War Priest Combat Tactics for D&D 5e
War Priests from Volo’s Guide to Monsters in D&D 5th edition are experienced in battle and have powerful spells to help them win. With high Strength, Constitution and Wisdom and wearing full plate armor, the War Priest is a melee fighter first and a spellcaster second. A War Priest’s priorities in combat are to first, keep his or her allies alive, and second, win the battle.
War Priests are probably more capable fighters than the majority of its allies and they know it. A War Priest will target its toughest enemy (most likely the leader) to draw the pressure off the less capable soldiers surrounding it. Once it engages the foe, it has three features to use in combat: a straightforward melee multi attack, spellcasting, and Guided Strike. Guided Strike is a once per short rest reaction that gives the priest or an ally a +10 bonus to a single attack and is used on whichever ally does the most damage in a single attack. The War Priest uses this ability the first time that ally misses on an attack.
Spell-casting, unlike the War Priest’s other features, is extremely complex. The War Priest has 23 spells and 4 cantrips to choose from, almost all of which could be useful in combat.
Don’t Require Concentration
- Light, Mending, and Prayer of Healing are the only spells in this list that aren’t useful at all in combat, the first two because they don’t give any benefit and Prayer of Healing because of its 10 minute casting time.
- Spare the Dying, Divine Favor, Shield of Faith, and Magic Weapon do give a combat benefit, but the War Priest won’t use them because it has better options for almost any situation.
- Sacred Flame and Guiding Bolt are ranged damaging spells that are primarily useful at the beginning of combat before the War Priest engages in melee.
- Spiritual Weapon gives the War Priest an extra attack each round without needing concentration. The War Priest will almost always cast it as a bonus action on it’s first turn in combat.
- Dispel Magic ends an ongoing spell cast by an enemy. Good candidates to dispel include spells that hinder multiple allies (like Stinking Cloud), spells that immobilize a powerful ally (like Hold Person), and spells that significantly increase an enemy’s damage potential (such as Haste)
- Healing Word is used as a bonus action to bring a nearly dead ally back into the fight or give them a chance to escape. A compassionate War Priest will use it whenever an ally gets knocked unconscious, but an evil War Priest will only use it on allies that can deal more damage in one round than the Spiritual Weapon attack the priest is giving up to cast this spell.
- Revivify can bring an ally that the War Priest wasn’t able to use Healing Word on back to life, but costs 300gp every time its cast. Because of this, the War Priest can use it only on the most important allies.
- Mass Cure Wounds can heal up to six targets(the War Priest possibly being one of them) an average of 16 hp each using a 5th level slot. The War Priest casts it when six of its allies are seriously wounded (reduced to 40% of their hit point maximum)
- Flame Strike deals a bunch of extra damage for the cost of a 5th level spell slot. The War Priest only has one 5th level slot, so to spend it on Flame Strike, the spell must deal more than the 96 hp that Mass Cure Wounds could heal. Flame Strike deals an average of 21 damage per target, so it must affect five targets to reach the damage threshold needed to cast it (this assumes that the War Priest has at least 5 allies. If it has 3-4 allies, it will use Flame Strike when it can affect 4 or more enemies. If it has 2 allies, the War Priest will use Flame Strike when it affects 3 or more enemies. If it has 0–1 allies, the War Priest uses Flame Strike when it affects 2 or more enemies.)
- Guardian of Faith summons a spectral guardian that can help hold choke points, hurt enemies that are charging into battle and cover a retreat. The spell description specifies that it deals damage against hostile creatures that move within 10 feet of the guardian, indicating that dropping this spell on top of a stationary enemy won’t do much good.
- Lesser Restoration and Freedom of Movement remove debilitating conditions from important allies. Unless the War Priest is absolutely sure that the spell won’t be necessary, it saves one spell slot for each of these spells.
