New: D&D Sea Domain Cleric
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today as we wrap up our discussion on new cleric domains, we are looking at the Sea Domain, which surprisingly does not exist in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I know that many will point to the Tempest Domain as the "sea domain," but in concept they are very different. The Tempest Domain is a storm-based domain that openly presents itself as being the realms of heaven-based deities like Thor and Zeus. The lore of the subdomain even includes some fire deities for their roles in storms, and then tacks on a throwaway mention of the word "seas" to include water in its scope, but only one of the domain spells (and none of the subclass features) integrates water manipulation or control into the subclass.
This is beyond the pale of a sea domain: we want a domain specifically for those that turn to water as a preserving and destructive element, with the sea as the namesake not because the lore is inherently tied to salt water or even large bodies of water, but to distinguish it from the heavenly elements of the Tempest Domain (like rain or storms) and the river and lake elements of the Nature Domain.
So to that end we present the Sea Domain: a crowd control subclass that does far less damage than the Tempest Domain, but excels at reducing the effectiveness of its foes while granting useful perks in and out of water (but mostly in water).
Sea Domain Cleric: Theme and Inspiration
When you think of the sea, you often think of storms (ergo the "Tempest Domain is good enough to meet our needs" way of thinking). And this is understandable as the storm at sea is the most dramatic thing you think of when it comes to water. But the sea is far more than that: it's a means of fast travel, being far easier and faster to traverse (generally) than land. It sustains creatures of all sizes, as water is a necessary component to life, and for seaside villages it's a critical source of food and materials for tools, not to mention trade.
But seas can be far more dangerous when there are no storms. Ask any sailor who relies on wind and they'll tell you that a doldrum can be just as dangerous as a storm if not more dangerous as it will not move you to a place of safety like a storm might.
The sea is also unpredictable, constantly changing, and capable of aiding or harming those that are near it. Zurn's Tethys magic lore (the Lore of the Sea) is my favorite encapsulation of this truth (with every spell doing two things, depending on whether the caster is roiled or calm when they cast it), but it really is true and critical for a right understanding of the sea: it is in flux, and we want this to be encapsulated in the spells we take, the abilities you bring to the table, and of course, the Channel Divinity for the subclass.
Nowhere did this present more trouble than in choosing your subdomain spells. At specific levels (3rd and 5th to be precise) it was hard to choose between various good spells, but we went with the ones that better encapsulated the extremes of the sea. It also meant that you wouldn't be locked into having prepared spells that would be virtually useless in many situations, but would still be available to you through your class spell list (like Water Breathing when you will be spending the whole day on land). So the goal was to choose spells that were evocative, expanding what is available to you while also doubling down on what the cleric spell list already provides.
We then looked at the Channel Divinity, where we tried to capture, again, the helpful and harmful elements of the sea. Whether you are helping allies to move (so that they don't have to take the Dash action on their turn, or get them out of harm's way) or pushing enemies away or to the ground, you have excellent crowd control abilities for good or ill that are almost always useful (really large creatures will probably be fine against your waves, but clerics aren't supposed to be all-powerful. Sorry).
For your other abilities we tried to stay close to what other elemental clerics have to offer: bonuses to damage that were thematic at 8th level, useful proficiencies, and at 17th level the ability to provide crowd control through your attacks, which by this point include several nice area of effect attacks. The goal by this point was to establish you as the party preserver, protecting and guarding through control of the battlefield. And I think we did that well.
Sea Domain Cleric: Mechanics
You can find the details of the subclass here, easily printable for your game master to consider if desired thanks to the team at Homebrewery. As early as 1st level you get useful features like the ability to shape water into new forms, use tridents, and talk with water races and creatures. Useful (though admittedly slightly niche) stuff designed to give a bit more flavor to the class.
As you reach 2nd level you gain your Channel Divinity ability which allows you to either move allies (or enemies) up to 30ft in one direction (including straight up for scaling walls and getting to places out of reach), or have the potential to knock opponents down and move them a short distance away from you. It all depends on what you need: do you need distance, or do you want to potentially give your allies advantage on attacks? Lots of things to choose from here.
As you progress as a cleric you gain the ability to breathe underwater all the time, and gain a swim speed of 40ft (or +10 to your current swim speed if you already have one, for all you underwater races and multiclassing druids in swimming wild shapes) to aid you in swimming underwater. All of this is stuff I had wanted to introduce earlier in the progression, but it felt like we were frontloading the subclass, so we kept it back until this point. In addition (and to make up for the fact that these are relatively niche and may not be that useful), we also granted you resistance to cold damage, giving you another useful feature that will not always come up, but will be useful both in and out of water.
As we reach 8th level we gave you the added damage to your weapon attacks that you expect for a cleric, granting you access to cold, lightning, and thunder damage. This should give you some options (much like the Nature Domain Cleric) to tailor your attacks to your foes for added effect.
And as the subclass caps out you begin to channel the strength of the torrent with every strike you make, forcing opponents to make a saving throw to avoid being exhausted by the relentless pounding of your magically infused blows. It also gives you the possibility of knocking the target prone on a critical strike, allowing you to contribute to the team damage total by giving your allies advantage on their attacks when they close to melee.
And that's the subclass: a cleric that focuses on slowing, exhausting, and moving around its foes while aiding allies. It's rather niche and probably comes in as a solid "B" subclass, but it makes for a very asymmetric class that aims to exhaust foes and waste their movement while guiding allies to where they need to be. If you're looking for a character like that, consider the Sea Domain Cleric.
In our next post we move on to new druid subclasses, beginning first with the blood shaman who uses blood to aid in the preserving of the natural world.
Until next time,