This is my first time GMing, and I'm trying to get a small group going with 5E, but it seems no one has much interest in playing Cleric or Paladin.

Among the many new-found freedoms granted by 5E, can a party be effective without either of these?

The session I'm running is a one-shot 'intro,' so I guess I could reduce the challenge rating. The following week, however, another buddy is GMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen--can a party succeed without either of these classes (no spoilers, please)?


12 Answers 12


In the several years since 5E has been out, I've played at a lot of tables which often do not have a cleric — or any dedicated healer. From this, I think that you really want the healing role covered, but it doesn't have to be by a cleric or paladin.

Without healing magic, fights are a lot more dangerous, and bad luck can really compound without any possibility of correction. A party without any recourse to combat healing needs to be a lot more careful — and, meta-game, the DM needs to be a lot more careful to not kill the whole party with a middle-difficulty encounter.

As Joshua Aslan Smith notes in his answer, potions can help, but aren't really sufficient. But I disagree about other classes and abilities.

First, let's look at the healing power that the cleric class provides. A generic cleric actually gets nothing special here outside of spells — there aren't any healing features except for those from domains. And in fact, they are only from the Life domain. I'm going to go ahead and assume that the answer to this question isn't "every party not only needs a cleric, but they need a Life cleric"; that is, these extra features are indeed above-and-beyond.

So, that leaves the spells. And, obviously, clerics get a lot of good ones. The thing is, many powerful healing spells aren't cleric exclusives. A few options like 9th-level Mass Heal are reserved, or 2nd-level Prayer of Healing or 3rd-level Mass Healing Word, but the healing basics aren't:

  • Cure Wounds: bard, cleric, druid, paladin, ranger
  • Healing Word: bard, cleric, druid
  • Lesser Restoration: bard, cleric, druid, paladin, ranger
  • Greater Restoration: bard, cleric, druid
  • Mass Cure Wounds: bard, cleric, druid
  • Raise Dead: bard, cleric, paladin (and druids get reincarnate)
  • Heal: cleric, druid
  • Regenerate: bard, cleric, druid
  • Resurrection: bard, cleric
  • True resurrection: cleric, druid

Bard and druid get the same number of spell slots as cleric. Paladins have fewer spell slots overall, none at first level, and no high-level spells. They do have the Lay on Hands class feature, which is nice, but I don't think makes up for it — if you don't have a cleric, a bard or druid with a healing bent is probably better at it than a paladin. A circle-of-the-land druid can even regain some spell slots during a short rest. And bards have the "Song of Rest" feature, making short rests more effective, plus they have an exclusive 9th-level Power Word Heal, plus the "Magical Secrets" feature allows them to actually learn those exclusive cleric spells after all — choose the College of Lore to start getting those at 6th bard level. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a bard with a healing focus is likely to be a better "party medic" than a cleric who takes a non-healing path.

If you're using the Xanathar's Guide option, the case for non-cleric healers becomes even stronger. For druids, both the Circle of Dreams and the Circle of the Shepherd paths have significant added healing power. Xanathar's also adds the 2nd-level Healing Spirit spell for Druids and Rangers; this is concentration-based spell lasting up to a minute which restores 1d6 hit points to every creature in a space. That's potentially 10d6 hit points to each creature who can move through the space, which is amazing for a 2nd-level spell. (And it adds more d6s if you cast it at higher levels.) Healing-focused druids using these options are also better party healers than non-Life clerics, and at arguably on par with Life clerics too.

And, also with Xanathar's, sorcerers and warlocks both get healer-role options in Divine Soul and Celestial patron respectively. Divine Soul opens up the cleric class list and adds a minor healing-focused ability at 6th level. Metamagic makes a healing-focused sorcerer incredibly potent. The Celestial patron gives access to Cure Wounds and Lesser and Greater Restoration, along with a 1st-level healing power. Since warlocks have fewer spell slots, this is generally a less-powerful option, but that balance might change if your game tends to have long adventuring days with several short rests.

For any class, taking the Healer feat (for anyone in the party) adds a bit more healing, and that's never bad, but if you do have some sort of spellcaster focusing on healing already, I don't think it's necessary. But, if building a cleric-free party, take a look at the Acolyte background, which includes the "Shelter of the Faithful" feature — you can count on free care at temple or shrine of your faith. That's particularly good for getting rid of curses — or party deaths.

