Many DMs heard that line and it will never stop. The fact, that it’s often very hard to get a cleric in your party. If you have someone who plays a cleric with pleasure, be sure to keep that player, because otherwise it’ll be hard to convince someone. But why is the cleric so important and why is there so much resistance of the players side to take a cleric-character? We’ll see…
In 3e and before, clerics had the only spell-list, which contented not only the best healing of hit points for the respective levels, but the spells to cure conditions, revive the dead, most spells which are able to undo stuff, which better never happened. Even though the druid got healing, he was way outclassed by a cleric, so parties felt much better having an actual cleric in the party (even though the Favored Soul had the same spell-list and was a favored choice, too).
But it could function with alternatives, like a druid who know how to keep some spells for healing, a smart party, which avoids hits before and during combat by strategizing smartly or magic items, I had a bard who could fulfill the healer and tank part by knowing how to use his resources well. But if someone dies, this means that the revive had to wait until they’re in town or to cast it per scroll, but that was a limited option without resupplying.
Why players don’t like to play clerics
These are just a few reasons, why players might think that being a cleric sucks. It’d be impossible to list them all, but I guess I got the main-reasons:
- As a cleric, I’ve to play religiously: Religion is a vital part of life, even if you don’t believe in (a) god, you still have to deal with religion. Even made-up gods from a game might get under someones nerves, either because he doesn’t want to betray his ‘real’ religion or doesn’t believe in religion anyway and don’t want to participate in any fake one.
- I can only heal and buff: If you compare the cleric with other classes, you’ll feel subpar in most aspects of combat: You don’t hit as hard as a fighter, your combat spells feel weaker than the wizard’s and his spell-list is more flexible in most cases, while you can’t really seem to shine outside combat like the rogue. Your only way to be a vital part is being able to heal and buff your buddies… and some players are more thinking about their own characters, sadly.
- Too much responsibility: Being a healer means, that your party is depending on you with their life. If a character got killed, it seems to mean that you failed and will be blamed for it. It seems to be much less responsible to play a fighter (which results that the enemies get through and kill the casters) or a rogue (which get mobbed by monsters, being a burden for the rest of the party, because he thought an initial strike would be the best choice).
- Almost no sexiness: Some class seems to be sexier than others, especially those who are more lightly armored and can dish out a lot of damage, while having a lot of skills. Archetypical being a cleric means heavy armor, mace and a dislike for undead, while chanting religious curses. It seems like less room to customize, less options to individualize and of course less aloofness. Especially, because you might think, that your party wants to play you the healing expert (because the healing part is the reason, why they forced you to play a cleric)
Why should you play a healer
Some players might not realized, that being a healer could be their real calling. They struggle with all kind of combinations but never got a real good character out of it, something was either missing or it was just bland without any individuality. If any of those players see these reasons, maybe they’ll consider playing a healer class.
- In 5e it doesn’t have to be a cleric: In 4e every leader could somehow substitute a cleric (even though some were more challenging than others, like the artificer at low levels) and in 5e we have 3 classes, which got the right spell-list, to do the job: bard, cleric and druid. Everyone have enough healing, condition curing and reviving spells to get a party through the dangerous life of adventuring. As long you keep in mind to keep some spell-slots for emergencies.
- No rolling d20 for your main-feature: Some players just sucks at throwing a d20. Really, really hard. Most of them still wants to play a d20-rolling class, thinking that it have to get better, some others get to damage casts, choosing those who don’t need a attack roll. For healing and buffing, you don’t need the d20 either and even though you can use spells like Guiding Bolt to, if you’re really keen about it…
- Play simple: For those who simply can’t get a feeling for the battle map, the right spell to the right situation and lacks the overview of the combat situation, they can play a simple healer which does only needs to look out, how much damage each character have taken and heals them back, while supporting anywhere needed if no healing is required. As long you do your vital role well, the other players should praise you.
- Be in charge: This is interesting for those, who don’t want to play simple: Some players don’t even realize, how much influence a healer and buffer has in combat, if he invest into it. Who to heal, which buff to use, it does make a great difference how you tribute all your spells, since characters who get buffed will take a more vital role in the battle strategy. And since you’re the lifeline, nobody should complain! Those who wants to optimize tactics and resources are far better of as supporting combat characters.
- Backgrounds can make you otherwise useful: Since most out-of-combat parts or the game can be covered by somewhat smart ability arrangement and backgrounds, you can be a healer in combat and a… maybe trap-finder and -disarmer in dungeons. It’s possible!
- Multiclassing: In 5e you get more and higher spell-slots even with multiclassing as long your secondary (or tertiary, etc.) class got the spell-casting feature, too. The only downside is, you can’t cast higher level spells, just use the lower spells with a higher spell-slot. Especially multiclassing into sorcerer might come handy, since this means that means full advancement in spell-slots and access to metamagic with healer spells. Or warlock, no further spell-slots, but pact magic usable with your other class’ spells, which means that you’re able to use them more often over the time. Since the most vital spells are at the lower spell levels, you can consider this option, if healing hit points and lesser conditions is your only concern.
Why should you play a cleric
Now let’s take a look at the cleric, since I mentioned some points earlier, that might be defused.
- Easy plot-hooks: As long you’re not playing a cleric of a almost non-existent deity, there are always a lot of ways, how the church or the god can give you epic quests, which will decide the future from a hamlet to the whole existence itself, while the DM have much less trouble to come up with viable background and twists for the story by just reading a bit of the deities which would be involved.
- Good role-play options: Like I said, religion is a vital part of everyone’s life. It won’t hurt anyone, if you role-play a religion made-up for a game, because it’s just for fun, having put your belief in the center of your character’s life, it becomes very interesting, especially if your background is somewhat strange comparing your actual deity. A criminal cleric of Tyr? How could that happen? And even if you’re not a great role-player, the cleric can give you enough material to actually survive all levels by using 2-3 signature quotes, like: “UNDEAD!!!” or “You foul, little…” … OK, last one isn’t that clericish, more like: “By Moradin’s iron underpants!”
- Domains: Domains are great in 5e, since they’re a great way to customize your character. Do you want to kick asses with a sword? War! Do you want to heal with the least effort, so you have more resources to attack? Life! You want to be a better caster? Light! You want to be more roguish or druidish? Trickery or Nature! You want to mix some aspects altogether? Take another! Variety is given, just choose from 7 domains, another one in the DMG (Death) and much more in further rulebooks, I bet.
- Prayer of Healing: Just this spell.
Playing a cleric? Might be worth it!