Death Cleric 5E Guide | Rules, Tips, Builds, and More

death cleric 5e

The Dungeon’s Master Guide for DnD 5E introduced a few options for evil versions of classes like Cleric and Paladin, one of which becoming the Death Domain. The Death Domain focuses on things that cause death, and giving rise to undead creatures. This is intended as an evil archetype, so be sure to talk with your GM before taking it, or risk being smote by your zealous Paladin ally. With morally ambiguous allies, or a GM willing to twist some rules, you’ll find your resident gods of pain and murder are eager for more worshippers. See what’s possible with our Death Cleric 5E Guide. 

Embrace Necromancy: The Death Domain

The Death Domain is primarily a damage-dealing frontliner, with some interesting options for support and reducing damage to itself and allies. Because of its proficiencies and ranged options, the Death Domain does have some backline potential. However, you’ll find that sending enemies to your god is a bit easier with melee combat.

Death Domain Spells

We start our Death Cleric 5E Guide with Domain spells. The domain spells for the Death Cleric are, interestingly, more concerned with support options and reducing damage, rather than dealing it. However, they get some options from outside of the Cleric spell list to bring the pain.

Death Cleric Domain Spells

  • 1st Level – False Life, Ray of Sickness
  • 3rd Level – Blindness/Deafness, Ray of Enfeeblement
  • 5th Level – Animate Dead, Vampiric Touch
  • 7th Level – Blight, Death Ward
  • 9th Level – Antilife Shell, Cloudkill

For the frontliner role, the Death Cleric actually gets some things that focus on unconventional ways to tank damage. Rather than relying on heavy armor, you can use False Life to give yourself an overshield. You can debuff your enemies with blindness or by reducing damage potential. You get a healing option with Vampiric Touch; helpful if you’re taking a lot of damage. Restricting the amount of damage you take with Death Ward and Antilife Shell means you can be up front for a lot longer, and you can keep living enemies nearby you for longer. Of course, you can also use these to stay back and keep your allies alive.

The damage spells are pretty few and far between. Vampiric Touch is as strong as ever, but somewhat better as a sustaining-yourself spell, since the damage is a bit low. Blight and Cloudkill are more familiar death-bringers, with Blight being burst damage and Cloudkill offering environment control.

The odd-one-out, funnily enough, is Animate Death. This is a summoning spell, the cornerstone spell of  necromancers, so it makes sense that the Death Domain gets access to it. This is another aspect of battlefield control, though it’s resource-intensive, requiring material components and constant upkeep. Still, no ally will admit to not liking some free bodies to take hits for them… Unless they are SUPER uppity about it.

Bonus Proficiency

The Death Cleric gets martial weapon proficiency. Awesome! This archetype has a lot of options for weaponry that you can use, thanks to the power of debuffs to make melee combat an option. The melee options for martial weapons are much more palatable than simple weapons, so you get better beatsticks to hit the enemy with. And considering how much this archetype likes being in melee, either Great-weapons or finesse weapons are a good path.

The domain does not get Heavy Armor, however, making it not foolproof. A high Strength investment leads to great damage, but not fantastic survivability without the use of Ray of Sickness or Enfeeblement to disadvantage enemies. A high Dexterity investment could be seen as more enticing, allowing you to utilize Rapiers instead, keep a good armor score, and potentially an open hand for easier casting/shield use.

Ranged options, like the Longbow or Hand Crossbow, are viable as well, but should probably be used as a backup. The Domain adores melee combat, so being able to go into melee to spend some of the later abilities is quite helpful. If you want this build, consider learning Spiritual Weapon at level 3.

Reaper

This ability is quite nice for the growing Necromancer to attain even more mastery over their domain.

At 1st level, you learn one necromancy cantrip of your choice from any spell list. When you cast a necromancy cantrip that normally targets only one creature, the spell can instead target two creatures within range and within 5 feet of each other.

So, let’s look at that first sentence. Necromancy cantrips are unfortunately few, and the only out-of-class option to choose is Chill Touch. For obvious reasons, Chill Touch is a fantastic choice for an additional cantrip, giving the Death Domain a ranged option that reduces healing. However, the fact that there aren’t many options to grab with this ability is somewhat saddening. However, you can use this ability to instead just grab an extra cantrip, outside of what you can normally get.

