D&D 5e: Forge Domain Cleric Guide
Role in the Party
From the dank tunnels pours a howling horde of unwashed goblins. Opposed them stands a figure, clad in shining, expertly tooled armor, in contrast to the simple, workmanlike hammer clasped in hand.
They fall upon the party in a humanoid wave of flashing daggers and filthy grins, but the figure stands firm, barely even shifting as they raise their shield to fend off the first strikes. Through gritted teeth, they bark a word, at once an invective against their foe and a beseechment of faith, and the symbols of the heavens, so expertly marked into their armor, start to glow.
Once the dust clears, the room swept clean with holy fire, the Forge Cleric only holsters their hammer and raises an eyebrow at their colleagues before grunting and stomping onwards.
Resilient front line combat casters, Forge Clerics commonly act as a living anvil, an unbreakable wall that strikes down their foes with divine power, and, occasionally, physical muscle honed from years of hard work. This guide breaks down the subclass, how it works, its options, and optimal ways to build it.
Forge Domain Features
Forge Domain Spells: All Cleric subclasses offer a list of bonus spells that are always known without preparation. The list provided by the Forge domain is an excellent one, combining some nice damage, utility, and debuffing options, including several spells the class doesn’t normally have access to.
Identify: Unlikely to come up often, but when it does, you’ll appreciate having this
Searing Smite: A decent level 1 damage boost with an ongoing damage rider.
Heat Metal: This is one of the best disabling spells for its level in the entire game. Enemies in metal armor, or carrying metal weapons, are basically useless if this spell sticks, and it deals surprisingly impressive damage, too.
Magic Weapon: Turn a standard weapon into a +1 magic version, for up to an hour. This scales to +2 and +3 at higher levels and is a nice little buff, but you can do this for free as a class ability, and probably have better uses for concentration.
Elemental Weapon: This is much better than Magic Weapon. An equivalent hit buff, and a decent boost to damage that comes in multiple elemental types, chosen when you cast the spell, so you can target vulnerabilities.
Protection from Energy: Resistance to one elemental damage type, chosen when cast. Awesome when you’re off hunting dragons.
Fabricate: Turn raw materials into an object. The object has to be smaller than large (so carts and boats are possible) and it can’t create anything magical. However, you can create high-craftsmanship items, if you have proficiency in the required tools. (Easy for the subclass.)
This is a better version of the Forge Cleric’s Channel Divinity.
Wall of Fire: Excellent damage and zone control. Lock off a portion of an encounter, or surround a ground based enemy with fire. Fantastic.
Animate Objects: Bring life to a variable amount of items, creating your own small army of animated creations. At level 9, when you get this, it’s possible to animate a block of 10 small items (swords…) that all fly, have 25 HP each, and deal 1d8+2 damage each, without requiring an action.
This spell is amazing. It’s one that you’re going to use again and again, and Clerics don’t normally get it, which is even better.
Creation: Just create an item, with very few restrictions. This is another way for the class to make sure they always have all the tools needed at hand, and between this and the others, you’re never going to run into a situation you aren’t equipped for.
Bonus Proficiencies: The Forge Domain provides proficiency in Heavy Armor and Smith’s Tools, but, noticeably, not Martial Weapons.
The increased defenses are nice and work alongside the rest of the subclass abilities to make the character incredibly tanky. But the Forge Domain is pushed towards a front-line playstyle, so it’s a shame that you also don’t have the option to pick up a warhammer and go to town.
Blessing of the Forge: At 1st level, after finishing a long rest, the Forge Cleric can touch a non-magical weapon or piece of armor, turning it into a magic item. This provides a +1 bonus to AC for armor, and +1 to hit on damage rolls on weapons.
This is fantastically powerful, incredibly flexible, and thematically on-point. Pushing AC means that the Forge Cleric can have the highest AC in the entire game from level 1, or be much better in close combat than it otherwise should.
As you level, the bonus can be shifted to lesser used pieces of gear (it can be changed every day after your long rest) and there’s also nothing stopping you from using it on equipment that other party members have, instead. Going ghost hunting but the Barbarian lacks a magic sword? Now he doesn’t. This ability is great, and you’ll always have a use for it.
Channel Divinity: Artisan’s Blessing: Sadly, the Forge domain’s forging ability is a little bit of a disappointment.
