D&D 5e: War Domain Cleric Guide
Role in the Party
The War Cleric is an unusual cleric subclass that has some support for making weapon attacks. Normally, using a weapon as a cleric is a bad idea, but the War Cleric can be an okay part-time weapon user.
This subclass isn’t discussed as often these days. It still pops up now and then, often as a dip in a multiclass build or as a character being played by a newer player.
Your role is mostly the same as a normal cleric: protecting the party and using healing, support spells, and damage spells as needed, but sometimes you can hit people with a big stick and not be bad at it.
War Domain Cleric Features
War Domain Spells
1st: Divine Favor is a bad spell since it doesn’t add enough damage and costs your concentration and a spell slot. Shield of Faith is a great spell, but unfortunately, one that you were going to take anyway so it’s not quite Epic for that reason. If you see a spell you were going to take anyway as a Domain spell, it’s just an extra cleric spell preparation of your choice, which is just Good.
3rd: Magic Weapon is okay if you’re going to fight werewolves and someone doesn’t have a magic weapon, but Spiritual Weapon is a solid spell that you were probably going to take anyway.
5th: Crusader’s Mantle is normally a paladin-only spell that has some okay impact when cast, but the extremely powerful Spirit Guardians will be cast far more often, and you were probably going to take it anyway.
7th: Freedom of Movement is nice to have for emergencies but is rarely used, and Stoneskin is an awful spell.
9th: Flame Strike is like a fireball if it cost a 5th level slot and were smaller, and even though clerics don’t usually get instantaneous blast spells, I still don’t like Flame Strike. Hold Monster is excellent if it lands, but enemies are starting to have legendary resistance and it does nothing on a successful save. It’s a very risky cast since you could waste your action and a high level slot.
At 1st level, you gain proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor.
Plate mail gives you +1 AC compared to the best medium armor, and martial weapon proficiency helps you make the most out of your next feature.
From 1st level, your god delivers bolts of inspiration to you while you are engaged in battle. When you use the Attack action, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
This is an extremely good feature from levels 1-4: a few times per day, you can become an improved version of a Polearm Master fighter, except maybe with a slightly lower chance to hit. You can’t do that full time, but the rest of the time you’re a heavily armored spellcaster anyway. You can use this with a ranged weapon, but you probably want to use a melee weapon since it works better with heavy armor and a shield. Additionally, Spiritual Weapon does more damage than this, but Spiritual Weapon is a second level spell, and you don’t have an infinite number of those.
The problem is that after level 5, taking the attack action becomes much less potent since everyone else is getting Extra Attack; so you need to use your bonus action and this limited resource to be on par with anyone else. At higher levels, you get extra dice added to your weapon attacks, but that doesn’t quite make you great at weapons, it just makes you not terrible. You can’t pair this with booming blade either since it requires the attack action.
However, you can still use this at mid to high levels and get some use out of it when you’re concentrating on something else, and it’s stellar at low levels, so it’s a good feature overall.
Channel Divinity: Guided Strike
Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to strike with supernatural accuracy. When you make an attack roll, you can use your Channel Divinity to gain a +10 bonus to the roll. You make this choice after you see the roll, but before the DM says whether the attack hits or misses.
You can use this to make one of your melee attacks almost always automatically hit, or you can use it on an Inflict Wounds or Guiding Bolt. It’s your decision, and it’s a decent way to use your channel divinity.
Channel Divinity: War God’s Blessing
At 6th level, when a creature within 30 feet of you makes an attack roll, you can use your reaction to grant that creature a +10 bonus to the roll, using your Channel Divinity. You make this choice after you see the roll, but before the DM says whether the attack hits or misses.
Someone in the party can probably do more damage on an attack hit than you, so this is Good if you have a Rogue, Barbarian, someone with Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter, or anyone else who can do big damage or apply damage and a potent bonus effect on a hit. If not, this is Meh, and your party probably needs more damage dealers.
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 damage of the same type dealt by the weapon to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.
The Tasha’s version of this feature applies to both weapon use and cantrips and lets you use it on both, so take that instead of this one. When you’re not using War Priest, use a cantrip instead of a normal weapon attack. But still, adding 1d8 and 2d8 to two attacks per turn instead of one thanks to your War Priest ability is nice. If you’re using a +1 longsword and have 16 strength, that’s a fine 6d8+8 damage on two hits at level 14, which isn’t great for a full time weapon user, but you’re not a full time weapon user, so it’s fine.
Avatar of Battle
At 17th level, you gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks.
Simple and useful. A lot of enemies at this level deal damage other than nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing and slashing, but it still comes up a lot anyway.
You’re better at using weapons than a normal cleric and can ensure you and your allies land hits when they’re most needed. Like most support characters, you become more powerful as your allies do, but your Channel Divinity is especially potent when your allies are optimizing to deal huge damage on a single hit. High level phantom rogues with Booming Blade will love you and your delicious Channel Divinity. Most importantly, you’re still a cleric, and you have full cleric spellcasting and all their usual good features.
