D&D 5eUnearthed Arcana

UA 2023 – Player’s Handbook Playtest 6 Breakdown, Part Two

Onward to the cleric! You can find my article on the UA Bard here. As we go on, keep in mind that this is UA’s second shot at all of its classes except the Monk.


For my comments on the previous iteration of the cleric, clicky clicky.

  • Divine Order has dropped down to 1st level, as I suggested that the Holy Order feature (its predecessor) absolutely had to. They also trimmed out Scholar and shoved the most important piece of its function into Thaumaturge, which is a bit odd but acceptable. I’d really like to see more than two options here, though.
    • The refresh timing on Channel Divinity has changed so that all clerics regain one Channel Divinity on a Short Rest, so Thaumaturge no longer needs to do that. Instead, it grants one Divine cantrip as before, and you can add your Wisdom modifier to your Int (Religion) checks. The multiclassed Cleric/Wizard in my campaign should like this quite a lot.
    • Protector is unchanged, which is fine; it was already getting the job done.
    • You no longer get a second Holy Order at 9th Unsurprising, and also not a great loss if there are only these two options.
  • Spellcasting is back to its 5e.14 style, except that your number of prepared spells comes from a column in your class table rather than (Cleric level + Wis modifier). This standardizes the number of prepared spells for all Clerics, which is no great virtue in my mind, and it’s a clear reduction in power at the highest levels. (No one is playing Clerics of 16th level and above with a Wis of 15 or less.) You still get domain spells as free prepared spells, of course.
  • Channel Divinity has moved back to 2nd level – slightly reducing the multiclass dip appeal – and uses no longer scale by Proficiency Bonus, but by Cleric level. You also recover one Channel use per Short Rest for all Clerics, not just Thaumaturges, which is great for just… keeping you using this core class feature.
    • Divine Spark now scales with your Cleric level, from 1d8 + Wis up to 4d8 + Wis healing or necrotic/radiant damage. This too is about reducing the appeal of multiclass dipping. That’s a good bit of significant extra healing in a day, if you want it to be.
    • Turn Undead no longer makes the undead run away – they stand there Incapacitated and Frightened. You can still move while Incapacitated, so the only effect of Frightened is to control where you can move (“not closer to the source of the effect”).
    • Multiclassing with Channel Divinity has been changed so that you need to use Cleric CDs on Cleric effects and [other class] CDs on [other class] effects. The importance of this is to make sure Paladins don’t class-dip two levels of Cleric, or vice versa, for some quick extra CD uses. Fair enough.
  • Clerics get subclass features at levels 3, 6, and 17. It’s awful: it both fails to follow the narrative (where it makes the most sense to get your domain feature at 1st, because that’s when you choose a deity) and it only gives you features at 3 levels and you have to wait from 6th to 17th, the longest gap in the whole game. I dug into this in my last article, but I’m going to say it again: the current model is a real worst-of-both-worlds situation.
  • Ability Score Increase/Feat at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, 19.
  • Smite Undead at 5th level adds a big burst of radiant damage to your Turn Undead, for Undead that fail their save. The damage is 1d8 per point of Wis modifier. This stands in for the old Destroy Undead, on the idea that you might blast a bunch of weenie undead into oblivion through damage rather than Destroying them based on their CR.
    • It’s weird, though, that Cleric features like Blessed Strikes let you choose Necrotic, for your more sinister Clerics, or Radiant. This feature has nothing for those necro-clerics (one flesh, one end).
  • Blessed Strikes is unchanged from the previous UA: still 7th level, and you’re still choosing either to be a weapons cleric or a cantrips cleric. The text includes the somewhat enigmatic “If you get either option from another source, you use only the option you chose for this feature.” I assume this is blocking off Cleric/Paladin multiclassing shenanigans.
  • Commune at 9th level makes the Commune spell always prepared for you. It seems to me that it’ll come across a bit weird for clerics of a philosophy or a general Good, but… fine. In a narrative sense this is also covering some of the (more or less literal) Hail Mary of the 5e.14 Divine Intervention feature.
  • Divine Intervention at 10th level used to be a very small percentage chance of making almost anything happen, within the DM’s estimation of what’s cool. I guess that was unpopular? I liked the narrative of a desperate plea to your deity. Now it’s just any one spell of 5th level or lower (you know, things you can already cast, but might not have prepared), once per long rest. The mechanics are safe and predictable, and about as bland as could be aside from getting you off the hook for material components. (Say goodbye to paying for material components for Revivify and Raise Dead.)
  • Improved Blessed Strikes at 14th level gives you more of whatever you chose at 7th level: either another d8 of radiant/necrotic damage to your weapon attacks, or in addition to adding your Wis to cantrip damage, you also splash around some temporary hit points (2x your Wis modifier) when you deal damage with a cantrip. Another 10 temporary hit points every time you cast a cantrip could be a lot of healing you never have to do.
  • The Epic Boon at 20th level is gone, and there’s a new capstone in town. Or, well, a redesign of Greater Divine Intervention. You can now cast Wish in place of your 5th-level-or-lower spell, though if you do, you can’t use Divine Intervention again for 2d4 days. This use of Wish ignores the usual stress of casting Wish to do anything other than imitate a lower-level spell effect.
    • For what it’s worth, this does more or less address my complaints with Divine Intervention.

