Clerics are one of the most classic classes in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Despite being classic, until 3rd edition D&D was released, clerics were not particularly popular to play. Clerics in 3rd edition became much more versatile, though still retained the major drawback of being the dedicated healer. Clerics in 4th edition continue to provide the best healing of any class in the game, but are no longer forced to do nothing else. Clerics are not required to be competent healers, though. A cleric can basically forgo specializing in healing to excel in melee combat. Besides greatly increased melee competency, the battle cleric build also offers great bonuses to attack and exceptional bonuses to the defenses of allies. The drawback of the build is that it has limited options and starts off very vulnerable to enemy attacks. When building your battle cleric, the following optimizations will serve to make you an effective support character.
Ability Scores – Battle clerics use strength as their primary attribute and charisma as their secondary attribute. Depending on precise build, constitution is also rather important to most battle clerics, both for increased healing surges and the ability to wear heavier armor. Unfortunately, battle clerics basically have to ignore wisdom to be effective, which means sacrificing the Healer’s Lore class feature. Dexterity and Intelligence simply provide no meaningful benefit to battle clerics and are not worth investing points in. Most battle clerics should have a 16/16 or 18/14 attribute split between strength and charisma, respectively, before racial modifiers.
Race – The best race for a battle cleric is dragonborn. The only other meaningfully useful race is warforged. Other races that provide a strength bonus don’t have a bonus to a useful secondary attribute. If you intend to use a reach weapon, you should choose dragonborn and buy an 18 in your strength. If you intend to use a non-reach weapon, you should have a 16/16 split between strength and charisma and either race is effective. The only other race that might prove useful is a half-orc. If you are considering a very long term build, this will allow you to wear scale armor, take a feat to remove the heavy armor speed penalty, and take a feat to improve the critical hit range of a heavy blade.
Skills – As a battle cleric, you will have one meaningful skill: diplomacy. Your attributes will not match any of your other skill choices. From your remaining choices, take insight and heal simply because they are the most useful skills to have trained. Alternately, if you are the only ritual caster in your party, replace insight with arcana. No matter what skills you take, you will always be pretty poor with skills unless you gain more through feats.
Feats – Because you are a battle cleric, many of your feats are already spoken for. You essentially need to get a superior weapon proficiency, so take a Weapon Proficiency feat in whatever weapon you want to use. If you intend to use a reach weapon, you should use a greatspear. Otherwise choose a hammer or an axe. If you do not have a reach weapon, you also need Armor Proficiency: Scale and Armor Proficiency: Plate. Alternately, you may choose Light Shield Proficiency and Heavy Shield Proficiency. Whatever your exact decision, you should have two to three armor and shield feats to improve your AC. Finally, unless you are planning to take the Battle Chaplain paragon path, you will need to select a multiclass feat for another class, in order to qualify for a useful paragon path. Warlord or Paladin makes the best choice, though Fighter or Warden can also be useful. Any heroic feats you have left should be spent on Weapon Expertise, Versatile Channeler, Defensive Healing Word, and Breath of Life if you are a dragonborn.
You begin to have a few more choices once you reach paragon tier. If you are a Battle Chaplain, you will gain both shield proficiencies for free, which may free up some feats as well. Like all characters, you should choose Paragon Defenses. If you have feats to spare, which you might, slowly replace Paragon Defenses with Iron Will, Great Fortitude, and Lightning Reflexes. In addition, if you qualify, get Armor Specialization: Plate. Also, if you qualify, choose either Deadly Axe or Hammer Rhythm. Finally, use any remaining feats on Mettle and Improved Initiative. For your epic feats replace your non-AC defense boosting feats with the epic improvements. Other good feats are Divine Health, Divine Mastery, Icon of Purity, and Supreme Healer.
Powers – There are two useful at-will powers for a battle cleric. You will want to choose Recovery Strike and Righteous Brand. For your encounter powers, you should whenever possible choose a strength-based attack power that targets a defense other than AC. Also, consider spending a feat to swap one of your powers with a power from your other class if you are multiclassed. Some of the best cleric encounter choices are Healing Strike, Blazing Beacon, Awe Strike, and Strike of Judgment. For your daily powers, you want to focus on powers that last until the end of the encounter. Good choices include Shield of the Gods, Weapon of Astral Flame, and Weapon of the Gods. Finally, it is essential that you replace your Turn Undead class feature power with Healer’s Mercy, because Turn Undead is virtually useless to you.
Paragon Paths – There is only one good cleric paragon path for battle clerics: Battle Chaplain. This is useful if you intend to fight without a reach weapon, but is less useful if you are using a greatspear. If you really don’t want to multiclass for a paragon path, Divine Oracle is the best remaining choice. You will basically never hit with your daily attack power, but at least you will never waste an action attempting the attack. If you multiclass, many warlord paragon paths are very good as are about half of the paladin paragon paths, because both classes have leader style powers.
Battle clerics are one of the hardest builds to optimize due to the lack of options. In order to mitigate this, battle clerics basically are required to multiclass in order to gain additional options. Also, battle clerics desperately need to increase an otherwise dismal armor class or else use a reach weapon to avoid taking too much damage. If you can manage to surpass all of these difficulties, you can make one of the best classes at providing defensive support to allies and deal surprisingly high damage while doing so. Where devoted clerics heal after the fact, battle clerics can prevent allies from ever being damaged in the first place. Choose feats, attributes, race, powers, and your paragon path very carefully and you can have a valuable melee support character.