This is probably my last post on the subject, but my current active character in Dungeons and Dragons Adventurer’s League, a high-elf cleric of the Forge domain who worships Darahl Firecloak, has reached level 8. Our humble play-by-post group has been actively playing for one year, and so I would like to review the Forge cleric as a character class and what has worked best for it (and what didn’t). Obviously, I will still keep playing the character, and maybe reach level 20 for once in my life, but I’ve used him long enough that certain patterns have definitely emerged.
Forge Cleric Theme
Unlike some of the cleric domains in 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, the Forge cleric has a very clear theme: earth, metal and fire.1 Everything in its toolkit is geared toward these three things:
- Many of the extra “domain spells” are fire spells or related to stone: Wall of Fire, Stone Shape, Magic Weapon. These are great since they are spells that clerics normally don’t have access to, yet fit the theme nicely.
- Proficiency in heavy armor. Nature and Life clerics get this too, but as we’ll see it just works better with the Forge cleric, because it can be further enhanced with Blessing of the Forge and other subsequent abilities.
- Resistance, and later immunity, to fire, which is a very handy in the right circumstances.
However, this does include a couple challenges as we’ll see
Because the Forge cleric leans heavy into both elemental magic, and melee combat, it tends to lose out on general clerical abilities. Its channel divinity ability, Artisan of the Forge, is pretty situational, and I have yet to use it even once within an adventure module. The Turn Undead / Destroy Undead abilities are OK, but often end up being slightly underwhelming, and the Forge cleric gets no healing magic or divination magic apart from the standard fare. This means the Forge cleric has the bare minimum abilities as a cleric.
For combat, a cleric, even a Forge cleric, gets only minimal help. Spells like Searing Smite give the Forge cleric power similar to a Paladin, but it still falls behind the martial classes in that it only gets one attack, and not all of the weapon proficiency needed. Thus, an offensive build for a Forge cleric is underwhelming as I learned the hard way. The 8th-level ability Divine Strike helps a little bit by adding extra elemental damage, but you’ll still get more damage per round by falling back on your cleric spells instead.
Finally, and this is a subtle one, the Forge cleric works best with a Wisdom + Strength based build. An elf, which usually relies on Dexterity, has to allocate at least 13 Strength allocate anyway. Without Strength, a Forge cleric can’t use heavy armor, and without heavy armor, certain abilities never get activated. This means that there’s really only one effective way to play a Forge cleric, without too much room to move around.
Things To Optimize a Forge Cleric
First, heavy armor is a must. This lets you gradually increase armor class through Forge cleric abilities.
Second, learn to play a Forge cleric as a tank, not an offensive or support cleric. In early levels, it’s enough to get some chain mail armor, add Blessing of the Forge, and then use concentration spells like Bless to buff up your party members (and yourself). At level 8, using the same basic chain armor I started with,2 a +1 shield, and various Forge cleric abilities, Fenmaer has 21 AC and access to Spirit Guardians, allowing him to just get in the monster’s faces, without taking much damage, while dealing plenty simply by proximity.
Third, lean into your strengths, namely fire and earth magic. For example, a handy feat I took at level 8 was Elemental Adept (fire). This feat doesn’t seem to very impactful, but it does smooth out the damage output from your fire-based attacks, so it increases consistency. Searing Smite can be a frustrating spell if you only hit for 1 damage, but now it hits for slightly more, and ignores resistances. Wall of Fire? It will have more punch from now on which is great when it catches multiple enemies off-guard. I hardly use cleric staples such as Guiding Bolt or Sacred Flame simply because I can do a lot more with fire magic.
Finally, as with all clerics or magic users, make sure to have a least one utility spell, one healing spell, and such handy. Forge clerics aren’t great healers, but they can still heal in a pinch, and divination / detection spells are always useful to have in small quantities. Even you are a melee/tank, you may still be the only salvation the party has, even if you’re not super powerful in that regard.
… and of course, have fun. This elf forge-cleric was an experimental character and not an optimal build but as I learned to make it work, I have had a lot of fun with it.
1 If only there was a cleric theme with earth, wind, and fire. Do you remember the 21st night of September? 😋
2 Blessing of the Forge ability doesn’t work on magic armor or weapons, so if you get a +1 armor, you can’t enchant it anymore. It will end up with the same Armor Class anyway, but just be aware.