The second part of this ability is quite interesting. Your abilities can now do the effect to an additional target. For Toll the Dying and Chill Touch, this can double the effective damage of your necromancy cantrips, as long as there’s more than a few melee combatants in an encounter. Considering the intimate halls of a dungeon, this procs a lot more than you would expect, making your Cantrips great Area of Effect. 

With luck, you wont need to use this ability on Spare the Dying. That’d be an unfortunate fight!

Channel Divinity: Touch of Death

Channel Divinity options are always a coup de grace of a Cleric domain, and good grief, if this one doesn’t impress!

Starting at 2nd level, you can use Channel Divinity to destroy another creature’s life force by touch. When you hit a creature with a melee attack, you can use Channel Divinity to deal extra necrotic damage to the target. The damage equals 5 + twice your cleric level.

Wow, where to start! So this damage is great at any point in the game. Spending your Channel Divinity to deal 9 damage is acceptable. Channeling your Channel Divinity to do up to 45 damage in the late game is insane. Its pure damage scaling, which gets even better, since you gain more charges of Channel Divinity as you level up.

Melee Attack opens up a lot of spell options for you. Spiritual Weapon counts as a melee attack, meaning you can spend Divinity to nuke someone from afar. This also has ridiculous synergy with Vampiric Touch, letting you heal a truckload extra in a pinch.

And, its after you hit with a melee attack too! No dedicating yourself to an attack that might miss. This ability is crazy, and probably is why this is in the Dungeon Master’s Guide rather than a player book. The only problem is that this is a lot of dedication to necrotic damage, so something with resistance or immunity stops it. Well…

Inescapable Destruction

You get a solution.

Starting at 6th level, your ability to channel negative energy becomes more potent. Necrotic damage dealt by your cleric spells and Channel Divinity options ignores resistance to necrotic damage.

Alright… so the solution might be partial.

Considering how dedicated this domain is to dealing necrotic damage, this ability means a lot. Sure, it doesn’t stop things from being immune, but a good chunk of things resist necrotic damage in the base bestiary. Negating that resistance boosts this archetypes ability to fight some necromancers and some things that are close to undead (but not quite).

Because this doesn’t remove immunity, undead still remain a problem for your Channel Divinity, but that’s where Turn Undead comes in handy. Constructs are especially problematic, then, for your necrotic-damage focus. But hey, that’s what a party is for!

Still, be sure to grab a few spells that would be more effective against Constructs and Undead. You don’t want to be useless in those encounters, and using your Channel Divinity for Turn or Destroy Undead can feel a bit bad.

Divine Strike

Now for the damage increase;

At 8th level, you gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with necrotic energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an a 1d8 necrotic damage to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Surprise, surprise. More Necrotic damage.

Notably, this necrotic damage is not a result of Channel Divinity or a Cleric Spell, so it is still subject to damage resistance. However, it’s not all bad. Extra damage is nice, and this ability works with both ranged or melee weapons, if you’d prefer the long-distance playstyle. If, for some reason, anything gets vulnerability to necrotic damage, then this ability works well in tandem with Channel Divinity, providing a massive burst of damage with just a weapon in hand.

This is essentially an incentive to use a weapon over a cantrip in single-target situations. Not bad.

Improved Reaper

Aww, our little Necromancer is all grown up! Let’s see what the final domain ability gives them;

Starting at 17th level, when you cast a necromancy spell of 1st through 5th level that targets only one creature, the spell can instead target two creatures within range and within 5 feet of each other. If the spell consumes its material components, you must provide them for each target.

Oh, okay! So this has a few cool aspects to it. Obviously, your Ray spells become immensely powerful in close-quarter situations; debuffing two enemies with Ray of Sickness/Enfeeblement is strong. Blight becoming a 2 Target nuke is good as well. Vampiric Touch hitting two people at once is also quite efficient healing and damage dealing for a melee-ranged build.

And, some cool stuff; the 3rd level spell for Animate Undead can hit two targets at the same time! Unfortunately, once you spend higher-level slots for the spell, it no longer benefits from Improved Reaper. But, you can instead spend a 3rd level slot for double the amount of undead. Nice!

