D&D 5e: Life Domain Cleric Guide
Role in the Party
Life Domain Clerics have an unfortunate reputation as MMO-style healers; in reality, the mechanics of a cleric make part-time healing vastly more effective than full-time healing. Still, there’s value to a subclass that boosts healing in general.
The flavor text of a Life Cleric is basically just “they heal people and drive away bad things” and nearly any non-evil deity is appropriate for the class. Nothing too special, but it’s fine flavor too; everyone loves a healer.
Your role obviously includes healing, but do not under any circumstances neglect to deal damage or cast non-healing spells; you don’t have the spell slots to heal every round anyway, so you will inevitably have to find other things to do.
Life Domain Cleric Features
Life Domain Spells
1st: Both Bless and Cure Wounds are good spells that clerics often would have taken anyway, so this is basically two free spell preparations for you. Many players prefer Healing Word, but Cure Wounds is a solid spell that fills a similar role.
3rd: Lesser Restoration and Spiritual Weapon are good spells that clerics often would have taken anyway, so this is basically two free spell preparations for you. Lesser Restoration is circumstantial, but when you need it, you need it.
5th: Beacon of Hope and Revivify are good spells that clerics often would have taken anyway—do you see a pattern here? Regardless, Beacon of Hope isn’t very impressive for healing, but it’s solid for helping allies succeed on wisdom saves; you might as well take advantage of the extra healing while it’s active and cast Cure Wounds now and then.
7th: Death Ward is a good spell that provides a non-concentration buff, but often takes until higher levels to be worth the slot. Guardian of Faith is hard to use effectively but useful in some situations.
9th: Mass Cure Wounds doesn’t quite do as much healing as you would expect a 5th level spell to offer, but it’s instantaneous and can save a life now and then. You gain very little from having Raise Dead prepared since the flexible nature of cleric spellcasting lets you prepare it the day after someone dies. This can let you revive someone faster though, so it still gets a Meh.
When you choose this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency with heavy armor.
Heavy armor is useful on a lot of cleric builds, but you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.
Disciple of Life
Also starting at 1st level, your healing spells are more effective. Whenever you use a spell of 1st level or higher to restore hit points to a creature, the creature regains additional hit points equal to 2 + the spell’s level.
This is a solid but also confusing feature; what counts as “using” a spell to restore hit points? Ask your dungeon master. You gain the benefits whenever the spell restores hit points, so everyone targeted by a Mass Healing Word or every burst of Aura of Vitality healing can gain these hit points, leading to solid in-combat healing and great out of combat healing.
The Goodberry spell is infamous for its combo with this; some people, including the designers, have argued that each berry would benefit from this feature, while others have convincing reasons why this shouldn’t be the case. If your table allows it, a 1st level Goodberry can heal 40 hit points out of combat.
Again, talk to your DM before taking druid levels to use this. This doesn’t make Goodberry broken since it only restores health and nothing else and costs a spell slot (unless you prepped Goodberries the night before, then you can stockpile hundreds of hit points of free out of combat healing, and that might make it a little too strong and feel cheesy), it’s just a combo built on some shaky ground.
Channel Divinity: Preserve Life
Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to heal the badly injured.
As an action, you present your holy symbol and evoke healing energy that can restore a number of hit points equal to five times your cleric level. Choose any creatures within 30 feet of you, and divide those hit points among them. This feature can restore a creature to no more than half of its hit point maximum. You can’t use this feature on an undead or a construct.
It’s not a horrible feature, but you already have spells that can heal; this is somewhat redundant with what you can already do, especially if your table uses the Goodberry combo. This is mostly useful as a bootleg Mass Healing Word, so you can bring up downed allies in a desperate situation without using a spell slot.
Beginning at 6th level, the healing spells you cast on others heal you as well. When you cast a spell of 1st level or higher that restores hit points to a creature other than you, you regain hit points equal to 2 + the spell’s level.
This only does anything whatsoever at the moment you cast the spell, and it’s not much healing. You can cast Aura of Vitality and restore over a hundred hit points to your allies and then give yourself… 5. I’m not terribly impressed. It’s also unclear how this works with Goodberry; do you get healed when you cast it, but only if you promise not to eat any berries? What if you do eat them? Talk to your dungeon master.
At 8th level, you gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 radiant damage to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.
Bad feature. Take the better Tasha’s version instead since it works on cantrips. You’re not even proficient in martial weapons, so stabbing people with a weapon is an even worse idea than it is for other clerics.
Starting at 17th level, when you would normally roll one or more dice to restore hit points with a spell, you instead use the highest number possible for each die. For example, instead of restoring 2d6 hit points to a creature, you restore 12.
