D&D 5e: Grave Domain Cleric Guide
D&D 5e: Grave Domain Cleric Guide
Role in the Party
Guardians of the liminal spaces at the edges of society, Clerics of the Grave Domain have the grim responsibility as shepherds of life and death.
Whether they’re guiding spirits on to the next life as religious leaders or taking a more personal role in hunting down and destroying the Undead abominations who make a mockery of life, these characters act as the heart of their chosen group.
Those marshaled by a Cleric of the Grave will find the steely gaze of death looking away when it comes calling, falling almost inevitably on their enemies instead. This guide goes into the features of the subclass, possible ways to build a Grave Domain character, multiclass options, feats, and more!
Grave Domain Features
Grave Domain Spells: The Grave Domain gains the spells below at the stated character levels. These spells are always known and don’t count against the Cleric’s list of known spells.
The spells provided by this domain are generally excellent, with one or two standout choices, and a couple that are more situational. Overall though, this is a great list, and one most characters will find themselves using a lot more than spell lists offered by other subclasses.
Bane: Target three enemies that take penalties to attacks and saves if they fail their initial saving roll. It’s generally better to just cast Bless, which can’t fail and buffs the party for the same amount instead.
False Life: This is a lot of temporary HP at low levels, but falls off as characters scale. Still, being able to pop this for a quick shield of HP can save a character’s life, and it doesn’t require concentration.
Gentle Repose: Prevention of a dead body from decaying and becoming undead are both incredibly situational. The extended duration on revives might come up, but it’s unlikely.
Ray of Enfeeblement: An attack roll into saves every turn, as well as requiring concentration, are too many points of failure for the effect this spell offers.
Revivify: Characters in D&D are much less effective when they’re dead. This spell makes them not dead. It’s a given that almost every Cleric will take this. You get it as a free spell.
Vampiric Touch: The Grave Domain doesn’t want to be in melee, but if it finds itself there, a spell attack that hits decently hard, heals the character, and can be used every turn for a minute is nice to have.
Blight: Mathematically, this is basically a ranged Inflict Wounds upcast to level 4 (it deals around 3 more damage on average.) A single target spell at this level should do a lot more than some damage.
Death Ward: A once-per-day not-dead button that lasts for 8 hours without concentration, and can also negate instant kill effects is very nice to have.
Antilife Shell: This spell can lock out entire encounters of melee enemies, keeping an infinite amount of creatures outside of a comfortable 10ft zone of control. You won’t find yourself using it every day, but when the time comes, it’s great.
Raise Dead: A stronger revive that can be used if the target died in the last ten days. Again, this is almost a necessary spell for the Cleric to take, so it’s great to have it for free.
Circle of Mortality: From first level, the Grave Cleric can keep creatures from stepping over the brink into the void beyond.
The character learns Spare the Dying as an extra cantrip, with a range of 30ft instead of touch, and it can be cast as a bonus action. This is actually really nice, especially at lower levels when it’s easy for almost any character to get outnumbered and dropped in a fight without the tools to stop this from happening. Not having to make Death Saves prevents characters from dying until the Cleric can get to them.
Also as part of the ability, whenever the Cleric uses a healing spell on a creature that is on 0HP, the spell automatically heals for the maximum possible amount, without having to roll.
This, again, is surprisingly nice. In-combat healing is rarely a good option in 5e, but this pushes the average HP gained from healing up by a significant amount when it matters most. As an example, a level 3 Cure Wounds normally heals an average of 18 HP but cast by a Grave Cleric on a dying ally, will heal 28 HP instead, an increase of 55%.
That’s a decent enough chunk of HP to consider spending high level spell slots on healing instead of other actions and makes the Grave Domain an effective healer at the times when healing matters.
Eyes of the Grave: Also from level 1, the Cleric learns to open their awareness to detect Undead creatures within 60ft, as long as they’re not hidden or protected by magical effects.
This is a worse Detect Evil spell that only works on Undead, and can be used WIS modifier times per day for free. If you’re playing an Undead heavy campaign, this might come in handy, but it’s very niche and limited, so in most cases just isn’t useful.
Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave: From level 2, the Cleric of the Grave can spend their Channel Divinity to cause a creature within 30ft to become Vulnerable to the next source of damage they take, without any sort of roll or save to prevent the effect.