The Cleric spell list doesn’t have too many Necromancy spells, but the ones it does have leads to good damage options. Inflict Wounds, at level 5, deals 7d10 damage which ignores resistance to 2 targets. That’s nothing to sneeze at! You can raise 2 corpses from the afterlife and question both of them at once using Speak with Dead. Blinding 2 people at once with a 2nd level Blindness/Deafness can win a fight!

Once again, some of the utility of this ability basically amounts to a free “Higher Level” effect, but that can be beneficial. Higher-level slots are better, after all. Spending lower-level slots for basically the same benefit can be life-saving. And you can target 2 people with the same Feign Death. Why? Who knows. Look for other single-target Necromancy spells that would benefit the close-quarters situation.

Best Race for Death Clerics

Conquering death is hard work, so choosing a race for this job is somewhat difficult. For flavor, almost any race has negative thoughts about death, dying, and the undead… And almost any race has cultists. Depending on your build path, different races can have upsides and downsides which make Death Clerics easier to create.

Wood Elf

For real, this class should consider races with bonuses to Wisdom and potentially Strength or Dexterity. Wood Elf offers good deals with better movement speed, bow focus, and ability to hide. Being able to move in and out of range uses the multiple Rays that the domain gets well, and lets you use the Channel Divinity feature on something other than Spiritual Weapon. Dexterity is useful, either to get to the cap for Scale Mail, or making Light Armor a good option.

Kenku

This one is really just a personal choice. I love the flavor of a raven being the herald of death, and the statistics back it up. Once again, Dexterity and Wisdom are both quite important for this Domain. Kenkus get somewhat more out-of-combat use with their Kenku training. And Mimicry restriction for Kenkus can lead to fun roleplaying opportunities. If you’re allowed to use Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I would highly suggest trying this out for your doom-caller.

By the way, if you’re not feeling a Kenku cleric check out our build for a Kenku Warlock.

Human

The Variant human is an obvious choice in these situations, but the Death Cleric has a need for feats. Warcaster lets you get attacks of opportunity with spells, letting you more efficiently use your Channel Divinity. It would also let you have shields and 2 handed weapons if your DM requires that. Resilient lets you boost your Wisdom by an additional 1 in the early game, or you can get proficiency in Constitution Saves early on. Humans are a somewhat obvious choice for any role, but tend to be good.

Race Considerations

Heavily consider your build path when considering your race. If you plan on using Spiritual Weapon to deliver your Channel Divinity Attacks, make sure your race boosts Wisdom to land more hits. Otherwise, Dexterity can really help your role as a melee-range brawler, and Finesse weapons would probably be beneficial as well. Avoid races that boost neither of these statistics, as this is a class that really relies on landing hits and spell attacks.

Death Domain Deities

Any god which has anything to do with death, decay, or killing tends to be a great choice for a Death Domain cleric. As such, prepare to be seen as an evil Cleric, even if you are playing it as neutral or even good. Not many see the coming of a Death Cleric with a smile.

Bhaal (Forgotten Realms)

A dagger in the night flashes into view. A new angle shows not a man, but a demon. A force of nature, grown from flesh and blood to tear at blood and flesh. His anger is unwarranted, and extremely intelligent. He does not kill for no reason, and indeed will do whatever it takes to destroy the hope before the soul. He is Bhaal, the Lord of Murder.

Bhaal is the Neutral Evil god of violence and ritualistic murder. He is often depicted as a corpse, which the Gugari know as the “Slayer.” Bhaal is also seen in the Ravager and Kazgoroth forms, heralds of death and destruction on a wide scale. He is devastatingly intelligent and competitive with other evil gods. While he is far from the strongest god in the Forgotten Lands, he has put several stronger gods into terrible places and is not loved by any but his own following.

Most worshippers of Bhaal are crazed psychopaths. To them, murder is both a game and a way to worship their cruel god. A Cleric of Bhaal is expected to commit a murder at least twice a month. They worship violent death as one would worship a cross or an altar.

