medium armor and carry a shield! If you give a shield to a wizard they just try to sit on in and meditate. And if they take a hit, guess what? They can HEAL THEMSELVES! If they have that spiritual weapon going and an attention span better than a squirrel’s they don’t even have to sacrifice doing damage. But that’s just the part where they stay alive. New guy, tell Lennon what happens if you stand next to a Cleric.
Well, clerics in close combat have a couple of options beyond just hitting someone with a mace. First of all the cantrip “Word of Radiance” can do 1d6 damage to every creature within 5 feet
And unlike Thunderclap it doesn’t let EVERYONE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE…
Right, but at level 1 the Clerics can Inflict Wounds. That is currently the most damaging 1st level spell in D&D based just on the numbers. Once Clerics get higher up in levels they get access to Spirit Guardians. That spell does an automatic 3d8 damage to all creatures within 15 feet, and the caster can freely exclude targets, such as your allies.
Killer DM: sigh, If you must.
Okay, looking at this I kind of see your point. At higher levels, they can use Holy weapon on their own weapon and add 2d8 radiant to it’s base damage, and it has a 30ft area damage component when it’s dismissed. Also, Blade Barrier does a lot of damage when a creature’s in it, something that can be devastating if you have colleagues who can push or halt movement or if you’ve got the enemy confined in a chokepoint. Up at the highest levels, firestorm and earthquake can cause widespread damage to entire groups.
But I know what some of you are thinking. “I just got this gold filigree armor and the nice dragon on the shield and I don’t want it scratched.”
Mikey: Why is there a dragon on a cleric’s shield?
Killer DM: Look, I don’t get rid of Ryu entirely when I show up, okay? Anyway, if you don’t want to do the work yourself, get someone else.
Clerics have a huge array of spells centered around creating, forcing, or summoning other beings to do their bidding. If the Death Domain wasn’t enough of a clue, Clerics make great necromancers, with access to Animate dead and Create Undead. Beyond that, they have spells like Command, Guardian of Faith, Planar Binding, and Planar Ally at higher levels.
Lennon: Doesn’t that last one cost money?
That’s when you cast Hold Person on the rogue and “borrow” some. And it only costs money if you care what the creature does when it gets there. Personally, I’d just summon a Pit Lord, Banish myself, and then come back after the mess had sorted itself out. We’d already established your other party members aren’t worth keeping around.
Speaking of Hold Person and Banishment, there are still a lot of Cleric spells that make things easier for the party to take out monsters with a cleric’s intervention. Any individual caught by Hold Person is easier to hit, and the aforementioned Guiding Bolt gives advantage to the next attack on a hit creature. And of course, Banishment can remove a troublesome creature for a full minute, or 10 rounds of combat, provided you maintain concentration.
Killer DM: We’re getting off track here. The point is, look at all of that stuff we just went over. For lower level spell slots the Cleric has access to the most damaging spells, they have the same number of spell slots, more hit points and much more armor than people in robes with the books and the staffs. If anyone gets close to them, they just turn on their own personal whirling vortex of death and heal away any damage they take. So WHY ARE THEY ALWAYS SITTING IN THE BACK HEALING OTHER PEOPLE!?!
Lennon: Well, they are the most efficient healers in the game…
Killer DM: Mikey? I’ll make you a deal… If you beat Lennon to death with this mace I’ll let you keep your kidneys.