Overall, this is fine? There are things I like more and things I like less. The one thing I think is a genuine, nigh-indisputable problem is the 6th-to-17th gap in subclass features. If you’re invested in the story of your domain at all, you’re probably going to want another cookie somewhere in that gap. As I don’t need to tell you, most campaigns don’t make it to 17th level. Yes, the 8 to 17 jump in 5e.14 is a problem, and yes, that 8th-level feature is better off in the core class. But man, that gap feels bad.

Life Domain

I am surprisingly comfortable with Life as the default. You know you’re playing a healer, so could you maybe spend as few spell slots as possible on that so that you can also do other stuff? Sounds good to me.

  • Domain Spells: they’ve fixed the domain spells from the previous appearance of a UA Cleric, so that you now get 1st-level domain spells too. Since you get this feature at 3rd level, that means you tack on four always-prepped spells at this level. Prayer of healing has reverted to Aid; neither spell is described in this document, and I’ve lost track of whether that means to use the last version that appeared in a packet or the 5e.14 version.
  • Disciple of Life has been reworded for a bit more clarity. It’s still the same healing output kicker that it has always been – +2 per slot level.
  • Preserve Life has been overhauled. It used to heal a lot of damage, but only up to half your hit point maximum, and you can’t save any of that healing for later. The fact of the matter is, characters don’t take damage evenly throughout the party, and my time spent in a party with a Life cleric (hey, Chordata!) showed that only rarely had we taken damage in the right amounts and severity to make that a good use of her Channel Divinity.
    • Now, having said all of that, this feature is offering you a few extra Abjuration (defense and healing) spells in each long rest. You pay CD uses equal to the spell level. This is much more steadily useful than the old Preserve Life.
    • On the downside, it’s less exciting than a lot of Channel Divinity effects. It’s literally more of the same – you have to have the spell prepared in order to use this feature. You generally want to see CDs offer something new. You’re using Channel Divinity to heal with a spell rather than heal with Divine Spark. Okay.
    • On the gripping hand, this CD is nominally competing with the Peace Domain. It’s decisively losing after this change, because I’ve seen the healing output the Peace Cleric in my Dragon Heist game manages (hey, Unst!).
  • Blessed Healer at 6th level got the same clarification of wording at Disciple of Life. Its effect is unchanged: you get a splash of healing when you heal someone else. It’s not a given that you’d need this, but if you do, this is very useful. Would you like to be paid more for doing what you were going to do anyway?
  • Supreme Healer at 17th level maximizes all of your healing rolls for spells and Channel Divinity. It’s certainly an efficiency kicker – though the high-end healing spells (Heal and up) don’t use random values anyway.

Just as in 5e.14, the Life domain is fine. If you want to heal and get that job done in as few spell slots as possible, this is the place. It isn’t flashy about it – if anything, this version is less flashy than its predecessor, because it’s not even as “save the day in a single action” as the old Preserve Life promised to be. I feel like they could do a little more with this, given everything we’ve seen in other subclasses.

Light Domain

Okay so I know it says light, but I assume we all understand that it means fire. Fire priests are fun as heck (hey, Magnanimy! also Thoros of Myr) – if you want to play a healer who can lay down damage with the best of them, Light is where it’s at. The theme has shifted to emphasize divination and revelation, and honestly a divination-and-revelation themed domain was always needed.

