Pathfinder Cleric Class Guide

Posted by Andrew E. on

Divine Power and Righteous Retribution

Clerics are the holy warriors of the adventuring world and are some of the most versatile and powerful spellcasters in pathfinder. But building anything in this system takes some doing and optimizing can mean scouring dozens of books for just the right combination of features. We’ve done the hard work for you, so grab your holy texts and say your prayers as we go through everything you need to know.   

What Are Clerics?

Clerics are pious agents of deities, blessed with divine powers to carry out their ineffable will. Clerics are often brought up within a faith and are later blessed by their clergy, but they can also be called and chosen through divine providence or through their ethical beliefs. Mechanically, they’re often labeled as “healbots”, and while they offer some of the best healing capacity of any class, they’re also capable of so much more than that. Depending on how you want to play them, your cleric can become a frontline warrior for divine justice, a party buff that can be the backbone of your entire party, or a death dealing spellcaster on par with the strongest arcane casters. Or you could even make a necromancer. Whatever type of cleric you decide to create, you’ll need to start by understanding the cleric’s basic features first.  

Cleric Class Features

Hit Die

Clerics get a d8 for their hit die, which isn’t amazing but can be deceptive. Even as a low hit die they can still reliably take a few hits due to their high healing capacity.

Skills

Clerics are not the way to go if you’re trying to be a skill monkey, with only 2 + Int mod skill ranks per level your skills are likely to be lacking.

Armor and Weapon Proficiencies

Clerics get light and medium armor proficiency, shields, and all simple weapons. Medium armor and a shield can provide a decent AC. You’ll also get proficiency with your god’s favored weapon which is often how you can sneakily snag a good martial weapon.

Aura

You emit an aura of whatever alignment your god is. 9 times out of 10 this won’t matter at all but there can be the odd trap or magical plot device that will happen to care if you’re stinking up the place with an evil aura.

Spellcasting

Clerics are a primary spellcasting class, so this is going to be your bread and butter (at least for most builds). Wisdom is your primary casting stat that dictates how you cast spells, your spells per day and any bonus spells and the higher your Wisdom is, the better your spells will be. Clerics are also prepared casters, which means you technically know all the spells on your spell list, you just have to prepare spells in advance by spending an hour each day to pick them out, at what level you want to cast them, and how many of each spell. Casting with prepared spells means you have a very wide range of utility options for situations that aren’t pressing but will have very narrow options on the spur of the moment. 

Channel Energy

A callback to the “turn undead” of old, this feature lets you raise up a holy symbol to fire a burst of positive energy (if you’re good) or negative energy (if you’re evil) as a standard action. Positive energy heals living things and hurts undead things, while negative energy heals undead and hurts living things. It also works off your Charisma modifier, which means in order to fully utilize a cleric you’ll technically want both a high Wisdom and a high Charisma.

Spontaneous Casting

If you’re a good cleric, you get to turn any level of spell you’ve prepared into that level’s “cure” spell for free. If you’re evil, you get to do the same but for the “inflict” spells. So essentially, if you’re good you get spontaneous cure spells that don’t need to be prepared, and if you’re evil you should never prepare inflict spells. It seems counterintuitive but that’s just how it works.

Ex-Clerics

All your powers are derived from your chosen deity, and if you tick them (or the DM) off by acting against them, those powers can be lost with a godly snap of the fingers. Not a big problem if you’re playing in flavor, but your chosen alignment will be a bit more set in stone than most. 

Neutral Clerics

Good clerics channel positive energy, and evil clerics channel negative energy, but what about neutral clerics? If you find yourself as a champion of a neutral faith, you get to pick positive or negative energy when you first take a cleric level, but you’re stuck with your choice. Note, that since you can be up to one alignment step away from your deity, this allows for clerics of anything to channel either positive or negative energy. Simply shift one step into neutral and your evil god worshipping cleric can heal, or your good god worshipping cleric can inflict some wounds. 

pathfinder cleric

Cleric Ability Scores

Clerics are what’s known as a MAD class (multiple ability dependent). Technically a cleric wants a high Wisdom for spellcasting, a high Constitution for health, a high Charisma for channeling energy, a high Strength for bopping heads in melee, and could even stand some high Intelligence to get those skill checks higher. At least you don’t need to care about Dexterity.

Obviously, unless your DM is letting you roll and you roll like a god you’re not going to get a good score in ALL those stats.

What you do here is going to largely depend on what sort of cleric you want to be.

Somewhat contentiously, if you plan on being the party healer/buffer, you don’t actually need all that high of a Wisdom score. You’re not making spell attack rolls and you’re not worrying about getting your spell DC high. Your healing and your buffs can make due with as low as a 14 Wisdom. If all you want to do is heal and buff, make Wisdom and Charisma evenly your highest scores, followed by Constitution.

