Posted by : David Guyll June 20, 2013

I had a number of complaints regarding the druid just from reading it since its initial release—per day wildshaping and spells, and set-in-stone class features—but I figured that my criticisms would be more accurate and helpful if I saw it in action first. The characters in my Epiro campaign just hit 4th-level, meaning that I have seen the first three levels of the druid and so feel a bit more qualified when I say that I pretty much still dislike the class as a whole.

Since the 2nd Edition druid adhered to a bizarre interpretation of the (True) Neutral alignment (which I swear included an example of the druid changing sides mid-combat), I never bothered to give it a shot, and barely remember anything else about it except that high-level druids had to
fight other high-level druids to level up after a certain point.

3rd Edition's druid eased up on this a bit by allowing you to be any alignment that had Neutral somewhere in the mix (and as an added plus, Neutral became less silly), but I still only played one once. The animal companion was nice, and usually twice a day you could do something druid-y like summon entangling roots or animals, but since there was no cleric I ended up doling out cure x wounds. Really nothing about the class stood out; when I was not healing I was hitting things with a metal scimitar (and not wearing metal armor or shields).

It was not until higher levels that you got the ability to change your shape, but even then you were limited to per-day uses. Another downside was that the shapes you could assume were limited by size and Hit Dice, which lead to balance issues where a 5th-level druid could turn into a dinosaur capable of making multiple attacks per round (some with poison), while the fighter could still only make one.

4th Edition broke the mold by not only having no restrictions on weapons, armor, or alignment, but also unlimited wildshaping and druidic magic in some form thanks to the at-will/encounter/daily power structure. One thing I found particularly interesting was that unlike other classes, what she could do depended on whether she was in her human or animal form; nature magic required you to be in human form, while "beast" powers required you to be an animal of some sort.

The downside was that while your animal form was unrestricted, no matter what you you turned into you were Medium-sized, and what you could do was limited without access to certain evocations. So you could wildshape into a bird, but you would be Medium-sized and unable to fly. Fish? Medium-sized and no swim speed. Now if you had the daily evocation form of the hunting falcon, you could change into a Small creature with a fly speed, but you could not manipulate objects, even things that you would expect a bird to be able to interact with or carry.

Despite these issues I still find it unfortunate that 5th Edition's druid strays closer to 3rd Edition's model. Yeah you can wildshape at 1st-level, but still only a set number of times per day and only into one of two forms (one of which you only get with the right Circle Initiate choice). Spells are a bit more flexible in that you do not have to specify how many of which one you want to prep ahead of time, but for the most part have a per-day cap (like every spellcaster in the current playtest). Oh, and with the exception of your Circle Initiate choice you only get specific class features at specific levels.

In play the druid is not particularly interesting. Randy's go-to spell is fire seeds, an at-will that lets you throw up to two exploding acorns, pinecorns, or holly berries at a target for all of two fire damage. Compare to 4th Edition's druid; yeah, you could throw a flame seed, except it was more like an area-effect grenade, but you could also opt to conjure a thorny vine to yank creatures around, unleash swarms of insects, channel bolts of lightning, and more. Otherwise aside from the odd use of fog cloud or entagle he pretty much uses his magic to heal everyone else.

Really the most druid-y thing he regularly does is turn into some kind of animal and maul something to death. Mechanically the shapes are fine, and I am surprised that they do not eclipse the paladin in terms of attack and damage output, but it disappointing that as with every class feature except Circle Initiate you are stuck with whatever they arbitrarily give you at whatever level: hound at 1st, rodent at 2nd, and at 4th you get both steed and fish. Yep, fish.

4th-level druids, one half of a delicious appetizer.
In changing the druid I would take a similar approach as the monk, dividing its class features into categories like seasons, circles, maybe even some terrain-based features (like we got with 4th Edition's hunter and berserker sub-classes):
  • Seasons would determine for the most part kind of magic you could use. For example summer druids would have fire/radiant and healing magic, while winter druids would have cold and "de-buffing" magic. I could see a case for seasons also establishing what animals you can choose from, but that might be more appropriate for terrain.
  • Circles are fine conceptually, and would love to see more class features that are limited by the circle you chose. I would also use them for prestige class/paragon path requirements.
  • Terrain could give you bonuses on skills, maybe even something like "terrain tricks" (which would tie in nicely to the Exploration pillar), but like Dungeon World could also be used to establish the animals you can choose from.
Building a druid from these categories would go a long way to making them more diverse and interesting right from the start. One druid might be able to conjure freezing winds, draw strength from a dying creature, transform into a wolf, and easily find shelter to fend off the cold, while another might channel fire (perhaps healing an ally at the same time), assume the shape of a bear, and locate sources of food in the forest. Much more diverse than what spells you prepped for the day.

