Grave Cleric 5E Guide | Attributes, Tips, Builds, and More

Grave Cleric 5E

Released simultaneously with the Forge Domain, the Grave Domain came out in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. These clerics are focused on protecting the concept of life, a natural demise, and the destruction of undead. As such, they are primarily spellcasters with a profound hatred of the unnatural, and some pretty unique supportive abilities for the backline role. So now, join us as we cross the River Styx and enter the Grave Cleric 5e Guide.

The Ultimate Grave Cleric 5E Guide

The Grave Cleric is a unique specimen, in that a lot of its abilities focus on supporting their allies or dealing a lot of damage. There are possibilities of a Frontline role through touch attacks – with a Cleric’s natural ability to soak damage. This class may not be as tanky as other options like Tempest Clerics, though. Or you could become a backline supporter with good ranged techniques that the archetype offers. Either way, you’ll find defending the natural cycle of life rewarding.

Domain Spells

The Domain spells of the Grave cleric are situational and, unfortunately, not always in a good way. The domain gets utility outside of the standard Cleric Spells, but some are situational to the point of redundancy.

Grave Cleric Domain Spells
  • 1st Level – Bane, False Life
  • 3rd Level – Gentle Repose, Ray of Enfeeblement
  • 5th Level – Revivify, Vampiric Touch
  • 7th Level – Blight, Death Ward
  • 9th Level – Antilife Shell, Raise Dead

Right from the Domain Spells, it’s clear that this domain’s role is as a support. Bane works into this role well, dealing with low Charisma damage-dealers quite effectively. Ray of Enfeeblement can be a life-saver against high-damage, physical boss characters, provided they fail the save. Death Ward acts as an infinite health shield once per cast.

The other use for these divine spells are for healing and reviving. Gentle Repose combos well with Revivify, allowing for a long buffer if you need to scrounge up diamonds. Vampiric Touch offers good healing opportunities for yourself, at the cost of being melee range. Raise Dead goes somewhat well into the Gentle Repose/Revivify combo, if you were late to the touch.

The odd one out is Blight, which is a high-damage spell that targets living creatures. This works well with the Channel Divinity option that the Grave Cleric gets, which will be shown later. Why anti-undead Clerics get a spell that targets only living creatures is something only the Undying Court can explain. All-in-all, a list of good, situational options for preventing death, reviving, and a good damage option.

Circle of Mortality

The first level 1 ability of the Grave Clerics cements your role as the healer. According to Xanathar’s Guide:

At 1st level, you gain the ability to manipulate the line between life and death. When you would normally roll one or more dice to restore hit points with a spell to a creature at 0 hit points, you instead use the highest number possible for each die.

In addition, you learn the Spare the Dying cantrip, which doesn’t count against the number of cleric cantrips you know. For you, it has a range of 30 feet, and you can cast it as a bonus action.

Putting it bluntly, this ability is primarily to save an ally from having to make Dying rolls. This can be situational compared to other level 1 abilities, but it is, quite literally, a lifesaver.

If a primary damage dealer is knocked out, then your healing magic gives them a gigantic buffer for their health. At minimum, they’re standing up at 8 + your Spellcasting Modifier with Cure Wounds, preventing bad rolls and potentially giving them extra hits that they can tank. All Clerics know the pain of low-rolling that so-important heal, and trust me; 12 is so much better than 5. And that’s at level 1. As Cure Wounds gets better, so does this ability.

And even better, you don’t even need to sacrifice your turn to ensure someone doesn’t die. Bonus Actions are important for clerics, for some spells. But, using your Bonus Action to keep someone from making Dying Saves is huge. In addition, the range increase on Spare the Dying upgrades it from a mediocre Medicine replacement into a versatile, stabilizing ability for your backline caster role.

Eyes of the Grave

Replacing bonus proficiencies, the Grave Domain gets a scouting tool;

At 1st level, you gain the ability to occasionally sense the presence of the undead, whose existence is an insult to the natural cycle of life. As an action, you can open your awareness to magically detect undead. Until the end of your next turn, you know the location of any undead within 60 feet of you that isn’t behind total cover and that isn’t protected from divination magic. This sense doesn’t tell you anything about a creature’s capabilities or identity.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

In terms of divination abilities, this one is… Lacking. Compare this to the spell Detect Evil and Good; your targets are reduced, your duration is much decreased, and you can’t penetrate any barriers. The upside is you get multiple uses instead of the extra duration. Even so, this ability does not make the Grave Domain a more enticing option. 

This ability isn’t completely useless, of course. The extra 30 feet of range is very beneficial, and it can still find Undead who are simply disguised or faking death. It also has good flavor potential, if you are playing a paranoid Grave Cleric. However, this is likely not the ability that carries the Grave Domain’s appeal.

Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave

Finally, an ability that really pushes this subclass.

Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to mark another creature’s life force for termination.

As an action, you choose one creature you can see within 30 feet of you, cursing it until the end of your next turn. The next time you or an ally of yours hits the cursed creature with an attack, the creature has vulnerability to all of that attack’s damage, and then the curse ends.

As an alternative to Turn Undead, this ability is massive. Doubling the damage of an attack is absolutely crazy. Imagine using this ability and then having a Paladin spend a lot of spell power on a Smite attack, or a Sorcerer using Disintegrate. And this ability gives Vulnerability to any type of damage, and all types of damage that specific attack uses.

5e grave cleric
Crossing these clerics could have GRAVE consequences. Get it?

In addition, this curse doesn’t allow your target to save, meaning that it is guaranteed damage… As long as someone hits it. Including yourself.

A final good use is in an intrigue scenario. You curse someone, maybe having to roll a bluff to pretend that it wasn’t you, or the curse is just a bad response to some wine. Then, on your next turn, you cast Blight, or another high-damage spell option, to deal a lot of damage to your intended target to start a fight. 