  • The domain spells are generally covering more ground that a PC will actually need. See Invisibility is huge here, though dropping Scorching Ray may be controversial, and Moonbeam replaces Flaming Sphere as a pretty good use of your Concentration to kick out small-AoE damage. You’re just about always going to be happy you have Arcane Eye rather than Guardian of Faith, barring a major redesign of GoF.
  • Warding Flare still imposes disadvantage on an attack, and you still have to declare before the attack roll, but now Improved Warding Flare’s ability to use this for other people is folded in at 3rd rather than waiting.
    • This feature would be vastly more appealing as a reroll than as disadvantage declared before the roll, because people fundamentally have a hard time remembering to use features like this until they’re trying to weasel (non-pejorative) out of getting stabbed. It’s so hard to judge whether this is the attack this round that needs your intervention. Expending a resource to impose disadvantage at the moment of the event – in this case, choosing to pay attention to a Reaction trigger, knowing there will be more chances – is tough. That’s the kind of situation that calls for reroll mechanics, to me.
  • Radiance of the Dawn is unchanged (dispels magical darkness and deals decent damage to a large area); I think that taking Channel Divinity out of the feature name is a loss in helping players navigate their features quickly. If you know you have CDs left to spend and you’re thinking now’s good, you have to get into the text block to figure out whether it was Warding Flare or Radiance of the Dawn that cost CD uses.
  • Revealing Light at 6th level is a fully new feature, and it’s great. See Invisibility is already on your domain list, but this goes further: not only do you get a free use of See Invisibility, you also extend it to allies who are within 10 feet. (They have to stay within 10 feet to retain that ability.) Once per long rest, sure, but great for turning an invisibility-focused encounter into something quite manageable. Invis-centric encounters were 100% a thing in 4e, with Lurker monsters, but I haven’t seen a ton of those in 5e. I wonder if changing trends in monster design might bring that back?
  • Corona of Light at 17th level still makes you radiate light and impose disadvantage on saves against your Fire and Radiant damage spells, as well as you Radiance of the Dawn feature.
    • Why on earth does this take an action to use, and only last for 1 minute, as a 17th-level feature? It’s never going to be worth your action. Change it to a bonus action and we’re off to the races. If this did anything other than light the area (which probably no one in your party needs by 17th level) and impose disadvantage, like inflict Blindness or some damage, then maybe, but… yeah no.

At most levels of play, the Light domain is great. Getting to be a Cleric who casts Fireball is a great offer. Warding Flare is only okay, and Corona of Light is about useless, but Radiance of Dawn and Revealing Light are good fun. It’s close to being what it should be, and I can’t say that it isn’t flashy.

Trickery Domain

In 5e.14, it’s much too difficult to turn Trickery into an effective playstyle. Laura Bailey got impressive results out of it as Jester, though! I always wanted Trickery to be something other than what it actually offers, though: the Rogue-splash subclass of Cleric, the same way War is the Fighter splash. It’d all be cooler, to me, with some Sneak Attack dice, specifically. (That’s still not what this is.)

  • The domain spells are pretty different, though still firmly within the same theme. Probably my only meaningful objection is Mislead replacing Modify Memory. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cast Mislead in 30 years of D&D (it’s overshadowed by Greater Invisibility, to say nothing of how it’s overshadowed by Invoke Duplicity), while coming up with good uses of Modify Memory is reasonably easy, and Jester had a particularly incredible one.
  • Blessing of the Trickster is no longer touch-cast and you can use it for yourself. Advantage on Dex (Stealth), 1 hour duration. The great thing is that it’s at-will and doesn’t cost Concentration – you can just only have it on one creature at a time.
    • This does signal that Dex would be a good secondary stat for Trickster Clerics, especially “Protector” Clerics, and you probably want Stealth proficiency from your Background.
  • Invoke Duplicity has become a lot easier to use. It’s now a bonus action rather than an action and doesn’t use your Concentration. (That’s huge for Clerics, and this domain spell list in particular.) The sidebar says “you [now] teleport when you first use it, not just when you move the illusion later,” but that teleportation isn’t attested in the 5e.14 Channel Divinity: Invoke Duplicity text.
    • That teleportation is a massive boost to functionality, especially for exploration challenges. Illusions don’t have weight and don’t take damage from horrible murderous traps or walls of fire or…
  • Trickster’s Magic at 6th level replaces Channel Divinity: Cloak of Shadows, which was not good. This feature lets you cast Illusion spells as a Bonus Action rather than an Action, Wis mod times per Long Rest. Other than Silence, most of your Illusion spells as a Cleric are in your domain spell list – but Invisibility, Hypnotic Pattern, and Mislead are all candidates here. (Disguise Self as a bonus action has applications, but they’re probably much rarer.)
    • It has not stopped being wild to see this hard shift back toward ability score modifier uses per long rest, rather than PB/Long Rest. Just totally bucking the trend of the last several years.
    • Design note: this duplicates the Order Domain’s Embodiment of the Law feature word-fr-word, but for Illusion rather than Enchantment.
  • Divine Strike is obviously gone, and I only call it out because Trickster Clerics dealing Necrotic or Radiant damage is weaker on theme than having them deal Poison damage, even though Poison is far more likely to be resisted or stopped with immunity.
  • Improved Duplicity at 17th level was a lot of work to manage before – instead of two figures to manage, you now have five. This version overhauls that: you still only have one duplicate, but it does more stuff.
    • You can create it up to 120 feet away and teleport to that space.
    • You can move it up to 60 feet as a bonus action.
    • It grants advantage to your allies’ attacks when it’s within 5 feet of a creature.
    • When the illusion ends, your or an ally within 5 feet of it are healed 1 pt/Cleric level.
    • That is a beefy use of Channel Divinity, y’all. It’s 17th level and that’s fine, but – wow.

