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.|
- 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.
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.