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Cleric Subclass: Spirit Domain

You have long been gifted with an awareness of the spirits around you and found yourself contacted by a particular spirit that has since bound itself to you. This will generally be the spirit of an ancestor keen to watch over the family bloodline but may also be the spirit of someone who you were close to before they passed away.

Domain Spells

1st-level Spirit Domain feature

You gain domain spells at the cleric levels listed in the Spirit Domain Spells table. See the Divine Domain class feature in the Player’s Handbook for how domain spells work.

Ancestral Spirits Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st comprehend languages, dissonant whispers
3rd augury, healing spirit
5th clairvoyance, spirit guardians
7th divination, guardian of faith
9th commune, skill empowerment

DESIGN NOTES: Tried for a mix of utility and combat spells relating to either summoning spirits or spiritual energy of some form, and divination spells that can be flavoured as "asking the spirits".

Spirit Guide

1st-level Spirit Domain feature

You are accompanied, or possibly haunted, by an ancestral spirit. The spirit exists on the ethereal plane, though you can see and hear it normally. It is not perceptible to other creatures unless they are on the ethereal plane themselves or have the ability to see into the ethereal plane. The spirit cannot ordinarily interact with the material plane except where noted below in your other subclass features..

The spirit has the statistics of a specter, but if destroyed on the ethereal plane it is merely banished temporarily. You may recall it with a ritual that takes one minute to perform, or else it will return after you complete a short or long rest. While banished you may not use your Spiritual Aid or Manifest Spirit features.

Spiritual Aid: When you or an ally you can see within 30 feet misses an attack roll or fails a saving throw, you may use your reaction to allow your spirit guide to briefly manifest and lend aid. Roll 1d4 and add the result to the failed attack roll or saving throw, potentially turning a failure into a success. You may use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus and regain all uses on completing a long rest.

DESIGN NOTES: The existence of your bound spirit. This is mainly just setting the stage for your primary 6th level feature but adds a useful ability to request aid. I like the idea that this is some kind of ancestor spirit haunting you. Like Auntie Gertrude. She just appeared one day and won't go away.

The Ties that Bind

1st-level Spirit Domain feature

You may spend an action to examine an undead creature and make a Wisdom (Insight) check against a DC equal to 10 + the creature's CR. If successful you gain general knowledge of how and why the creature rose as an undead and what still binds it to the mortal realm. You do not gain information on specific people or places but would be able to determine, for example, that a revenant arose to take revenge on the one that murdered its siblings, or that a ghost cannot rest until its mortal remains have been given a proper burial.

You also have advantage on any Charisma-based skill checks and on Wisdom (Insight) checks against any creature that you successfully examined.

This feature may only be attempted once in a 24 hour period against a given undead creature.

DESIGN NOTES: More of a ribbon ability. Its pretty situational but I wanted to throw in something thematic

Channel Divinity: Ghost Step

2nd-level Spirit Domain feature

You can use your Channel Divinity to partially shift into the ethereal plane.

As a reaction, when you take damage, you may expend a use of your Channel Divinity and become partially ethereal. You gain resistance to all damage except force damage (including the damage from the triggering attack if applicable) and may then move up to half your speed. The damage resistance lasts until the end of your movement.

DESIGN NOTES: A channel divinity ability that allows you to exhibit some ghostly abilities yourself. Or maybe Auntie Gertrude is pulling you out of danger

Manifest Spirit

6th-level Spirit Domain feature

You may use an action to summon your spirit guide, causing it to manifest in the material plane.

You may use this feature once without expending a spell slot and regain the ability to so on completing a long rest. When used in this way the spirit is manifested with a "spirit level" equal to the highest level spell you can cast. You may also expend a spell slot of 2nd level or higher to manifest the spirit, in which case the spirit is summoned with a "spirit level" equal to the level of the expended spell slot.