A Death Cleric of Bhaal serves as an extension of the god’s blade and will. They are expected to bring rain corpses when possible, and are seen as little more than hedonistic savages desperate for murder. The truth is not far, though many Death Clerics hold on to their Wisdom, committing murders in the correct places to grant power to their god.

A Death Cleric of Bhaal is unredeemable. A perfect choice for a being of pure evil.

Hel (Norse)

A siren’s cry echoes through the endless underworld of Midgard. The Mistress has returned to the underworld after a hunt through Midgard. For what reason she strikes out, in her warrior-priestess form, is unknowable. All know, though, that her walk leaves corpses, and a slight against her brings a damning punishment.

Hel is the Norse goddess of the Underworld, and is Neutral Evil. Like many deities in other pantheons, she serves as the ruler of the Underworld. However, few find her to be as impartial as Hades or judgment-focused as Anubis. She is a merciless goddess, who treats all slights against her as worthy of painful punishment.

Hel is seen by her worshippers as a fearful deity, but is a spirit of vengeance. Her close followers treat her as a reason to commit crimes against those that wronged them. She has a cult of assassins who strike targets so they may never return. As such, her name is spoken softly amongst town squares.

A Death Cleric of Hel is typically female and comes in two different alignments. One can choose to be neutral, placating Hel through ritual and favors, with occasional sacrifice. Another can devote themselves more fully to her themes, using her divine potency to bring vengeance and death upon others. Either way, these Clerics are seen as intimidating by most.

Hel is a vicious goddess, and serves the vengeance side of death well.

Iuz (Greyhawk)

Atop a throne of bold the Old Wicked approaches. His servants dutifully carry him from one place to another, knowing the consequences for disobeying. The Fiend of the North, responsible for pulling together the Howling Hills into a force of pure, demonstrable evil. Humiliated in his lifetime, he seeks pain and destruction to those in Greyhawk who deny his power.

Iuz is the Chaotic Evil god of pain, oppression, and evil. As a warlord demigod, he serves a very small sect of loyal followers and has obtained unbelievable power. He is naturally demonic, holding the souls of many different creatures in his elderly-looking body. He was a major player in the Greyhawk Wars and was only brought down by his inability to keep alliances.

Worshippers of Iuz are naturally devoted to his concepts of oppression of all. They see themselves as above all else, and are willing to take a greatsword to their neighbors to prove themselves worthy of his blessing. His word is absolute law, and his servants take great pride in ensuring his strength remains at its prime.

A Death Cleric of Iuz serves a strange role. Iuz is not strictly a god of death, but instead a bringer of death. Rather than serving as commanders, Death Clerics serve as brutal, frontline war heroes in Iuz’s service. They are responsible for committing heinous acts of death and destruction, serving as war leaders rather than climbing the ranks.

Iuz is ruthless and heartless. A perfect choice for a cutthroat Death Cleric.

Myrkul (The Forgotten Realms)

A skull sits in the plinth of a long, sweeping corridor. Alongside two other mortal men, the Crown Prince of Murghôm ascended to godhood. His knowledge and presence of death overwhelming, he chose to go serve as the being of death. All things must die, after all. And when they do, Old Lord Skull shall take their head.

Myrkul is the Neutral Evil god of death. In the Forgotten Realms, a funeral service is held so that a body may be treated kindly by Myrkul. The god is blamed for old age, natural disasters, and even fear. He is a terrifying presence, felt throughout the realm, and for good reason. His merciless personality paints a clear picture of a man brought to power who only wishes for power.

Most worship Myrkul out of fear, worrying about death being brought upon them for not doing so. His meager cult following serve in the shadows, acting more as warnings to those who do not worship the god. His worshippers were recently revitalized by the Avatar Crisis and his deadly Horned Harbingers.

A Death Cleric of Myrkul serves as his closest approximation. They see a man who became strong enough to be a god, and they want in. What’s more, they are usually much more active than the meager undertakers and mumbling clergy that simply fear the god. They are ready to completely take on the mantle of death. Myrkul is the epitome of the gods of death. He is the perfect god to worship as a Death Domain Cleric.

