Unearthed Arcana Review: Twilight Domain Cleric

A cleric in creepy robes.

Deathpact Cleric by Jason Chan

Although the cleric has the most subclasses by far, it’s always fun to see what new twist Wizards of the Coast is looking to add to everyone’s favorite frontline support. This time we have a set of domain features that are somewhat hard to pin down with a single identity. If I had to pick one, I’d say the Twilight Domain plays with 5E’s light and darkness mechanics, but even that isn’t a great descriptor. From being the party’s guide through the darkness to enhancing their initiative in combat, let’s take a look at the somewhat eclectic collection of abilities on offer, starting at level 1.

Level 1 – Bonus Proficiency

You gain proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor.

A simple feature, but very valuable. Heavy armor and martial weapons ensure that the Twilight cleric can mix it up in melee when needed. This is also good news for multiclassing folks, as it’s another way to gain these proficiencies with a 1 level dip. I could easily see a human character picking this for their cleric dip to gain access to Darkvision and permanent advantage on initiative rolls.

Level 1 – Eyes of Night

Your eyes are blessed, allowing you to see through the deepest gloom. You have darkvision with no maximum range; you can see in dim light as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light.

As an action, you can magically give the benefit of this feature to any number of creatures you can see within 10 feet of you. The shared benefit lasts for 10 minutes. You can extend this benefit a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

While theoretically more useful than the standard 60 feet of Darkvision enjoyed by almost every race,* I can’t think of a game I’ve played in where unlimited Darkvision would be substantially stronger. I feel the same way about the cleric’s ability to share their Darkvision. While I can see some cases where that would be a boon to the party, 5E’s proliferation of natural Darkvision and cantrips like Light and Produce Flame mean that a party will almost always have ways for everyone to see in the dark.

This feature also has a small wording issue where there is currently no limit to the number of times you can grant your vision to others, only to the number of times you can extend the granted benefits. I assume Wizards will fix this before release, but it still bears mentioning.

Level 1 – Vigilant Blessing

The night has taught you to be vigilant. As an action, you give one creature you touch (including possibly yourself) advantage on the next initiative roll the creature makes. This benefit ends immediately after the roll or if you use this feature again.

This is both the strongest of the Twilight cleric’s level 1 features and the most out of place. Granting themselves or one of their fellows a permanent initiative advantage is obviously powerful* and lends the Twilight Domain a potent support feature. However, I have no idea how better initiative is linked to twilight. The description tries its best, but it’s so generic that literally any class fluff could be slotted in and no changes would be needed.* While not directly impacting mechanics, the thematic link between a subclass’s fluff and its mechanics is important, and I find this ability very weak in that area.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity

You can use your Channel Divinity to refresh your allies with soothing twilight.

As an action, you present your holy symbol, and a sphere of twilight emanates from you. The sphere is centered on you, has a 30-foot radius, and is filled with dim light. The sphere moves with you, and it lasts for 1 minute or until you are  incapacitated  or die. Whenever a creature (including you) ends its turn in the sphere, you can grant that creature one of these benefits:

  • Give it  1d8  temporary hit points.
  • End one effect causing it to be  charmed  or  frightened.

Like Eyes of the Night, I think this is a good ability that lacks a strong thematic link with the idea of twilight. Refreshing temporary hit points is a very useful feature, but one that is better linked to a domain like Life or Forge. The secondary effect, while less generally useful, is situationally quite powerful and thematically appropriate, as the cleric helps the party overcome their fear of the dark. My only mechanical gripe is the trigger for the effect taking place at the end of a creature’s turn. Not only is this more restrictive, but it’s also different from common aura abilities like Spirit Guardians, thereby adding a level of needless complexity if those two effects are active at the same time.

Level 6 – Steps of the Brave

You draw strength from your connection to twilight and find yourself at home within its dark embrace, gaining two benefits:

  • You have advantage on saving throws against being  frightened.
  • If you are in dim light or darkness, you can use a bonus action to magically give yourself a flying speed equal to your walking speed until the end of your next turn.