Using their channel divinity, the character can conduct an hour-long ritual to create a non-magical item that has to have at least some metal as part of its construction.
The item can’t cost more than 100 gold, appears in a square within 5ft of you, and has to be created from the equivalent cost of metal, which can include coins.
This is kind of bad. It takes absolute ages, costs real, tangible resources, and inexplicably has cost limits on top of that. The ability can copy existing items, the example given is a key, but apart from that, the times where you have a bunch of coins or other metal on you, but don’t have the option to go and, say, buy a crowbar, are so narrow that it’s never likely to happen.
Soul of the Forge: From level 6, the Forge Cleric’s connection to the elemental forces of fire and steel deepens. They gain two bonuses:
Resistance to Fire damage
A +1 bonus to AC when wearing Heavy Armor
This is fantastic. Another buff to AC makes you even tougher, and resistance to the most common elemental damage type, at a level where elemental damage becomes much more common, is incredibly helpful.
Divine Strike: At level 8, once per turn, when the character hits an enemy with a weapon attack, that attack deals an extra 1d8 Fire damage. The damage doubles to 2d8 at level 14.
All melee cleric subclasses get a version of this. Fire is probably the least useful damage type this could have been, but at these levels, you’re probably going to spend most of your time casting spells, and free damage is free damage.
Saint of Forge and Fire: From 17th level, the Cleric becomes a true scion of the forge. The bonuses they gained at level 6 increase further:
Instead of Fire resistance, the Forge Cleric now has complete immunity to Fire damage
While wearing Heavy Armor, the character has resistance to non-magical bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage
This would be a very powerful ability, but for when it finally comes online. Unfortunately, this is late enough in the game that a lot of characters won’t even dream of seeing it. And if you unlock this, many enemies now deal magical weapon damage as standard, so the second part is less useful.
Still, this is another layer of defenses that can be situationally strong. And that’s not a bad thing to have.
The biggest strength of the Forge Cleric is how innately tough it can be. Flat, permanent bonuses to AC are hard to come by in 5e, so having the option to give yourself magical armor, or a magic weapon from level 1 is huge. This is backed up as the class levels with even more defensive layers, which combined with spells and feats, can turn the class into an absolute juggernaut.
The Forge Cleric is of the martial bent, meaning it’s designed to get up close and personal. But don’t think this means you’re supposed to compete with the actual melee characters. No, the Forge Cleric uses its innate toughness and forward positioning to better cast devastating spells like Spirit Guardians, where the AOE can hit as many enemies as possible.
This is reinforced by the Forge domain spell list, which is packed with powerful damage and control options, as well as several incredibly powerful Wizard spells, like Animate Objects (the best of the domain spells by far) as well as some out of combat utility.
All of this is backed up by what the Cleric can already do. Healing the party and reviving the dead are staple roles and major ones. The Cleric spell list is a generalist one, with some staple spells for dealing damage, buffing the party, and debuffing enemies. As long as you make good choices, there will always be something for the character to do and feel effective doing. But the Cleric can shift their spells known every day, so if you have an idea of what the day brings, there’s a way to deal with it.
Outside of combat, you’re a crafter. This means having a tool for every occasion. But Clerics also offer more than this. WIS based skills have some standouts, that you can very easily be good at, and the skill monkeys in the party are going to love you, even if just for the constant castings of Guidance.
Probably the single biggest weakness of the Forge Cleric is how it doesn’t do anything that wildly shakes up the Cleric class, like other subclasses (Peace and Twilight especially) do.
That’s no bad thing, at all. The Forge Cleric has no great, character defining ability or (almost entirely) broken power that it’s going to use again and again. Instead, everything it offers makes it a much better generalist, able to deal with varying situations without issue.
That means no shining moments of exception. But it also means that you’re always going to be useful. The Forge Cleric should be treated as the backbone of the party. They’re going to maintain everything, not just gear, and make sure that everything’s alright.
Clerics also tend to lack social options. While this might fit the theme of the gruff, no nonsense crafter, it’s generally recommended that you take the Insight skill, so you’re at least rolling some dice.
Best Race Options
Hill Dwarf: YES! Artisan’s tool proficiencies, bonuses in dungeon skill checks and against poison, and some Martial weapons to shore up your melee damage, plus a bunch of free HP and the obvious and natural ties in fluff make the Hill Dwarf a fantastic Forge Cleric!
