Divine magic is a part of Dungeons & Dragons that I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with. Running a cleric in an adventure can be both the most enjoyable and the most frustrating thing, sometimes at the same time.
Clerics have an interesting feature set associated with them. They are the primary healers of the party. They excel in defending against undead creatures. They also have decent capabilities in melee combat.
But it’s their capacity for divine magic that is the most frustrating and awesome characteristic of the class. The cleric has some amazing offensive and general purpose spells. Few things are as satisfying as a well placed Flame Strike spell. And their buff and defensive spells are often the difference between a brutal combat and a survivable one.
Oh Mighty Vending Machine
Unfortunately, during combat the cleric is all too often relegated to the role of healing vending machine. Most rounds they have to devote their energies to healing bursts or converting their other prepared spells into cure spells for the warrior or paladin or bard who are flinging themselves wildly at the enemies.
It can be a frustrating place for a player who wants to have a more active role in combat encounters. You know that if you don’t keep your companions on their feet, they will die. And then you will die.
You want to toss out that Spiritual Weapon, or lay down that Flame Strike. But then the raging barbarian or the paladin get cut down. You feel the need to let loose a Searing Light or a Smite, but your four companions felt the need to stand in a row for the enemy wizard’s Lightning Bolt. And once more you’re relegated to the role of Healing Vending Machine.
What’s A Cleric To Do?
I haven’t done much with 5e yet, but it doesn’t seem to address this basic issue that has been around since the original Basic rules set. It’s a fact that the purveyor of divine magic is a support role. And it seems most players don’t want to be the support.
So here’s what I would propose. Make most of the cleric, paladin and druid’s healing abilities swift actions. This should include healing bursts, channels, “cure” and “heal” spells, lay on hands, and anything similar. This would not include things like neutralize poison, break enchantment, restoration and so forth. Only straight “give my team some hit points back” kind of abilities and spells.
The effect would not, in my opinion, break the balance of the game and would give the healer one free shot per round to heal up one or more team mates (or themselves). That satisfies their support role, while at the same time giving them the chance to make a more hands on contribution each round of combat.
I think it would go a long way towards eliminating the antipathy many feel towards being the cleric of the party.