In Dungeon & Dragons, clerics suffer from a reputation as the dull class that folks dutifully play to support the party. Forget that. In fifth-edition D&D, clerics can enter a fight like a tornado, damaging every foe around them, dodging blows, and attacking, all in the same turn.
Plus, their faith gives clerics a ready-made hook for playing the sort of big personalities that make roleplaying fun.
At level 5, D&D classes leap in power. Martial classes typically gain an extra attack, potentially doubling their damage dealing. Monks gain Stunning Strike. Wizards and Sorcerers gain fireball, which delivers 5th-level power for a 3rd-level slot. Bards and Warlocks gain hypnotic pattern, a spell that turns fights into beatdowns. (See How Part of D&D that Everyone Avoided Shaped the 5th-Edition Power Curve.) The 3rd-level spell that lifts clerics in power lacks the flash of fireball or hypnotic pattern, but it makes clerics more fun in a fight.
Spirit guardians summons spirits that surround you to 15 feet and that damage enemies who enter or start their turn in that sphere. Spirit guardians rates as one of the most efficient spells to up-cast with a higher-level slot. I played a cleric to 20th level and loved casting spirit guardians at 8th or even 9th level to deal 8d8 or 9d8 damage to any foes near me. Clerics on the move take their 15-foot sphere of divine fury across the battlefield, forcing more foes into the destruction. If the party ever gains boots of speed, give them to the cleric!
Spirit guardians suffers from an obvious drawback and an overlooked one. Obviously, the spell requires concentration while encouraging clerics to go into the thick of a fight. Also, the spell requires clerics to see allies to exempt them from the guardians. That means invisible allies or even friends around the corner can’t be spared.
Starting at 5th level, the fun battlefield cleric starts combat by casting spirit guardians and moving into the thick of battle. On turn two, cast your favorite combat cantrip—or just dodge—plus cast spiritual weapon for another strike, and then keep moving to include the biggest groups of foes in your radiant doom.
To build a cleric, make Wisdom your highest score, followed by Constitution. Choose an odd-numbered Constitution score. Traditionally, clerics rely on Strength, but a cleric’s cantrips can bring more damage than weapon attacks, especially with the Blessed Strike option in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Only domains that grant heavy armor proficiency might actually benefit from Strength. A 13 Strength enables you to wear an affordable suit of chainmail without losing speed. A 15 Strength enables you to wear plate without slowing. Low strength dwarves can wear heavy armor without losing speed, so ironically the D&D rules reward creating agile, pencil-necked dwarves who defy their archetype. If your domain lacks heavy armor proficiency, choose Dexterity as your third highest score.
Why choose an odd Constitution score? Clerics surrounded by spirit guardians become an immediate target for attack. Through any damage, they must maintain concentration by making Constitution saves. The War Caster feat can help, but the Resilient (Constitution) feat proves better. If you start with a Constitution of 13, then taking Resilient (Constitution) before level 5 adds 1 to Constitution and helps your save about as much as War Caster. Then your save continues to improve with your proficiency bonus. If you play your cleric to high levels, you can add War Caster later.
If your campaign uses the standard rules for ability scores in the Player’s Handbook, hill dwarves and variant humans make particularly good clerics. Wood elves also work well if you favor Dexterity and speed over Strength. If your campaign uses the custom origins from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and you prefer weapon attacks, pick a high elf and choose Booming Blade as your bonus cantrip. You can strike a foe, and then when they flee your spirit guardians, they take thunder damage. This combination works best with cleric domains such as life and tempest that grant the Divine Strike feature.
The forge and tempest cleric domains excel for clerics capable of fun battlefield fury. Both domains grant heavy armor proficiency.
Forge. The forge cleric brings improved AC to heavy armor and the 1st-level searing smite spell powers weapon attacks until you gain better spells to concentrate on. Opt for Strength over Dexterity. At level 7, you get the underrated wall of fire spell. Sadly though, wall of fire also competes for concentration.
Tempest. Once tempest clerics cast spirit guardians and become a target, they can use Wrath of the Storm to heap punishment on foes who hit back. Plus, the spell thunderwave and the Thunderbolt Strike feature both let you push away creatures so you can move freely around the battlefield. The tempest domain makes a flavorful combination with that high elf who makes attacks backed by the booming blade cantrip.
Other domains gain some versatility while remaining especially fun in a fight.
Life. Choose a life cleric to gain the durability of heavy armor while becoming the best healer in the game. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything adds the aura of vitality spell to the cleric list. This domain gives that spell game-breaking power. (See The 7 Supreme D&D Character Builds for One Thing.)
Light. Choose the light domain if your notion of fun in a fight includes blasting things with fireball. For a light cleric, opt for a high Dexterity and ignore Strength.
Cantrips. Select guidance. Forge, tempest, and other clerics who favor weapon attacks should prepare sacred flame for the undead-slaying potency of radiant damage. Clerics who rely on damaging cantrips should choose toll the dead for maximum damage—unless you roleplay your light or life domain cleric as someone loyal to their ideals. (If you’re not a grave domain cleric, you can still prepare toll the dead, but you should feel bad about it.)
1st level. Prepare healing word to heal without slowing your attack. Add guiding bolt for attacks at range. Before 5th level, prepare bless. Once you reach 5th level, spirit guardians becomes a better spell to concentrate on.
2nd level. Prepare spiritual weapon. Aid makes one of the game’s best spells to cast using a higher-level slot. Although silence requires concentration, prepare it. Silence hinders enemy spellcasters, stops guards from calling for help, and lets you chop through doors without announcing your location.
3rd level. Prepare spirit guardians, mass healing word, and revivify. Invest 300 gp in diamond dust for revivify’s components. You may rarely cast revivify, but when you do, you become party MVP.