This ability has a lot of damage potential, and can be used from a safe distance. The downsides are twofold; this is a curse, and it only gives vulnerability. 

Remove Curse is a relatively low-level spell, and if this is identified as a curse, then it can be removed by an enemy cleric or another lackey. There are also some few enemies that are immune to curses, and thus this ability cannot be used on them.

“Only gives vulnerability” is a weird downside, considering how much I hyped it up. However, this is intentionally written not to remove immunities or resistances. That means that if your party member, or yourself, does an attack that they are immune to, the damage is still doubled… To 0. Resistance is still okay, since the damage just equals out, but it still reduces your potential damage by a lot. And if they already had vulnerability to the damage type, nothing happens. Try to make sure you know what your target is immune to before planning to use this ability on a specific type of burst damage.

Sentinel at Death’s Door

The 6th level ability of a lot of Domains are quite impressive, and Sentinel at Death’s Door is quite good;

At 6th level, you gain the ability to impede death’s progress. As a reaction when you or an ally that you can see within 30 feet of you suffers a critical hit, you can turn that attack into a normal hit. Any effects triggered by a critical hit are canceled.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

This ability is an insurance policy, pretty similar to Circle of Mortality. Stopping critical hits is quite powerful, in the right situations. This can turn a horrendous and party-ending disaster into just a basic hit. And I have never heard a DM groan louder than when they forgot this ability existed right after rolling a 20.

The range is rather small, but as a “safe distance” backliner, you should have most of your party within 30 ft. The big downside is the Wisdom modifier restriction, but even this shouldn’t be a huge issue. With you being a Cleric and all.

Potent Spellcasting

Now, for the damage-dealing ability that comes in at level 8;

Starting at 8th level, you add your Wisdom modifier to the damage you deal with any cleric cantrip.

Uh oh! This isn’t Divine Strike. But, even so, it’s far from useless.

Unlike a few Domains, the Grave Cleric gains a bonus to damage with Cleric Cantrips, rather than weapons. When this article was written, there were 3 Cleric cantrips that deal damage – Hand of Radiance, Sacred Flame, and Toll the Dead. 

Adding Wisdom modifier to these cantrips is more solid than it seems. Sacred Flame and Toll the Dead both have a 60 ft. range that lets you stay within that 30 ft. range that Grave Clerics like to be in. Toll the Dead can do d12s, if the target is missing health, so adding your Wisdom modifier can improve that damage quite a bit.

For the Melee Grave Cleric, Hand of Radiance offers a decent area of effect option in melee range, increasing the d6s by quite a lot. Try not to use a cantrip on Path to the Grave, though. There are (hopefully) better damage options than these to double.

Keeper of Souls

The final, capstone ability for the Grave Domain is… Underwhelming, to be honest.

At 17th level, you can seize a trace of vitality from a parting soul and use it to heal the living. When an enemy you can see dies within 30 feet of you, you or one ally of your choice that is within 30 feet of you regains hit points equal to the enemy’s number of Hit Dice. You can use this feature only if you aren’t incapacitated. Once you use it, you can’t do so again until the start of your next turn.

So, the Grave Cleric can use the life forces of others to embolden their allies. This can be nice in certain situations. Picking someone off the ground with a small heal is useful. Capping off health with a small heal is useful. Healing for no actions? Useful. But the heal is minor. Hit Dice are not really a tall pool for most monsters. At this point, when you see something die, you heal an ally for an average of 17 health. This can be significant, but it’s locked at once per round and will often be for less than a single hit.

Fantastic flavor, fantastic for picking people off the ground… And probably will not be the reason you pick up Grave Domain. Especially compared to the level 17 abilities of other Domains.

Best Race for Grave Clerics

Keep in mind, when asking “what is the best race” for a Grave Cleric, that there is no “best” race. A race should fit into the background of what you want your character to act like. If you’re looking for mechanical abilities that augment the class, however, you should consider;

Wood Elf

This class really likes keeping their distance. Choosing a Wood Elf grants you that Wisdom this class so desperately wants. It’ll also get you movement speed for positioning and Dexterity to boost your AC – since you have no Heavy Armor. It’s probably the best option in the Core Rulebook.

Firbolg

If your GM allows you to use the options in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the Firbolg gives you something that the Grave Domain is based off of; +2 Wisdom. Boosting Wisdom is important for this Domain because of how many abilities Wisdom is based off of. In addition, Firbolgs have abilities that keep the Grave Domain safe with their ability to briefly go invisible and carry much more weight.

Races to Avoid

There are no truly awful races to avoid with this subclass. As long as your Wisdom is high enough, any race would make a fantastic keeper of the Cycle. However, I would tend to avoid options that reduce movement speed. That can make it tricky to keep people within your 30-feet “safe zone” if combat becomes mobile.

Otherwise, I would heavily incentivize finding races (that your GM allows) that increase the Wisdom score. This domain has a lot of abilities that rely on it; preventing crits, increasing damage, and scouting. If you’re having trouble deciding on a race, any of them that increase Wisdom is huge for this subclass.

Conclusion – Our Take on the Grave Cleric

And so, our Grave Cleric 5E Guide comes to its natural end. This subclass is quite specific, and is often considered to be weak compared to a lot of the options available for Cleric. However, it boasts one of the most explosive Channel Divinity options in the game when used correctly. Circle of Mortality is extremely good at keeping allies alive – or at least “not dead” – in the early stages. Sentinel at Death’s Door can keep sessions running for longer than the Dice foretell. And having reviving spells always prepared is always useful. If you have a good idea for a backstory, and want to try out a support with a lot of potential, then the Grave Cleric is a fantastic option.