How to Build the Best Death Domain Cleric in D&D 5e

Published on December 27, 2023, Last modified on January 12th, 2024

Death Domain clerics in D&D 5e focus on dealing damage to enemies with melee weapons and necrotic damage instead of buffing and healing allies.

Arcane Eye may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn more.
Quick Links

Death Domain Clerics in D&D

Death Domain clerics tread the realm where the lines between life and death blur under the watchful eyes of deities like Chemosh, Myrkul, and Wee Jas. This domain isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s the playground of necromancers, death knights, liches, mummy lords, and vampires.

So, if you’re ready to embrace the macabre and wield power from beyond the veil, let’s delve into building a Death Domain cleric.

The Philosophy of Death Domain Clerics

Death Domain clerics are not your typical holy warriors. These clerics serve deities associated with death, such as Kelemvor, the god of the dead, or Myrkul, the lord of bones.

Their connection with death allows them to manipulate necrotic energies and negative forces, making them deadly in battle.

Deities for Death Domain Clerics

The gods of the Death Domain are a diverse bunch, encompassing aspects of murder (think Anubis and Bhaal), pain (Iuz and Loviatar), disease or poison (Incabulos, Talona, Morgion), and the chilling depths of the underworld (Hades and Hel).

Key Features of the Death Domain in 5e

Vito of the Dusk Thorn Rose from Magic: The Gathering by Lie Setiawan

Death Domain clerics in D&D 5e focus on dealing damage to enemies with melee weapons and necrotic damage instead of buffing and healing allies.

1st Level

Death Domain Spells

  • 1st Level: False life, ray of sickness
  • 3rd Level: Blindness/deafness, ray of enfeeblement
  • 5th Level: Animate dead, vampiric touch
  • 7th Level: Blight, death ward
  • 9th Level: Antilife shell, cloudkill

Most of these spells are necromantic staples, but there are some spells from other schools that play into the death/necromancy theme.

These spells are added to your cleric spell list, so you can prepare whatever necromantic spells you think you’ll need for the day’s adventuring:

Bonus Proficiency

When the cleric chooses this domain at 1st level, he or she gains proficiency with martial weapons.

Right from the start at 1st level, you gain proficiency with martial weapons, allowing you to choose more potent weapons if you’re planning a martial spellcaster build.

Seeing as clerics only get medium armor, I’d suggest a rapier and shield combo, so you can stack into Dexterity for AC, attacks, damage, and potentially Stealth.

Reaper

You learn a necromancy cantrip of your choice from any spell list. When you cast a necromancy cantrip that normally targets only one creature, you can make it target two creatures within range and 5 feet of each other.

Out of your choices from chill touch, toll the dead, and spare the dying, only chill touch isn’t on the cleric list, so this is definitely the pickup here.

That said, toll the dead is going to be your most potent option to double with this ability because it can potentially deal out 1d12 damage to two opponents.

2nd Level

Channel Divinity: Touch of Death

Starting at 2nd level, you can use Channel Divinity to deliver a devastating touch of necrotic energy. When you hit a creature with a melee attack, you can deal extra necrotic damage equal to 5 + twice your cleric level.

This combines well with your martial weapon proficiencies and, eventually, when you get vampiric touch at 3rd level through your domain spells.

6th Level

Inescapable Destruction

Your mastery over necrotic energies intensifies. The necrotic damage you deal with your cleric spells and Channel Divinity options now ignores resistance to necrotic damage.

This is a solid boost because necrotic resistance is common in monsters in D&D 5e. Keep in mind this doesn’t overcome immunity to necrotic damage, which is common amongst undead.

8th Level

Divine Strike

Your weapon attacks are imbued with necrotic energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can add an extra 1d8 necrotic damage to the attack. This damage increases to 2d8 at 14th level.

Another boost to weapon attacks, this is a good way to make up for the fact that clerics don’t get extra attacks.

This combos with the cleric’s optional Blessed Strikes feature to deal an extra 1d8 damage at 8th level, which is a needed boost to weapon damage.

