Why Clerics (Still) Suck

There are some jobs that are just terrible. Cleaning industrial septic tanks. Being that kid with the drum at the front line of those old army battles. Even working on a porno set, which one would think is the best employment in the world, has at least one position that downright sucks (pardon the pun). Seriously, would you want to be the guy that has to mop up/towel down/hose off the actors and set afterward? Depending on the genre of movie being filmed, you may have some seriously screwed up stuff to deal with.

Know what’s even worse than all of those things? Being the cleric for an adventuring party.

It used to be worse. Through third edition, clerics were treated like a walking first aid kit. You were one of those little boxes with a red cross on them like in Wolfenstein or Doom, but with sexy legs that stick out of the bottom (that’s how I always pictured clerics, anyway). Your job was to cast healing spells, and if you ran out of healing spells you got out of the way while everyone else did the dirty work. It’s not like you could attack effectively anyway. Blunt weapons? Really? I play D&D because I want to use a big ass sword. Or throw fireballs and shit. Or at least stab people in the kidneys with a dagger.

Clerics are like the Aquaman of D&D. Except at least he gets to use a pointy weapon.

Fourth edition turned your healing spells into “minor” actions, so you could attack AND heal during the same turn. Halleluiah! Finally, the gods had taken pity on their dutiful servants and made them fun to play. You could actually get involved in battle, instead of just hanging back and throwing magical band-aids around. If I wanted to spend my life supporting others I would have been a brassiere. It would have been far more enjoyable.

But the evil, sneaky designers snuck a huge, greasy wrench into the gears of the game to totally nerf clerics. What is so terrible, you ask? All those stupid, hard-to-track, confusing and book-keeping heavy status effects and afflictions, that's what! Suddenly, if clerics want to be useful they can’t just worry about healing hit points anymore. Now they have to heal ongoing damage, stun and daze effects, vulnerabilities, and god only knows what else. And guess what? Using your healing skill to attempt to remove these effects counts as your standard action, so you end up losing your attack anyway.

Wizards of the Coast Head Office: "Make the cleric suckier or I swear to God I will murder your children."

You may be wondering what brought on this rant. Well, at a recent D&D Encounters event our group of 6 adventurers (including 2 clerics, one of which was played by yours truly) faced off against a black dragon. It was a brutal, drawn-out affair that required the clerics to spend every turn healing and trying to remove the aforementioned hateful status effects. At the end of the night the dragon lay defeated and the clerics were dead, both of us having spent all of our time and resources keeping everyone else alive. I don’t think either of us even hit the stupid monster. So while the rest of the party rode off with the experience points, the treasure and the glory, our bodies were left to rot in a dark damp hole, and not the good kind.

I’m never playing a cleric again. From now on I’m just hiring cleric henchmen. That way they’re doubly expendable.

I take no responsibility for this. I typed “kill the hireling” into Google Images and this was the first picture that popped up.

Has anyone had a good experience playing a cleric? Or have another class that just pisses you off? Please feel free to share. I hate to be whiny all alone.

Like this?


  1. Yeah... I feel your pain.

    Clerics work slightly differently in Pathfinder - having AoH "channelling" abilities and not having to use spell/power slots for healing thanks to spontaneous casting - but still suck. Unless you're fighting undead - at which point the cleric becomes the main pain dealer.

    There must be a better way of keeping the party alive?

  2. Tequila SunriseFebruary 22, 2011

    Sorry, I don't feel your angst about 4e leaders. As a DM, I don't use tons of status effects and as a player I tend to play strikers. We definitely need the healing that a leader brings to the party, but so far status effects haven't been a big issue. Or maybe our group doesn't expect the party leader to be an optimized healbot who can take care of every bad effect in the book. Or maybe the campaigns I play in just haven't reached the levels where status effects are dropped like buttered balls. I don't know.

    I do find it annoying that having a leader is still pretty much essential to a party's survival in 4e, though.

  3. I have seen similar things. While the cleric can use a minor action to heal and a standard action to attack, in reality he uses a minor action to heal and a standard action to heal. With the changes in 4E combat to speed it up, damage has been upped which means more healing is needed.