If you’re trying to fill more of a utility casting and spell damage role, then Wisdom is your friend, and should be prioritized higher than anything else. Constitution should be your next highest, and Charisma can really be dumped altogether.

Finally, if you’re trying for more of a close combat battle cleric, I strongly recommend you look towards the warpriest class instead, which fills that role far better. With the right combination of cleric domains and stats you can make it work, but warpriest will cut out the middleman.

Cleric Domains

Every deity will have a list of “domains”, which are basically themes that describe the god. For example, the dwarven god Austri has the domains of Artifice, Earth, Good, and Strength. Exactly what deities you have access to will depend on your DM and the setting, but even if there isn’t a deity proper in your world that fits the domains you want, you can follow your chosen “ideals” and just pick domains, even if no existing faith exactly lines up what what you want to be.

Every cleric gets to pick two domains (usually two of the domains of a specific deity) and each domain grants you special powers and extra spell options. The powers range from meh to amazing, and you’ll want to pay special attention to the bonus spells, as they occupy special domain spell slots and are essentially always prepared. You may have noticed the awkward +1 in all the spell slot sections of the cleric table. That’s the special bonus domain spell slot. These domain spells are often not normally from the cleric spell list either, so they can often provide a real boost to your capabilities. 

To complicate things further, each domain has a list of subdomains. Subdomains provide even more specificity and customization options, usually swapping out the power or some of the spells in the domain spell list. Looking back at our example deity Austri, his 4 domains branch out into 20 subdomains! Let’s go through the domains and figure out what they’ll add to your new cleric:

Air Domain

Your powers give you lightning resistance a dependable source of lightning damage and the spells are mostly utility spells of middling usefulness. I recommend taking the cloud subdomain that exchanges lightning resistance for the excellent thundercloud power, which deafens, obscures, and deals automatic damage. The lightning subdomain is also a decent option if you want to devote your character towards purely dealing lightning damage. 

Animal Domain

Turns your cleric into a bit of a druid and grants you a ranger-tier animal companion. The base domain is pretty bad compared to all its excellent subdomains. Pick fur if you want to make the best use of your animal companion in combat, feather to add flying spells to your repertoire (which clerics don’t usually get) and a huge perception boost, and if you’re trying for a melee cleric pick insect for a surprisingly useful AC boosting exoskeleton.

Artifice Domain

The main draw here is access to the creation spells and later the ability to bestow dancing onto weapons for some extra DPS. None of the subdomains add a whole lot either. Still worth considering for utility casting focused clerics.

Chaos Domain

A solid option if you want to focus on debuffing the enemy, and if you happen to fight lawful enemies the chaos blade feature can really rack up the DPS. Try the revelry subdomain to flip into a morale-based buff/debuff cleric, or the whimsy subdomain to double down into debuffing.

Charm Domain

Your starting dazing touch power is VERY strong and can basically stun lock a boss monster if you’re lucky. Couple this with the slew of charm spells and you can turn your cleric into an amazingly effective battlefield control character. The love and lust subdomains are also strong, as love trades the dazing touch for an ability that can just completely negate attacks, while lust can force your enemies to attack each other. 

Community Domain

With lackluster domain powers and unexciting domain spells that are already on the cleric spell list, community is a mediocre option for party buff clerics. I generally recommend giving this one a pass. 

Darkness Domain

You get blind-fight as a free bonus feat, a ton of shadowy spells normally unavailable to clerics, and the touch of darkness domain power lets you make melee touch attacks that impose a 20% miss chance. Very strong option for debuff strategies, and I recommend taking the loss subdomain if you’re trying to act as the party scout, as it grants you the aura of forgetfulness that can erase a guard’s memories if they manage to spot you in the shadows.

Death Domain

The powers and most of the spells in the base death domain are pretty bad, but the undeath subdomain is one of the best options for necromancy clerics and evil clerics in general. The undeath’s power death’s kiss lets you heal your living allies with all that negative energy when you need to, and lets you remain useful as a healer even without any cure spells. 

Destruction Domain

Base destruction domain is generally poor and risky for you and your allies since your destructive aura will often do just as much damage to you as it does to your enemies. However, the rage subdomain grants you the ability to rage like a barbarian and is one of the stronger domain options for a melee focused combat cleric.

Earth Domain

Earth has a reliable source of acid damage and some decent utility spells but is rather middle of the pack power-wise. Of the subdomain options I find caves to be the most useful, and even above ground you’ll usually gain a lot of mobility from the stone-based spider climb.

Erosion Domain

More or less the rust monster domain. Your powers revolve around destroying objects and you can potentially destroy the weapons and armor of whatever you’re fighting. Situationally useful, but your DM will likely start using conspicuously non-metallic threats and structures will be given inexplicable plot-strength magical protection. 