This "spirit level" is a measure of the strength and power of the spirit once manifested. Anywhere below that says "spirit level", substitute in the value noted above (e.g. if you manifest your spirit with a 3rd level spell slot, the "spirit level" will be 3 anywhere that it says "spirit level" below).

The spirit lasts for as long as you maintain concentration (as though concentrating on a spell) up to 10 minutes, after which it returns to the ethereal plane.

The summoned spirit manifests in an unoccupied space you can see within 30 feet. It uses the statistics of a spectre but with the following changes and additions:

  • When it manifests it gains temporary hit points equal to your cleric level plus twice its "spirit level".
  • Its attack roll is equal to your spell attack roll
  • Its damage rolls deal additional necrotic damage equal its "spirit level".

It acts on your initiative immediately after your turn. You may use a bonus action to command it, otherwise it will use only the dodge action and move to avoid danger. If destroyed while manifested, your spirit guide is temporarily banished and must be recalled before you can use this feature again (see the Spirit Guide feature for how your spirit guide can be recalled).

DESIGN NOTES: I see this as the Spirit Domain's "primary" power. Your spirit manifests as a Spectre. Not sure if a spectre is too strong? I see the concentration requirement as the balancing factor here (it would feel way too strong without it). But maybe would be better to add a stat block instead of using the spectre - and make it weaker so could drop the concentration requirement? This is where Auntie Gertrude shows up 'in person' and starts whacking your enemies with a frying pan shouting "leave my nephew alone!"

Divine Strike

8th-level Spirit Domain feature

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

DESIGN NOTES: This seems pretty standard, though wonder if it wouldn't be too unusual to do something different and more thematic (and less melee-oriented) for 8th level?

Channel Ancestral Spirits

17th-level Spirit Domain feature

When you gain this feature at 17th level, you may select the following:

  • Any two spells of 6th level or lower from the Wizard spell list.
  • Any fighting style available to the Fighter class.
  • Any two skills or tools. The skills must come from the following list: Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth

Each time you gain a level you may change any or all of the above selections.

Channel Spirits of the Ancestors: Once per long rest you may, as an action, channel the spirits of renowned ancestors, who possess your body and lend their power and expertise. The effect lasts for one minute. When you use this feature, choose from Archmage, Renowned Warrior or Master Thief. You gain the following abilities depending on your choice:

Archmage: You may cast the spells chosen when you gained this feature, expending spell slots as normal. They count as cleric spells for you. When these spells are cast you gain a +1 to your spell attack roll and +1 to your spell save DC.

Renowned Warrior: When you use the Attack action on your turn you may make another attack as part of the same action. You also gain the benefits of the fighting style chosen when you gained this feature.

Master Thief: You gain proficiency in the skills or tools chosen when you gained this feature. If you already have proficiency in any of the skills or tools then you gain expertise instead. In addition, once per turn you deal an extra 3d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll or if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it and that enemy isn't incapacitated and you don't have disadvantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or ranged weapon.

For as long as this feature lasts you may use a bonus action to change the ancestral spirit that you are channelling.

*DESIGN NOTES: I like the idea of all these ancestral spirits hanging around you, fighting for their chance to slip in to your body and sow some mayhem *

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is interesting and well written. A couple of comments on improving the question. It is not immediately obvious this is a cleric subclass, although the clues are there. Maybe says specifically at the top. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Spirit level The "spirit level" is not clear (at least to me). There are 4 instances of the term, all in quotes. First of all, the quotes are confusing. Second of all, it takes a close reading to understand what "spirit level" is. Communication You might clarify if you can talk to your spirit, and if there is any mechanical advantage. Can it look around the corner for you? Damage The necrotic damage seems a bit jarring. You might consider allowing radiant as an alternative, for a guardian angel type feel? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a thematic reason it goes from good old auntie protecting you to suddenly being able the channel the spirits of ancient mages? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 28 at 12:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jack. Good point! Added that this is a cleric subclass. I've tried to reword the Manifest Spirit ability to make it more clear what I mean by spirit level. Any better? I didn't intend the spirit to act as a scout while on the Ethereal - I need to think about this! As for the necrotic damage...its thematic for a class that effectively summons an undead but I admit I'm unsure about the entire Divine Strikes feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Commented Apr 28 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri This is a class that's generally about summoning and contacting spirits, hence the domain spell list. The fact that the 6th level ability is about summoning a specific spirit is more flavour than anything else. \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Commented Apr 28 at 12:53