Our capstone is… the ability to be slightly better at healing, but only with healing spells that have dice. Our Heal spell gets no benefit. Mass Heal gets nothing. Goodberry gets nothing if we’re going down that route. A healing word… gains 1.5 average points of healing from this. Aura of Vitality benefits the most, but we can already heal a ton of hit points with that spell; how much healing do we need? We were already the ultimate healer before this! Bad feature.
When healing is appropriate, you can deliver powerful healing effects, and you’re decently resilient yourself and have the full suite of cleric features and spellcasting.
It’s easy to fall into traps and take terrible healing spells like Aura of Vitality (post-errata) or use healing word to top off someone who’s almost but not quite at full health out of combat; I have personally seen players make terrible decisions with their spells as a healing-focused cleric, and they suffered for it. Also, healing is the only thing this subclass gets, and healing isn’t always needed, and the mechanics of the game make damage prevention more effective than healing; instead of saving a third level slot for Mass Healing Word, why not use it on Spirit Guardians so you can slaughter all the orcs faster and deny them chances to damage you?
Best Race Options
If you want to double down on healing, Aasimar have the Healing Hands ability, letting you heal for an extra few d4s every day. This is more useful at low levels.
Monsters of the Multiverse Hobgoblins can use a bonus action to give the help action and temporary hit points to allies 2-6 times per day and have other useful features. You can heal lots of hit points but have fewer ways of giving temporary ones.
Tabaxi can double their speed on some turns to move almost anywhere on the battlefield; if you like Healing Word for its range, you can move the entire range of a Healing Word without dashing, so Cure Wounds will do as a substitute. Then you can use your bonus action to use Spiritual Weapon and kill someone.
Choosing the Right Skills
Medicine proficiency is redundant with Spare the Dying, but… I mean, you’re a healing expert, you should know how bones work. Religion is also a less-used skill that you also probably want to be proficient in any way. Perception is your other almost mandatory proficiency; it’s the most important skill in the game.
You’ll want either Athletics or Acrobatics proficiency to avoid grapples and do physical stuff. A heavy armor user with good strength will prefer Athletics, and a medium armor cleric will want Acrobatics. You might take both if you can’t think of other places to put your proficiencies.
Clerics are excellent at Insight; grab that skill if you think social interaction will be a huge part of the game. You may not need Persuasion; you can simply gesture at your spell list and say “I am a healer” and that can get you places. Still, proficiency in it can make you very well-liked.
Metamagic Adept is going to be exceptionally powerful for you. Even if you don’t have the mischief potential to take full advantage of Subtle Spell (it’s still good), the Extend Spell metamagic is phenomenal. Aura of Vitality heals for 2d6 every round, plus 5 due to your 1st level feature; by using one sorcery point and Extend spell, you can double the duration to double the healing and restore the wounded party members to full hit points with a single spell for quite a few levels.
Do not neglect your concentration; there’s more to being a cleric than casting instantaneous healing spells. Take War Caster or Resilient (Constitution) and keep concentrating on that Spirit Guardians.
The Healer feat does almost nothing for you; it’s insanely redundant with what you can already do. Instead, if you want a feat that boosts your healing potential, take Strixhaven Initiate and select either Quandrix or Witherbloom, then pick Goodberry as your 1st level spell. This lets you do the funny Goodberry combo and heal a ton of hit points out of combat with Goodberries, assuming your table runs the spell this way.
The Soldier background has a built-in option for a healer role; this is the closest backgrounds get to an actual “heals people” job position.
Acolyte is another background that makes sense for a healing cleric, especially if churches frequently fill the role of hospitals in the campaign setting.
Quandrix Initiate is an extremely powerful Strixhaven background that lets you take Goodberry with the free Strixhaven Initiate feat, and you also get numerous great spells added to your spell list.
Any mix of Life Cleric and Druid levels will give you access to the powerful Goodberry combo. Remember to keep the metal armor restrictions in mind or talk to your dungeon master about them. Stars Druid is the ideal pick since you can use the Starry Form to deliver extra healing, concentrate better, or murder enemies; the versatility is excellent.
Nobody can escape Hexblade dips; not even you. Invest one level, and get the Shield spell; the armor proficiencies do nothing for you, but that delicious Shield might be worth a one level dip just on its own; Hexblade’s Curse can also be useful.
Damage prevention is useful, so you can use the Divination Wizard’s Portent to save an ally from a horrible saving throw effect or eliminate an enemy with a spell. You also get Shield and Find Familiar.
Would I recommend playing a Life Domain Cleric?
Clerics have a diverse array of spells and features and are not and should never be heal bots, but the Life Cleric is the cleric most suited for healing. You can easily bring up your allies from low hit points, but make sure to pick good healing spells and use them strategically; top off your allies with an Aura of Vitality, not an upcast Healing Word.
Even if Life Domain isn’t my first pick for a cleric, I would still recommend trying it out if you want to be exceptionally good at restoring hit points.