Overall, clerics shine when it comes to fighting undead, but aren't necessarily the strongest choice if you want a dedicated healer in the party. And, having such a "medic" party member really helps, although it's completely possible to go through a campaign and have a lot of fun without one.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer could be updated now that there has been time to play. You could also mention that with Adventures League each session begins with a fully healed/rested group. So, Healers in 5e are a lot less crucial than previous editions. \$\endgroup\$
    – LeHill
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LeHill That seems more like an AL quirk than really an edition-specific thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 18:55

Yes, a D&D party can function just fine without a dedicated healer.

I've played D&D in various forms for the better part of two decades, from 2nd edition, to third, to a high variety of d20-sytem / OGL variants, and not once has the absence of a healer rendered a party unable to adventure. And this was in systems prior to 4th, which sped up the "natural" healing available to non magic-users from a paltry 2 hp per day to a considerably quicker pace.

In 5th edition, where all characters can spend hit dice over a short rest to gain HP and characters get all HP back after a long rest, not having a healer will, at worst, formalize the same "camp after a tough battle" strategy which most D&D campaigns employ.

You may need to adjust a published adventure which was written with the assumption of a dedicated healer, but this would be true as well if you lacked an armored fighter, arcane spellcaster, or someone proficient in lockpicks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @DougM! Fair points, though I definitely don't want to formalise camping after every tough battle--I think it doesn't encourage judicious use of resources, which, in my opinion, is part of the adventuring challenge. \$\endgroup\$
    – Khashir
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 22:49

Things don't really work all that well without a dedicated healer. But there are some things you can do to work around it.

  • The first and most obvious would be to provide plentiful healing potions. Your heroes should be able to find, and purchase, these fairly easily (maybe even at a reduced price, make up a story reason if you need one). For the first few levels, healing potions make a huge difference in whether your party can stay up or is flat on it's back.

  • Second, you could make sure one of your party members is a caster from a class who gets Cure Wounds. It doesn't have the kind of punch as you level up, but it's a solid spell that does scale with your casting level. Druid, Bard and Ranger get this one.

  • Make sure someone is trained in medicine and that they have a healer's kit. This can restore some vital HP as well, and they can make those checks to get flattened party memebers back up and running.

  • Have one or more fighters in the party. This is the only class that gets reliable self healing per short rest.

  • Give the average of HD when they spend them to heal. Or at least the option to take the average rather than rolling.

  • Take lots of breaks. Unlike a typical 5e party who might short rest every other or even every third encounter, this group is likely to need more breaks (both short and long).

  • Suggest someone take at least 1 level of cleric. This gets you access to some nice toys (including some great L1 healing spells), and if you aren't going to 20 comes with very little in the way of consequences.

Two more bits of advice on the DM side. First, start your characters at L2, if you don't have a dedicated healer, this can resolve a few of the yo-yo issues that can sometimes plague a 1st level party. The second is to reduce the damage output of your monsters. I've played around a little bit and I feel like taking the minimum of their damage rolls is too much, so maybe have each die roll be 2, or something along that line (but less than the average if you're using flat damage).

The best advice I can give is to start at L2 and ask one of your players to take a level of cleric. They don't have to go full cleric, just enough that they can get a few heals off a day and keep the party standing for tough fights. This is nearly all you really need to keep a party going (at low levels at least, we'll see what higher level play brings).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 15:47

I was part of a party which had no healing abilities at all aside from the fighter's second wind and the ranger who never used his abilities once. Before that he'd played the worst life cleric you've ever seen, until the DM told him to switch to something he'd actually enjoy.

The party comprised a barbarian, a fighter, an evocation wizard, a dwarven illusionist/utility wizard in scale mail (me) and the ranger (who generally sucked).

It was the greatest campaign we'd ever played. We'd sit there, poring over the map, examining trap locations, possible entrances and alternative options. We always went in with a plan (except the ranger), hit hard, fast and reliably came out on top. Going on was always a gamble, but we became very good at judging our chances and planning accordingly. Sometimes we'd even trap the bad guys in their own lair to get a long rest, then sneak in the side entrance when we were all healed up. This being despite the fact the bad guys had been watching us all night.

I found uses for all my spells, even the ones I'd chosen when I didn't know what I was doing, and found ways to get even more creative.