17th Level

Improved Reaper

When you cast a necromancy spell of 1st through 5th level that targets only one creature, you can now target two creatures within range and 5 feet of each other. This expanded reach requires you to provide material components for each target if the spell consumes them.

Doubling leveled spells can be incredibly potent. Some excellent options for this are blindness/deafness, vampiric touch, bestow curse, and contagion.

Ability Scores for Death Domain Clerics

Even though the Death Domain has a focus on melee weapon attacks, Wisdom is still paramount for your Death Domain cleric’s spellcasting effectiveness, making it the most crucial skill to buff.

Dexterity or Strength is vital for those focusing on melee combat, but seeing as Death Domain clerics only get medium armor, Dexterity will be more helpful because it boosts AC and weapon effectiveness.

Constitution bolsters hit points and helps when you need to make concentration checks, so this is also important to boost.

If you’re using point buy, I recommend the following these starting stats:

Strength Dexterity Constitution Intelligence Wisdom Charisma
8 (-1) 15 (+2) 11 (+0) 8 (-1) 15 (+2) 10 (+0)

If you’re using another ability score generation method, I suggest pumping your stats in the following order:

  • Wisdom
  • Dexterity
  • Constitution
  • Charisma
  • Strength
  • Intelligence

Best Races for the Death Domain Clerics

A variety of death domain clerics stand facing off against foes in a graveyard.
Living Death from Magic: The Gathering by Mark Winters

The reborn, embodying a literal return from death, is an excellent thematic match. They offer a flexible +2 and +1 ability score increase, which can be allocated to Wisdom and Constitution or Dexterity. Their racial traits include resistance to poison and disease, advantage on death saving throws, and not requiring sleep. The Knowledge from a Past Life feature adds to their versatility by allowing additional d6 rolls on skill checks.

Firbolgs, with their fey ancestry and connection to nature, bring a unique perspective to the Death Domain. They receive a +2 increase to Wisdom and a +1 to Strength, which is a great base for melee-focused clerics. Firbolgs also have the Hidden Step ability, allowing them to turn invisible temporarily, and Powerful Build, which can be useful for a more physically imposing cleric.

Hill dwarves get a +2 increase to Constitution and a +1 to Wisdom, perfect for a cleric’s durability and spellcasting. Their racial traits include increased hit points, proficiency with battleaxes and warhammers, and resistance to poison, which is a perfect start for a martial cleric.

Shadar-kai, with their connection to the Shadowfell, are thematically aligned with death. They receive a +2 increase to Dexterity, useful for Death Domain clerics who want to be swinging with finesse weapons, and a +1 to Charisma or Intelligence. Their racial features include darkvision, resistance to charm, and proficiency in Perception. The Shadar-kai also have the Blessing of the Raven Queen, granting teleportation and resistance abilities, though the Raven Queen might not be too happy if you’re tampering with the balance of life and death.

With their celestial lineage, aasimar offer a unique take on a fallen angel type of Death Domain cleric. They typically receive a +2 increase to Charisma and a +1 to Wisdom. Their racial features include Healing Hands, resistance to necrotic and radiant damage, and transformative abilities in Celestial Revelation like Necrotic Shroud, which can help you embody a necrotic warrior, inspire fear in your enemies, and increase your damage output

Death Domain Cleric Feats

Liliana, Heretical Healer from the Magic: The Gathering by Karla Ortiz

Death Domain clerics in D&D 5e require a lot of ability scores to keep their spellcasting and melee damage up to respectable levels while they progress through levels.

Here’s how we recommend spending your ability score increases:

4th Level
Picking up Fey Touched or Shadow Touched will give you an ASI to Wisdom, which can boost your spell save DC and spell attack modifier if you started with an odd Wisdom score. It also provides a useful 1st-level spell and either invisibility or misty step.
8th Level
Taking an Ability Score Increase here to get your Wisdom to 20 is easily the most effective use of your resources.
12th Level
War Caster or Resilient (Constitution) if you’re wading into melee combat. If you’re casting spells at range, take Medium Armor Master to boost your AC.
16th Level
Mobile can allow you to attack and get out of your enemy’s reach if you’re playing a melee Dexterity playstyle. Otherwise, take an ASI to +2 your Constitution.
19th Level
Taking your ASI to +2 your Constitution is likely your best bet here, but you could also take Alert to ensure you go higher in initiative.