Another problem is how their magic works. According to the playtest packet, they live in harmony with the land and call upon the gods to wield the magic of the moon, sun, storm, forest, and beast. I am not sure if it means gods in the cleric's sense, or gods as powerful nature spirits. Linking them with nature spirits could let them cannibalize some of the best parts of the shaman while helping to make them distinct from god-gods. At any rate, cleric-gods or no, like the cleric how their magic works does not make any sense at all:

  • Why can they only prepare two spells per day at 1st-level? Are they making deals with specific spirits? Does it have something to do with their headspace?
  • Why do they need to prepare spells at all? Is it because whoever they are phoning these into when they set them is too busy to take another call?
  • Why can they only cast a set number of spells each day? If these are the result of calling on gods, then what happens if they are acting on the behalf of a god? Is the god tired?
  • How come they can use a higher-level spell to cast a lower-level spell, but no matter how many lower-level slots they have access to they cannot cast a single spell of a higher level?

Calling upon gods is all well and good, even if it treads on the toes of the cleric, but then like the cleric aside from "this is how it was done before" I do not understand why they have a daily limit, why they have to set miraculous acts ahead of time, and why there is no way for them to beseech their benefactor for aid in a time of need.

I would go with something more like a wizard. They learn their magic from a circle of druids and/or powerful nature spirit/god. Couple this with the proposal for more flexible and varied mechanics from above, and you could make a pretty thematic druid. Their magic is physically demanding, to the point where I could see some spells having a hit point cost. Some spells might require buildup, so instead of entangle dealing damage and requiring a saving throw to avoid getting trapped, it would start out with thick growth that makes it easier to trip creatures up and slow them down, but if they stick around then they risk getting caught taking damage. Maybe you could burn hit points to speed up the process, representing the druid sacrificing her strength to fuel the magic?

As for wildshaping, someone mentioned druids being unable to remain in an animal's form for too long because they begin to lose themself. While that is not stated, and at least in the latest packet any flavor reasons for the duration is not even hinted at, I think that that is an excellent mechanic idea. Let them transform whenever, but make it so that they start taking penalties to some Intelligence and Charisma checks over time until they return to normal. I would even keep it so that the penalties linger until you are in your human form for awhile, too.

In order to keep animal shapes viable, I would have many aspects of it scale as the druid levels up, but also allow her to choose features/perks/talents that let that form do more things. So that way if a druid really wants to stick with a wolf theme, she can without falling behind the curve. I am not even just referring to combat stuff; you could attack Exploration elements to animal forms, so that a falcon could be good at scouting and keeping watch, while a horse could travel incredibly fast.

{ 15 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Yeah, I wasn't thrilled with the new druid either, especially the restrictions on animal shapes. Being able to turn into a wide range of critters is one of the fun things about druids.

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  2. I get that part of the appeal of severity throttled features is to make it fast and easy to build and level up, but honestly they could just make something like builds or themes that handle that kind of minutiae for you.

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  3. Screw you, fish & chips isn't an appetiser, it's a glorious meal in its own right, one of the two staple foods of the UK!

    Oh, druids, right. I liked the 4e one. It's a shame my favourite edition (B/X) doesn't have a druid class. I know BECMI/RC has one, but it's a name level option for clerics. I do like some of your suggestions!

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  4. Oh, from 2e AD&D:

    "True neutral characters believe in the ultimate balance of forces, and they refuse to see actions as either good or evil. Since the majority of people in the world make judgments, true neutral characters are extremely rare. True neutrals do their best to avoid siding with the forces of either good or evil, law or chaos. It is their duty to see that all of these forces remain in balanced contention. True neutral characters sometimes find themselves forced into rather peculiar alliances. To a great extent, they are compelled to side with the underdog in any given situation, sometimes even changing sides as the previous loser becomes the winner. A true neutral druid might join the local barony to put down a tribe of evil gnolls, only to drop out or switch sides when the gnolls were brought to the brink of destruction. He would seek to prevent either side from becoming too powerful. Clearly, there are very few true neutral characters in the world."

    So it doesn't literally say they switch sides mid-combat, but that's the impression a lot of players I knew got when they read it. It's still a terrible alignment, Law/Neutral/Chaos forever.

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  5. Something a bit like an alchemist from pather finder (power choosing wise anyway) might work.

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  6. @finbikkifin: I was only made aware of that from watching Doctor Who. Unfortunately where I live there are not many places to easily get ahold of that sort of thing. :-(

    4E's druid was one of my favorite classes. A shame they are going back to a homogenized magic system and advancement.

    @Seth: Not a Pathfinder fan, but what book was the alchemist in? Might be good to take a look at it.

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  7. @antioch: Alchemists appeared in Ultimate Magic.

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  8. More a comment on D&D magic than Druids:

    I only started playing with 3rd Edition and, over the years, I came to absolutely despise the magic system. Not only could my group not discover exactly how spells should be cast -- Is it Spellcraft check? Is it based on your Base Attack Bonus? Does the value change depending on the spell, or is it static across the board -- but magic slowed the game down to a near stand-still; when you got to high enough levels, you had to wait for the spellcaster to flip through the myriad of books to find the rules for the spell he wanted to use. Absolutely atrocious.