Wee Jas (Greyhawk)

Few serve as many roles in a pantheon as the Ruby Sorceress. She acts not only as a goddess of Death. She also serves as a patron deity of wizards, a calling card for every noble man and lady in front of a mirror… And, the name uttered from the lips of a judge before they got on the stand. The Talker is a goddess of society. And she means to complete the circle of life.

Wee Jas is the Lawful Neutral goddess of magic, death, vanity, and law. As multifaceted as she is active, Wee Jas appears to her followers as an exceptionally attractive woman in every possible scenario. She is the steward of the dead, but serves as a tolerant goddess of the dead, even allowing for the creation of consenting undead.

Worshipers of Wee Jas, or Jasidin, are typically Wizards of significant note and necromancers who mean good harm. She is the preferred deity of the afterlife compared to harsher entities like Nerull. She is honored by Judges, sought after by new lovers, and taught in wizard academies. 

A Death Cleric of Wee Jas serves one of her many roles, but plays perhaps the most critical role in communities. They are knowledgeable of the rights of the dead and ensure a safe burial, while offering the possibilities of resurrection and reanimation. They are also keenly interested in magic, and look at what Wee Jas grants them with bright eyes. Wee Jas is one of the very few neutral or good gods of death. Keep an eye out for gods like her if you want to play in a standard campaign.

Best Feats for Death Clerics

Death Domain clerics run into the issue that you are designed as a melee brawler… That needs to keep their Wisdom high if they want to use spells like Banishment.

Fey Touched

Fey Touched is one of my favorite feats, for good reason. A +1 to Wisdom is insane, keeping your casting stat high while granting you two distinct benefits. Misty Step for free is great, getting you into or out of combat for the cost of a Bonus Action. Afterwards, you get to swing with your weapon! It isn’t easy to have such good mobility as a Cleric.

The 1st level spell that you get for free is almost always Silvery Barbs. As a frontline bruiser, you want reactions that will keep you alive. Silvery Barbs is perfect, since it also buffs your ally afterwards.

Heavily Armored

As a frontline bruiser, Death Clerics suffer a lot from not getting Heavy Armor proficiency. You can use a feat to save yourself, if you are doing a Strength build. Firbolgs work well with this, but they need to use a feat on this feature. You really want that high AC for the lategame.

This is far from a waste, though. Plate Armor is insane, granting the highest AC that a basic suit of armor can. For a Strength build, get this feat early.

Resilient

Resilient is another simple feat from the Player’s Handbook that can still find a home in builds. It grants a +1 to any ability score, and proficiency in that ability score’s saving throw. Very strong! You’ll benefit the best from using this on Constitution, since you really want the additional HP. You’ll also have that Concentration saving throw to work with for later abilities. Alternatively, you could use this to bump up your Dexterity. Dexterity saving throws tend to deal a lot of damage to you, so dodging damage can be very nice.

Tough

As any melee frontliner knows, you’re going to get punched in the face fairly often. So… Get good at getting punched in the face! Tough improves your health by 2 per level. That’s like you getting a +4 to your Constitution score! However, it just grants health; no saving throw increase or anything. Make sure you’re making the right choice between this feat, Resilient, or a +2 to Constitution.

War Caster

War Caster is a great feat to get for a melee character. Avoiding any headache with weapons and shields will come in handy, depending on your campaign. Tougher DMs might ask you to drop your weapon, which is a huge problem! War Caster should be taken early on if your DM asks you to have a free hand for spells.

Then, you can use spells for attack of opportunity, and you’re less likely to drop Concentration. Great boons for a Cleric! Imagine, someone runs out of your threatened squares and you just Banish them! And many of Cleric’s best spells require Concentration, and thus are weak to getting interrupted.

Multiclassing for Death Clerics

The Cleric is, arguably, the strongest class in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Trading out features for another classes isn’t always recommended. However, if you are interested in multiclassing, here are a few fun ones.

Druid

As a melee Cleric, there is some reason to go Druid. The Druid spell list isn’t necessarily powerful, but Wild Shape provides a great health shield during brawls. A Moon Druid gains a great Bonus Action, which heals them and provides a health overshield. Great for messy fights where you are likely to take a bunch of damage. You get around 40 HP with just 2 levels in Druid, if you shape into a Wolf!