Best Spells for Death Domain Clerics

Animate Dead from Magic: The Gathering by Bastien L. Deharme

Clerics who worship a deity associated death will likely choose spells that emphasize their control over these life forces.

Cantrips like toll the dead and spare the dying are thematic choices that combine with the Death Domain’s Reaper ability, while higher-level resurrection spells like raise dead and resurrection showcase your ability to retrieve souls from the great beyond.

For those moments when you need to deal damage while staying true to your theme, several spells stand out.

Inflict wounds is a formidable 1st-level spell that combines with your Touch of Death Channel Divinity option. Spirit guardians, a 3rd-level spell, summons protective spirits that harm your foes when they get close, which is excellent for melee-focused clerics. Spiritual weapon is a cleric staple that creates a spectral weapon that floats and fights alongside you and doesn’t require concentration.

When it comes to more utility and healing options, death ward resonates with the Death Domain theme and provides you or your allies preemptive protection against death. Likewise, revivify is a must-have spell for any cleric, and allows you to bring your allies back from the brink of death.

Lastly, speak with dead opens roleplaying opportunities for Death Domain clerics, allowing you to extract information from the deceased.

Death Domain Cleric Build Example

1st level

  • Race: Lineage (Reborn)
    • Deathless Nature
    • Knowledge from a Past Life
    • Skill Proficiencies: Perception, Stealth
  • Class: Cleric
    • Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Religion
    • Spellcasting:
      • Add cantrips: sacred flame, toll the dead, guidance,
      • Add spells: bless, inflict wounds, healing word, protection from evil and good
    • Divine Domain: Death Domain
  • Death Domain:
    • Death domain spells:
      • Add spells: false life, ray of sickness
    • Bonus Proficiency: Martial Weapons
    • Reaper
      • Add cantrip: chill touch
  • Ability Scores (Point Buy): STR 8 (-1) DEX 16 (+3) CON 14 (+2) INT (-1) WIS 17 (+3) CHA 10 (+0)
  • Background: Acolyte
    • Skill Proficiency: Persuasion
    • Shelter of the Faithful
  • Equipment: mace, scale mail, dagger, explorer’s pack, shield, holy symbol
2nd level

  • Channel Divinity: Turn Undead, Touch of Death
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add spells: guiding bolt
3rd level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add spells: spiritual weapon
  • Death Domain:
    • Death domain spells:
      • Add spells: blindness/deafness, ray of enfeeblement
4th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add cantrip: spare the dying
    • Add spells: aid, hold person
  • Feat: Shadow Touched (WIS 18)
    • Add spell: cause fear
5th level

  • Destroy Undead
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add spell: spirit guardians
  • Death Domain:
    • Death Domain spells:
      • Add spells: animate dead, vampiric touch
6th level

  • Inescapable Destruction
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add spell: revivify
7th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add spell: banishment
  • Death Domain:
    • Death Domain spells:
      • Add spells: blight, death ward
8th level

  • Divine Strike
  • ASI: Wisdom +2 (WIS 20)
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add spell: bestow curse, mass healing word
9th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add spell: contagion
  • Death Domain:
    • Death Domain spells:
      • Add spells: antilife shell, cloudkill
10th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add cantrip: thaumaturgy
    • Add spell: summon celestial
  • Divine Intervention
11th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: harm
12th level

  • Feat: Medium Armor Master
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: blade barrier
13th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: fire storm
14th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: hero’s feast
15th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: greater restoration
16th level

  • Ability Score Improvement: +2 CON (CON 18)
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: holy aura
17th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: heal
  • Improved Reaper
18th level

  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: mass heal
19th level

  • Ability Score Increase: +2 CON (CON 20)
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: conjure celestial
20th level

  • Divine Intervention Improvement
  • Spellcasting:
    • Add: gate

 

Other Cleric Guides

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. He is a Adamantine best-selling author of Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery on DMs Guild and is a contributing author at D&D Beyond. Follow Mike on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.