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In an upcoming D&D 5e campaign I'm considering playing a life cleric to 10th level with a group of four other players. We haven't been told the campaign we're playing and I don't yet know the other player's choice of characters and classes.

As an interesting role playing experience I'm considering playing a life cleric gnome whose flaw is they have become fed up with everyone asking for the smallest of heals, and abusing their divinities gifts - therefore the character only intends to heal those who they feel really need/deserve it.

I'm proposing a rule that my character will only heal party members who are below 1/2 health (open to change) or in desperate need; however, I do not intend to be enforcing this rule stubbornly and without reason. An example of this role playing from the character will be: "scratched your arm, aye? Shrug it off". This will hopefully prevent the character becoming a walking ambulance.

I'm fairly confident both the DM and fellow players will be accepting of this rule and trait, however, I'm concerned it may cause the character to become under-powered as the campaign progresses. This is because the only other role I can envision a life cleric fulfilling is a tank, and I don't believe a gnome would achieve that very effectively.

I would like to know what paths/roles are available to maintain the character is mechanically potent/useful while maintaining an adverseness to continuous healing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you open to using a different domain, or is Life Cleric a hard requirement? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 26 '18 at 18:38
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A little background, I have only played Clerics that use Healing Word if a PC is at 0 HP. Not at 0? No heals for you. So I know your character concept is viable.

Avoid damage, instead of healing it

A Cleric is well-equipped to fill a number of combat roles. It depends on spell selection, and the concentration game (i.e. what spell should I be concentrating on at this very moment?). Below are some roles you can fill rather than being the "healer"1.

Support

Avoid damage by buffing your allies. A well-placed Protection from X, is an efficient way to spend your spell slots instead of healing. Bless, Shield of Faith, and a whole list of "buff" spells are available to the Cleric pretty early on, so grab those and start mitigating the damage done to your allies.2

Controller

Avoid damage by preventing the opponent from dealing it. You can go about this two ways, you can either:

  1. Debuff your enemies with spells like Blindness/Deafness and Bane. These spells won't prevent the enemy from attacking, but they'll help in them not hitting, which is what really matters.
  2. Divide your enemies and prevent their Actions. When faced with 5 Bugbears, wouldn't you rather face 4 instead? Spells like Command, Hold X, and other "crowd control" spells are invaluable in dividing the number of enemies into more manageable levels, plus you get them at early levels.

1 Which, by the way, is a really inefficient way to spend your spell slots. In DnD, you do not want to act like the healers in World of Warcraft who stand around and heal the tank when he takes damage.
2 For more reading on spell selection, combat roles, and support, I suggest you read: Treantmonk's guide to wizards 5e. It talks about the Wizard class, but as a support role, so the general idea for your character concept is there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ An additional way of preventing damage that would fit in your answer is temporary hp. For example those granted by the inspiring leader feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Umbranus May 18 '17 at 9:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Treantmonk has recently posted a guide for a melee cleric. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 26 '18 at 18:32
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You can still be a powerful caster

The Cleric as a class is still pretty strong. Spells like Guiding Bolt, Spirit Guardians, Inflict Wounds, and Flame Strike are useful damage dealers, and you also have access to a decent range of buffs and debuffs. Honestly, you could probably never cast a healing spell and still manage to be useful to your party.

You can still RP that way without a strict rule

As someone who has played a Life cleric and a healer bard, I almost never heal people who are below 50% HP anyway. In fact, in some encounters, I spend most of my time saving people who just dropped to 0 HP. Depending on your party composition, you might be able to just play "normally" and keep up your character concept.

My main point here is that your RP concept is not mutually exclusive with any ordinary cleric roles. For example, you could deem that although you've retired from healing up to now, your adventuring party is on a quest of such significance that you're willing to dust off your healing spells. Or, you could only heal when your patient is in a worthy combat or in true danger or is hurt in the quest for good; all things that would happen for your party, but not for random NPCs. You could probably even get away with simply being a jerk sometimes and not healing your teammates in order to do something else in combat. For example, you could refuse to heal the sick or wounded in town, if the DM should choose to have an encounter like that.

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Clerics can be great Strikers without healing

The best way to prevent damage is to kill the monsters quickly. If you are using Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, you can even outdamage Fighters.

The cantrips Green Flame Blade and Booming Blade are especially good for classes who use weapons, but without Extra Attack. So Clerics for example.

You have 3 ways to get them:

  1. Be a cleric of the Arcana Domain, this is quite fitting for a gnome
  2. Multiclass to Wizard, Warlock or Sorcerer, for a gnome obviously Wizard is the best option
  3. Feats like Magic Initiate or Spell Sniper

The best thing is, you can do this while maintaining Bless or Spirit Guardians with your concentration.

Suggested build

It will be a bit unusual for a Cleric, but I will give explanation for every unexpexted choice.

You should be using weapons primarily, so Dex (or even Str) as your main stat. You will not be using the Attack action, so Two-Weapon fighting is useless for you. Proper Two-handed weapons can not be used by small races, so your best option is a Spear plus a Shield.
In the first line it is hard to maintain concentraiton, so Con should be your second, being a Rock gnome helps here.
Wisdom is only your third most important ability. Bless is one of the best spells in the game, and Wisdom is irrelevant for it. Spirit Guardians is a very good option for a Cleric who goes for DPR, and as it does half damage even on a save, it does not care about Wisdom that much.

Abilities on 1st level (Forest Gnome):

Str: 8
Dex: 15+1
Con: 14
Int: 10+2
Wis: 14
Cha: 10

Ability Score Improvements:

  • Level 4: Dex +2
  • Level 8: Dex +2

Domain: Arcana
I prefer Green-Flame Blade over Booming Blade, it is much more common and predictable that an enemy is adjacent to your target, than that your target moves.

Multiclassing:
If this is an option, keep 8 levels of Cleric for the ASIs, and Divine Strike/Potent Spellcasting. Change domain to War for the Martial Weapons proficiency and Guided Strike. Decrease Cha by 2, and add it to Int, to enable multiclassing to Wizard.
Both the Abjuration and Divination scholls have very useful abilities on 2nd level.


Healing is not like it was

In 5e, everyone can heal himself after a short rest.

Also, casting a healing spell as an action is very bad resource management anyway; if you heal, you do not hurt the opponents, you just postpone losing, but do not add anything to winning.
Using your bonus action (Healing Word) to raise fallen comrades is more beneficial, while thematically fitting.

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