Fighter

The Fighter class is a decent multiclass option for you. Since you need to dedicate yourself into Strength or Dexterity anyways, it’s nice to gain Fighting Style and Second Wind. Fighting Style can be as simple as a +1 to Ac, or as large as a +2 to damage rolls. Second Wind keeps you off the floor, which is crucial as a cleric. 

But… Action Surge is one of the craziest abilities in the game. As a brawler, you benefit a ton from casting a spell, activating Action Surge, and then casting another spell. Or just slapping someone. Either or!

Paladin

Similar to the Fighter, if you have the Strength and Charisma to spare, you can grab Paladin for one, simple ability: Smite. The ability to burn mid-level spells for a large burst of damage will often come in handy.

The rest of the Paladin class features are… Fine. Lay on Hands is great, the first few Paladin spells are okay, and Fighting Styles are always appreciated when you plan on swinging swords. If you want to do a Paladin Multiclass, do it early, so you can make use of level 4 Smites as soon as possible.

Suggested Death Cleric Backgrounds

While I would love to put “gravedigger” or “undertaker” here, that is sadly not an option in standard campaign books. Let’s walk through a spread that is likely to be legal for most campaigns.

Acolyte

Acolyte is a very, very typical cleric background. But, it gets results! An acolyte of a god of death gains Insight and Religion as skills, as well as two languages. These languages can be anything, so talk to your DM about good choices for the upcoming campaign. Being the language barrier bridge is not a bad place to be! Otherwise, the starting items and Shelter of the Faithful serve their respective roles.

City Watch

City Watch is closer to an undertaker, but is also only available in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. If you get your hands on it, Athletics and Insight are both reasonably common skills, and you get the same language pair as Acolyte. Better skills are very important! Watcher’s Eye is applicable to almost every single city.

Sailor

Sailor is the least applicable of the three backgrounds that we have here. You might need to stretch some things to apply Sailor to your character. But, if you find it, you get Athletics and Perception. Perception is huge for a Cleric, as you have high Wisdom. Perception is a very common skill to roll, so being good at it is a gigantic boon. Sailors also get very funny Tool proficiencies and Ship’s Passage, a rarely usable feature. The Perception is just too good!

How to Play Death Clerics

Out of Combat

  • You are reliant on Skills and Spells out of combat. Your domain gives you very little out-of-combat potential. Necromancy is, naturally, a very aggressive school of magic. You will need to prepare spells and remember your skills if you want to be useful in exploration or social situations. Try to keep utility spells like Dispel Magic or Detect Magic in mind as you travel the world.

In Combat

  • Remember Your Domain Spells. You get these spells for free, and can always cast them using spell slots. Animate Dead is a crazy strong spell to cast often, and even 1st level spells like Ray of Sickness can turn a boss into putty.
  • You Are A Weapon-Based Character. Martial weapons are great! Try to integrate them into your build so you can make use of Divine Strike later on. This might mean getting a lot of Strength or Dexterity. You really want to smack people around!
  • Pay Attention to your Spell Schools. You are naturally fantastic at Necromancy. You can double your cantrips immediately, and get another 1st-5th level spell at level 17. You can be very efficient in the late game!
  • Touch of Death is Good Damage. 5 + Twice Cleric level does hurt quite a bit. This burst damage can destroy an enemy. Try to use this feature to finish off an enemy, or push one closer to death. Spam this sucker!
  • Inescapable Destruction is Okay, But Doesn’t Stop Immunity. Immunity to Necrotic still fully stops your damage. Try to have magic that avoids Necrotic damage, like Sacred Flame, for emergencies. Necrotic damage can be avoided by Constructs, for instance.

Death Cleric FAQ

What Book Has Death Domain?

This is a weird domain that comes straight from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It is designed to be an “evil” domain, so it isn’t typically allowed for standard Player Characters. Don’t let that stop you from asking your DM if you have a good idea for it! But, you will meet some extra push-back compared to classes in the PHB or XGE.

Can You Play A Death Domain Cleric in Adventure League?

No. Since the Death Domain cleric comes from a Dungeon Master’s guide, they are not currently legal to play in the standard rules of Adventure League.

Do Death Domain Clerics Have to be Evil?