Another mixed bag, this time for both mechanical and thematic reasons. Let’s start with the name. “Steps of the Brave” gives me almost no idea of what the ability contains. Ability names are important because they help players imagine what their character looks like as they move throughout the world, and this one fails to do that.

But it’s not just the name that I take issue with; the mechanics are also a sticking point. The first bonus is fine, if not stellar. Advantage against being frightened is useful and on theme for a cleric with one foot in the dark. However, the ability for the cleric to fly as a bonus action in any kind of darkness is a major problem. Not only is this bonus completely unrelated to the first half of the feature, but it also breaks a design convention seen throughout other class and subclass options: the point at which a character gains permanent flight. Most classes that gain a flying speed do so at or around level 14. At this point, a party would be quite powerful, and any obstacles they face would probably have ways to threaten a flying character. Level 6, however, is still very early in the game and, given that many dungeons and sometimes entire settings* take place in dim light, a Twilight cleric will be able to bypass a huge number of normally challenging encounters.

Level 8 – Divine Strike

You gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 psychic damage. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

A standard martial cleric feature, Divine Strike is a decent replacement for an extra attack. Coupled with the earlier extra proficiencies, this feature allows for a cleric that functions as a reasonably powerful martial class while still providing a full-caster’s spell list. The only problem I have is that nothing about the Twilight Domain makes me think, “psychic damage.”

Level 17 – Midnight Shroud

You can harness the shrouding power of night to protect your allies and stymie your foes. Whenever you cast the darkness spell using a spell slot you can choose a number of creatures that you can see (including yourself) equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of one). The chosen creatures can see through the darkness.

This ability feels incredibly weak for a subclass capstone. By this point many enemies have some way to bypass darkness,* so granting your party one-sided darkness is a pretty underwhelming effect. Another problem with this ability is that the Darkness spell is automatically defeated by magical light from any source other than spells of 2nd level and below. At level 17, it’s highly likely that someone in your party uses an item that sheds magical light,* making Darkness, and this feature, functionally useless. The final weakness of this feature is that Darkness takes concentration, and by level 17 a cleric has significantly more powerful concentration spells they’d like to be using.

On the one hand, I sympathize with Wizards. It must be difficult to come up with new mechanics for a class with so many options already present. On the other hand, I’m disappointed with the Twilight Domain’s lack of thematic cohesion and mechanical imbalances. If I were working on this subclass, there are quite a few changes I’d make before release.

What I’d Change

The first change I’d make is the name of this domain. I see two themes present in the Twilight Domain: embracing the darkness and teaching others to not fear it. I think a better name to fit those themes would be Night Domain. Not only would this name better fit the mechanics of the subclass, but it also means we don’t have a Twilight druid and Twilight cleric.*

Next I would look to make Eyes of Night a bit more impactful. Rather than supplying unlimited range, I would upgrade the Darkvision to treat all levels of light as bright light. I would also consider adding in some sort of bonus to perception while in low light or darkness, most likely advantage. This would provide a more meaningful enhancement to a character’s Darkvision, rather than a range increase that will rarely be used. I’d retain the ability to share the improved Darkvision, but in a form that lacks the improved perception, as handing out that kind of bonus to the whole party is a bit too powerful. I’d also reword the sharing ability to limit its usage as Wizards intended.

When it comes to Vigilant Blessing, I would simply remove it. The subclass already has two features at this level, and the lack of any thematic linkage leaves me with little reason to keep this ability. Yes, it does lower the subclass’s power, but improvements in other areas should make up for that.

There are a few changes I’d make to Twilight Sanctuary. The first would be to replace the temporary hit points with an increased armor class, representing the dark protecting those who stand near the cleric. I would also amend the trigger for removing a charm or fear effect to be when a creature first enters the sphere or starts their turn there, like other aura effects. The light created by this feature also should be changed to not clash with the cleric’s Darkness spell. As written, Twilight Sanctuary illuminates any magical darkness, making it clash with one of the subclass’s main features.* Lastly, I would make the dim light from this feature supersede bright light to fit the flavor of a cleric cloaking themselves in twilight.