Vulnerability is a flat doubling of damage taken, which is already a powerful effect. But paired with a single big hit, for example, a Rogue’s Sneak Attack, a Paladin’s Smite, or a spellcaster’s Fireball, all of which result in a huge pile of damage dice to double, in a lot of encounters this ability can be a one-shot kill, just outright deleting the unlucky enemy the Cleric focused on.
To use Path to the Grave does require the Clerics’ action, but it’s often worth it if you can coordinate with your allies for maximum DPS. It’s also worth noting that Channel Divinity can be used twice from level 6, and all uses come back on short rests, meaning this ability can be used a surprising amount of times per day.
Sentinel at Death’s Door: At level 6, the Grave Cleric can use their reaction to turn a critical hit that occurs within 30ft into a normal hit, up to their WIS bonus times per day. The ability also turns off abilities that trigger off of critical hits, as the attack no longer counts as a critical.
This is another hugely powerful defensive ability. Encounters can be won and lost on lucky rolls, and flat denying the enemy a critical strike that would have killed an ally outright, just for the price of a reaction, is massive.
Potent Spellcasting: At level 8, the Grave Cleric adds their WIS modifier to the damage of any Cleric cantrips they cast.
All ‘spellcasting’ Clerics get this (melee Clerics get a boost to weapon damage instead) and it’s a nice boost of damage that ensures your basic spells stay relevant.
Keeper of Souls: From level 17, whenever a creature dies within 30ft of the Grave Cleric, they can snatch a trace of its essence and use it to heal themselves or an ally.
Mechanically, this lets the Grave Domain heal themselves or one ally within 30ft whenever a creature dies inside that same range. The healing is equal to the creature’s hit dice total. The ability can only be used once per turn, but has no restrictions on daily uses.
This isn’t a lot of healing, but the fact that it doesn’t take any kind of action and has no resource cost is very nice. It’s going to come in very handy when an ally is on 0HP, the party drops some of the adds in a boss fight, and the Cleric gets that party member back on their feet effectively for free.
The Grave Domain is a supportive Cleric that thrives best amongst a party high in effective damage dealers. The abilities of the subclass make it work best as an enabler of the party, and a key disabler of the enemy.
Typically, Grave Clerics will open combat encounters with a buffing spell, probably something like Bless at lower levels, scaling up into bigger spells as the campaign progresses. A lot of the base power of the Grave subclass is in its spell list, which has many of the very good options that any Cleric would generally take, letting them spend their actual spells known on things they want to cast, rather than the usual ‘Cleric Taxes’ like Revivify.
Major enemies will find themselves suddenly vulnerable, just before the party’s principal damage dealer steps in to remove a huge chunk of HP. Then, when they come to fight back, hits that should have dealt critical damage simply don’t.
And if any members of the party should fall, the Grave Cleric steps in, lays a hand on them, and they rise again refreshed, with far more HP than they otherwise should.
Outside of combat, the Grave Cleric can continue to fulfill the role of medic, happily keeping the party topped up on HP. But its abilities also make the class also a keen Inquisitor, hunting down Undead before permanently putting them back where they belong; under the ground.
Finally, in terms of skills, most Grave Clerics will only bring a handful, but they tend to be useful. Perception, Survival, and Insight all scale with the naturally high WIS score of the class, and these are skills that are used again and again.
While the Grave Domain is excellent at enabling its allies to do their jobs better, there is very little in the subclass that makes the character themselves a particularly powerful fighter.
What this means is, that while Grave Clerics are very good at disabling enemies and buffing allies, they’re usually very reliant on the party to deal damage and finish the encounter.
The base package of the Cleric is also reasonably tanky. With Medium Armor, a Shield, and a few points in DEX, most Grave Domain Clerics can expect a reasonable AC of around 17 to 18 at level 1, and a decent chunk of HP to back that up.
But this is no reason to hurl the character into close combat. This is a spellcasting class, so is reliant on spell slots for their effectiveness.
Best Race Options
Protector Aasimar: Good stats, especially for a face. Two damage resistances, including Necrotic, the main damage type of Undead, which is perfectly on theme. Daily healing, Darkvision, a free cantrip, plus the once-per-day ability to sprout wings and soar around blasting holy light at people all add up to a fantastic racial option for the Grave Domain.