2 Answers 2

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This seems generally good. The Manifest Spirit ability is a bit difficult to measure, because there are a lot of numbers moving around.

I would suggest that you compare this power to existing summon spells -- in particular summon shadowspawn which is a third-level spell that summons a spectre-like creature that grows more powerful if higher-level spell slots are used. I think the power scaling on summon shadowspawn is higher than on your homebrew ability, and I think the higher scaling is better. If you offered this to players as-is, I think you'd get a complaint that would sound like: "you've offered me this homebrew custom spell which is significantly weaker than existing spells like summon shadowspawn."

(There are other summon spells which work similarly, for example the druid staple summon beast. Most of them seem to have been introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.)

You could replace that whole Manifest Spirit ability with: "You add summon shadowspawn to your list of prepared spells and you can cast it for free once per long rest, without needing the material component." You probably will prefer to add some homebrew tweaks and retheming but I think that would be at least a good starting point.

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I really like the theme, but overall it seems underwhelming, compared to existing divine domains.

If I were considering playing it, I would need to work with the DM a bit to understand how it might play out. I might want to come up with a character concept and work with the DM to maybe adjust some of the features.

Thematically, it seems split between "guardian angel", and "undead monster on tap". I think it might be better either one or the other, or offering a choice. If "guardian angel", the specter seems a bit grim and necrotic damage seems off-theme. If "undead monster on tap", then maybe the domain spells aren't dark enough, and the Channel Spirits is a bit left-field.

It's complicated enough that play-testing in a one-shot or playtesting scenario would surely be really useful.

I am currently playing a cleric with a homebrew domain. I was hesitant, because in some ways the domain is underpowered, but I crafted a character that I really like, and the homebrew domain fits it well. Also, the DM has been very willing to work with me on minor adjustments, and was agreeable that I could switch if it just didn't work out. That is where you're most likely going to get appeal, I think; a player who sees a concept they like in the subclass, and who works with you to realize it. In that sense, you've potentially got a winner.

See additional comments below.

Domain Spells

Compared to the Life Domain, the Spirit Domain's spells are a bit meh? Healing spirit is an interesting addition, and thematically on point, since it is not normally available to clerics, but how useful is it really? Augury, divination, and commune put a certain burden on the DM. If you're willing to make them useful to the player, then that makes the list a little more interesting.

Spirit Guide

I really like the theme. The trope of spiritual companion seems like it could be a lot of fun.

However, looking at it as if I were considering it for play, it's hard to understand what good the spirit is, moment to moment. It's always on, but . . . why? Can I talk to it? Can it scout for me? How far on the ethereal can it go? Consider comparing to the Order of Scribe's Manifest Mind, which has some similarities, and is well defined.

Manifest Spirit is underwhelming, primarily because the specter, even with your changes and additions, it's hard to see how the specter will scale. At 10th level, it will have 22 HP, plus 15 temp HP, and an AC of 12. Although the Life Drain feature isn't bad, overall the specter just isn't better than all the other choices that the cleric can spend an action, a bonus action, and concentration on.

Divine Strike

Seems pretty solid. I think moving away from melee enhancement (as you consider in the design notes), might be a mistake. Some clerics are built as partial or supporting martials, and really rely on a feature like this.

Channel Spirits

Interesting. But only being able to use it once a day seems underwhelming. At only once a day, I don't see it as on par with most divine domains' 17th level features.

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