The DM found it both pleasing and infuriating. Frankly, I think you should never have a dedicated healer and if you're party is skilled enough you can really avoid it altogether. Heck, if your party isn't skilled enough, it soon will be.

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    – BESW
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 9:09

In 5e the only thing a cleric or other class with healing spells grants the party is a method of in combat healing that is slightly more efficient than shoving a healing potion down your companions throat when they hit 0 hp.

The best thing a party can do to increase their survival rate in 5e is increase their options for damage and crowd control. Having the ability to put enemies down fast or lock them out combat as the party chews their way through an encounter is much more advantageous than regaining a tiny amount of HP. Preventing damage > Recovering it.

The only healing spells that really shine in combat are healing word and maybe mass healing word. These are only to be used when a party member hits 0 hp. It costs the caster a bonus action and generates a whole turn for another player. But these are far from necessary.

Also a party designed around not being detected to almost ensure a surprise round can often clear the field without taking any damage.

I play in two campaigns right now. One I play a War domain cleric, paired with an evocation wizard and sword and board fighter. The other I play a totemic barbarian grappler paired with a halfling crossbow expert fighter and blade-lock. I have cast exactly two in-combat heals with the cleric going from level 1 to 9; And the barbarian is alive an well at level 8 having faced a dragon, an efreeti, a massive demonic bear, a boat load of pirates, and some giant bumble bees among others without a dedicated healer.


In my experience it is possible
For example my party didn't consist of a cleric or paladin:
We had some troubles but we made it through most of the time. People went down but that happened mostly at a point when the battle was almost over. We made it to lvl 4 without anyone dying. Than the druid died but a cleric wouldn't have had time to heal him, we were overwhelmed and we had to flee, even with a cleric or paladin it wouldn't have made a difference.

Here are some workarounds without a dedicated healer:

  1. Stock on healing potions
  2. Bring medkits
  3. Have no dedicated healer but have 1 or more characters with a healing spell
  4. Have the luck of the dice on your side or a very friendly DM

My party played Hoard of the Dragon Queen without a Cleric or a Paladin and did very well. Our party consisted of a Druid, a Rogue, a Warlock, a Sorcerer and a Barbarian. The Druid was the main healer but the Barbarian always had healing potions with her.

When we started and our Cleric was leaving just prior to Hoard of the Dragon Queen I put up a question about healing options with a cleric. The Inspiring Leader feat is quite useful. Healing options for non magic users. The Barbarian also had a Healing Kit but I don't she used it more than once or twice.

We actually went on to play Rise of Tiamat and with a party of five level sixteen heros managed to kill her with only one member of the party dying, and we had a potion to bring him back to life.


Taking no damage is better than healing damage

One of my favorite introductory guides is Treantmonk's guide for God Wizards. He makes two statements about dedicated healers which fit amazingly here. First, out of combat, he talks about the healbot character.

Healbot: Can the wizard fill this role? Not really, but don't worry, you don't want it. The party Gimp gets to use up all his resources "servicing" the party between combats. Sound pleasant? That's why he's the gimp. In reality, this role is optional in 5e. With short rests and any number of healing abilities, you should get along fine without.

I would note that most adventures also grant the party a good amount of Healing Potions and gold, which can be used to... buy more healing potions.

Then, he makes an even stronger statement about healing in combat. In a role called "Waste of Space" (yup), he states

The Waste of Space is the guy who thought that a low Charisma Warlock made an excellent "character concept", or maybe he figures that a dedicated healer is an appropriate contributor to a combat environment.

The explanation follows:

There are two ways you can live your "pretend" life - "reactively" or "proactively". The God Wizard will alter reality to prevent damage, a healer will try to do "damage control" (pun intended) after the damage has been taken. Simple truth: The mechanics of the game make preventing damage more efficient than healing damage after the fact.

Now, adding my experience to his text: I have played two tables without a Healbot and also without a Waste of Space (:P) - both went quite fine. On the other hand, a table I'm DM'ing with a Life Cleric has been suffering a lot in Lost Mine of Phandelver - the party spends more time unconscious than actually fighting, and I am being nice to them. Really.