No, there is no mechanical requirement for a Death Domain cleric to be strictly evil. As long as you can work out a way to worship death and decay without it being spun as an evil act, you’re good to go. For example, clerics of Wee Jas might serve as funeral hosts and undertakers. However, a majority of Death Gods are evil. You will have to work with your DM if you want to worship one of those gods while keeping a Neutral alignment.

Death Cleric Example Build

We are going to use the Kenku race! Ravens are closely linked to death, after all! They’ll worship Myrkul, bringing his name across the country as an adventurer. For the purposes of this build, our party is okay with playing with an Evil character. Perhaps they are trying to redeem them, or are forced to work with them.

Our Kenku is going to be a Sailor. This Death Cleric was contracted to come onboard ships and serve as an omen to Death itself, keeping the spirits of the dead far away from the ship through ritual. Maybe it didn’t go so well, seeing as they’re back on shore now…

Our goal is to make sure our Dexterity and Wisdom are at a good point. We want to use powerful Saving Throw spells like Banishment for this build. If our Dexterity gets to 20, we can use Light Armor instead of Medium, as well as have impressive attack and damage rolls with our weapon. However, for the early game, we just want to use Medium Armor, like the Scale Mail we start with. That provides us with good AC while we get our Wisdom to 20.

You could get away with a low Wisdom build if you want to focus on buff spells, like Shield of Faith. Those don’t need a high Wisdom score to work for you. But, you will be losing some of the best offensive spells in the game if you do so. 