Firbolg: The main increase to your main casting stat, two daily sneaking spells, more carrying capacity and a ribbon ability around speaking to animals and plants are all very nice to have for the Cleric. A bonus action single turn invisibility, on the other hand, is incredible for being where the character needs to be, without any real risk.
Water Genasi: Great stats, resistance to acid damage, and some daily elemental spells are excellent for the class. A swim speed and the ability to breath in water are more niche, but perfect for nautical campaigns.
Choosing the Right Skills
Most Clerics lack spell slots, and the Grave Domain is no exception. It’s important to make skill choices that are going to be regularly used, as the ones the character gets at level 1 are often the only ones they will ever have.
If possible, look for skills that build from the Cleric’s high WIS, like Perception and Survival.
The Grave Domain also doesn’t need physical stats as much as a melee Cleric might, so could have enough CHA or INT to take face skills like Persuasion, or some Knowledges, specifically Religion. ,
Alert: Going first is one of the strongest things that a character can do in a combat encounter in 5e, especially for spellcasters. The ability to drop an AOE damage spell, or pick a single enemy and attempt to disable them, can completely change the flow of an entire fight.
The Grave Domain is one of the best at this, with the full might of the Cleric spell list at their fingertips, plus the ability to pick a single enemy and make them take double damage from whichever ally is coming next.
The incidental bonuses against being surprised and invisible enemies are also great to have.
Metamagic Adept: Many of the metamagic options are flat-out fantastic for Clerics, especially things that can affect buffing spells like Twin Spell and Extend Spell. Having one of these in your pocket for the time when it’s needed most is a nice boost to a primary spellcaster.
War Caster: Advantage on concentration checks keeps the important buffs running, and the ability to opportunity attack with cantrips gives the Grave Cleric a relevant damage option to punish enemies who move in close.
Alternatively, consider Resilient: CON for proficiency in CON saves, or just increasing the constitution stat.
Acolyte: Insight and Religion are skills most Clerics want, and two language choices are thematic and useful to have.
Folk Hero: Two WIS-based skills, Artisan’s Tools and Land Vehicles are a useful grab bag of fringe benefits, most of which are going to come up often.
Urchin: The Grave Cleric probably has enough DEX to make the skills here useful, though what we want are the tool proficiencies, most importantly, Thief’s Tools.
Circle of Stars Druid: Clerics and Druids share a casting stat, and both classes are full casters so this doesn’t impact spell level progression, so this is an easy multiclass to take.
Two levels in Circle of Stars offer a big boost to the class, adding damage to a subclass that lacks it, as well as more utility options. A free cantrip slot, the Guiding Bolt spell, as well as multiple scaling casts of it per day for free, and Starry Form.
Starry Form can be used twice per rest and offers one of three buffs. A bonus action ranged spell attack that can almost double the DPS of the class at low levels, bonuses on mental checks and concentration, or bonus healing whenever the character restores HP.
Swarmkeeper Ranger: This multiclass pushes the character towards melee combat, adding a swarm of creatures that follows you around, and offers several useful effects. Insects or Blights fit the theme and can add damage or move enemies or the character around whenever an attack is made.
If the build has some way to grab the Shillelagh cantrip, then 3 levels are enough to get what’s needed. Otherwise, at least 5 levels of Ranger offer Extra Attack, which is almost necessary for damage dealers, and the incredibly useful Web spell.
Echo Knight Fighter: Another way to become a front-liner, the Echo Knight takes the Cleric’s rarely used bonus action, and turns it into a phantom warrior that can attack in their place, increasing the reach of the build by 15ft, and adding a lot of crowd control, especially if the build takes the Sentinel feat.
Action Surge also allows the build a huge amount of flexibility, allowing a tactical spell cast before charging into combat, or healing multiple allies at a time when necessary. It’s worth starting Fighter for CON save proficiency, and taking at least 5 levels for Extra Attack.
Would I recommend playing a Grave Domain Cleric?
The Grave Domain is a very solid subclass, but it’s important to understand its limitations. The Domain is almost pure support, designed to boost the strength of its allies rather than take to the front lines of combat itself.
But a well-built Grave Cleric will act as the anchor to a strong party, and while it might not lead the charge, it can easily lead the party, marking targets for rapid demise, while at the same time refusing to let their allies even consider taking a death save.
If you’re looking for a character that everyone else at the table will love adventuring alongside, and has some ready background and fun flavor built into the class, it might be worth giving the Grave Cleric a spin.