This Trickery Cleric is clearly improved, with better crowd control options, hugely increased mobility (what are you, an Echo Knight?), and more. You’re not going to be amazing at damage output, but as long as you have allies who can capitalize on the opportunities you give them, this is good stuff.

War Domain

War. War never changes. –Ron Perlman’s voiceover narration, from the start of most Fallout games

War. War changes significantly. Even though it was already one of the better original domains. – Jeremy Crawford, probably

  • One domain spell changed. It’s pretty much fine – all of the paladin Smite spells that War Clerics so glaringly missed and needed are now part of the Divine spell list anyway.
  • War Priest gives you a single Weapon Mastery, and the extra attack with a Bonus Action is now per Short Rest, not per Long Rest. That’s a huge improvement. (Though it still needs you to have a good weapon attack stat and a good Wisdom.)
  • Guided Strike now incorporates the old version of War God’s Blessing (there was never a good reason for them to be separate), and you declare it after a miss, rather than after a roll that hasn’t yet been declared a hit or a miss. That’s the same timing fix I talked about a lot in the last article, for Bardic Inspiration, and it’s just as useful here. Guided Strike is still a towering +10 to hit, though without Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter imposing a -5 to hit for +10 damage, the ideal use of this Channel Divinity is gone. Guided Strike also now costs your Reaction (previously, it didn’t but War God’s Blessing did).
  • War God’s Blessing (same name, unrelated effect) at 6th level tries to turn Shield of Faith into a preferred go-to spell. (My groups have historically favored Bless over SoF, by a wide margin.) When you cast it on someone else, you also receive the spell, and you gain one free casting per Short or Long Rest. I like what this is trying to do, but I don’t know if it’ll keep up with Spirit Guardians as how you want to spend your Concentration.
  • Avatar of Battle at 17th level used to provide resistance to Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing damage as long as it wasn’t a magic weapon. Of course, a lot of the high-CR monsters that deal B/P/S damage (fiends especially) had the Magic Weapons trait, so you didn’t get to use this feature.
    • But monster design has changed, and they’ve gotten rid of the Magic Weapons trait! Huzzah!
    • They did that by changing those same fiends to deal Force or other non-B/P/S damage a lot of the time, so this change is little help. Avatar of Battle gets you out of some damage, but don’t count on it for much in the late game. (Fizban’s Pot O’ Gold’s high-CR dragons lean on B/P/S damage + a non-B/P/S kicker more often.)

The War Cleric is in a pretty good place, improving on what was already relatively solid. (I don’t think any of the PH domains keep up with later releases like Peace or Twilight, to be clear.) As I mention above, the redesign of Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter take a lot of the punch out of this, but you can still do great things by reserving your Guided Strike for times when the party’s Rogue misses with a Sneak Attack (because that’s a single attack that deals a huge amount of damage).

Which brings us, at last, to the end of the Cleric class and subclasses. The biggest improvement in the whole section is the Trickery domain. War is a good bit better and more varied in its gameplay options. Light has more thematic interest, though I have quibbles with some design choices. Life has changed very little, overall, and remains the ideal subclass for people who want streamlined decision-making. The option of playing Life as a cantrip caster is great – my clothie priest from World of Warcraft feels very seen.