Class is in session, and this week we turn to the most iconic of all clerics: the devoted warrior and healer known as a devotee of the Life domain. Priests and priestesses of many different gods populate the many worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, and the most magically attuned of these faithful become clerics; living conduits of their god’s power, granting them the ability to manipulate the magic of the Weave. A cleric’s god holds command over particular domains—sometimes referred to as a “Divine Portfolio,” though that sounds a bit too corporate for my taste. A cleric aligns with one of their gods’ domains, and gains specific powers beyond the abilities of other clerics.
Story of the Life Domain
“In the name of Lathander, may your wounds be healed.”
Sunlight shone from the palm of the cleric, weaving itself into brilliant strands of radiance that surged towards the gory wounds all over the fighter spread-eagled beneath him. The cleric kneeled, coming closer to the fighter, and placed the palm of his gauntleted hand upon the worst of the warrior’s wounds. The strands of light followed the cleric’s hand, stitching together flesh and repairing bone.
As the strands of sunlight faded, the cleric moved his hand from the fighter’s now-healed sternum and reached out to help her stand. She took his hand, and the cleric stood up, heavy plate armor clanking as he did so. Sweat beaded his rosy brow, but he smiled proudly nonetheless.
“The Morninglord and I shall always watch over you. Never fear.”
The fighter rolled her eyes, but returned his smile. “Keep evangelizing, bud,” she said, drawing her swords and preparing to return to the fight. “It’ll work someday.”
You are a cleric of the Life domain. You serve a god of goodness and care, and embody their healing principles. Life is the domain of deities of creation and birth, deities of mercy and protection, and deities of agriculture, nature, and bounty. All clerics have the power to heal, but those who draw from the power of the Life domain are unrivaled paragons of preserving and renewing life. Though Wisdom may be your spellcasting ability, and your wisdom guides your philosophy, consider what your other ability scores may be. A cleric with high Strength may value the ability to physically defend weaker folk from bullies and tyrants, whereas a cleric with high Charisma may be a career evangelist.
No matter what story you craft for your cleric, there are some things you should know about your subclass features before you get started. Clerics have to choose their Divine Domain at 1st level, so do your best to make an informed decision!
Life Domain Features
The Life domain is the most iconic cleric subclass. Even though the panoply of cleric subclasses in fifth edition prove that clerics are more than mere healers, the Life domain proves that there is immense power to be found in that specific niche. A team player to the bitter end, clerics of the Life domain gain powers that augment their already potent healing and buffing spells.
Clerics gain their Divine Domain at 1st level, in stark contrast with almost all other classes in D&D, who gain their subclasses at 2nd or 3rd level. They gain five subclass features at 1st, 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 17th level. You can read all of the Life domain features for free in the D&D Basic Rules. In summary, your subclass features allow you to:
- Always have certain thematic spells prepared
- Gain proficiency in heavy armor
- Restore more hit points than normal whenever you cast a healing spell
- Channel your god’s divine power to restore a large amount of hit points
- Heal yourself slightly whenever you cast a healing spell
- Deal extra damage with your weapon attacks
- Maximize your healing spells and features
Benefits of the Life Domain
Simply put, clerics of the Life domain are unrivaled masters of healing. In this niche, they reign supreme—and what a niche it is! There are many ways to recover from damage in D&D, but if you need healing in the midst of battle, there’s no one better than a Life cleric. Grave clerics may be masters of healing from unconsciousness, but there’s something to be said for preventative medicine. This is especially true if you play with rules that penalize falling unconscious, like the optional Lingering Injuries rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, or house rules like the one I presented earlier this week.
In addition to your role-defining healing abilities, Life clerics also gain a small selection of domain spells—such as bless and spiritual weapon—that allow them to proactively contribute to combats by buffing allies and making powerful spiritual attacks. Your proficiency with heavy armor, while not unique to the Life domain, is a boon that makes you a durable warrior against both spells and swords.
Drawbacks of the Life Domain
Unfortunately, the Life domain doesn’t do anything to expand your versatility beyond a Support role. If you’re looking to be a cleric that’s able to easily swap between party roles, Life isn’t the right path for you. Other clerical domains, like Light and Tempest, also have access to certain spells outside of the regular cleric spell list thanks to their domain spells. Unfortunately, the Life domain grants you no such versatility.
