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There are classes in 3.5 that, in the view of the optimization community, simply fail to continue to deliver value after a certain point. For example, the monk class: the first two levels have a lot of features in them, and can be useful, but it is almost never valuable to take more levels in it. Thus, it is recommended to have at most two levels of monk.

Does the cleric class have any similar maximum level threshold? Is there a point where I should look at a character and say, “he has too many cleric levels,” or can cleric be taken all the way to 20? Does a Cleric 9/Fighter 1/Bone Knight 10 have “too many” cleric levels?

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This is a bit vague, as there's prestige classes that cover a huge variety of different things, even for Cleric as a base class. Are you looking for something specific, or just "more power"? –  Tridus Mar 9 at 22:25
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@Tridus I gather that it’s vague if you’re not familiar with a bit of the metagame that Hunter’s referring to, but as someone who is I quite well understand what he’s getting at. Some classes have a point where you simply stop taking levels in them because nothing left in the class is worth the levels it takes to get it. Monk, for example; you almost never want more than two levels of it. Hunter uses paladin as an example, which is somewhat problematic since it’s not quite so clear-cut a case as is the monk, but I at least understood the point. –  KRyan Mar 9 at 22:58
    
Hunter, I’ve tried to address Tridus’s concerns by rewriting your question to get at what I think you want to get at. I have used the monk as an example instead of the paladin, because the monk is a more clear-cut case. You’ll note that I removed your request for prestige class options; that’s simply too broad of a topic for to be tacked on to this question. You can ask it as a separate question, but you will have to provide a lot more information about the character, his feats and skills, and what you want to get out of those prestige class levels. –  KRyan Mar 9 at 23:03
    
(I say paladin is not a good example because the typical maximum is 2, for Divine Grace, though some will go to 5 for the Special Mount. Level 6 is definitely not that valuable as remove disease 1/wk just is not significant.) –  KRyan Mar 9 at 23:05
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@mxyzplk Eh, even the question of “how do I maximize the power of a cleric” is way too big a question for this site. The question, as I interpreted it, was more of a “does cleric have a particular ‘breakpoint’ after which you should not continue to take cleric levels?” That’s answerable (the answer’s “no”), unlike the generic question of “optimize a cleric.” –  KRyan Mar 10 at 3:46
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1 Answer 1

20th-level cleric spellcasting is optimal

You may not want 20 levels of the cleric base class. You absolutely want to cast as a 20th-level cleric does, however. That means no other base classes, and only prestige classes that offer “+1 level of existing (divine) spellcasting class” at every level that you take.

Aside from spellcasting, cleric level only affects your ability to Turn or Rebuke Undead, and potentially the power of domain granted abilities. If you pick domains that don’t care and aren’t interested in controlling an army of undead with Rebuke, those don’t matter much to you.

But even if those aren’t important to you, cleric spellcasting is so good that it’s (much) better to just keep taking cleric levels than it is to miss out on cleric spellcasting. For example, in core, you probably want Cleric 20 just because your options for prestige classes are fairly lackluster (loremaster does advance your spellcasting, but the entry requirements are very steep).

So there’s no solid level for when cleric as a class stops being a good choice. It is always a very good choice. It is possible that some prestige classes are better choices for you, but that depends on your feats and skills.

For a good run-down of what prestige classes are available to you, there’s a handbook for that. Probably also worth taking a look at the general cleric handbook as well.

A single level of cleric works surprisingly well

There are a lot of characters that you wouldn’t expect to want a level in cleric, who actually benefit from it dramatically. Even with insufficient Wisdom to actually cast any cleric spells, the domain granted abilities and the fuel for Divine feats are both exceedingly valuable, plus you can swap a domain for the corresponding Devotion feat (Complete Champion), for things like the excellent Travel Devotion (move-as-a-swift-action for the next minute, once per day plus once more for every two uses of Turn/Rebuke you burn on it). Cleric is thus probably the best single-level dip in the entire game, and there is actually an entire handbook devoted to just a single level of the class.

Your build

The biggest problem with your build is not Cleric 9, but rather Fighter 1. By level 10 you shouldn’t need a feat that badly, nor does its full BAB matter overly much at that particular level. Bone knight certainly requires neither. Thus, Cleric 10/Bone Knight 10 is better. There may be even-better options to replace some of those cleric levels, though.

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