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Assuming a typical D&D party with some combination of ranged and melee attackers, which Divine Domain, racial choice (potentially including feat), spells, or actions/abilities at level 1 helps a cleric help their friends the most? Not just in terms of total amount of healing, but also surviving long enough to heal, buffing their friends, mitigating damage, and resolving encounters.

For a helping-their-friends focused cleric, who wants to heal, buff, and help out the most they can, which choices will help them do that at level 1?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a particular reason that you are asking for 1st level specifically, given that this is the level where you spend the least amount of time, and cleric domains get there channel divinity features at 2nd level? This just seems like a really sub-optimal way to make this choice. The best choice at 1st may not be the best choice at 2nd, but 2nd gives you a much better picture of long term power since you get your main domain feature then. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2022 at 11:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov 1st level has the least hp and highest chance of death of any level. I am looking for specifically things available at 1st level to help with that (I intend to eventually write a guide). \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Oct 10, 2022 at 11:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ So to be clear, even if the choices you make at 1st result in suboptimal (possibly woefully so) play at every other level (so basically every session of a campaign except the first few at most), you still want to optimize survivability/buffs without consideration for the rest of the features offered by those choices at later levels? I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm repeating myself, I just want to be sure that I'm sure about what you want. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2022 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov “given that [1st] is the level where you spend the least amount of time,” [citation needed]. At least historically, “hardcore” gamers online were often shocked at how much their experience was dwarfed by casual play, which favored the lowest levels in extreme disproportion. Guilty of that myself, and now I’m dubious about this claim here. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 10, 2022 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ And finally, yet another reminder that this site supports general best-practices optimization questions, they are on topic here. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 11, 2022 at 3:52

2 Answers 2

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Peace, Twilight and Order domains

  • Peace Domain (from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything aka TCE) is a very strong choice due to its Emboldening Bond feature, which works mostly like the Bless spell (+1d4 to attack rolls, saving throws and ability checks, but only for proficiency bonus=2 allies). The impact of the bonus is maximized on low levels as the players have less access to abilities boosting hit or save chances. This ability stacks with Bless and can be used twice per long rest on 1st level, practically doubling your spell slots. However, it is often considered overpowered and, for example, RPGbot optimisation site strongly recommends to ban it.

  • Twilight Domain (also from TCE) is somewhat less overpowered on 1st level. And there is a video claiming it is even more broken than Peace on levels 2+. Another site considers it the best Cleric subclass in 5e. It can give pretty much the whole party 300ft Darkvision for an hour, negating the need for torches and lamps. This makes the party sneakier and less likely to be ambushed. Another 1st level feature is Vigilant Blessing, which gives one ally advantage on initiative checks. Apply this to your wizard and let them cast a control spell like Sleep to trivialize encounters.

  • Order Domain (yes, also from TCE) shines especially well with Rogues in the party. Its 1st level feature is Voice of Authority, which lets an ally attack when you cast a leveled spell on them. As you are interested mostly in buffing your allies, you will trigger this feature quite often. Now, as Rogues get Sneak attack once per turn, not per round, if they can hit with an off-turn attack, they can deal Sneak Attack damage again. So cast Bless and watch your Rogue hit for extra damage.

Honourable mentions go to Forge (XGE, one free +1 armor or weapon) or Trickery (PHB, give an ally Stealth advantage) domains.

Various feats

1st level characters have a very low HP pool, as you noted. These feats provide extra resiliency to the characters.

  • The Healer feat (PHB) gets your downed allies back in the fight with 1 HP when you stabilise them using the healer's kit. You can also heal every ally once per rest for (1d6+4+their max hit dice(1))HP, keeping you alive a whole lot longer.

  • The Inspiring Leader feat (PHB) works similarly, giving temporary HP to up to 6 allies if they listen to a 10-minute speech. Unlike Healer, this may let the characters to stay up after a strong hit, but it cannot get them back up as easily, and CHA is not a main stat for Clerics.