    However, the nice thing about 4E is that I can heal/keep the party alive without being a cleric. There are other classes that do the same thing but do it with less "healing" and more other methods such as damage prevention and buffing; I'm thinking shaman and druid sentinel here.

  4. Elwyn needs a miniFebruary 22, 2011

    Yeah, I'm new to RPG and feeling dumb as a rock right now (what are status effects? what's a leader?). However, I would be interested in knowing which class(es) is(are)--IYHOs--the most fun to play...

  5. To each their own. I love playing Clerics in both 3.5 and 4th. (Going so far as to say Clerics are my favorite class in 3.5).

  6. I have had fun with clerics in AD&D and D&D 3.x but they are sometime problematic playwise. Usually that seems more a in-game problem than a mechanics one.

  7. CDGallant_KingFebruary 22, 2011

    Elwyn is a leader. :-)

    A leader is a "role" in 4th Edition D&D that supports and assists the party. The cleric is the most obvious example.

    Status effects are those things that inflict lasting damage and/or ailments on your party. Catching fire, bugs in your pants, stunned, dazed, slowed - all of these are status effects, and a leader is usually expected to help the party get rid of them.

    I suspect you would have preferred a ranger, which is a "striker" - straight forward, trick bow shots, and you only have to focus on attacking the enemies, not on taking care of your party.

  8. CDGallant_KingFebruary 22, 2011

    Walking first aid kids. Literally. Can you cast "animate object" on a healing potion?

    Sadly, they nerfed turn undead in Essentials, too. In original 4E turn undead was like a fireball. Now it's just a medium-strength single target attack. Ho-hum.

  9. Tequila SunriseFebruary 22, 2011

    @ Sean, in what way can clerics be unfun playwise?

  10. CDGallant_KingFebruary 22, 2011

    This is true. I could probably enjoy a bard or a warlord, and not just from a stats and numbers standpoint. The warlord has that kickass military commander feel going for it, and the bard has the bon vivant, swashbuckling romance. What do clerics have? Praying and robes and churches? No, thank you.

  11. CDGallant_KingFebruary 22, 2011

    It's true, it depends on the play style of the party. You would have to be a pretty mean DM to customize your encounters to punish the party for not having a leader, or at least an un-optimized one. It's all in the way you play.

    Still, play a couple of clerics. You'll feel our pain. :-)

  12. SpawnofendraFebruary 23, 2011

    Ahoy. I play a cleric in what are essentially B/X rules with 1E PHB spells, via Lab Lord and Advanced Edition Companion. I'm not savvy with later editions, and have no opinions about their mechanics. But for the earlier editions, the magic isn't super spectacular, but the cleric whips ass in combat compared to many other classes (outside of fighters, of course). Yes they can cast Cure Light Wounds, but this idea that they hang back and offer first aid like M*A*S*H doesn't happen in play.

    Is this a common thing in 3.x or later that the Cleric for some mechanical reason just ends up being a first aid kit? That's not my experience at all, insofar as yes, there are times where my character heals a bunch of folks, but it's after my character crushed several skulls in a series of withering flail attacks.

  13. I am always stuck playing a cleric. And, oddly enough, I like it. Firstly, I like to be the crutch the party falls back on, because being needed is such a fun thing (I wonder what my shrink would say to that? :P ). And secondly I find that the players I game with are intelligent enough to know that, in Pathfinder/3.5 at least, once I run out of spells for the day they're screwed.

    I also find that combat is just as fun with a cleric as with a fighter. I'm just as efficient most of the time and I can heal and cast spells. Shit, it's better than being a frigging hexblade!

    Of course, when things do start to get dull, I can always do what I did that one time...

    I was the cleric, again, but this time the GM had agreed to let me be an evil cleric and not tell everyone else. He was a charming, sweet kind of guy; awkward around women, uncomfortable with bad language, and generally very pious and humble. It's just that he had a bad tendency to sacrifice virgins to his dark god and was actively attempting to bring about the end of the world for his deity. When the party found out and confronted him about it, he denied everything and then tried to murder the party leader in his sleep. He was cut down, eventually, but there were whispers that he might have shown up as a lich later if the game hadn't been dropped.