Evil Domain

The base evil domain is rather lackluster, but its subdomains provide a lot of strong options. The daemon subdomain can fascinate large groups and is a great option for a battlefield control cleric, while the devil subdomain can greatly reduce the enemy’s ability to make saving throws and is perfect for debuff clerics. 

Fire Domain

Probably the best of the basic elemental domains as you get access to some very powerful wizard spells like our old friend fireball. I recommend the ash subdomain that adds on some excellent control utility as well in the wall of ashes power, along with access to the disintegrate spell at higher levels.

Glory Domain

Base glory and all of its subdomains are top-tier options for clerics focused on buffing the party. You pick up a good swath of the better paladin buff spells alongside a free sanctuary aura at 8th level. 

Good Domain

Technically meant as a party buff option, but glory does everything good wants to do only better. It’s not the worst option, but if you’re looking for buffs and your god’s domains allow it, pick glory over good every time.

Healing Domain

Clerics can already spontaneously cast cure spells, so your bonus spells are doing next to nothing. The big draw here is the 6th level ability healer’s blessing that slaps a X1.5 multiplier on all your cure spells, which is a HUGE boost to your healing capacity. Everything else but this ability is pretty bad, but it’s still an excellent domain if you’re devoted to being the party healer.

Knowledge Domain

Clerics don’t gain many skill ranks, but the knowledge domain makes up for a lot of it by turning all knowledge skills into class skills for you, alongside a bunch of information-based spells normally unavailable to clerics. Do yourself a favor and take the memory subdomain which grants you the power to let your allies reroll a knowledge skill check 3 + your Wisdom modifier times per day WITH a bonus equal to your Wisdom. You may not get the skill ranks, but you can greatly increase your party utility by letting your skill monkey reroll important checks. 

Law Domain

The 1st level domain power lets you absolutely make sure you or an ally flubs an important role, and the 8th level power can deal a lot of damage to chaotic enemies. All the subdomains provide different flavors of control, lawful spells and debuff, but I’m a fan of that base law domain mainly due to its 1st level power, and most of the subdomains trade it out for something less useful. 

Liberation Domain

Bad spell list but the 1st level liberation power gives you freedom of movement whenever you need it. On top of that the 8th level power lets you and your whole party ignore a ton of really nasty status effects. Try taking this domain for strategies that rely on touch spells and getting into the thick of combat since this domain will let you and your allies escape grabs unharmed. 

Luck Domain

Rerolls, rerolls everywhere. Don’t bother with the subdomains because they all replace at least one of the amazing domain powers. Bit of luck will let you or an ally touched roll twice on something and take the better result up to 3 + Wisdom modifier times per day. Then at 6th level good fortune will give you an emergency reroll as an immediate action. 

Luck Domain

Rerolls, rerolls everywhere. Don’t bother with the subdomains because they all replace at least one of the amazing domain powers. Bit of luck will let you or an ally touched roll twice on something and take the better result up to 3 + Wisdom modifier times per day. Then at 6th level good fortune will give you an emergency reroll as an immediate action. 

Madness Domain

Potent option for a debuff cleric as it can inflict confusion at first as a touch attack and then as a sweet aura. All the subdomains play in the same space and all of them are quality options.

Magic Domain

Functions more like an anti-magic domain, taking this option will fuel you with dispel magic capabilities and make you insufferable to enemy casters. The divine subdomain weakens the already wimpy domain spells but provides a unique capacity for spreading buffs to your allies when you are the target of divine spells and is a potentially strong option for self-buffing clerics.

Nobility Domain

The domain spells are meh and the 1st level power is bad, but you get the leadership feat for free and even get a bonus to it. If you were at all considering going for leadership anyway, this is the path to do it. 

Plant Domain

The powers aren’t great, but you get some of the best druid spells as domain spells. Or if you’re going for a close combat cleric go for the growth subdomain for a ton of free enlarge person castings and go to town as BIG CLERIC.

Protection Domain

Taking this domain is like getting a cloak of protection during character creation that gets better as you advance in levels and it’s one of the best tanky cleric options. I highly recommend taking the defense subdomain to boost the defense of your whole party.

Repose Domain

This domain can protect you and your party from some of the nastiest effects in the game, namely death effects, energy drains, and negative levels. Terrible spell list otherwise, and the subdomains are worse, but it’s still a decent option for a party buff / tank cleric.

Rune Domain

You get scribe scroll as a free feat, which is excellent, but your 1st level power blast rune is mostly useless until it gets improved with the 8th level spell rune power. Deviously offensive past 8th level but expect to get little use out of this domain in the early game.