Warforged: Not content with being a literal construct, now you want to build a world. Proficiency in a skill and a tool is a great start, as are all of the Warforged resistances and immunities.
But the biggest thing here is another +1 to AC, and the absolute inability to be stripped of your armor. This combines with the Forge Cleric’s innate toughness buffs to create a character with one of the highest possible AC values in the game.
Lotusden Halfling: Good stat boosts, Advantage against fear, the fantastic Brave ability to reroll all 1s, plus some bonus Druidic casting are all excellent for a Forge Cleric. You’re also going to run into fewer issues finding appropriately sized weapons and armor when you can just make it yourself. So plate up and go smack some kneecaps!
Choosing the Right Skills
Clerics as a class are generally restricted in their skill choices and use. Most of what the character will do out of combat is likely to be handled with spellcasting and other class abilities.
With that said, there are several useful skills that most Clerics should consider picking up.
Insight is a very handy social skill. Not only does it give you something to do when the party is talking, but picking up when people are lying to you is handy.
Survival and Medicine are also key WIS based skills, as is Perception, which you should probably always pick up.
If possible, try and grab one or two knowledge skills, as well. Religion makes sense, and Arcana is always solid, as it governs all of the magical spells and monsters you’re likely to face.
Fey Touched: Learn Misty Step and one other Divination or Enchantment spell. Misty Step alone is a great defensive tool, and getting to pick from other spell lists for a useful secondary option, both of which can be cast with normal spell slots, is just good.
War Caster: The Forge Cleric is far more likely to be on the front lines than its compatriot casters, which means it’s also more likely to take hits.
Advantage on concentration saves means that buffs will more than likely stay active. Casting with weapon and shield in hand is a great bonus. Plus, you can now opportunity attack with cantrips. (Find a way to get Booming Blade!)
Polearm Master: The Forge Cleric likes to hit things. This offers two ways that it can do that more often. One, a bonus action attack every turn is just nice and offers a second chance to land Divine Strike damage when you get there.
Two, stabbing enemies who move within a 10ft zone is also really really good. Clerics don’t have many ways to spend their Reaction, so this just works out as free damage on a lot of turns.
Clan Crafter: Two excellent skills, another set of Artisan’s Tools, and a language are all great things for this class to have. If your GM doesn’t like SCAG backgrounds, Guild Artisan is a close equivalent.
Urban Bounty Hunter: Your choice of skills from a small list that has some decent options, and a choice of tools that, realistically, are going to be some sort of Gaming Set, and most importantly, picking up Thief’s Tools proficiency.
Outlander: Athletics and Survival are superlative skill choices. A language might be handy. A musical instrument, probably not so much, but it’s a fun flavor.
Stars Druid: Add some real teeth to the build with 2 levels in the Stars Druid. Guiding Bolt is a staple low level Cleric spell anyway, and learning it and casting it for free several times is great.
But Starry Form is the gold. A twice per rest transformation that offers a plethora of buff options, from bonus healing and concentration buffs, to simply throwing out a bonus action spell blast every turn. Two levels are enough for what you want.
Eldritch Knight Fighter: Gain some melee power in exchange for spellcasting. We lean into Eldritch Knight because it still has spell progression, and access to a spell list the class doesn’t generally have which has standouts like Shield on it.
Action Surge, a Fighting Style (please take Defense, for even more AC. Your GM will love missing every attack against you.) and incidental weapon bonuses are all good things. 5 levels for Extra Attack won’t impact spell progression too much, but we’d avoid taking more than that.
Swarmkeeper Ranger: A second way to shift into more of a melee build, the Swarmkeeper brings all of the standard Ranger bonuses for terrain, as well as continuing spellcasting progress.
It also offers a ton of combat utility, adding debuffing effects to your basic attack, plus the option to switch on more damage instead, if you need it. Flavor the swarm as constructs of some kind, take this to 5 for Extra Attack, then finish with Cleric levels.
Would I recommend playing a Forge Domain Cleric?
The Forge Cleric is a subclass that just works. While it doesn’t do anything to fundamentally change the way the class is played, every ability of the class interlocks in sensible ways that every player will understand.
That’s the biggest draw of the class. It’s a solid, reliable brick wall that’s going to cast spells, hit enemies to mop up, then heal its allies who were silly enough to choose a class that actually takes damage. The Forge Cleric is just good, a great addition to any party composition, and well worth your time to play.