    Everyone seemed to have fun and I think I managed to straddle the line between evil and total dickhead. In the final fight against the other members of the party I pulled a few punches to make it even more dramatic and we all had a good laugh. Of course, everyone had to watch me select an alignment for my next character, but I think it worked out okay...

  14. I long ago eradicated the cleric class and just made all spells available to wizards. It just makes sense to me. I always found it ludicrous that wizards had no healing spells, and the whole divine casting BS is well, BS. I have always thought of the priest/cleric as a kind of secondary profession - something like, my characters a warrior for lord cool guy, but on weekends he's a pastor at his local church kind of thing.

  15. DominowritingFebruary 25, 2011

    Something I've always noticed is in fantasy fiction: there's no cleric anywhere! If you're an injured hero in a novel or movie, you stay hurt (or simply heal up without calling on a deity). There was a cleric in the second D&D movie, but he was killed about halfway through. I like using clerics to cover missing character types: a scholar is a cleric of the god of knowledge, a gambler is a cleric of the god of luck, etc.

  16. CDGallant_KingFebruary 25, 2011

    Back in the "old days," clerics were the second-best option for combat, after fighters. (They had to do something once they ran out of spells, after all). The recent addition of so many other classes with specialized attacks and damage-dealing options, however, makes what little combat potential clerics had obsolete. The clerics are there to keep the strikers/DPS characters alive, so they can keep pouring on the damage.

  17. CDGallant_KingFebruary 25, 2011

    That's a beautiful story. That's what REAL role-playing is about: stabbing your allies in the back. It's okay, you got your just desserts in the end (hopefully they cut off your head and violated your body), but man, I bet it was a great ride while it lasted.

  18. CDGallant_KingFebruary 25, 2011

    Or, as John mentioned above, the "wizards" in fiction had "clerical" powers. In Star Wars, Wheel of Time and many others, the "magic user" casts healing magic.

    And we don't talk about the Second Dungeons & Dragons movie.

  19. CDGallant_KingFebruary 25, 2011

    In games like Final Fantasy, a separation between "white" mages and "black" mages is fine, because you control the whole party, and it balances out to have one character constantly pumping out healing spells while another casts attack spells. But having someone just play the white mage is cruel. Plus you have to wear that stupid white hood. But a knight that's a pastor in his spare time? That's just creepy.

  20. SpawnofendraFebruary 27, 2011

    Sounds pretty sucky alright! Thanks for the info, I haven't kept up with the later versions, so it interesting to learn how some of the mechanics have changed.

  21. As a sesson of encounters, the first when Essentials was released. I was the cleric. I was the god of the sesson. At a recent game, I played a war priest, Essential, from 1st-4th level who was killed by a fellow party member who decided that rehabilitating a slave ogre was more important than assisting the guy who had just healed her twice in that same encounter. In both cases, I found that by getting the cleric thick into the melee, that it cut down on the need to heal others and hey, heal myself. Worked very well for the most part.

  22. I haven't played a cleric (I DM a good ammount of the time and played the wizard 'type' for a while because I was the last to join), but I did play a warlord for a good chunk of time. Still, in all my experience, I've never had a session devolve into running around and making heal checks. It probably helped that most of the powers I had (or the 'cleric' in the group had) were better than just making a Heal check. Utility powers that gave out multiple saves as a minor, or attacks that also gave out health, or saves, or defense boosts, etc in addition to being attacks. Encounters means level 1, which does mean you don't get many of those options, but generally speaking, there are better things to be doing that running around making heal checks.

