A friend and I (we both DM for each other occasionally) are having a discussion about where the increases in power of divine (cleric and paladin) and psuedo-divine (warlock) classes comes from at level ups.

I'm under the impression that these classes are chosen by the gods (or their patron), and granted immense power early, but must learn to harness it as they grow. Levels happen to be discrete times when the mechanics of character growth match up with the "learned" abilities of the caster. From the cleric section of the PHB:

A cleric might learn formulaic prayers and ancient rites, but the ability to cast cleric spells relies on devotion and an intuitive sense of a deity's wishes (PHB 56)

This to me, reads as if a cleric's power grows as his devotion grows, and that devotion is denoted in-game as discrete levels.

To him, these classes are granted additional power by their gods at each level up. Their god (or patron) takes favor to them, and bestows greater powers upon them as needed. He quotes:

The gods don't grant this power to everyone who seeks it, but only to those chosen to fulfill a higher calling. (PHB 56)

This seems to show that the powers and their use is governed by the gods, and not the cleric's own power in any respect.

Both of these passages seem a bit ambiguous, and could be interpreted in ways that support either arguement. Is there any additional evidence in any official source that reveals where the powers granted to these classes comes from at each level up?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that "level up" is primarily a game mechanics concept, there is no levels in the game world itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 8:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Was there an edition of the game (or another rpg) that you played where it was this granular, where it was spelled out as either / or that informs this question? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 11:46

3 Answers 3


It can be both

There is no reason these explanations must be mutually exclusive. Since there are places in the PHB supporting both of them, both can be true. Some powers are granted, and some are harnessed by the hero him/herself.

From the Warlock description, PHB p. 107 (emphasis mine):

... your otherworldly patron bestows a gift upon you for your loyal service. You gain one of the following features...

the same page:

In your study of occult lore, you have unearthed eldritch invocations, fragments of forbidden knowledge that imbue you with an abiding magical ability

From the Cleric description, PHB p. 59:

As a cleric, you choose one aspect of your deity’s portfolio to emphasize, and you are granted powers related to that domain.

p. 58:

you gain the ability to channel divine energy directly from your deity, using that energy to fuel magical effects


Both and neither

It's the same form of question you get when you look at other classes. Does the Barbarian get stronger because he's literally stronger? If so, why does Experience matter?

It's clear that, in DND 5e, all characters are actually gaining power through mastery of techniques. These techniques afford them greater mastery of powers, but it is these techniques that make them unique, not an ineffable "power".

As one proof, even the magic items which permanently increase Strength are exercise books (or they set the stat to a specific value instead). It's clear that what makes the character exceptional is, even for purely martial classes, knowledge and training.

Hence, its both the character gaining power themselves, by learning something new, and characters becoming closer to their God or Patron-because that's what they learned.

DND is and always has been a nerds game, so to speak, and knowledge is power.


All power ultimately comes from the DM

I know that in 3.5 there was a section in either the PHB or the DMG that explicitly stated that the DM is the final arbiter of game mechanics.
This is covered in the 5e DMG on pages 3 and 4, under the headings of "Master of Worlds" and "Master of Rules."

This discretion extends to the reasons behind the mechanics as well.

  • If you think divine characters uncover power themselves, then in your world, they do.
  • If your friend thinks the deities gradually send more power through the firehose, then in his world they do.
  • If one of you thinks it works differently for different classes, or characters, or feats or abilities, then it does.
  • If you decide that you want to create a world where the ultimate reason is that all the characters are just numbers on a page, and you have something clever you want to do with that - or any other random tweak you want to play in a one-off - then, by golly, roll (3d6) with it!

None of these particularly impact gameplay unless you decide they do. For game balance issues, it's probably best not to have them change gameplay too much without seriously considering what you're doing. But for explanations behind the gameplay? Feel free to pull the explanations out of whatever body part happens to be handy. Brain. I mean brain.

Yeah, I suppose this should go without saying, but - sometimes it seems like it should be said anyway, just to remind you that there are certain things that the creators of D&D didn't want to decide for the DM.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Back that assertion up with source material to make this a reasonable and on-topic answer. If it "goes without saying", show why you think so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Beanluc
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Beanluc: I'm not sure I understand your criticism. Is it not common knowledge that the DM is the final arbiter of what is and is not valid in a game? Do you need me to find one of the original statements in the PHB to show that the they did indeed say that he is? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevortni
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Support for the point added from the DMG. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 11:40

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