Steps of the Brave requires some major reworking. To start with, I’d throw everything out except for the advantage against being frightened, extending it to charm effects as well to match the related Twilight Sanctuary feature. Next, I would add the mechanics of the current capstone feature, Midnight Shroud.  At level 17, granting the ability for you and your allies to see through your Darkness is very weak, but at level 6, it is unique and powerful. While I’m at it, I’d also change the name from “Steps of the Brave” to “Midnight Shroud.” That way, we eliminate the generic title and the GM headache caused by having a level 6 character with semi-permanent flight. If Wizards really wants this subclass to gain flight, I would include an “upon reaching level 14” clause that reintroduces the current flight feature, bringing this subclass into line with other flying abilities.

The only change I’d make to Divine Strike is switching the damage type from psychic to a choice between necrotic and radiant. Psychic doesn’t have any link with the themes of this subclass, whereas radiant and necrotic represents pushing back the night or embracing it, respectively. This also creates some choices in an otherwise uninteresting feature, as now the Night cleric can better tailor their damage to suit the situation.

Since we bumped Midnight Shroud to level 6, I’ve come up with a completely new feature to serve as this subclass’s capstone: Nightborn.

Nightborn: Once per long rest ability, as an action, you may create a 60-foot radius aura of darkness around you that moves with you for one minute or until dismissed with another action. The darkness is impenetrable by any light source, and creatures within it cannot be seen by any means.* Any number of creatures the cleric chooses can see through the darkness as if it were not there. These creatures also gain the benefits of the cleric’s Twilight Sanctuary feature.

I believe this feature is a much better capstone, as it does something powerful enough to be a potent tool for a high-level party, rather than something that is rendered useless by both enemies and allies much of the time.

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  1. Reiksson

    The rework on the class reads really well, and the flight ability took me aback immediately when I read it at that level because the condition is so easy to meet that any player could justify flying for almost any occasion. This archetype feels very forced like me writing a campaign hours before a session :). I don’t know where I would fit it in but I like the idea of taking away enemies dark vision to represent the cleric as like the divine inheritor of the night. Also before I read your night born ability I was thinking of a 60 burst of blindness targeting enemies though you do make a good point that many high level enemies that are actual threats to the party have blind sight (like the dragons of D&D).

  2. Danita Rambo

    I love this!

  3. Ben Taylor

    Fairly valid arguments, but I feel you’re both missing the inherent theme of the class, IE Twilight, the place where darkness and light meet, a time of transition and change and renewal and such, so to speak, and vastly over valuing Flight, a common issue a lot of people have in 5e. In an edition where almost all of the big damage dealing in the hands of monsters and other npcs is ranged, a fairly low flight speed that’s conditional on lacking light is fairly trivial,particularly given the races that just have a flight speed inherently. The place it would be most useful is a dungeon without any form of natural or artificial lighting and against things like goblins or other low grade monsters. At level six when you get it, well it’s nice to have and might lead to some problem solving, but by then you really should be seeing more overtly magical dungeons and organized, more dangerous monsters like Hobgoblins or spell casting undead or, indeed, flying monsters. Things with access to ranged attacks[hobgoblins in 5e are notorious for just crossbow volleying things to death if played like they’re supposed to be intelligent], flightspeeds, and low level magic of their own.
    You brush briefly on the Light and Dark thematic with their divine smite, but you fail to account for that being the reason behind some of the seemingly underpowered facets of the subclass that seem contradictory, while overlooking the other aspects of the domain entirely.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      While flight can be an issue for even high level enemies, you are correct that fights can be designed with the capability in mind. However, where near constant flight can be much harder to deal with is traversal. A party that flies simply has so many more options on how they get places that trying to plan for all of them as a GM is almost impossible without major contrivances. You are right that some races have flight speed built in, however it is for that very reason those races are often banned. Even Wizards acknowledged this as a problem when they disallowed flying races from Adventurer’s League.