  23. james MILLERMay 21, 2011

    I have played various versions of pen and paper RPG's over the years including all of the D&D from the original out to 3.5. Side note, I prefurred the story line immersion of AD&D but the mechanics of D&D 3.0/3.5. In my games we rarely even encounter a "Clereic". Instead I modified the game a littel and use Stamina (based on half your con + normal HD increases based on level Con bonus and Class HD, that recover at an hourly rate.) and Health (starts at half your Con increases with half ur die roll for Class HD increases until it reaches ur full Con at which it has maxed out) and turne Crit hits into straight to Health attacks. Their are quite a few other small modifications, but the short of it is that Clerics as healers/buffers are just not htat important. instead every Cleric/Druid we have had became a very pivotal figure due to story line reasons. Their fighting ability and the way the can help buff/defend the party tends to make them natural leaders. Also, the way their stats tend to need to be ie good Wisdom good Charisma. Personally I dislike playing them, but every time i included them in my games it has greatly deepened the story. A PC that has to think of how hteir actions effect not only their own faith but the goals of their chosen god leads to some epic story telling.

  24. CDGallant_KingMay 23, 2011

    It's true - if you play the cleric as a selfish, melee-focussed attacker that just uses his powers to keep himself alive, you can have a lot of fun.  You won't make many friends, but you can have a lot of fun.

    1. Actually, I found the most fun with the new edition as being a Cleric to a Sun-god (life).

      I played him as a Jesus-like roaming priest, taking Thaumaturgy, Sacred flame, and Save the Dying as his powers.

      There is nothing like using Thaumaturgy (booming voice, white eyes, and the ground shaking) as he's using Sacred flame, while reciting prayers and healing power-words.:-)

      The DM loves it so much, he allows me to use thaumaturgy for intimidation... lol.

  25. CDGallant_KingMay 23, 2011

    Sounds kinda like the "Wounds" and "Vitality" from the Star Wars d20 game, which I quite enjoyed.  It made it obvious when the character was taking real injury-type damage (as opposed to that friviolous damage that most heroes just shrug off), and Vitality could also be used by Jedi to power their "spells."

    And I have come to accept that clerics do have a place in certain games, but I still don't like to play them. 

  26. Susan HeathJune 02, 2011

    Are you insane? Clerics were all powerful in 3rd!
    Once you have access to heal its only ever worth healing people just before they die AND you had a spell that gave you more CON and STR as well as the BAB of a fighter ~~(that's ignoring the fact that you're a caster walking around in full plate!). If you don;t like playing a cleric thats fine, but don't claim the entire class is useless :P

  27. James RatcliffeJune 19, 2011

    I totally second Susan. Sheesh, if there was ever a case for UR DOIN IT WRONG, claiming clerics get the brown sticky end of the stick has got to be right up there. 1. Armor. You get it. Arcane Spell Failure Chance? You can have it. Massive spell list? Check. No spellbooks, are choosing spells known, or any of that noise. Decent hit dice? Sure it's not a fighter or barbarian, but your ranger over there gets just as much as you do. Not running into many undead? Grab some divine metamagic feats and turn those unused turn attempts in to FREE METAMAGIC. The errata from Complete Divine makes this slightly less ridiculously overpowered, but still, when your Widened, Empowered Flame Strike is STILL cast as a 5th level spell, that's not something to sneeze at. Even when you run out of spells, you can still hit things and they will know that they've been hit. If you have a few rounds pre-combat to buff yourself (or your party if you really feel like it), you're hitting just as hard as the front line fighters, and then afterwards is when it is time to hand out the band-aids.

    But if your party is composed of pussies that come whining to you every time they get sneezed on by a kobold, guess what? Wands of Cure Light Wounds are 750 gold a pop. Even better are Wands of Lesser Vigor for the same price. You know what's also dirt cheap? Healing Belts. Have all your fighter-types wear one, and they can do their own emergency healing in combat. Because Susan is right, unless you're staving off certain death, healing in combat is a loser's game. Healing ability simply cannot keep up with enemy damage output if you're fighting at or around your CR, so why bother trying? The best way to prevent getting hurt is to kill your enemy as quickly as possible. And the best way to do that is to intelligently make the best use of one of the most powerful core classes: the Cleric.

  28. Ryan TuckJune 26, 2011

     +1 Insightful. I loved clerics and if I didn't like artificers even more, I'd probably play 3.5 cleric all the time. Clerics were very versatile and of comparable power to other classes (we're ignoring game-breaking cheese, here). Using just the SRD, I think that wizards had slightly more brute damaging spellpower, but clerics could buff themselves to be better than fighters for most of the day, long after the wizard starts calling for a rest because he's run out of spells.