In the tables without healbots, I was playing a Wizard quite similar to Treantmonk's concept. Truth is: hitting the Fighter with 19 AC while in disadvantage is hard. At higher levels, I really don't care if my Fighter which was Polymorphed into a Giant Ape is taking damage - he has essentially 157 temporary hits points added to his pool, and that's a lot more than most healing spells would provide, even if these temporary hit points come with a lowish AC (12), although the two attacks with +9 to hit with 3d10+6 damage kinda makes up for that.

One friend of mine also played a Sorcerer in a similar table and had good results. It seems Twinned Spell Haste and later Twinned Spell Polymorph into Giant Ape is quite strong.

Sure, these are limited resources, but so are healing spells and features.

Other ways of preventing damage are the Ancestral Guardian Barbarian giving disadvantages to attacks made against enemies it hits (Funny barbarian concept here: How viable is this Support Dex-based Barbarian?) or a Sentinel Polearm Fighter not allowing the enemy to even get close. Either way, most parties are able to get features that allow you to prevent damage or mitigate it, which is more efficient than healing. Then you can heal between combats with potions of healing and short rests.

Note: this does require some level of tactical playing and optimal building of characters, while playing with a dedicated healer allows the party to play more loosely. But the answer to the question is: Yes, it can, and it can be even more effective than a party with a dedicated healer.


My experience with the Starter Set says no

None of the other magic user classes seem to have viable in-combat healing spells or abilities and that is where it is most important to have healing.

Potions of healing only heal 2d4+2 HP, take an action to drink, and cost 50GP each. This is assuming that in your adventure/setting you able to buy as many as you will need. If you are merely relying on potions found as loot to sustain the party then you will face a high probability of a party wipe during an encounter.

Even if the other magic users could cast cure wounds or the like, it would still be risky because they have much lower AC whereas a cleric or paladin spending their action to heal is less likely to take a hit resulting in a net HP gain vs. the monster HP over the course of the fight.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Drinking a potion usually requires an action. See any potion description. Also, there is no such thing as a free action in 5e. You're probably referring to the free object interaction, which is not an action type. It's a subtle difference, but it occasionally matters. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 22:06

Anecdotal: In a one shot campaign, starting at level 3, the party I was involved in was successful without a dedicated healer. However, the composition of the party was 'tweaked' to support this during round zero.

  • Heavy Armored Eldritch Knight (STR) with Shield (spell) to tank.
  • Medium Armored Champion (DEX) Defensive Duelist bearing a shield and rapier.
  • Pact of the Tome, GoO, Warlock with "Spare the Dying" via Familiar
  • Wild Magic Sorcerer
  • Bard, from the College of Lore, with Cure Wounds, Bane and Healer Feat.

The combination of heavy damage prevention, effects that could lower attack roles, self heals, and a quick pick up, well suited us for working without a true healer.

It can be done, if the rest of the party is situated around doing so, and approaches fights strategically. 4 Leroy Jenkins are running to their grave.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wait, how is that Bard not a dedicated Healer? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 9:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer-Because most of his time was spent stabbing things or exercising a controlling affect on the combat space. Half a Healer is just that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 15:11

There’s plenty of classes that can heal other than the cleric and paladin. Rangers and druid have access to Cure Wounds for example. A dedicated healer isn’t needed, just the ability to throw out an emergency heal is likely enough.

I would argue however that you don’t need a healer at all. I’m currently DMing a party that uses warlock shenanigans to handle in combat healing, but they rarely need it. You can easily get by on short rests and the use of hit dice. This is made easier if you use allow for UA feats and someone takes medic. Having a bard around helps too. Add inspiring leader on top of that you have a healthy buffer of temp HP to protect them, and that only needs 10 minutes after a fight, not even a short rest.

Of course all of this is dependent on if your DM lets you rest enough. If he often throws enemies at you when you attempt to short rest, then the need of heal capable party members rises.


Clerics aren't required because you can't typically fight the HP drain of combat with healing spells, even with one, unless your DM's softballing the party. Healing spells definitely can't deal with the party getting hit by high-level AOE's. A 1d4+5 Mass Healing Word won't compete with an 8D6 (28 avg) fireball for hitpoints, even though they are both level 3 spells. Not even a level 3 3d8+5 Cure Wounds spell can (only 18.5 avg).

5e epitomizes the principle of "A good offense, Period." I have trouble looking at a Divine Soul Sorcerer seriously because of this, since they give up some pretty powerful options for a short list of some of the weakest (heals), most financially expensive (revives), and/or circumstantial effects (restorations).


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