Most D&D players feel vulnerable, if not downright naked, without a cleric in the group. A cleric's spells and class features can literally make the difference between life and death for a party. Unfortunately, the rules governing a cleric's extensive array of spells and class abilities can cause confusion when players and DMs start exploring the limits of the cleric's powers. We'll try to clear some of that up.
Most clerics are associated with a deity. When a cleric has a patron deity, his alignment must be the same as the deity's or within one step of his deity's alignment on either the lawful-chaotic axis or the good-evil axis, but not both. A cleric cannot be neutral (that is, neutral on both the law-chaos and the good-evil axis) unless his deity also is neutral. The table below shows the possibilities:
A cleric could have no deity at all (see page 32 in the Player's Handbook). A cleric with no deity can have any alignment, but the cleric's choice of alignment can affect which clerical domains the cleric can choose (see the next section).
A cleric of a chaotic, evil, good, or lawful deity has a particularly powerful aura corresponding to the deity's alignment (see the detect evil spell description for details), no matter what the cleric's alignment actually is. For example, a neutral good cleric of a lawful good deity has auras of law and good.
In most people's minds, the cleric is primarily a spellcaster, and a cleric's spells can prove powerful indeed. The cleric class description on page 32 in the Player's Handbook covers the cleric's spellcasting ability in some detail. The text covering divine spells on pages 179-180 provides additional information. Here's an overview of the basics:
To prepare or cast a spell, a cleric must have a Wisdom score of at least 10 + the spell's level. For example, a cleric must have a Wisdom score of at least 11 to prepare or cast a 1st-level spell and must have a Wisdom score of at least 13 to prepare or cast a 3rd-level spell. A cleric with a Wisdom score of 9 or less cannot prepare or cast any spells at all.
If a cleric suffers a Wisdom reduction after preparing spells for a day (from a Wisdom-damaging attack, for example) the cleric may be unable to cast a prepared spell. The spell becomes available to cast again if the cleric recovers the lost Wisdom. Even if the Wisdom loss turns out to be permanent, the cleric eventually can make use of the spell slot that contains the unusable spell (see the notes on spell preparation in Part Two on slots for details).
When a cleric casts a spell, the cleric's Wisdom score determines the spell's save Difficulty Class (if the spell allows a save at all). The DC is 10 + spell level + the cleric's Wisdom modifier at the time the cleric casts the spell. A reduction in a cleric's Wisdom score (even a temporary one) reduces the save DCs for the cleric's spells if that reduction is sufficient to lower the cleric's Wisdom modifier (assuming that the cleric can still cast the spell -- see the previous section). An increase in a cleric's Wisdom score (even a temporary one) increases the save DCs for the cleric's spells if that increase is sufficient to raise the cleric's Wisdom modifier.
A cleric's Wisdom score might also give him one or more bonus spells each day, as shown on Table 1-1 in the Player's Handbook and explained in the accompanying text.
A cleric can't cast spells of an alignment opposed to his own or his deity's (if he has one). A spell has an alignment if it has an alignment descriptor (chaos, evil, good, and law). See page 174 of the Player's Handbook and Rules of the Game, Reading Spell Descriptions, Part Two for details. For example, a neutral good cleric of a lawful good deity cannot use spells with the chaos or evil descriptors.
That covers clerical alignments and the basics of cleric spells. Next week we'll consider clerical spell preparation.
About the Author
Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for many years. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.
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