5E Death Cleric Build
Race: Kenku (Dexterity +2, Wisdom +1)Ability Scores: STR (8), DEX (16), CON (13), INT (10), WIS (16), CHA (12)Proficiencies: Athletics, Deception, Insight, Medicine, Navigator’s Tools, Perception, Stealth, Water VehiclesStarting Equipment: 50 feet of Silk Rope, Club, Common clothes, Holy Symbol, Light Crossbow with Bolts, Locket of a close companion on the ship who passed, Priest’s Pack, Scale Mail, Shield, Shortsword, 10 gpLanguages: Common, Auran
LevelsNew FeaturesChoices To Make
1-Spellcasting-Divine Domain (Death)
– Death Domain Spells (1st Level)
-Bonus Proficiency
-Reaper
Right off the bat, we have plenty of choices to make! Other than our starting character choices. Learn my thought process about those above!
Spellcasting: Clerics have the crazy strong ability to always change their magic. Try to learn some great healing options, like Healing Word, while getting some damage as well. Guiding Bolt can one-shot an enemy if you roll high!
Bonus Proficiency: This changes our gameplay drastically. We can use weapons like Longbows, Rapiers, and other crazy weapons! Here, we have to decide if we want to be melee or ranged. This is a difficult choice, and should be based on the composition of your party. We are going to go into melee, so we want to use a Shortsword instead of that Warhammer. Save up for that Rapier, though! 1d8 damage is a lot.
Reaper: All Necromancy cantrips are crazy. We like Toll the Dead or Sapping Sting. Toll the Dead is a great ranged attack with high damage. Sapping Sting provides utility. You can, of course, learn the other one as a Cantrip! Make sure you get strong options like Guidance in your cantrip slots.
2-Channel Divinity (1/rest)
-Channel Divinity: Touch of Death
Not many options here. Remember that Touch of Death hurts… A lot! Use it often!
3-2nd Level Spells
-Death Domain Spells (3rd Level)
2nd level spells are here! These are good, but not fantastic. Get some defensive options like Lesser Restoration, but remember attacks like Spiritual Weapon that can end a fight quickly.
4-Ability Score ImprovementWe have a few choices here. +2 Wisdom is very viable, but so is a feat like Fey Touched. We’re going to be working for that +2 to Wisdom. We have a lot of stats to shore up! 18 Wisdom will make our spellcasting more effective.
5-3rd Level Spells
-Death Domain Spells (5th Level)
-Destroy Undead (CR ½)
3rd level spells are where Clerics, and most other casters, get intense. Mass Healing Word is a great way to, as a quick action, get your entire party off the floor. Spirit Guardians are a strong defensive option. But, make sure you have Dispel Magic or Protection from Energy in mind!
6-Channel Divinity (2/Rest)
-Inescapable Destruction
Your Necromancy spells are stronger! There are quite a few sources of Necrotic damage on the Cleric Spell list. And by that I mean there are 9. But… You can still do some high damage with these!
7-4th Level Spells
-Death Domain Spells (7th Level)
Check out spells like Divination and Freedom of Movement. Used well, both of these can win an encounter for you!
8-Ability Score Improvement
-Destroy Undead (CR 1)
-Divine Strike
For our very specific build, we are just going to get +2 Wisdom. Yeah, that’s boring… But, we really want that 20 Wisdom now so we can start building up our Dexterity! An alternative route here is to get +2 Dexterity, so our weapons hit harder and more often, then get +2 Wisdom later. Both are very, very valid options!
Divine Strike: Try to be in positions to hit attacks with your weapon. It’s going to start hurting more than your Cantrips by now.
9-5th Level Spells
-Death Domain Spells (9th Level)
This is a fun level, though not specifically strong. Check out spells like Commune, Geas, and Planar Binding. They’re very specific, but can be strong in the right situations.Don’t be afraid to put lower-level spells in high level spell slots, though!
10-Divine InterventionNo choices here. Keep looking at your great spell list!
11-Destroy Undead (CR 2)
-6th Level Spells
Harm, Heal, Blade Barrier, Heroes Feast… True Seeing! This is a good level to be a Cleric!
12-Ability Score ImprovementThis level depends on what your Magic Item supplies look like. +1 Dexterity and +1 Constitution is a very valid argument here. But, Tough can help you stay alive… For our build, we’re going to grab a +2 to Dexterity to be at 18. We like our +1s here!
13-7th Level SpellsGood grief. Spells like Conjure Celestial, Plane Shift, and Resurrection cement your position as a powerhouse in any fight.
14-Destroy Undead (CR 3)Keep looking at new spells! Learn what your party needs to stay alive during this dangerous time in campaigns.
15-8th Level SpellsAntimagic Field and Holy Aura, as well as three other spells, make this level boring. But, learning these spells can win you some fights! Use information and research to your advantage!
16-Ability Score ImprovementLet’s just get to 20 Dexterity. The +5 to attack rolls comes in clutch often, and now you can safely wear Studded Leather and Magical Light Armors. Or you can wear Magical Medium armors. The flexibility comes in handy!
17-9th Level Spells
-Destroy Undead (CR 4)
-Improved Reaper
9th level spells are massive for Clerics, since they get magic like Gate and True Resurrection. These are still rather specific, so make sure you choose carefully. A 9th level Harm might do just as well!
Multiclassing: This is a great point to consider multiclassing into Druid or Ranger. You have all of your powerful spells and could benefit from some class abilities. For the purpose of our build, we’ll just stay pure Cleric.
18-Channel Divinity (3/rest)No choices here! Keep researching those high level spells.
19-Ability Score ImprovementTough, Resilient, or War Caster all come in clutch here. We recommend Resilient, to prevent any instant death shenanigans.
20-Divine Intervention ImprovementNo other choices. Keep looking at spells. And try not to call on your god too often. They have a busy schedule.

Conclusion – Our Take on the Death Cleric 5E

A versatile, supportive damage dealer with an edgy spin. The Channel Divinity offers some grandiose flat damage against anything not undead or constructed, and your other abilities give you even better damage and control across a battlefield. While Reaper is a bit lackluster at the current moment, additional Necromancy cantrips may be released with more interesting utility or variant damage options. And it scales super well into the late game; Channel Divinity, Improved Reaper, and Divine Strike all offer some insane damage and battlefield control, with some hilarious chances of utility. 

Want to see your other Cleric options or how to optimize your character in general? Check out our Comprehensive Cleric 5E Guide!

1 Comment

  1. If the DM allows you to pull from the Wildemount book, then you can pull the Sapping Sting cantrip through your reaper feat, and make it potentially target two creatures.

    Magic initiate for the find familiar is great too. It allows the cleric to have Inflict Wounds at range (and advantage too! Since delivering touch spells takes the familiar reaction they still have main action to use help) and ranged cure wounds and other touch support spells are great.

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