Religion is deeply important to the majority of people on Toril, who feel that the gods are a very real and active presence in their lives, something that is not very far from the truth. For this reason, serving the gods is something that most people do as just a regular part of their lives. Clerics are elite agents of gods, sworn to follow and obey the tenets of their deity's dogma in ways that the average mortal cannot. Some clerics serve primordials or fiends, though in the latter case the cleric must make foul sacrifices in order to retain their divine power, and the majority remain servants of the truly divine. Clerics must be close to the alignment of their patron, usually within one step of the deity's alignment or less.
Gods are as varying as people and, as a result, so are their divine agents, such as clerics, who might be good or evil, lawful or chaotic, dependent on who they worship and why. Good clerics heal and protect, helping those in need while evil clerics terrorize and destroy, increasing the power of their deity and themselves. Generally, good, or at the very least nonevil, clerics are more common, since good or nonevil deities tend to attract worshipers more than evil ones do. However, some evil gods are truly powerful, such as Bane, and have a large legion of followers and clerics willing to do their bidding. Similarly, though many clerics belong to orderly and structured churches, chaotic gods have clerical servants as well.
Relatively few priests become wandering clerics, but those that do are often inspired with the desire to spread their deity's works, for good or evil. Others are sent by their superiors, dispatched on missions of importance for the church. The most active clerics are typically humans or dwarves, with half-elven, elven, and dragonborn clerics also being relatively common. A few others take on the adventuring lifestyle for more mundane reasons. Regardless of motivation, clerics are highly valued companions, serving as healers and occasional leaders to their compatriots. Additionally, clerics may be specialized in ways, based on the deity they worship, that put them on agreeable terms with other adventurers.
Nearly all clerics are ordained members of a religious organization of some kind, though a few operate more independently and even those who are bound to a hierarchy do not necessarily answer to superiors. Most make their career choice relatively early in life, seeking to uphold the ideals of his or her god. Churches are often, but not always, tied to a specific god and a few gods maintain separate churches, some of which war with one another over differing interpretations of their god's (or pantheon's) dogma.
Clerics commonly use light or medium armor, simple weapons, and divine magic to improve the abilities of themselves or their allies in combat. Many clerics are also skilled in the use of heavy armor and shields. Clerics augment these spells, also known as prayers, through holy symbols of their deity that carry with them or wear. Clerics are also experts in casting rituals, spell-like abilities that require an incredible amount of time and preparation to use but which often have dramatic effects. Others might instead choose to be trained in preparing alchemical recipes.
Clerics can also learn to directly access the power of their deity through their body in a prayer known as channel divinity. This power may manifest it in several ways such as increasing the abilities of the cleric as well as being able to repel undead creatures. An example of such a prayer would be the nearly universal turn undead prayer. A few clerics learn instead to either destroy or control undead, with evil clerics generally choosing the latter. A cleric may also gain an individual variant of channel divinity based on the nature of their god, with clerics of Mielikki and Shar having access to a wildly different variant of channel divinity.
Clerics are powerful healers thanks to special training and the blessings of their gods, both of which increase the potency of the curative prayers available to them. Any cleric is capable of even a basic healing word prayer, with more experienced clerics often capable of much more. Some clerics are also trained in transforming other prayers into powers of healing or, if the cleric worships a non-good god, into spells of necrotic power.
Some clerics have additional abilities less common amongst their compatriots. A great many clerics have learned, in addition to the gentle repose ritual know to all clerics, the ritual of Simbul's conversion, which allows a cleric to convert their prayers into healing energy. A fewer number of clerics, generally evil in alignment, have learned instead to convert this stored energy into negative energy for the purpose of harming enemies.
Many clerics are also fluent in Supernal or Abyssal and their related dialects.
In addition to devoting themselves to particular gods, most clerics specialize to some small degree by focusing their training in a certain way. These philosophies of cleric training often determine the specific abilities and approaches taken towards clerics in their careers. Most clerics belong to one of the following practices.
Instead of focusing simply on their role as healers and inspirational icons of their deity, battle clerics prefer to get into the thick of a fight, leading the charge of the faithful. These clerics are almost always physically well-built, building their muscles and fortitude to make them effective melee combatants in their god's service. These clerics still put an emphasis on strong judgment and awareness of both others and oneself, but this is de-emphasized in favor of physical power, as is leadership ability and strength of personality.
Devoted clerics take the opposite philosophy of battle clerics and put all of their efforts into becoming the very best ministers of the faithful that their god has to offer. Wholeheartedly loyal to their god and his or her followers, devoted clerics train primarily in prayers that enable or heal their allies. For this reason, devoted clerics feel that wisdom and charisma are of far greater importance than physical strength, though they do not wholly abandon its fruition.
Shielding clerics, like devoted clerics, believe that it is more important to protect and shield allies rather than to fight directly. While other clerics often use prayers to both deal damage and inspire their allies, shielding clerics hang back, using their divine gifts to heal and protect others rather than to deal attacks. When shielding clerics do strike, it is often from afar, rather than in a melee. For instance, unlike battle clerics and devoted clerics for instance, shielding clerics don't have the ability to use the turn undead prayer. Instead, a shielding clerics channel their deities' divine power through the healer's mercy prayer. Shielding clerics also put a higher emphasis on wisdom and charisma than strength, similar to devoted clerics.
Prior to the Spellplague and the loosening of all magic, arcane or divine, from the Weave, clerics accessed prayers dependent on large categories called "domains," not to be confused with astral dominions. At the beginning of their career, a cleric was required to choose two of the powers associated with their divine patron's available domains as the focus of their particular training and faith. These allow them to prepare domain prayers each day from those domains' set lists, in addition to their more general prayers.
Each domain also has another set power associated with it. For example, the Strength domain allows its clerics to increase their strength for one round per day by a number equal to their cleric level, and the Healing domain makes clerics more adept at casting healing prayers.
After the Spellplague the ability to make use of domains disappeared, though it appears that in exchange the clerics gained a more intimate connection to their gods, acquiring the channel divinity prayers for the first time.