    Of course, take this complaint with a grain of salt: the longest career I ever had with a D&D character was with a 3.5 Sorcerer. The difference between Sorcerers and Wizards was that, while Wizards had to flip through a book to choose their spells each day, Sorcerers picked their spells at each level and were stuck with them for the duration. I ended up just writing my spells on index cards and referencing them that way. Of course, I played that (Lawful Evil) character as a conniving criminal mastermind, so most of my participation was in roleplaying, not combat.

    Regardless, I found the 4th Edition rules to be vastly superior to the page-flipping exercise that 3.5 turned into at higher levels. Magic was distilled down to: "What power do you want to use? Awesome, do it." This is as true for Wizards as it was for Druids. Admittedly, some people found this system too simple when compared to 3.5 but I think it struck a perfect balance between the different styles of players -- those who identify as Power Gamers and Slayers (as WotC named them) versus those who identify as Storytellers and Actors, for instance. Both groups were able to shine in their own element while still having an equal share of the glory of the opposite end of the spectrum.

    Trying to tie this back to Druids, let me say that I share your love for the 4E Druids. The humanoid spellcasting/beast melee dichotomy was a great gameplay element; it forced the druid to play more strategically than just shifting, running in and mauling someone. I don't ever recall finding limitations when it came to Fly or Swim speeds, though, but maybe it just never came up for me? Can't recall, honestly, but if that was the case it was a poor decision.

    Sounds like the 5E Druid is a step backwards, though, which is a shame. Of course, I loved 4E to pieces (in case you couldn't tell) so maybe my opinion is a bit biased! Haha!

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  9. My favorite druid was the Sentinel in concept and the Protector in execution.

    The sentinel failed to provide meaningful options aside from 'hit it with my scimiter/staff/mace, or tell my little friend here to maul it to pieces. Oh! Wait! Once per encounter I can do both! The joy! Of course, the class feature was better designed than the Ranger one, so it's still a step in the right direction. Now if they will issue errata for the Ranger...

    I fell in love with the Protector as soon as I saw that they can create difficult terrain *as a class feature, without sacrificing a power slot.*
    Primal Atunement holds a special place in my heart. Cantrips! My favorite part of the wizard on a Druid! Yay! The summons were a huge thing for me as well, since I never cared for the regular dailies anyway. Which brings me right to wildshape.

    I never cared much for turning into animals. It does look cool, and can be used to slip away in a pinch, but I can only imagine using it via multiclass as a re-skinned Lycanthrope or Animagus (from Harry Potter if you don't know). The power set doesn't do much to convince me either. Maybe it's me and my predisposition toward wizards and rogues. Or maybe it's WotC's fault for not making it more interesting. Who knows?

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    1. so your answer to a druid turning into animals being boring, is a wizard turning into an animal?

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  10. @Nick: I dislike the pseudo-Vancian magic system because it makes no sense and that it does not really make wizards plan ahead. I cannot for the life of me recall a single adventure where the players had the chance to study on where they were going and what they would encounter there.

    Even if they could, what about corner case spells like knock and water breathing? All this does it make the group say "we spend the night" so that the wizard can reshuffle her spell selection, which can murder the pacing and in poorly written adventures trash the plot.

    It is fine for resource tracking, but does not really throttle anything in terms of power and decision-making because all too often the party can just make camp every day to be at full strength for the next few encounters.

    This is why I loved 4E's rituals. You could have a lot of utility stuff on hand and cast it with enough time. 5E's rituals further confuse me, because it allows you to arbitrarily cast some spells whenever, but not others.

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  11. @Anon: I would love it if they would break every class apart, build something like trees for each iconic concept, and let players kind of build their own thing. I have said that my ideal system would look something like Shadowrun or Exalted, where you just buy the things you want, and add/improve as you gain experience.

    This way you could use nature magic, or just shapeshift, or be a bard that can shapeshift, or a fighter with some rogue tricks, or a wizard with a barbarian totem, and so on.

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  12. Actually, by sheer coincidence, I just happen to be working on a system like that with a friend of mine. You pick a few 'Talents' that are basically a cross between feats and class features, and they can modify pretty much anything in the game. So, as you said, you can build a fighter with some rogue tricks, a desert warlord-type that can dual-wield spears (my own invention), or just a pure class. Whatever you want to build, really. We're having trouble with the Druid stuff, though.

    We use the d% for everything instead of the d20, and it's pretty much based on opposed checks. We also have an action economy that we hope allows for improvisation in the most capacity. Magic also gets an overhaul.

    I think we're almost ready for full-scale private playtesting, and after that I guess we can publish some pdfs for a public test.

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  13. You mentioned that Summer would help Fire and Radiant, and Winter would help cold and debuffing. What about Autumn?

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  14. Since autumn is the transition from summer to winter, you could go with a life-to-death theme. So, bonuses against bloodied creatures, or bonuses when you kill a creature. Since it is associated with the harvest, you could have rituals that provide food. I guess it is also associated with melancholy, which could allow you to instill dread and a sense of defeat into enemies.

    What else...oh, Halloween. Could tie in some undead-themed stuff, there. Like "harvesting" dead souls to do your bidding or power magic or whatnot.

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