- Spirit Guardians summons friendly spirits which deal an average of 10 damage per round to each enemy within 15 feet of the War Priest. According to the spell area of effect table on page 249 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, we can expect it to affect 3 targets for a total of 30 damage per round! This is the War Priest’s default concentration spell if none of the others meet their casting criteria.
- Crusader’s Mantle infuses the War Priest and all it’s allies within 30 feet with radiant power, letting them deal on average 2.5 additional damage with each successful attack. However, this spell requires concentration, which means it’s competing directly with Spirit Guardians. For Crusader’s Mantle to be worth the opportunity cost, there must be 8 times more allies (or 4 times more allies if they have multiattack) affected by this spell than there are enemies within 15 feet of the War Priest
- Banishment, which requires concentration, will be used when a single enemy is dealing more damage per round than the War Priest is doing with Spirit Guardians or Crusader’s Mantle. The War Priest avoids casting this spell against Paladins or Bards, which likely have high Charisma, but doesn’t know enough about arcane magic to tell if an enemy is a Sorcerer or Warlock.
- Silence can take a particularly dangerous spellcaster out of the fight just as effectively as Banishment. However, before it can cast this spell, the war priest needs allies in melee reach of the spell caster to prevent it from walking out of the area of effect.
- Beacon of Hope, which maximizes healing, does the most when cast immediately before Mass Cure Wounds, increasing the healing from that spell to 27 hp per target. However, this strategy requires dropping the War Priest’s current concentration spell for 2 rounds and then using an additional action to get a new spell up. Beacon of Hope is almost never worth this switch, so it’ll mainly be used to heal injuries after a fight is over.
- Stoneskin is a defensive spell that requires concentration and halves damage from physical attacks. To be worth giving up Spirit Guardians, there must be more than 12 attacks against the target of this spell each round, and if cast on the War Priest itself, ranged attackers must outnumber melee attackers 2 to 1 (these calculations assume that each attack deals an average of 9 damage and have a three-fifths chance of hitting)
- Hold Monster can paralyze a dangerous enemy and let the next few melee attacks against that target deal extra damage. Since it allows a saving throw each round, it most likely won’t take an enemy out of the battle as long as Banishment, and it costs a 5th level spell slot. To be worth both the War Priest’s concentration and its best spell slot, the target must be dealing more damage per round than the War Priest can do with Spirit Guardians, and the War Priest must have at least 3 allies that can make melee attacks against the target in the next round. The War Priest avoids targeting Clerics and Druids, which likely have high Wisdom saves, with this spell.
With this spell kit at it’s disposal, the War Priest will generally use the following tactics:
Round 1: The War Priest casts Spiritual Weapon as a bonus action, followed by either Sacred Flame or a Maul multiattack against the enemy leader/champion, depending on whether the War Priest has enough movement charge into melee (It does Sacred Flame instead of Guiding Bolt because you can’t cast 2 leveled spells on one turn)
Round 2: If it’s engaged in melee, the War Priest casts whichever concentration spell is best for the battlefield, using the criteria above. If it’s not yet engaged in melee, the War Priest casts Guardian of Faith to strike down its opponents as they charge.
As combat continues, the War Priest spends most of it’s turns making Maul attacks against the enemy leader and striking with its Spiritual Weapon as a bonus action. If an ally gets knocked unconscious, it uses Healing Word to revive them. When six (or all) of its allies are seriously wounded, the War Priest uses Mass Cure Wounds. If it’s enemies are trying to outmanuver the War Priest, it casts Guardian of Faith to damage them if they move into the optimal position.
When a War Priest retreats depends on its personality. If the Priest cares primarily about keeping it’s allies alive, it covers their retreat once about half of them have fallen, sacrificing it’s life if necessary. If it’s the conquering warlord type, a War Priest retreats when seriously wounded (reduced to 47hp). If it’s a bloodthirsty fanatic, it fights to the death. Whatever the circumstances of a War Priest’s retreat, it uses Guardian of Faith to hinder its enemies should they try to follow.
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