      As for your points on the flavor, that is a much more subjective conversation. Regardless of the domain’s name, I stand by my mechanical suggestions and believe they would fit with the theme of Twilight as well.

      • Ben Taylor

        A fair enough argument, but I would definitely contend that, by the time flight comes on line, you in no-way have to “Design encounters” around it. By 6th level most encounters not meant to be trivial will almost inevitably have a method of dealing with this form of flight inherently.

        For traversal, well I have to emphasis something else frequently overlooked. Outside of the classic “Switch on the other side of a gap drops the bridge across” type of puzzle, which is exceedingly rare outside of videogames, since it’s usually a backtracking tool, a special movement ability that doesn’t affect the whole part is actually quite useless for traversal. Unless the Cleric is ferrying the party one at a time across a gap [requiring a beefy STR score they might have, and an athletics proficiency they almost certainly don’t while being exceptionally vulnerable.] It’s not much help there and even then is of exceedingly limited utility outside of desperation on the parts of the players.

        The cleric might be able to fly up and grab a hard to reach object or scout ahead, or maybe bypass part of a puzzle, but again, outside of the hypothetical “Hey I hope nobody lights a torch” gap cross the flight really isn’t going to do all that much, it’s extremely situational and honestly just amounts to a neat gimmick and situational tool at that point.

        I’d definitely agree that it’s an odd ability that doesn’t exactly fit the theme, outside of fairytale-esque stories of priests and witches and ninjas and creatures of the night just being able to fly in darkness because of storybook logic and that is a bit of a minor trope to be leaning on for flavor, but it’s honestly not very noteworthy. It’s not exactly a fluff ribbon ability like some subclasses get, but it’s not particularly useful outside of feeling cool and maybe being good for getting some internet points in a greentext about a meme-character someday. [It could well be amusing, for a one shot or some such, to build a Twilight cleric flavored as some kind of pseudo-russian aerial ace, and just have her crack jokes about the Night Witches of WWII.]

        I will however also agree that your thematic suggestions, assuming you focus on that aspect, fit well enough. Personally, I would focus more on playing up the duality and transitional aspects to some degree, perhaps the ability to change the damage type of radiant/necrotic spells to one or the other like you suggested for the divine strike, like a more limited and less abusable version of the Lore Wizard’s gimmick, among other things.

  4. JP

    since the flight ability is self only it is not really great for long distance traversal. the ability to bypass puzzles and stuff is just as easily met at lvl 5 by the fly spell. sure that is a spell slot but clerics in combat are heavily dependent on their bonus action so it does use a resource in combat at least, but it doesn’t seem that powerful really. might switch the 8 and 6 level features if it didn’t clash with the rest of the subclasses but i don’t see it being very useful at all at lvl 14. if it gets pushed that far back there is no point in including it honestly.

  5. Anon

    You completely ignored the Domain Spell list which has a number of Paladin only spells. Most notable is the 5th level spell ‘Circle of Power’ which is quite powerful.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      It was an oversight in the original article to leave out domain spells, one I’m remedying in future works. As for Circle of Power, it’s a fine spell. In the right situations it can be quite powerful. However, nothing in the Twilight’s Domain spell list changed the opinions I expressed in this review, as it wasn’t a discussion of pure power level.

  6. Slayd

    Small note that makes the original capstone even more useless: A small clause that almost nobody notices in the player’s handbook says that a caster can choose to not be affected by their own spell if they are included in the area of effect, so you don’t even need to grant yourself the ability to see through the darkness.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Interesting. Do you happen to have the wording of that clause or a page number on hand? I can’t seem to find it.

    • John

      The PhB doesn’t say that exactly. What is basically says is that a lot of area effects that are directional such as lines, cones, etc. can either include the point of origin or not, representing you shooting a cone, line, etc. out from you if desired so you are not included. Notably not included in this are spheres, because the point of origin is in the middle and doesn’t make much sense to not be included.

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