    With the right domains, and even sticking to the SRD, it was entirely possible to have a party of clerics who could be just as good (if not better) than the "standard" group of fighter, cleric, rogue, wizard. And it was tons as fun, as well, which is far more important!

  29. Mike RoeblingFebruary 06, 2012

    I read this and started laughing so hard. I am a Cleric in 3e/3.5, and while I have occasionally needed to drop a spell for a quick pick me up, or two...I am the single most devastating front line character in the party. Our fighter (acctually a Knight, but who's counting?) plays the tank role, and with one quick Enlarge person spell, I am literally dishing out death over his head while he keeps those pesky minions off of me while I go straight for the big guy. Our Sneaky Sneaky Rogue/Scout slips around for some nice Skirmish/Sneak Attack combos, and the Wizard conjures up some terran modifications, and boom. Funnel Tunnel Shovel. I just can't agree with saying Clerics are weak by any means, SRD or no.

    I make potions, scrolls and even wands to supplement my healing abilities for the party, and now we have a Bard. So can you say attack and damage buffs please? I mean yeah it helps that we are all experienced and work together well, but the moment I chose Cleric as my class everyone else knew exactly what to build to supplement what we'd need. You are only a first aid kit if you let your fellows think of you that way from your own inaction. Even better is I am the second lowest level party member. (We all started together at first level, except for the bard who is 5th level now, I died and missed out on three adventures, and was Resurrected for a loss, so I am Ninth Level, while everyone else is twelfth.)

    Either way, I just can't see how Clerics are considered weak, unless you let them be such. Sorry to rant on like this, just putting it all out there. Also. Flavor. Love Cleric's backgrounds, and moments of Divine Win.


  30. I play a cleric alright ... a cleric of Talos. Deity-based clerics get a full range of interesting spell and weapon choices. In our current campaign, I play a human cleric of Talos, and have NO healing spells at all. The druid does the healing, or an NPC sent along by the DM, or the wizard who's into alchemy (healing potion, anyone?) Not the best arrangement, but FUN. Picture a caster in full armor, with the weapon of his deity (javelin +1 electric, in my case) who can heal, but can also cast boffo offensive magic. 3d8 harm touch? Yes, please! It's all about the roleplay. Pick a deity you'd like to cleric for, and have fun. Annoy the party, annoy the DM. Have a ball. I do! ;^) 

  31. JacksworldJune 22, 2012

    I like 3.5 clerics for one reason only: domains. You could pick strength and luck and beat the shit out of the monsters, but otherwise you could only turn undead or/and pick water and fire so you could turn more. But, once again, gone with spells YOUR GONE. When i play clerics i play either luck+strength or strength+war. Otherwise, i hate clerics

  32. I had a cleric in nwn1 (directly 3.0 based).. and I LOVED it.. I chose the healing and magic domains given and it gave me this defensive tank that simply could not be hit or dealt damage effectively till she healed herself. I used improved expertise and with an insane number of healing and 'heal' spells, my level 10 cleric/fighter moon elf character won a battle that lasted for 2 hours with an orog ranger level 16. The cleric is supreme on low magic servers and caimpaigns, and are by far one of the best if you plan on solo'ing a battle by yourself. Being an elf the cleric also automatically knows how to use swords, and being a cleric fighter combo makes them fairly good in combat. I love defense, and I love the idea of fighting hordes of other characters that rival my usually rebelious attitude, and still coming out ontop. So yes, the cleric is awesome, and by far the choice if you plan on solo'ing a caimpaign. 4th edition does however, suck.. just play pathfinder, 3.5, or 2.0.. or.. make your own.