You are not a great weapon user, just one who can be good at low levels and mediocre to okay at high levels, and your ability scores will be stretched severely if you try to have both a good spellcasting ability and a high weapon using ability score. You could use Shillelagh to attack with Wisdom, but that’s a hassle to get and set up.
Best Race Options
No official race gives you the Shillelagh cantrip: I checked. Sorry.
You have a limited use bonus action, so I recommend pairing it with other limited use bonus actions to fill the gaps. The Monsters of the Multiverse Hobgoblin has some solid traits and can use the help action as a bonus action with an added effect 2-6 times per day.
War Priest only asks that you take the Attack action; it doesn’t care what you did with that Attack action. The Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons Dragonborn can replace their one attack from the attack action with a breath weapon, and you can still use the War Priest attack after making it (but can’t replace that one with a breath weapon). Chromatic, Gem, and Metallic are all good choices. Unfortunately, the Player’s Handbook Dragonborn is a terrible race that doesn’t let you do this strategy.
Githyanki are a very militaristic race, so they make sense for a War Cleric. You also get a free Misty Step and a few other useful features. Although, their Githzerai enemies are tempting for the free Shield spell…
Choosing the Right Skills
Standard Cleric skills are appropriate. You can be the best person in the party at Perception, Insight, Medicine, Animal Handling, and Survival.
Athletics is a solid skill for a strength-based War Cleric; you usually don’t see the Cleric as a strength skill expert, but this is a good opportunity if your Strength score is high. If your dexterity is higher, Acrobatics is a good pick.
Religion is the most cleric-appropriate knowledge skill, but maybe you’re an angry general who prefers killing to learning, so it’s not mandatory for you. Intimidation would be your skill of choice in that situation.
Gift of the Chromatic Dragon is unusually appropriate. You can get resistance to one of five chromatic dragon-associated damage types a few times per day, and Chromatic Infusion lets you add a d4 to all your weapon damage rolls one time per day. However, you might burn through all five of your War Priest uses in a single combat encounter, so this is a perfect thing to pull out in a six round combat encounter. Spirit Guardians and Chromatic Infusion on round 1, then deliver beatdowns on rounds 2-6.
You are a spellcaster and you are a War Cleric. You use spells and weapons. Take War Caster. It’s a feat that’s worth taking just for advantage on concentration saves, but being able to cast a spell as a reaction in place of an opportunity attack and being able to cast spells while holding a sword and shield are both excellent as well. Resilient (Constitution) may be a suitable follow-up feat if you find that you somehow keep losing concentration on your Spirit Guardians and other good spells.
Magic Initiate: Druid will give you Shillelagh, another cantrip, and a 1st level spell. This cantrip is unusually hard to acquire through feats and other options, and multiclassing directly into Druid might deprive you of metal armor, so if you want to attack with your Wisdom modifier, this is how you do it. It’s not a stellar option, but it’s solid. Wood Elf Magic also does this and is arguably stronger since you get both Longstrider and Pass Without Trace once per day, but you’re probably not an elf.
Soldier is appropriate for a war-based subclass; I imagine that a War Cleric would have filled more of an officer or healer role on the battlefield, so either of those is suitable. Flex your military rank, but make sure the people you’re flexing it to are in favor of your military instead of being against it.
Acolyte is a fine choice for any cleric, but for a War cleric, maybe you also spent your time at the church doing bench presses and training with swords.
If your table uses Ravinica backgrounds, Boros Legionaire lets you be a holy warrior and adds some useful spells to your spell list, particularly Wall of Fire.
You can multiclass to increase your capacity to use weapons, but if you invest too many levels into those dips, you might as well just go with a more straightforward weapon build. Keep your dips brief if you want to remain a cleric.
One level of Fighter will give you a fighting style, boosting your ability to use weapons.
If your table is very loose with the metal armor restrictions, one level of Druid is acceptable; you maintain spell slot progression but can take the Shillelagh cantrip to attack with wisdom. But if you have to give up metal armor and non-metal substitutes aren’t readily available, this dip is harder to recommend.
One level of Wizard gives you Shield, Absorb Elements, and Find Familiar, all of which will greatly help you. You could go two levels for Chronurgy, Divination, or any of the other great Wizard subclasses, but Bladesinger is probably not worth it due to the conflict with your armor and your likely mediocre intelligence.
Would I recommend playing a War Cleric?
If you want to be a part-time weapon user and full-time cleric, this is the ideal subclass for you. You can be okay with weapons for a few rounds per day while doing normal cleric stuff the rest of the time, and you’ll be particularly strong at lower levels.
However, your ceiling for damage isn’t quite as high as other weapon users. If you’re at a table where people are optimizing their characters for high damage output, maybe your damage will feel a bit underwhelming, and another cleric subclass might be ideal for you.