Scalykind Domain

Similar to the animal domain in that you get some druid spells and an animal companion, just in this case it’s a snake or in the saurian subdomain’s case a dinosaur. Just like the animal domain it’s a fairly good option as animal companions can always be useful. Also consider the venom subdomain for a reliable source of a decent poison for your weapons if you’re going melee battle cleric.

Strength Domain

Meant for battle / buff clerics, but the base domain’s powers are awkward to use effectively. I recommend the ferocity subdomain instead for just clean additional damage to your attacks as a battle cleric.

Sun Domain

Absolutely fantastic for DPS clerics if you happen to be fighting undead creatures, but mediocre the rest of the time. Consider the light subdomain for a more versatile option for debuff clerics.

Travel Domain

Greatly boosts your mobility which is especially useful if your plan of attack involves delivering touch spells. The trade subdomain is also excellent, but trades the speed for the ability to haggle, making it one of the strongest options if you’re going for a party face cleric.

Trickery Domain

Fundamentally this domain lets your cleric do a good rogue impression and allows you to act as the party scout and scoundrel. I particularly like the deception subdomain as the sudden shift power can get you out of a scrape if you end up in the thick of it.

Void Domain

I’m not a huge fan of the powers but the domain spells include some great mobility spells like fly and feather fall. Also consider the quite different dark tapestry subdomain that partially turns you into a summoner, giving you some key summoning spells and slapping the advanced template onto your summons to boot!

War Domain

Complicated, and rather bad until 8th level, but still an extremely appealing option for melee battle cleric builds. At 8th level you essentially get a combat feat for free that you can swap in and out to suit your needs. If you want a bit less paperwork, consider the blood subdomain instead, as it quite simply lets you add the wounding feature to a weapon for some serious DPS.

Water Domain

Sadly mediocre, but vastly improved by its subdomains. Ice is a fantastic option for both tank clerics and battle clerics, as the flat DR 5 from body of ice can carry you far. The Oceans subdomain is also sneakily good for battlefield control strategies as you use your waves to toss your enemies where you want them.

Weather Domain

It tries to work for battlefield control but just comes up short compared to other options. The monsoon subdomain though provides a solid method of removing exhaustion and may be useful in a survival setting but is still middling at best.

Cleric Spellcasting

Going through every spell level by level available to clerics is far beyond our scope, but we CAN point out some of the key early spells.

Reminder for Cleric Spells and Healing

As a cleric you’ll be able to channel energy for healing, and alongside spontaneously casting cure spells you really don’t need to prepare healing spells and excess healing isn’t going to do much good. Instead, consider preparing spells that can get your allies out of tough spots where healing alone won’t cut it. 

0 Level

    • Create Water. Many a DM’s clever plans have been thwarted by a cleric magically pouring out water for a while. It's free, water is almost always useful for something, and the limit is really just your imagination.
  • Detect Magic. SOMEBODY in the party should always have this, and it may as well be you. Detecting magic is usually a clear way to pick out what’s important in the room, and you’ll be using it just as much at 1st level as you to at 20th level.
    • Enhanced Diplomacy. Just like guidance but twice as good but only applies to diplomacy and intimidation. Slap this on whenever your party face is about to talk to the NPCs.
    • Guidance. As an orison it’s basically free so long as you can spare the standard action, and can provide a small but useful buff to practically anything. Anytime your ally opens the door/disarms the trap/lies to the guard, give them a little guidance as they go.

    1st Level Spells (Orisons)

  • Bless. This is the standard no frills party buff and shouldn’t be forgotten as +1 to attack bonuses for the entire party for a combat is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Forbid Action. Tell the boss monster to not attack for a round or tell the fleeing rogue not to move for a round. It’s only a first level spell but it can completely shift a situation around and I always take it for control builds.
      • Sanctuary. Enemies must pass a Will save to attack you, so long as you don’t attack them. If you’re buffing and healing anyway, why not be much more difficult to attack and become an unassailable wall to the weak willed?
  • Shield of Faith. If you know you’re about to go into combat, slap a shield onto yourself or your front-line fighter. It’s simple, but that AC boost can be life or death.

  • 2nd Level Spells

  • Lesser Restoration. Channel energy can’t heal ability damage, and this spell can fix up some really nasty debilitation to your party that would otherwise require a ton of rest.
  • Spiritual Weapon. This spell will basically act like ranged extra attacks for clerics once summoned and any cleric trying to do some DPS should consider this spell a mainstay.

  • 3rd Level Spells 

     

  • Align Weapon, Communal. Many enemies in pathfinder will have damage resistance based on alignment, and this spell can completely negate that for your entire party. 
  • Stone Shape. This can be a swiss army knife of solutions for a creative cleric, a ton of adventures take place in caves or other stony environments, and convenient door or sudden cover can make or break an adventure.

     

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