  • Another option is Fighting Initiate (TCE) to pick up a fighting style, either Protection or Interception, but you will have to acquire a martial weapon proficiency through your race, domain or background to fulfill the feat's prerequisite.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any evidence that Emboldening Bond is banned at many tables? A link to another post here or some other site? If not, my opinion, the answer is better off without the statement. It mars an otherwise strong, well-crafted answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Oct 10, 2022 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack: I've seen several claims that the Peace Domain as a whole is wildly overpowered, often referencing the Cleric guide here (which in turn links to a direct argument for banning the whole domain). Twilight is an issue for dips, but Peace contributes to breaking bounded accuracy as a baseline feature (which expands to more and more allies as you level), and adds ridiculous amounts of mobility and damage reduction as you progress. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2022 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger Those are good references. I still suggest the OP (or an enterprising editor), back the statement that it is banned at many tables. I am not disputing that it is or is not, or that it is/is not overpowered; but that as the answer reads now, it is an unsourced assertion and reads like editorial opinion. A simple link changes it from unsourced assertion to helpful reference. The author could even say, "in my experience", thereby bounding the assertion to one person's experience rather than an unsourced omniscient statement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Oct 10, 2022 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ (-1) - Awnser adresses feats selections meant for higher level combo's / builds - or adds in redundant abilities (Healers kits, twiight domain), or tries to shoehorn a second role onto the cleric (Fighting initiate). Does not adress the 1st level environment (or arguably levels 1-3) that low level players have to adress. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11, 2022 at 0:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you come to the conclusion that emboldening bond is maximised at lower levels? General to-hit chance is the same at all levels, saves tend not to come into play much at lower levels, and for skills the chance to hit higher numbers is generally better than the guarantee not to be absolutely terrible. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 12, 2022 at 10:42
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1st Level Clerics typically serve their party best by acting as a tank.

Mechanically, when it comes to very low-level campaigns, the cleric has three jobs: Tanking, Preventing Death, and Secondary Damage Dealer

  • Tanking: You can wear medium / heavy armor, wear a shield and use the dodge action. This combination is more potent than any specific buff or protection spell in your current arsenal, drastically reducing damage from 1-2 enemies per fight.
  • Preventing Death: - Your healing spells (Spare the Dying, anything that cures 1 hit point) - prevents a player loss. Use your short and long rests to restore hit points out of combat, expending spells before resting. If someone is about to die - either press in and finish the fight or grab the still warm body and run. 1st level campaigns are lethal.
  • Secondary Damage - Hit people with your weapon. The best medicine is damage down range. If the monster is dead - it can't deal damage. Inflict Wounds and Guiding Bolt can help out significantly for some much-needed spike damage at 1st and 2nd level.

Arguably everything else at 1st level (your spell list - feats - racial traits) is a matter of utility and flavor that is campaign specific. But as long as you make your armor a priority, keep spare the dying on tap, and memorize 1-2 copies of a damage spell you can keep your party alive long enough to get to the more interesting spells and tools in the clerics kit at higher level.

Let the bard do the buffing at lower level (if ones avalable). The best protection spell you can offer your party is yourself. And if your low on hit points... you are your own healer. If your fighter is about to go down, your standing right next to him. So get up front, channel your inner meat shield, and cast "Protect Party": Dodge Abuse".

Feats

There are only two feats at this level that arguably lose their value at higher levels (in comparison to taking something else or a solid ABI increase).

  • War Caster: Advantage on saving throws to maintain concentration while serving on the front line. It also can save your action economy when doing weapon storage / draws to cast spells with a shield on your arm.

  • Sentinel: Lets you use your reaction to potentially stop enemy movement, keeping your front line dressed and monsters from getting to your back line. It also allows for typically one reaction attack of opportunity per round if the enemy chooses to ignore you for trying to walk around you or attack the fighter your standing next to while taking the dodge action.

In both cases, at higher level the cleric spends less time adjacent to their front-line party members. Things like summons, walls, and control spells become more readily available to bottleneck monsters and protect the backline. If you are not taking this campaign to higher levels they can be worth a pick, but it is more valuable overall to take an ability score increase in wisdom or constitution.

Feat selections after this point is a matter of high-level combinations. The feats you would take at 1st level are very different if you plan on taking them to much higher levels. In either case, my recommendation is to take an ABI, or if your human, a feat you plan on using at higher levels.


Progressing out of 1st and 2nd level:

Pick up Spiritual Weapon upon reaching 3rd level. It synergizes with the Dodge action, allowing you to consistently attack while using bonus actions. Either allowing you to stay very defensive and contribute to damage downrange, or outright doubling your damage output.

About the time you reach 5th level, the difference in HP between you and your fighter / barbarian becomes noticeable - and you want to begin transitioning off the front line and into a mid-line role. Your tank is out front, and you can Lineback whatever gets past the fighter. It's at this point that buffs and other utility spells become more valuable than you standing on the front line.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Spiritual Weapon is a second level spell and not available until 3rd level. That unfortunately makes a lot of your otherwise good answer about playing at first level incorrect. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Oct 11, 2022 at 3:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whoops, that was an oopsie.... is there another good concentration damage dealing spell in 5e that we can plug in there? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11, 2022 at 3:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the catch, I adressed it by moving Spiritual weapon to a footnote in the awnser. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11, 2022 at 3:49

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