By putting all your eggs in one basket, you may wind up feeling superfluous if your fellow party members have healing abilities, or in situations where healing isn’t necessary. Gearing all of your powerful abilities towards healing also places you in a very reactive position, since you have to wait for hostile traps or creatures to damage your allies before you can use your most powerful and efficient traits. In D&D’s short, blitzkrieg combats, it’s usually better to have a strong offense or at least a way to actively mitigate damage, rather than to spend your precious action in combat restoring hit points—especially since a character can fight just as well at 1 hit point as they can at full hit points.
Since your subclass features make your healing spells incredibly powerful, you can mitigate your lack of proactive features by choosing active spells, like those suggested in the “Spells” section, below.
If you’re playing a Life domain cleric from 1st level, you should choose a race that gives you a bonus to your Wisdom score, like a hill dwarf. Races with bonuses you can assign to any trait, such as a variant human or a half-elf, also allow you to allocate your ability score bonuses as you see fit, while also letting you get some other useful traits, too, like extra skill proficiencies. After Wisdom, consider what your second- and third-highest ability scores will be. Strength will help you be a better physical combatant, but Dexterity will help you fight from range. Intelligence will make you a more scholastic skill-user, and Charisma will help you be a better evangelist and diplomat. And, as always, Constitution will make you hardier—a useful trait for any adventurer.
As usual, your character’s background is up to you. Many clerics come from an acolyte background, having been trained in the priestly arts since birth, but others come to faith later in life. Perhaps you were a soldier who dedicated years of your life to a temple after suffering a terrible wound and miraculously surviving. Perhaps you were a charlatan who was nearly stoned to death in the streets of a scummy city, but were saved by the charity of a humble cleric and became her pupil.
Selecting EQUIPMENT when creating your cleric is a good idea; you’re proficient in heavy armor so you can select chainmail, but you aren’t proficient in martial weapons, so you can’t select a warhammer. Details like what type of holy symbol you wear are aesthetic decisions, and thus entirely up to you.
Fortunately, as a cleric, you have the entire cleric spell list available to you whenever you prepare spells at the start of the day. Nevertheless, when playing a cleric, I like to have a typical spell list that my cleric always has prepared—unless I specifically choose otherwise. This saves me the trouble of having to re-select all my spells at the start of each day. Since you’re primarily going to be playing a supportive role in your party, having spells that buff allies and debuff enemies will be useful to you. Fortunately, you already have several spells of this nature permanently prepared thanks to your Domain Spells feature.
As a 1st-level cleric, you know three cantrips and can prepare a number of 1st-level spells equal to 1 + your Wisdom modifier. Odds are, your Wisdom modifier will be either +2 or +3 right now, so you’ll be able to choose either three or four 1st-level spells whenever you complete a long rest. Even as a support character, you’ll want to have at least one offensive cantrip; sacred flame is a good choice. Beyond this, your cantrips are simply a matter of preference, and almost any will serve you well.
You can prepare any 1st-level spells from the cleric spell list, but you can use this list of suggested spells to prepare an all-purpose spell loadout that will serve you in most circumstances. As you go on adventures and learn what dangers your character tends to face, you can personalize your spell loadout. Try to choose one spell labeled SUPPORT, one labeled DEFENSE, and one labeled OFFENSE. If you have a high Wisdom score and can prepare additional spells, choose others of your choice. Note that this list only includes some spells from the Player's Handbook, so if you want to choose more unusual spells, or have other sources like Xanathar's Guide to Everything, you'll have to do a little self-directed research. This list is just here to get you started if this is your first time playing a Life domain cleric.
- Bane (DEFENSE)
- Command (SUPPORT/SOCIAL)
- Guiding Bolt (OFFENSE)
- Healing Word (SUPPORT)
- Inflict Wounds (OFFENSE)
- Protection from Evil and Good (DEFENSE) [This spell requires that you have 25 gp worth of holy water, which the spell consumes]
- Shield of Faith (DEFENSE)
At Higher Levels
As you gain cleric levels, the Life domain will bestow greater and greater healing powers unto you. Even though your direct combat abilities won’t grow too much in power as you level up, don’t be afraid to wade out into the thick of combat to heal your allies—your Blessed Healer trait, gained at 6th level, will provide a little bit of healing to you every time you heal someone else. Even though your melee attacks aren’t the strongest when compared to fighters and paladins, your survivability is considerable.
If you wind up using a lot of concentration spells, taking the War Caster feat at 4th level could be a good investment, especially if you like to be in the thick of things. Alternatively, if you need even more damage mitigation, the Heavy Armor Master feat will help you shrug off bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from your foes.
If you want more advice for building a cleric, check out Cleric 101. Have you ever played a Life domain cleric? What advice would you give to players that want to make a character like this?
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their animal companions Mei and Marzipan. You can find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.