  33. I must say that I also Love playing a Cleric. Right now I'm experimenting with the Cleric/Necro builds. Planning and Undeath Domains. At 2nd level I was able to Command (3) Undead Skeletons and (1) Orc Zombie... all I had to do was sit back and let them do all the work :) For me, evil Clerics are the most fun to play, they are NASTY. In my last campaign I was an evil Cleric who just happened to be in a party with a Paladin. As you all know, as soon as a Paladin realizes that they are in a party with an evil charactor, they must fight them or risk becoming a fallen Paladin themselves. I was so much stronger than he was that he never brought the subject up, (he knew I was evil, I was controlling undead instead of turning them) he knows that if we would have fought 1-on-1 he wouldn't of had a chance.

  34. LOL!!! Clerics are easily the most powerful class in 3.x

    Even druids and wizards flee from an angry cleric;
    The lesser classes don't even stand a chance.

    The problem was not the cleric class, it was you.
    You think clerics are healbots, and they are not.

    When you play a 3.x your only job is to take down the
    biggest, baddest opponents you can find... Your other
    party members are not your responsibility, they are
    your pawns.

  35. It's too bad this blog is seemingly non-active, now. I would have loved to have seen some rebuttal directed at the nine most recent comments on the article.

  36. Had fun reading all the comments, so here's mine
    Well, stepping into a running campaign that lacked cleric and wizard for a while, my cleric (crl 15, hierophant 1 for reach)was greatly welcomed. Although someone did die right away, because i thought a big stupid fighter would have more then 120 hp's.
    CR's matched to the party (instead of just average lvl), there is just this distinct feeling of power when you play a cleric right, with a good DM. The amount of protection clerics offer in other ways then just plain 'heal' is wonderful. IF thought through and prepared right. There is a lot to tweak with feats, more healing, more vs undead, more creation, more towards persistcheese fighter etc. Add a meriad of specialist magic items you can have and you can play cleric any way you like it.
    Half of the power and all of the fun is in being a good player anyway (except for a few basically broken classes of which cleric isnt one)
    The above, and being able to roleplay a Good cleric and guide the misguided (the other partymembers obviously) makes it worthwhile to play cleric imo.

  37. We were recently playing 3rd Edition's Ravenloft. There was a battle where a Hag was turning invisible and teleporting (?) around the battle field. This was grating on our collective nerves. I was playing one of the two clerics in the party, and was perusing my spell list and saw i had one called Shape Stone. So the next time the Hag revealed herself, i shaped the stone under her feet to spike raising rapidly out of the ground. This not only hurt her, but stuck her in place too. In another fight, we were up against some undead abomination that we just couldn't hit, and just wouldn't die. Through many attempts at hitting the thing, we discovered its touch AC was significantly lower than its regular AC (something in the ballpark of 11 vs 26). Since it was undead, and i was obviously not going to hit it, i started using my cure wound spells on it instead, which counted as touch attacks. When i got hurt, my wife who was playing a pixie cleric, would turn invisible, fly in, and apply a healing potion to me, then fly out. I thoroughly enjoy playing a Neutral cleric of negative energy, and in Raveloft that means walking a fine line between good and evil. Raising nearby corpses to bolster our numbers, summoning spirit weapons and celestial monsters. Needless to say, in Ravenloft, the cleric is in his or her element.

  38. I liked playing clerics (and other spellcasters with save-based attacks) in 3e because I hate rolling dice. I have bad luck so I like to minimize my dice rolls inasmuch as I am able in a given system.

    That aside, I enjoy playing leaders (including the cleric) in 4e because they tend to have the most to do from round-to-round. A cleric can drop a heal as a minor action, attack, sustain a conjuration, move... whereas most other classes and roles are stuck with the standard move-attack routine.

    Each of the 4e leaders specializes in a kind of rule-breaking that rocks the socks off monsters. Warlords grant a billion attacks. Artificers inflate ally HP with THPs like giant balloon. Clerics have lots of powers that lower defenses and confer "vulnerability," which REALLY boosts damage output for the party.

    All in all, fun to play. :)


  39. The single most powerful class in 3.5 useless? So powerful in fact that other builds are dependent on dipping at least one level of it? It's dumb players like this that are the reason dnd is being turned into a pen and paper version of League of Legends.....

  40. I'm trying a war cleric in 5e, because all the good classes were taken and we needed healing, but still wanted to hopefully be kinda badass. So far it's not too bad.


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